Science/Technology

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Firefox Gross Privacy Violation

I typically run Firefox nightlies and noticed that things were getting sluggish again. Last week I discovered the disk cache was no longer working but today I found something entirely shocking. A new "feature" making the rounds in alpha, beta and nightly versions of Firefox appears to be a gross violation of user privacy.

Now in the profile directory is a sqlite database called netpredictions.sqlite. A look into this file shows it to be an NSA like vacuum of your browsing history. Reading it with a sqlite browser displayed records of 1,236 hosts and 5,584 pages visited, with last load times on all!!! There are other keys with even more records.

What on earth is Mozilla thinking? Clearing the browser cache does not empty the database. The only way to make it go away is to manually change the following preference in about:config to

network.seer.enabled FALSE

and then deleting the file from your profile directory.

I'll leave it to someone else to determine if this spy gathers data when in private browsing mode - I would not be at all surprised if it does. I've used Mozilla browsers since Netscape 0.96b but that run may be coming to an end. Opera, can you hear me?

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Intel Removes EPT From Haswell Core Line [?]

UPDATE: After bouncing around some of the virtulization forums we were given a link to a review of the i-7 4770 which included a screen shot of the cpu flags which did indicate that EPT support was included. A further converstation with Intel was not able to confirm this but an engineering ticket was opened to try to get a definitive answer.

We are in dire need of a workstation upgrade and have been anxiously waiting on the new Intel Haswell microarchitecture cpus. They have just been released and there appears to be some shocking news, at least for those who use virtualization. Intel has removed support for extended page tables (EPT) from the enire Core line. Previously, all Intel cpus supported this extension, which can give 5 to 20% improvement. Now, only Xeon's will support. This is a time consuming, annonying and moderatly expensive hassle as not only are server motherboard selections few, sound and other necessary components must be spec'd and purchased which would otherwise not be needed with a conventional i7 or i5 build. This is really going to piss off a small but growing segment of Intel's user base. Not a good thing to do at a time of reduced demand for their products.

This came to light by a search on ark.intel.com yesterday. Today, a phone call to Intel technical support was unable to confirm as the support person did not know what EPT was. God help Intel.

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Apple and Backdoors

According to a report published today on Appleinsider:
Apple is inundated with so many requests from law enforcement agencies to decrypt seized iPhones that officials must endure a waiting list before their case is handled.

This should be very troubling news to any owner of an iPhone or other iOS device which is encrypted. Why? Because Apple clearly has a backdoor capability to decrypt the contents of your phone.
An ATF agent turned to Apple for help after discovering that the agency "did not have the forensic capability" to decrypt the phone. Once the agent reached out to Apple, they were told it would be a wait of at least 7 weeks before the case could be addressed.

Law enforcement agencies are attempting to bypass Apple's security in order to gather evidence that can be used to charge suspected criminals. But because they're unable to break Apple's encryption, agencies are forced to seek assistance from the iPhone maker

If Apple did not have the capability to decrypt these devices there would be no reason to put anyone on a waiting list. Better put another layer of your own encryption on top if you are in the Apple ecosystem.

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Hyundai T7 Update

There has been a lot of traffic on my initial T7 review. I thought I would post a short update. After a month, I can say this tablet pretty much rocks for the price. The only things I wish it had were a) a larger battery and b) Android 4.2. I do expect the latter at some point and comments from Nexus 7 owners who updated to 4.2 indicate improved battery life. As to the battery itself, this was clearly a design trade off Hyundai made and it is one I can live with. I can stream about 4 hours of 3+ Mbps video to the device and about 4 1/2 hours if the video is stored locally. That is about two movies, quite a few TV episdoes and at least one football game. I'm not much of a gamer anymore but will try to get some data on that. Would 7 to 10 hours be nice? Sure. But I am never that far from an outlet and I typically do not watch more than two hours of video at a time. [Note: I've just tried BS player which appears to allow the screen to be shut off during playback - this should extend the time when outputing to HDMI on a TV]

What I really do want to convey here is that Hyundai truly is supporting this tablet. Today they released the third firmware (ROM) update since I got the tablet. Granted, the first of those came out while mine was in transit, but it is clear Hyundai wants this to be more than just a cheap Chinese tablet. In the most recent ROM, they removed virtually all of the pre-packaged applications (majority were Chinese) and the user is left with very close to a vanilla Android 4.0.4. They do include Adobe flashplayer, ES file explorer, Google Maps (previously installed from Play store), UT media player, Youtube and a GPS app.

So here's hoping that Hyundai keeps up the good work and gets us all Android 4.2 some time soon. And Hyundai, you really should try to get some marketing going.

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Hyundai T7 Review


This is part three of a three part post about buying a new tablet directly from China. Part I covers the search for an appropriate device Part II recounts the search for a seller and the buying process. Part III is a review of the tablet itself.

2/26/13 I have just flashed a ROM update. It is supposed to include a number of optimizations and better battery usage. Still ICS. Need to reinstall apps and get battery fully charged then will retest video rundown time to see how much battery life has improved. (see battery section for update)

Unboxing the T7


OK so I have a box in front of me which is white and marked Hyundai/Mobile Internet Device in the top left, Enyos 4 Quad processing in the top right, T7 on bottom right with an image of the little precious in the middle. The sides of the box repeat the Hyundai and T7 markings. The back is blank, except for the bottom row of icons which list what capabilities, i.e. wifi, usb, gps,etc. It appears Hyundai at some point will offer a 16gb model as there is a box to be checked 8 or 16 (8 in this case). Contact info is in both asian (Chinese or Korean) and English along with the website hyundai.digital.cn. There are two other boxes, only in asian lettering. One is ticked on the right; perhaps it is the 8/16 GB in reverse but really do not know.

