Tuesday, March 31, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Optical effects near black holes

This posting is a continuation of Relativistic optical effects that focused on special relativity. Today, let us look at some visualizations of optical effects in general relativity.

Black holes are clearly the most typical localized objects where the general relativistic effects show their muscles. Again, there is a whole website with videos and animated GIFs showing what the observers see when a Schwarzschild black hole is nearby:

Andrew Hamilton's website
Hamilton & Polhemus (a preprint)
Let me offer the following specific links to videos and animations:The website and the preprint remind you of all the important phenomena that influence these situations.

Key phenomena

Lindzen & Spencer on climate sensitivity

Just two links:

Richard Lindzen (MIT) explains the value of the climate sensitivity. The bare value 1.2 °C is modified by a strong negative feedback and the resulting sensitivity about 0.3 °C is roughly ten times smaller than what the IPCC wants you to believe:

Lindzen at Watts' blog (click)
See also Roy Spencer's (UAH) text on a similar topic:
Spencer at Watts' blog (click)
Off-topic: Obama in Prague

Barack H. Obama will give his first European speech as the U.S. president on Sunday, on the Hradčanské Square in Prague. He will focus on nuclear proliferation.

Click the picture to zoom in or buy golden coins Obama in Prague.

The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition

Episode 2x19 of The Big Bang Theory:

Watch it (click)
Alicia, a new neighbor, moves into the building and Penny feels she's a competitor. Incidentally, Penny probably supported Hillary in 2008.

However, Penny describes her feelings in demonstrably fallacious terms. In order to beat Alicia who is ahead in acting achievements (a new hooker in CSI!), she ultimately resorts to jokes loaded with physics jargon and other credible evidence of her own geekiness.

Downstairs, Sheldon offers a lecture on the dynamics of beehives to place Penny's emotions into their proper context. However, my dear TV caricature may honestly fail to realize the homomorphism between the queen bees and the young ladies :-).

Well, I am compassionate with Penny. And I feel she deserves it, too. But only for a while! Penny looks like a much better personality to me than Alicia does, and not only because of the references to Star Trek that she has absorbed from her environment.

Monday, March 30, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

A 2005 interview with David Gross

How QCD was discovered? Did they drink once they found it? Was CERN important for Gross? Does the Nobel committee appreciate theoretical results? What did Gross read when he was 13?

Sunday, March 29, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Bedřich Smetana: The Moldau

Yesterday, I missed the birthday of John Amos Comenius, the 17th century Czech "teacher of nations": see the picture on the left side. Sorry for that. Use some standard sources such as the Wikipedia link if you're interested.

In May 2009, it will have been 125 from the death of Bedřich Smetana, one of the two most famous Czech composers. A few weeks ago, it has been 185 years from his birth. The most natural video to include in this text is my video collage of his most renowned composition, "Vltava", composed during 18 days at the end of 1874.

Saturday, March 28, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Boltzmann eggs can't exist

Off-topic: Discovery landed smoothly: video

In science, the goal is to deduce correct answers to well-defined questions, using insights that have been directly or indirectly induced from the experiments and observations. To realize this task in a particular context, we

  1. must define the questions accurately enough - we must know the context, some information about the system, its initial or final state, or at least some information about it or them
  2. want to deduce something else about the system, usually in terms of probabilities of different answers, outcomes, predictions for the future, or retrodictions about the past (because certainty is rare) - propositions that can be tested, at least in principle
  3. must use the correct microscopic laws to calculate the probabilities, the correct identification of the mathematical objects and the observed ones, and the correct laws of mathematical logic to deal with propositions and/or their probabilities.
On the picture above, an egg in a closed box is created out of a complete chaos - avoiding the evolution as envisioned by Charles Darwin. Such an egg that is nothing else than a random statistical fluctuation is referred to as the Boltzmann egg, in analogy with the Boltzmann brain and other Boltzmann things, even though this particular egg could also be called an "intelligently designed" egg.

Can the process on the picture above be realized in the world we inhabit? Can the existing science answer this question?

The answer is that science can obviously answer this question: the latter step can be realized while the former step cannot. To see why, we must carefully formulate what we know, what we want to find out, and what are the correct formulae to compute the odds.

Entropy and its difference

The initial and final "chaotic" states have entropy S_0 which is greater than S_1, the entropy of the intermediate state of the egg.

If we use quantum mechanics - or if we divide the classical phase space into cells whose volume is comparable to the appropriate power of Planck's constant "h" in quantum mechanics - there are roughly exp(S_0) configurations or microstates that look like the "chaotic" state.

A much smaller subset of configurations, exp(S_1) of them, macroscopically resembles the egg in the middle of the picture. The difference between S_0 and S_1 will be called dS, and it is comparable to 10^{25} times Boltzmann's constant (which will be set to one, by a natural choice of units) for realistic eggs.

This means that the number of microstates corresponding to the "chaos" is roughly exp(10^{25}) times higher than the number of microstates corresponding to the "egg" because almost each atom gains/loses one unit of entropy or so. It's a huge factor and you should convince yourself that no details about the counting of the microstates will affect this number "qualitatively": only the logarithm of the logarithm of the number of microstates is easy to imagine, and we don't know whether it is 24 or 26, anyway: it is certainly close to the exponent from Avogadro's constant.

Calculating the probabilities

Let us now estimate the probabilities that the evolution takes place as the picture dictates. Among the exp(S_0) high-entropy states, a random initial microstate has pretty much the same odds - which must therefore be comparable to exp(-S_0) - to evolve into any other microstate in the ensemble. For each pair of microstates, we will assume the transition probability to be equal to exp(-S_0).

It follows that the probability that the initial "chaos" evolves into the final "chaos" is pretty much equal to 1. The factors of exp(S_0) cancel.

What happens if the "egg" is the initial state or the final state? Well, the time evolution of an "egg" microstate by a sufficient time "t" (much longer than the time needed for the egg to get spoiled, and for any conceivably emergent chicken to die and decompose) gives you almost certainly a microstate that looks like "chaos".

So what is the probability that an "egg" evolves into "chaos" after time "t"? It is essentially equal to 1.

What about the other (left) process, namely a process whose initial state is "chaos" and whose final state is "egg"? The stupid people without any common sense and without any knowledge of thermodynamics think that the probability will also be equal to 1, by the time-reversal symmetry.

The more sensible people know that the egg can't be born out of chaos. So this probability is essentially equal to 0. Note that we are not talking about any vague philosophical or untestable questions. We are talking about a very physical, observable question whether an egg will be created out of a complete chaos. And the two candidate answers to the probability question - either almost 0 or almost 1 - are as different as you can get. If science couldn't answer this question, it could clearly answer no realistic questions at all.

Who is right? The stupid people or the sensible people?

Yes, the sensible people are right. How do we calculate the probability that a "chaotic" configuration evolves into an "egg"? Well, the initial state is a "chaotic" microstate. We don't know which state it exactly is. So we must assume that it is one of those states that look like "chaos". Each of these microstates is pretty much equally likely - or at least microstates that only differ by extremely tiny microscopic differences are equally likely as the initial state.

The final state is a state of an "egg". Again, we don't know which microstate it is. What we must be really asking about in our macroscopic question is what is the probability that we obtain any microstate that looks like an "egg" in the future. We sum the probabilities over all final egg-like microstates.

A simple multiplication

As we have mentioned, the probability of evolution from any initial microstate out of the set with exp(S_0) elements and any final microstate from the same set is comparable to exp(-S_0). This is also true if one or two of these statets is egg-like. What is the probability of the "chaos to egg" evolution? We must pick one initial microstate but we must sum over all egg-like final microstates because all of them are OK.

The precise choice of the initial microstate doesn't matter because virtually all of them evolve in the same way. The probability of any "microstate to microstate" evolution is exp(-S_0). But because we allow exp(S_1) possible final egg-like microstates, the total probability is
Prob = exp(S1) exp(-S0) = exp(S1-S0) = exp(-dS).
For our numbers, the probability is close to exp(-10^{25}). It's zero. It's important that there are two exponentials embedded in each other. Even if you allow the "egg creation" to occur anywhere and if you multiply exp(-dS) by things like the number of particles in the visible Universe, i.e. surely by less than 10^{100}, you will get zero for all practical purposes.

