Monday, June 30, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

CERN: LHC getting ready next month

During the next month, the LHC collider could be capable to collide particles. It is expected that in August, around the Strings 2008 conference at CERN, the first beams will actually be injected into the rings. They plan not to collide the protons until October.

LHC cooling temperature

Among those eight sectors, only one (45) was pleasantly warm one month ago when the posting was first submitted. The numbers above are no longer correct. The 45 sector cooled from 290 K to 50 K during the last month. The sector 12 went from 160 K to 5 K. The sector 34 went from 20 K to roughly 3 K.

Sunday, June 29, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Deutschland über alles, except for Spain

Congratulations to rafa and all of Spain for their gold from Euro 2008! I can't write anything wise about the game so let me focus on the anthems. ;-)

The Spanish anthem, The Royal March, was adopted in 1770. The author is unknown and no lyrics is used these days. However, the video above uses lyrics from Alfonso XIII's reign (1886-1931). As most proper anthems, it is about the glory, future, and flag of their fatherland.

During Franco's years (1939-1975), a new text was chosen. It added a lot of triumph, labor, peace, and other buzzwords. In 2008, a new, fully politically correct lyrics, has been proposed. It talks about the diversity, unity, brotherhood, freedom, justice, democracy, and peace. ;-) While I find this text absurdly dovish, it was rejected because of its supposed nationalist tone. Wow.

The most popular lyrics were the unofficial ones. They explained that Franco's buttocks were white because his wife was using Ariel to wash them. If you're interested in details, other political big shots were using different chemicals to clean this part of their bodies. :-)

Now: Germany

When Germany was playing against Austria, a Swiss TV channel showed subtitles that instructed the viewers to sing Deutschland, Deutschland über alles (Germany above everything). The subtitles became a kind of worldwide scandal. One of its helpful consequences was that I learned that this were no longer the official lyrics.

The Wikipedia article about the German anthem admits that most people outside Germany, including your humble correspondent a few weeks ago, think or thought that "Deutschland über alles" continues to be the name of the anthem. Well, it turns out that it's not!

The music by Haydn will be discussed later. But the text was written in 1841 by August Heinrich Hoffmann (who used the title "von Fallersleben") and it has three stanzas. The composition with this lyrics was used as the German anthem since 1922, long before Adolf Hitler became powerful. The stanzas describe:

  1. Somewhat extended geography and superiority
  2. Women, wine, music, tradition, loyalty
  3. Unity, justice, freedom, co-operation
Not surprisingly, the first stanza was the most popular one during the Third Reich. If you think about it, it is equally unsurprising that in 1945, when Germany lost and everyone else was upset, the first two stanzas were banned in order to punish the German pride. However, Hoffmann wrote the third stanza so perfectly innocently that it could have been used for West Germany since 1949.

At any rate, everyone remembers the "original lyrics". However, we should be a bit more careful about the adjective "original". The music has been used as the German anthem since 1922 and the lyrics is from 1841 but was there any pre-history? You bet. ;-)


The 1797 composition by Joseph Haydn has been actually used for more than 100 years as the anthem of my homeland! :-) In fact, it was the only other modern anthem of the territory where I live besides Where Is My Home?, the current Czech (and first half of the former Czechoslovak) anthem (Wikipedia). You may also watch a creative (but currently untrue and dishonest) Greenpeace's version of the Czech anthem. ;-)

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Austrian Empire was jealous about "The God Save the Queen" in the U.K. (author unknown). So Haydn stole the beginning (14 tones or so) of a Croatian song, refined the flow in the following portions of the composition, and proudly presented the song as an anthem of Francis I, the Austrian emperor: the Kaiserhymne.

This guy was known as Francis II, the German emperor, in his previous life before 1804. His German and Austrian pedigree was almost perfect except for his Spanish mother and Italian father. ;-) The two big empires he has governed earned him the reputation of the only "double kaiser" in the history. There's nothing real to be proud about here because around 1804, Napoleon humiliated the German empire - the most devastating blow came in the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz (Slavkov near Brno, Moravia, Czech lands) - and used the situation to fragment Germany into a chaotic confederation of numerous, small, and hostile kingdoms and republics.

The "core" of the empire was moved towards the East. It became Austria. In 1867, the Eastern portion of the monarchy - Hungary - was promoted and the empire was transformed into a dual state, Austria-Hungary, until it was dissolved in 1918. The first 1797 lyrics of the Austrian anthem were focusing on Francis I of Austria himself. However, newer lyrics were more flexible:

This is still by one century older than "Deutschland über alles".

Haydn's music, one based on the Croatian song, was later recycled by others, including Tchaikovsky, Rossini, and Paganini. This story is a good example how ideas and memes are often combined, recombined, modified, recycled, used, and abused. The history is sometimes complicated.

Sun, Jupiter, Saturn: spin-orbit coupling?

In this dose of skeptical peer-reviewed literature about the climate, we visit PASA, Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. Ian Wilson, Brad Carter, and I.A. Waite propose a new, provoking mechanism that may influence the intensity of solar cycles:

Does a spin-orbit coupling between the Sun and the Jovian planets govern the solar cycle?
The paper costs AUD 25 = USD 24 (it used to be USD 12 a few years ago).
Commercial break: Roy Spencer gives a popular presentation of his recent journal article.
It is helpful to review some facts about the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter's mass is about 300 Earth's masses while Saturn's mass is close to 100 Earth's masses. So you would expect Saturn to play a smaller role. However, you should be a bit more careful: role for what?

Saturday, June 28, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Climate skeptic: Don't panic

The readers of various climate realist blogs may already know this 10-minute video created by and posted by Coyoteblog - these two websites actually have the same person behind them unless I misunderstand something. ;-)

But I found it so insightful that you might enjoy it, too. It discusses the importance of feedbacks, why most of them are negative, and what contrived things you have to assume if you want to believe that climate sensitivity significantly exceeds 1 °C.

If you like this 10-minute demo, you are also recommended to watch a more extensive but equally excellent version of this video,

What is normal? (A critique of catastrophic man-made global warming theory, 1 hour, playlist).
In this program, there's a lot of stuff about the measurements of temperature, statistics, consistency of proxies with instrumental measurements, bias and adjustability of climate models, and consistency checks involving various methods to determine the climate sensitivity.

Ira Flatow interviews Edward Witten

Ira Flatow has interviewed Edward Witten on his Big Ideas (2003):

See also the second part of the interview.

Risks for the economy: a poll

Originally posted on June 24th.
Update, June 27th, results:

In the list above, the answers are sorted from the most successful ones (in the graph, they are ordered clockwise).

40% thought that regulation in general and/or climate alarmism in particular is the most serious risk. Together with 12% for panic and speculation, we have a majority that thinks that socially engineered, political, or psychological policies in the name of a better life of the society (or individuals) ;-) are the most serious threat.

Friday, June 27, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Basic concepts of physics and quantum gravity: some lore

In this text, I would like to describe how the essential concepts of theoretical physics - defined as a science linking the language of mathematics with the fundamental facts about the real world - and qualitative statements about the real world were evolving as people were finding more accurate theories matching the Universe.

The focus will be on the most recent insights in the context of quantum gravity but let us begin at the very beginning. Well, almost.

Ancient Greece: astronomy, geometry, statics

Animals and mammals have been observing the real world for tens of millions of years but their observations were lacking the kind of mathematical rigor that theoretical physicists are interested in. Monkeys have always been doing some kind of physics (involving bananas and other objects) but it was a very applied sort of physics and the accuracy wasn't great.