The shipping box had some extra styrofoam sheets for padding, as does the inside of the white box. Somewhat unusual for this day and age, the top removes completely from the bottom half of the box. The T7 is inside a plastic sleeve, it feels much like the exam gloves nurses and doctors wear - not a clear plastic, but opaque and not clingy to the touch.

Behind it is a warranty card with enough English to figure out where to put your personal info. Not sure about where to put a stamp. Below the card is a pull out which reveals additional items. Most obvious is the power adapter. There is also a usb cord inside a sealed package, same for headphones. There is a user manual in multiple languages, including English. "Warning #2: do not soak or steam sources close to the device or charger." The English appears quite good, though a diagram with numbers and the list of functions of buttons and the like on the tablet is too small to read, even with my glasses. There is also a square, heavy paper item which appears to be an inspection sticker of some kind. There is no included hdmi cord. The hdmi port appears to be about 2/3 the size of a regular one. Nothing else is in the box.

Everything on the tablet is clearly labeled in light grey, either in English or by icon. There is an additional screen protector like film marked 'please peel off this mask AFTER application completed' - I assume that means the warranty card.

Plugging the T7 in to charge turns on a small orange/red light. It is interesting that Hyundai decided to use a separate port for charging with so many others doing it thru the usb connector. The connecting plug is very thin and about 3/16" long.

Inside the DHL outer packaging wrap is an invoice of sorts, apparently prepared for customs. The item is described as a "sample of tablet pc". The invoice is from Shenzhen Windstone Electronic Technology LTD and includes the shipping details, date etc. with a message 'We are nice to offer you the following items under the conditions given below:' tablet pc 1 $65.00. I suspect that rate is to avoid/minimize customs hassles.


Physical Characteristics


The tablet is white and just on the edge of comfortable to hold one handed. My hands are average at best, but I think a smaller hand could still hold it without discomfort. The bezel on the short sides is larger, roughly 3/4" but only 3/16" on the long sides. This makes it easy to hold for playing games without covering the screen and also allows for a one handed grasp when using it in landscape mode. There is a very small silver bezel which wraps around the top and curves over to eventually connect the white case bottom. The combination of firm edge around the top (screen) layer which then tapers off makes the device easy to hold without having the edges dig into your fingers or palm.

The front camera is at the top (portrait) right, the rear camera is at the top center directly on the other side. There is a home button located on the front of the tablet, at the bottom center. While it is true that there is a soft (touch screen) home key in Android, pressing the buttom is sometimes quicker and is independent of screen orientation. What would have been more useful, however, is if the button had pointer capability as well, i.e. the ability to move up/down, left/right by a small flick. The power button and volume rocker are located on the top left side.

All the expansion ports are on the bottom edge of the tablet, below the home button. Everything is labeled in light grey on the back by word or icon. From the left (when looking at the bottom) are power, mini-HDMI, microSD, earphones, micro-USB and the microphone. The earphones are standard 3.5mm. The T7 does not come with an HDMI cable so you will need to purchase this. It is quite frightening to see how many different standards there are for HDMI and USB connections. Let me save you some trouble. The T7 needs an HDMI A male to mini-HDMI C male cable. (The linked one from Newegg worked fine and was only $2.29). The USB port is a micro-USB "B" connection. I knew I needed to hook up a USB drive which had a full sized "A" male connector so I picked up a micro-USB "B" to standard USB "A" female cable, again, from Newegg for $5.99. I also grabbed a 32 GB class 10 micro-SDHC card for $24. To the best of my knowledge, the T7 can take no larger than 32GB and will not take SDXC. But if you have one handy, give it a try.

Build


We also learn from the bottom of the tablet that it was designed by Toptech in Korea. Looking at the corporate website, I think what is really meant is that Toptech has done the case. And while the tablet does carry the Hyundai name (and web address for Hyundai Digital, CN), this is a Samsung device.

Noted in Part I, the cpu is the Exynos Quad Core "smdk4x12", clocked from 200 MHz up to 1600 MHz. Specifically, an ARMv7 processor, variant 0x3, part 0xc09, rev 0 and the associated GPU is a Mali-400MP. And who built the device? Why Samsung, of course - S.LSI Division, Smasung Electronics Co LTD. Knowing this should make anyone considering purchasing the T7 quite a bit more comfortable with that decision.

I'd be remiss not to mention the screen. The real physical dimensions are 3.71"x 5.94" which translates into 1280x800 @216dpi. However, you will sometimes see reference to -more-

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Buying A Tablet Directly From China: AliExpress


This is part two of a three part post about buying a new tablet directly from China. Part I covers the search for an appropriate device Part II recounts the search for a seller and the buying process. Part III is a review of the tablet itself.

So the next step was to find a place to buy this Hyundai T7 tablet. Given that I was using the PandaWill site for some initial product research, I first looked into their background. What I found was a wide range of comments - some people very happy, others pissed off, many ok but with caveats. This left me with a decidedly "meh" feeling, which was sealed when I found out that the free shipping was by slow post. Delivery could take a month or more. Putting aside the typical American impatience when buying the new shiny, this was simply too long to have a purchase in limbo.

