The people of Prescott, the dirt we're breathing, when rules are rules, guerrilla gardening in Fargo, and Marilyn visits the IHOP.
The announcement that scientists are close to confirming the existing of Higgs boson is not setting the world afire as you might at first think. It is, after all, a major discovery that helps us understand the universe, even though we can't really understand the thing that might help us understand the universe.
The Atlantic's Robert Wright suggests that the human brain simply isn't built to understand these things.
For the rest of us, I suspect, the Higgs belongs in the same category as various other parts of modern physics: It is yet more evidence that the human mind, to the extent that it was designed by natural selection to truly comprehend anything at all, was designed to comprehend the macroscopic world, not the microscopic world.
So, as for the question of what this Higgs boson thing ultimately "means": It means we should all try to have some intellectual humility, especially when opining on grand philosophical matters, because the thing we're using to try to understand the world--the human brain--is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty crude instrument. Or, I should say: That's what I think the Higgs Boson means.
If you're having a hard time getting your head around the near discovery, it's OK.
But there's another aspect of the discovery that seems to be getting more attention today than the discovery itself; scientists chiding the United States for watching it happen.
This statement, from Dr. Michael Gamble, the novelist and former Los Alamos nuclear scientist, arrived in the inbox a few minutes ago:
The Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was not too big to fail. Although it was a massive opportunity for the United States to maintain its primacy in high-energy physics and basic research, the SSC was not sufficiently big on the federal funding list back in the early 1990s even to get built.
I'll admit that headlines extolling an atom smasher in Waxahachie, Texas, may not be as provocative as those from Geneva, one of the world's most sophisticated cities. But as an American, the thrill of having our every iota of progress toward a commendable scientific goal, such as detecting and quantifying the Higgs boson, broadcast around the globe would have pleased me immeasurably. And, I believe, would have captivated and drawn a superior caliber of young talent to American scientific endeavors, just as the Apollo 11 Mission awed me as a boy and set me on a trajectoryof scientific study.
How the kingpins of CERN's accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), have lauded their detector collaborations, ATLAS and CMS. At the SSC there was the SDC collaboration and GEM (gammas, electrons, and muons), to whose design engineering and management I contributed proudly. CERN's official announcement that ATLAS has distinguished a specific decay mode of the Higgs boson to a statistical accuracy of 5 sigma (better than one in a million) has incited celebration throughout Europe and beyond. CERN currently boasts 20 member countries, all European, with Israel and others seeking membership. The United States is a lowly observer nation -- a paying observer, mind you -- along with another half dozen countries.
Why so many countries? What is in it for them? CERN is, and the SSC would have been, a high-energy physics "user facility." Other nations are welcome to design experiments and to make use of the energetic spew from the LHC's hadron collisions. For a price, a hefty price.The United States contributes every year to CERN's $1 billion budget. Perhaps Congress forgot this when voting down continued funding for the SSC, after investing approximately $2 billion and digging about 14 miles of underground tunnel. The SSC's hadrons would have been accelerated in that tunnel to 40 TeV, creating a center-of-mass frame impact energy almost triple that of CERN's LHC, positioning the SSC for meaningful follow-on research after nailing the Higgs.
Alas, the bank-breaking cost of the SSC and the absence of substantial international contributions were cited in its abandonment. Let this be clear: For about $8 billion, the United States let slip away the opportunity to own outright the world's most modern and potentially most sensational scientific platform. How many hundreds of billions of economic stimulus dollars were spent ineffectually? How many thousands of billions of dollars in recent history did the Federal Reserve wager on commitments to domestic and foreign banks without deigning to inform their overseers? The exact sums would be difficult to calculate, but the sting of the questions is the point.
The most grievous aspect of this situation is neither the surfeit of glowing international press, nor the inevitable Nobel Prize, nor even the strong draw of brilliance to the sciences from which Europe will benefit. It is the fact that high-energy physics -- similar to a dominant space program and nuclear science, which won my heart as an undergrad -- was Made in America. And we have lost not only our leadership positions in these sciences but perhaps our relevance.
Had the SSC detected and quantified the God particle, it could have offered a glimmer of salvation in this time of near-godforsaken scientific decline and social unrest in our country. One can only hope that Americans will regroup and astonish the world by being first to accomplish something of enormous scientific import, perhaps elaborating Einstein's grand unification theory. I believe we can do it. But it'll require technical genius, political will, and a lot of guts.
Congress canceled a supercollider project in the U.S. in 1993. Its remnants can still be found in Texas.(7 Comments)
If a judge locks the courtroom doors, have you lost your right to a public trial in the state of Minnesota?
Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court said "no," ruling in the case of Jerrell Brown's 2010 trial , who was convicted of aiding and abetting first-degree murder for the benefit of a gang. Brown was a member of the Shotgun Crips gang.
