Sunday, November 20, 2011

Neutrinos faster than light: Einstein would love it

**IF** CERN is right, Einstein would love it. A lot.

Today's theoreticians have troubles with this result because they have (mostly) become overcommitted to a narrow class of models which some of us would call quasilinear. That's partly because of the very abstract ways they try to formulate quantum mechanics, which Einstein objected to enormously. If the laws of the universe obey Einstein's special relativity, but are NOT quasilinear, the vacuum speed of light need not be an absolute limit in regions like earth which are not vacuum. Working with Infeld in his later years, Einstein worked hard to try to explore the possibilities of a new nonquasilinear theory of gravity (beyond general relativity which is nonquasilinear but limited in some ways), and to find empirical data to help choose among the many possibilities. He would rejoice to hear of it.

Let me try to explain this again another way. Einstein claimed that the laws of the universe, the true "theory of everything," could be expressed as a set of nonlinear partial differential equations (PDE). Most physicists now believe that it's impossible that things could be so simple, because they couldn't figure out how to explain some basic experiments, like the "Bell's Theorem" experiments, with that kind of theory. But I could. In the International Journal for Theoretical Physics in 2008,
I showed how one can reconcile these experiments with Einstein's viewpoint. In fact, empirical data has already shown us that the usual "Copenhagen" version of quantum mechanics taught in school today is clearly wrong. See .

Einstein's theory of special relativity says that these PDE obey a certain symmetry relation, called Lorentz or Poincare symmetry. (Those are not exactly the same, but I don't want to get TOO technical here.)

Mathematicians have proved that information cannot flow faster than the speed of light in forward time, in universes governed by PDE which are "quasilinear," meaning that
the terms which have the most derivatives in them must be linear. The nonlinearity is just in lower-level interaction terms. But Einstein was interested in looking for new
nonquasilinear theories to his dying day...


What about HUMANS traveling faster than light, across the vacuum of space?

In my view, most "modern' discussions of this issue are about as trustworthy
as discussions by ancient Egyptian scholars in 2000BC discussing the possibility of television, radio and cell phones. We need to learn a whole lot of other stuff first before it could be even close to real. Yet we don't know enough to say it is impossible. Even general relativity (which would rule out the CERN neutrinos)
does admit of "Alcubierre" solutions which would allow FTL travel, under certain
problematic conditions. A new, more refined physics (both for space bending
ala CERN's results and for nuclear forces) might well allow more feasible solutions.
But we would have to rediscover the scientific method to have hope of getting there..
not to mention surviving the next few years,

Saturday, November 12, 2011

solar flares as 2012 panic

Here is Post an email I sent back in April to technically serious people, about
the fear that solar flares (or more nefarious) things could "end civilization as we know it." The bottom line is that the risk is quite real, and I basically agree with the Republican Congressman who reviews all the big threats... and views this as the biggest in the near term. It is also a threat easily reduced... but through sheer bureaucratic inertia and silliness we really could get ourselves killed this way.

Details follow.


The Energy Infrastructure Security Summit (EISS) held on Monday and Tuesday was
unusually information-rich and informative. I owe you some quick summary.

Congressman Trent Franks (R-Texas), the host began by noting that the committee he serves on gets
briefed on ALL of the scariest threats confronting the US, half in classified briefings.
He regards the impact of EMP on the power grid as the most important and scariest
of all of them, and considers it his top priority. He is not alone. Congresswoman
Yvette Clarke (D-NY) solidly agreed, and acted like co-host of the meeting. They noted that their bill
last year passed the House UNANIMOUSLY (!), and died in the Senate by only one vote, due
to jurisdictional issues rather than substance.

Months ago, I expressed some concern about the numbers I had heard from the National Academy of Sciences 9NAS)
report on this issue -- like $1-2 trillion worth of damage in case we have another "one in a century" event.

Knowing more now than I did then -- I **MOSTLY** understated the challenge and the need and possibility for immediate action,
but I really did overstate one of the key variables, which I need to correct.

One of the obvious questions is: "What is the probability of a solar storm in the 2012-2015 time period so intense
that it would fit what NAS assumes for $1-2 trillion of damage, if we do not harden the grid?"

A few months back, I cited a space weather workshop where opinion was divided by about 50-50. But at this summit,
they presented the raw data and primary analysis. (The head of NOAA spoke, and then introduced Thomas Bogdan,
Director of their Space Weather Prediction Center -- just one of the speakers who gave important data and affirmed the seriousness
of the problem. By the way, Avi Schnurr, the EISS coordinator, said that a complete video record
will be available within about six weeks on their web site.) They discussed the 1859 "Carrington event" and the large 1921
solar storm, as reference points. Just by naked eyeball of the various graphs, and by putting together what they said,
I would now guess something like a 20% probability of an event like 1921 and 10% of an event like Carrington
in the 2012-2015 cycle. And that is certainly very crude. A more serious estimate would be possible... but I don't
think we have one yet. (I heard just one guy with more confidence, but holes in his logic.) In fact, one of the
major action items is some improvement in the solar weather information. I was intrigued by the idea of how NASA's
new STEREO solar observing satellites might be used to get a better fix on some
of these general probabilities -- which is different from providing fast warning to earth; both are desirable.