I next checked out DealsPrime, the place which did the in-depth video review of the T7 that I watched on YouTube. I was again left with the feeling that while odds favored everything working out ok, it would take a long time to get the device. Of course, I could pay extra for faster shipping - $20ish at PandaWill and $40 at DealsPrime. I suppose if I had to pick between DealsPrime and PandaWill, I would lean towards DealsPrime as they at least gave me something of real value in the video review, though at a premium of $20 unless I used China post. And there was still the nagging issue of payment and would I be out close to $200 if things went wrong.

With a little more Googlefoo, I found myself at AliExpress, a name which made me a touch nervous, but some how rang a bell. And there it was - they are related to Alibaba.com, a name which I recalled being talked about quite a bit in the early 00's on CNBC. So perhaps there is... something... behind this AliExpress site. Looking down the page for the "about" link, I first found this:
AliExpress brings you quality products at wholesale prices on even the smallest orders. AliExpress is a part of Alibaba.com and offers minimum orders as low as 1 item, buyer protection and express delivery with full tracking. AliExpress currently hosts more than 5,900 different types of products from over 44 different industries
Well, I fit into the "one item" category. But what is this "buyer protection?"

The about page spells it all out in more detail. In essence, AliExpress acts as a broker between the buyer (you) and the seller (some foreign company or individual). As agent, AliExpress escrows your payment until you not only receive the order, but also acknowledge that you got what you ordered and in working condition. In addition, there are mechanisms in place to get a refund should there be problems with the purchase, even after you confirm the delivery.

So, that is a step in the right direction. Certainly the escrowing of funds, which includes not releasing your credit info, is a significant advantage over the other two websites. But who are these foreign sellers and do they have the Hyundai T7?

The search field on AliExpress answered that question right away. Typing in just "T7" showed a few choices, including Hyundai T7. Selecting that brought in 45 results (vs 1,132 for just T7). And then the head scratching began. Most of the item descriptions are the same, though a few have the odd word or two (aka "Engrish"). Most use the standard product photo, a few have dolled it up a bit. You next notice that there is always a price range. Indeed, every seller will offer you just the tablet or some package of extras like covers, "TF" (microSD) cards, screen covers and car chargers.

Items with free shipping are always by China Post. Most sellers offer alternatives, such as EMS (a special international priority mail classification), DHL, UPS and FedEx. ePacket is also sometimes offered which uses (to my understanding) "codesharing" between Hong Kong Post and the USPS. USPS provides first class service and delivery confirmation once the package hits US shores. There is some, though not exact, uniformity in shipping prices between sellers.

Also provided in the main listing pages are the number of orders each merchant has filled. Many have had none. In addition, some show a seller rating, while others do not. This appears to be a bug in the AliExpress website code as in many cases, those sellers with no rating on the group listing page do indeed have a rating on the detailed item description page. One should of course take these ratings with a grain of salt (even on Amazon or NewEgg), but they can give you at least an indication of customer satisfaction and how long they have been selling goods through AliExpress. Some sellers have little history. Others have two or three years.

After a bit more Google review of 'buying on AliExpress,' I decided the safest course was to focus on sellers with a longer history and at least a few orders for the T7. I quickly narrowed my choice to four merchants who had similar pricing, history and rating. My final decision was based on a unique circumstance - I needed the item delivered by a courier to my door. My present location (the secure northern bunker) does not have any mail service. Unfortunately, none of the sellers I selected provided UPS. All had DHL and one had DHL and FedEx. Generally, EMS and DHL cost $25-$35. Oddly, the one having FedEx cost $40 but offered DHL at $55. What should have been an easy choice was not as I was uncomfortable selecting DHL. In the past a package was sent to me at this location via DHL and left for final delivery at the local post office. By some good fortune, they held the package for a day and tried me on the phone before giving it back to DHL. I was -more-

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Buying A Tablet Directly From China


Part one of a three part post about buying a new tablet directly from China. Part I covers the search for an appropriate device Part II recounts the search for a seller and the buying process. Part III is a review of the tablet itself.

Besides writing for this blog (infrequently of late!) I am also doing work as an application developer in the mobile space, i.e. phones and tablets. Recently, I've come to the conclusion that the tablet format is far more appropriate for the applications I have planned. Though all the major players (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry) provide development environments which include software based device emulators, unfortunately, even with a fairly fast PC the emulators are still a bit slow. Also, for testing purposes, nothing really equals having a device in your hands. For those reasons, I was in the market for a tablet of some kind.
The first decision of course was how much to spend. Answer: not a lot. This tablet's primarily function will be testing user interfaces and overall application performance. My planned applications range from relatively simple to mildly demanding - nothing too taxing. Most of my focus has also been in the Google world, which is good as there are many Android tablets available, unlike Apple (two), Microsoft (few) and Blackberry (one).

I began by looking at the 10" tablets but quickly decided that the major brands were outside of my budget. However, after checking the Asus offerings, I realized that any tablet should at the least include a microSD expansion port. Better still would be USB and HDMI ports. While none of those were critical to my development needs, from an end-user standpoint I felt if the money is going to be spent then it was not too much to ask for the ability to expand the storage or be able to output to a larger screen. Too bad Asus were so expensive!

