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Archive for October, 2008

LHC status report

John, at Cosmic Variance, points to the report on the accident at the LHC. He wrote a nice summary, to which I don’t have much to add. Bottom line: it was bad, with up to 29 magnets needing repair, but the damage will be fixed. More serious is that they will likely have to retrofit the rest of machine so it won’t fail in a different sector. When the repairs will be complete is still unknown, but the word is it will still re-start in 2009.

Until then, we’ll have to wait for the pigeon shooting (in honor xkcd’s cartoon-off, which I think Munroe won hands-down):

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XKCD vs. The New Yorker

Everyone’s favorite science-based cartoonist, Randall Munroe, has been challenged to a cartoon-off by The New Yorker’s Farley Katz. The format:

The Rules—each contender is to draw:

  • The Internet, as envisioned by the elderly.
  • String Theory.
  • 1999.
  • Your favorite animal eating your favorite food.

That’s right, string theory. For those keeping score, XKCD appearing in the New Yorker is one of the signs of the coming apocalypse; or the coming of Utopia, not sure which.

(via Neil Gaiman)

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The Boston Globe runs a beautiful feature called “The Big Picture”. The most recent features images of The Sun which are breathtaking.

One thing I find particularly cool is that many of the most detailed pictures were taken with ground based telescopes, such as the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope. They use the full set of tricks to get this amazing resolution — including adaptive optics, where the telescope’s own mirror is deformed to match the distortions in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The picture above is dramatically reduced in size and quality; go see the real thing.

In other amazing-space-image related news, NASA will try to fix the Hubble Space Telescope tomorrow by switching to a backup system. The Hubble has been unable to send pictures back down to Earth for a few weeks now, as it’s come down with a bad case of broken electronics. In the meantime, they’ve still been able to do useful science by obtaining ever-more accurate positions of stars.

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Now included on all Macintosh laptops

Now included on all Macintosh laptops

If you have a recent MacBook or MacBook Pro, chances are good that you have a built-in seismograph — an instrument that measures shaking. These are the things that are used to measure earthquakes.

What you have in your laptop is actually a Sudden Motion Sensor. This is a cute little device that tries to determine if your laptop has been dropped or otherwise jolted. If so, it parks the hard drive, hopefully preventing damage. That’s pretty cool on it’s own, but what’s even cooler is that there’s a way for applications to read the sensor and use it’s data.

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Blake Stacey posted about how he blurted out “F equals ma” in first grade. That’s a tough one to beat, but it lets me tell my own first grade story wherein I was misquoted by the media.

For reasons unknown, the Corvallis Gazette Times wrote an article about my class. Maybe the teacher was actually teaching us something and that was news, or maybe the reporter was bored; I have no idea. As part of the project we were working on, I had written a “report” on frogs. Sadly, the report itself is lost to history. Lost, that is, aside from one sentence. Almost.

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I have no idea what USA Today is thinking with this graphic. They seem to have taken all the polling data from 2008 for Obama vs. McCain and fit them to some arbitrary function. Never mind the convention bumps or that the lead has switched a few times, what they show is two lines with very little motion, from January to October. For a contrast, look at the supertracker at fivethirtyeight.com. There, the lines help you to see the motion in the polls, such as the sharp changes near the conventions. The USA Today lines simply make it harder to look at the graph.

What gets me about this, though, isn’t the ridiculously bad math at one of the nations top selling newspapers. It’s the caption that appears if you hover over the line for, say, Obama:

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The Nobel prize for physics has been announced. This year half of it goes to Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Maskawa and the other half to Yoichiro Nambu; all particle physicists.

As always, there is a lot of controversy with this choice. When I first heard the recipients my first thought, and I suspect almost every particle physicist had the same thought, was: “Why Kobayashi and Maskawa and not Cabibbo?” The Kobayashi-Maskawa paper was, in many ways, a generalization of earlier work by Nicola Cabibbo. For some entertaining wild speculation about politics and motivation, see the comments on this post by Thomasio Dorigo.

My take is that this is one of the exceedingly difficult situations created by the rule that the prize can only be shared by three recipients. Nambu clearly deserves a Nobel prize, and good arguments can be made for all of Cabibbo, Kobayashi and Maskawa. On the other hand, the committee can’t give the prize to particle physics (or to any other branch of physics) every year. So, something weird and controversial has to happen.

Now, instead of directly explaining what the prizes were for, I’m going to slide into an Amusing Anecdote.

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