Friday, December 27, 2013

Sexy Physics Sells

If you are in a bookstore such as Barnes and Nobles (or maybe imagine it since lots of folks browse books online such as at Amazon), or a public library, go to the science section then look for physics type books.  Most of the books you will see on physics are about the wowwy, gee-whizzy type things.  I'm talking the Higgs Particle (from a theory published in 1964), dubbed the "God Particle" by Leon Lederman who was a nobel prize winner in physics for experimental particle physics research.  Books about String Theory, Parallel Universes, Quantum Mechanics, Inflationary Universes.  All really cool and neat stuff and on material that has won Nobel Prizes.  What you don't see are books on important areas of physics research that aren't as awe inspiring and cool to talk about with friends, and yet are very important.  Look at the Nobel prizes given in physics for the last few years as listed on the noble prize page:

Hopefully you can read what I have pasted from that site.

The books you will see as you browse may not contain in the titles what areas of physics the Noble Prizes were given for but their subjects are in most of those books.  Books about the Higgs boson will also be discussing areas in which previous Nobel winners work has contributed to the science that the Higgs boson is part of.  Remember Einstein did not win his Nobel prize for relativity, he won it for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, or how remote controls work.  By the way Einstein never got the Nobel prize money his ex-wife did since it was in their divorce settlement that if he were to ever win the Nobel prize she would get the money.

So what you don't know when you purchase or check out that sexy sounding physics or astronomy book you are going to hopefully learn about research that you might not have known about but hopefully the author will explain how they are all related.

Somehow, Condensed-Matter scientists need to come up with sexy titles to explain their work such as in high temperature superconductors.  I guess its because Ug for thousands of years has wondered about the universe around him and material physics and such just isn't as cool to talk and think about as wondering what its all about.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What's Next?

When I was growing up in the 60's in middle class America dads went to work, moms stayed home, kids went to schools.  The "Leave it to Beaver" America.  Then somehow it evolved into both moms and dads had to to go to work to keep families going. To keep the America dream going both dads and moms have to go to work.  If there is a divorce, there still has to be ways found to continue that two incomes coming into the house.  Somewhere along the way people started to then use credit cards more and more.  When I was a kid you saw cash, people didn't pay for things with credits cards.  Now you have dads and moms working with the extra debt of credit cards, then maybe having to have a second mortgage.   What's next?

When I was a kid College was cheaper and families could afford to send their kids to College.  Kids weren't taking out student loans to go to College. Most college kids didn't have a car  Students could make enough money in the summer and with their parents help kids could go to college with no student debt.  Somewhere along the line college started to became more and more expensive.  Kids take out student loans to get a College education so as to get a good job to live the American dream.  A College degree now is like what a high school degree was back in the 50-60's.  No College degree, we don't want you in the white collar working world.  Now the problem is that in many fields there are no good jobs.  If you are a student in science and engineering fields you will have no problem.  Many other fields good luck.  So then its onto getting a Master degree and then hoping to get a job.    Hoping that those jobs are out there instead of having to take a job in the service industry and getting stuck there when in fact you really want to do something else but can't  since there are no opportunities.  What Obama called a "deficit of opportunity".

Economists can say more about this and I will get my numbers slightly wrong but the overall idea I hope to get through.  Over the last 15 to 20 years salaries for most Americans have been stagnant.  The wealth being generated especially after this great recession is going to the top 10% and more of it really going to the top 1%.  Most Americans are not seeing the recovery from the recession.  The rich are getting richer and the middle class is not.  We have heard that for years, now we are really seeing it in the middle and upper middle class.  Some Economists worry that we will become a society of  folks centered around a lower yearly salary with the top 1% getting most of the wealth.  Look at income distribution data in the US with numbers of households  versus income.  This distribution is flat out to about $40,000 per year in household income then it  starts an exponential decay.  Half way down that exponential decay are families that make around $80,000 per year per household.  It then keeps dropping away from that.  I'm going to guess that if current social and economic trends continue  these numbers are not going to get better.  This means  there will not be much in terms of upward mobility of these numbers adjusted for inflation.   The area under this curve is constant.  There  is only so much income.   What we would like to see of course is that $40,000 and $80,000 move higher and that the exponential decay is quicker.  Not so many households in the $1,000,000 and up but more in the middle and lower income brackets. Ideally one would  like to see more of a Gaussian distribution.  In fact that's what I naively thought that's what the data would show not the actually distribution we have.  Will this happen?  No, but then this begs the question.

What's next?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Humans have created another Universe!

