Atom Wave: November 2008

Atom Wave

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Universe Machine

I am your god now! Forget the Large Hadron Collider, today you and any other egotistical maniac on your Christmas list can be satisfied with the Universe Kit by San Francisco artist Jonathan Keats. This kit includes a marble of weakly radioactive uranium glass and a scintillating crystal, the rest you do yourself.

I know, it sounds far-fetched and it may very well be. You don’t need to take it literally. In the science of Quantum Mechanics, the Copenhagen Interpretation says that every particle exists in a superposition of states. Take for instance a single radioactive uranium atom. Radioactivity is a random process; it is practically impossible to predict when a certain atom will decay. In the Copenhagen Interpretation, the uranium atom is both decayed and radioactive. You don’t know its final state until you observe it and its waveform collapses.

In 1957, the physicist Hugh Everett disagreed with this view. In his interpretation, instead of the wave function collapsing, the universe splits in two. Under this view, literally everything that can happen will happen. In another universe, the Soviets beat America to the Moon. In another universe, George W. Bush never did rise to the Presidency.

This kit is available through the Modernism Gallery gift shop in San Francisco for $20.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

DNS Charged with Sabotaging Internet

One mistake! One mistake! It could all have been undone by one mistake. It turns out that the Internet isn’t as infallible as advertised. Instead this failure hides in the very core of most any severs operating system, DNS. It all began with Dan Kaminsky of Seattle, Washington. One day back in 2005 when he had too much time on his hands, he broke the Internet.
Please join me on the next server. DNS (Domain Name System) software is the core operating system of the Internet. Its job is to route the thousands of IP addresses that cross your computer everyday. Lets say that you enjoy sleazy blogs written by hustlers, so you dial up Since you’ve never been here before, your ISP (internet service provider) searches using a 16-bit transaction ID. Any response to the ISP server must repeat the transaction ID. Finally, some server somewhere responds by replying to your ISP with the numeric address for the website. Your ISP caches the address.
Dan Kaminsky discovery was that the system could be fooled by a fake transaction ID. The attacker tries to hijack a website by sending thousands of requests for phony web pages. The ISP responds to each request by attaching a transaction ID and attempts to locate the page. Meanwhile the attacker (Dan Kaminsky) sends thousands of responses to each fake request with a randomly generated transaction ID. Damn you Dan! In time, one of the phony responses carries the wrongly correct ID that matches and the ISP server caches the fake address.
Dan can now tie phony web pages to legitimate companies and organizations. He could have made a fortune, hacking into banking and retail sites. Instead he choose to contact the proper authorities in the industry, mainly Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Ubuntu, Red Hat, and a few others. They released a patch the same year to randomize the port that a hacker would need to break the system, but it isn’t a permanent fix. Dan’s scheme will still work, but its probability of success has been expanded to 1 in 4 billion. Anyone have a supercomputer? Until the day comes that a permanent fix is released, network operators will still have to be observant of any suspicious spikes in traffic.

Friday, November 14, 2008

China Announces Defeat of Global Warming

Well that’s it, problem solved. With the disturbing prospect of global warming on the horizon; and along with it the deaths of millions. Our innovative Asian neighbors have already developed a novel solution, Haze. It turns out that China’s outrages production of smog from its automobiles and coal burning plants is offsetting some of the effects of global warming. In the city of Beijing, smog blocks up to a quarter of the incoming sunlight; cooling the city.
Now this new innovation does come with drawbacks. The intense amount of soot produced has been shown to affect rainfall in India and Southeast Asia, either inhibiting or enhancing the monsoons. Also it may not be beneficial to your health. Anyway relax.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Physics of the Impossible

The impossible is overrated. The magical machines of science fiction, from force fields, phasers, and teleporters aren’t as imaginary as advertised. In the fascinating new book by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, the theoretical unknown is explored.

Physics of the Impossible

It turns out that the physical laws governing this world are very forgiving. You might never conjure up a perpetual motion machine, but you can still build the next best things. While physics is widely considered by many to be incomplete, plenty is known already about the world down to the subatomic level and up to the great galaxy clusters.

In Star Trek, one of Mr. Picard’s favorite pastimes is vaporizing any starship that gets in his way. Why not, I would! The typical weapon of choice in the Federation is the Phaser; that as of yet has never been fully explained. All that is known is that they use superconducting crystals. Stepping away from the fictional, lasers and masers are the only known directed energy weapons known to physics today. Still, in order to destroy any large object today; you will still need something much meaner. Lasing materials are limited in power by their medium, typically a solid or a liquid. Eliminate that and you can achieve much higher energies. The most powerful known today is still a nuclear explosion. During the Reagan years, Edward Teller advocated the development of an x-ray laser pumped by an exploding hydrogen bomb.

With the photon torpedoes in the sky, the captain must have by now ordered shields. Now as some of you know, in Star Trek shields are portrayed as force fields of a kind. They already exist, sort of. In 1995, Brookhaven physicist Ady Herschcovitch invented the plasma window. It won’t stop an incoming missile yet, but it can trap atmosphere. It works by trapping plasma within a grid of electric and magnetic fields.

Finally, with the Enterprise adrift and on fire: the captain and crew must abandon ship. Why did he think that he could take on the Borg fleet? No teleporter exists today that can transport a human, much less a molecule. There is hope. Physicists at the Niels Bohr Institute and the Max Plank Institute have teleported cesium atoms by quantum entanglement, but by just one yard.

This is just the beginning of the impossible. Much more awaits science in the decades and centuries to come, assuming that humans last that long.