Next, I re-read reviews of the Nexus 7 printed last fall. The reviews were generally pretty good, but where were the ports? Non-existent. The Tegra3 processor was starting to look a little bit dated too. The price for the 32GB model was bearable at about $250, but after tax and shipping, perhaps a little bit rich for the specs. Right now I think we are two or three generations of tablets away from a performance peak after which the current rapid update cycle will slow considerably. Thus began my Google search for a generic "10 inch android tablet".

Hmm.. 23 million results. Well, guess there are a few to look at. One link caught my attention. It was for a Chinese tablet called the "Chuwi V99" and came with a 2048x1536 284 dpi display - a "retina" display as Apple prefers to call it. The review was generally pretty positive and pointed to availability at a site called PandaWill. Some more comments there indicated one problem the reviewer had (with Netflix) was resolved. The price? $256 with free shipping. Hmmm... this sounds interesting. The specs looked fairly good too. 2GB ram (vs 512MB or 1GB that are common on low end tablets), 16GB flash internal memory, front/rear cameras (2/5MP), microSD expansion, a USB port and a 9,000 mAh battery. However, no GPS, no bluetooth and no HDMI out. I was somewhat surprised there was no HDMI out given the USB and SD ports. The lack of GPS was a small let down, though at this time I really don't have anything planned which would use it. Bluetooth? Never use it so not of concern to me. The CPU was listed as an A7 quad core with PowerVR GPU - an "Allwinner A31".

YouTube revealed a few videos of the tablet and it seemed nice. But that "Allwinner" CPU would need more research. Checking Pandwill a bit more, I noticed a name I did know - Hyundai - with a 10" X900 tablet. The specs were similar to the Chuwi but with a different CPU (Rockport RK3066) and only 1GB ram. Again, a CPU I am unfamiliar with, but at least I was familiar with the name of the tablet "manufacturer". Though I never knew that Hyundai made more than cars and trucks. Hmm. More research. [An interesting aside is this short T7 and for only $165. Checking the specs, I was pretty amazed. The CPU was listed as quad core Samsung Exynos 4412 (A9) - the same CPU used in the latest smart phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3. I knew from looking at phone reviews that this was a pretty kick-ass CPU/GPU combo.

Looking further, the T7 had 1GB ram, 8GB flash. The 8GB looked kind of light but yes, there was a microSD port for up to 32GB cards, USB and HDMI as well. GPS too. Not sure about the 3,300 mAh battery - that seemed small compared to what was going in the 10" tablets, though against a smaller screen and newer processor. This was starting to sound like something which could work for me, so again I took to Google and YouTube for reviews.

Google had nothing. About all I could find were "reviews" which just listed specifications or worse, mocking US based gadget sites noting its availability and filing it under "watch out, too good to be true!" However, YouTube had a handful of video reviews, one of which was from another Chinese product website, DealsPrime. It was in two parts and quite extensive. By the time I finished watching it I was sold on the T7 tablet. The only hurdle now was ... buying from China?

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SM Higgs: Underwhelmed and Not Convinced

Just a quick note on the "results" put out this morning with much fanfare by the Atlas and CMS collaborations at the LHC. Call me completely underwhelmed. Talk the previous week had been that at least one of them was in the high 3 sigma range yet in fact, we get 3.6 from Atlas and 2.4 from CMS before including LEE (look elsewhere effects). They do report p values which are consistent with expectations if a SM Higgs were aboiut 125 GeV but honestly, why was this result published? When including LEE, Atlas drops to 2.4 sigma and CMS to 1.9. Yes we can play the game of trying to combine the statistics from two different detectors to boost the reported confidence but at these low starting points is that not just GIGO? (Atlas data also show a spurious signal near 100 GeV where Higgs has already been excluded.) Ok, perhaps that is a bit harsh but you get my point.

Unfortunately, the mainstream press is so wound up about this whole Higgs thing (and please don't ever refer to it as the "G" particle!) that they will make an even bigger deal out of the CERN presser than did the LHC groups. I think this is a bad day for HEP and tarnishes what have been traditionally for more stringent cuts on what is a major event and what is not (yet).

It may yet be that the SM Higgs is found about 125 GeV but I think it will take significantly more data, on the order of 10 fb-1

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Tiger Woods: Just Admit It

Hot off the wires:
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tiger Woods limped off the golf course and into a future that is murkier than ever Thursday when he withdrew with leg injuries after his worst nine holes at The Players Championship. "I'm having a hard time walking," he said. Woods shot a 42 on the front nine of the TPC Sawgrass, including a triple bogey on the fourth hole when he didn't clear a water hazard 30 yards in front of him. He constantly walked some 20 yards behind his playing partner, holding his golf club for support, limping noticeably after each hole.Source:AP wire



And from late 2009:
NEW YORK — A Canadian doctor who has treated golfer Tiger Woods, swimmer Dara Torres and NFL players is suspected of providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, according to a newspaper report. The New York Times reported on its Web site Monday night that Dr. Anthony Galea was found with human growth hormone and Actovegin, a drug extracted from calf's blood, in his bag at the U.S.-Canada border in late September. He was arrested Oct. 15 in Toronto by Canadian police. Using, selling or importing Actovegin is illegal in the United States. ... Galea visited Woods' home in Florida at least four times in February and March, the newspaper reported, to provide that platelet therapy after his agents were concerned by his slow recovery from June 2008 knee surgery.Source:Huffington Post


While there is no smoking gun proof, this reeks of a classic post-steroid use physical breakdown. Just as in baseball (where the users were far more obvious to the eyes), steroid use is not just about hitting the ball further, its about bat (or club) speed too and being able to hit balls/make shots you otherwise would not be able to. And when removed, performance may return to ordinary or even worse due to collateral damage. While this may be unpalatable to the prim and proper world of golf, perhaps it is time to consider publicly that Tiger's rapid fall as a professional golfer is more likely to be performance enhancing drug related (or even some unusual blood therapies which Galea was involved) than psychological demons left over from his off-course antics and divorce. But as Bonds and Clemens have shown, athletes and their protectors will deny even long after the court of public opinion has passed judgement.