It was clear at the meeting, as in prior discussions here, that different people are violently attached to different definitions of what
"EMP" actually means. The Congressional EMP Commission basically defined it as any large electromagnetic surge,
natural or man-made, which threatens our society. Others define it only as man-made, as weapons.
Personally, I would like to follow the Commissions usage, because it seems to me that the words "electromagnetic pulse"
are pretty explicit.

A key question is: what does it take to harden the grid to an acceptable degree against all three kinds of EMP threat --
the kinds of surges called "E1" (superfast), "E2" (like lightning) and "E3" (less intense but more prolonged, as with solar storms)?
And there is also an issue that there may be less warning with some threats than with others.

Some speakers on the second day appeared to say that we should harden the grid only against solar storms and lightning
(E2 and E3 with advanced warning), since the grid is part of the civilian economy, and man-made threats are under
the jurisdiction of DOD and DHS, and perhaps not really so serious. But other talks convinced me that the man-made threats
are also a serious concern. Congresswoman Clarke applauded the speaker who compared the power grid to the interstate highway system,
and pointed out how Eisenhower made sure it was efficient for its civilian purpose but also had a few additional low-cost features
of great importance to national security in certain scenarios. A speaker from Advanced Fusion Systems (AFS not a nuclear fusion company!)
noted the principle of Pareto optimality -- how we get much more protection overall if we efficiently combine our concerns. In this
case combining means hardening against E1, E2 AND E3 ... and thinking hard about the warning and operator training issues.

The present default game plan is that NERC will develop new reliability standards which include hardening the grid,
which FERC will certify, with lots of inputs from EPRI, represented at this meeting by John Houston of Centerpoint Energy.
He and Kapperman (of the recent EMP Commission) and AFS were the only speakers, as best I recall, that got into real EE
details, which will be essential to keep this from degenerating into another stakeholder's bait and switch operation (a phenomenon
which has become all to prevalent here in DC, in my personal view, in what I have seen.). (Reminder: nothing I post here
is the official viewpoint of NSF or anyone else.) Two key people -- Congresswoman Clarke and Peter Pry (former CIA
guy and Bartlett staffer, behind a lot of the Congressional interest) -- expressed great concerns about the delays
which still might occur if there is not some additional determination and technical oversight of some kind.

Kapperman may well be behind the estimate that $100-200 million and "existing technology" are enough to harden at least the 200-300
biggest high voltage transformers. (That's maybe about 40% of the problem, but it would make a huge difference in trying to restart
if one of these events occurred.) The "existing technology" is a way of combining familiar circuit elements, described in detail in the
Commission report, for which they gave out copies on DVD. Kapperman said that the key hardware will actually become available off the shelf
in a ready-to-go package from Advanced Fusion Systems (which sounds like a company founded to start implementing the Commission recommendations)
going into manufacturing, available circa December of this year. Houston stressed the need for testing. It sounds as if the most
important really physical action needed now is to begin the tests which would provide enough confidence to start deploying this stuff
(per "retrofit") on the grid as soon as possible. The Congressfolk and Commissioner LaFleur from FERC (the official FERC leader
on this issue and reliability in general) all stressed that they want a useful degree of hardening to begin as soon as possible, without waiting
for "the last data point" or for the perfect solution.

Of course, I do hope that a stream is created to develop the best technology possible for the whole spectrum here,
but it seems clear that we should not allow that to delay what is most urgent here. Parallel tracks of effort are called for.

So that's pretty much the story, at this level. I haven't really studied the thousands of pages of material, and there is certainly
a lot I still have to learn about this stuff -- but at least the pdf is refined and convolved compared with what it was here just
a few months back.

Just for your amusement -- James Woolsey was also one of the important speakers, and there were a number of interesting converstaions in the
hallways with various kinds of intel folks. Circa 20 nations were represented -- most visibly the UK, represented for example
by the MP in charge of THEIR defense select committee. The head of the Swedish grid deplored how few people understand just how
urgent and critical this issue is. There was a talk by the CEO of EnergySec, which works with electric utilities on cybersecurity,
who agreed with most of the speakers that EMP is a bigger threat to the grid than cybersecurity issues, at least if we look ahead a year
or more. Of course, he and many others would support an "all hazards" approach which also includes cybersecurity -- but that's what
the House tried last year, which they had to cut back on because of turf wars.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Primary elections put the notion of reality into question

I don't really believe in the Tibetan Buddhist view of life, but it has a way
of seeping in at times. And I admit to a bit of uncertainty, as a matter of principle.

Actually, I associate the high Tibeta view with Swedenborg and Joel Whitton's Life Between Life.

They would say that reality appears so tough and hard yielding to our thoughts when we just think alone -- but consensus reality can change when millions of people slip in and out together, and create reality out of thoughts embedded in their subconscious minds.

The Republican primary elections really remind me of that a whole lot. In fact,
the 2008 primaries also stressed my sense of reality. Maybe I should start at the beginning.