Phytoplankton surprisingly destroys a lot of ozone

Phytoplankton ozone

Dr Katie Read and fifteen mostly U.K. and U.S. co-authors have studied the mechanisms destroying ozone (O₃) in the lower atmosphere above the ocean:

Extensive halogen-mediated ozone destruction over the tropical Atlantic Ocean (scientific paper in Nature, abstract)
Recall that ozone in the lower atmosphere is a highly potent greenhouse gas. Despite its small amount, it is responsible for almost 2/3 of the effect we attribute to CO₂. (The absolute size of the effect remains uncertain, mostly due to unknown feedbacks, but most of these feedbacks are universal multiplicative factors for all greenhouse gases.) When you divide the "shared absorption" in between the overlapping different gases, the percentages of the total greenhouse effect are as follows (source):
  • 67%+ H₂O (water)
  • 15% CO₂ (carbon dioxide)
  • 10% O₃ (ozone)
  • 3% CH₄ (methane)
  • 3% N₂O (nitrous oxide)
Water itself would be able to cause a much higher percentage of the effect than 67% but some of the spectral lines are absorbed - and attributed to - the competitors. At any rate, you see that O₃ and CH₄, when added together, are almost as important as CO₂, so we should care about them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Black hole information puzzle

After some time, motivated by a new package of misunderstanding and mystification that has spread across the blogosphere, I decided to write a text about the black hole information puzzle.

Previous articles about the same issue:

What's the problem?

The black holes have been known to exist, according to general relativity, for more than 50 years, long before they were located by astronomers. Black holes seem to be able to "eat" objects and "destroy" the information in these objects. What is left is a typically spherical black object with "no hair" that doesn't seem to remember anything about the initial state.

Before 1974, you could have hoped that the information about the initial matter is preserved inside the black hole: it is inaccessible but it is there. However, in 1974, Stephen Hawking discovered that black holes evaporate. The radiation coming from the black hole is exactly thermal and doesn't seem to carry any information either - a point that will be clarified later. At the end, there is no black hole interior left and there is no room where the information could be hiding. Once the black hole evaporates completely, the information simply seems to be lost entirely.

Why is it bad?

In conventional classical physics as well as quantum physics, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the (initial) state of the system at t=t_0 and its (final) state at t=t_1.

MSSM in string theory: review

Hans Peter Nilles et al. review known stringy backgrounds that reproduce the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model, including the following constraints:

  1. Exact MSSM spectrum below the unification scale
  2. R-parity
  3. Hierarchical Yukawa couplings with nonzero mixings
  4. Solution to the mu problem
  5. See-saw suppressed neutrino masses
It's amazing but even with these huge constraints, people have found diverse models that satisfy them.

The authors review these models. Because string theory offers us a very different toolkit and a very different kind of freedom in model building than field theory, I think it is a highly nontrivial observation that string theory is able to naturally reproduce all these desirable phenomenological features.

Female brain: hundreds of genetic differences

Björn Reinius and six co-authors (Sweden) have studied sexual differences in gene expression in the brains of humans, macaques, and marmosets. Marmosets (the right picture) were chosen because males and females look almost the same, unlike the other two species.

They focused on the occipital cortex (or visual cortex in the occipital lobe, if you wish), a graphics card inserted into the rearmost region of the brain. They found that the degree of brain differences is nearly proportional to the amount of general morphological differences: there are dozens of differences in gene expression in the marmosets but hundreds of differences in humans and macaques.
An evolutionarily conserved sexual signature in the primate brain (full scientific paper)
Generally, it was shown that the sexual signature is conserved during the evolution - so these differences between the sexes are at least tens of millions of years old, as you could have heard from your humble correspondent for years.

Another result that is well-known from non-genetics research has been confirmed, too. Specific aspects of female brains are more heavily evolutionarily constrained than the specific male features as well as the sexually neutral properties of the brain.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

YouTube & Internet Explorer: this video is no longer available

When you use Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 or earlier to watch YouTube videos, it often happens that you are told:

This video is no longer available
even though you know that the video works with Firefox, Opera, or other browsers.

In that case, it is a proxy issue. You are trying to download the video with a proxy that is incompatible with YouTube. A very typical example is Google Web Accelerator, a program that should speed up the internet traffic by using a Google proxy. If you use it, the fix is simple: right-click the accelerator icon in the tray and stop the accelerator.

If you still haven't fixed it,
  1. try to download hotspot shield that gives you a new proxy IP address to download from the U.S. YouTube (most complicated)
  2. or try to change/increase the quality by attaching a "fmt" parameter to the URL, e.g. - here, the numbers 6,18,16 at the end can give you nontrivial results. A new server may be chosen.
  3. choose your own proxy. In Menu / Tools / Internet options / Connections / LAN settings, check the "use proxy" switch and enter as "proxy" and 8080 as "port". Answer the dialog boxes and try to view the videos.

Roger Penrose: Before the Big Bang

Professor Sir Roger Penrose (Oxford) will give the second memorial (string theorist) Andrew Chamblin lecture in Cambridge on Friday (June 27th, 2008, 15:00):

Deep questions of cosmology: did something happen before the Big Bang?
I suppose it will be similar to a lecture at George Mason University a year ago:
Before the Big Bang (playlist, 9 times 10 minutes)
If I manage to listen to it, I will write some comments here.

Monday, June 23, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Good bye, Bill Gates

Since July 1st, 2008, Bill Gates will no longer be the chairman of Microsoft. He will dedicate his energy, name, and time to charity. Well, there are many other people who could do such things but Gates is surely a free man!

Steve Ballmer who has been Microsoft's CEO since 2000 and who will become the most powerful man of the company recently visited Czechia and charmed most of the public and the media as if he were a movie star. What a huge difference between Ballmer and the average (boring and silent) Czech managers. But let's return to Gates.

I consider Bill Gates to be the most well-deserved multi-billionaire in the world. Steve Jobs is also great and probably more charismatic and more likable than Gates but Bill Gates is a more authentic geek.

There are all kinds of geeks but many of them are geeks partially because they like their image of a geek: they want to be a part of a community. Many of them adopt the anti-corporate ideology in order to join. Bill Gates doesn't need anything like that. He was born as a geek.

James Hansen: 20 years later

Off-topic: Sorry for the weekend silence. We went canoeing the "Berounka river" between Pilsen and Prague (see a camping map) from "Dolanský most" (Dolany Bridge) near "Chrást u Plzně" (124.6 km) to "Zvíkovec nad jezem" (81.8 km) with the Sat-Sun night at "Kobylka" (103.5 km). The total was 42.8 km of a beautiful landscape.

Commercial: Vote in our poll on the most serious threat for the global economy
Exactly twenty years ago, on June 23rd, 1988, James Hansen gave one of the most notorious speeches that have led to the current irrational and pseudoscientific global warming hysteria.

Today, 20 years later when it is already clear that his predictions have been bunk since the very beginning, James Hansen wants trials against oil firm chiefs who help to allow the people to understand that the predictions have been incorrect.
See The Guardian, a left-wing British outlet
Search for "crime" in the 2008 Hansen's testimony and/or listen to Diane Rehm's somewhat senile interview with Hansen: "crimes against humanity" are discussed since 46:00
How does Hansen justify his plans?
"When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organizations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime."
Well, I doubt that outside North Korea, it is illegal to be an oil firm boss and to spread information about the climate. However, I think it is fraud and should be punished as such to fool millions of people in the rich world and extract tens of billions of dollars for low-quality pseudoscientific research and hundreds of billions of dollars for carbon indulgences, a frantically expanding gray sector of the economy.

Dubai: living in a turbine

Text comments here...
Dynamic architecture looks rather spectacular but I would not be certain that people will love to live there (or work there or vomit or whatever they will be doing there most of the time).

Hat tip: Alexander Ač

Friday, June 20, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Czechia and Treaty of Lisbon

Sorry for the moderation here - two+ days of canoeing. Enjoy the weekend and see you!

The United Kingdom decided to continue in the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. In fact, their Parliament has already ratified it and the U.K. became the 19th country that has done so. However, Gordon Brown has put the ratification on hold despite the vote because of a new legal hurdle - an active lawsuit that it was illegal not to have a referendum on the issue.

