Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Has a Hungarian physics lab found a fifth force of nature?

Nature News reports Has a Hungarian physics lab found a fifth force of nature? "A laboratory experiment in Hungary has spotted an anomaly in radioactive decay that could be the signature of a previously unknown fifth fundamental force of nature, physicists say – if the finding holds up...Then, on 25 April, a group of US theoretical physicists brought the finding to wider attention by publishing its own analysis of the result on arXiv2. The theorists showed that the data didn’t conflict with any previous experiments – and concluded that it could be evidence for a fifth fundamental force."

The Hungarian team fired protons at thin targets of lithium-7, which created unstable beryllium-8 nuclei that then decayed and spat out pairs of electrons and positrons. According to the standard model, physicists should see that the number of observed pairs drops as the angle separating the trajectory of the electron and positron increases. But the team reported that at about 140ยบ, the number of such emissions jumps — creating a ‘bump’ when the number of pairs are plotted against the angle — before dropping off again at higher angles.

Krasznahorkay says that the bump is strong evidence that a minute fraction of the unstable beryllium-8 nuclei shed their excess energy in the form of a new particle, which then decays into an electron–positron pair. He and his colleagues calculate the particle’s mass to be about 17 megaelectronvolts (MeV).

“We are very confident about our experimental results,” says Krasznahorkay. He says that the team has repeated its test several times in the past three years, and that it has eliminated every conceivable source of error. Assuming it has done so, then the odds of seeing such an extreme anomaly if there were nothing unusual going on are about 1 in 200 billion, the team says.

Feng and colleagues say that the 17-MeV particle is not a dark photon. After analysing the anomaly and looking for properties consistent with previous experimental results, they concluded that the particle could instead be a “protophobic X boson”. Such a particle would carry an extremely short-range force that acts over distances only several times the width of an atomic nucleus. And where a dark photon (like a conventional photon) would couple to electrons and protons, the new boson would couple to electrons and neutrons. Feng says that his group is currently investigating other kinds of particles that could explain the anomaly. But the protophobic boson is “the most straightforward possibility”, he says.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Surface of Pluto

"This is the most detailed view of Pluto’s terrain you’ll see for a very long time. This mosaic strip – extending across the hemisphere that faced the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015 – now includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe. With a resolution of about 260 feet (80 meters) per pixel, the mosaic affords New Horizons scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them. "

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Possible Link Between Primordial Black Holes and Dark Matter

NASA reports a Possible Link Between Primordial Black Holes and Dark Matter.

Dark matter is a mysterious substance composing most of the material universe, now widely thought to be some form of massive exotic particle. An intriguing alternative view is that dark matter is made of black holes formed during the first second of our universe's existence, known as primordial black holes. Now a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, suggests that this interpretation aligns with our knowledge of cosmic infrared and X-ray background glows and may explain the unexpectedly high masses of merging black holes detected last year.

'This study is an effort to bring together a broad set of ideas and observations to test how well they fit, and the fit is surprisingly good,' said Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard. 'If this is correct, then all galaxies, including our own, are embedded within a vast sphere of black holes each about 30 times the sun's mass.'

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cary Fukanaga Will Direct Stanley Kubrick’s NAPOLEON For HBO

Birth.Movies.Death. writes Cary Fukanaga Will Direct Stanley Kubrick’s NAPOLEON For HBO "And Steven Spielberg's producing."

HBO is preparing a miniseries based on Stanley Kubrick's research for a film dubbed his "greatest never made film" — a planned story on French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's 19th century struggle to bring Europe under his total control. True Detective Emmy winner Cary Fukunaga is in talks to direct the mini, which is in development at the premium cable network. (Steven) Spielberg, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey will exec produce the project via their Amblin Television banner.

Not sure how I feel about this, I think I'm happy. Cary Joji Fukunaga doesn't have a lot of experience. I've seen his movie Sin Nombre and True Detective season 1 (still have to see Beasts of No Nation). I'm happy that Spielberg is involved. It won't be a Kubrick film but it might be close, the way A.I. was.

I am happy HBO is doing it as a miniseries, my understanding is that length was a big reason Kubrick never made it. It's great that there are new outlets for high quality video stories of different kinds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tea Party Demands Impeachment Scalp, Republicans Cave In

Kevin Drum writes Tea Party Demands Impeachment Scalp, Republicans Cave In

I think it must absolutely enrage Republicans that Barack Obama has very plainly run one of the cleanest, least scandalous administrations in recent history. Not mistake free, but scandal free. Nonetheless, they keep trying and trying and trying to find something that proves he's the Chicago thug they keep saying he is, and they keep coming up empty. They've spent collective decades investigating Fast & Furious, Benghazi, Solyndra, the IRS, and anything else they can think of, and they keep coming up empty handed. There's never anything there aside from a bit of the usual bureaucratic bungling you can find anyplace in a gigantic organization if you look for it.

