Tuesday, June 30, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Firefox 3.5 is very slow to load

If your Firefox 3.5 is very slow to load, the fix may be surprising: open Internet Explorer, go to Tools / Internet Options, and in the history section, remove the temporary internet files. Click OK. Firefox will start more quickly (less than 10 seconds instead of a minute). This is a temporary fix: an improved version 3.5.1 will be released before the end of July. But back to the original text:
Firefox 3.5 final

Mozilla Firefox is arguably the most important browser for TRF readers, especially because of the "Operation Aborted" bug that has returned and annoys most of the Internet Explorer 8 users again, despite these four new genuinely funny MSIE8 ads.

Meanwhile, with its 1.8 percent share, Google Chrome 3.0 beta (or earlier versions) continues to be a minority browser (although it's the primary browser of mine), partially for irrational reasons, partially because of the largely non-existent plugins.

Mozilla has just completed the new, faster, and better version of its browser,
Mozilla Firefox 3.5 final: download
It was released 40 seconds ago on the page above. Before you download the installation program from the page above, you should try to update your browser by Help/Update. The FF 3.5 RC3 users won't be offered any update because the third release candidate "succeeded" and is bitwise isomorphic to the final edition.

Click to zoom in.

I also recommend you to visit Tools/Addons manager and install a couple of useful plugins such as AutoPager (automatically downloads "next page" in various search engines, so that it is simply attached at the bottom and available by "Page Down"), CoolIris (a nice 3-dimensional wall with relevant pictures for each page), Flagfox (a flag icon showing the country of the current server), Minimap Addon (an easier way to open a map with a physical address that appears on a page), or the Chromifox Extreme Theme (resembling Google Chrome).

If you're a robot, you may want to try the about:robots URL

A chat with David Gross

If you have half an hour, here's an interview with David Gross from April 2009:

It's mostly about the work at the KITP, the big open questions, elegance in physics, his team's Nobel hats, limits of knowledge, and the generalities of the strong force. Moving pictures of the KITP, including the Gross wing and many string theorists, are included. Painfully enough, David also mentions "physics of climate change" around 5:30.

Monday, June 29, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Transition to El Nino becomes official

According to the latest, today's weekly report,

ENSO cycle: recent evolution, current status, and predictions (PDF),
a transition from ENSO-neutral to El Nino conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean is underway (see page 3). The anomaly in the Nino 3.4 region is +0.9 °C (and very similar for the other regions) which is well above the +0.5 °C threshold defining the El Nino conditions.

At the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, we had a La Nina episode (see page 26) which is partly responsible for the last year's status of the coldest year of the century so far.

At the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, La Nina conditions were in place once again. However, they didn't make it to another La Nina episode because the average index failed to drop below -0.5 °C for five consecutive overlapping three-month periods - a defining criterion for an episode.

However, now we're back to El Nino conditions that have a big chance to make it into another episode. That would probably mean that the global mean temperatures would get a positive boost, too. The ENSO "ONI" index for the end of June 2009 is probably at the highest end-of-June level since 1997 when it was even higher, getting ready for the El Nino of the century that has made 1998 the warmest year on record.

Saturday, June 27, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Strings 2009: public lectures

The annual stringy conference in Rome has ended. A large part was dedicated to applications of the AdS/CFT correspondence in nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, and related realms: these methods have grown into a mature, well-established industrial sector which is both a good thing (because it works very well) and a bad thing (because it works too well and the main qualitative dreams have probably already been uncovered and the activity has become a routine).

Several talks were focusing on the booming field of F-theory bottom-up phenomenology - which has already arrived near the "top" because the constructions are already trying to construct the full compact manifolds - i.e. global models - not just the local map of the vicinity of the relevant singularities. I think it's very helpful that those several groups that work on this highly promising possible incorporation of the real world within string theory were forced to meet because I found the degree of interactions between these big shots less frequent than desirable. We'll see where their work goes.

By the way, Marsano, Saulina, and Schafer-Nameki released their new paper yesterday. It is constructing the full local F-theory compactifications that obey all the geometric constraints that were pointed out to naturally cure many problems of supersymmetric grand unified theories and predict many of their additional features such as various mass hierarchies.

It is almost possible to naturally explain all these patterns.

Mad radical leftists win in the U.S. House

When I returned home last night, I have been watching CSPAN-1 for many hours. The discussions about the Waxman-Markey "climate bill" were just a stunning experience.

H.R. 2454: the 1092-page version
H.R. 2454: the 932-page version
I can't find the 1201-page version anywhere.
First, a comparison. The proceedings in the Czech Parliament are often a farce. Deputies attack each other personally and they often (but not always) speak about off-topic issues. And yes, I often enjoy these exchanges, too - although they can be too much of a good thing. From this point of view, the members of the U.S. Congress (from both parties) are true professionals, relatively speaking. They're better rhetors who always try to focus on the topic.

Friday, June 26, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

WSJ on swelling climate skepticism

These days, there are relatively many articles that are not afraid to point out facts that disagree with what was once called the "consensus". But I think that Kimberley Strassel did a very good job in her

The Climate Change Climate Change (click)
and summarized a lot of reasons and symptoms underlying the recent increase of climate skepticism across the world. Recommended for a big picture concerning the sociology of the debate.
The Goode Family 1x04 (3 parts)
... they have to hire a (white) gardener ...
... all episodes ...
All 40 comments below her article seem to be nice and skeptical, so I apologize to her in advance if the first nasty and alarmist comments will be written by readers who were sent over there from The Reference Frame. ;-)

If you want a longer and more complex reading, see the recent 98-page skeptical document prepared by the National Center for Environmental Economics for EPA. It summarizes a lot of "skeptical" findings from recent years and urges EPA to begin to behave scientifically again. (Hat tip: Gavin Schmidt.)

C-SPAN: Live: the U.S. Congress discusses and prepares to vote on the insane climate bill. The test vote has narrowly passed. These proceedings are a complete joke.

At 4:06 pm D.C. Daylight Saving Time, it turned out that no one owns those 300 extra pages of the bill that they are voting about - and maybe already approved. ;-) After Joe Barton asked, a female Democratic Big Cheese explained that she was not aware of any rules that the bill voted about must actually exist on the paper. :-)

Hundreds of Democrats don't even need to see the document: they're ready to raise their hand in favor of any method to throw trillions into the toilet. What a banana republic the U.S. are becoming.

Michael Jackson: 1958-2009

Michael Jackson, the king of pop, was betrayed by his heart. The cardiac arrest may have been caused by the drugs but they may have been many other factors involved.

While I was no canonical Jackson fan, I consider him a genius. Many songs - including Stranger in Moscow and Earth Song (yes!) - have made it to my top list, too. With his music and dance, he has been at the top of his field throughout most of his life. Even before he died, 50 concerts in London's O2 arena were sold out.

And yes, I have always despised and I still despise all kinds of bloody Jackson critics. His pale skin could have been caused by a skin disorder.

Click the image for a cheap Windows 7 upgrade.

Concerning his sexual life, I am convinced that he was a spiritually oriented, sensitive, and even inherently asexual man who has never hurt anyone - even though his emotional inclinations might have looked unusual to an average Joe. However, his dollars were irresistible for lots of parasites while his fame was too strong a source of jealousy for others.

R.I.P., Michael Jackson.

Thursday, June 25, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

U.S. climate panickers plan a global trade war

Benny Peiser's mailing list brought some interesting news from the world of climate policies,

Patrick Michaels and Sallie James
The New York Times
The proponents of the carbon regulation in the U.S. not only want to introduce a suicidal carbon tax. They also want to impose new tariffs on all nations who will fail to introduce the same suicidal carbon tax on their own territory.

In other words, they plan a global trade war against all skeptical nations. Cute. ;-)

Let me tell you who loses in such a trade war. Well, the answer is surprisingly that both sides lose. Trade is good for both sides, the seller and the buyer: that's why they agree to do the transaction. It follows that a trade war is bad for both sides: the seller (mostly China) and the buyer (mostly America).

However, there is still a sense in which the U.S. will lose more if this insanity is adopted: China and others will still be able to do business with others, circumventing the U.S. trading partners. On the other hand, the U.S. is willing to enter a trade war with the whole sensible world that doesn't adopt the measures.

