Sunday, January 22, 2006

Video addiction

So my roommate has gotten me addicted to the show Stargate SG-1 (not Atlantis yet, but that will come, I'm sure). I have to admit that is why I haven't been blogging.

Anyway, I also saw Richard Dawkin's documentary The Root of all Evil. It was very well done, showing how much of what people believe about religion (especially that it is a moral guide) is either downright false, or extremely dubious. It came in two parts, The first concerned with showing the danger of religious fanaticism, especially in the middle east. The second part was about how religion is passed onto children, and essentially has a warped moral message. The documentary is full of good lines (Dawkins calls god the most unpleasant character in all fiction at one point) and it's certainly shows danger of religion. Of course I'm already convinced of that, but it was a good documentary in any case.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Science roundup + political rant

So I've had a busy first week of classes. I've read about two interesting physics related things in Cosmic variance. Well, one is interesting and the other is sort of sad.

The first one is about an interesting result of a survey of Gamma Ray Bursts. It suggests that the amount of Dark Energy (the stuff postulated to explain why the universe is expanding at an increasing rate) is increasing over time. This is an interesting result that could have all sorts of effects on how we understand the universe. More details at Cosmic variance.

The other result is on the sorry state of American particle physics. If things continue like they have been there will be no particle physics experiments going on in the US by 2010. The reason for this is purely bugetary, the US is so deep in debt that lots of programs are being cut, and particle physics is one of the most expensive fields of physics. Of course compared to the costs of a war in Iraq, or tax cuts for the rich the costs are pretty trivial, but can't cut things like that for political reasons. Something like fundamental research, which is what will make the biggest difference is the future at the fraction of the cost of military action, can obviously be cut because it has no immediate benefit. Politicians are by their very nature short sighted, but as I keep stressing compared to most government programs science is cheap. Oh well... At least Europe has the right idea.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thoughts on PBS

Last night there were two shows on PBS that I watched that were quite thought provoking. Both were on the topic of America's future. The first one was on how America is losing it's technical superiority, the second was on Walmart, and specifically it's role in moving a lot of production to China.

I think that the larger of the two problems (losing a technical lead and losing an industrial lead) is losing the technical lead, since the moving of production to China is essentially a temporary thing based on China's lack of worker's rights, which will hopefully be improved. Losing the lead in innovation is a much larger problem for America, especially with globalization and the internet making it easy for services to be moved anywhere. So creative and research jobs are the only way to have a really secure future, because anything else can be outsourcing.

And on Walmart, I don't have a problem with buying from foreign producers, but the whole reason they are cheaper is that their workers are payed next to nothing, and have no benefits. As I mentioned before I think this is ultimately a temporary situation, but it can certainly hurt America in the near term.

Anyway, enough economics ranting. Classes start again on monday so I'll probably have less political-economic stuff.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Skeptic circle

Hey, there's a new skeptic's circle at The Saga of Runolfr. Since I'm in it, I'm sure there's all sorts of new people coming by here. I don't have a whole lot of stuff written right now, but what I do have is mostly on science, since I'm a physics student. Anyways, welcome.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Pseudoscientists in my own back yard?

I noticed an article in the Trenton Times on physics, it seemed interesting so I read on. Apparently in the next town over (My hometown is West Windsor, this town is East Windsor) is a company called Blacklight Power Inc. They claim to have discovered a new way to generate power using hydrogen.

unfortunately their claims are in contrast with quantum mechanics. They claim to be able to put hydrogen into a lower energy state then the base state. This releases energy and creates a substance they call hydrinos. They explain it thus:
According to standard quantum mechanics, in a hydrogen atom there is one proton (positive charge) and one orbiting electron (negative charge) that are separated by a fixed distance between the electron and the atom's nucleus.

But BlackLight's Mills contends that by exciting hydrogen gas with a catalyst gas, the electron actually moves closer to the proton, creating a previously unrecognized state of hydrogen dubbed a "hydrino." This hydrino formation releases up to 1,000 times as much energy as ordinary hydrogen combustion, Mills said.

Dr. Randell Mills, the founder of the company, wrote a book on the theory he calls Classical Quantum Mechanics (CQM). That book is where (supposedly) all the theory necessary for this to make sense is and since I don't have the book I can't prove them wrong yet (and I may lack the knowledge to do so even if I did have the book). I do however have a hypothesis that Dr. Mills is a pseudoscientist. I also have some supporting evidence for this theory:
  1. Dr. Mills is a medical doctor, with some electrical engineering and chemistry training. This isn't a fatal point, but doesn't give me much confidence in his work.

  2. In order for him to be right all of physics has to be changed. That is a lot to swallow. This is actually one of the classic signs of a kook, a replacement of all of physics (or whatever field they are working in) with their own pet theory.

  3. What physics can be seen from his website contradicts many observed features of quantum mechanics. For example he claims there is no zero-point vibration (basically a wiggle required by Heisenburg's uncertainty principle), that quantum entanglement doesn't exist, and that Heisenburg's uncertainty principle is incorrect. All of these have observable consequences that have been confirmed to exist, (though not without controversy in the case of quantum entanglement).

  4. Selling a book for the popular audience before being accepted by the scientific community is a common tactic of pseudoscientists. He has also raised $40 million to develop his process, mostly from energy companies.

  5. The article said that he has sued people who have claimed that he's wrong. Real scientists don't work like that.

I'm sure Dr. Mills is a very intelligent fellow, but he is almost certainly wrong. His work is much closer to real science than most pseudoscience I've seen, but he still doesn't have any real experiments to back up his assertions, and from what I've seen of his theories there is not much of worth there either. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is what it comes down to, and these are some extremely extraordinary claims. The suing of critics is especially damning, as in science criticism is expected, not fought.

Anyways, it's scary to think about the fact that I've driven by a pseudoscience research lab multiple times, that it's practically in my hometown. I feel so... dirty.

Oh, by the way, Blacklight is even listed in Crank dot net.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Years!

Happy new years everyone.

by the way, I don't believe in new years resolutions, if something is worth doing it's worth doing anyways. Why should promising to do it for new years improve your motivation? I don't know.

Anyways, enjoy the new year, and get over your inevitable hangovers.