So now they're going hold pointless impeachment hearings on an IRS commissioner who only has eight months left to serve anyway? What a bunch of loons."

IBM's phase-change memory is faster than flash and more reliable than RAM

The Verge reports IBM's phase-change memory is faster than flash and more reliable than RAM

IBM today announced a more efficient way to use phase-change memory, a breakthrough that could help transition electronic devices from standard RAM and flash to a much faster and more reliable type of storage. Phase-change memory, or PCM, is a type of non-volatile optical storage that works by manipulating the behavior of chalcogenide glass, which is how data is stored on rewriteable Blue-ray discs. A electrical current is applied to change PCM cells from an amorphous to crystalline structure, allowing you to store 0s and 1s in either state while the application of low voltage can read the data back.

The issue in the past has been PCM's limited capacity and high cost; you can typically only store one 1 bit per cell. That makes it less useful for main memory applications like laptop or mobile phone storage. Yet IBM researchers discovered how to store 3 bits per cell by tinkering with how the crystals react to high temperatures, which are required to tap into multiple states for PCM cells. The jump is significant 'because at this density, the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash,' Haris Pozidis, IBM's manager of non-volatile memory research, wrote in a statement."

The Religious Right - Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Last night Samantha Bee did a great segment explaining the rise of the Religious Right. She provides context that the news doesn't (the only news show that I know does is Rachel Maddow's).

How Typography Can Save Your Life

Lena Groeger uses the National Weather Service's decision to change from ALL CAPS as starting point for an interesting article, How Typography Can Save Your Life.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Does Donald Trump Really Have a 30% Chance of Winning?

Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones, Does Donald Trump Really Have a 30% Chance of Winning?. He points to two articles that are both worth reading in full.

In the first, Trump expands the battleground…to Utah and the Deep South, Sam Wang points out

Historically from 1952 to 2012, the likely range of movement in two-candidate margin from this time until Election Day has been 10 percentage points, which is the standard deviation from the 16 past elections. Therefore, even though Clinton currently leads by a median margin of 7 percent (12 national surveys) and would certainly win an election held today, she could still lose the lead, and from a purely poll-based standpoint, is only narrowly favored to be elected President in November (probability: 70%).

It is also the case that Clinton is the only candidate who is poised for a blowout. Her “plus-one-sigma” outcome (current polls plus one standard deviation) is a popular vote win of 58.5%-41.5%. Trump’s plus-one-sigma outcome is a narrower win, 51.5%-48.5%.

He goes on to do his electoral college math and compares current state polls against 2012 election results finding only UT to be an outlier and otherwise a slight Democratic shift from Obama-Romney. The closest thing to an anti-Hillary state of the 15 tossups is NY, which is Trump's home state and even there Hillary is +20% while being -8% off Obama's results.

Every prognosticator at this point says that the election is far off and lots of things can happen, so we shouldn't be looking too closely at polls at this point. James Wimberley in Lies, damned lies and election statistics, looks at ": what reasonably foreseeable factors are capable of changing voters’ preferences for Trump or Clinton between now and the election?" He makes up a numerical estimate of risk factors which I ignore, but I found his (lite) analysis of ten factors a pretty interesting read.

Trumps Taxes

I've seen David Cay Johnston on a number of news shows over the years as a tax expert (he's good). He's spending a lot of his time on Trump now. In March he wrote, The real Trump tax scandal in USA Today.

It's all about tax rules that require you to depreciate, or reduce, the value of buildings over time, even if the market value of the structures is going up. If your depreciation is greater than your traditional income from work and businesses, Congress lets you report negative income. If these paper losses are just a dollar more than traditional income, it wipes out your income taxes for the year.

If Trump's returns show he has paid no income taxes in some years, that could be a reason he has not yet released details.

Congress says most Americans can deduct no more than $25,000 of real estate depreciation against their income. But if you work two days a week managing real estate and own enough that the depreciation exceeds your salary and other income, Congress lets you live income-tax-free. And for as long as you keep buying buildings and depreciating them, the tax does not come due."

There's debate now about what Trump might be hiding in his tax returns. Is it that he pays little or no tax? He says he works hard to pay as little as possible and people seem to support that. If using schemes like the above he manages to pay no tax, I don't think that will go over well with a lot of voters. The other theory is that they reveal that he's worth a lot less than he says. I wondered why a tax return (which reports yearly income not overall wealth) would reveal that, but the above scheme would fit with that evaluation. If he has to report depreciation on his current assets to avoid tax, returns for several years would show the value of those assets declining.

Trump Used Aliases For Much More Than Gossip

David Cay Johnston writes Trump Used Aliases For Much More Than Gossip. He cites the documentary Trump: What’s The Deal, which describes how Trump, using the alias John Barron threatened lawsuits on behalf of Trump against mistreated workers at one of his construction sites.

