Archive | February 2012

Faster than light travel – troll style!

I made this this afternoon for a laugh. I wish I’d made it earlier!


Neutrinos and faulty wiring

It may have been down to a faulty connection. Something so simple…

“According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer,” Cartlidge reported

Of course, more data will be needed to check this, that’s how science works. But if this holds, then special relativity will be confirmed yet again. So far, this has been only the second experiment I know of that has even hinted there might be something wrong with it – the first was in Fermilab in Chicago back in the 80s, but there results weren’t statistically significant enough to draw a proper conclusion – but I still call it highly likely that it was an experimental error along these lines.

A personal anecdote: yesterday, I had the Problem Solving exam, and one of the questions was to write a 2-3 page essay on one of any topics. One of them was “If neutrinos can travel faster than light, what are the implications for physics”. How ironic!

Happy atheists

Via Pharyngula: a photographer is collecting photos of atheists who aren’t miserable (which is most of us, certain bullshit prejudice to the contrary) to show how diverse we are and what brings joy to our lives. If you’re interested, the project is here.

The only thing atheists agree upon is that we don’t believe in any gods. That’s it. One atheist may not like another’s hobby, just like with other people; the reason for this is that – GASP – we’re human!?!? And all this while I wondered why I don’t look like a robot.

Now, as for what makes me (and just me – I don’t know about anyone else) happy: I’ve listed a few hobbies on my “About” page, but here they are anyway.

Writing science fiction. I love creating other worlds where I can explore human nature and how we’d react to a situation. This is in part because I have Aspgerger’s and don’t always understand humans – I’ve joked in the past about being from another planet as a result of this – but also because I try to apply what I’ve learned in physics. I actually like trying to get things correct, and I haven’t got the ability to teach people face-to-face, so writing can be a good way to do this.
Hiking. Admittedly, I often ask myself what the hell I’m doing up an untracked, bog-riddled mountain in Galway/Mayo, but it is so satisfying when you’ve finished, and if the weather cooperates (which does happen, even in Ireland!), the views compensate for it. Other benefits include the exercise (obviously) and the ability to learn useful skills like cross-country navigation.
Photography. This follows on from the hiking, or even just a walk around town. Getting a good photo is quite satisfying, especially if you can compensate for lighting conditions and capture a scene from an interesting angle. I’ll grant that you can’t get perfect images, but you can get close, and learning how to improve on them is educational in itself. And if you take a beautiful photo, like this randomly-selected aurora photo I found on flick, that is one of the most wonderful things you can do.

I’ll probably think of some more stuff to add later.

Anyone for an artificial hamburger?

Dutch scientists have grown muscle tissue from stem cells, and are planning to develop an artificial hamburger later this year.

I personally prefer my meat free-range, or as close as is achievable, and the cost of producing this burger – £200,000 – is a little extortionate! However, according to the article, most food scientists believe current food production methods aren’t sustainable and it will have to double within the next 50 years; if so, we’ll need to find more efficient ways of producing it. This might be a way, and as proof of concepts go, it’s not that expensive. Just compare it to ITER, which has cost nearly €16 billion and still hasn’t quite created sustainable fusion.

Of course, somebody IS going to ask me why I don’t become a vegetarian. Ignoring the fact that my mum’s family are butchers – and hence I’d probably be disowned if I did that – I actually like the taste of meat! Just as long as it isn’t Soylent Green, or stuff from battery farms or the like.

Hearing colour

I found this article on the Beeb about a colour-blind artist who uses a robotic eye to “hear” colours. In his own words:

Until I was 11, I didn’t know I could only see in shades of grey. I thought I could see colours but that I was confusing them.

When I was diagnosed with achromatopsia [a rare vision disorder], it was a bit of a shock but at least we knew what was wrong. Doctors said it was impossible to cure.

When I was 16, I decided to study art. I told my tutor I could only see in black and white, and his first reaction was, “What the hell are you doing here then?” I told him I really wanted to understand what colour was.

I call that determination, but what I’m really interested in is the camera itself. It’s a webcam, a computer and headphones all connected together, and the original prototype only took 20 minutes to think up. Better still, it’s been extended to work in the infra-red and he plans to get the ultraviolet in there as well, so he can “hear” parts of the electromagnetic spectrum we can’t even see! How cool is that?

Binary to text

As a joke elsewhere on the web, when somebody was narking about somebody else’s “incorrect” use of English, I suggested that all languages should be replaced by Irish written in binary digits. I can’t type Irish accents on an Italian keyboard, but I can link to a text-to-binary translator for you. What do you think?

In ait eile ar an Idirlionn, bhi duine eigean a ghearra faoi duine eile nach raibh usaid “ceart” a bhaint as Bhearla, agus duirt mise gur cheart do gach duine sa domhain Gaeilge a labhair agus i bhinary a scriobh! Cad a cheapann sibh?
Read More…

Basic explanation of special relativity

It’s a bit dated, being from 2005, but this page from the University of New South Wales gives a very clear explanation of what special relativity is and how it has real-world applications.

Of course, because it’s from 2005, it doesn’t mention the apparently superluminal neutrinos reported by the OPERA experiment last year. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: it’s most likely to be a very subtle error in the experimental set-up. The main reason I suspect that, along with almost every physicist in the world, is that the discrepancy reported was about 1 in 40000 – about 0.0025% faster than c – and it stayed constant regardless of the measured energy of the neutrinos, when there should have been a correlation between them.

Either way, enjoy the link.