You know, it's not just the skeptics who don't believe global warming (and this group is around 50% of the mankind). It's also the belivers who are just not "brave" enough to transform their belief into suicidal economic policies. The future U.S., previously the top champion of the free trade in the world, already weakened by insane and futile CO2 regulation on its own territory, wants to enter a trade war with a significant portion of the world - which will probably include BRIC and others. Wow.

I wonder whether the green nutcases will also start to threaten the skeptical world with nuclear weapons. You may choose: 0.5 °C of man-made warming (or cooling) in the 21st century, or a global nuclear Armageddon? Which of these two "catastrophes" is worse? ;-) The laws of Nature imply that we will only get the first one (i.e. nothing happens) if we manage to stop the fanatics but the historical experience suggests that we may get both if we will fail to do so.

And that's the memo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Air France pictures: are they real?

I received two photographs from a memory card that was allegedly found in a good shape inside a broken camera. Are these pictures real or do they come from a catastrophic movie you know?

Shift/click the pictures to zoom in in another window.

Alarmism in a math-phys department

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I visited the capital of Slovakia. It was a nice trip and we didn't physically fight with Alexander or with the other participant in the debate, Prof Milan Lapin.

And Alexander's father was, in fact, the warmest and the most hospitable person in Slovakia I met - a fact that can't be diminished by his speaking Czech. ;-) Alexander moderated the debate fairly. Just like I expected, about 50% of the audience that joined us in the question period were skeptics, despite attempts of several people I won't name ;-) to invite as many "green" guests as possible.

The discussion never became "content-free". However, as the relevant replies were building upon each other, we could only cover 20% of Alexander's prepared topics. Many of the exchanges were sharp: general rules of politeness were not crossed.

So none of the debaters - your humble correspondent or Prof Milan Lapin - could really use any of their prepared material. About 90% of my preparations turned out to be useless - be sure that I have studied many topics (about impacts etc.) that we normally don't discuss or study too often (such as the frequency of fires, droughts etc.) but I have only used the "basic knowledge" and the figures that have been hardwired in my ROM for years.

Several viewers that are closer to me, including Czech viewers over the web (and, indirectly, some green participants in the audience) told me that I won - aced it - but I can't quite promise you that Prof Lapin is not hearing similar compliments. ;-)

The disagreements are fundamental and unfixable

I was surprised and disappointed that we couldn't agree about almost any of the basic methodological (and ethical) principles of science and almost any of the current technical data.

The reason why I incorrectly expected our disagreements to be mostly in the form, and not the actual content and principles, is that I still think that all members of the math-phys community (I mean of the MFF UK, my alma mater) share certain rational approaches and knowledge and are also able to search for certain up-to-date technical data on the Internet. I have simply never had such a radical disagreement about the scientific method back at my alma mater - and I was assuming the equally named MFF UK department in Bratislava to be its Slovak counterpart.

Let me tell you a few examples of our viewpoints that simply couldn't be reconciliated.

First, emotions, fear, and cultural backgrounds. At some moment, Prof Lapin began to blame AGW for thousands of victims of a heat wave. Also, he said that AGW will displace many people. Because those "conventional" tens of millions that are often said to be "forced to migrate" by the AGW were not enough, he chose billions. In fact, 6.8 billion people who are alive today were equally insufficient, so he has "improved" the argument and argued that AGW is soon gonna displace 10 billion people who will soon live on the Earth.

Now, I was able to stay mostly serious, and produce lots of verifiable numbers about the victims of freezing weather vs heat wave (be sure that in countries such as the U.K., the freezing people dominate) and the actual statistics about the number of moving people (including my uncles-emigrants on both sides) and the small percentage that does so because of the climate (and not because of economics). But yes, I couldn't resist to make a light comment - or a joke - about those 10 billion homeless casualties because that comment of Prof Lapin was simply a tragicomedy.

So I was instantly chastised, together with all the skeptical webs, for making fun out of such serious things. We were supposed to feel as killers of 10 billion people. ;-) You know, these things are not serious at all and it is simply not acceptable to create the atmosphere in which certain "scary" combinations of words, such as 10 billion homeless people, are able to scare everybody and stop any rational discussion or prevent people from being skeptics (as a wise scholar, a former boss of many institutions, essentially said after the debate: skepticism is essential for science). 10 billion homeless people may sound scary and it may be unpopular to oppose someone who claims to want to save these billions of people, and so on.

But what's still much more important is that the thought experiment about 10 billion homeless people is just dumb beyond imagination (I didn't use this or similar adjective in Bratislava). Making the number in the silly proposition larger may make the potential scary impact scarier but it diminishes or destroys the argument because it makes it more laughable. The threat is dumb and it must be clearly displayed and humiliated as dumb, much like the first scientists who couldn't be afraid to humiliate similarly (but not equally) dumb propositions of the Church that were also trying to silence any doubts by similarly brutal emotional intimidation. Heliocentrism also opposed God, thousands of wise priests, and threatened the human civilization, didn't it?

The amount of completely unsubstantiated fearmongering we've heard during those two hours or so was very large, and I frankly don't believe that any professor of meteorology at the corresponding department in (MFF UK) Prague would say the same things as Prof Lapin did. So if you want to interpret my statement as an indirect indication that the school in Bratislava is measurably inferior to its counterpart in Prague, please feel free to do so. I tried to debunk every single of them but we were still limited by a finite time.

Another scary argument Prof Lapin did was that 2 °C of warming would so rapidly change the amount of evaporation, circulation, supercooled vapors, or whatever the strange mixture of effects was supposed to be (his description seemed to describe the interior of stars, not a temperate climate after a 2-degree warming) that it would make life almost unbearable. On the other hand, I said that there was an easy way to solve the difficult physics problem and figure out how much evaporation and other things you get if the temperature jumps by 2 °C: simply cross the Danube and check how the things work in Hungary. Life exists - and you will be almost unable to see any difference.

While the wrong emotions promoted by Prof Lapin, if left unchallenged, would be seriously hurting the impartial atmosphere of the scientific research (and be sure that many people are literally scared by these "thermonuclear" arguments that use millions or billions of possible casualties, without giving a rational mechanism), there were many other attitudes that would do a similar job.

Ignorance in science exists

Prof Lapin and I agreed that we should avoid vague comments about possible phenomena that can't be described by well-defined physical words, and I have avoided them, enumerating lots of particular numbers about the cooling effects of clouds etc. instead. But what Prof Lapin also implicitly said was that the desire to say strict, well-defined things about the system is sufficient to learn the right theory of it.

That's, of course, complete nonsense. Even when we want to know the truth, we're not guaranteed to know it, and the first hypothesis we create to explain an effect doesn't have to be valid. It's my understanding that Prof Lapin disagreed with this simple obvious fact - something that I find unimaginable, and truth to be said, I still don't think that a sensible person can disagree with that.

Timescales, weather, and climate

The difference between the weather and the climate was also discussed. Someone asked about the 10 years of no warming, and 30 years of warming etc. So Prof Lapin was laughing out loud about any effect that can be seen at the 10-year timescale while those 30 years were the ultimate period that can be arbitrarily extrapolated because no slower variations exist in the climate, he argued.

So I listed lots of phenomena that take 1-4 years (ENSO), 20-60 years (regimes of PDO), centuries (slow solar variations, little ice age, perhaps the temporary effects of burning fossil fuels), millenia (deep ocean circulation), tens of thousands of years (Milankovitch cycles). There's simply no "gap". The threshold of 30 years separating the "climate" from the "weather" is a social convention - and it is not quite a coincidence that this length is comparable to the length of the human adulthood.

People simply think that if they watch the atmospheric phenomena for half of their life, they can already determine the "general" statistical conclusions which can be called the climate. There's clearly no sharp physics. There's no phase transition that occurs exactly at 30 years. It's not true that 30 years is the timescale at which the statistical test of any possible climate effect becomes statistically significant. How many years of observations are needed to separate noise from trends or cycles clearly depends on the effect we want to observe. The idea of a universal gap at the 30-year-long intervals is just childish.

Incredibly enough, Prof Lapin disagreed with all these things. Did he provide us with rational arguments why the infrared physics of the atmosphere truncates at 30 years? Of course he didn't. He couldn't. There's no such argument. There can't be any such argument because the statement is demonstrably false. In fact, PDO loves 30-year-long regimes so as far as the PDO contribution to the global temperature goes (and it is not negligible), trends in the following 30 years are likely to be negatively, not positively, correlated with the trends in the previous 30 years. Infinite linear extrapolations from 30-year intervals are as wrong as extrapolations from any other intervals.