The British Parliamentary approach doesn't seem particularly sensible given the fact that 27 countries need to agree with the treaty and Ireland has already rejected it. But it seems that some people want the referendum to be understood as a kind of optical illusion or a quantum fluctuation ;-) that can and should be ignored.

Incidentally, the Treaty of Lisbon is a 487-page update of previous rather convoluted texts (see 287-page diff). It also contains a verse that the EU must fight against climate change - a very similar comment to the propositions about the "leading role of the communist party and the ideology of Marxism and Leninism" in our previous communist constitutions. I am afraid that even if this verse were the only bug of the proposed treaty, and it is very far from being the only one, it would already be too much of a problem.

Craigslist scammers

I was trying to sell a heavy object X through (plus other advert servers) and a particular person was interested in it. Surprisingly, he seemed to be American. ;-)

After a day of waiting for more photographs, he told me that he loved X and he would send me a cheque for 2P where P is the price I demanded. I would send P back to him via Western Union and as soon as he would receive it, someone would pick X in Pilsen.

He didn't seem to care about any details concerning the amount of money (and fees) he would have to pay or any geographic or logistical details and didn't sound particularly charming or intelligent through the cell phone (the number can't be determined).

Thursday, June 19, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

AP and Tom Chałko: global warming and earthquakes

The Associated Press decided to promote an übercrackpot called Tom Chałko (Australia) and his new, groundbreaking two-page paper.

Update: CBSnews have removed the article. Moreover, CBSnews insist that the story came from the AP while the AP denies it. See a backup from Yahoo. The MarketWire story seems to be alive at dozens of places, e.g. at MSNBC.

Video 1: More clips from 10.5 apocalypse here...

Global warming is apparently causing earthquakes and their energy has increased by 400 percent in two decades, as the Gentleman learned, among many other revolutionary findings.

The rest can be seen in 10.5 Apocalypse (see an excerpt above) that is just being aired on Czech TV NOVA (the 2nd part is aired tonight) which is why I posted it here. ;-) Global warming is speeding up continental drift 1 trillion times, America will be divided into two pieces by a new ocean next week. Add earthquakes, floods, evaporating lakes, gigantic tsunami, breaking dams and collapsing founding fathers, holes in the continent, erupting volcanoes, and so on. :-)

Blaise Pascal: 385th birthday

Blaise Pascal was born on June 19th, 1623, to a father who was an aristocratic judge with interest in science and maths and a mother who died when Blaise was 3 years old.

Pascal has made his most famous breakthroughs in the physics of fluids, construction of calculators, religious philosophy and theology, and modern economics and social science. Not a bad record for a guy who was ill throughout his life and who died before he was 40. (His stomach and even brain was damaged, probably due to some combination or variation of stomach cancer, tuberculosis, and brain lesion.)


The child prodigy was educated by his father. When Blaise was 11, he wrote a treatise on the sounds of vibrating bodies. He shouldn't have done that because his father was so afraid that Blaise would become a string theorist and his study of Latin and Greek would be compromised that he forbade Blaise to pursue maths until his 15th birthday. ;-)

However, when Blaise wrote his own proof that the sum of angles in a triangle equals 180° a year later, the ban was lifted. Blaise the kid could suddenly study Euclid and even participate at gatherings of thinkers such as Roberval, Desargues, Mydorge, Gassendi, and Descartes in a monastic cell.

Desargues worked on conic sections and Pascal was thrilled. Decartes didn't want to believe that some of the "conic" findings were due to Pascal Jr and not Pascal Sr. ;-) When Blaise was 15, his father's assets dropped from 66,000 to 7,000 livres. Moreover, the father had to leave Paris for political reasons. His three children were left with Madame Sainctot, an attractive and achieved prostitute.

The calculators

The father was eventually pardoned and began to calculate taxes owed and paid again.

Blaise, now 18+ years old, was so compassionate that he invented the Pascaline or Pascal's calculator to simplify his dad's life. The gadget that could add and subtract was a breakthrough, at least from our present viewpoint, but it wasn't a commercial success. One of the reasons was that it wasn't easy to produce it. About 50 prototypes have been made within a decade or so but only 15 or so were sold. Compare e.g. with Playstation 3 that has sold 13 million devices.

Tegmark: The world is made of mathematics

Related older articles:

Physics and mathematics: boundaries and interactions
Platonic world of mathematical ideas
Max Tegmark: The mathematical universe
An article in Discover Magazine sparked some new blogospherical discussions about the mathematical "body" of the Universe.

The article explains that Max Tegmark lives a double life - in one incarnation, he is the ultra-mainstream cosmologist that many of us know from his talks, in the other one, he is a mysterious philosopher. It is the other face that we look at.

Tegmark says that there is only mathematics and nothing else exists. The world is made out of maths. Is it true? Well, it is a philosophical question that can't really be "settled". I am used to say that the real world is isomorphic to a subset of mathematics. But is it the same thing?

In fact, I am only using the word "isomorphic" not to irritate too many people but in my real opinion, the "isomorphism" may be treated as "equality" from all physical points of view. It has the same properties and it is thus the same thing. The whole reality "is" the information and all relationships between pieces of reality "are" mathematical laws.

I don't think that you gain anything by assuming that the reality is "something else" than the appropriate mathematics. But I am sure that you lose a lot if you deny that the reality is the same thing as mathematics and should be studied mathematically.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Leonard Susskind: 60+ hours of lectures

If you have 60+ hours for some fun, here are several courses by Lenny Susskind, one of the most achieved and most original physicists of the our era. Stanford University has posted them to YouTube:

Gore's personal electricity consumption up 10%

Al Gore's oversized house was consuming 20 times more electricity than the average American household.

So the "messiah" added solar panels, installed a geothermal system, replaced existing light bulbs with more efficient models, and overhauled the home’s windows and ductwork.

At the end of 2007, Gore claimed that the electricity consumption was reduced by 10%. But what is the actual result?

Tennessee Center for Policy Research (click and read)
The actual outcome is that his electricity consumption increased by 10%. Since the renovations in Summer 2007, Gore's empire devours 17,768 kWh a month in average, much more than 100 times the consumption of your humble correspondent's home.

This story is an example how hypocrites have always worked. The most successful ones may earn USD 100,000,000 by downright fraud and lies. They pay USD 16,533 for renovations whose only goal is to fool everyone.

The resulting change of the electricity consumption is positive but millions of people are so stupid that they award prizes to the moral junk of Gore's type instead of putting these megafraudsters into the prison.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Leonard Susskind: The black hole war

My battle with Stephen Hawking to make the world safe for quantum mechanics

What happens when something is sucked into a black hole? Does it disappear? Three decades ago, a young physicist named Stephen Hawking claimed it did - and in doing so put at risk everything we know about physics and the fundamental laws of the universe. Most scientists didn't recognize the import of Hawking's claims, but Leonard Susskind and Gerard 't Hooft realized the threat, and responded with a counterattack that changed the course of physics.

THE BLACK HOLE WAR is the thrilling story of their united effort to reconcile Hawking's revolutionary theories of black holes with their own sense of reality - effort that would eventually result in Hawking admitting he was wrong, paying up, and Susskind and 't Hooft realizing that our world is a hologram projected from the outer boundaries of space. A brilliant book about modern physics, quantum mechanics, the fate of stars and the deep mysteries of black holes, Leonard Susskind's account of the Black Hole War is mind-bending and exhilarating reading.

Gay brains structured like those of the opposite sex

MRI scans of 25+20+25+20 = 90 people have supported a proposition that many people have "known" for quite some time: homosexual men's brains are structured like the (straight) female ones and lesbians' brains are structured like the (straight) male ones.

ABC, BBC, Reuters, Sci. American, 100+ others
Homosexuality is therefore determined before the birth. It is the first time when MRI scans were used to look at this question.

