an unbreakable record?

Time to check some really old math, again. More than a hundred years of well-proven science assume just a few things are perfectly constant; Newton’s gravitational constant and the velocity of light are on the short list. Our most treasured theories (think: everything since Einstein’s Relativity) are based on them.

These fundamental laws of physics have been called into question a number of times since, as have the theories based on them. Even Einstein revised his work based on observations in the universe that begged closer scrutiny, like Red Shift. These second glances, in turn, have also been called into question as scientists work towards a utopian grand unified theory of physics that, one day, will explain the questions our founding theories did not answer.

Most recently, particle experiments at CERN may challenge what we know about the “constant” velocity of light. CERN scientists are welcoming close scrutiny of this recent observation, which clocks neutrinos breaking the law. Here are some links to more on the subject.

A great 2005 Scientific American article discussed the same in “Inconstant Constants

Finally, my personal favorite set of articles challenging well-held theories including the big bang, see Dr. Halton Arp’s website

Blizzard’s 180 degree turn

Blizzard recently announced it would partner with Paypal to support buying virtual assets with real world currency from other players in the upcoming “Diablo III” in-game auction house.

Read the press release here:

This is a crisp 180 degree turn for Blizzard, who has invested much effort to combat the unauthorized sale of gold, items, characters and accounts in “World of Warcraft”.

Not dissimilar to buying premium content in single player titles like “Farmville” or numerous other successful mobile titles, this will allow players the option of purchasing in-game items they might otherwise not have the time or inclination to earn themselves. It also ups the potential for reward for any player who does acquire very rare in-game content.

Fans are grumbling, but sale of gold and items in World of Warcraft persisted despite ongoing efforts by Blizzard to put a stop to it. Dedicated gold-selling players became increasingly clever, giving rise to various sophisticated tactics used to gain access to other players accounts with intent to sell the virtual belongings for easily transferable gold, which would be sold for real world currency. Such tactics included phishing scams in email or on web sites to trick players to give away their passwords, to much more aggressive malware keylogging viruses such as the one found to have infected a computer aboard the International Space Station. (see following ZDnet article).

Blizzard’s surprise change of policy towards buying gold and items may be a gamble worth taking; by giving malicious gold-sellers legitimate competition.

Christmas with the Baggins

Tis the season for elves and jolly bearded men in boots, and chain mail.

Some years back, we were treated to Christmas with Frodo three years running, four if you count the following holiday extended-edition DVD sales; I know I did. Today, Peter Jackson and team are busy on the December 2012 and 2013 releases of a two part “Hobbit” movie, and they have their work cut out for them.

Mr Jackson has the tall task of bringing to life each of the 13 dwarves, numerous supporting characters and the reluctant hairy-toed hero himself. Furthermore, to provide franchise continuity a handful of the recognizable characters from the Lord of the Rings are worked into the story, at least briefly, presumably to introduce the context the prequels are told in.

To be sure, just like in the Lord of the Rings, there will be some changes in this retelling of the Hobbit. Some of the changes are bound to anger fans of the cartoon and novel, others may even introduce new characters and content not in the classic at all. Fans are left to guess how it will play out, but we do know that the titles of the movies are based on the book Bilbo writes, “There and Back Again”, which in the story was given to Samwise at the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings, who was to finish the remaining blank pages. Who knows if the latter unwritten bit remains symbolic or is related to the pair of movies or not.

No matter how faithful to the beloved Tolkien text, the movies are sure to turn a few heads. They are being shot with equipment unlike most movies made today and will be shown at a stunning 48 frames per second in 3D, double the 24 fps standard of HD movies today. Those close to the project have spoken very highly of the improvement, and other notable movie producers (Cameron, Lucas) are showing interest in similar technologies.

Good, bad or irreverent, I am excited to see how it turns out. And yes, according to the early production video diaries, we get to see singing and dancing dwarves. No word yet on singing orcs 🙂

Awesome NOVA special on fractals

Here is a link to a fantastic recent episode of NOVA that explores fractals. You can watch the entire episode online. There are also links to more information on Benoit Mandelbrot,  considered to be the father of modern fractal geometry,  as well as a cool online fractal art generator you can play with. Fun!


Virtual atom smasher in LHC@Home 2.0 | iSGTW

New distributed-computing software based on the SETI@Home project framework lets you donate a few spare CPU cycles to research at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. See link the following link for more info:

Virtual atom smasher in LHC@Home 2.0 | iSGTW.

on the hunt for dark matter

In case you missed it, here is a spot of cool science news.

The AMS02 – “alpha magnetic spectrometer” launched on board the space shuttle discovery mission STS-134. Among its many lofty goals once operational on the ISS are answers to mysteries around dark matter, dark energy and cosmic rays. Such science could reshape what we think we know about how galaxies form and the big bang theory itself. Furthermore, the cosmic ray data collected will be critical to any future manned flights to Mars.

