Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 22nd, 2015

Visions of Future Physics

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Fascinating article by Natalie Wolchover in Quanta:

Get Nima Arkani-Hamed going on the subject of the universe — not difficult — and he’ll talk for as many minutes or hours as it takes to transport you to the edge of human understanding, and then he’ll talk you past the edge, beyond Einstein, beyondspace-time and quantum mechanics and all those tired tropes of 20th-century physics, to a spectacular new vision of how everything works. It will seem so simple, so lucid. He’ll remind you that, in 2015, it’s still speculative. But he’s convinced that, someday, the vision will come true.

On the strength of the torrent of ideas he has produced over the past 20 years — he won the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 “for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes” — Arkani-Hamed, 43, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., is widely considered one of the best theoretical physicists working today. Colleagues point to his knack for simplifying impossibly complex problems, as well as his exceptional mathematical ability, creativity, instincts and vast knowledge of physics. “Nima is amazing in every component of talent space,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical particle physicist at Stanford University.

But while many top physicists shy away from stagecraft, Arkani-Hamed functions, colleagues say, as a “messiah,” a “Pied Piper,” an “impresario.” Arms in motion and dark hair spilling to his shoulders, he weaves together calculations, thought experiments and historical precedents into narratives, confidently outlining chapters to come. His listeners range from graduate students to Nobel Prize winners. “He keeps coming up with the goods, and his persuasiveness is hypnotic,” said Raman Sundrum, a theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park, “so a lot of people follow where he leads.”

Arkani-Hamed’s mission — simple to state, but so all-consuming that he barely sleeps — is to understand the universe. “I don’t feel I have any time to lollygag, at all,” he said this summer in Princeton. This obsession takes him in several directions, but in recent years one question about the universe has come to preoccupy him, along with the field as a whole. Particle physicists seek to know whether the properties of the universe are inevitable, predictable, “natural,” as they say, locking together into a sensible pattern, or whether the universe is extremely unnatural, a peculiar permutation among countless other, more mundane possibilities, observed for no other reason than that its special conditions allow life to arise. A natural universe is, in principle, a knowable one. But if the universe is unnatural and fine-tuned for life, the lucky outcome of a cosmic roulette wheel, then it stands to reason that a vast and diverse “multiverse” of universes must exist beyond our reach — the lifeless products of less serendipitous spins. This multiverse renders our universe impossible to fully understand on its own terms.

As things stand, the known elementary particles, codified in a 40-year-old set of equations called the “Standard Model,” lack a sensible pattern and seem astonishingly fine-tuned for life. Arkani-Hamed and other particle physicists, guided by their belief in naturalness, have spent decades devising clever ways to fit the Standard Model into a larger, natural pattern. But time and again, ever-more-powerful particle colliders have failed to turn up proof of their proposals in the form of new particles and phenomena, increasingly pointing toward the bleak and radical prospect thatnaturalness is dead.

Still, many physicists, Arkani-Hamed chief among them, seek a more definitive answer. And right now, his quest to answer the naturalness question leads through China. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Science

This free online encyclopedia has achieved what Wikipedia can only dream of

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Nikhil Sonnad writes in Quartz:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy may be the most interesting website on the internet. Not because of the content—which includes fascinating entries on everything from ambiguity to zombies—but because of the site itself.

Its creators have solved one of the internet’s fundamental problems: How to provide authoritative, rigorously accurate knowledge, at no cost to readers. It’s something the encyclopedia, or SEP, has managed to do for two decades.

The internet is an information landfill. Somewhere in it—buried under piles of opinion, speculation, and misinformation—is virtually all of human knowledge. But sorting through the trash is difficult work. Even when you have something you think is valuable, it often turns out to be a cheap knock-off.

The story of how the SEP is run, and how it came to be, shows that it is possible to create a less trashy internet—or at least a less trashy corner of it. A place where actual knowledge is sorted into a neat, separate pile instead of being thrown into the landfill. Where the world can go to learn everything that we know to be true. Something that would make humans a lot smarter than the internet we have today.

The impossible trinity of information

The online SEP has humble beginnings. Edward Zalta, a philosopher at Stanford’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, launched it way back in September 1995, with just two entries. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Books, Education, Technology

Fascinating story from a wrong turn in life

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The headline is “Jeff Smith was supposed to be in Congress by now. Instead he’s an ex-con — with a story to tell.” Worth reading the Washington Post article by Ben Terris. From the article:

. . . But Smith also found prison to be a land of untapped potential, of witty banter and life lessons. The most important thing he learned: stop obsessing about the people who put you there.

“You can’t do time like that,” a man nicknamed KY told him. “Your boy with the wire, man, you can’t even think about the [expletive]. It’ll make you crazy.”

So Smith threw himself into prison life as best he could. He stole vegetables from the warehouse to participate in the underground economy, a system that convinced Smith that his fellow convicts were no different from “business students at Wharton,” just using different lingo and pushing different products.

If there was a villain in Smith’s story, it was the system that was built to beat them down.

“Indeed, upon closer inspection one might say that mass incarceration isn’t the product of a system that is broken but rather the result of a well-oiled machine,” he wrote. He calls out an industry that he says relies on ex-cons cycling back to prison, that would rather teach inmates how to grow tomatoes than offer them business classes, and makes it extremely difficult to maintain ties to family on the outside. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 1:14 pm

One of the better bromance spy thriller comedies: Secret Reunion

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Extremely well done, and watchable on Amazon Prime Streaming. Good Korean movies are, I find, really good movies.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Game design for video games

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Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.32.44 AM

The Son has a new book out, using what he has learned in several years of teaching game design (and many more years of playing games and programming games). It looks good to me, but of course I’m his father and possibly not objective.

If you’re interested in this subject, take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 10:35 am

Great shave, mostly Canadian

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SOTD 22 Sept 2015

Very fine shave this morning, the second in the alcoholic beverage series, today using Mickey Lee Soapworks The Drunken Goat, whose fragrance to my nose is indeed very beer-like, and indeed very Guiness-Stout-like. I easily made a fine lather with my new brush from The Copper Hat of Victoria BC, and with the stainless Stealth I had no trouble achieving a BBS result.

A good splash of Anthony Gold’s remarkably good Red Cedar aftershave, also from The Copper Hat, and the day begins with a trip to the PO to ship two boxes of soaps.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 9:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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