After closing arguments in the trial, the judge in the case had the courtroom door locked during jury instructions, but did not order anyone inside to leave. Brown was convicted on all four counts of murder.
"Not all courtroom restrictions implicate a defendant's right to a public trial," Justice Alan Page wrote in today's opinion. He said the trial remained open "to the public and the press" and neither the defendant nor his family were denied the opportunity to witness the proceedings.
But Justice Page cautioned judges in the state to be careful when locking courtrooms, saying "the act of locking courtroom doors during jury instructions creates the appearance that Minnesota's courtrooms are closed or inaccessible to the public... the better practice is for the trial court to expressly state on the record why the court is locking the courtroom doors."
Justice Helen Meyer dissented, however, criticizing the judge for not explaining why the courtroom was closed. "The act of locking the doors such that the public may not enter or exit for the duration of jury instructions certainly contravenes the 'presumption of openness' at the heart of the public trial guarantee," she wrote.
Here's the full opinion and dissent.
The Transportation Security Administration is pooh-poohing reports that it's expanding security screening at airports to random checks of liquids at airport gates, and not just at the security checkpoint.
It started, apparently, with a report from a Colorado TV station.
"The water or or the juices or anything you buy here in the airport, TSA is going to come over and look and check and test it? That's just ridiculous," traveler Thomas Burgard told the station.
On a slow news day, that led to some copycat stories, suggesting the measure is an expansion of airport security.
It's not, the TSA Blog, Bob Burns says it's been going on for years
As far as the testing of liquids at the gate, this is just one of the many options we have to choose from when deciding what additional tactics to use each day. We started using test strips back in the summer of 2007 and continue to do so. The test involves a test strip and a dropper containing a nontoxic solution. In case you're wondering, our officers don't place the test strips in your beverages/liquids. They simply have the passenger remove the cap/lid and they hold the strip over the opening of the container. Procedures call for moving the test strip to the side and applying the solution from the dropper to test the strip. If the test results are positive TSA will conduct additional testing to make a final assessment.
Did he say "test strips?" It's not what you probably think.
We can learn a lot about the human brain from today's release of the report on the crash of an Air France jetliner into the Atlantic in 2009.
In its final report, the French civil aviation authority's Bureau of Surveys and Analysis said two less-senior pilots at the controls of AF 447 were "completely surprised" by the failure of cockpit instruments. All 228 passengers and crew died in the crash of the plane, which was on its way from Brazil to Paris.
Without any data to tell them what was happening to their plane, the pilots pulled up on the controls, which only made things worse.
Even Chesley Sullenberger couldn't refrain from criticizing the pilots...
I've written about this crash before, and specifically about the problems with an overloaded brain.
There's only so much data the human brain can handle. Keep in mind it's night, the cockpit is dark, there are no references outside to tell you where you are, lights are flashing, alarms are going off and a simple airspeed indicator isn't working (declining airspeed can tell you you're going up, increasing airspeed means you're probably going down), the noise from passing air is changing and telling you something, but what? Your body -- which lies to you at times like this -- is telling you one thing, some working instruments might be telling you another. Which one do you believe?
Oh, and you've got one minute to get all this sorted out.
A warning to the pilots that the plane was losing its lift (stalling) went off 75 times. Seventy-five times! And yet, the pilots didn't pay attention to it, apparently, because there's only one way to prevent a plane from stalling: push the nose down, the opposite of what they were doing.
How could this be?
Two paragraphs in today's report tell us:
Numerous studies have been conducted on insensitivity to aural warnings and they showed that the aggressive nature, rarity and unreliability of these warnings may lead operators to ignore these signals [1, 2]. In particular, in the event of a heavy workload, insensitivity to aural warnings may be caused by a conflict between these warnings and the cognitive tasks in progress. The ability to turn one's attention to this information is very wasteful as this requires the use of cognitive resources already engaged on the current task. The performance of one of these tasks (solving the problem or taking the warning into account) or of both would be affected .
In addition, studies on the visual-auditory conflict show a natural tendency to favour visual to auditory perception when information that is contradictory and conflicting, or seen as such, of both senses is presented [4, 5, and 6]. Piloting, calling heavily on visual activity, could lead pilots to a type of auditory insensitivity to the appearance of aural warnings that are rare and in contradiction with cockpit information. A recent study in electrophysiology on a piloting task seems to confirm that the appearance of such visual-auditory conflicts in a heavy workload situation translates into an attention selectivity mechanism that favours visual information and leads to disregarding critical aural warnings .
In other words, even when the answer to a problem is blaring in your ear, your brain's concentration on solving a problem makes you not hear it.
The pilots didn't have a lot of time, but the situation underscores the importance of an old axiom: Sometimes the best thing you can do, is step back and take a breath.4 Comments)