So how did Prof Lapin support the statement about the 30 years where all observations of the climate become sharp? Well, he mentioned our wise ancestors who cleverly defined this borderline forever. Let me admit, I had to regulate myself a lot because I just can't believe that a professor of a math-and-physics department could think in this way. Why don't we also say that our wise ancestors decided that the world was created in 7 days? Or is he saying these things, too? What's the difference? Are we really supposed to consider worshiping of ancestors to be a scientific arguments?

The scientific method has just the opposite purpose - to increase our knowledge and to show, increasingly more efficiently, accurately, and comprehensively, that our ancestors were ignorant about many things. It doesn't seem that Prof Lapin agrees even with this point.

When he kind of realized that his presented argument in favor of the 30-year gap (the wise ancestors) wasn't enough, he added one more: what he just said is also being taught in the course he is teaching. ;-) Well, that must be a proof that it is correct! (Or a proof that the Slovak students are unfortunately being taught unscientific boulderdash.)

Trends and analyzing the observed data

Prof Lapin also said that whenever we remove the year 1998, we "obviously and clearly" get a recent global warming, e.g. from 2001. Well, this is just a demonstrably false assertion. When we use e.g. UAH MSU, even the 101 months in 2001-2009 (up to May) give a cooling trend by linear regression, by -1.34 °C per century.

I had an unprovable feeling that he knew that this was the case with the satellite data and he was caught saying another untrue proposition. So he said that the weather stations were much more accurate than the satellites.

Obviously, I discussed the advantages of the satellites (the global reach), the urban heat island effects and the barbecue/asphalt anomalies (or "standard features"?) that Anthony Watts became famous for. With a little bit of exaggeration, the surface records quantify how much the stations' managers enjoy barbecue parties. Prof Lapin argued that only 100 stations are being used for the weather stations records, and they're being perfectly checked etc. Well, even if it were true, and it is not, covering the globe with merely 100 stations would give a highly distorted picture of the "global" temperature.

I said that the global sea ice anomaly is just slightly above zero right now - I happen to observe these Cryosphere datasets a few times a week. Other teams actually show that the amount of ice is even higher than Cryosphere. Prof Lapin was talking about the "ongoing" -3 million squared kilometers (huge negative) anomaly. When I explained that the Southern Hemisphere anomaly was as positive as the Northern Hemisphere anomaly was negative, he argued that the Northern data show the "global climate" while the Southern data show a laughable local circulation of the oceans.

Wow. The last comic statement - that two hemispheres follow different laws of physics, exactly in the right way that Prof Lapin needs for his arguments - is even funnier if you realize that the circulation of the ocean near the South Pole is much harder than in the Arctic because there's actually a continent over there. ;-)

I actually had all these relevant pictures (like the sea ice graphs) with me and I could show them within a minute, but we didn't have time.

Similar disagreements occurred pretty much about every other piece of the global climate data. Concerning ENSO, I said that the Pacific sea surface temperatures are just transitioning to an El Nino episode, saying that the indicators are already positive enough for El Nino conditions. Incredibly, Prof Lapin argued that he had 1-day-old data and we were still inside a La Nina.

The first reason why it's not possible is that these indicators are being published on Mondays. One click is enough for you to check that my information was 100% accurate and Prof Lapin's information was 100% inaccurate. In this file from June 15th or June 22nd (page 1/30), page 3/30 talks about warmer-than-average SSTs and the likely transitioning to El Nino during Summer 2009. Page 4/30 already shows the yellow spot at the bottom and page 5/30 shows the anomalies to be +0.5, +0.5, +0.7, +0.5 in the Nino 4, 3.4, 3, 1+2 regions, respectively for June 15th and +0.6, +0.7, +0.8, +0.9 for June 22nd.

Predictions of models

So while I unfortunately got the feeling that Prof Lapin didn't have the slightest clue about the recent observational data, his knowledge about the theory of the greenhouse effect turned out to be equally non-existent. He correctly observed that the warming trend was getting smaller as a function of the altitude.

So I agreed that this was the case observationally and mentioned that according to the greenhouse-dominated models, it shouldn't be true at all. The theory predicts a hot spot 10 km above the equator, see the wrong fingerprint. This hot spot is not seen at all.

Prof Lapin has made it clear that he had never heard about the hot spot. That's surprising - more precisely inconsistent - because he had also said that he has read the whole IPCC report, being the only person in the room. To see the inconsistency, open the page 675 of the 2007 IPCC report (13/84 in the file). Figure 9.1 c,f shows the modeled hot spot from the greenhouse gases and from all the effects combined, respectively.

Prof Lapin defended his incorrect proposition - that the greenhouse effect must be faster near the surface - by an incorrect ad hoc argument, namely that the warming trend only depends on the CO2 concentration. Well, it doesn't. What mostly matters is the difference between emission and absorption (and convection), and for this quantity, the lapse rate and the tropopause are very important. His oversimplified argument clearly gives a theoretically wrong altitude profile.

So Prof Lapin is one of Slovakia's most famous climatologists but I may unfortunately have to give him an F from the subject.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

James Hansen becomes a criminal

As expected, James Hansen and his intellectual peer, actress Daryl Hannah, were arrested in West Virginia:

Climate Scientist James Hansen Arrested in Mountaintop Removal Protest
An ordinary mortal human being might face significant problems but these particular habitual offenders are being protected by a whole movement of hard-left eco-terrorists so they are likely to get away with it and allowed to continue their work on the removal of the rule of law and other basic principles of capitalism.

Next time, if the police turns out to be insufficient as a tool to guarantee the ownership rights, the landlords may want to consider guns to protect their property against the trespassers.

By their desire to violate the laws whenever it is convenient, these radical activists make it very clear that they want to overthrow the very basic legal principles of the existing world and dramatically transform the procedures by which it works. They're not isolated hacks: incredibly enough, James Hansen continues to be employed by NASA and he has many allies in important chairs who are ready to implicitly endorse his criminal activity.

Symmetry and beauty

Tommaso Dorigo shares a common misunderstanding of the concept of "beauty" and its relationship to symmetry in physics. For example, he incorrectly thinks that a spontaneously broken symmetry (such as supersymmetry that he dislikes for mostly irrational reasons) shows that the laws of physics are "uglier" than if the symmetry were unbroken. Previous articles about similar aesthetic topics include

and dozens of others. However, I want to look at different types and manifestations of symmetries, with the special focus on the question which of them are "beautiful" in the sense that they increase the chances that the physicists are on the right path. I will also try to demystify the ability of "beauty" to increase the probability of beautiful theories.

The symmetry is certainly not the only aspect of beauty in physics but it continues to be the most well-known one, and I will concentrate on it.

Monday, June 22, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Tories, ODS, PiS, 5 individuals form a new group of MEPs

The European People's Party, the largest group in the European Parliament, has arguably become way too politically correct.

Despite their official center-right ideological affiliation, the well-known politicians connected with the EPP - such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy - and many of their less famous colleagues turned out to be essentially indistinguishable from the self-described European socialists when it comes to topics such as euronaivism, global warming, multiculturalism, and many other important issues.

Now, the British Conservative Party and the Czech Civic Democratic Party i.e. ODS after the split with its founder, President Klaus, have also shared a lot of postmodern opinions with the EPP, a group that they have belonged to so far.

However, one can at least see clear signs of hope inside these parties. For example, despite the personal tension between ODS boss Mirek Topolánek and President Klaus, it must be clear to every impartial observer that in his honest opinion, Topolánek believes neither the benefits of the Treaty of Lisbon nor the hypothetical threats of climate change - so his opinions are not really that different from Klaus's.

A new group emerges

Today, the Tories (26 seats), Polish Law and Justice or PiS (15 seats), ODS (9 seats), and five more MEPs from five countries have established a new club (55 seats), the European Conservatives and Reformist Group. It is defined by center-right values and their common opposition to European federalism. Let's hope that the newly achieved isolation from the crypto-socialists in the would-be center-right parties will help them to converge towards some natural, more sensible, and more honest approaches to many political and ideological questions of the current era.

