Archive for November 2007
I went to get a pork roast for sandwiches because I picked up some discontinued mustards at Safeway: walnut mustard, tarragon mustard, and Roquefort mustard. The butcher didn’t have any pork roasts on display, so I described what I wanted: about this size, no bones, roast to refrigerate for sandwiches. This is at the Grove Market in PG—the Quonset hut—where they have good butchers and particularly good pork.
He nodded, walked into the cooler, and came out with a plastic-wrapped side of pork about the size of my grandson. The older one. “Is that the smallest you have?” I asked in a quavering voice. He laughed, cut away the plastic, started up the bandsaw, and soon had me a wonderful little pork roast.
In the meantime, the short, stocky standing-rib roast (one rib) was eyeing me (though The Wife says I’m mistaken—it was the rib-eye that was eying me. Chortle. (Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) invented that word: a portmanteau word of “snort” and “chuckle”.)) So I got that as well, and cooked it this evening according to the Cook’s Illustrated method — no horseradish sauce, but I did use Maldon salt.
And, for the first time, I got a box of wine, a Shiraz. It’s quite good, and I really like the packaging. It’s the ideal way for me to get white wines, since I can keep them cold and use them a little at a time. Great innovation.
I was recently reading a very interesting article in Science News, and came across this part of it. (The payoff sentence is at the end, but bear with me.)
When physicists smash heavy atomic nuclei together with sufficient energy, the atoms’ protons and neutrons break up. For less than a sextillion of a second they melt into a blob called a quark-gluon plasma. It’s similar to the state of all matter in the first microseconds after the big bang.
Beginning in 2000, Dam Son, now at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his collaborators wanted to calculate a quark-gluon plasma’s viscosity—roughly speaking, a measure of how quickly the plasma will dampen turbulence within it. In principle, one should be able to do such calculations using the known equations of particle physics. When quarks are not bound together, though, those equations become extremely hard to solve.
But in a quark-gluon plasma, quarks will experience extremely intense forces, whose strength does not vary appreciably as the particles move. That makes the plasma’s behavior a good approximation of the conformal field theory that rules Maldacena’s sphere at infinity. Starting from that assumption, Son showed that Maldacena’s duality translates the physics of plasma turbulence into that of black hole earthquakes.
A gravitational disturbance, Son says, will alter a black hole’s shape, which is otherwise that of a perfect sphere. In response, the black hole will “oscillate, radiate energy, and settle down to be spherical again.” Son and his collaborators calculated how quickly the seismic waves on the black hole’s surface will dampen down. Translated back, the calculation suggested that the viscosity of a quark-gluon plasma could be much smaller than physicists thought possible.
Initially, some nuclear physicists were nonplussed, to say the least, about the idea of doing nuclear physics using black holes. “The first time I heard about it, I literally thought it was crazy,” says William Zajc of Columbia University in New York City.
In 2005, however, physicists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., announced the results of an experiment that collided nuclei of gold atoms, melting them into a quark-gluon plasma (SN: 4/23/05, p. 259). The stuff’s viscosity seemed close to Son’s prediction, says Larry McLerran, a RHIC (pronounced “rick”) experimentalist.
Many physicists working at RHIC—Zajc being one of them—changed their minds about Son’s calculation. “It’s far more useful than we ever imagined,” he says. “The fact that it was done in some higher-dimensional space and it involved black holes—well, that just added to the intrigue.”
Since then, some of the RHIC physicists have revisited certain theoretical assumptions used to interpret the experiment’s data. As a result, some say it’s no longer so clear that the viscosity is as low as Son claimed it could be. Not everyone buys the black hole model of a quark-gluon plasma. “It’s certainly interesting, but you have to be very skeptical about it,” he says.
Get that? Although the statement is interesting and seems at first blush to work, one must be skeptical about it. In other words, more evidence is demanded. It must be justified by actual observations and experiments. It is not simply accepted.
Very refreshing. And no wonder this country is frightened of science—the last thing the ruling establishment wants is skeptical citizens.
Two weeks ago, we challenged our readers to see if they could discern the difference between MP3 recordings at different sampling rates. Nearly 700 completed our study. So does a very high sampling rate result in a noticeable difference? Here our are basic results:
Respondents rated two recordings, one by rock guitarist Carlos Santana, and another by orchestral composer Aaron Copland. Each recording was encoded into an MP3 file at three different sampling rates: 64, 128, and 256 kbps. For both recordings, there was a significant difference between ratings of the 64 kbps sampling rate and the 128 kbps sampling rate, but no difference between ratings of the 128 and 256 kbps sampling rate. It’s looking like the 256 kbps MP3s offer no advantage over the much smaller 128 kbps MP3s.
