Friday, December 22, 2006

Breakthrough of the Year 2006

Science magazine has it's Breakthrough of the Year 2006 and it is...the proof of the Poincare Conjecture. No physics stories made the top 10. (One of my favorite results of the year, the sequencing of Neanderthal DNA, was their #2 story).

One refreshing thing that Science does to go back to their predictions for 2006 and own up to where they were right, and where they missed the boat. This is, of course, something you would never expect from palm readers, televangelists, chiropractors, or similar quacks; but it is part and parcel with the intellectual attitudes of professional scientists. The magazines editors admit getting several predictions wrong, like first observatiosn from LIGO of gravity waves (but they also point out that analysis results are expected to be made public by March). They also make predictions, or "areas to watch", for 2007.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Who Said YouTube Was a Waste of Electrons

Get past the rambling teenage monologues, music videos, and LEGO-based movie spoofs, and there is some good content on YouTube, like a cool video HISTORY OF EVERYTHING. No dialog, just images illustrating how things got here, from Big Bang to us. The amount time spent in different epochs are of course not proportional to the real intervals, or humans would only get less than single frame at the end. Except for a rather annoying version of John Lennon's song Imagine, it's worth a view.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Things Going on That You Don't Know

Foreign Policy: The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006 lists a lot of evidence that things are much worse than you know. Only two of the items are positive (#7: decreasing gender gap, and #6: secret talks between Israel and Iran). In the long term, the most dangerous to Americans may be
* The decision by petroleum producing nations to switch from the dollar to the euro. This is one more piece of evidence that the U.S. is losing its dominance as the world's leading economic power. For several years the EU has had a stronger currency and a larger market than the U.S. As we continue to lose our manufacturing sector, I expect the dominant economic power to be the EU.
* The domestic power grab by the Bush administration. In the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, the president was giving sweeping new powers to send in Federal troops for domestic reasons, thereby greatly increasing the possibility of martial law in the future. The article quotes Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, saying that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.”

But don't feel bad that you never heard about these things - after all, there were those panty-less photos of Brittney Spears that needed news time...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

TED Blog

TED Blog has links to talks from the TED (technology, entertainment, design) conferences. Very high level stuff, the most recent one seems to have beome one of the focal points of the resurgent skeptics movements, with excellent talks from the likes of Dennett and Dawkins and (of all people) ex-SNL comedienne Julia Sweeney.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Physics Story of the Year

The Physics Story of the Year from the American Institute of Physics's Physics News Update page. They pick the high precision measruement of the electron magnetic moment (g, for those in the know, with an uncertainty of 0.76 parts per trillion). When combined with a theory calculation involving 891 8-th order Feynman graphs (!!), this leads to a measurement of alpha, the fine structure contant, that has an uncertainty of 0.70 parts per billion.

AIP lists several other top stories. Only one is from High Energy Physics as such - the observation of the Sigma_b baryons - although the g measurement is clearly related, as are some results like matter-antimatter chemistry and particle "lasers". AIP cites the HAPPEx experiment's measuremnt of the vitual s quark content of the proton, which is closely related to work being carried out by the LA Tech nuclear group on a different Jefferson Lab experiment.

My votes for top HEP stories would have to be
1) Evidence for single top production at the Tevatron.
2) Determination of the omega minus spin, 31 years after it's discovery.
3) Sigma_b
4) B_s oscillation measurements.
5) First results from MINOS.
6) Completion of the final LHC dipole magnet.

Water, water everywhere

Water flows on Mars (December 2006) from PhysicsWeb describes an article, to be published in Science, that shows before and after photos from the Mars Global Surveyor which indicate that water flowed on Mars within the last seven years.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Shaken, not stirred

An interesting article Is James Bond responsible for the Iraq war? By Richard Cohen in Slate Magazine makes the case that folks gave extra creedance to the now-discredited claim that Saddam was buying Uranium ore from Niger, simply because said the intelligence said that the informationcame from British intelligence, and our notions of British spies are inflated due to the Bond novels and movies.

I have to admit, I am a big Bond fan. I've read most the books, all of the original Fleming novels when I was still a kid, and I've seen all the movies. I could my hold own in a Bond trivia contest. For what it is worth, I really enoyed the latest film, Casino Royale, which had a lot of elements of the original novel (Vesper Lynd's emotional fragility, the torture scene - although in the novel LeChiffre used a carpet beater, Bond intent to resign and stay with Vesper).

Monday, December 04, 2006

Two by Two

SkepticReport * The Whole Silly Flood Story goes through several critiques of the Genesis Flood story.

This is to most people a completely unnecessary exercise. Most folks do not take the Genesis story literally, even if they are themseleves religious, and therefore do not need to look at it scientifically. Unfortunately, the creationist-types, who are quite abundant where I live, make the Flood a keystone of their geology, and by doing so invite attacks like this. Their reaction will always be that folks like the Skeptic report are "anti-religion" (well, probably so), intolerant, and discriminate against Christians.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Radio Free Olbermann

Great special comment from Keith Olbermann, taking former Speaker of the Reichstag...sorry, I meant of House of Representatives, and anti-historian Newt Gringrich to task for his recent comments favoring limiting Freedom of Speech (link via onegoodmove)

Hi! We're frm the government and we're here to help!

Sex Will Make You Go Blind / Single? Under 30? You are in grave danger. Your government says so. Please, stop laughing

So, why is the media not covering exactly how pitifully stupid this administration is? Are they afraid that they will be accused of liberal bias, if they just let these meatheads' own words become widely publicized?

Here is another great example of our Glorious Leader's minions in action:

Fearless Voices Jessica Valenti: Bush Appoints New (Terrifying) Director of the Office on Violence Against Women The Huffington Post