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Unacceptable Moonlighting By Secretary Chu

We regularly check out the arXiv for papers in the hep- and nucl- branches and once in a while the astro-ph (high energy, nuclear and astro physics respectively). Gr-qc (general relativity/quantum cosmology) not so much, if ever. Which explains why we missed this paper co-authored by a certain Nobel laureate who also happens to be the US Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. The paper came to our attention via the blog Cosmic Variance. The abstract is
Equivalence Principle and Gravitational Redshift

Michael A. Hohensee, Steven Chu, Achim Peters, Holger Mueller

(Submitted on 21 Feb 2011)


We investigate leading order deviations from general relativity that violate the Einstein equivalence principle (EEP) in the gravitational standard model extension (SME). We show that redshift experiments based on matter waves and clock comparisons are equivalent to one another. Consideration of torsion balance tests, along with matter wave, microwave, optical, and M\"ossbauer clock tests yields comprehensive limits on spin-independent EEP-violating SME terms at the $10^{-6}$ level.


We suppose it is interesting if you are involved in atom interferometry and gravity research, perhaps even a significant contribution. Even if all that is true, the inclusion of Dr. Steven Chu in this work (as well as a referenced 2010 paper) is a gross affront on the American public, taxpayers in particular.

Dr. Chu was nominated and accepted his current position as Secretary of Energy in 2009. Prior to this position he was a prominent physicist (after all, he's a Nobel laureate as we have often been reminded by Team Obama) at Stanford University. The Nobel was given jointly and cited his research in developing techniques for the cooling of atoms using lasers such that they could be trapped and stored for further measurements and testing. Great stuff for sure.

Yet, that was Dr. Chu's prior position. He is now employed by the American public and paid a handsome salary and benefits to be Secretary of Energy. This is a very demanding job. The DOE has writ over a vast range of programs - from the safety of nuclear weapons to research labs to domestic energy production. In addition, the Obama administration has placed great emphasis on both energy independence, in particular by renewable energy sources as well as global warming of which energy sources and use are a major factor. The concept of free time is one that just does not apply to Cabinet level positions.

However, it does seem that Dr. Chu has made time to collaborate on various theoretical research topics in general relativity. How much time is any one's guess but any research worth publishing is likely to have represented a fair amount of time - even if Dr. Chu is primarily just reviewing his 'collaborators' work and adding in a few.. ahem.. insights.

This is unacceptable. Let's use a slightly different analogy. Mr. X, who now heads government Agency Y, was a former employee of MegaCorp. He left on good terms and with some projects which were still in progress. While head of Agency Y, Mr. X has continued to help Megacorp complete and perhaps extend those outstanding projects he left behind as he was instrumental in creating the projects and a heavy weight. Megacorp has agreed to pay Mr. X a flat fee for his continued involvement, understanding that he cannot guaranty exactly how much time he will be able to commit to their projects. The work is unrelated to the operational area of Agency Y so there is no issue of influence, kickbacks, etc.

Would the above be acceptable to the public? Or would Mr. X be raked over the Congressional coals? The only difference between Dr. Chu and Mr. X is that Dr. Chu appears to be doing his research free of charge and instead of for Megacorp, the private, not for profit corporation known as Stanford University.

Dr. Chu owes an apology to the American people for using time which should have been spent on the many pressing needs of his Cabinet post on this and other research. In addition, he should state for the record that he will suspend his academic work completely until his term expires or he resigns.

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LHC Restart - Still a Flawed Plan?

Yesterday, the management of the LHC project at CERN announced plans for a restart of the damaged facility later this year. The Geneva press release reads in part:

The new schedule foresees first beams in the LHC at the end of September this year, with collisions following in late October. A short technical stop has also been foreseen over the Christmas period. The LHC will then run through to autumn next year, ensuring that the experiments have adequate data to carry out their first new physics analyses and have results to announce in 2010. The new schedule also permits the possible collisions of lead ions in 2010.

In Chamonix there was consensus among all the technical specialists that the new schedule is tight but realistic.

“The schedule we have now is without a doubt the best for the LHC and for the physicists waiting for data,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “It is cautious, ensuring that all the necessary work is done on the LHC before we start up, yet it allows physics research to begin this year.”

But is the schedule they have now the best for the health of the LHC? We raise this question as it was nearly 20 months ago that we wrote this after the previous magnet faux-pas at CERN:

As we wrote a few months ago (yes, the science column has been getting short shift), the catastrophic failure of the 'inner triplets' in a vacuum test in March would likely delay the startup schedule of the LHC. With a press release this past week, CERN has both denied and confirmed our assessment by keeping the originally planned full startup date of May, 2008 but canceling the initial low-energy test run.