The Czech and British parties are the strongest groups from their nations. ODS really defines the political mainstream in the post-Velvet-Revolution Czech Republic. Previously, ODS wanted certain natural allies on their right side, such as Italy's Northern League or Danish People's Party, to join the club. Cameron cares about his image in the PC media so he has vetoed the idea.

Well, the real problem may not be David Cameron: it may be the huge left-wing bias of the contemporary Western media - a bias that he is only rationally accommodating to. We don't experience such a scary thing in the Czech media. For example, the PiS has banned obscene live moving homosexual exhibitions on Polish streets. Cameron doesn't even agree with this ban but he is being chastised by the extremist media just for his teaming up with the "homophobes". Wow, what a sin. Despite a highly tolerant attitude to the sexual deviations by the liberal and mostly atheist Czech people, no one in the Czech media dares to criticize the conservative decision of the Polish Christians.

Other MEPs in the EPP suddenly have a chance to upgrade to the new group, too.

Russia plans to raise CO2 production by 30% before 2020

Dmitry Medvedev proposed his greenhouse plans for the following decade:

Russia offers climate goal with no real bite
He wants to increase the production of greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, by 30 percent by the year 2020. That would still be 10-15 percent below the 1990 levels. The drop in the early 1990s was sudden but Russia has returned to a sustainable growth curve.

Medvedev vowed not to reduce "Russia's development potential": he doesn't plan to jump on the bandwagon of idiotically suicidal politicians who have contaminated the political institutions across the world. I must say that on the other hand, his plan is pretty bullish because it assumes a 2.5 percent annual growth rate which is probably translated to a 3.5 percent GDP growth rate, given the tight link between the two figures and the natural technological ability of the economies to increase their fuel efficiency by a percentage point every year. Many other nations are surely planning a much smaller GDP growth in the years to come.

I am confident that most Russians still view the coal and other sources of CO2 as a key measure of their economic might - a quantity that has deteriorated in the last 20 years, relatively to the whole world. So they're much more eager to raise their CO2 output - at the time when many others are talking about insane plans to reduce CO2 output by 50 or 80 percent.

For example, India and other poor countries propose to use the Copenhagen conference in December 2009 to destroy 40 percent of the developed economies, as measured by their CO2 output, by 2020 relatively to 1990.

Sunday, June 21, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Strings 2009: Rome

The new random background was chosen because Summer has begun.

The Colosseum equipped with a crosscap, making up a Möbius strip one-loop stringy world sheet diagram. The windows apparently indicate an open-closed holographic duality.

Saturday, June 20, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Timeless physics 2009

We have discussed timeless physics in 2006 but because people like Sean Carroll recently wrote about the topic, let me add a few general words.

Needless to say, I mostly disagree with people like Carroll. There are many topics in which other people are saying demonstrably wrong things about topics that have been well-established. In those cases, the disagreement can be sharp. In the case of timeless physics, which is really just a vague guiding principle or a research project with an uncertain future, the disagreement cannot be equally sharp.

However, I think that by their disrespect for the research of the emergent character of time and its ultimate fundamental "non-existence", people like Smolin, Hossenfelder, CommunistPig, or even Carroll only help to emphasize their (otherwise well-known) lack of creativity, intuition, and ability to see depth in theoretical physics.

A very brief history of time

In the distant past, our ancestors - much like other animals - could only think about their immediate survival. Eventually, they became able to organize events in time and plan for the future. Early astronomers have learned about many quasiperiodic processes in the skies which led them to the idea of time as something that can be measured by similar cycles.

Galileo Galilei was the first man who studied the dependence of terrestrial processes on time: he really introduced time to testable physics (only statics was studied accurately by the ancient Greeks). His empirically verified "s=gt^2/2" law for the accelerated motion in the gravitational field was not only the first law in which properties of terrestrial objects were written as a function of time: it was also the first law that was chosen from a set of alternatives by his newly engineered scientific method.

Isaac Newton added a lot of testosterone to Galileo's methodology. He co-invented the calculus and redefined the whole world as a collection of classical degrees of freedom, such as x(t) and v(t), that depended on time. Time was absolute and universal.

That remained true in field theory, e.g. in hydrodynamics, but space was gradually becoming a counterpart of time. Fields became the natural degrees of freedom: they depended on time and space, as in phi(x,y,z,t). This process culminated by relativity. In special relativity, "t" was no longer universal for all observers. It got linearly mixed up with "x,y,z" depending on the observer's velocity.

Friday, June 19, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Distance matters: Facebook contacts have a scale-invariant spectrum

The physics arXiv blog has brought our attention to a paper that seems pretty interesting to me:

Goldenberg, Levy: Distance Is Not Dead: Social Interaction and Geographical Distance in the Internet Era
We often like to say that the Internet has made our blue planet smaller by simplifying the geographically distant relationships. We live in a global village, and so on.

However, what is often neglected in these popular clichés is that the Internet has also simplified the local relationships. And in fact, the computers have also simplified our ability to distinguish the nearby contacts from the distant ones. We have good reasons to prefer the local ones in many contexts because they can be coupled to physical interactions and the same interests in local events.

As a result, our focus actually became relatively more local and less global, since the first moments when the communication over arbitrary distances became acceptably doable and cheap.

The figure above summarizes the best power law fit for the number of Facebook contacts, written as a distribution "f(r)dr" with respect to the distance "r" in miles. You can see that the distribution goes essentially as "1/r": their exponent is "-1.03" which is very close to minus one.

This is an interesting exponent because "dr/r" is the same thing as "d ln(r)". It means that the number of contacts is the same for every "decade".

One has N contacts between 1 and 10 miles, N contacts between 10 and 100 miles, N contacts between 100 and 1,000 miles, and perhaps N contacts between 1,000 and 10,000 miles. In this sense, the map of the contacts is statistically self-similar, at least if you neglect far infrared effects such as the finiteness of the Earth that fails to be flat. ;-)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Climate in Bratislava

Disclaimer: the commercial is not recommended to minors. Between 2:55 and 3:04, the woman says "once more, but it's the last time". ;-)

I am getting ready for a trip to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where our fellow TRF reader Alexander Ač moderates a debate about climate change tomorrow at 5 pm local time,

Climate change: a threat for the 21st century or propaganda?
featuring your humble correspondent and Prof Milan Lapin, a distinguished Slovak climate expert who is so far on the wrong side of aisle. ;-) Infonet.tv is likely to broadcast it but as you can guess, I prefer if no one watches it.

While I also love CO2, the figure "2" would be written as a subscript and not a superscript if the author were a skeptic and not an alarmist. ;-)

Alexander allowed me to embed his nicely summarized 25-page presentation (written in Slovak) with the topics to be discussed, divided to 4 categories (causes; symptoms and impacts; forecasts; solutions): full screen. By the way, the influence of skeptical resources on him seems somewhat visible, doesn't it? ;-)

I don't plan to be too combative but if I were, there's a good example to follow. Pilsen is hosting the 2009 hockeyball world championship. Czechia has not lost a match so far (not even the 3:0 duel against the U.S. and an epic battle, 3:2, against a strong India) and added a victory over our Slovak brothers, 2:0, today in the afternoon, despite Slovakia's ability to beat the majestic empire of Greece, by the modest 20:0 score. ;-) I love sports where results and differences are counted by orders of magnitude.

Monday, June 15, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

John Baez, M-theory, and spinors

John Baez is fascinated by the existence of four number systems, namely R,C,H,O, whose dimensions are 1,2,4,8. He's thinking about this mysterious stuff even when he tries to

learn M-theory (at the Distler-owned Category Café).
Let me admit that it looks like he is being distracted by marginal and irrelevant stuff all the time. When Richard Feynman was trying to teach the electromagnetic induction to his artist friend (who has successfully taught Feynman how to make paintings), the friend screamed "it's just like f*cking" when a piece of metal was attracted inside the solenoid.

In a similar way, it seems that John Baez pays too much attention to marginal topics and wild speculations, including those that are not really the bulk of Mike Duff's review (even though Duff's review of SUGRA surely has more mysterious stuff in it than others). The classification to R,C,H,O is nice but one shouldn't forget that these four algebras have different basic properties.

