Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Easy Surfing

New Scientist Space Blog: Surfer physicist gets grant to study theory of everything

A. Garrett Lisi lives the life. While most of the news stories about this young theoretical physicist focus on his not having a job and slacking all over the place with his surfer buddies, the New Scientist reveals that Lisi doesn't need a job -- he gets $77,222 this year to think about physics by way of a grant from the Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology Institute. Not only that, but he was also paid $38,640 a year for the past two years by FQXi to do the same thing. That will buy a lot of Mr. Zogs Original SEX Wax.

Being paid for thinking is nice work if you can get it. Lisi is the author of a paper that attempts to create what Einstein could not -- a Unified Field Theory that reconciles General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics. The paper, "An Exceptional Simple Theory of Everything" (requires PDF), posits that the relationships of all the particles in the Universe can be explained with the mathematics of a figure called G-8. It looks like something you could make with a Spirograph-- click on the picture below for a much larger view.

According to The London Telegraph the figure is "a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887, but only fully understood by mathematicians this year after workings, that, if written out in tiny print, would cover an area the size of Manhattan."

Lisi noticed an uncanny resemblance between the equations used to explain the relationships of the points in G8 and equations used to explain elementary atomic particles. He was able to show that 228 of those points represent a known sub-atomic particle. The other 20 are particles yet to be found — including the elusive ones that power gravity.

Lisi will spend his year working to create testable predictions that would prove his mathematics in the real world. In between surfing, hiking, and other essential activities, he will be calculating the masses of the 20 particles. If any of these particles with these masses are confirmed later this year when the Large Hadron Collider starts up, then Einstein may have to move over closer to Newton to make some room on the shelf for Lisi.

Lisi himself gives the probability of his being right as tiny. This real or affected humility is necessary for survival in the sciences. It should be remembered that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity shook up the scientific world so badly that rival scientists jealously prevented him from ever receiving the Nobel Prize for it. The one Nobel he did receive was for the lesser theory on the photoelectric effect and that was awarded only after world-wide public censure shook up the Nobel Committee and forced them to toss Albert a bone.

A comparable lynch mob of String Theorists ,who have spent their entire lives working on a rival theory that has yet to yield one single testable prediction, are already making ugly noises.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

David Williams' New Book

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an interview today with Dr. David Williams of VSU on his new book "Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War". Those who wax nostalgic for the Old South are in for a bit of a shock. One of the Q&A's made me smile:

Q: Have the Sons of Confederate Veterans been to see you?
A: Yes. They didn’t really deny anything I had to say, but they weren’t real happy to hear it. I told them, “Well, I’m not making this up.”
One of the facts that was sure to be troubling to the grown men who dress up as Johnny Reb and march around on weekends is that there were nearly a half-million southerners who served in the Union Army. Those referendums taken when the individual states voted to secede from the Union? Stolen. There were food riots at home and mass desertions from the field.

If you read his earlier work, A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom like I have, much of this looks familiar. I contacted Dr. Williams to find out what would be new or different in this book and he was kind enough to reply:

Not really a great deal new in terms of themes, but new in terms of focus. I take much what I touch on in People's History with regard to southern dissent and expand on it considerably to highlight the reasons and ways in which dissenters increase in numbers and impact throughout the war.

Looks like I am going to have to buy a copy. I'll publish a review later.

Cheap Solar Using Nail Polish and a Pizza Oven

This charming juxtaposition of High Tech Solar and Low Tech MacGyver is headline ready for the tabloids. An Australian PhD student, Nicole Kuepper, has received a prestigious award for creating a low cost process to create cheap solar panels using nail polish, an ink jet printer, and a pizza oven.

Before you run out and buy stock in Cover Girl, MaxFactor, and Revlon, consider that while they have created a test process, they have yet to fabricate real solar cells and test them for efficiency. Currently, it takes up to four years for a solar cell to produce enough energy to "pay" for the energy used to produce it. A lower heat process like this has the potential to bring that ratio down.

Most of the news covers just the award, you have to dig on down to find out how this process works. Here is an excerpt from the University of Technology Sydney student publication Precinct quoting Ms. Kuepper

“In a nutshell, we spray on nail polish, bake the cell, ink jet print something like nail polish remover in certain areas to create a pattern. We then dunk the cell in acid which eats through the nail polish where the ink has fallen, and hey presto you have a patterned solar cell without needing to use lasers or expensive and complex photo-lithographic equipment,”

For a more detailed explanation, head over to the World Intellectual Property Organization and read the patent application.

Hat tip to Gizmodo for the original link and to Chimp for the WIPO link

Saint Simons during Fay

A friend of mine, Dade Brantley, just posted video of what Tropical Storm Fay looked like over on Saint Simons Island. I go over there a lot and it was eye opening to see the flooding. Imagine what it would look like if a Tropical Storm or Class One Hurricane made landfall.

The seven minute piece opens with him driving over the causeway to the island. Then he goes to the village and shoots the waves crashing over the seawall and into the land. We get to see some houses and cars flooded and he shows us the ocean punishing a parking lot. There is a drive back over the causeway and then down US 17 to the turn for downtown.