The researchers from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden - where the medicine Nobel prizes are decided every year - have shown that the straight male and lesbian brains are larger and left-right asymmetric. The straight female and gay male brains are smaller and symmetric.

The amygdala seems to be the region of the brain - responsible for emotional reactions (both CPU and RAM) - that shows the identity most efficiently. It is enough to look whether the nerve connections are mostly in the left half or the right half: you find out that the straight men and lesbians have connections mostly on the right side of the amygdala and vice versa.

Monday, June 16, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

WIRED: 10 green heresies

Wired News has encouraged the readers to rethink what it means to be "green" i.e. to save energy (and fossil fuels) and to be friendly to the environment.

Their list of their 10+1 "green heresies" contains the following entries:

  1. It is greener to live in the cities
  2. Air-conditioning is greener than heating
  3. Conventional agriculture beats organics
  4. Forests may cause warming
  5. China is the solution
  6. Genetic engineering may be great
  7. Carbon trading is a failure
  8. Nuclear power beats all other sources
  9. Used cars beat hybrids
  10. Climate change is inevitable
  11. CO2 is not everything (bonus)
The authors are trying to use their brains a little bit but they are still typical environmentalist activists who have clearly been brainwashed by all the popular nonsense about the "bad" CO2 emissions that can quantify the "sin" and similar stuff.

In order to make you sure that they're greens, let me quote the first sentence of the 11th entry as an example:
No one with any scientific sense now disagrees about the severity of the climate crisis.
The only severe thing about this statement is that it severely contrasts with reality. In reality, every person with elementary scientific education knows that the notion of "climate crisis" is pure bunk promoted by undereducated and overzealous pundits in the media that contradicts pretty much everything we know about the climate system and about the society.

Nevertheless, the green writers at Wired News are still way too insufficiently green for the Gentlemen at RealClimate.ORG. In fact, the latter environmentalist radicals were so irritated that they attacked Wired News in a text with a friendly name,
Wired Magazine’s Incoherent Truths.

The first proposition that Ray Pierrehumbert hated is that air-conditioning is better than heating, as far as the energy consumption goes. Matt Power writes some bizarre things about the power needed for cooling and I would bet that Pierrehumbert understands the physics of power and physics of heat in air-conditioners more than Power does. ;-)

But when it comes to their main conclusions, the situation changes dramatically. Power writes that the heating in a typical Northeast house creates 13,000 pounds of CO2 a year while the air-conditioning in a typical Phoenix dwelling produces 900 pounds. It is very bizarre to measure energy consumption in pounds of CO2 but let's use Power's fashionable units, anyway.

This overall comparison of the two typical houses is what matters at the level of the society. Air-conditioning in the U.S. households consumes less energy mainly because the average annual temperature outside the average house (15 °C? Or 10 °C in Czechia?) is well below the most comfortable temperature for humans (23 °C?).

Whether our technologies make it cheaper to heat up or cool down a liter of water by 1 °C is an interesting technological question but the key figures that are relevant for policymaking include a lot of other multiplicative factors that Pierrehumbert is completely unable (or unwilling) to see.

Because the air-conditioners consume much less energy than the heating systems in the U.S., by more than one order of magnitude, it is very clear that the energy that you would save on heating by a hypothetical "global warming" will clearly exceed the additional energy that your air-conditioners will have to consume.

The overall energy needed for heating and air-conditioning would obviously decrease if the outside temperature would increase - i.e. if it would approach the comfortable temperature for humans. This is a purely academic question because the amount of predicted warming, about 0.006 °C a year, changes the ratios of heating vs air-conditioning consumption 100 times less than other random factors, including the newest design of the devices or the evolution of the "hot" housing markets.

But academically speaking, the statement is true. Warming would reduce the overall energy spent for heating and cooling.

The same comment applies to people who freeze to death and to the victims of heat waves. Because many more people "freeze" than "melt" ;-), it is clear that a hypothetical warming would subtract the "freezing" people, add the "melting" people, and reduce the overall number of victims of inconvenient temperatures because the "subtraction" would numerically exceed the "addition".

Whether the existing air-conditioners are somewhat less efficient than the commercially sold heating systems is irrelevant. The latter is a physics question or an engineering question but it can have no direct implications for policymaking because the key question for policymakers is not about the 10%-like differences in the efficiency but about the overall energy that you have to spend for one purpose or another.

Treat forests like crops

Trees absorb carbon dioxide. Young trees do so more efficiently than old trees. Matt Power and Ray Pierrehumbert agree about this point but Pierrehumbert is still very angry. Why is it so? Well, I guess that it is because the first two words of Power's article are "Ronald Reagan's". ;-)

Fine, that's the actual reason. But how does Pierrehumbert explain that he is upset? He says, correctly, that the CO2 balance depends on the fate of the wood. Indeed, it does. If the wood is stored in the form of lasting products such as furniture and houses, the carbon atoms will disappear from the atmosphere for a longer time than if you transform the wood into something that decomposes (or burns) very quickly.

But once again, this question - which methods to use wood remove more carbon from the atmosphere - is a completely different question from the question whether forests treated as old monuments or forests treated as crops are more efficient absorbers of CO2. And the answer, correctly reproduced by Power, is that the trees-crops absorb more carbon.

Now, I don't think that the absorption of carbon is a "good thing" in any inherent sense and I would never cut a tree because of a similar "justification". But I can still think about these issues and Pierrehumbert cannot see the forest for the trees, literally speaking. If you treated trees like crops, a significant fraction of the wood would obviously end up as a long-lasting product. Power is right and Pierrehumbert is wrong to criticize Power. The fraction is pretty much well-known but if we really began to think that it is good to absorb carbon, our lifestyle could start to encourage particular ways to use wood.

Power is fundamentally right and Pierrehumbert's amusing comments about rot in his old Victorian house only subtract a few percent (per century) from Power's powerful observation. ;-) If your goal were to remove carbon from the atmosphere, you should grow plants that absorb as much CO2 as possible (e.g. young trees) and use them for as long-lasting applications as possible.

SUV vs used cars

OK, I didn't want to discuss this topic because when the oil price is close to USD 140 per barrel, it simply looks crazy to assume that a normal person wouldn't pay any attention to the fuel economy of his car. The actual money that you pay for gasoline is much higher than any conceivable damage that the resulting CO2 emissions could indirectly create through "global warming".

The people who don't have to save fuel and who want to read additional comments about the CO2 emissions of their cars are the very rich people who typically have many cars - and some of them have private jets, too. These people are buying Priuses or Prii ;-) in order to mask their trips by big cars and perhaps by their private jets (and many other regular commercial flights) and to feel good about their life. It is very clear that the more Prii these people have, the more they can morally "afford" to waste energy in other contexts. Consequently, Prii are bad.

So I would certainly leave the fuel economy to the invisible hand of the free markets because this hand is pretty powerful when the gasoline is at USD 4.00 a gallon. Please, only look how much you actually pay for energy, do not look at any other "environmental" numbers, and kindly inform those who look at them that they are morons. Incidentally, if you are afraid that the price will keep on climbing, you may pre-pay gasoline for the present prices from GasBankUSA.

Those chemicals that are used in batteries and other places when fancy cars are produced are almost certainly much more serious environmental issues than anything related to carbon dioxide.

But Matt Power's main argument is the following: while you consume energy if you drive a car, it takes a lot of energy to produce one, too. That's why the used cars may be more energy-efficient than the new cars, including fuel-efficient new cars.

Pierrehumbert doesn't like the argument. Why? Well, hybrids are obviously one of the sacred symbols of his movement and he doesn't like heretics who say anything bad about them. That's the true reason but Pierrehumbert can't reveal it openly. So how does he justify that he dislikes Power's valid argument about the energy cost of car production?