Bert Schroer on the worldsheet "metaphor"

A reader has pointed out an entertaining article on the arXiv. It was written by Bert Schroer and its name is

Remarks on the world-sheet saga.
As Jacques Distler has independently figured out on Clifford Johnson's blog, Schroer's general "reasoning" goes as follows:
  1. Only 0-dimensional particles are acceptable building blocks in physics. So string theory must be a theory of point-like particle fields with infinitely many components, too.
  2. It follows that one can never include winding modes even if the target space is not simply connected.
  3. It follows that there is no T-duality. In fact, nothing that string theorists ever talk about exists, and everything is just a metaphor. String theory must be replaced by the Schroer caricature of string theory. The latter contains no strings and is as meaningless as any paper that Mr Schroer has ever printed. In Schroer's logic, it follows that string theory sucks.
Up to some moment, it is funny to see such extremely tiny, frail, modest, and perhaps somewhat excessively old brains that are nevertheless still able to hold such a huge chunk of self-confidence, surpassing its expected size by a few orders of magnitude, even though they are clearly not large enough to incorporate elementary concepts such as the winding strings, worldsheets, T-duality, on-shell amplitudes, or path integral.

For Schroer, all these notions and many others are the "ultimate sins of theoretical physics". On the other hand, for every other physicist who actually knows what has happened in the last 50 years, they're just "theoretical physics" - in fact, pretty much all of it. Schroer also thinks that his paper is a contribution to Strings 2009 (see the subtitle). I guess that the organizers of Strings 2009 should hire a psychiatrist for the scenario that Mr Schroer visits Rome next week and appears at the proceedings. They may be needed to deal with this - whatever is the politically correct name for a psychopath.

Is there at least one true proposition in Bert Schroer's rant?


Well, in reality, perturbative string theory is completely well-established and the results such as T-duality are proved theorems that are as rigorous as any good results in theoretical physics have ever been. Are strings just a metaphoric description of many point-like particle species?

Yes and no. A string can behave as one of an infinite family of possible vibration modes or particle species. This is the viewpoint that e.g. string field theory tries to take as seriously as you can get. In string field theory, physics is described by a "string field" which may be thought of as a collection of infinitely many point-like fields. However, there are some limitations of this picture:
  1. In string theory, the properties of this whole infinite tower of states is constrained or derived from the same string - one governed by the worldsheet physics. The idea of a "generic" collection of point-like particle fields would have no explanation for this infinite collection of constraints. The interactions of all these fields are determined by the same worldsheet physics, too. That's the first sense in which the worldsheet is very real.
  2. String theory has its own rules to derive the particle content in more complicated situations, e.g. with curved extra dimensions. The whole spectrum of masses has to be recalculated for each background.
  3. If the spacetime is not simply connected, winding strings are added and have to be added - for reasons that can be proved in many seemingly inequivalent ways: winding modes must be a part of the story. T-duality is one of their key consequences.
  4. The actual physics of string theory leads to somewhat modified rules how to compute loop diagrams. They slightly differ from the rules that one would expect in the case of infinitely many point-like particles. This difference is important for the short-distance finiteness of string theory.
Let me say a few more words about these points.

A constrained tower of states

Fermi's four-fermion theory of beta decay is non-renormalizable. We know that it is just the low-energy approximation of a more accurate and well-behaved theory, a spontaneously broken gauge theory, where the force is mediated by the exchange of vector bosons.

Similarly, the short-distance problems of quantized general relativity have to be cured by a similar package of new physics. In this case, one needs an infinite number of new particle species to contribute to the graviton scattering.

However, an infinite collection of new arbitrary fields would depend on an infinite collection of parameters such as masses and couplings. That would be as bad as a non-renormalizable theory because an infinite number of unknown parameters could never be fully determined. However, string theory does something different: it determines the masses and interactions of all these new massive states that are needed to regulate the divergences of gravity.

So in some sense, you may always parameterize string field operators as many field operators that create point-like particles. However, if you want to know anything about their masses, interactions, and other physical properties, you need to appreciate that they arise from a quantized string or a quantized worldsheet.

The more general visualization of string fields as a collection of many point-like particle fields would be unable to see all the constraints that follow from the worldsheet equations. For example, the worldsheet is Lorentz-invariant. Locally, a piece of worldsheet doesn't allow you to choose a preferred time direction: its spatial and temporal coordinates have properties that are related by the symmetry.

While it's always possible to decompose a periodic function into the Fourier modes or a string field into the infinitely many component fields, such a procedure obscures virtually all key physical properties of the stringy objects - their actual inner architecture.

Background-dependence of the spectrum

Another point I mentioned is that the spectrum of the point-like particle fields depends on the background. In the realm of "cracked" or "broken would-be popular physics", the background dependence is often presented as a bad thing. But physical consistency requires many things to depend on the background. And the dependence on the background is necessary for making predictions, too.

In the case of curved extra dimensions of a Calabi-Yau shape, you may ask how many generations of quarks and leptons a heterotic string compactification has. The answer is that the number depends on topological invariants of the Calabi-Yau manifold, such as its Euler character (or the Hodge numbers).

If you only cared about the massless fields, you could determine their spectrum in the large dimensions by applying Kaluza-Klein methodology to the higher-dimensional massless fields. But more generally, the massive spectrum of string theory on a curved manifold is affected by its shape. You shouldn't imagine that you are putting a predefined theory of fixed point-like particles (and fixed fields) on the same manifold.

Winding modes

The most obvious example showing that such an idea would not be quite right are the winding modes. If the target space has non-contractible loops in it, strings can be wound around it "w" times. This is not just an arbitrary possibility that someone has added to make string theory richer (or more confusing). Quite on the contrary, all methods to calculate anything in string theory unambiguously imply that winding strings exist, have to exist, and their properties are completely determined.

To see why, you may imagine a compactification with one dimension whose shape is a circle. Consider a string that randomly vibrates. At some point, its shape resembles the combination of a winding string with "w=+1" and another, nearby one with "w=-1".

Because interactions have to be allowed in string theory, such a closed string must be allowed to split into two strings with the "w=+1" and "w=-1". In fact, the local character of the interaction ("crossing over") is identical to any other interaction where a closed string splits into two.

If you wanted to prohibit the creation of winding strings in this way, you would have to impose rules that would be checking whether wound strings are being created according to some reference frame. Such rules would have to be non-local and they would arguably be unnatural. They would probably lead to further inconsistencies. You could still consider such a theory with global restrictions. At any rate, string theory as string theorists know it is a different theory. It is described by local physics on the worldsheet. It makes sense and nothing is arbitrary in it.

The existence of winding strings is also necessary for us to derive T-duality, among other things.

One-loop Schwinger parameter

Finally, I mentioned that string theory leads to slightly different rules for loop amplitudes than a collection of infinitely many point-like particle fields would. Loop diagrams in field theory may be written as integrals over the Schwinger parameters - essentially lengths of imaginary world lines of the intermediate particles.

Similarly, loop diagrams in string theory are integrals over the so-called moduli (of Riemann surfaces) which generalize the Schwinger parameters except that the number of these parameters is larger by a factor of 2-6. These moduli describe the inequivalent shapes of the worldsheets with a nontrivial topology. The integrals can be re-imagined as integrals over the ordinary Schwinger parameters.
Except that the range of integration is not quite identical.

In field theory, the Schwinger parameter for a one-loop diagram would go from 0 to infinity, counting a length of a circle. In the perturbative theory of closed strings, this diagram would be replaced by a two-dimensional integral over the shape of the torus. If you assume that strings are just point-like particles with many species, the stringy integral over "tau" would cover the area defined by
|Re(tau)| < 1/2,
Im(tau) > 0.
However, the stringy domain of integration is smaller:
|Re(tau)| < 1/2,
Im(tau) > 0, |tau| > 1.
Note that the additional third condition removes the region with a small imaginary part of "tau": this region is (or was) the source of ultraviolet divergences for point-like particles. But in string theory, it corresponds to very thin (ultraviolet) tori which can be - by a rotation by 90 degrees - reinterpreted as very thick (infrared) tori.

One only has to sum over nonequivalent diagrams. Because this "modular group" (not just Z2, actually SL(2,Z)) proves that certain tori are equivalent, only a smaller "fundamental domain" is integrated over. It follows that all extreme regions of the integration space that could give rise to an ultraviolet divergence may be interpreted as extreme "infrared", long-distance regions. Once you prove that the long-distance limit of your theory is consistent, it follows that there can't be any short-distance problems, either: without a loss of generality, all hypothetical short-distance problems have been transformed to long-distance problems.


