Sunday, 15 July 2012

Higgs Boson

Little bit late with this, but it seems they have confirmed the existence of the Higg's Boson at CERN. Note that haven't discovered it, it has been there all along, but for various technical reasons it is very hard to see.

However most of the reporting of this event seems to be quite poor at explaining what the fuss is about. The Higgs Field was postulated to explain how other particles obtain mass, which is fair enough. But as far as I can see they really mean inertia, or possibly inertial mass. This is not actually too difficult to grasp, if you push against an object its quite hard to get it moving. This is because the object in some sense is dragging against the Higgs Field. This is the phenomenon known as inertia. Note however, this simplistic explanation struggles to explain why things keep moving once they start - dragging against a field ought to mean that once the force is no longer applied they ought to slow down again, but they don't. So not the perfect description but it gets you started.

However mass apparently comes in two forms - inertial and gravitational. Whilst the Higgs Field seems to give a quantum explanation of inertial mass it says nothing at all about gravitational mass. In fact as I understand it theorists are nowhere near a quantum theory of gravity. Why is this important? Well as far as we can see gravitational and inertial mass are identical. Surely the explanation of one must say something about the other?

As for an application, well that's very hard to see. People argue that when Thomson discovered the electron no-one envisaged modern electronics, so perhaps there will be applications to come, but its still hard to see what they might be for the Higgs field. The one obvious application is to find a way to neutralise the field. This would have the effect of removing inertia from mass; the effect of this could be profound, for example immense speeds may be possible without violating relativity. On the other hand all chemical action, including life, may cease as well! Not so useful, still you could do something like send a probe to the centre of the galaxy, let it take photos then bring it back. All in a few days, not bad really. And whilst we're thinking about this, I should add that such a device has already been proposed. Sadly in fiction only, but its called a Bergenholm, after the scientist who perfected it, based on the work of Rodebush and Cleveland who's inertialess drive worked but was unpleasant to use. To find out more, read the Lensman series of books by EE "Doc" Smith.

On the other hand, perhaps neutralising inertia might stop the flow of entropy. For an exploration of that see Larry Niven's stories.

And a final point - perhaps the reason things don't slow down in the Higgs Field they way they don't speed up is that somehow particles don't react with the field under certain circumstances, such as when an accelerating force is removed. This may be the clue to stopping particles reacting with the field at all. If true, remember you read it here first.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Some musings #2

How smart is Tony Blair..?

Well judging by their university results, Tony Blair is about as smart as Nick Griffin. Who should be the most worried about that?

The DNA Database

It seems an individual who had his DNA entered into the database, then went all the way to the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg to have it removed (on the grounds that he was acquitted of the charge that lead to his DNA being sampled in the first place, not to mention the fact that he was only 11) has now been convicted of several other offences including possession of drugs.

Not surprisingly the police are claiming that this supports the current position that anyone arrested should have their DNA sampled and stored in the database, but equally unsurprisingly this exposes a lack of analytic ability. The facts of this case mainly, and quite clearly, show that the detection of this individual's further crimes or alleged crimes did not depend on having his DNA on the database at all.

The police presumption is clearly that anyone who commits one crime will commit more. Actually there is considerable statistical evidence to support this, however this isn't the basis on which DNA samples are taken (in England at least).

If it was the case that DNA samples were taken from those convicted then there would be few to oppose this, however it isn't even the case that samples are taken from those charged, they are taken from anyone who is even arrested! Therefore the actual police presumption is that anyone arrested will be a criminal, if not for the alleged crime that lead to the arrest, but for some future crime and therefore it is only sensible to take their DNA in order to detect future crimes.

What clearer example of guilt until proven innocence could there be?!

Of course in some cases the police will be right, but we do not have, and can never have, a perfect justice system. Our constitution is based on the presumption of innocence and the recognition that it is better to let the guilty go free than to convict the innocent. The DNA policy must reflect this.

Harriet Harman the sexist!

Is Harriet Harman a sexist..? Well as Equalities Minister you'd really hope not, but this pronouncement, as reported in the Telegraph (which to be fair is hardly one of her supporters) casts considerable doubt on this hope:


Here she says that, "Men cannot be left to run things on their own." The point she is trying to make is that there should be a mix of the sexes in the leadership (specifically the Labour Party leadership), which seems reasonable. However if you swap the wording of her statement we get: "Women cannot be left to run things on their own."