The process can't ever occur in the real world. This conclusion has nothing to do with cosmology or anything whatsoever that occurs outside the box or before or after the hypothetical process, for that matter. It is a completely robust conclusion of local physics.

In the 19th century, people didn't know that our Universe had a localized origin - the Big Bang. So they may have been confused about the "infinite past" of our Cosmos and various "infrared" regularizations needed to interpret the past properly. But they knew that the Boltzmann brains and eggs were less likely than anything they could think of.

For example, even if you assume that there is no organizing principle on the landscape of stringy vacua and our Universe had to be finely selected from a seemingly random jungle of 10^{500} equally likely (unrealistic!) vacua, this reduction of the probability of life is still negligible relatively to the suppression of probability needed to create an egg by a statistical fluctuation: 10^{500} is much much less than 10^{10^{25}}. Let me write this sentence more uniformly:
10^{500} is much much less than 10^{10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000}. Got it? :-)
And we have only required that a single egg is created for a while, before it gets rotten. Imagine that we would be more ambitious about the "life". ;-) No, eggs or brains can't be created as statistical fluctuations. According to everything we know, the probability of such a hypothesis is zero for all conceivable practical purposes.

Any hypothesis that offers a different mechanism behind the evolution than a statistical fluctuation can be scientifically shown to be vastly preferred over the hypothesis of a statistical fluctuation - as long as the probability it predicts for the observed phenomena is nonzero. We don't need any fancy science to derive this conclusion and this conclusion doesn't contradict any other well-established insights about science.

Time-reversal asymmetry of logic

Note that the probability of "egg to chaos" was equal to one while the probability of "chaos to egg" was equal to exp(-dS), i.e. essentially to zero. How is it possible that these two probabilities are so vastly different even though the processes seem to be time-reversal images of each other, and should have the same odds according to the time-reversal (or CPT) symmetry?

The answer is, of course, that the actual macroscopic processes we considered are not time-reversal images of each other. They cannot be.

If we considered the evolution of one particular initial microstate to one particular final microstate, it would be possible to revert the evolution and use the time-translation symmetry to derive the conclusion about equal probabilities. But we are asking macroscopic questions: we must be careful what these questions actually mean and how their odds are computed.

The "egg to chaos" evolution refers to
  • a random initial egg-like state
  • a random final chaos-like state
while the "chaos to egg" evolution refers to
  • a random initial chaos-like state
  • a random final egg-like state.
As you can see, the description above still looks T-symmetric. But the formulae to calculate the probabilities are not images of each other at all! If you try to write down these formulae, you will also be forced to refine the descriptions above and you will see that there's no T-symmetry here. The "egg to chaos" macroscopic probability is computed by
  • averaging over initial egg-like states
  • summing over final chaos-like states
while the "chaos to egg" macroscopic probability is computed by
  • averaging over initial chaos-like states
  • summing over final egg-like states.
Once we tried to be a little bit quantitative, we saw that the past-future symmetry was really broken in all these macroscopic statements. The initial state is "average(d over)" while the final state can be "any" within a certain ensemble. These two adjectives may sound similar - like the word "random" - except that one of them (initial) is determined and assumed when the evolution is computed, while the other (final) is not.

The averaging over initial states is necessary because we said that the initial state was random within a certain ensemble. On the other hand, all final states that agree with a certain macroscopic description are equally good.

So there's no averaging over final states: we sum over them. The dynamical laws actually tell us whether the final state is random or not. And indeed, the final state is almost always random within its macroscopic ensemble. This fact can be derived but it can only be derived for the final states. For the initial states, it must be assumed.

On the other hand, we can never assume anything about the future. The information about the future is always derived - because the future itself has always evolved from the past. Only nutcases who think that they are prophets are starting with an assumption about the future, in order to derive something about the present or the past. All sensible people know that they don't know what the future will be - and the only way to learn something about it is to process the data known from the past (or the present).

You might say that this asymmetry between the past and the future is merely "psychological": we just don't know what the future is but "someone" objectively does know.

The stupid people might think that science should "circumvent" this detail. But science can never circumvent the "detail" that certain things are not known. The future can never be known a priori and this is a fundamentally important fact for anyone who wants to deduce answers to any questions rationally. Feel free to think that it's "just" an issue of psychology but if something is not known and cannot be known, anyone starting with assumptions about it - pretending that they're the primary insights about the world - is a nutcase.

Different denominators

At any rate, it's clear where the factor of exp(-dS) comes from. We are always averaging the probabilities over initial states and summing over final states. These sum/averages can always be written as a double sum over both initial and final states divided by a certain number.

But for the allowed process, "egg to chaos", the double sum is only divided by exp(S_1) while for the forbidden process, "chaos to egg", the double sum has to be divided by a much larger number, exp(S_0). That's why the probability of "chaos to egg" is much smaller - and essentially zero. The ratio of the probabilities is exp(dS) which is a hugely huge number.

The stupid people never give up. They could try to mess up with the rules and argue that one should sometimes average over the final microstates - or sum over the initial microstates (without the denominator needed for averaging). But the first error is equivalent to denying that
P(A or B) = P(A) + P(B)
for mutually exclusive A, B. And the second error is equivalent to denying that the total probability of all mutually exclusive initial states must be equal to one (which is why we must distribute the prior probability in between them, i.e. why we must average over them).

At any rate, only crackpots misunderstand that the mathematical logic and probability calculus inevitably introduces a logical arrow of time into all questions that deal with the incomplete knowledge of the physical system, and with the probabilistic quantification of the word "OR". The word "OR", when inserted in between the probabilities of two microstates, always implies summation if the microstates are final but averaging if they're initial.

There's no way to avoid this elementary asymmetry of mathematical logic: "A implies B" is something different than "B implies A". They follow different rules. The same thing holds for the relationship between the information about the past and the information about the future because "the past A evolves into the future B" is a special case of "A implies B" applied in the context of natural sciences.

And this simple argument is the ultimate reason behind all irreversible processes in physics, including the most general second law of thermodynamics itself, friction, viscosity, diffusion, dissipation, decoherence, and many others.

Appendix: an example of asymmetry in logic

I said that "A implies B" and "B implies A" follow different rules. Let me give you the simplest example from mathematical logic. In logic, the following proposition is tautologically true:
A implies (A or B)
You may verify this tautology. The only case when "X implies Y" is false is when "X" is true but "Y" is false - but that can't happen here because "(A or B)" is more often true than "A". On the other hand, the "T-reverted" proposition
(A or B) implies A
is not tautologically true: if B is true while A is false, the proposition is false. ;-) Now, to get the relevant message for evolution in physics, it's enough to interpret A and B as conditions on a state - as two projectors, if you wish. They act on the initial state if they're written on the left side from "implies" (now: "evolves into") and on the final state if they're written on the right side from "implies" (now: "evolves into"). We obtain the following simple observations:
The initial state satisfies A and the final state satisfies (evolved) A or B
is always true. On the other hand:
The initial state satisfies A or B and the final state satisfies (evolved) A
is not always true. Indeed, the only difference between these two propositions is that the adjectives "initial" and "final" are interchanged (and the subtle word "evolved" is added). But that makes a huge difference!

It's because the assumptions about the initial state, whenever they are a part of the formulation of a physical question, are always "true" throughout the solution of the physical problem, and can be assumed to be true (or their probabilities are determined as a part of the homework): they're supplemented with an exclamation mark. That's also why the sum of prior probabilities of possible initial states must be equal to one.

On the other hand, propositions about the final state are always uncertain, accompanied by a question mark (and their probabilities can never be determined a priori). That's also why the probabilities of possible final microstates must be added without any normalization factor in the denominator.


Some people might understand that there is a one-to-one correspondence between individual initial and final microstates in physics. But if they don't know mathematical logic and its inherent asymmetry between the assumptions and their consequences, they don't know 1/2 of the basic things that are needed to think rationally. Mathematical logic is paramount in science - especially when whole ensembles of states are considered at the same moment - and it doesn't satisfy any generalized T-reversal symmetry between the assumptions and their consequences.