At first, in 2008, I wondered whether we were seeing a collective re-enactment of
the "Wizard of Oz." There went Hilary (Dorothy) dancing down that yellow brick road paved with gold, basically happy and friendly with her friends the scarecrow (Obama) and the cowardly lion (McCain). It did unnerve me a bit when the tornado came down on that house in Clinton Arkansas in the middle of the primaries, and I saw on TV news...
two red slippers they found under the house, which looked to me just like the ones in the old movie.

But then McCain did not like the casting. It did not satisfy his pride.
So he (and others?) changed the channel to Beowulf, which was just then coming around in 3D, with Angelina Jolie plating Sarah Palin. Beowulf was a really great and proud role... until that dragon came around and burned down the castle... and the world
economy in September 2008.

What next?

This time around, chapter one reminded me of the the Buddhist three monkeys,
or more, a kind of Mormon morality tale. Three main candidates -- one with
too much caffeine (Bachmann), one with too much alcohol (Perry) and one with too much money (Romney). I had an earlier post on that. At the time, too much money seemed safer, but I look at how utterly inept the financial community is acting on its own in the EU, and I do worry about the risk of similar myopia here. They are not exactly living up to Von Neumann and Morgenstern's idea of enlightened self-interest, due to obvious blinders. They have an important place in human society, but can they handle it all competently alone?

But Romney came up with his great line "a corporation is a person too."
So in chapter two, we had a choice of which of three corporations (incarnated as human avatars) to vote for -- Oil Incarnate (Perry, which I could say more about, but
Christian virtues say not to unless circumstances change), Banks Incarnate (Romney)
or Pizza Incarnate (Cain). Given how folks are feeling out there these days, it's not at all surprising they would vote for pizza. Even if they don't always believe those ads about a 9.99 special, they figure that pizza folks do really pay attention to their customers and don't spend their whole lives figuring out how to screw them.

But then came a shudder.

Is Genesis in some small measure "prophecy"? Could it be that the fight between
two brothers Cain and Able will soon unravel? If Cain kills Able will we end up in some place which makes the status quo look like Garden of Eden by comparison?

(Is this a dream or what that we are actually living? Hey, I didn't make up
Cain here...)

But now... as the coyote pulling Perry's strings tries to strike back at Cain...
this morning a new dynamic has emerged, which startles me even more.

It is now Cain only slightly ahead of Romney and Gingrich (and Perry sinking fast).

Two corporations versus... a human being? How did a human being get into this race?
Weren't they supposed to be verboten here, like pedestrians walking on a highway?

This is doubly unnerving to me for many reasons.

First -- there is something odd about my past I need to mention, only briefly at a surerficial level. Long ago, in 1969, when I figured out (independently) how to
do reasoning by Bayesian networks, I realized very quickly how my own life uniquely violates what appear to be the laws of probability (e.g. iid assumption..).

Even when I wander through humble corridors of life... I keep running into people
at odd times. In the mid 1960's, I went just once to a bar in downtown Boston with some friends. And there I ran across Richard Nixon... who at that time was seen
by most as a former politician. In 1967 I ran across Edward Heath in a similar situation (tea and gardening not alcohol). And there was that girl Pinki Bhutto
(really more her roommate). And friends who got promoted up into the stratosphere, so to speak. Al Gore and Gingrich both, back at the time of the Gore-Gingrich bill
to better understand the future. And Heisenberg's boss/collaborator on the subway train to the Washington zoo. (He was a bit hairy himself, but interesting to talk to.)

And... so... I remember the time in 2009 when I was accidentally alone with Gingrich
in an elevator, totally by accident... and did at least have the guts to ask if he was still interested in space. (Maybe I should say something about Rohrabacher here,
but this was not in THAT building.) And then just a couple of months ago,
when I went to restaurant out in the suburbs here... they sat me and my wife
and collaborator form Memphis right next to Gingrich, who was eating shabu shabu with
his wife. (A great restaurant, but when I later tried the shabu shabu myself, it
was the only thing I ever had there which seemed just mediocre.)

So... could it be yet again? Should I have had the temerity to say hello and mention my strange experience before that time?

Gingrich is not only human, but an intelligent human.

Yet when I look at the world economic system today, and I look at his recent book,
I fear he isn't out of the box enough to keep it from getting worse, let alone
a chance of recovery. The 180s have their own way of screwing up, when the challenges
are really huge. And what of the recent quite but decisive reorganization in the
Republican party which gives the funding agents far more control than even the weirdest stuff we have seen in the past few years?

Still, if he is brave enough to reconcile with Arianna Huffington when he has the nomination in the bag (IF, I should say... I certainly don't predict it...
even if I feel some goosebumps...)... and they REALLY draw he line against the
really big corporate welfare which threatens our future.. like the tax breaks
which label oil companies as "distressed manufacturing" (curiously absent from
the "get-rid-of-subsidies" bill now being pushed by Marshall, under oil company funding)....

Who knows?

To be honest, I currently plan to vote for Obama in 2012, in great part because his jobs bill suggests he may have learned some math on the job... and a real human being, who can see at least basic math, seems frightening rare these days. He has made some big mistakes, but if he is able to learn from his mistakes... that's better than voting for a statue or an avatar.

But as the Quakers say, there is that of God in everyone...