Well, Pierrehumbert is making almost the very same mistake as he did in the case of the old Victorian house. Recall that Pierrehumbert focused on rot in his house and on the decomposing napkins but he was unable to see that the rest of the wood in his house has survived for more than a century.

In this case, Pierrehumbert says that it doesn't help when you buy a used car because the previous owner has to buy a new car himself.

Pierrehumbert's reasoning is clearly falacious because the previous owner is deciding between used cars and Prii, too. If most of the people decide (or are encouraged) to use older cars rather than new cars, it is very clear that the average age of the car on the road will increase and the production of new cars - and the associated consumption of energy - will decrease.

If the previous owner decided to sell his used car and buy a new car - e.g. a new Prius - he was clearly acting against the recommendation by Matt Power. But Power's recommendation was addressed to all drivers, not just some of them, and those drivers who follow it are clearly helping to reduce the production of new cars and the associated waste of energy because they are increasing the "hotness" of the used cars.

Again, I certainly don't think that it is a sacred goal to reduce the production of new cars. 20% of the Czech economy is car production - we are the world's #1 country in car production per capita because we have just surpassed Slovakia that is now #2. ;-) But if I am asked to assume that it is a bad thing to consume energy, the energy consumed during car production is bad, too. And Power is right. It must be taken into account and in many cases, it will dominate the overall numbers.

Pierrehumbert as a symbol of the green inability to think

As Noam Chomsky wrote in 1957, colorless green ideas sleep furiously. He thought that the sentence didn't make sense but in 2008, it makes a lot of sense. The generic environmentalists are unable to think. Pierrehumbert is a great example of an intellectually deficient individual who have flooded the media, universities, political parties, and even some corporations. Let me mention two fallacies that are being repeated by these green brains all the time:
  1. The tendency to see a minor, irrelevant, small effect but not the major effects, the "bulk"
  2. The assumption of non-existing correlations that are used to subtract "inconvenient terms" and suppress "inconvenient correlations"
These entries may sound too abstract. So let me explain what I mean.

Externalities vs internalities

The first fallacy is often discussed under the name of "externalities". Externalities are consequences of an economic transaction for a third party. Environmentalists like to assume two wrong things about the externalities, namely that
  1. they are very important
  2. they are mostly negative
In reality, externalities are - almost by definition - less important than "internalities" even though the latter term is unfortunately not being used at all. If you buy a chocolate, the supermarket gets the money and you receive the chocolate. A child may also see a cute picture on the chocolate in your cart. That's an externality. But such effects influencing third parties are, almost by definition, less relevant than the "bulk" of the transaction itself.

Far-left people who love to speculate about communist myths such as the "inherent imperfections of the markets" and similar nonsense often like to see the irrelevant, small, additional effects but not the actual transaction. It is OK if these people are given a few bucks to play with (because we can afford to throw them out of the window) - another example of externalities - but it is usually a catastrophe if these people are allowed to influence (or control) whole companies or societies because they really have no idea about the "bulk" of all the relevant problems. They don't know the actual reasons and drivers of the human behavior. They don't know why things actually work.

Pierrehumbert has shown us this fallacy at least twice. In his discussion about the forests, he mentioned rot in his Victorian house, pretending that he had proven that all wood decomposes rapidly. However, he has forgotten the wood that has actually survived from the Victorian era. This quantity is both a majority of the wood used for houses as well as the critical quantity in the whole debate about old and new forests. Pierrehumbert is unable (or unwilling?) to see it.

Inventing non-existing correlations and cancellations

In the case of the used cars, he has made a related mistake. He didn't like Power's desacration of a religious symbol, the Prius. So he effectively said that if you buy a used car rather than a new Prius, it won't make a difference because the previous owner of the used car buys a new car, anyway. So his action will compensate yours.

The fallacy of this reasoning may also be described as the invention of correlations that do not exist in reality. In effect, Pierrehumbert assumes that if you decide that used cars are better than new cars, you will create another person who will decide that new cars are better than used cars.

This is clearly incorrect. The priorities of the other owners are clearly uncorrelated to your personal decisions. Power correctly assumes that there exists a quantity that measures how much people prefer the new cars over used cars or the other way around.

If people prefer new cars, a higher number of new cars is produced, no one wants certain used cars, and they are scrapped earlier. If people would begin to prefer the used cars, the average age of the car on the road will increase. The production of new cars would drop, together with the energy costs of this production.

If you are an average person who buys an average used car, the number of used cars on the road increases by the number N that is smaller than one - because the previous owner is likely to buy a new car - but that is smaller than zero, anyway - because this car could otherwise be scrapped (and the previous owner can buy another used car). Pierrehumbert showed an argument that N was smaller than one but he pretended that the argument meant that N was zero. That's wrong. N is somewhere between 0 and 1 but for most qualitative purposes, it is pretty much the same thing as we assume that it is 1, not 0. Power is qualitatively right, Pierrehumbert is qualitatively wrong.


The whole environmentalist ideology may be viewed as constant repetition of these two fallacies and several others. The greens identify some aspects of reality that are "holy" or, on the contrary, "evil", in the newest edition of their quasi-religion. And then they look for some links between these religious symbols on one side and "good" or "bad" things as understood by the sane people on the other side, in order to spread their quasi-religion.

It is always possible to find an effect (or a hypothetical effect) that links the "irrationally good" things with the "rationally good" things - or the "irrationally bad" things with the "rationally bad" things. Such an effect helps to propagate the quasi-religious symbols and it is routinely blown out of proportion (the greenhouse effect is the most popular example as of 2008).

However, there are also many other effects - including effects that correlate "irrationally good" things with "rationally bad" things and vice versa - that are inconvenient for the greens. So they use all kinds of logical fallacies, propaganda, and intimidation to hide all these inconvenient links. For example, the Sun and the turbulence of the oceans surely cannot influence the climate, can it? The wooden Victorian houses no longer contain any carbon and every used car on the road has a "twin" that is a new car. ;-)

The detailed character of the green holy symbols and the preferred effects that are used as weapons to impose the quasi-religion on the rest of the society is changing with time. But the inherent irrational and unscientific nature of the green ideology is a constant of motion.

And that's the memo.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Predictions vs understanding

In this essay, I would like to discuss some differences between "predictions" and "understanding" as two slightly distinct outcomes of theoretical research.

Some people like to think that "predictions" are the only purpose of scientific theories. Such a belief largely contradicts the main motivation behind theorists' work. Theorists don't want to ask the question "what will happen" all the time. They like to ask the question "why", too.

The question "why" is actually very important. Even if our predictions of particular phenomena don't change at all, it is still possible that our theoretical framework evolves. And it may sometimes evolve dramatically. The explanations get unified and unnecessary excess baggage is jetisoned, as Murray Gell-Mann says in the commercial for a famous ex-company above. ;-)

Such improvements of the "why" questions often help us to answer the "how" and "what will happen" questions more accurately later. Theorists often ask themselves:

Do things make sense?

Even if they have some formulae that satisfactorily predict the empirically observed numbers, these formulae may make a lot of sense or much less sense. Our explanations may look natural or they may look contrived. If an explanation looks contrived, it doesn't mean that a theory and its predictions are wrong.

But it doesn't mean that theorists will ignore the contrived features of their theory, either.

When an explanation looks contrived, a theorist is not fully satisfied even if the predictions seem to be accurate. The status of such an explanation is somewhere in between an acceptable theory and an unacceptable theory. Such a fuzzy status of an explanation may be transformed into a well-defined problem if an actual sharp contradiction is found. But a semi-satisfactory theory may also become fully satisfactory if all the reasons why the theory look contrived are proven to be artifacts of our wrong assumptions and misleading intuition.

Black box answering all questions

In order to understand the difference between our capability to predict and our ability to understand, consider the following situation. You are given a black box - or a computer program, for that matter. You enter the information about the particles you want to scatter and the black box spits out (the statistical distributions of) the quantities measured by the detectors.