He admitted under oath in the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Polish workers that he had used the name John Barron, which resulted in a spate of news stories. In the aftermath Trump continued his deception, but using the name ‘John Miller.’

Later he admitted that ‘Miller’ was a phony name, too. He confessed the truth to People Magazine, two weeks after its initial story by Sue Carswell made fun of him for trying to pass himself off as ‘John Miller.’

Following a lengthy trial in federal court, the real Donald Trump was found to have engaged in a conspiracy to cheat the Polish workers. The judge who decided the case found Trump liable for pay and fringe benefits and also found that his testimony — that he was unaware of what was going on during the demolition phase on Trump Tower — was not credible. Not only was he photographed at the site, but his temporary office across Fifth Avenue had a picture window view so he could observe the whole process of tearing down Bonwit’s and putting up his eponymous tower."

This is going to be such an ugly election.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jazz Music and Physics Have a Lot More in Common Than You Think

Jazz Music and Physics Have a Lot More in Common Than You Think. I'm surprised.

It might not seem like music has much to do with cutting-edge physics at first glance. In his new book, The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe, Brown University physics professor Stephon Alexander argues that using music as an analogy can shed light on some of the deepest mysteries in cosmology.

Alexander is not your typical physicist. Born in Trinidad and raised in the Bronx, he developed twin passions for jazz and physics at an early age. As a graduate student, he played the saxophone in jazz clubs and mastered Einstein’s equations. It’s a unique perspective that informs his approach to both; for instance, he views John Coltrane’s seminal Giant Steps album (1960), with its trademark ‘sheets of sound,’ as the ‘sonic equivalent to Einstein’s bending of the space-time fabric.’ Gizmodo caught up with Alexander to learn more about this hidden link.

Haunting Long-Exposure Photos of Your Favorite Movies

Wired writes Haunting Long-Exposure Photos of Your Favorite Movies "Shulman’s series features long-exposure photographs of entire movies, flattening them into a single image. Yellow Submarine is a psychedelic swirl of purple, yellow, blue, and green. Duel, Steven Spielberg’s 1971 road-trip thriller, is a teal-blue sky over the burnt orange fog of the protagonist’s Plymouth Valiant. The Shining is mostly a close-up of a blurred face peering through doors."

They included my favorite film, Rear Window:


Live Taping of “The Axe Files” with Jon Stewart, hosted by David Axelrod

Snowden interview: Why the media isn't doing its job

The Columbia Journalism Review has a really nice Snowden interview: Why the media isn't doing its job. "THE TOW CENTER for Digital Journalism’s Emily Bell spoke to Edward Snowden over a secure channel about his experiences working with journalists and his perspective on the shifting media world. This is an excerpt of that conversation, conducted in December 2015. It will appear in a forthcoming book: Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, which will be released by Columbia University Press in 2016."

Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Cranston announce Philip K. Dick anthology series

The Verge reports Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Cranston announce Philip K. Dick anthology series "The show will be written and executive produced by Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore and TV veteran Michael Dinner. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is also executive producing, and will appear in at least one episode. The series will premiere on the UK's Channel 4 and be distributed internationally by Sony Pictures, although it's still unclear when the series will premiere and whether it will make it to US broadcast screens."

This could be exciting.

Almost Half of US Honeybee Hives Collapsed Last Year

Mother Jones reports Almost Half of US Honeybee Hives Collapsed Last Year. I assume Donald Trump blames Mexicans for this.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Gene Therapy’s First Out-and-Out Cure Is Here

Gene Therapy’s First Out-and-Out Cure Is Here

A treatment now pending approval in Europe will be the first commercial gene therapy to provide an outright cure for a deadly disease. The treatment is a landmark for gene-replacement technology, an idea that’s struggled for three decades to prove itself safe and practical. Called Strimvelis, and owned by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, the treatment is for severe combined immune deficiency, a rare disease that leaves newborns with almost no defense against viruses, bacteria, or fungi and is sometimes called ‘bubble boy’ disease after an American child whose short life inside a protective plastic shield was described in a 1976 movie. The treatment is different than any that’s come before because it appears to be an outright cure carried out through a genetic repair. The therapy was tested on 18 children, the first of them 15 years ago. All are still alive."

Thursday, May 05, 2016

We Finally Know Why DC Had an Earthquake in 2011

We Finally Know Why DC Had an Earthquake in 2011:

But now, geologists have figured out a likely mechanism for the 2011 shakeup, which registered a 5.8 on the Richter scale. And if they’re correct, it’ll mean more seismic events in the future. Basically, chunks of the North Atlantic plate are peeling off the bottom, sinking deep into the Earth and creating instabilities in the upper crust.

Via io9