Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Problem

The problem: 2,976 people die including 19 hijackers in the coordinated September 11th suicide attacks against the U.S.

The response: The U.S. invades Iraq and later Afghanistan resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties, both military and civilian. The U.S. is still trying to recover from our response both militarily and financially.

The problem: Boy gets dumped by girlfriend.

The response: He drinks himself into oblivion or worse.

The problem: Hurricane Sandy devastates the east coast of the U.S. causing untold hardship and billions of dollars in damage.

The response: Practically all Pittsburgh communities, which were not affected locally by the storm, postpone Halloween citing poor weather. (There is a chance of drizzle, like practically every other Halloween.)

The problem: Something horrible happens but it is unclear how to solve the problem.

The response: TRANSFERENCE to something that we can solve.

Sandy, the Jersey Shore and the Boss

We all know that Bruce Springsteen is no fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  Nevertheless,  with the approaching hurricane, Springsteen spoke out in support of the governor's shorefront evacuation orders:

This boardwalk life for me is through
You know you ought to quit this scene too

The song is -- you know it -- "Sandy."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HMS Bounty

As some of you may have heard, a replica of the HMS Bounty was sunk this week by Hurricane Sandy. Of the 14 crew members, there were 2 deaths; the captain and a woman named Claudene Christian, who had spent 10 hours in the water before the Coast Guard was able to reach the site.

Strangely, Claudene Christian was a descendent of Fletcher Christian, the mutanist who overthrew our very own Capt. William Bligh on the original HMS Bounty. (Can someone confirm the relation to the Harvey surname?)

And speaking of english maritime history, I just finished listening to an audiobook of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. I very highly recommend it:

The Beach

Fifth Street pavilion. Here are some other images courtesy of the Sand Paper. (By the way, did you know that Joseph Mancini is the current mayor of Long Beach Township? Is this a vampire, a son, grandson?)

Monday, October 29, 2012

The First Time

The Lena Dunham ad promoting Obama aired last week online.  It now has has all the conservatives' knickers in knots:

Said Hadley Heath, spokeswoman for the Women's Forum: "This ad simply proves that the Obama campaign only knows how to speak to one specific type of woman. And I’m proud to say I am not that type of woman."

"It's offensive, repulsive and should be removed immediately.  It is beneath the dignity of the office you hold," Rep. Marsha Blackburn from Tennesee said in an open letter to Obama. 

Eric Erickson, conservative blogger and CNN contributer, tweeted: "What's worse than the Obama ad is that some people really like it. We do live in a fallen, depraved world destined for the fire."

This makes me think of the G.K. Chesterton quote:  "A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things. "  Anyway, I'm sure that these folks are lots of fun at parties.

But, the ad is not above criticism.  Mostly, as it turns out, it's a ripoff of a Putin campaign ad released earlier in the year.  You judge which one is better.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cold Fusion One Year Later

It's been a year since we last reported on Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), previously known as Cold Fusion. A lot has happened and a lot has not happened. What has surprised me the most is the number of organizations, companies, and individuals who are working on the technology. Some of the researchers are new, but some have been working ever since 1989, when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann published their never-to-be-verified paper. This includes NASA, MIT (which helped debunk the original 1989 study), Darpa, and Cern. National Instruments' president Dr. James Truchard kicked off NIWeek 2012 with an enthusiastic push for LENR research.

The best article currently on the subject is by I still think skepticism is in order but I'm tending more toward the persistent and practical realm, rather than disbelieving in all and any energy claims. There seems to be something there, and now theoretical physicists are coming up with a number of explanations (here, here, here). That's the great thing about science, it will come up with the craziest stories as long as there is some repeatable experiment, i.e. "If you build it, they will come".

Lastly, there may be some critical cultural mass building for LENR since there is a science documentary called "The Believers" being released this week in Chicago.

Apple unable to lose its cool

In July of this year the High Court in London ruled that consumers were unlikely to mistake Apple's iPad with Samsung's Galaxy Tab. Judge Colin Birss said in the ruling that "[Samsung's tablets] do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool."

Apple appealed the ruling, so they were stuck with the unenviable task of proving that Samsung's Galaxy Tab was just as cool as the iPad. Of course, they lost. I suppose no lawyer, no matter how much you pay them, can prove that.