To determine probabilities of macroscopic propositions, one needs to know both logic and the microscopic dynamical laws. There is no contradiction and there cannot be any contradiction between these two parts of the physicist's toolkit.

It's extremely painful that Caltech, a previously prestigious institution, became a place that harbors full-fledged crackpots who try to deny very basic facts about the statistical origin of the thermodynamic phenomena, facts that have been fully understood for 150 years, and who try to expand the ignorance and stupidity of a large portion of the public to bring profit to Caltech, an institution that should actually promote knowledge rather than idiocy.

And that's the memo.

Spatial correlations in Antarctica

This is a continuation of a TRF analysis called

Eigenvalues in Antarctica
The main goal is to qualitatively confirm a plot by Steve McIntyre.

Click to zoom in. See it in different colors.

The picture shows the distribution both of different correlation coefficients, a priori between -1 and +1, for pairs of 5,509 Antarctic stations, as well as the distances in the pair. It shows how the correlation tends to disappear as the distances increase.

The chart has been calculated from the temperature anomalies during a period of 300 months: by the temperature anomaly, I mean the temperature for a given month minus the average temperature for the same station and the same month calculated from those 25 years.

Yes, McPete, the colors show the density, i.e. the number of pairs of stations that fit into a small pixel or box: yellow means "a lot".

The raw data were taken from the last, cloud* file on Steig's website. I didn't use any code of Steve which increases the independence of the calculation. The colors that have only made the picture slightly more attractive and more informative than Steve's graphs are pretty much the only visible contribution from your humble correspondent. ;-)

Only half a million of (randomly chosen) pairs are drawn out of 5509 x 5509 pairs, in order to save some time. The pairs were clustered into small boxes where the correlation jumps by 0.01 and the distance jumps by 50 km, while a grid that combines 2 x 2 small boxes has been added to the picture, too.
Download the Steig2 notebook for Mathematica 7.0.1
Download its zipped PDF preview

If you focus on the "bulk" of the picture with the intense colors, you can see that the typical correlation coefficient drops from 1.0 to 0.5 or so for stations that are approximately 2,000 km apart. The correlation goes pretty much to zero for stations that are 5,000 km apart, as you can see on the right side of the picture.

Friday, March 27, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

F-theory footprints at the LHC

Could you be an experimenter in particle physics? Click the picture to zoom in and try to find the footprint. Hint for Al Gore: it is not a carbon footprint.

If you succeeded in this simpler task, you may also try to find the person on the picture whose footprint appeared at the LHC.

Important: if you use Google Images to search for "Cumrun", be sure that your anti-porn filter is turned on, otherwise you will also find pictures showing "cum run".

Were you as bright an observer as the girl at Princeton who found a bug with the LHC, impressing another girl who wrote about it for FoxNews? :-)

By the way, Cumrun Vafa is just giving talks in his homeland, in Tehran.

Regional undusting supersedes global warming

In this dose of peer-reviewed realistic climatological literature, we look to Science magazine:

The role of aerosols in the evolution of tropical North Atlantic ocean temperature anomalies
They construct a model, adjust it using the satellite data, and determine that 67-69 percent of the North Atlantic warming in the last 26 years occurred as a response of the mixed layer to changes in the regional concentration of aerosols.

The authors, Amato T. Evan, Daniel J. Vimont, Andrew K. Heidinger, James P. Kossin, and Ralf Bennartz are from Wisconsin. See also a Reuters story and Science Centric.

Via Tom Nelson.

Mikhail Gromov wins Abel prize

Science Magazine informs that Mikhail Gromov (65), a renowned Franco-Russian geometer, won the 2009 Abel prize (one million dollars makes it a monetary Nobel equivalent for mathematics).

He has studied the asymptotic and large-scale effects in various geometries, the metric on the space of metrics, the triangle inequality in many contexts, hyperbolic groups, and life.

The last word may seem out of place but he has shown that with a certain criterion to determine whether a sequence of chemicals is "alive", most of them are actually alive - a result that I surely find surprising (but I don't know his definition of "life", so the paradox is not sharp).

Obviously, string theorists know him as a colleague mostly because of the Gromov-Witten invariants, rational invariants counting pseudohomolorphic curves in a manifold that can be calculated from a generating function and that are closely related to the Gopakumar-Vafa invariants.

The worldsheet instantons guarantee that their generating function is nothing else than the genus "g" partition sum of the topological A model, a simplified version of perturbative string theory.

Many other theorems and structures are named after him.

Thursday, March 26, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Jon Breslaw: a Riemann Hypothesis proof speed contest

The proof is wrong, see the last paragraph if it is the only reason why you are here. The paper has been revised (v3), trying to say more modest things that may be (partly?) true.
Jonathan wants me to organize a contest. Jon Breslaw, a Montreal economist, claims to have an elementary proof of the Riemann Hypothesis:
An analytical proof of the Riemann Hypothesis (PDF)
Your task is to be the fastest reader who will explain why the proof is wrong. If it is correct, you should write that you have verified it. ;-)

While I spent an hour in the morning with the old Hilbert-Pólya strategy - finding an explicitly Hermitean operator - a "seemingly random matrix" - whose eigenvalues are "i(s-1/2)" where "s" are the nontrivial roots of the zeta function - Breslaw claims to have a rudimentary proof of a similar kind that I have previously tried but failed.

He claims to have proved a stronger result, namely that the absolute value of the zeta function of "s" is decreasing as a function of the real part of "s" whenever the real part of "s" is between "0" and "1/2". It would follow that "zeta(s)" can't have any roots in the bulk of this half-strip, and RH has to hold.

The statement from the previous paragraph is the meaning of the last Lemma 4.10 that only depends on Lemmas 3.5, 3.6, and 4.7.

NYT magazine about Freeman Dyson

Yes, I took this picture.

The Civil Heretic (by Nicholas Dawidoff)
Freeman Dyson is an eminent scientist who has achieved a lot, whose integrity and breadth are extraordinary, and who is skeptical about various things including global warming and the crucial importance of colliders in particle physics.

While it should be obvious that your humble correspondent only shares some of his skeptical positions (and on the contrary, I am skeptical about many futurist ideas by Dyson), it would be unnatural if TRF didn't contain a link to this poetic and comprehensive article. ;-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

EU presidency: Obama policies "road to hell"

I've spent another day in Prague, talking to some fine and inspiring journalists and people I have known from my college years. One of the advantages of being an alumnus of the Department of Maths and Physics of the Charles University is that Prague seems to be covered by a rather high density of familiar buildings whose restrooms can be used rather freely and naturally. ;-)

In ice-hockey, Pilsen lost another match against Slavia Prague and our chances for the finals are becoming somewhat hypothetical.

Back to the Obama policies

Today, the foreign media have written a lot about the "political crisis" in the Czech Republic. Well, there's no "crisis".

The government just failed in a no-confidence vote which is a standard (and somewhat unsurprising, in the long run) situation described in the constitution. The constitution is being followed literally and the president seems to be pretty happy about the no-confidence vote, probably more so than your humble correspondent. ;-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Democracy causes global warming

There are many culprits that were "shown" to cause global warming, including Michael Moore, Jane Fonda, homework problems for kids, and dark matter.

However, in an interview for The Guardian, NASA's climate chief has found the main culprit: democracy causes global warming. The democratic process is deficient because it prevents James Hansen from stopping the global economy and from saving the world.

I would infinitesimally admire Hansen for such original thoughts if they had not been invented by another, German thinker in the 1920s and realized in the 1930s and early 1940s. So I am sorry, Mr Hansen, you have to share credit and follow the historical rules of the game.

Joseph Stefan: anniversary

Jožef Stefan was born on March 24th, 1835, in Austrian Carinthia, near the Slovenian borders, to Slovene parents: Aleš Stefan (*1905) was a milling assistant while Marija Startinik (*1915) was a maidservant.

You could be surprised by these jobs but they were somewhat typical for the ethnic Slavs in the Austrian empire.

As we know today, this background didn't hurt the boy much. Jožef started as the best student in the class. In his college years, he wrote many poems in Slovenian: he is included among his nation's poets. Pretty quickly, he began to teach in Vienna. Among other topics, he studied interfaces of phases in phase transitions.

