Nobel Anticipation

October 7, 2013

This is Nobel week and prize handouts start today with Medicine. Tomorrow is Physics, and Chemistry is on Wednesday. All others are political prizes of no interest here.

The physics prize should be awarded for the Higgs Boson and most likely Higgs himself and Englert will get it, but a third share may go to some other wildcard person or organisation. This will be decided by a vote at TRF but I can also remind you that a similar vote has been running for some time on viXra which has already been used to elect two winners of the much larger Fundamental Physics Prize.

Update 8-Oct-2013:  Congratulations to James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof who won the Physiology or Medicine prize “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”.

Today will be the turn of the physics prize and it this point it may be worth hedging bets by noting that this might not even be given for the Higgs. Each year the Nobel committee has a big pile of worthy nominations and they may just decide that one of them fits better. However the chances for Higgs seem slightly better than even.

Some people are suggesting that the third share for the Higgs could go to CERN. The committee have hinted that an organisation is not ruled out even though they have never used that option before, but I think CERN would be a mistake. This is because many people in the CMS and ATLAS collaborations are not strictly speaking part of CERN. You could justify that CERN played a deserving role but to then leave out the physicists who actually made the discovery would be a new kind of mistake for the Nobel committee to make. Lumping CMS and ATLAS together as one also seems a bit forced but they could give it to Higgs, CMS and ATLAS leaving out Englert. That is more like the kind of mistake they have made before. I favour the option of reserving the prize for the theorists. If they start giving it to big organisations then they will also have to look at many other big collaborations in the future and they probably dont want to set a precedent that could radically change the nature of the award.

Super Yang-Mills vs Loop Quantum Gravity

July 19, 2013

Some of you may remember my Xtranormal video from a few years back “A Double Take on the String Wars.” Here it is if you missed it.

If you enjoyed that you will be pleased to know that there is a new sequel called “SYM and LQG: The Same Bloody Thing”

No offense intended to anyone who may accidentally resemble the characters in this video 🙂 This is just for fun.

What to print in 3D

February 21, 2012

Over the last few years we have watched a whole load of new technologies go from expensive items for the professional to cheap gadgets for the home. Laptops, Mobile phones, plasma TVs, digital cameras, HD camcorders, GPS, photo printers, scanners, the list goes on. This year everything is going 3D. TVs and laptops with 3D screens are already available at reasonable prices and within a few of years most gadgets that can be made to work in 3D will be sold mostly in 3D versions. If you are an early adopter you may already have your 3D phone with 3D screen and camera, but what about 3D printers?

3D printers don’t print 3D pictures that you view with 3D glasses like 3D TVs, they print real 3D objects made out of plastic. Already they are being used by manufacturing and design companies for rapid prototyping and in medicine they are being used to print bone replacements for knees, hips and jaws. Each part is a one-off with exactly the right shape produced directly from a computer model. The cost of a 3D printer such as this HP Designjet is about €13,000 so a few rich gadget freaks may already have them in their home. For most of us the cost will need to come down by one or two orders of magnitude before it gets onto the Xmas wishlist. Will that happen and if so how fast? Assuming there is no technical obstacle the answer depends on the demand. What would we use it for?

If you think the only thing a 3d printer could be used for in the home is printing spare buttons for your shirt then you are sadly lacking in imagination. Somebody with a bit more vision would see things differently and he or she may be the next entrepreneur to reach the top ten on the worlds rich list. I regret that it isn’t going to be me but it might be someone like Oskar van Deventer who has been using Shapeways 3D printing services to make ingenious (and often amusing) puzzles based on Rubik’s Cube. When you need some inspiration you could do worse than browse some of the many videos on his Youtube channel. Here are some favourites.


Hollow Cube


Mixup Cube

Anisotropic cube

Unlucky Twist


17x17x17 Rubik’s Cube

Twisty Tree

Gear Snake

Thank you for watching.

Bonus – How to solve Rubik’s cube in 5.66 seconds

When you are 3 years old it may take you a little longer

Prof or Hobo Quiz

February 10, 2012

I think this has been going round for some time but in case you have not seen it, please have a go and let us know how you score. I managed an average 7/10.