For decades, the tobacco industry has poured advertising dollars into boosting smoking among women, running ads linking smoking to themes that appeal to women, like fashion, equal rights, ethnic pride, and success in friendships and the workplace. Their efforts have been a wild success, as evidenced by the skyrocketing rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) now being diagnosed among women. COPD, which results from smoking and takes decades to develop, has quadrupled among women since 1980. Now more women than men are hospitalized and die from it. With more women than ever dying from cigarettes, tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds forge ahead, targeting special brands towards women, like Camel No. 9, marketed in packs colored with hot-pink fuschia and minty-green teal, and marketed with the slogan, “Light and luscious.” Mmmm, good — if you like lung disease.
A commenter who has decided to quit the blog once was quite scathing (in the comments to this post) to my point about the incredible secrecy practiced by the Bush Administration, so different from the Clinton Administration, which was quite open and frequently allowed advisers and other Administration officials to be questioned by Congress. He basically didn’t buy it.
But Bill Keller, in a lecture in London, had some remarks on this point:
My assignment tonight is to talk about the state of newspapers in America. No doubt you have read that newspapers, at least in my country, are beleaguered. That is undeniable. Let me count the ways.
To begin with, we have endured nearly seven years of the most press-phobic government in a couple of generations. I don’t intend to blame the plight of the newspaper business on George Bush. He did not invent our great disrupter, the internet. (That, you recall, was Al Gore.) The Bush administration has merely fed a current of public antipathy that has been running against us for a long time, a consequence of our own failings and, perhaps, a tendency to blame the messenger when news is bad. But Mr Bush has contributed to that unwelcoming environment in at least two significant ways.
First, he has rejected out of hand the quaint idea of our founders that the press has a constructive role to play in American society, and that this role consists in supplying citizens with the information to judge whether they are being well served by their government. The Bush administration believes that information is power, and that like most other forms of power it is not to be shared with those the regime does not trust. It most decidedly does not trust us.
Whatever you think of its policies, the current administration has been more secretive, more mistrustful of an inquisitive press, than any since the Nixon administration. It has treated freedom of information requests with contempt, asserted sweeping claims of executive privilege, even reclassified material that had been declassified. The administration has subsidised propaganda at home and abroad, refined the art of spin, discouraged dissent, and sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review. The war in Iraq alone is a case study of the administration’s determination to dominate the flow of information – from the original cherry-picking of intelligence, to the deliberate refusal to hear senior military officers when they warned of the potential for chaos, to the continually inflated claims about the progress in building up an indigenous Iraqi army.
Much more at the link.
The sardines seem to be back, and Whole Foods regularly now has fresh Monterey Bay sardines. I got four of the little guys for lunch—good size, each weighing about 2 oz. I just poached them in water, put lemon juice over them, a little salt, and then used the fork to fillet them as I ate. Very yummy, very high in omega-3.
Other exciting news: I saw a Smart Car driving around Pacific Grove, and the new Trader Joe’s near downtown Monterey opened today. I like TJ’s—for example, I consume a lot of ground cinnamon. Little spice jars of ground cinnamon at Safeway: $4.49. At TJ’s: $1.69. Same stuff, so far as I can tell, and certainly the same size jars.
“Compassionate conservatism” seems to be over, if it ever existed. Joe Klein (yes, that one) writes, though this time from his own direct observations:
I attended Frank Luntz’s dial group of 30 undecided–or sort of undecided–Republicans in St. Petersburg, Florida, last night…and it was a fairly astonishing evening.
Now, for the uninitiated: dials are little hand-held machines that enable a focus group member to register instantaneous approval or disapproval as the watch a candidate on TV. There are limitations to the technology: all a candidate has to do is mention, say, Abraham Lincoln and the dials go off into the stratosphere. Film of soaring eagles will have the same effect. But the technology does have its uses.
Last night, for example, it was apparent from the get-go that Rudy Giuliani was having a very bad night. Mitt Romney clearly got the better of him in the opening debate about illegal immigration. Romney’s dial numbers hovered in the 60s (on a scale of 100) while Giuliani (40s) seemed defensive, members of the focus group later said…and they thought Romney seemed strong, even when defending his Sanctuary Mansion. (I mean, if you care about illegal immigrants–which I don’t understand in the first place, because I don”t–shouldn’t you check the people working your lawn and, if you have doubts, hire another company?)
In the next segment–the debate between Romney and Mike Huckabee over Huckabee’s college scholarships for the deserving children of illegal immigrants–I noticed something really distressing: When Huckabee said, “After all, these are children of God,” the dials plummeted. And that happened time and again through the evening: Any time any candidate proposed doing anything nice for anyone poor, the dials plummeted (30s). These Republicans were hard.
But there was worse to come: When John McCain started talking about torture–specifically, about waterboarding–the dials plummeted again. Lower even than for the illegal Children of God. Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. “I don’t have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly. …
More at the link.