The Stefan-Boltzmann law is the most famous discovery that originated in his head and we will discuss it in some detail. But Stefan also had three well-known students of his own:
  • Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian giant of statistical physics and thermodynamics
  • Marian Smoluchowski, a Polish pioneering statistical mechanician who co-discovered the explanation of the Brownian motion independently of Albert Einstein
  • Johann Loschmidt, an Austrian chemician and physicist, born in Greater Carlsbad (Czech Kingdom: he also spent some time at Charles University in Prague)
You may remember that Johann Josef Loschmidt also misunderstood Boltzmann's precious derivations of irreversible phenomena (e.g. the second law itself) from statistical mechanics applied to the reversible laws contraining the microscopic building blocks (atoms).

This profound misunderstanding of Loschmidt (and others) is misleadingly referred to as Loschmidt's paradox.

Monday, March 23, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Mount Redoubt keeps on erupting

Click the image for more news about the ongoing Alaskan volcano eruptions that Sarah GMILF Palin can see from her house. ;-)

Mt Redoubt is 200 km Southwest from Wasilla, if you care. Everyone should thank and pay millions to Palin for witnessing the eruption because the same cooling as the cooling induced by this event costs roughly one trillion dollars in the cap-and-trade system. The smoke jumps 10 miles above the surface.

The eruption was predicted - for example, see a story about the orange color introduced a week ago.

Via Anthony Watts.

Wolfram Alpha's primitive competitor

Natural Language Question Answering System
You can try to ask "Why is the sky blue?" and you receive a great answer. Unfortunately, if you ask a related question "Why is the ocean blue?", the system has no idea.

If you ask "Who is Vaclav Klaus?", you obtain some fair data. However, if you ask about a less famous (and more infamous) person, e.g. "Who is Al Gore?", the system only knows about some other people who were called Gore. ;-)

Pierre-Simon Laplace: 260th birthday

On March 23rd, we celebrate at least three important birthdays of mathematicians who have heavily influenced physics: Laplace, Noether, and Faddeev. Let me start with the oldest guy.

Pierre-Simon Laplace was born on March 23rd, 1749, i.e. 260 years ago. According to some sources, it was April 23rd.

His father was a peasant but Pierre-Simon managed to get educated because he was a captivatingly bright child and teenager who entertained people in wealthy neighborhoods. However, the father could have been rich, too: he was probably a cider merchant at the same moment.

Under Napoleon, in 1806, Laplace became a count. That happened despite the story in which Napoleon complained that Laplace's book didn't mention God. Laplace told his leader that he didn't need to use that hypothesis. ;-)

Laplace had political ambitions but his job as a minister of the interior only lasted for six weeks: Napoleon was unimpressed.

Nicknamed the Newton of France, he was the key person in the early stage of classical field theory who has made many amazing contributions to mathematics and mathematical physics, including the
  • Laplacian (a key second-order differential operator in field theory); and its generalizations for curved manifolds and differential forms; plus the corresponding equation; and its discretizations
  • Laplace invariants (functions of coefficients and their derivatives that determine non-equivalent partial differential equations)
  • spherical harmonics (and other orthogonal functions)
  • Bayesian interpretation of probability (he also mastered the method of least squares and used generating functions for probabilities)
  • Laplace transform (Fourier without "i"); and its two-sided variation
  • Laplace distribution (Gaussian with the square replaced by the absolute value)
  • log-Laplace distribution (followed by "exp(x)" where "x" has the Laplace distribution)
  • Laplace demon (a device that knows all positions and coordinates and can predict the past and the future; Laplace was the culminating and bold proponent of the classical determinism)
  • Laplace-Runge-Lenz vector (conserved vector for the Kepler problem; yes, he co-discovered it)
  • Biot-Savart law (for the magnetic field created by a current; also co-discovered by Ampere and Laplace)
  • Laplace expansion (a recursive formula for determinants, reducing it to determinants of "n-1"-sized, smaller matrices)
  • Young-Laplace equation (for capillary pressure); Laplace (or Suratman) number is dimensionless and equal to the Reynolds number squared over the Weber number (in fluid dynamics)
  • Laplace limit (in celestial mechanics: the maximum eccentricity for which series lead to a solution); Laplace did a lot in the dynamics of the Solar System, its stability (it's chaotic, although very slowly!), and its birth, promoting the modern nebular theory of its origin
  • 19th century black holes (from the escape velocity, Laplace could calculate the Schwarzschild radius whose classical value happens to agree with GR)
  • De Moivre-Laplace theorem (a special case of the central limit theorem, replacing the binomial distribution by a gaussian in the limit)
  • Laplace principle (a sort of the saddle-point evaluation)
Amalie Emmy Noether was born on March 23rd, 1882. At least until the early 20th century, she was the most important woman in mathematics, according to Einstein, your humble correspondent, and others.

Her father was also a mathematician, Max Noether.

And the positive advantage of her being an Ashkenazi Jew (10 points) beats the disadvantage of being a woman (-3 points): the average female Jewish IQ still beats the average male Slavic IQ, for example! ;-) But the smaller female variances make her less likely, indeed.

She studied commutative rings, noncommutative algebras, representations of groups, modules, ideals, and variational calculus in a typically mathematical approach that always looked pretty obscure to me when I read it.

Noether's theorem

Clearly, the most important discovery of hers is the one-to-one correspondence between continuous symmetries on one side and conserved quantities (and currents) on the other side - a deep physical insight whose origin and meaning became clear later in quantum mechanics (where conserved quantities generate the symmetry transformations).

The quantity whose conservation law can be derived from the time-translation symmetry is referred to as energy; from spatial translations, you obtain the momentum; from spatial rotations, you derive the components of the angular momentum; Galilean or Lorentz symmetries are linked to the constant velocity of the center of mass, and so on.

A woman in the male world

She could pretty much operate as a female academician around 1905, although some of her lectures had to be given the official name of David Hilbert, her main male patron and champion. Even around 1915 when David Hilbert and Felix Klein wanted her to be a Privatdozent in Göttingen, there was some opposition. A female teacher would be viewed as a humiliating experience for the boys. Moreover, they didn't have female lavatories in the building.

David Hilbert famously stated that the complaints based on her sex were not justified because their institution was a "university, not a bath house." :-)

Emmy Noether knew all the big mathematicians of her era rather well. She spent some active time in Moscow, too. Most leading bolsheviks were Jews (Lenin was an exception) and Emmy Noether has revealed some support for the bolsheviks, too. On the other hand, she was decent to her students ("Noether boys"), never claiming credit she wouldn't deserve. Unfortunately, one of those boys, Werner Weber, later helped Adolf Hitler to get rid of her in 1933. She moved to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania (paid by the Rockefeller Foundation).

Sunday, March 22, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

The Sunday Times: interview with Klaus

The interview is about the democratic deficit of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, and the regulation of the economy.


From The Sunday Times server
From Klaus's server

Saturday, March 21, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Kids, try to be a splurging Wendy

Inspired by the econuts and their Don't Be a Wasteful Wendy in which the kids are asked to get rid of the villain Mr Carbon ;-), TRF is going to promote another classic icon.

Click the image for an article about the hamburger culture and mythology.

That's her, the real girl behind the Wendy's cartoon. She is Melinda Lou "Wendy" Morse (*1961), the daughter of Dave Thomas, the founder of the company (he died in 2002).

In the 1970s, she couldn't pronounce her name so her father decided to create a food chain with thousands of banners saying "Wendy's" to help her with the pronunciation. :-)

Robert Millikan: 141st birthday

Joseph Fourier was born 241 years ago, on March 21st. But almost exactly 100 years later, on March 22nd, 1868, another well-known guy was born.

Robert Andrews Millikan grew up in Iowa. He went to Columbia University. Today, we usually think about left-wing extremists and an aggressive, unconstructive crackpot when the name of that university is mentioned (apologies to a few exceptions). But there used to be different people at Columbia in the 1890s.

Millikan always wanted to be ahead of his class - in physics, Greek, and other subjects - and it had a somewhat good reason.

By being so fast, he became the first physics PhD at Columbia University in 1895. His advisors had pretty interesting names, too. One of them was Michael Pupin, of the Pupin Hall fame (a Serbian-born guy doing electromagnetism), and the other was Albert Michelson, famous for the Michelson-Morley experiments.