Now if any man said this I think it would be fair to accuse him of sexism, therefore the equivalent statement by a woman must be equally sexist. In other words this pronouncement of Harman's is sexist.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Is the BNP racist?

Is the BNP racist..? Well, probably, but to answer properly I'd need to actually research their policies and pronouncements, and I care too little about the BNP to do so. Are there racists within the BNP? Almost certainly I'd say. Does the BNP not allow non-whites to join? Apparently so. Does this in itself make the party racist? And there's the difficult question, many commentators would just say "yes", as if it was self evident, but actually it isn't.

And this is where we get into serious trouble, because this is something Nick Griffin knows as well. And this is why the BNP cannot be written off entirely, you see Nick Griffin is actually quite bright (for a politician, there is a different intelligence scale for politicians, so one has to keep perspective here). Considering the shower that is New Labour, Nick Griffin is up there amongst the brightest of them (with a 2:2 no less!), and when it comes to saying things you believe despite what others think, Nick Griffin can teach an awful lot of politicians a thing or too.

So why do I eulogise him so? Well partly to emphasise how dumb most of our politicians are, but partly because of a point he made to Jon Humphries in a Today programme interview. When challenged about the whites-only policy of the BNP, he replied that this would not be a challenge put to the Black Police Officers' Association, who don't allow white policemen to join (as I understand it, and a point largely ignored by Humphries). And indeed he is right, and this exposes the weakness surrounding most thinking on race in current political life.

Why is the BPOA not racist but the BNP is? The common answer to this is that it is OK to be discriminatory if you are the minority (which is the central assumption that I challenge). Because the BPOA has "black" in the title, we know they are of the minority and therefore it's OK. Conversely the fictitious White Police Officers Association is racist. What nonsense!

Lets do an experiment, take the "clue is in the name" aspect out of it, and create two police officers' associations: the "Tetraphone" Police Officers' Association (TPOA) and the "Quadrulike" Police Officers' Association (QPOA - I hope it's clear I've made those names up). Each association bars policemen of a certain race from joining, or restricts its membership to those of a certain race. Which I ask you is the racist association? Thing is, either both are, or neither are.

New Labour

This is a point made by others, and probably better made too, but what better emblem of New Labour is there than their ineffectual plotting against Gordon Brown? If ever we doubted their incompetence, now we know for sure. As one cartoonist expressed it, James Purnell headed out the door shouting "follow me", only to hear the door slam behind him as various ministers looked to self interest rather than country or even party.

And then there were earlier manoeuvrings, notably of course Hazel Blears. Having made a point of opposing GB, with a one newspaper interview in particular, then actually resigning (which, to be fair, puts her ahead of various others), she now has recanted the whole thing. This isn't like some long regretted act of violence, like the repentant murderer released after spending the majority of his adult life in prison. This contrition has come in un-seeming haste, prompted by her local party who are blaming her for the electoral success of the British National Party and threatening to de-select her as a consequence.

So which way is it for Ms Blears? Was she wrong then, when she spoke out against GB, or wrong now? Is she a malcontent and incompetent plotter, or more than normally self-interested? Either option isn't much in the way of a compliment, but the more worrying aspect is that this behaviour is pretty much par for the New Labour course, and even more worrying, these people were, and still are, running the country!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A whole new experience

There's a line in a Blackadder episode (Blackadder II I think, where he's captured by a Hugh Laurie character). The eponymous Edmund says to Baldrick:
"Thank you for introducing me to a whole new experience, being pleased to see you!"
This week I have had a similar, wholly new, experience: being disappointed in Gerry Adams.

No one who knows, or knows of, Gerry Adams would doubt either his abilities or his commitment to his particular cause and in fact for anyone on the counter-insurgency side of life, rather than the insurgent side, to underestimate him would be a serious mistake. Like some others in his cause (but by no means all) he has attracted from those who oppose him what would ordinarily be called a "grudging respect", so it is with some regret that we learn that he's been claiming dubious expenses from the British taxpayer just like the rest of them.

Of course Sinn Fein see it differently, but that's only to put them in the same boat as all the others. Secondary home allowance is there to pay the additional costs of keeping a home in or near Westminster, but if you're an abstentionist this is hardly necessary. Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats because they refuse to take the oath of loyalty to the Queen. Which is fair enough, in itself, but you can't have it both ways. If our Queen isn't good enough for you then our money shouldn't be either.