If you think about all of the information out in cyberspace its almost like another universe.  What do I mean?  We as humans live inside our physical universe that we observe with our senses and equipment we have developed to augment our senses, such as a telescope.  From this we have developed science that tries to interpret this data to tell us something about the space that we live in.  Think of Newton's three laws of motion or his theory of gravity.  By observing phenomenon we have developed theories and laws that help explain the universe. The domains examined define the various branches of science.  Gee sounds like a lecture to liberal arts students about science.  Anyways, the information out in cyberspace can be thought of in a similar manner.  The real problem is trying to understand what all of this data is telling us.  This information space is huge, recently we are storing over an exabytes of data (1 X10^18).  That's a 1 with 18 zeros behind it.  I remember when a megabyte, Mb (1 X 10^6, 1,000,000) was a large amount of data. Remember a CD  holds 650 Mb, so getting into the exabyte realm is like a trillion CD's.  Now we are trying to process and understand  this huge amount of data.  As I posted yesterday the potential of this data is astounding.  The problem is how to understand this data and what is it telling us.  This is exactly what science does in trying to understand the physical universe.  Only now I'm thinking that all the data in cyberland is like another universe and we need to learn how to interpret this data and understand it in a manner possibly similar to what science does.

This nothing new.  There are faculty positions at universities in the US advertising for positions in Big Data.  Obama has announced a Big Data Research and Development Initiative.  I hope that one of the goals is to try and understand what this cyberland universe is telling us about ourselves.

As a concrete example one goal of the Large Hardon Collider (LHC) at CERN was to hopefully discover the Higgs Boson.  Which it did, as announced at CERN on July 4, 2012.  Two large multipurpose detectors where built and installed at the lab.  These detectors, each are the size of a multistory home, collect a huge amount of data.  Physicists have developed ways to analyze the data to look for events in the data that tell them that a Higg boson was created.  In analyzing their data the events expected from a Higgs particle production were observed!  Thus confirming a theory developed back in the 1964.  Two theoretical physicists, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics.  However and this is a big however, in that data collected by the two detectors there are a huge number of events recorded.  What is in all those events that might possibly be telling us something that was not looked for in the Higgs search?  This is assuming of course that they didn't throw away too much data in their hard wire triggers before the data was stored. There maybe in that data something telling us about dark matter or dark energy but that we just don't understand what to look for in the data.  What kind of patterns are there in that amount of data?  How do we go about sifting through all that data?  This is one example of how Big Data can be used.  Think of all the other possibilities!  Humans have created another universe!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"So Much Data, so Little Time" Data Mining and what to do with the Data

This is a topic that I have thought on and off about for 20 years or so, but with the released of material from Edward Snowden about NSA spying on us I thought I would comment on data mining.  Particularly BIG data mining and what to do with the data obtained.

What is data mining?  Its where some person or group collects large amounts of data from the internet.  Then they  search this data for whatever information they are wanting to study.  I first became aware of this around 1992-93 when I was involved with my first webpage.  This was when the web was first starting to run, (I only knew of the browser Mosaic, which later evolved to Netscape).  What was happening was that search engines (Yahoo, Google didn't exit then) sent out little programs, I can't remember what they where called, that looked for websites and collected information from those websites so that particular websites came up when you did a web search. If you ask yourself  when you search on a topic "how does the search engine know what sites are out in internet land that are related to my topic?"  Well its because the search engine did data mining of the internet to locate websites and obtain information from them  This was then analyzed so that  you got websites that were related to the topic you were curious about.  So the search engines were mining the internet looking for information that it could present you when you did a search.  How it went about sorting through all of this information to find you the websites you wanted is what made Jerry Yang, and other  founders of Yahoo, very wealthy men.

If you think about sorting through all of the information that the internet has and then presenting you with the information you want, that is a very difficult problem.  Nowadays this is what big data mining is all about.  It took the release of what the NSA was doing in data mining that brought data mining to everyone's attention.  The NSA was and is doing huge sweeping collections of data located in the net.  They say they were interested in collecting information about terrorists but in doing so they were and are collecting data on everyone and everything (maybe why the Supreme Court gives corporations and other nonhuman entities the rights that humans have).  The problem is sorting through all that information to get the information that you want.  Imagine wanting to catch a particular fish, yet you collect everything in the lake.  You now have to sort through it all to get the fish.  Now the sorter is a computer, not a human, so the programmer has to figure out how to get the computer to locate that particular fish.  Tough problem, but the results are incredibly valuable, both intellectually and monetarily.

What you look at online can be very valuable to people selling stuff. Advertisers can decide who to buy ads from  by how many hits a site gets.  I remember when the web first started everyone was putting webcounters at the bottom of their webpage that counted how many times their site was viewed.  You can think of all the possibilities this led to in selling to people information about how people used the web and for what.  Now the scary thing comes in.  What about knowing what individuals do on the web?  Imagine someone knowing all the sites that you visit and trying to figure out what you are doing.?  Someone knowing all the phone numbers that you call, the content of all your text messaging?  Knowing about your banking?  Knowing all your medical history even down to obtaining your MRI,  and X-ray images?  How would you like it if everything that you do on the web and every thing known about you electronically stored is available for someone to look at?  Remember everything attached to the web, even remotely can be accessed.  It isn't just computers and the information that they store, its also all the sensors, monitors, etc.,all equipment.  Recently a person hacked into another persons microwave.  Think about it.