For punishment Apple will have to explicitly state on its website and in print that the Galaxy is just "not as cool." It's just like when you had to stand in the corner of the classroom wearing a sign that read, "I'm sorry that you're not as cool as I."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Debate Question Would You Ask?

The Town Hall Debate format allows citizens to ask the presidential contenders a question. What a great idea! What would your question be?

Here is the first one I thought of:

It has been said that citizens of all countries should vote for the American president because they are often more affected than the citizens of the United States. Certainly the civilian citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan have been more affected than most likely anyone here in this 'town hall'. Are you in favor of letting all world citizens vote for the U.S. president and, if not, what means do citizens of other countries have to protect themselves from the U.S.?

Maryland Challenges

Martin must be having a hard time deciding whether to go to the soccer field to watch the nation's top college soccer team, go to the indoor track to watch the nation's top ranked human powered helicopter team and Sikorsky Prize contender, or go study.

Here is the NPR story.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate?

Who won the vice presidential debate?  Well, I didn't see it, so I can offer no first-hand account.  But, in order to find out, I checked Google and discovered that almost everybody won except either candidate.

According to CNN Politics, Martha Raddatz won.  Who won Thursday's debate? Martha Raddatz.  The Inquisitor agrees.  And The Winner Of The Vice Presidential Debate Is: Martha Raddatz

According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama won the debate.  Debate winner? Barack Obama

The Washington Post had many winners, but none were either of the actual candidates.  Its list of winners were (a) Joe Biden's last 15 minutes; (b) Martha Radditz; (c) political junkies; (d) party bases; (e) "My friend"; and (f) Chamillionaire.  Winners and losers in the vice presidential debate

According to Policymic, Joe Biden's teeth were the debate winner.  VP Debate Winner: Laughing Biden and His Teeth

And last but not least, another article from the Washington Post, the furniture won the debate.  VP debate winner: Furniture

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nobel Prize for Physics previewed by In Progress

Back in August of 2011, my last day of Quantum Week, I threw in a lightning round of topics we had barely touched upon or that enhanced the weirdness of quantum physics. One of the items was the following:
  • It is properly claimed that observing a particle means hitting it, no matter how gently, with light, a photon, which disturbs the particle you are attempting to detect. That is why the system is disturbed. However, there have been other experiments which claim non-demolition measurements. They don't measure using light or photons

I included the link to a 2007 article explaining the work of Serge Haroche and his collegues at Ecole Normale SupĂ©rieure. If you had followed Quantum Week, you would have not been surprised when Serge Haroche shared the Nobel Physics Prize this year with David J. Wineland for exactly this work—his measuring of photons without disturbing them.

Now Myk is always quoting Richard Feynman saying if he were able to quickly explain what he did, it wouldn't be worth a Nobel Prize. Einstein is also quoted as saying, "If you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough." Well, as we know in this crazy world, both may be true. Actually Feynman brings them together in this little episode.
Feynman was once asked by a Caltech faculty member to explain why spin 1/2 particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics. He gauged his audience perfectly and said, "I'll prepare a freshman lecture on it." But a few days later he returned and said, "You know, I couldn't do it. I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don't understand it."
Despite the complexity of Serge Haroche's prize winning work (as previewed by In Progress), here is a short video which does a decent job explaining it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Who Lost the Debate?

Answer: Democracy

Anthropologist David Givens, in a fit of idiotic cultural insight, captured, perhaps unknowingly, the essence of our presidential debates and perhaps our whole political landscape, when he said:
If you turn off the sound, you will feel or see what most Americans are feeling or seeing. If you turn the sound back on, the words get in the way of the nonverbal.
Genius! To find out the real message of the debate, as well as its winners and losers, don't listen to what they say! First we close our ears; next it will be our eyes.

It has come to this. Trying to decide issues in a democracy is just too difficult for us. The commentators said this immediately after the debate finished, before we had a chance to turn them off. Essentially I heard, "Boy, there were some technical details thrown in there on some issues. I'm not sure what to think of that. Let's talk about the integrity, honesty and appearance of the candidates."

Have issues such as health care, the tax code, and education become too difficult for a democracy to understand?

[Thanks to Myk for pointing this out to me, and, by the way, Myk, Sue, and I had a wonderful, wonderful vacation that was only marred by its shortness. We also had great fun and conversations with Ellen, Tom and Cookie.]