Here are links to more info, including this youtube spot from ESA about the mission.

on island time

The spiritual borders on this.

With no phone, laptop or even a watch, my wife, daughter and I walked on the beach. We flew a kite, played in the sand, and got out in the still chilly spring ocean waves.  The strong breeze and constant soft roar of the surf was hypnotic. My senses came alive, filling the void left behind by my routine bombardment of information, visual and audio stimuli, tasks, and traffic. We had no where better to be, no deadlines, no reason to look at a clock. Not unwinding; unwound. We were on island time.

My fascination with the ocean and beach, like the deep woods and mountains back home, is rooted in a strong sense of connectedness – call it meditative, spiritual, or just very relaxed. It is my carrot. My self-medication. Take either one or two per year or as needed for an adjusted perspective and deep sense of peace. Plus, it’s legal.

I love the outdoors. I am thankful that my family shares my enthusiasm. We had a great time at the beach on Topsail Island, and as usual we were already planning our next trip before we left.

ipod tracklist executive summary

What does your iPod song collection say about you?

While not all of my favorite music is on my iPod, with three and a half days worth of music on there, what is present does tell a story. Or many stories. Was the artist with the most songs or albums present also my favorite? What would my track list say about me if a casual acquaintance glanced at it?

When I listen to music most often and what I listen to forms a solid outline of my own biography, in a way – at least to me. Every hour behind a lawnmower since I owned headphones had a soundtrack, and every commute since I got my license. My playlist is like an audio scrapbook. Looking through my collection dates back to the first cassette tape I purchased with money from my first job more than twenty years ago (yikes! that long?). Iron Maiden: Lost Somewhere in Time. I recall being amused that the answer to a history class quiz question on “Alexander the Great” was accurately represented in an Iron Maiden song of the same name. How did Alexander solve the Gordian Knot to become the master of Asia? Yeah, he cut it.

When I stop and think about it, every period of my life had certain albums I might associate with it. Whether it was countless hours in front of my C64 playing a dungeon crawl game to “Alice in Chains”, classic Dungeons and Dragons with friends to “Metallica” and “Anthrax”, or the timelessly relevant tracks in “NIN: Pretty Hate Machine”, most of my music reminds me of something, someplace, or in a few cases; people.

Fast forward through the decades and while my music tastes broadened to include everything from classical movie soundtracks and Enya to System of A Down and Sepultura, the two artists I had more content from than any other were Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. The former, in sheer content. With everything present except their live tour boxed set, they beat out NIN by just a few songs, the latter whose track total included the forty-someodd short wordless instrumental outtakes on the double album “Ghosts I-IV”.

Metallica coming out on top wasn’t really surprising, although I wasn’t sure before I counted. Looking at the bands represented, few have been producing consistently good music for as long. I was first turned on to the band a few years after their debut in 83, but haven’t missed buying an album at release since. And yes, I actually buy my music despite the ease of downloading it free – something I am proud of, and not just because Metallica lead singer Hetfield took an unpopular stand against “Napster” and similar media sharing services.

Ever had your iTunes Genius playlist come back with something really, really weird? Could be my fault, but I doubt that I am the only one who thinks Enya’s “Celts” transitions well to “A Downward Spiral”.

Or maybe I am.

la doomsday machine?

Beware: The French have powered on the doomsday machine.

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN has weathered several such search-engine-friendly media sound bytes, and is no stranger to the woes of sensationalism in science. Leading up to it’s first months of successful science, the 17 mile long atom smashing black hole factory buried beneath the French-Swiss border enjoyed much infamy in the press. Yet once scientists assured us that there was no threat to our safety, we changed the channel.

Science and sensationalism have never mixed, as science does not progress in media friendly “ah ha” moments. And while individually we are intelligent enough, as a consumer horde of rapid fire media bits we can be quite moronic. In a day when entire political movements can be summed up in as few as one word (or scream) in a 60 second news summary, our information diet becomes very low on substance. Where’s the beef?

Thankfully in this case science progresses with or without sustained public interest. The LHC completed a successful year with experiments up to about half the planned power range of the device, up to smashing lead ions. It should reach full power (around 14 TeV) in the next two years. And while we’ve no god particle or mini black hole sightings, particle science advances.

The payoff? Among the many goals of the international teams at CERN are answers to key gaps in the generally accepted “Standard Model” of physics, not the least of which are mysteries about gravity unanswered since Newton was presumably bonked by an apple.

For now, expect the LHC work to continue quietly, that is unless the Higgs Boson bears resemblance to any well-known rock stars.

Below is a link to more on the subject, from CERN.

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