Atom Wave: March 2008

Atom Wave

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Particle Intersections in Legal Time

In the many centuries since the rise of science, our modern civilization has come to realize many wonders. With the emergence of modern technology we routinely encounter objects more magical than the burning bush. In this realm scientists are currently completing final assembly of a new particle accelerator at CERN known as the Large Hadron Collider. This collider has been under construction in some form for the last 14 years and is worth at minimum $8 billion dollars. It promises to revolutionize particle physics by re-creating particle energies rare in the cosmos.

But two men from Hawaii have other plans. Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho are suing to shut down the project on the allegation that the accelerator might destroy the world, as we know it. They suspect that the accelerator might be capable of producing a miniature black hole, strangelet, or some damn thing that would consume all matter on Earth. They want CERN to submit a complete environmental statement before they even consider switching it on.

Now the last time I checked, Switzerland where CERN is headquartered, does not answer to the Hawaiian or federal government. While that is correct, Fermilab and the Department of Energy do, and they supply critical parts for the project.

In defense of CERN, the probabilities that an unsatisfying event might occur are exceedingly narrow. Nature routinely cooks up energies far higher than this machine could produce in the form of high-energy cosmic rays from black holes, neutron stars, and supernova. While still debated, Hawking radiation should rapidly destroy any black holes that are produced. Strange matter is still hypothetical and is likely unstable anyway under ambient conditions.

On the other hand, maybe they are right. One of the majesties of science is that you never really know until you run the test. You just can’t publish if your dead.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Missing Tanks

I come to you today with a story about a tank. I know what you are thinking. I’m busy; I don’t need to be distracted by a story about a tank! What sort of poser writes a story about a tank? Get off the Internet! We don’t need you anymore!

While this is not your ordinary tank. I am referring to one of the marvels of semi-modern aerospace engineering, the space shuttle external tank. The tank alone stands over 153 feet tall and weighs over 1.6 million pounds fully fueled; and NASA has expended the last one in its inventory with STS-123. Now the external tank is still in production, the STS-123 tank was old stock left over from before the 2003 Columbia crash. The new “in-line” production model featuring all the new post-Columbia improvements are coming, but will be delayed.

Already sneaking up on NASA is the scheduled August mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-125 to rebuild the Hubble Space Telescope, and they need two fresh tanks for the job. One for the shuttle flight and the other to brew beer for the celebration after word. Honestly, ever since the fall of Columbia NASA has been hedging their risks by keeping another shuttle in reserve just in case something unpleasant occurred to the heat shield of the shuttle in orbit. It’s a good idea in theory, but it works lousy in practice. It assumes that in the immensely difficult process of turning a shuttle around, that one will always be flight ready by the time the next one is ready for liftoff. The missing tank could push back the STS-125 mission to October or later.

These missing tanks aren’t just a hassle to the shuttle program; they call into question the credibility of NASA and their promise to finish the space station by 2010 and with it the shuttle program. If they can’t maintain a supply line of a critical product like this, than you might as well forget about the other projects.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Short Attention Span Nation

We Americans have much to be proud of. We landed men on the moon, split the atom, and won World War 2. It is no small feat that very few nations in existence can lay claim too. Frackingly, we just gained a new one. America is now a world leader in our population of dubyas.
Today fewer and fewer Americans are reading. Thanks again Youtube. One recent 2007 study found that 80% of American families didn’t read a book in 2006. Reading is also down across the board in newspapers and magazines. While we are on the subject, our attention spans have continued to spiral down. Between the years of 1968 and 1988, the average news sound bite fell from 42 seconds to 8 seconds. On top of that, general knowledge is out the door. It turns out that 1/5 of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.
Now I know that I mentioned in earlier entries like Ignorance is Bliss and All Along The Watchtower that knowledge is overrated. That is not to be confused with the view that all knowledge is worthless. Con men and politicians much more easily manipulate the foolish than the wise. In no time you awaken to find your country bankrupt and fighting an unjust war in some god-forsaken hellhole. Plus you are about to lose your home after being sold what at the time looked like a good loan. Do I need to continue?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Market Election 2008

When do you know that you can go to the polls to decide on the next president? The decision has already been made, and it will very likely be Obama. Now in full disclosure, I have never been a fan of him. His campaign is all about style, with minimal substance. All that McCain seems to want is the continuation of the failed greed fest Bush policies. As for Hillary and just about every politician, you can never get a straight answer from them.
More to the point, the decision has already been made. One of the much magic’s of the market is that you can get much better predictions if you attach a monetary incentive to the result. The system is actually straightforward; lets say that you bet $100 that McCain will win the presidency. Now lets also assume that I bet $200 that Hillary will win, and that that hammered psychopath standing right behind you with a shattered beer bottle bet $500 that Obama will win. After it is all over, I’m out $200 and the psychopath is up $800 towards the purchase of new beer bottles.
This concept is far from new, and it successfully predicted the reelection of W in the 2004 election. The one thing that you can count on is that polls and those dubious television pundits and now obsolete.