Needless to say, Millikan is well-known for the measurement of the elementary electric charge. He also verified Einstein's predictions for the photoelectric effect. Millikan was awarded the physics Nobel prize in 1923 for these two things. Between 1921 and 1945, he was the president of Caltech.

I guess that you know Millikan's experiment: we had to reproduce it in the college which was pretty interesting. The electrostatic force acting in one direction (down) and the resistivity of the air in the other direction (up) determine the stationary speed of oil drops which are observed under the microscope. By looking at these things and making some calculations, the electron's charge can be reconstructed and the very quantized character of the charge may be confirmed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Personal fudge factor

Sorry for the multi-day passivity. I was giving a climate talk to curious, clever, and spontaneous teenagers at a Pilsner high school, an interview about Nikola Tesla's secret inventions for a Czech radio, making various visits, writing some non-blog texts (including an article about the Eurospeak for a leading Czech daily), and (an hour ago) watching an amazing victory of the Pilsner ice-hockey team against Slavia Prague (the winner of the initial part of the season), 6:0, in the first game of the semifinals (in Prague!), brought mostly by the amazing Martin Straka's academy and perhaps also by cryosaunas (using vapors from liquid nitrogen at -120 °C or so) that probably juvenilized and energized our city's team. Be right back.

N. Sriram has brought my attention to a newly posted interesting TED talk by the Duke (ex-MIT) behavior economist Dan Ariely:

He talks about the "predictable irrationality". First, he recalls his experience from the hospital. He was burned and when the nurses were removing the patches, he found out that they did it faster than the optimal rate at which the integrated pain is minimized, despite assuring him that they knew what they were doing. ;-)

I suspect that a rational explanation may be hiding here, too. The nurses just don't enjoy to play with a semi-crippled economist for two hours. ;-)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Pen Hadow: freezing in the Arctic

This blog already contains many stories about naive viewers of Al Gore's movie who came to the Arctic, expecting a nice weather. These people will never learn anything. Their influx to the Arctic is guaranteed to increase because only two things are infinite - the Universe and human stupidity - and the first thing has already been seen to be spatially finite.

The newest addition to this bizarre collection of characters are three British explorers: Pen Hadow, Martin Hartley, and Ann Daniels. They took their sunscreen, swimming suits, and sunglasses and went skiing to the North pole, trying to prove that the place will soon become ice-free in the summer. ;-)

I am convinced that the skeptical readers have the right to enjoy the colorful whining of these crying nutcases. :-) So let me copy something from an AFP report released three hours ago:

"We're hungry, the cold is relentless, our sleeping bags are full of ice and, because we're not moving, the colder we get. Waiting is almost the worst part of an expedition as we're in the lap of the weather gods. This is basic survival."
Well, he may be a smaller coward than the quotation suggests because the temperature over there is -40 °C i.e. -40 °F: see the current conditions over there: yes, they only make 1 mile per day. Not exactly impressive athletes. 600 miles remains to the pole. With their speed so far, it would take two years to get there.
Update: See the status as of April 10th. The speed has increased a bit but the odds still seem rather low.
Two weeks ago, Hadow forgot that a chocolate could be frozen and he cracked his tooth. :-) Because of bad weather, they won't get the re-supplies today so they're down to half rations. Update: One day later, the airplane should arrive on 16:30 EDT. Yes, they finally received the re-supplies, although 45 minutes later (quite a carbon footprint).

D0 debunks the lepton jets of CDF

In October 2008, the wider world of particle physics began to talk about

lepton jets,
a bold discovery claim by the CDF team at the Fermilab. It could have been evidence of entirely new physics - or maybe some rather unusual modifications of SUSY-based models of dark matter.

At the beginning, I thought that the experiment had a certain chance to be exciting which was a pleasant feeling.
Commercial break: try CERNland, CERN's games not only for kids. Via Backreaction.
However, I have considered the CDF paper to be obvious crap since the moment when Tommaso Dorigo assured me that the hypothetical cross section of the new physics phenomenon that they were "discovering" was not 73 picobarns but rather a whopping 207 picobarns. That meant that they had hundreds of thousands or millions of "exotic events". That's a lot, especially if you compare it with the small number of new particles that the colliders have a chance to produce.

Contracts must be honored

One of the decisions that provoke emotions in the U.S. these days is the recent decision to pay significant bonuses for the financiers (especially derivative traders) in AIG, an American insurance corporation that is not doing terribly well recently.

What is being discussed are certain bonuses comparable to 165 megadollars that were guaranteed to some important guys during the last year or so. Well, there are many levels of this problem. First:

This money is negligible relatively to the overall aid

You know, I definitely do think that all those people in the big money business are being heavily overpaid, relatively to other jobs I can imagine.

On the other hand, unlike other occupations, they are dealing with huge amounts of money and they are being paid a rather small fraction of this money to do it well - or at least more successfully than otherwise.

Small relative improvements of their work can lead to substantial savings or increased profits. The market price of their work is such that if you increased the salary even more, they would be barely able to increase the company's profit by the same amount - but for further hikes, they would no longer do this job.

That's how and where the market sets the average salary for such people - or any other employees, for that matter.

165 megadollars is one thousandth of 165 gigadollars, the approximate cost of one package to help the company. Because it's such a small fraction, it's very clear that the taxpayers cannot possibly be offended by the money they have lost: they are irritated by the fact that someone doesn't suffer even though he should.

But should he? That brings me to the second point:

Hard times need hard-working financiers, too

In fact, it is very likely that the good work of the finance experts in the age of crisis is more crucial than their good work at the times of peace. In this sense, it is not terribly logical to expect that the salaries should naturally go down these days. The amount of stress in these jobs may have increased, too. Moreover, I don't really think that the AIG employees are the primary culprits of the crisis and they shouldn't be blamed for that.

During the crisis, bad decisions can cost hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars. If key employees are lost or they lose their interest to help the corporation or the system, such a decision may become very expensive for everyone. Because most people have no idea about the amount of work and expertise that is needed to do hard work - and the costs of such work - they shouldn't try to influence these matters too much.

However, you may offer another argument:

The salaries should be a fraction of the profit which went negative

Well, not really. Of course, a corporation may sign contracts that the salary of its experts is linked to the profit. But almost no experts are going to work for the company if the overall salary may go to zero or become negative. That's why a big part of the salaries is still constant, independent of the financial results of the company.

The company must plan accordingly. Some of the expenses are pretty much fixed. Even if a company is doing badly, it must pay high enough salaries to certain specialists, otherwise it will lose them - they may go elsewhere - and end with even worse results. If the profit margin drops dramatically, the salaries to the important employees may drag the company to red numbers. But that's how the life works: the salaries belong to the expenses, after all. The bonuses are being paid for the extra sensitive work that is needed, not for the results that were bound to be bad during this year.

Most importantly:

The contracts must be honored

The bonuses were decided in the past and they are based on certain contracts. These contracts simply cannot be abrogated. This is a very essential rule. Sudden annihilation of contracts and treaties would lead to anarchy, an even higher lack of confidence, and that's simply not what a civilized country can afford.

Some people say that the government has the right to say that "if you won't abolish the bonuses, AIG, we will let you go." When they say so, they assume that this sentence means that the AIG will decide to revoke the bonuses in some undetermined way, in order to survive. But the reality is that the sentence has two possible outcomes. One of them is that AIG will prefer bankruptcy. The sentence leaves the decision up to the AIG bosses.

Whatever the reasons are, that's not what Obama's administration wants.

They want to decide what actually happens and they want AIG to survive, in order to reduce the hysteria of the markets. That's why they cannot give the AIG bosses this choice. Because they want to save the AIG, it follows that they must treat it as a company that is alive. Such a company must fulfill its contracts with other parties which includes not only other big companies but also individuals and the employees. The AIG's ability to fulfill its obligation with respect to others is the very reason why AIG - or any other corporation - is being saved or kept alive.

There is no decent way to avoid this conclusion.