Top Ten Bits of Ig Nobel Trivia

September 29, 2011

As a prelude to the official Nobel prizes that will be announced next week,  the less austere Ig Nobel prizes will be awarded at a ceremony today. The event will be webcast starting at  7:30pm Boston time. Here is a trailer and ten interesting facts

  1. The Ig Noble prizes were first awarded in 1991 and included three items of research that were just made up as well as a peace prize to Edward Teller for the H-bomb.
  2. The prices were originally described as being awarded for research that “cannot, or should not, be reproduced” but this was later changed to the more ingratiating slogan that it would “make people LAUGH, and then THINK”
  3. The name of the award should be pronounced IG-NO-BELL to emphasize its relation to the Nobel Prize, rather than the word ignoble.
  4. Two Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded for Homeopathy, one in 1991 and another in 1998
  5. It used to be a tradition to throw paper airplane onto the stage as prizes were awarded but this had to be stamped out for security reasons.
  6. In 1995 Robert May, Baron of Oxford, and the then chief scientific advisor to the British government requested that the organizers no longer award Ig Nobel prizes to British scientists. He said that the awards risked bringing genuine experiments into ridicule.
  7. Despite the air of ridicule that comes with the award of an Ig Nobel prize several winning lines of research have had practical value including the observation that mosquitoes are as much attracted to the smell of  Limburger cheese as they are to human feet.
  8. When Andre Geim won the Nobel prize last year for his work on graphene he became the first person to have won both the Nobel and the Ig Nobel. The latter was awarded to him 10 years earlier for levitating frogs.
  9. Despite the reputation for toilet humor the Ig Noble prize citations have only mentioned toilets, urine and pooh once each (Update: urine count has gone up to twice).
  10. The Ig Nobel blog at has ridiculed at least twice this year but we are still waiting for the award of a prize to a paper from our archive.

The future of science news reporting in the MSM

April 26, 2011

The Main Stream Media have increasing trouble reporting science news because journalists are rarely sufficiently expert in specialized fields and just make mistakes. (who is not really MSM),  has found the solution. Just quote lots of snippets from science blogs and with next to no effort they have an incredibly well balanced report!

Mike Duff Finds New Way to Test Strings

April 1, 2011

String theorist Mike Duff famed for his pioneering work on M-theory has announced a novel and practical way to test the theory of strings. The Abdus-Salam Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College delivered a talk on “Black Holes and Qubits” in Durban earlier this month. His work with Borsten, Dahanayake, Ebrahim, Marrani and Rubens caused a stir last year because of the widely misinterpreted claim that it provides a test of the mathematics of string theory.  “Two different branches of theoretical physics, string theory and quantum information theory (QIT), share many of the same features, allowing knowledge on one side to provide new insights on the other. In particular the matching of the classification of black holes and the classification of four-qubit entanglement provides a falsifiable prediction of string theory in the field of QIT.” he said.

During the workshop, Duff teamed up with new collaborators from various fields of quantum physics to try out a completely new way of testing strings that came to light during the interdisciplinary discussions, and this time it was very much for real. Andrzej Dragan, Jason Doukas, Ivette Fuentes, Mike Duff and Nick Menicucci demonstrated the method that involves placing long strings under tension. The objective was to observe the temperature that results from uniform acceleration known as the Unruh effect.  Some of their critics have already described it as “highly risky” and “jumping to wild conclusions.”, but Duff has responded by challenging them to test it for themselves. ViXra Log has exclusive video of how the amazing experiment turned out.

Update: I probably did not fool many people with this post, but in case anyone is wondering, that really is Mike Duff and other participants of the Relativistic Quantum Information Workshop doing the bungy jumping. The jump-off point is 106 meters above the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. If anyone has experienced any equally unusual activities organised at conferences and workshops please do tell.