And the black box will always be right. Using the box, you may predict the results of all scattering experiments.

In this situation, should you be satisfied with our explanation of particle scattering? I think that the answer is obviously No. The black box may know the answers but "we" don't know it. We can't identify ourselves with the black box because we don't know how the black box works. With the black box, we may predict results of experiments.

But the mystery really hasn't disappeared at all. In fact, it is plausible that the method how the black box answers the questions is simply that the black box contains a particle collider inside and it performs all the experiments. If it is so, the predictions of the black box are not real predictions of experiments: they are the experiments themselves.

But even if we admit that the black box works differently, the mysterious question "why do the particles do what they are observed to do?" is replaced by the equally mysterious question "why does the black box say what it does?". We haven't made much progress in our understanding of particle scattering unless we know something about the internal workings of the black box.

Can we trust computers?

In reality, we are frequently using gadgets that are somewhat similar to the black box above. We use computers to do complicated calculations for us. For example, lattice QCD people use supercomputers to calculate the properties of hadron. If their calculations match the experimental data, should we be satisfied?

This question is more subtle and there is a reason to be satisfied. Why? Simply because we know how the lattice QCD programs work, at least roughly. We know the QCD Lagrangian and the computational procedures that the programs employ.

On the other hand, we may still feel that if a computer does a very complicated sequence of calculations in order to produce a qualitative answer, we still don't understand why the answer is what it is. We may often look for an easier explanation that can be formulated without the brute force of the computers.

It is important to realize that we are never guaranteed that such a better explanation exists. If a correct formula that appears in our explanation or the qualitative patterns of an explanation look truly regular, accurate, or if they seem to agree with some simple mathematical functions, it is sensible to expect that a better explanation than a huge sequence of numerical calculations should exist. While it is reasonable to expect it, it may still happen that subsequent research proves that such a "simpler" explanation cannot exist.

How much unified our theories have to be?

We normally want our explanations to be as universal as possible. In other words, we want our descriptions of different pieces of reality to be as unified as possible. If the correct predictions of a class of phenomena may be extracted from a compact formula or a concise set of rules, we always tend to think that the explanation is better than a very contrived explanation that predicts the phenomena with a similar accuracy.

Everyone knows why Newton's theory is a better explanation of the motion of planets than epicycles with properly engineered 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order corrections. The simplicity of Newton's laws is not just a matter of aesthetics: the simplicity also encodes their universality. When you use them properly, they predict not only the motion of planets but also the motion of apples and moons, among other things.

We are looking for compact, unified descriptions of reality because these descriptions are more likely to be correct even if they predict equally accurate results as some contrived, fragmented explanations with many undetermined parameters or many independent assumptions. Why? Simply because the actual reason why the contrived explanations work could be that they have been "adjusted" to agree with reality. Contrived explanations are elements of large classes of families of explanations and the probability that at least one element agrees with reality "by chance" (even though it is fundamentally incorrect) increases with the size of the family.

When compact explanations, simple formulae, and theories based on a small number of assumptions and parameters agree with observations, we have a good reason to think that the agreement is not just a coincidence.

These comments are usually understood well in the context of the climate science. If a climate model - and the process to compare it with the measurements - depends on many choices, parameters, conventions, and methods, the agreement is less spectacular and less surprising. You may always think that the choices, parameters, conventions, and methods have been deliberately chosen to improve the agreement but the agreement may be a matter of "coincidence".

If the agreement is less accurate and describes less detailed features of the data, it tells us less about the validity of the theory, too.

However, the question of "adjusted theories" is almost completely misunderstood by the public in the context of theories of fundamental physics. If a theory has a landscape of solutions - e.g. the landscape of string theory - it certainly doesn't mean that everything goes. The number 10^{500} of the elements of the landscape may look large to the laymen but it is an extremely tiny number of possible theories that should agree with all observations ever made.

If you imagine that the mankind has only performed 1,000,000 a priori "independent" experiments (and it is surely an underestimate!) and there were roughly 10 possible outcomes of each experiment (another underestimate), the number of possible outcomes of the set of experiments is 10^{1,000,000}. The probability that you will correctly describe all of them with one element of a 10^{500}-strong landscape "by chance" is completely negligible, especially if the 10^{500} elements of the landscape share virtually all "qualitative" features.

Again, your explanation would be much more convincing once you knew how to pick the right element from the landscape. But a scientist can't build on wishful thinking. Nature has the universal right to say No. The number of solutions that are acceptable at the present level of our knowledge simply is 10^{500} or higher. And we must be comparing the explanations we have.

String theory and effective quantum field theory are the two frameworks that agree with all particle physics experiments that have been made so far. While string theory only has a "finite" or at most "countable" number of possibilities, there is a "continuously infinite" number of quantum field theories because their coupling constants and other parameters must be understood as paramaterizations of "different theories".

When you do the calculation properly, string theory is far more predictive and constrained than quantum field theory, even with the 10^{500} elements. This is a conclusion that most laymen are completely incapable to do because they are simply overwhelmed by numbers of order 10^{500} and they can't distinguish them from infinity. But in certain contexts (for example if you want to answer all questions about Nature), these are damn tiny numbers.

Note that the entropy of the Universe exceeds 10^{100}, a googol, which means that the minimum dimension of the Hilbert space needed to describe the whole Universe is 10^{10^{100}}, a googolplex. This is way too higher than 10^{500}. And the number of possible configurations of experimental results in all experiments, if you count all microscopic parts of the experiments as separate entities, is closer to the googolplex, too. It is extremely unlikely (the probability is close to the inverse googolplex) that the results will agree with an element of the landscape whose size, 10^{500}, is closer to a modest googol rather than to a googolplex.

Moreover, even if you disagreed that string theory is much more constraining than effective quantum field theories and you would think that they have an equal number of possibilities, you should note that this is a "tie" between the two frameworks in this particular discipline. With such a "tie", you have no rational reason to think that effective quantum field theory is a superior framework just because it is older than string theory. With your assumption, they are "equally predictive" and you should give them equal chances.

Moreover, we can easily see that effective field theory becomes completely unpredictive in the context of Planckian physics and quantum gravity while string theory becomes extremely well-defined and predictive in that regime. That's of course the main reason why string theory is superior as a description of the physical reality. But as I have emphasized above, even if the "predictive power" were your main criterion, string theory would be at the top. In the extremely traditionalist approach, it would be there together with effective quantum field theory.

Finally, I want to mention that we have talked about 1,000,000 of "a priori independent" experiments. Needless to say, all these experiments are not "a posteriori independent". All known experiments are manifestations of the same Standard Model or the same general realtivity, after all. But the fact that the experiments have become "dependent" or related is nothing else than the existence of a theory - or a unifying theory - itself. The less independent various phenomena in Nature look, i.e. the more interlinked (and unified) they are, the more we have understood about their origin.

Can theories always be visualized?

Let me close this topic and mention another feature that people like to expect from attractive theories. They can "imagine" or even "draw" what they mean. The internal mechanisms can be "visualized" and "seen". If it is possible to imagine - or to create a visually impressive TV program about - a theory, the theory feels "superior".

In my opinion, this sentiment is a sentiment of the laypersons. In reality, there is no reason for a theory to be ready for an easy visualization. An impressive visualization may help a theory to be accepted by the people but the existence of such a visualization doesn't imply that the theory is more correct or more fundamental. Many correct theories that describe the reality at the fundamental level are notoriously hard to imagine or visualize simply because our cognitive abilities - and the movie industry - have been trained to imagine and visualize very different types of phenomena from those that are essential at the fundamental level.

So I think that the expectation that all things can be "seen" is unjustified. But even if you believed that the expectation is sensible, you should never treat it as a dogma. When you refine your ideas, the conjecture that a process can be visualized in a certain way is just another conjecture about the Universe. And conjectures in science can be incorrect. And they can often be proven incorrect.