To summarize, the worldsheets are more real in perturbative string theory than virtually all laymen and beginners imagine. When the string coupling gets large, all the worldsheets and strings cease to lose their "monopoly" to be the fundamental histories or particles: other objects, such as D-branes, join them (or even supersede them). But as long as you study the weakly coupled string theory perturbatively, worldsheets of string theory are not just a metaphor: they are as real as the worldlines of point-like particles in the old-fashioned point-like particle field theories.

The rules to deal with the worldsheets generalize the methods to deal with the worldlines. And one may always try to "Fourier-expand" worldsheets into worldlines and reinterpret string theory as a theory of point-like particles. Up to some point, such a reinterpretation works but it completely misses the point of string theory - that it actually tells us everything about the structure and behavior of the infinitely many fields. And for technical calculations, the dogmatically applied point-like formulae can lead to results that have subtle errors in them.

And that's the memo.


The reason behind the recent pause on this blog was a trip to Villeneuve-sur-Yonne in Bourgogne, i.e. to the French countryside. Some presentations including mine were given. Laurent Sacco kindly provided me with an excellent übertranslation: that's like a translation except that the content may be freely doubled, organized, completed, and otherwise improved. ;-)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Changes of dimensionful quantities are unphysical

Juliane Dalcanton asked the question whether anyone cares about the publications in Nature these days.

Some people submit their papers not only into the fast arXiv, in order to be the first ones and to share the results quickly, but they still want to use the power of journal Nature to influence a broader public which requires the papers to be embargoed before they're printed. So in reality, all experts know about the new paper (from the arXiv) but they must pretend that they don't.

I agree with Julianne that it is an ethically questionable decision to restrict the freedom of speech of the readers of the arXiv if the only possible gain is a personal gain of the authors. But I guess that the "embargoed" label cannot possibly have any legal (or moral) strength unless you have signed a contract with Nature - so everyone is free to ignore it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

White book: genetically modified crops

Sorry, this blog may be silent for one week.

The Biology Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences has published

The White Book on Genetically Modified Crops (PDF, click).
On 98 pages, Prof František Sehnal, Prof Jaroslav Drobník, and their collaborators summarize and analyze the EU policies concerning GM crops and evaluate the results of their 30+ research papers that happen to show no negative health or environmental impact.

(If you're growing something, the biggest risk of GMO seeds is that they may be patented.)

Monday, June 08, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

CERN: CLOUD on cloud number nine

The LHC is not the only experiment that will begin to collect the data later in 2009.

The chamber has arrived: click here if the video is missing.

CLOUD - Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets - just got closer to reality because of the operation you can see in the video above: their three-meter diameter cloud chamber has just arrived.

On CLOUD nine (CERN press release)
The experiment will try to find out whether the ions (similar to the galactic cosmic rays) influence the creation of clouds in the atmosphere. In other words, whether a roof is necessary for the cloud chambers to operate. ;-)

Kumar, Taylor: no swampland in 6 dimensions

Vijay Kumar and Wati Taylor wrote a new paper,

String universality in six dimensions,
in which they argue that every low-energy supergravity action (or set of equations of motion) in six dimensions is realized (and UV-completed) as a stringy compactification.

Although the stringy constraints may look very different than the field-theoretical constraints, especially the anomaly cancellation conditions (with the cute number 243 that you will see again if you read the paper), it turns out that they are mostly equivalent. String theory reproduces all the constraints of field theory and it may add additional ones - those that exclude the "swampland".

Except that the six-dimensional setup is an example where the set of these additional constraints may be empty, as they claim. If true, that would mean that without a loss of generality, you may always assume that a six-dimensional supergravitational action is actually a part of a stringy compactification: string/M-theory is universal, in this sense.

Sunday, June 07, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Social democrats began to evaporate from the European Parliament

The 2009 European Parliament elections were somewhat encouraging for the center-right and right-wing parties.

Misery for social democrats as voters take a turn to the right
Center-right and conservative parties won in almost all European countries.

In Poland, the rightwingers secured about 80% of the votes and 88% of the seats, no kidding. In Hungary, right-wing and center-right parties won 82% of the seats. Center-right parties also won in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Czechia, and many others. In the U.K., the Tories won while the Labor Party came out as third: the second largest party is the pro-Klaus climate skeptical Euro-skeptical U.K. Independent Party: congratulations.

Benny Peiser speculates that the Labor failure is partially a result of its green policies. As Sonja A. Boehner-Christiansen comments, if that's so, the political parties haven't yet realized that they're destroying their bases by the green policies.

The Guardian revealed their hopes that the social democrats would at least win in the Czech Republic because the boss of the center-right Civic Democrats was seen in Berlusconi's villa. Well, the newspaper should hire better analysts instead of the left-wing crackpots with all of their wishful thinking whom the Guardian bosses are employing at this moment. Berlusconi was unaffected, too.

This is the map of the winning parties in Czech regions after 40% of the voting districts have been counted.

Update: In the final results, the Olomouc region (containing the left part of the "V" attached in the Northeast) went to social democrats.

Yes, despite being only half-erect, Mr Topolánek and his party managed to win every single region in this not quite important election. The turnout has been around 40% in the EU, a record low, while it was close to 28% in Czechia, still well above 20% in Slovenia and 19% in Slovakia.

In these elections, Slovakia became a black sheep of Europe not only because of its lowest turnout but also because Fico, a social democratic populist who doesn't consider the Velvet Revolution important, became the clear winner together with his "Smer" ("Direction").

Concerning Czechia, the journalists claim that the Civic Democrats have been afraid of the result that we are seeing - a clear victory over the Left - because the Left would mobilize its forces before the really important national elections in the Fall. Well, I don't quite see the logic here. In my opinion, the Left mobilizes when things are working well for them which is not the case of Spring 2009. They can only earn if the other party carries too much responsibility - which is not the case of the EU Parliament.

Only four major parties - Civic Democrats (31%, 9 deputies), Social Democrats (23%, 7 deputies), Communists (15%, 4 deputies), and Christian Democrats (8%, 2 deputies) - have made it to the European Parliament. Ms Jana Bobošíková who leads the "Sovereignty" ticket (4.5%) was the only other candidate who had some temporary hope to surpass the 5% threshold. Many groups I liked are gone - on the other hand, the suppression of the socialists is good news and many parties whom I dislike (like all Czech green parties) are gone, too. Others have strengthened.

Sweden is sending the Pirate (pro-Warez) Party (7%).

Saturday, June 06, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Why aren't the mechanical watches extinct already?

Porsche's titanium mechanical chronograph with 800 parts is very accurate. Fourty copies were produced in 2005. Just for $150,000, it's yours: and it looks just like a digital watch from the outside.

Daniel Holz was brave enough to reveal his technocratic character and asked the question how it was possible that companies could still sell mechanical watches even though they're less accurate, heavier, and more expensive than the quartz watches based on the piezoelectric properties of a mineral with the same name.

Dan suggests that people only care about the mechanical watches because they're being irrationally brainwashed by commercials. Well, I also care about the efficiency of things but this is an example of a situation where I see how crazy it can be if someone doesn't see the rest of the world because of that.

Sex has survived, too

Fundie has offered a comment that paraphrased and sharpened Dan's paradox:
Flip through a random magazine, and you are likely to be confronted by one of the great mysteries of modern times: a celebration of non-reproductive sex. For the past 30 years it has been possible to acquire a child without having sex at all. These children are small and light, and do an extraordinary job of being children. 
Nonetheless, there is a flourishing market for non-reproductive sex. The participants are generally large and heavy, are significantly more expensive, and most importantly, are far inferior as generators of children: easily a factor of ten worse than their reproductively unrestricted counterparts. How could there still exist a market for these obviously inferior sex objects? The answer lies somewhere in the unfathomable realm of fashion and marketing.
Well, that's a real paradox. ;-) In this case, Dan would be kind of right. The opinion that sex is fascinating is an irrational artifact of our brains' being contaminated by hormones. :-)

Tetris: 25 years

Tetris, the first globally addictive puzzle video game, was created exactly 25 years ago, on June 6th, 1984, by Alexey Pajitnov at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Full screen...

Friday, June 05, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Green bubble popping

And PC is fun with The Goode Family...

If you search for global warming at Google News, you will obtain 16,500 articles from the last 30 days. That's an amazing drop from the peak that occurred a year ago or so (or two years?) when the corresponding number was well above 50,000.