So I warn against all attempts to revoke the contracts - directly or indirectly (by "tricks" such as a "special tax") - because such irregular decisions pave the road to hell. If illegal things have occurred, they must be investigated and punished. But if some contracts were signed in accordance with the laws, they must be honored. All the losses that follow from such contracts are real - they're a small part of the overall losses - and they can't possibly be "undone", unless the goal is to create much higher losses, brutal havoc, anarchy, and an overall loss of confidence in the companies, the government, and the legal system itself.

It is up to the taxpayers - or their representatives, the politicians - to decide which solution is better for the society (and the taxpayers) as a whole: AIG may either be saved or sacrificed. It seems that the costs-and-benefits analysis has been made and the decision has already been calculated: AIG should be saved. It follows that the help also includes all the disadvantages that follow from such a decision.

That includes the unpopular high salaries for the managers that have already been guaranteed by the contracts. There's no legally decent, ethical way to selectively obey some contracts and not others. Not even the taxpayer has the right to abrogate the contracts that he finds inconvenient; others can't do it either. The government is just another subject that is bound by the law - unless we are talking about totalitarian systems. The situation in which the government doesn't obey its promises - or forces others not to obey their obligations - is an extremely dangerous one. Look at some corrupt countries where such a development could end.

And that's the memo.

The Work Song Nanocluster

Episode 2x18 of The Big Bang Theory:

Watch it or download it
Sheldon takes over Penny's woman-made flower-for-hair home business. His achievements nearly match those of Henry Ford and his productive singing with Penny is excellent.

But when he goes to bed, the business is slowly falling apart, as Leonard-Rajesh-Howard labor unions, laziness, and similar left-wing diseases are spreading. The guys return to their laser obstacle chess/pizza.

Monday, March 16, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

European Parliament bans speaking to women

A secret source ;-) has just brought my attention to an article in the Telegraph:

Euro chiefs ban 'Miss' and 'Mrs'
See similar guidelines for UNESCO from 1999.

The following terms can no longer be used by our 785 representatives in the European Parliament:
  • Miss, Mrs
  • Frau, Fraulein
  • Madame, Mademoiselle
  • Señora, Señorita
  • paní, slečna (I assume that the rule holds for the Czechs, too)
Female colleagues must be addressed by their full name only. ;-) The following terms for the professions are banned, too:
  • sportsmen
  • firemen
  • air hostesses
  • headmasters
  • policemen
  • salesmen
  • manageresses
  • cinema usherette
  • male nurse
"Athletes" are allowed instead of "sportsmen" but I am not sure what the replacements should be for the remaining words. Restaurants were allowed an exception: waiters and waitresses are still legal because the lawmakers were not able to invent a new word, such as waitpersons. ;-)

A relatively good news is that the word "man-made" is banned, too. The words "synthetic" and "artificial" are recommended as replacements. That will make it harder to talk about man-made global warming, too.

Unless the people defend their right to say "anthropogenic", they will have to talk about "artificial global warming" or "synthetic global warming" which doesn't sound too catchy because it really suggests that it is the hysteria that was artificially synthesized, not a change of the climate. :-)

Of course, the sane representatives will ignore the booklet and they are trying to attack Harold Romer, a person of an undetermined sex who is sadly employed as the Parliament's secretary general. They ask her or him how much this sexually neutral bullshit costs, too. See the first newspaper criticism of the absurd policy.

Now I must think whether I could write some serious stuff about this event that leaves me somewhat speechless. ;-)

Saturday, March 14, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Albert Einstein: 130th birthday

As Jonathan has pointed out, Albert Einstein was born on the "Pi Day" i.e. March 14th, 1879, in Ulm, Baden-Württemberg.

(The town lies exactly on the Danube that defines the boundary with Bavaria. Ulm including its former part and current twin city, New Ulm, on the other side of the river belonged to Bavaria until 1810. Now only New Ulm is Bavarian.)

Albert Einstein is clearly too large a figure to be fully squeezed into one posting. Moreover, most of us know quite a lot about him. We have read many books about Einstein, too.

Hitler took over Czech lands 70 years ago

On March 14th, 1939, one year and two days after the Anschluss of Austria, the Second Republic of Czechoslovakia disintegrated when Slovakia became an independent satellite of the Third Reich: their alternative was to face an occupation by Hungary in a few days. At least, that's what Hitler told them. The Parliament voted for the independence unanimously.

See what The Telegraph wrote 70 years ago.
One day later, on March 15th, Hitler occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, creating the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The foreign policy and security was transferred to the Reich. Currency and tariffs were unified with Germany. German citizens of the Protectorate became the citizens of the Reich while the Czech citizens either became obedient servants of the new, politically correct regime or were executed.

This is what Václav Klaus wrote about the event today:

On the tragic anniversary of March 15th

Tomorrow, it will have been 70 years since the moment when the curtailed fragment of the Czechoslovak Republic was occupied and when Adolf Hitler announced the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia on the Prague Castle. That moment initiated a long era of totalitarianism that lasted, with a short, three-year-long interruption after the war, from 1939 to November 1989.

The liquidation of the Czechoslovak torso was another event in a long sequence of Hitler's easy triumphs that were allowed by the appeasement policies of Great Britain and France. It was therefore no surprise that both countries were able to do nothing more than to formally protest even though - and this fact is not being emphasized in Czechia too often - these two countries were bound by the Munich Treaty to co-guarantee the borders of the torso of our country that was left out of the original Czechoslovakia after the Sudetenland was annexed. It turned out that they had never cared about our country much.

Richard Lindzen's talk in New York

Richard said a few inconvenient things - like his opinion that most of the best atmospheric physicists do endorse the warming alarm (for the sake of convenience) but the reason to respect them is very different than a work on AGW.

Friday, March 13, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

CDF and D0 team up and ban Prof Higgs between 160 and 170 GeV

The main web page of the Fermilab, www.fnal.gov, and one smaller page on the finding contain some extraordinary news. Because of the work of 700 CDF people such as Barbara Alvarez and 600 their temporary friends at D0, the Higgs mass is no longer unconstrained.

Click the picture to zoom in.

Between 160 GeV and 170 GeV, the God particle is absent at the 95% confidence level. In a broader interval, from 157 GeV to 181 GeV, Higgs is excluded at the 90% confidence level. That much could have been said because there were not too many (otherwise expected) Higgs decays, especially to WW (twice 80+ GeV), observed near Chicago.

Taking the 90% viewpoint, this combined result reduces the living space for the Higgs boson to the small interval between 181 and 185 GeV, or, which is more likely, to the interval between 114 GeV (the LEP lower bound) and 158 GeV.

Previous measurements have put the Higgs mass between 114 GeV (no direct production at LEP) and 185 GeV (95% confidence level from precision measurements) while a very weak excess of confidence may favor a Higgs near 130 GeV (see Tommaso Dorigo's blog).

Larry Summers: let's stop the "excess of fear"

Obama's top economic adviser gave this crisp speech that shows how the crises are being created by unbalanced interventions of the government. The previous period of growth was based on "excess of greed", Summers' counterpart of Greenspan's "irrational exuberance". Too much borrowing, too little saving, too much greed, too little fear.

Now, once it was shown that the previous levers were skewed, the situation has reverted itself: there currently exists an "excess of fear" that is simply overcompensating the previous "excess of greed": the pendulum has swung from a bubble to an anti-bubble. Very true. Summers clearly agrees with your humble correspondent that the government policy should be "neutral" and avoid excesses - which also indirectly means that he agrees with Václav Klaus that big downturns are primarily created by "activist", non-neutral policies of the governments and central banks, not by the free markets.

Now, a question is whether the pendulum may be smoothly and quickly returned to the origin of the coordinates, to navigate it towards a soft landing. There are reasons to doubt such a possibility: attempts to manipulate with the pendulum of greed and fear may lead to even bigger swings and excesses. I can't resist to embed the game again. Try to stabilize the pendulum, click the ball, and change its color. And then imagine that you are Obama who is facing the same task even though he can only do 37 in bowling.