“The low-energy run at the end of this year was extremely tight due to a number of small delays, but the inner triplet problem now makes it impossible,” said LHC Project Leader Lyn Evans. “We’ll be starting up for physics in May 2008, as always foreseen, and will commission the machine to full energy in one go.”

This seems to us a foolish course of action which only serves to make management look 'effective' by keeping to the original full startup date. However, by tossing out the low-energy warm up run CERN risks finding out about more problems the hard way. Prudence suggests that with a machine this complex and costly, caution should be the order of the day and an abbreviated test run should be scheduled to kick the tires before driving the new Porsche off the dealer's lot.

In fact, the ultimate start date was delayed another four months but our fears were well founded as the near full energy runs last fall resulted in significant damage to the collider and at least a one year delay in real physics being done.

Now, we will readily admit to only one brief course ('foray') in beam physics so we don't portend to be even remotely as knowledgeable as those involved in day to day operation of the LHC. However, common sense tells us that this is an extremely complex machine - both in terms of the number of disparate parts as well as its function - and that it is far better to burn two or three months time doing low energy runs than to just flip the switch on full and cross ones fingers, again. Delays due to mechanical failure are incredibly costly, not just because of money spent on repairs but also from the downtime of hundreds, if not thousands, of physicists and technicians. CERN will have wasted over a year because of the events of last September and another similar delay would be devastating coming at a time of budget constraints due to the ongoing world wide economic recession. Well, we'll cross our fingers for you, but perhaps a good old fashioned spirit cleansing is in order:

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Physics Nobel for Symmetry Breaking

Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi, and Toshihide Maskawa have been awarded the Nobel prize in Physics for 2008. This award recognizes their work on issues related to symmetry and spontaneous symmetry breaking in nuclear and particle physics. However, the award comes with quite a bit of controversy for the ommission of Nicola Cabibbo, the 'C' in the CKM (Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa) matrix which describes how quarks change flavor under certain weak decays ('flavor changing'). Cabibbo is in fact noted for his 1963 proposal of θC, a measure which describes the mixing of down and strange quarks under weak interactions.

Kobayashi and Maskawa went on to generalize this idea to all quarks when in the late 1960s and early 1970s theory showed there were three families of quarks totaling six particles. Tommaso Dorigo's A Quantum Diaries Survivor blog has reaction from the Italian INFN to the omission of Cabibbo from the prize. We have to agree - they dropped the ball as the initial idea was clearly his and thus he should have been included.

Nambu's name appears in many areas of nuclear and particle physics. The Nobel was awarded for his work on the mechanism of spontaneous symmetry breaking but he is also known for proposing the color charge of QCD (quantum chromodynamics) as well as massless Nambu-Goldstone bosons which appear in field theories with spontaneous symmetry breaking. This award is for his work in the 1960s which resulted in pions being recognized as the result of spontaneous breaking of an (inexact) axial-vector current symmetry. A more detailed explanation appears midway through this Cern Courier article.

That the Nobel committee recognized this theoretical work is a very good thing but it is sad that it will be tainted by ignoring Cabibbo's contribution.

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Its LHC Day!

Well today is the big day, many years in waiting. Today CERN will turn on the LHC and the earth will be swallowed up by a strangelet. No, just kidding. The LHC should go operational today with 450 GeV test beams for the first time, on its way to 5 Tev beams later this year and ultimately 14 TeV CMS. But rather than recount a list of stats, we refer you to the very accessible CERN LHC faq. It is a pretty amazing device and the four principal detectors Alice, Atlas, CMS and LHCb) are as well. LHCb is said to have the early track at seeing the Higgs boson (mission #1 for the LHC) if it decays in certain unusual ways, such as by neutralinos (also hypothetical). Of course, that would presuppose that Fermilab's Tevatron doesn't see it first. Man that would really, really piss of the EU. Hope they haven't counted our boys out!

Some people will object to the very large price tag (over $6 billion) spent on getting the LHC to this point and we don't disagree that a large amount of coin was spent. However, beyond the scientific merits of the project, LHC and the Tevatron before it bring many tangible benefits to the rest of world. Perhaps most famous is the hypertext transmission protocol (the http of web pages) which was developed at CERN and became what the rest of us call 'the web'. Fermilab pioneered the use of superconducting magnet technology - even after CERN researchers laughed at the idea - and besides use in particle accelerators, the technology is now used in MRI devices. According to the DOE, Robert Marsh, the head of a major alloy supplier, once said that "every program in superconductivity that there is today owes itself in some measure to the fact that Fermilab built the Tevatron and it worked." Other advances have come in the areas of networking, network computing and data processing. The 'Grid' is a widely distributed processing network to analyze the 15 Petabytes of data the LHC will take each year (a CD-ROM every second). Grid computing is now being used for many other research projects.

But this should also be a fun day so we leave you with these videos by some CERN natives called Les Horribles Cernettes (they're good, really!):






If hip-hop is more your thing, check out the Large Hadron Rap:

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Gustav From The Buoys

Mother Nature provides us with another encore opportunity to look at the progression of a hurricane from the weather buoys in the National Data Buoy Center system. These buoys vary considerably in ownership and observational mission. While many are owned by NOAA, others are the property of and/or maintained by regional universities while still others operate off oil and gas drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Most record air pressure, wind speeds, gusts, directions and water temperature. Some only record wind speeds and water currents and directions. Still others are tsunami warning buoys which measure wave heights.