George Will has written a widely published essay arguing that the green bubble has burst. An excerpt from "The Goode Family", mentioned by Will, including their dog Che Guevara who is vegan when supervised, is embedded above.

European Parliament: elections

Due to its limited chances (partly caused by the insufficiently inclusive relations to similar parties), I can't promise to vote "The Party of Free Citizens", a new Euro-skeptic of Petr Mach, but their TV spot is pretty amusing and their ideas are just right.

In Czechia, the most likely key match will be one between the center-right Civic Democrats and the left-wing Social Democrats; the remaining 38 parties and blocs will fight for their survival. A flash game is a nice training for the duel: don't be intimidated by the socialist politicians who will be threatening as you play. ;-) And I hope that the Civic Democrats will win in this "training" for the "real" elections to the national Parliament to be held in the Fall.

David Černý's provoking "Entropa" pictured the Netherlands as an underwater land only with the minarets that made it above the surface. ;-)

In the Netherlands, the polls are over. The victorious Christian democrats (CDA) with 20% were almost matched by Geert Wilders' anti-immigration PVV with 17%. As you know, I am no supporter of far-right parties but their strengthening may be viewed as a refreshing, and to some extent necessary, reaction to the growing influence of far-left, politically correct parties and PC wings of centrist parties.

Silly stories from the voting room

I arrived as the first person in my district. The voting room was a classroom of an elementary school. The second person who arrived there decided to support a true "personality" which, as I learned soon, was Miloslav Ransdorf, the #1 of the communist party ticket ("a walking encyclopedia with a skewed mouth").

Because I really didn't want to argue with a smiling communist, I told him that I was just arranging the purchase of a new laptop (not yet completed) for the father-in-law of the first non-Soviet non-American astronaut, Vladimír Remek. The voter happily said that Remek was the #2 on his preferred ticket.

I had known that the guy from the commission supervising the election process and checking my ID was a merry communist, too. ;-)

So I told him "good afternoon or honor to the labor or whatever is your preferred greeting now". Although "honor to the labor" ("čest práci") has been the preferred greeting of this guy and his comrades for 40+ years, he didn't look particularly nostalgic or happy about my greeting. But he still kindly allowed me to vote, even though he made it very clear that he would be happy if I failed to submit the envelope to the proper box.

On the street, wind succeeded to spread the remaining 39 tickets across the road. Fortunately, there was a nearby class with 10 girls (age 6 or so, first graders or kindergarten) who immediately and happily helped me to collect the mess. One of them, with the highest number of tickets, was declared the winner of the contest by me and their teacher. :-)

Endowments and long-term thinking

Harvard University has become a role model in the discussions about the fate of wealthy universities in the wake of the economic downturn. A kind of irrational hysteria is controlling many journalists and members of the university community, too. See e.g.

Drew Gilpin Faust and the incredible shrinking Harvard
in Boston magazine. During the Golden Summers Years, everything seemed rosy. The university president had bold plans and he expected great work from the members of the community, too. Needless to say, many people were irritated by this atmosphere of high expectations - and the academically weaker ones were much more likely to be irritated. Greetings to Cornel West.

Summers decided to rebuild Allston, a neighborhood of the Greater Boston across the Charles river from Cambridge. On the favorite picture I took, the painter is sitting on the Allston side and he is looking at Cambridge; click to zoom in. Harvard began to build the future world's headquarters of genetics and other biological sciences. Some details were not yet decided but the ambitions were great.

But very often, after Summers come the Falls.

Before the market crash of 2008, the endowment was at USD 37 billion. That's very close to the assets of the world's wealthiest person today. As you know, these people were most severely hit by the crash, relatively speaking. The billionaires' worth dropped by 50% in average. Harvard has only sacrificed 30% or so, getting closer to USD 25 billion.

You can see that it was no extraordinary loss relatively to other extremely wealthy individuals and institutions, and Harvard has clearly been one for many years even though some victimist people who are being fed by the institution (imagine the Feminist or Black departments or other departments of professional whining parasites) still love to consider themselves poor. The wealthy individuals and institutions are exactly those that can afford to store their savings in risky assets - because they can afford (or at least "survive") their drop which is what risky assets sometimes do. Harvard managers have followed a similar strategy.

The endowments are financial "pillows" and it has become a standard policy that in average, a university spends about 5% of its endowment every year. The universities have several independent sources of money but the endowment usually grows by more than 5% a year in average. What should happen with these figures during an economic downturn such as the recent one?

I think it's obvious that the number "5%" should increase simply because the size of the endowment naturally decreases during the downturn. The very purpose of the endowment is to make the university ready for a few difficult years (or even decades). It's clear that some daily spending of almost everyone has to be regulated during recessions. But there should still exist a kind of long-term thinking.

It seems that the current leaders of Harvard - including the historian at the very top - are not capable of any long-term thinking.

You know, the Allston project has been one of the projects that approximately take a decade to be realized. So you simply shouldn't make substantial changes to the project - because of mood swings that are likely to disappear in one year - unless you are literally forced to do so.

It is simply wrong for Harvard to abandon its visions and its image as the world's #1 university. What is the recipe of Dr Faust?
If the endowment weren't so enormous, Faust concluded, the university would face a choice: Seek more money from alumni and the federal government, or "do less—less research, less teaching, at a lesser level of quality."
Well, now the endowment is no longer "so enormous" and the government and alumni are not likely to increase their donations during the thinner years: for obvious reasons, the different sources of the money are likely to decrease simultaneously. So Faust seems to be led to the third option. Her plan is to create a smaller Harvard whose quality sucks.

That's a nice plan but not too nice. :-) Imagine that a politician would honestly offer such a vision before the elections. Imagine that in 2008, Obama had openly said that he wanted the U.S. to cease to be a superpower. Everyone has known that under Faust, the quality of Harvard would plummet: some people have just found this development convenient. But so far, no one has been openly saying that this was the actual plan.

If one admits that the strength and quality are no longer important, such a proposition threatens the very brand of Harvard. Consequently, it may impact the magnitude of contributions in the long run. It is a very risky path to take. My recipe would be obvious: continue the life and projects as usual, keep the self-confidence, and get used to the fact that the endowment no longer looks infinite.

This point is a part of a broader discussion about the "stimuli" during the crisis. The U.S. government, with its immense debt, is trying to pour money to many places while the rich subjects such as Harvard are doing everything they can to shrink. This is just wrong. What should actually be happening during such crises is that the people, companies, and nations that are in debt should reduce their spending while those who are in the black numbers should continue to live and stimulate the economy by hiring bricklayers and people in hundreds of other occupations.

And if an institution such as Harvard depends on the identification of its brand with quality, it should try to keep it this way. If it has to fire someone or close a department, it should do it to those non-essential ones for the quality that could have been added when the pockets were full. Genetics is not an example; women's studies are. Needless to say, open letters usually demand the opposite thing, a further replacement of quality scholars by professionally whining colorful people and other victimists.

Among good news for the school, one of the bosses of the anti-Summers jihad, black victimist Lorand Matory (who authored the no-confidence rant, among other things), is leaving it. In 2005, I've had as huge problems with this nasty jerk as Summers himself.

Consider a typical interval of time in between two economic downturns. Some companies and endowments grow, some shrink. Some companies produce great profits, others have to borrow in order to create profits in the future: at least that's what they're promising. But the period in between the two downturns is pretty long and may be viewed as a typical period of a "cycle". And if someone is not able to get rid of his debt during one such period, it seems to mean that he is probably borrowing more than he should.

On the other hand, if someone stays in the black numbers after such a cycle, it means that he can afford to borrow more. The companies and institutions that are capable to stay alive after one cycle are the viable ones and deserve further loans while those whose debt has increased after the cycle deserve fewer loans. Isn't it obvious?

Of course, Harvard isn't really producing anything. But you can imagine that the donations it collects are the "profits" that it generates by working on its name and by making itself look (and, less often, be) important for the society. And it's been doing a much better job in these matters than the U.S. government. The latter is deeply in the red numbers.

It's clear that some additional money pumped into the system may speed up the economy. But who should be spending this money? Where should the money come from? It seems clear to me that they should be spent exactly by those who know what they're doing and why they're doing so, especially those who have some long-term plans that are similar to other plans of theirs that have already turned out to be successful in the past.