Do you understand why sane people are afraid of relying on governments that are almost systematically composed out of inept dilettantes? The free markets dynamically choose people who can bowl as much as 300 - and people like Thomas Alva Edison who can invent how to press Tab/Enter in the window above to achieve the same goal with little effort! ;-)

Other, systemic excesses

Equally importantly, greed and fear are not the only two commodities that can come in excess. I am afraid that the administration that Summers works for is creating an "excess of debt" (producing an "excess of fear" of the foreign holders of the U.S. treasuries and perhaps even a future "excess of inflation"), "excess of demotivation", and "excess of egalitarianism and socialism". And these excesses are arguably worse than the excesses of greed and fear because unlike the excesses of greed and fear, their impact on the economy is uniformly negative and doesn't get "averaged out".

More generally, it seems very obvious that Summers realizes that many things that the administration is going to do are wrong - for example, Summers thinks that the stimulus measures must be "temporary", are they? - but he has simply learned his lesson from the interactions with the feminist bitches at Harvard. He cares about his chair, after all, and an "excess of inconvenient recommendations" to his socialist boss must be avoided.

That doesn't mean that your humble correspondent would agree with everything that Summers says about the downturn. He also wants the stimulus to be targeted and to help the poor and middle-class people. I think that government's actions - e.g. tax cuts - should be across the board (across the sectors and across the classes) and they shouldn't be selectively helping those two income groups because such an "excess of compassion" discourages the economy from useful work.

In the same way, sectors of the real economy shouldn't be helped too selectively because such an "excess of selection" may also lead to an "excess of lobbying" or even an "excess of corruption" and an "excess of new bubbles" in the sectors that were helped. ;-)

For example, the healthier companies should still feel safer (and obtain easier loans) than the less healthy ones. More generally, it should still be better for individuals and companies to have a higher output than a lower output, otherwise the very creative forces of the economy get diluted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Billionaires' bloodshed

Forbes has published the new

list of dollar billionaires.
See also Wikipedia. The mainstream media love to write piles of flagrantly untrue populist crap. For example, Forbes writes
The richest people in the world have gotten poorer, just like the rest of us.
Like the rest of us: really? The reality is that most average people haven't been affected by the crisis at all. Aside from a few exceptions, it is only the rich people who suffer. Of course, this suffering is the billionaires' type of suffering, but relatively speaking, it is much more intense suffering than what any group of average people has experienced.

Petr Kellner of Czechia became the richest person in the post-socialist world, jumping by 13 stairs roughly to the 75th spot with his USD 6 billion. He has lost money but others have lost much more. Globally, the richest three people right now are:
  1. Bill Gates: G$40 (2008: G$58)
  2. Warren Buffett G$37 (2008: G$62)
  3. Carlos Slim Helú G$35 (2008: G$60)
All these three guys have seen their wealth above 60 gigadollars but now they stand at most at 40 gigadollars. The average billionaires in 2008 have lost about 50% and the figure is higher for people in India and elsewhere, including Mittal and Ambani. The gap between the rich and the poor has shrunk: that's what the leftists want to do. In this sense and in many others, leftist policies and ideals are equivalent to an economic depression.

Thirty percent of billionaires from 2008 have starved to death and have been entirely exterminated: OK, so far, I only mean that they've been dropped from the table of billionaires. :-)

This is a bloodshed. To make things even worse, the only two people among the top 30 who got richer in the last 12 months are Michael Bloomberg and ... George Soros.

The media should stop the disgusting populist lies about ordinary people who suffer. Some very ordinary people have seriously contributed to the birth of this mess and it is the innocent billionaires who are being punished for that. Also, the economy will return to its proper rhythm when such rich people get much of their lost wealth and self-confidence back.

Obama's socialist policy trying to steal even more money from those who have been impoverished, i.e. the still relatively rich people, and give it to those who haven't, is the worst possible policy one can adopt at this point. It's because the wealthy people are those who actually create jobs and stimulate the economic activity - they lead many other people to do something that is at least statistically useful and productive. In average, it is much more productive than what any government can ever invent.

Stealing additional money from the (formerly?) rich and giving it to the middle and poor class has exactly the opposite effect. The wealthy people won't be able or willing to stimulate the economic activity, and the middle class won't be motivated to work, either, because it will get be supported even in the state of unemployment.

The more correct policy to revive the economy would be just the opposite thing than what is being done: to partially compensate the entrepreneurs' losses and to temporarily abolish things like the unemployment support, so that everyone is motivated to create jobs and/or accept them.

The socialist governments in many countries are doing the opposite thing than what would be helpful but they still want to be flattered by the electorate and the stupid journalists often do so, indeed. My message to those populist politicians is very different: screw you, dishonest commies.

And that's the memo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

"Use less energy" campaign: Vladimir Putin

Standard Oil of California (1879), renamed to Chevron Corporation in 1984, is doing the most logical thing that a sane petrochemical company should do for itself and its consumers. In a new ads campaign, it's begging you to

use less energy (click)
so that they have lower profits and everyone is happier. The campaign shows a few average-level personalities who promise that they will use less energy, too.

Firing squad synchronization problem

Back in 1992, when we came to the college as freshmen, my roommates majoring in computer science told me about a homework they were asked to solve. On Monday, I found it was called the firing squad synchronization problem and its history goes back to 1957 (although the solution was only published in 1962).

You have a sequence of P soldiers. Each of them is doing something - adopting one of a finite, fixed, P-independent number of states - at each unit of time. However, their state at some moment can only depend on their state and their neighbors in the previous moment of time. Consequently, signals can only propagate by a maximum speed, the "speed of light", or more slowly.

The task is to design the soldiers so that they will "fire" simultaneously some time after the general - the soldier at the left end - gives them the signal. So I solved it (they didn't; and my time needed to solve it was surely closer to 5 minutes than 5 years that was apparently needed historically - but to bound my boasting a little bit, let's admit that they didn't have good enough computers at that time). Here's a Mathematica 7 notebook doing the job; the original 1992 Turbo Pascal source is at the bottom.

Czech vs American tax returns

Many people have to file their

Czech 2008 tax returns.
by the end of March. Try to click the link above (and the green button "Stáhni") and open the PDF file.

Tax returns may be a bureaucratic nightmare but I found the current Czech system acceptable. After a decade of experience with the U.S. tax returns, I believe that the current Czech system is superior.

Some details are nicer: for example, the tax return is pink and all the boxes where the taxpayer may be writing something are white. This subtle feature makes the form much more comprehensible than e.g. the U.S. Form 1040 and the relatively small proportion of the white color on the page makes you more optimistic that the work expecting you is finite.

There are more substantial differences, too. Only when I had completed 50% of the tax return, I learned that Czechia actually has a flat tax already! A month ago, I thought that it was just being dreamed about by the people in the Civic Democratic Party.

It means that you calculate your super gross income (see below) and multiply the result by 0.15 (fifteen percent tax). It's not yet the final result. To get it, you subtract CZK 24,840 (over USD 1,000) from your tax. I only learned about this additional nice detail - which reduces the tax duty to 70% for average employees - when 75% of my tax return had been completed. ;-)

Of course, this additional detail makes the tax effectively progressive, at least for the lower income groups. But it's still flat as you approach infinity. Equally importantly, the calculation is damn easy. No tables are needed and the incentive to invent manipulations and to redistribute the income and lower the tax are reduced (together with the time needed for this counterproductive activity).

By the way, those 15% are calculated from the so-called super gross income ("superhrubá mzda"). That's the gross income plus all social/health insurance/medicare fees paid by the employer which pretty much always equals 1.35 times the gross salary (26% social insurance, including retirement savings and unemployment stuff, and 9% for health insurance). Because of this multiplicative factor, the tax rate would normally be called 15% x 1.35 = 20.25% of the gross income which is slightly higher.

As long as the finance minister cares about the total revenue only, it probably doesn't matter whether he says that the tax rate is 20.25% from the gross income or 15% from the super gross income. However, 15% surely sounds better than 20%.

Equally importantly, I actually find the super gross income to be a more pedagogical base amount because the people are led to realize that a certain substantial portion of their super gross salary is being paid for the social achievements and they are likely to avoid the naive conclusions that more expensive social/health system is always better. Well, it costs something, too. But these extra expenses were paid by the employers in such a way that most people didn't even realize that something had to be paid for that from their pockets, too.