However, with all the  negative reporting about data mining there is also a lot of wonderful things that can be done with data obtained from the web.  This has not been publicized as much. Data from cities such as street  lights, cab locations, police and fire stations, anything attached to the web can be analyzed.  The use of this data to more efficiently and effectively operate large cities has been written in a variety of articles (I will learn to put links into my posts soon).  An institute in Manhattan, I believe in cooperation with NYU, headed by physicist Steven Kooin, former provost of Caltech has been established to use the data collected in cities, particularly New York City to continue and extend such work to make cities operate better. There are a variety of models that can use such data to better predict future needs of a city.  With all of your medical data available on the web programs can be used to help  doctors understand and diagnosed  the problem  that prompted you to visit them. Better yet be able to help cut off problems before they start by understanding all your medical data including genetic information.

The availability of all of this data and how to effectively mine it and then interpret it is a new area of study with tremendous possibilities. Think of all the data and what can be done with it.  As we used to say years ago at one of the labs where  I worked "so much data, so little time".

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book Review: Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt

Why is there Something rather than Nothing?December 6, 2013
By Jerry
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story (Paperback)
A truly wonderful book to read. Almost every time in reading it I ended up putting it down because I wanted to think about what the author was saying. The book is about trying to answer the question of "why is there something rather than nothing?" He goes about trying to answer this question partly by interviewing some of the most respected people who think such a topic (Steven Weinberg, David Deutsch, Richard Swinburne, Adolf Grunbaum and others). Partly by educating us about various existential writers, mathematics, science, and philosophy. All of this is done in a way that is enjoyable to read and gives one a feeling of adventure as he travels to such places as Oxford, Paris and other towns. He also gives us an emotional feeling along the way of a partial autobiography in writing about his personal dealings with the deaths of his mother and his dog while writing this book. If you would like to read about what some of the worlds authorities have to say about the question the title of the book presents and learn some philosophy, science and mathematics along the way this is a wonderful book to read.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Your Life as a Movie

What does the title mean?  In movies what you are physically watching are still photographs (frames) being projected at 24 frames per sec (fps).  So what you are viewing are 24 pictures each second that makes up the movie and gives the appearance of motion in the movie you are watching.  Well your life is lived in a similar manner of frames per second.  However instead of 24 fps your life is in 1 X 10^43 fps, that a 1 followed by 43 zeros.  Yeah thats a pretty big (I know I shouldn't use that word since its not well defined) or as I like to say a gazillion.  Your life is not continuous but broken up into individual frames as far as present physics can tell us.  This is the limiting factor imposed by quantum mechanics relating to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle about how well we can measure the physical universe.  The 1X10^43 fps is related to the smallest time interval which we can measure and that is the Planch time of 5X10^-44 seconds.  A decimal point followed by forty-three 0's then a 5.  This is what quantum mechanics tells us and I might add that quantum mechanics is by far as I know the most successful theory presented by Physicists.  What quantum mechanics really means is another story...... But your life is lived as a movie.  How each frame advances is the goal of physics,and physics has a good grip on that.  Unfortunately what it has to say is based on probabilities and as far I can tell there are various ways of examining probabilities.

So you can say that your life is a movie only that there are no cuts in the filming and no mulligans as the movie progresses along.  There may be no Mulligans or do it over again since physics says if you traveled back in time you cannot change what happens.  What we do have however is the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics that says there is a universe where you are wearing that other shirt you thought about wearing today.  A universe where instead of of being in the profession you are in now,  you are in a different profession you thought about.  Basically there is a universe that exists for every different decision you have made. Woulda, shoulda, coulda universes. They are there.  You won't be able to communicate with them but they are there.  Parallel universes.  If you think this is science fiction, its not.  In the community of professional folks (physicists, philosophers, mathematicians etc.) that think about the foundations and understanding of quantum mechanics the Many Worlds Interpretation is thought to be the correct way to understand quantum mechanics by around a third of these folks.  Its basis comes from the PhD dissertation of Hugh Everitt III at Princeton around 1956.  This interpretation is studied worldwide in conferences, books, papers, BBC documentaries, all sorts of stuff.

Interesting stuff to think about as head hits pillow, pillow hits head.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Putting it all Together

Another mind wondering post

What I'm thinking about is putting together and understanding all the broad knowledge that we have in a wide variety of subjects and seeing if we can understand for lack of a better phrasing the "human condition".  I thinking about a single individual or small group of folks getting together and understanding in a general way the results, trends and anything else appropriate to understanding , its hard to put down in words for me, I guess in a whimsical way the status of the question "what do we know about life , the universe and everything?"    I'm just not phrasing what I really mean and as we all know to really study and understand something we have to have a definitive question.  Like the whole point of existence. What is science, literature, art, philosophy, mathematics telling us?  Putting it all together with no bias, agendas or anything like that at all.  I mean none. What is all of our knowledge saying to us as humans?

Sort of having a true polymath understanding human existence. I'm frustrated in that I don't know how to phrase the feeling that I have about this subject.  A person or group not to get lost in the trees but to truly understand the whole forest.  Stupid cliche.

Its unclear to me if this can be done at the present time.  But an attempt at it should be made.

I'm not talking about colleges, think tanks , research centers and such.  I'm thinking about putting it all together.