We begin with Buoy 42040, east of the southern tip of LA and about 65 miles south of Dauphin Isle, AL:
Buoy 42040
Buoy 42040 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center


Next, right on that southern tip of LA is Pilots Station East at SW Pass, LA. This buoy recorded the highest wind gusts, just over 100 knots or nearly 120 mph:
Buoy PSTL1
Buoy PSTL1 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center


Slightly further inland and west of Pilots Station East is the NOAA station at Grand Isle, LA:
Buoy GISL1
Buoy GISL1 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center


Moving inland, we first come to the Shell Beach, LA station:
Buoy SHBL1
Buoy SHBL1 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center


and west of that, the Bayou Gauche, LA station which is also run by NOAA:
Buoy BYGL1
Buoy BYGL1 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center


Interestingly, a bit further west, the lowest pressure of 28.50 in Hg was recorded at Amerada Pass, LA:
Buoy AMRL1
Buoy AMRL1 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center


And just to show that a buoy and weather station's job is not an easy one, the buoy station at South Timbalier Block 52 off the south west coast of LA seems to have taken the second half of the day off:
Buoy SPLL1
Buoy SPLL1 Click for full size

Source: National Data Buoy Center

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Have LHC Black Holes Jumped The Shark?

By now many people in the world are aware that CERN is about to commission the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest and bestest ever toy for high energy particle physics. After a problem with some of the magnet assemblies was discovered last year, the time table was pushed back a bit and some preliminary testing plans were reduced or eliminated. By late July, all the beam lime components were at their nominal operating temperature of -271°C and just last week a first test was done to work on synchronizing the injector (SPS or Super Proton Synchrotron) with the LHC. September 10th is the tentative date for the first 'live' circulating beam at 450 GeV with the goal of ramping up to 5 TeV beams for collisions at a center of mass energy of 10 TeV this fall. Fermilab and their search for the Higgs particle is now officially on the clock!

Along the way though there has been considerable hand wringing in the press over the objections of a small number of people (some with physics degrees) who feel that planet earth will be be in great peril if the LHC is operated at full energy and luminosity. Many of these individuals believe that the LHC will create mini-black holes which will, so they claim, swallow the earth. Others also believe that the LHC may be able to create exotic new forms of matter called 'strangelets' which also could interact with ordinary matter on the earth resulting in our doom. Similar complaints were lodged before Brookhaven's RHIC (relativistic heavy ion collider) began operations in 2000. CERN, like BNL, caved into these outrageous speculations and produced detailed reports on the 'risks' of operation and presented them to the public.

Quite a few physics blogs (written by those who have PhD's in high energy physics or related fields) have quite thoroughly explained the issues involved. One of the better ones, generally accessible to lay readers, is by BackReaction with the following posts: one, two, and three.

So it was with befuddled amazement that we heard the LHC and black holes mentioned while listening to the NYC area sports talk radio station, WFAN. A NJ car dealership, Brad Benson Hyundai (Benson was an offensive line star of the NY Giants super bowl team of 1986/7), regulalry runs radio spots with Benson spoofing or otherwise making fun of some topic of current events while extolling the '30% off' his dealership gives on new car sales. Most of the spots make light of politicians and their problems and a few have made it onto YouTube such as this one on Bush or this one on Elliot Spitzer.

Well, Black Hole Strangelet People (BHSP's), you've jumped the shark. Benson just ran an add in which he comments on the possibility of black holes and other weirdness swallowing up the earth when they turn on the LHC this fall while promptly offering a $1,000 "End Of The World " discount so you can enjoy a new car before it is too late. Luckily, I was driving slowly in a low traffic neighborhood as there was a serious risk of my truck having a collision with another car - physics! on the radio! on WFAN!?! LHC??? Hopefully for Brad he only has to pay the discount if CERN actually creates some strangelets or black holes which start eating the earth. (PS - Brad, its pronounced haa-drons, not hey-drons)

Fonzie where are you?

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Are Electric Cars Worth It?

While reading Engadget we came across a post about a car called Think. This is just one of many recently announced electric car projects and we've always wondered.. but how much does it cost to 'fuel it up?' The press on this car (Forbes and the Intl. Herald Trib. have written about it) is very light in this regard, though for the Think we did see a mention of 3c per mile. Well that's at least a start but we are chronic cynics and needed to calculate this for our self.

Using the technical specs available on the Think website, we see that a full charge requires 10 hours of 230 VAC at 14 Amps. This works out to be 32,200 watt hours or 32.2 KiloWatt hours in common units of electricity use. In our area of the Northeast US, 16 cents per KWH is common (though we are told the unweighted national average is about 10c) which equates to $5.15 per complete charge. The Think is said to have a range of 111.85 miles (180Km) for a cost per mile of $0.046. Sounds cheap so far.

Lets compare to a gas powered car getting 40 mpg - there aren't many but they are available. And to make the comparison fair, in addition to the electric bill, we have to add in the "mobility charge". What's that you say? In order to make the purchase price of the Think more attractive, Think has decided to in effect lease the owner the most expensive part, the battery. This runs about $300/month in Europe but is expected to drop closer to $100 as production ramps up. For this analysis, lets go with $150/month.

