29 September 2008

What do you get when you give $8 billion to 8,000 physicists?

A time machine built into a DeLorean? No. A nuclear bomb? Well, once upon a time, but not today. Much griping about how this experiment costs less than one month of the war in Iraq? Well, yes...but that's not really the point.

Alright, I'll just give you the answer: The Large Hadron Collider. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of coverage the LHC has been receiving in the popular media, even though much of it is due to disproven fears of stable black holes (HT) or the recent magnet failure.

Most impressively, the beam tests conducted on Sept. 10 were the lead story on the BBC News homepage.

More locally, the Dispatch has covered Ohio State's work at the LHC in several articles, including a feature in the weekly science section (Sept. 23, B4). The subject of this entry is part of the headline from that feature. It gives a fairly accurate, if somewhat colloquial, summary of the collider's goals:

"Scientists want to blast down to the most fundamental forms of matter and find the set of rules that everything in the universe -- down to subatomic particles -- lives by."
One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I can cite that sentence as my job description.

An article from Sept. 11 (p. A3) discusses more specifically what scientists hope to find in the aftermath of the collisions of protons or lead nuclei at the LHC.

From the fireballs, there might spring forth black holes and the elusive thing that gives matter its mass. Or not! There might be particles called “strangelets” and evidence of “dark matter” and signs of “supersymmetry,” and maybe a little antimatter.

Oh, and they might find some extra dimensions. But this is the delicious part. They don’t exactly know.
That is the most delicious part, and that is the thrill of exploration. We do not know what we will find, but we know that we will be the first humans to find it.

22 September 2008

17 September 2008

Electrical Power Restored

Electricity returned to my apartment at approximately 6:15 pm yesterday (Sep. 16). I have already done two loads of laundry. Now, can we put the electrical lines underground, as they are at Ohio State, to prevent this sort of problem in the future? At least we seriously reduced our CO2 emissions for a few days.

16 September 2008

Electrical Power Failure

The remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through Ohio on Sunday (Sep. 14) and knocked out electrical power to a large part of the state, including my apartment. The storm killed several people and prompted the Governor to declare a state of emergency, according to a front page Dispatch article (Sept. 16, A1).

Yesterday, I saw an electrical line flashing and buzzing above a utility pole near my apartment. It was surrounded by police caution tape. As of writing this entry, the electricity is still off in my apartment. According to AEP,

Columbus District, including Delaware, Columbus and surrounding communities: The company estimates that 90 percent of its customers in these areas will be restored by midnight Sunday. More detailed information on restoration efforts in the Columbus area will be available tomorrow.
Since the article was posted online on Sunday, it is not clear whether they mean electricity should have been restored on the night of the storm or will be restored by Sept. 21. The rumors around the Physics Research Building, which like the rest of Ohio State has electricity, are that restoration is expected by Wednesday night.

I thank my parents for giving me a wind-up flashlight for Christmas; it is extremely useful in situations like this. I was impressed by the Flying Pizza, which remained open on High Street yesterday despite the lack of electricity. The were able to keep baking pizza with their gas oven. I have brought various rechargeable devices and batteries into the office and am determining how to cook, wash clothes, and obtain a hot shower until electrical service is restored.

11 September 2008

LOLCats Meets Schrödinger

more cat pictures

02 September 2008

I am not Sharon McCaslin!

Since at least July 19, I have been receiving calls from debt collectors thinking I am someone named Sharon McCaslin. I think she gave her debtors a false number that happened to be mine. This is getting annoying.

So, Sharon, if you happened to search for your name and found this entry, please either pay your debts our use another fake number.

01 September 2008

Probability of VP Unexpectedly Becoming President

In the wake of Senator McCain selecting Gov. Palin to be his running mate, many words have been devoted to the possibility of Sen. Biden or Gov. Palin unexpectedly becoming President. However, I have seen no discussion of the probability of this actually happening.

Our nation's history provides us with a sample of 42 Presidents and 46 Vice-Presidents (including Bush and Cheney) from which we can estimate this probability. The number of Presidents and Vice-Presidents is unequal because Presidents have had between zero and three Vice-Presidents. Eight VPs have become President upon the previous President's death (most recently Johnson), and one VP has become president upon the President's resignation (Ford).

So, the probability of our next VP unexpectedly becoming President is

Punexp (VP → P) = 9/46 = 19.6%.

I am not sure how to do error propagation on a calculation like this.

We should pay attention to the Vice-Presidential candidates because we have a roughly one in five probability of choosing the next two Presidents of the United States in November.