I am afraid that as measured by the amount of redistribution, especially from away from the wealthy taxpayers, the U.S. may have already surpassed Czechia and similar countries and it may surpass them dramatically in the years to come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Decoherence is a settled subject

After some sensible and creative texts, Marco Frasca decided to defend a wrong system of ideas and joined the anti-quantum zealots. ;-) A lot has been written about these things. So let me begin with some natural sources:

Original sources

Wojciech Zurek: Decoherence and the transition from quantum to classical (1991), 800+ cits, version updated in 2003, full text

Wojciech Zurek: Decoherence, einselection, and the quantum origins of the classical (2001), 550+ cits, full text

Robert Griffiths: Consistent histories and the interpretation of quantum mechanics (1984), 350+ cits, full text

Murray Gell-Mann and James Hartle (1993): Classical equations for quantum systems, 450+ cits, abstract

Largely reviews

Roland Omnes: Consistent interpretations of quantum mechanics (1992), 200+ cits, abstract

Luboš Motl: Entanglement and interpretations of quantum mechanics (2005), a course, full text

Andrew Revkin and merry cowards

I deliberately post this analysis of Andrew Revkin's motivations away from the top of my blog, for the sake of completeness, to avoid excessive ad hominem discussions.

Let me also write a few words about Andrew Revkin (AR) - if he kindly allows (or if he doesn't) - who became a phenomenon in our circles. ;-) If you're not interested in these ideas, please press "Delete" now.

People like Anthony Watts say that AR is mysterious. Others are offended by his text about the conference in NYT and they see a difference from his DotEarth blog.

I may be wrong but I don't see any mystery here. AR seems to replicate the survival strategies that 95% of people in Czechoslovakia and other advanced socialist countries were doing during the totalitarian era. And I am intimately familiar with those. He is pretty much playing both sides, and which side is being played is determined by the immediate context and a cost-and-benefits analysis of the advantages and disadvantages.

You know, I consider NYT to be the leading U.S. newspapers as far as many things, such as the interactions of science and politics, go. It is surely biased in the left direction (but in many cases, this bias is more acceptable than the bias of some competitors in stupid directions). And there are certainly many people in NYT who exert significant pressure on Revkin because even if you may find him insufficiently realistic and insufficiently skeptical, he is almost certainly more neutral and sensible than most of his NYT colleagues.

I am thus not surprised by one article that may be viewed as unflattering towards the skeptics. Moreover, I think that what he writes has a true core, whether you like it or not. The emotional labels and interpretations of this core are often hypocritical but the core is still partially true.

For example, Revkin explains that something is wrong with the skeptics because Exxon is not paying them. That's cute because in the past, similar people have criticized the skeptics for being funded by Exxon (which was never really the case, at least not when you compare the financial flows to the Gore-like 100-million-dollar and Kyoto-like trillion-dollar fraudulent money flows falsely justified by the climate alarm).

So Dr Revkin, what is the morally superior situation? To be paid by Exxon or not to be paid by Exxon? Is there a unique answer to this question that you can give us, or does the answer depend on which of them is better to advance your career?

While the interpretation of the Exxon's lunatic and self-destructive behavior is internally inconsistent and propagandistic in character, Revkin's very observation that fashionable PC alarmist whackos are taking over companies like Exxon is surely correct. Does anyone dispute it? The managers etc. have become detached from the actual purpose of the companies. They can easily imagine themselves switching sides and working in the green industry, for which they are already preparing doors. They're traitors of their industry and traitors for their consumers who actually need the products, they should be ashamed. But their positions are real.

Similar comments apply to Revkin's observations about disunity. Their basis is surely correct but the colors added to this observation are irrational. Disunity is also called a "diversity", it suggests that the opinions have been reached independently, and this feature is often cherished by liberals like Revkin (especially when it comes to relatively irrelevant, superficial things such as skin color or the geometry of genitals). But when it is inconvenient for their careers, the diversity becomes a "disunity". ;-)

But this disunity or diversity is surely there, too. Much like I am irritated by the people who emit nonsense about the "catastrophic" threats for the climate caused by our CO2 and who want to fight non-existing dragons for billions of dollars, I am also irritated by some of the "radical skeptics" who say e.g. that the increase of CO2 has nothing to do with the industrial activity or that the greenhouse effect fundamentally violates the energy conservation law.

Do I have the right to be irritated by both? You bet. That's what we have been officially allowed to do in Czechoslovakia since 1989 again, and many of us did so before, too.

One can create a "box" with all skeptics but it is an artificial construction. People have different levels of knowledge, interests, goals, motivation, and so on. What unifies all climate skeptics is only their knowledge of the ultimate fact that huge investments to such a "crisis" are a waste of money and a deep reorganization of the society justified by such threats is rationally unjustified.

That's the final result and pretty much all skeptics end up with this correct final result. But there are many possible procedures to obtain this result and the intermediate results differ for different people. Do I care about these differences? Well, if the key matter is to decide whether the society should adopt a new kind of communism, the crucial answer is No and I don't care much how the result was obtained. I don't really care whether someone thinks that the Earth was warming by 0.6 deg C, by 0.0 deg C, or cooling by 0.6 C in the last century, or whether the man-made greenhouse effect has added 0.3 deg C or strictly nothing. The practical implications are clearly isomorphic: there is nothing to be solved by politicians or governments here.

Obviously, the people who want the society to be protected against the alarmist lunatics are the good people, my allies, when it comes to the questions at the level of the society, its laws, freedoms, and budgets.

If the discussion were about the ways how detailed scientific research should be done, of course that the people who claim that CO2 hasn't been added by the industry couldn't be my allies (or allies of at least equally serious skeptics). They would deserve the label "crackpots" at this point. There are still many more crackpots in the alarmist circles (and among the doomsayers between Jehovah's Wittnesses, even though the latter got more sensible recently), I guess. There can be and there are crackpots among loud people identified as climate skeptics, too. That shouldn't be shocking. Being a skeptic doesn't make one a perfect, omniscient god. What a surprise.

What is worse about alarmism is that some of the worst crackpots like Al Gore are the very leaders of that movement. The hierarchy in the skeptical circles seems to be more meritocratic.

If I return to AR, I can easily imagine him in the first months or years after this global warming virago collapses - because I can map him to effectively similar people in Czechoslovakia transitioning from communism to freedom. He will surely be painting himself as one of those more courageous people who was oh so badly suppressed by the evil alarmist aparatchiks in the New York Times - but he was still boldly writing almost the right stuff on his Dot Earth blog. And of course, people will be buying it because many of them have been, let's admit, even less courageous than Andrew Revkin. ;-) Most people simply see the alarmist whackos infiltrating all important places in the society, including Exxon, so they will surely respect the party line, won't they?

This is a line of reasoning that must be thought about seriously by the skeptics, too. You know, many of us are the ultimate "dissidents". But even when we're proven right and when our basic answer to the question "Is there a crisis?" is generally adopted, it won't mean that the former dissidents are going to influence everything in this social-scientific arena. The strategies that many of us have been using will continue to be questioned, and so on, and people like AR will almost certainly continue to be allowed by the atmosphere in the society to write about things like the environment. That's how it works.

So I would expect the skeptics to be more realistic about the abilities and desires of AR. It seems that many skeptics expect AR, because of some vague hints, to become a full-fledged skeptical convert and they're irritated that this dream of theirs is not going perfectly well. I don't expect AR to get transformed in this way. Instead, with all the immense respect to him, I see him as a typical member of the "merry coward" category that we have known in socialist Czechoslovakia. ;-)

Such people are playing the games so authentically that it's not possible to operationally distinguish what they mean seriously and what they don't: they may not know it themselves and you shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer this ill-defined question, either. But don't expect them to behave as 100% skeptics until the alarmist regime completely and safely collapses.

Please, plan your interactions with AR assuming reasonable expectations about his diversity of viewpoints in different contexts. ;-) You can get an OK stuff with him but you will never get it against his interests or career in NYT. Don't expect any extraordinary courage unless there is a reason to expect that AR thinks that the courage would pay off to him in some way.

I hope that Andrew Revkin is grateful that I have identified him to be what he is, instead of forcing him to play additional games about being something that he is not :-), and I am also sure that he understands that the "merry coward" category is not a real insult because it is just a description how relatively average people from the moral viewpoint - well, opportunist people - in all social classes - typically behave.