The hidden variables in quantum mechanics are one of the best examples. A classical picture of the internal structure of quantum mechanical objects has been a dream of many people. The fathers of quantum mechanics realized that there was no reason why such a mechanistic description should exist. And in fact, after a few decades, we became able to prove that such a classical description is impossible as long as you accept that the Universe respects causality and locality at least at some basic level.

It has been proven that a particular project (of hidden variables) to rewrite the laws of physics in a "visualized" fashion has been doomed from the start. It doesn't matter that the project looked attractive to you. Nature always has the right to veto your theoretical projects. ;-)

Should we be satisfied with our understanding?

This brings me to another, related question: should we ever become satisfied with our present description of reality? Imagine that the description works but it looks a bit contrived and the reasons behind its detailed properties don't seem to be manifest.

Again, I would like to emphasize that the answer to this question can't be universal. If a feature looks contrived, it may be a sign of an inconsistency or incompleteness of your present theory. But such an awkward feeling may also be your personal psychological problem caused by your incorrect assumptions. When scientists study their theories and their relations to the relevant phenomena and other phenomena more carefully, they may usually decide which answer is correct.

In some cases, the contrived theories are shown to be incomplete and a new description that is more universal or that makes more sense is found later. In other cases, the feelings of "dissatisfaction" are proven to be misguided psychological feelings based on certain assumptions and these assumptions may be shown to be incorrect. Both possibilities are conceivable and a rational person can never be certain about the answer from the very beginning - only a dogmatic person can.

Can everything be predicted?

A similar question is whether we should expect that our theories will answer all "why" questions or whether some of their counterintuitive features will remain confusing or unexplained forever. Once again, we can't ever be completely sure.

A priori, we want to explain as much as possible. We want to ask new "why" questions whenever we can. On the other hand, there may also exist - and there often do exist - real limitations caused by the laws of physics. These limitations may imply that a better explanation can't exist. They may imply that all of our ideas how a "better" or "more fundamental" explanation should look like may be proven to be incorrect. Whether or not they look a priori intriguing is secondary.

None of these questions has a universal answer and we must always be ready to invent rational arguments and listen to rational arguments of others because in some cases, it is very important and fruitful to search for better explanations while in other cases, it can be shown to be a misguided philosophical exercise driven by irrational assumptions about the reality.

Are "useful" predictions necessary?

Finally, let me emphasize a point that has been written many times on this blog. A real theorist is not driven by practical applications of his work. He is driven by his desire to understand how the real world works. He wants to know about every awkward aspect of our newest theories and he wants to know which of them can be improved by finding a new theory - or by interpreting it in a new way - and which of them can't.

Saturday, June 14, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

How to play golf

Video 1: "On that evening, my father was strangely anxious." This video shouldn't be watched by readers below 18 years of age.

We just spent an afternoon in Prague by learning to play golf. There are so many types of clubs and it is so difficult to hit the ball, especially for your humble correspondent. ;-) Moreover, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle guarantees that the higher momentum the club has, the less accurately it strikes the ball. I won't bother you with details but one minor pedagogical point is perhaps worth mentioning.

Friday, June 13, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Ireland rejects Treaty of Lisbon: 53.4% "No"

The Treaty of Lisbon is a document that has replaced the failed European Constitution. It avoids some of the common European symbols and similar superficial details but the essence is unchanged. It is designed as a step to change the European Union into one country, one nation.

Is it good, is it bad?


The treaty is extremely problematic from a constitutional legal viewpoint. In many countries, including Czechia, the Constitutional Court decides whether the treaty is compatible with the national constitutions. This particular question is no detail because an unconstitutional conglomerate of contradictory laws could bring havoc to the national legal systems.

And it is not quite trivial to simply allow supernational laws to operate on your territory because there exist all kinds of other reasons why this shouldn't occur. Also, even if you were a eurofanatic, you can't just replace the national laws by the EU laws because the latter don't exist in many contexts and even if they did exist, the societies would not be ready for them.

Nathan Berkovits: constructing a proof of the AdS/CFT correspondence

N=4 SYM Feynman diagrams are spin networks!

Previous article about the topic: Berkovits, Vafa: proving AdS/CFT
Nathan Berkovits wrote what I consider the most interesting paper (PDF) on hep-th today. It is nothing else than a perturbative proof of the AdS/CFT correspondence for the N=4 gauge theory and the AdS5 x S5 background of type IIB string theory.

Nathan Berkovits doesn't refer to Penrose's work but I think he should because Nathan's new paper is the most meaningful application of the concept of spin networks in physics.

Some history

Recall that Roger Penrose invented the spin networks in 1964 although it only got published in 1971. You have links that carry SU(2) spin "j" and that can be joined by vertices respecting the SU(2) symmetry, with the 3j-symbols entering as coefficients.

This is a somewhat cultural issue: particle physicists would refer to Ken Wilson all the time while general relativists would always talk about Roger Penrose. But it is true that Penrose invented spin networks years before Ken Wilson proposed Wilson lines (or loops) as a tool to study lattice QCD - that he also invented - in 1974.

Using the language of Wilson lines, the spin network construction can be applied to any gauge field. Quantum gravity in 4 dimensions was believed not to have such a gauge field but some people liked Penrose's idea so much that they invented a gauge field. They encoded the vielbein in a gauge field and claimed that spin networks are relevant for quantum gravity.

Thursday, June 12, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Feynman and Fermi: radio play

I recommend you a neat radio play about the Manhattan project:

Atomic bombers (real audio, 2 hours)
LATW plays at KPCC (website)
Real Player is required. Download it from and you will also be able to record the program. That may be helpful because the files will disappear from the website in about a week (or 3 months?).

Also starring: Bethe, Oppenheimer, Compton, and others.

I could probably say that the actor is not Richard Feynman but it is a cute cartoon, anyway. His "okay" sounds authentic and the facts are also fine as all readers of Feynman's books can tell.

Why can't they see themselves in the mirror?

Note that different people have different research approaches. The two old ladies check that none of them can see herself and the problem is solved! ;-)

The other older lady makes an experiment with motion and rigorously determines that she is ... well ... unsichtbar. :-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

GLAST blasts off

One second ago, GLAST, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, was successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Google News).

It should look at the Universe in the gamma-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The gadget should be able to do various things, for example to observe gamma-ray bursts, solar flares, and the annihilation of the particles of dark matter (such as supersymmetry's neutralinos?) if this process is possible.

Among the less important applications, the telescope is able to falsify all Lee Smolin's theories of quantum gravity and to prove that Lee Smolin, who predicts that special relativity is a failure, has never been a serious worker in the field.

BP: peak oil reached

The Guardian informs us that according to an annual review published by BP today, the world oil output fell from 2006 to 2007.

Figure 1: an oil barrel. You often hear about it but did you know how it looks like? ;-) It still costs less than USD 1 per liter which is like the cheapest beer brands.

The daily oil production fell by 0.13 million barrels (0.15 percent) to 81.53 million barrels per day. The proven oil reserves stayed essentially flat at 1.24 trillion barrels which is 41.7 years of current production. Using the current prices around USD 140 per barrel, the value of proven oil reserves is about USD 170 trillion i.e. the global GDP for roughly 3-4 years.

Spencer, Braswell: Fixing feedback diagnosis

In this dose of peer-reviewed skeptical literature about climate change, we look into Journal of Climate. Roy Spencer and William "Danny" Braswell wrote the paper called

Potential Biases in Feedback Diagnosis from Observational Data: A Simple Model Demonstration (click)
PhysOrg.COM offers you a press release:
Has global warming research misinterpreted cloud behavior?
Spencer et al. argue that whenever a correlation is observed (especially in the case of the cloudiness-temperature links), it is essential to distinguish which processes are the causes and which processes are their consequence.