A typical light driving commuter - to the train station and back 5 days a week and errands on the weekend or someone living in the city driving a few miles a day, 7,500 miles per year is typical (and usually the lowest usage on insurance policies). For this driver, the traditional, high mpg gas car would cost 187.50 gallons, or $750 per year at $4.00/gallon. The Think will run (in the Northeast) about $350 in electricity cost but an additional $1,800 per year in battery fees for a total $2,150 or nearly 3X the operating cost of the gas powered car. Stretching this out to a more common 15,000 miles per year, the Think would run $2,500 total while that old fashioned car comes in at $1,500. The break even comes about 32,500 miles per year! -more-

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CERN Announces Non-delay Delay

As we wrote a few months ago (yes, the science column has been getting short shift), the catastrophic failure of the 'inner triplets' in a vacuum test in March would likely delay the startup schedule of the LHC. With a press release this past week, CERN has both denied and confirmed our assessment by keeping the originally planned full startup date of May, 2008 but canceling the initial low-energy test run.
“The low-energy run at the end of this year was extremely tight due to a number of small delays, but the inner triplet problem now makes it impossible,” said LHC Project Leader Lyn Evans. “We’ll be starting up for physics in May 2008, as always foreseen, and will commission the machine to full energy in one go.”
This seems to us a foolish course of action which only serves to make management look 'effective' by keeping to the original full startup date. However, by tossing out the low-energy warm up run CERN risks finding out about more problems the hard way. Prudence suggests that with a machine this complex and costly, caution should be the order of the day and an abbreviated test run should be scheduled to kick the tires before driving the new Porsche off the dealer's lot.

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LHC Delays Expected

Hmmm...was it just odd coincidence that we post on the ATLAS detector at the LHC only to learn later that night of a significant failure with the beam line? In fact, the event in question happened a few days earlier but news is just now getting around that CERN has a big problem on their hands - as does Fermilab, after the serious (catastrophic?) failure of a three quadrupole magnet set during a high pressure test. As has become the disturbing trend in high energy physics, the latest accelerators and detectors have become multi-country/multi-lab endeavors due to the inability of individual countries to finance these projects on their own. And thus Fermilab is on the hot seat with CERN pointing figures at them because these were magnets designed and assembled in the US. Fermilab has delivered nine of these quadrupole magnets but is also partially on the hook for 18 additional magnets designed and tested by the Japanese lab KEK and final assembled by Fermilab prior to delivery at the LHC.

Initial indications are that there may have been a design oversight which failed to account for asymmetric loads which develop in the support structure holding the magnets inside their super cooling cryostat during a quench. [A quench is when a superconducting magnet suddenly goes 'normal' and releases a large amount of energy in a very short time.] While the engineering plans were reviewed by all parties involved, including CERN, nobody seemed to consider this issue. In addition, Fermilab only tested their magnets individually and not as part of the final triplet assembly (probably due to costs if we were to guess).

That the problem appears to be with the support structure and not the magnets themselves is a good thing. But it is hard to believe this will not result in at least a many month, if not year or more, delay for the LHC. Even if the existing structures can be used with only minor modification, engineering reviews will need to be made and modifications and testing done to all 27 of these quadrupole triplets. That won't be happening overnight. The official announcement (via Fermilab) is here.

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ATLAS Detector at LHC

As many of you know, 2007/2008 will be an exciting time for particle physics in Europe as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) starts to come on line. However, few people outside of the particle physics community ever set foot inside one these colliders - there aren't many of them and work takes precedence over public touring. And even when one does have the chance to sneak a peak, each facility is different. A trip in the mid 90s to Fermilab was interesting but ultimately under whelming as not much of the 'good stuff' was available, unlike a similar trip to Brookhaven where one could see up close the detectors, beam line and control rooms (picture below of the STAR detector at BNL).
STAR_3.jpg
STAR Detector at BNL Click for full size


From the physics blog Backreaction comes notice that CERN now has a live webcam following the construction of the ATLAS detector, the largest at the LHC and probably in the world. In addition there are some 360 ° views of the detector cavern and beam line (requires quicktime) which allow the user to zoom and pan all around. Almost like being there!

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More Space Junk

As if the Chinese ASAT test last month wasn't enough, word comes today from SpaceWeather.com that Australia was treated to a spectacular display last night - of a very bright explosion and a resulting cloud of debris which was visible for almost an hour. The explosion was a "major breakup event" of an old Russian Briz-M rocket booster travelling in the wrong orbit since last year after it failed to launch of a communications satellite. When more is known on the amount of debris and orbit we'll post an update.

Update 3/27/07: In a somewhat related event, a Lan Chile A340 flying to Aukland, NZ narrowly escaped being destroyed by the apparent early de-orbiting of a Russian satellite with debris raining down within five miles of the flight.
According to a plane spotter, who was tuning into a high frequency radio broadcast at the time, the pilot "reported that the rumbling noise from the space debris could be heard over the noise of the aircraft. "He described he saw a piece of debris lighting up as it re-entered (the earth's atmosphere). He was one very worried pilot, as you would imagine."

Airways New Zealand had been warned by Russian authorities almost two weeks ago that a satellite would be entering the earth's atmosphere sometime today between 10.30am and midday NZ time (6.30-8am WA time). Airways New Zealand then provided that information to airlines and pilots that would be travelling in that region at that time. They could then decide for themselves whether they wished to fly during that period. "But clearly there has been a timing issue," the spokesman said. Source: thewest.com.au


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