The Anti-Crackpot Index

September 13, 2010

I am sure you are all familiar with the Crackpot Index devised by John Baez as a “fun” way to identify “crackpots”. Now there is also a growing phenomenon of the anti-crackpots, that is people who go to enormous trouble to try to debunk other people’s theories but instead of using solid arguments they produce a useless diatribe laced with rhetoric, sarcasm  and irrelevant ridicule. I think it is now time to redress the balance and produce the anti-crackpot index as a fun way to help  identify such people, so here it is:
The Anti-crackpot index

  1. A -5 point starting credit
  2. 1 point for claiming a point is “vacuous” or “specious” without saying why.
  3. 2 points for referring to other people as “the public” or “laymen” without having any relevant qualifications beyond highschool themselves.
  4. 3 points for dismissing an extensive theory because of one minor error.
  5. 5 points for each statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
  6. 5 points for suggesting someone is not a real scientist because they did not use TeX.
  7. 5 points for each use of the word falsifiable.
  8. 5 points for gratuitously pointing out that a person they are attacking is Female.
  9. 10 points for saying that someone is taking mathematics too literally.
  10. 10 points for telling a scientist or mathematician that they should leave philosophy to the philosophers.
  11. 10 points for claiming that any correct idea can easily be published in a peer-reviewed journal or the arXiv.
  12. 10 points for invoking a strawman argument.
  13. 10 points for believing that any good idea will instantly be recognised as such by the scientific community.
  14. 10 points for claiming that someone is a crackpot because they will not listen to reason, when in fact the position is mutual.
  15. 10 points for seamlessly switching to a new argument when an old one is found wanting.
  16. 10 points for quoting something and implying the reader should see how ridiculous it is without actually saying why.
  17. 10 points for jumping from a reasonable but irrelevant set of sociological arguments to a sudden unwarranted conclusion that a theory has therefore failed.
  18. 10 points for saying an idea is wrong because it violates a scientific principle that has not been tested in the context of the theory.
  19. 10 points for using a wrong argument to attack a possibly correct argument.
  20. 20 points for using technical jargon to try to make themselves appear knowledgable.
  21. 20 points for mentioning the Ignobel prize.
  22. 20 points for pointing out spelling or grammar errors as part of their critique (double points for making similar errors at the same time).
  23. 20 points for citing Feynman’s cargo cult science speech.
  24. 20 points for using a blog, wiki or forum that is specifically created for debunking “crackpot” theories.
  25. 20 points if the said website deploys adverts that promote pseudoscience (double points if its Google Adwords)
  26. 20 points for showing a picture of themselves that reveals a ponytail.
  27. 20 points for using an anonymous pseudonym when your opponent is using their real name.
  28. 20 points for saying they always own up to their errors because they were forced to do it once.
  29. 30 points for citing a comic strip such as xkcd or Abstruce Goose.
  30. 30 points for labelling themselves as a “skeptic” without associating this to a specific claim that they are skeptical about.
  31. 30 points for extending an analogy beyond its intended scope in order to break it.
  32. 30 points for saying something is “not even wrong”.
  33. 40 points for saying “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”.
  34. 40 points for implying they are a science expert when they are really a software engineer with a blog (double points if they are employed by Google).
  35. 40 points for taking the Baez crackpot index too seriously.
  36. 40 points for suggesting additions to the crackpot index.
  37. 50 points for saying a paper makes no testable predictions and failing noticing that very few genuine scientific papers make any testable predictions.

Physics In Collision 2010

August 31, 2010

One particle physics conference ends and another begins. After Toronto, the next one is Physics In Collision 2010 starting tomorrow at Karlsruhe . Access to slides of the talks can be found here.

Further results from ATLAS and CMS will be presented tomorrow, and with the rapid increase in data collected there is always a chance that new plots will appear not seen in Toronto last week. These LHC experiments now have 3.6/pb of data collected. New negative results are possible. However, it is unlikely that they will show any results with positive hints of new physics because it would take longer to check and approve anything that exciting.

Speakers face a little dilemma at these conferences because they need to upload their slides in advance, but they don’t want to spoil the talk by showing their results in advance, especially if there is a risk that someone might blog about it. One poster presenter has tackled this problem by allowing some cats to wander in from hid critical result. If you are going to try this technique, don’t forget that it is possible to extract images and text from PDF even if they are hidden by overlays.

In this case we can reveal that the latest result for CP-violating asymmetry at Belle is

XXX ± 0.50 ± 0.22

Oh well…

Google Gravity

August 22, 2010

Want to make your web searching a bit more interesting? Try Google Gravity from Mr Doob.

You will new the Google Chrome browser for it to work though.