They cleverly play with a theoretical toy model to demonstrate the wrong conclusions about the feedback strength that models and modelers often make - an approach that clearly makes theorists like myself happy. When the fixes are done, the climate sensitivity is shown to be much smaller. We have discussed this issue several times. For example, read the May article Spencer vs RealClimate.

In the press release, Spencer also repeats a thesis you may have read many times on this blog - namely that the climate is probably dominated by negative feedbacks, i.e. stabilizing mechanisms, not by positive feedbacks, i.e. destabilizing mechanisms. The apparent stability of the Earth for billions of years is a major reason to believe this general thesis.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

WMAP power asymmetry: FAQ

WMAP globe

A lot of confusion - and downright nonsense - has been written about the power asymmetry of the WMAP data. The "contrast" of one cellestial hemisphere seems to be greater than the "contrast" of the other hemisphere.

Is there an asymmetry at all?

Yes, it has been described by Eriksen et al. in 2003. See also their 2007 update. It is not too strong but it is observable.

How do you divide the sky to the hemispheres?

There is clearly no "canonical" way to divide the sky but it just happens that the dividing plane that maximizes the asymmetry is rather close to the plane of ecliptic - i.e. the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun. As you might know, this plane is also very close to the ecliptic plane of the Milky Way, i.e. our galaxy.

Is the asymmetry statistically significant?

Yes, it is. It is approximately by one order of magnitude larger than the expected strength of "noise".

Cannot you get rid of this effect by some trivial "fix"?

The answer is probably Yes. In 2006, Freeman et al. have shown that the asymmetry for "l" smaller than 8 disappears if the WMAP dipole vector is increased by 1-3 sigma (i.e. 2-6 km/s, from 368.11 km/s). The asymmetry at higher values of "l" probably goes away if the foreground near the ecliptic (the galactic processes that "pollute" the global picture near the "equator") is treated more carefully.

Sunday, June 08, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Sherwood, Allen, and radiosondes

The media recently wrote far-reaching comments about the latest Nature Geophysics article by Steven Sherwood and Robert Allen (Yale University):

Warming maximum in the tropical upper troposphere deduced from thermal winds.
The authors - or at least the media - have claimed that a new method to "measure" the tropical tropospheric temperatures has removed all contradictions between the theoretical and empirical warming rates in the troposphere.

Recall that the greenhouse-dominated models predict rapid warming in the troposphere, roughly 10 km above the equator. The satellite measurements (UAH MSU, RSS MSU) show an actual warming rate that is at least 10 times slower than the theoretical predictions. The data from balloons and radiosondes they carry, for example the Hadley Center data, confirm the satellite figures. Detailed numbers will be discussed below.

That seems to be a problem. Every acceptable solution to this problem must either find serious errors in both the satellite and balloon data or a serious error in the theoretical models (or both).

Steven Sherwood and his pre-PhD student, Robert Allen, use a different strategy. They pretend that the discrepancy doesn't exist at all. How do they do it? Well, they want you to believe that the measurements of the temperatures don't exist. Instead, they propose their own, idiosyncratic, elaborated "measurement" of the tropospheric temperatures. Well, there is one additional immediate problem: it's not really their own method, as we will see. ;-)

Roger Pielke SrSherwood & Allen vs Pielke Sr

They look at some patterns in the thermal (?) westerly winds, manipulate them to obtain a rather continuous function, and claim that this function of the winds data is ... a measurement of temperature that is apparently better than the thermometers. Their method is not really original: it is a small subset of the methods discussed by Roger Pielke Sr and two co-authors in 2006 and especially by Pielke Sr and four co-authors in 2001. See also Pielke's comments about his priority.

String theory animation

This is what they had to create as an "introductory animation exercise" in Andrzej Zarzycki's course, "Advanced Computing Studio", in Fall 2007. Wow.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Euro 08

Euro 2008 (Wikipedia) begins tonight, at 6 p.m. local (Swiss) time, by the match Switzerland vs Czechia. Petr Čech, which means Peter Czech, is one of the sharp tools of the Czech team.

The goalie - attached to the Russian Wheel of the Vienna Prater - differs from others because he is 42 meters tall and has 8 arms.

Friday, June 06, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Only His nonexistence could excuse Him

Tom Levenson, an MIT professor of science writing, wrote an interesting analysis of Einstein's relationships to Judaism in particular and religion in general.

Einstein's characteristic attitude is revealed by the following quote in his letter to Edgar Meyer (January 1915):

I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him.
I have heard many people saying that Einstein was a deeply religious person. It was never clear to me why they ever thought so (if they actually did). Even a superficial reading of Einstein's texts - including at least some of the things hidden in between the lines - must assure a sensible reader that Albert Einstein was as strong an atheist as e.g. Steven Weinberg.

Einstein's nice words about Jewishness largely reflected his compassion with other Jews who have also been harrassed because of their ethnicity. Einstein's references to God in general speeches were engineered to maintain his good relationships with other Jews while all of his authentic comments about God were metaphors about science (for example, the remarks about God who didn't play dice).

I remember reading his "Mein Weltbild" that makes many of Einstein's opinions about religion, Jewishness, pacifism, Nazism and German politics, quantum mechanics, origins of relativity, dynamics of rivers ;-), principled theories in physics, other giants of physics, and many other topics manifest. The book was translated to English as "The World As I See It": unfortunately, the translation is not quite complete.

Among thousands of other ideas, he explains that he thinks that religion was born out of fear while the "other" type of religion - linked to moral values - has almost nothing to do with the classical concepts about God.

In this short text, I don't want to claim that Einstein's opinions were good or bad but they have been whatever they have been. What I find more surprising is the easiness with which some elementary historical questions - such as Einstein's opinions about religion - can be rewritten and clouded in myths. It is both tempting and doable to employ authorities of Einstein's magnitude as drivers of a particular world view.

Smartkit: I/O game

Full screen (click)
There are no instructions, so you must solve it yourself. ;-)

It told me that the total time was 5 minutes. If you solve it, you will see 6 words in the first line of a small window. In the fast comments, write the first word that hasn't been written by anyone before you - so that the successful solvers eventually write the whole message.

More games like this one:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

UAH MSU: May 2008 cooler than April by 0.19 °C

Firefox 3 RC2 recommended...

Another related advertisement: finally sells Václav Klaus' new book, "Blue Planet in Green Shackles", again. Click the link on the left.
UAH MSU have released their new satellite data for May 2008. The global anomaly was -0.17 °C, the coldest reading after January 2000 and the third coldest monthly figure after September 1993.

UAH MSU global mean temperature

Yes, I mean that anomaly-wise, the May was even colder than all the cool months of 2008, despite the dramatically weakening La Nina that now seems likely to change to ENSO neutral conditions this month. For example, the month-on-month cooling from April 2008 was by 0.19 °C while May 2008 was more than 0.75 °C cooler than January 2007. See the trend since January 2007 above.

The average anomaly for the first five months of 2008 is negative. 1994 was the last year whose average annual anomaly was negative.

Regional details

The month-on-month cooling included both hemispheres - by 0.21 °C on the NH and by 0.17 °C on the SH. Also, it covered the ocean as well as the land (on both hemispheres) pretty symmetrically.

The middle troposphere reveals a similar recent cooling trend. In some cases, it is not just recent. For example, the warming trend for the Southern Hemisphere during the last 30 years is 0.00 °C per decade while the warming trend for the troposphere above the world's ocean is 0.03 °C per decade, about 15 times slower than the IPCC-predicted trend. The middle troposphere is where the greenhouse theory predicts the most rapid warming.

The Sun

The Sun has been spotless at least for 9 days. The standardized May sunspot number was 2.9, equal to April, and the solar flux was even slightly lower than in April, namely 68.4.

See Anthony Watts' comments about the monthly data.


RSS MSU confirmed the cooling. May's anomaly of -0.08 °C was also the coldest figure since January 2000.