It means that the money paid by Harvard to the bricklayers in Allston is a relatively good investment that is likely to bring something in the future while the money poured by the U.S. government to random places that didn't seem to know what to do with the money yesterday is a bad investment of the same amount.

So it should become normal to realize that during a nearly unprecedented recession like the 2008-2009 one, universities should be spending something like 7% of their endowment a year rather than 5%. The endowment is not supposed to be constant - so the fractions computed out of it are not constant, either. They should realize that the current bad mood won't last forever and that the figure is likely to drop below 5% sometime in the future again. Responsible leaders simply can't surrender to some temporary waves of bad mood.

After all, sensible and rational long-term investors must have a long-term strategy, too. They cannot sell stocks when they're already depressed because it's a very stupid strategy: the stocks are more likely to be near the bottom (or may have bottomed up already) and that's the worse possible moment to sell them.

Thursday, June 04, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

The point of E8 in F-theory GUTs

Jonathan Heckman, Alireza Tavanfar, and Cumrun Vafa wrote a 106-page article (PDF) arguing that if one wants to avoid fine-tuning, F-theory highly favors a deeper level of unification than conventional GUT theories, one that starts with the E_8 group, which is familiar to the Telegraph readers as the surfer dude group. :-)

There should be exactly one point in the F-theory compactification where the group gets enhanced to E_8, and then lots of realistic features for phenomenology automatically follow. This new holy grail is described by the following diagram:

The starting, low point of their holy grail unification is an ordinary A_4 = SU(5) group - the canonical minimal choice in field theory. It lives on a real four-dimensional submanifold.

However, if the top quark is supposed to be naturally heavy (at the electroweak scale) while its two upper cousins are light, this SU(5) must get enhanced to E_6 somewhere on a real two-dimensional submanifold. A similar interaction for the bottom quarks implies a D_6 = SO(12) singularity located at another real two-dimensional submanifold.

A hierarchical character of the CKM matrix indicates that the top and bottom Yukawa interactions arise from nearby loci: it makes sense to imagine that they get unified to an E_7 singularity at one point. Finally, a minimal neutrino sector with a mildly hierarchical lepton mixing matrix (PMNS matrix) elevates the requirement for this singular point to carry an E_8 group rather than its E_7 subgroup.

RSS MSU: 0.11 °C month-on-month cooling

RSS MSU have released their May 2009 data. The global temperature anomaly has dropped from 0.202 °C in April to 0.09 °C in May. This cooling trend, if (unreasonably) extrapolated to one century, gives 134.4 °C of cooling per century. ;-)

So the world was just less than tenth a degree warmer than the "normal".

This rapid cooling is somewhat unlikely to continue in the coming months because the ENSO index is approaching the El Nino threshold while the solar activity (SC24) starts to show signs of a revival.

The May 2009 RSS MSU temperature anomaly for the mid troposphere was actually negative, -0.028 °C, for the first time in this year (but it was negative in 8 months of 2008).

By the way, if you wonder what has brought down Air France 447, it was apparently global warming - no kidding.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Richard Lindzen on climate sensitivity and sensibilities

This is the talk that Dr Richard Lindzen (MIT) just gave in the DC, on the Third International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC 2009b):

Larger transparencies are here (click). Full screen.

Lindzen begins with some sociology. Alarmist papers are spreading because papers in all disciplines that are related to the alarm get a preferential treatment and are supported, even before solid or relevant results are found.

Low-quality scientific work and the low-quality scientists themselves are not being filtered out because they know how to use the fad and publish lousy papers that will be promoted by the environmental ideologues, anyway. That's called the "opportunism of the weak".

He switches to the science and discusses how the feedback coefficient "f" is determined. Recall that the warming is determined by

Delta T = Delta T0 / (1-f)
where Delta T_0 is the bare warming without feedbacks. For a negative "f", the effect is weakened by the feedbacks.

For a positive "f", between 0 and 1, the effect is strengthened, and that's what the people around the IPCC uncritically believe to happen.

If "f" were greater than one, the positive feedback would be strong enough to cause an instability: the negative warming that you would naively get from the formula would describe the lower temperature in the past, rather than in the future, from which the past and future, exponentially escalating warming began.

Uplifting IIB orientifold models to F-theory

Today, there are also two independent papers explaining the procedure to "uplift" orientifold vacua of type IIB string theory to F-theory, an Austrian one and a German one (according to the majority's affiliation).

Andres Collinucci:
  New F-theory lifts II: Permutation orientifolds and enhanced singularities (AT)

Ralph Blumenhagen, Thomas W. Grimm, Benjamin Jurke, Timo Weigand:
  F-theory uplifts and GUTs (DE)
What do I mean by uplifts?

Superstring theory used to be thought of as a theory that requires 9+1 dimensions of spacetime: that's what you need to cancel the conformal anomaly (or equivalent problems) on the stringy worldsheet, assuming that all degrees of freedom on the worldsheet are geometric and parameterize an embedding into a supersymmetric spacetime.

However, this condition is only relevant when strings are good degrees of freedom. At strong coupling, strings are no longer the only fundamental degrees of freedom because they create new, previously composite objects that may become lighter and more "fundamental" than the strings themselves, and the counting of the dimension may be modified, too.

Supergravity can't be the whole story

(Or at least, it can't produce the full black hole entropy)

Today, there is a kind of Big Tuesday on hep-th. And I am not the only one who believes that the first three hep-th papers on the arXiv are the three most interesting papers. Greetings to SlavaM. ;-)

This triumvirate includes two F-theory uplift papers - that were probably published on the same day by an accident (although the authors have obviously communicated with each other) - and one paper comparing SUGRA-calculated black hole entropies with the full quantum gravity result.

We will begin with the latter:

Jan de Boer & 3 co-authors: A bound on the entropy of supergravity
To appreciate what they're doing, we must begin with some history.

Black holes with explained microscopic entropies

In 1974, Stephen Hawking has figured out that black holes were not quite black.

Because the particles can't be quite confined inside the black hole walls (recall quantum tunneling) or because different Hamiltonian-like generators have different ground states (related by the Bogoliubov transformation) or because the virtual pair production may become real near the event horizon or because superluminal trajectories do contribute to the path integral, he was able to show that the particles leaving the black hole match a black body curve with the temperature determined by the "gravitational acceleration" at the event horizon, using classical terms - a quantity that is inversely proportional to the black hole radius.

Max Planck was able to deduce the spectrum emitted by all black bodies 100+ years ago - so it shouldn't be shocking that a black hole is a black body, too, especially after John Wheeler gave it the nice name. ;-)

Completely off-topic video clip by Lucie Vondráčková.

This conclusion only depended on long-distance physics of gravity, i.e. on its semiclassical approximation. However, if something has a temperature, the equations "E=T.dS" and "E=mc^2" can be applied to find out that the black hole also has a nonzero entropy. Hawking calculated it by these "indirect" thermodynamic tricks and found out that the entropy was proportional to the area of the event horizon (in "G=1" Planck units, over four), which confirmed a prophecy by Jacob Bekenstein who was able to guess the right basic dictionary between the geometry of black holes and thermodynamics before any semiclassical calculation was made.

However, thermodynamics is not really "fundamental". Its conclusions must be derivable from statistical physics. More concretely, the entropy should arise as the logarithm of the number of quantum microstates (or the volume of a phase space, if you use a classical approximation). Black holes have the maximum entropy among all localized (or bound) objects of a fixed mass but where does the huge number of microstates come from?

For 20 years, all known calculations that led to the right result were heuristic, vague, and unreliable. People had to wait until January 1996 when Strominger and Vafa published their groundbreaking calculation of the microstates of a black hole in 4+1 (large) dimensions, embedded into type IIB string theory where the supersymmetric black hole (that is macroscopic and qualitatively analogous to the four-dimensional Schwarzschild black holes) can be constructed out of many D5-branes, D1-branes, and some units of momenta.

Needless to say, their completely independent and geometrically "non-manifest" calculation led to the very same result as the Hawking-Bekenstein geometric calculation. String theory passed this very difficult test. The work of Strominger and Vafa was followed by 1,300+ papers, many of which have verified more complicated black holes (and black rings), near-extremal ones, non-extremal ones, higher-order corrections to the entropy (that can be mapped to Wald's formula in supergravity or its generalizations), and lots of other things. Whenever there was a well-defined test, string theory confirmed the geometric picture.