Here is his introduction:

This is video I shot yesterday (August 22) on a ride over to St. Simons. For those who don't understand why people make a big deal over a little rain and wind, keep in mind, this was shot just before low tide....during a low grade tropical storm that was 100 miles away. ...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Man's Roadkill is another Man's Dinner

I have just finished re-reading Simon Winchester's "The Map that Changed the World" which is about William Smith and the founding of modern Geology. Winchester is a marvelous writer with a knack for really interesting digressions. One that made me laugh out loud is this piece on the Former Dean of the School of Earthly Sciences at Oxford, William Buckland:

"He tried to eat his way through the entire animal kingdom, offering mice in batter and steaks of bison and crocodile to guests at breakfast, but reserving the viler things for himself — he declared that he found mole perfectly horrible, and the only thing worse was that fat English housefly known colloquially as a bluebottle. His sense of taste seems not to have been ruined by such experimentation — he once found his carriage stranded in the nighttime fog somewhere west of London, scooped some dirt from the road and tasted it and declared to his companions, in relief, "Gentlemen — Uxbridge!"

He was a great skeptic, particularly where Catholics were concerned. Once, led to a dark stain on the flagstones of an Italian Cathedral, which the local prelate insisted was the newly liquefied blood of a well-known martyr, he dropped to his knees, licked the darkened spot, and announced that in fact it was the urine of a bat."

I don't think it is possible to come up with a rejoinder to that last line. If you haven't read any of Simon Winchester's books, resolve to fix the matter — soon.

Awakened by Quiet

So here it is 1:30 in the morning and our lights are on and everything is hunky dory when the sound of large, heavy vehicles pulling into our driveway herald the arrival of Georgia Power. Seems the rest of the neighborhood is without power: the top of the nearest pole has energized with tiny bluish-white sparkly things marking spidery trails along the wood and wire where our neighbor's electricity is leaking out.

The guys in the yellow rain slickers get to work. First order of business: cut the power to the Guice residence — clunk. Tropical storm Fay collects her remittance.

It seemed unfair. I mean, it's not our fault the rest of the neighborhood went out, right?

Actually, it was our fault. Turns out some limbs from our yard had fallen onto the lines that cross our property. To further our punishment, these large trucks now squish into our backyard pressing deep furrows into the lawn. More yard work for Frances.

The next hour and a half was filled with mysterious shouts and whiny hydraulics that slowly recede into drowsy dullness as I nodded back to sleep. An unknown switch was pulled and I awoke. The house was alive again. At 3:30.

That wasn't so bad.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Asians Go on a Gas Diet

So much of our public debate on energy shows such a lack of knowledge of basic economics that I just had to make fun of it in the companion Daily Egg satire. Here are some links that drove that silliness...

One of the constants in all stories about gasoline prices has been the increase in demand in the developing world including China. What is only just coming out now is that the *reason* for massive demand increases has been state subsidized prices for gasoline.

The Wall Street Journal covered the story. WSJ articles disappear over time and you have to pay $$$ to get them out of archive.

Here is a New York Times article on the same subject.

Here is a cut n paste of another WSJ story that was plopped into a blog. This will probably not go away. Scroll down through all the ads and you'll find it.

I also did a little looking for convenience store economics. Here is a good basic story from National Public Radio.

and, if you really want to know the full skinny, here is a complete Primer on gasoline pricing from the Energy Information Administration.

The next time you hear someone bleating about the conspiracy behind higher gas prices, remember this fact: every time that Gas Prices have undergone a sudden spike, Congress has required the Federal Trade Commission to look into price gouging and profiteering. The answer usually comes back after all the fuss is over. Every report has the same conclusion: no gouging, no profiteering, blame it on the law of supply and demand.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tommy Lee Jones was right - the REAL news is in the Enquirer

In my one journalism class in college, the crusty old English teacher asked us, "what is news?" The answer had been the same for over a century : the news is whatever the editor says is news.

The editor was the gatekeeper. Sometimes exercising judgement and other times reacting to ideological, social, or business pressures. The general public took their news like they took their cornflakes in the morning -- they ate what was put in front of them.

Have you joined the Men in Black and the other 20% of the population that are now reading alternative media and blogs on the web? If not, here is one story that you are missing:

The National Enquirer *caught* John Edwards walking out of a Beverly Hilton after visiting his illegitimate child by a mistress. He's paying the mistress a cool $15,000 a MONTH to lay low. While cameras flashed, he ran and hid in a restroom.

There were no Republican Members of the House waiting in there to solicit sex with him -- one reason why this story is not running wall to wall.

The mistress was pregnant with the child when the Enquirer first ran the story in December 2007 when Edwards was actively running for President. You read about that, right?

The Enquirer has the goods -- really. Here are the links:

JOHN EDWARDS love child scandal NE December 2007


The story was confirmed by the lone Fox News story. The coverup in the media is being covered by Mickey Klaus over at Slate -- which is far from being a right wing news organization. You can also find detailed stories at the completely left-wing Huffington Post.

Klaus revealed that reporters at the Los Angeles Times were ordered by management to ignore the story. They even banned reporters from writing about it in personal blogs.

You haven't seen this story on the news at NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times as of yet; however, the story has been covered by those hard boiled newshounds Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien over on NBC. Soon, though, these things will change. Radar reports that negotiation$ are ongoing between a major network and the mother of the child for an exclusive interview.

I usually do take a look at my cornflakes before I eat them. Maybe we should all start taking a look at our news as well.

-- updated 11:58pm added links for Huffington Post and Radar

Amazing Duck Story

E-mail is just a new method of delivering the same rumors, gossip, and legends that people have been swapping since forever. is like the neighbor in the corner who debunks whatever whopper the stranger in town just told. They check the facts and debunk most of what hits your inbox.

Here is an e-mail validated as being true: an officeworker saves an entire family of ducks that was born in an urban enviroment. Amazing Duck Story