Wilkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome... Sziasztok!

Welcome to The Lotus Position, an intermittent collection of extempore navel gazings, ponderings, whinges, whines, pontifications and diatribes.

Everything is based on a Sample of One: these are my views, my experiences... caveat lector... read the Disclaimer

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter
Ponder, Scribble, Ponder (Photo Erdotahi Aron)

Guest Nutter/Kindred Soul: Bill Bailey


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Wormholes & Time Machines (again)

If you want to know the answer to a tough question, ask the experts... Doing exactly that over at Physics Stackexchange. You can follow progress there.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Excel... "the clipboard cannot be emptied" - a solution

I say "a solution" advisedly: Excel warns that another application may be using the clipboard - thereby preventing it being cleared (because e.g. the other application has "locked" the clipbaord.) But even if it were true, how does one identify the offending app? The hard way... quitting them one by one and seeing when the fault goes away. As a result of which I found an offender: the Skype add-on for Firefox - and whilst other applications have also been noted as being at fault, the only one I had previously noted was rther more obscure than Skype.

I had tried all sorts of cleverness (such as adding DWORD AcbPreventPreemptiveCollect = 1 to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\14.0\Common\General; checking that rdpclip wasn't running; worrying about the VM integration features of Windows 7's XP Mode, etc.), none of which worked, and then for some reason just thought I'd be methodical with the only other major app that was running - FireFox.

I restarted it in safe mode and the Excel error (which actually only affected Drag and Drop, rather than cut and paste per se) disappeared. I then went through the Add-ons disabling all and re-enabling one by one until the culprit was found. To be honest, I had expected the Adobe Reader plug in to be at fault, but it wasn't.

Hope that helps lots of people with various clipboard problems in various versions of Excel and various Microsoft operating systems.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Creativity Strikes (at last) in Ladakh

A chorten (the Tibetan form of stupa) is

a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the remains of a Buddha or saint, used by Buddhists as a place of worship

There are rather a lot of them in Ladakh...

This photo is of just a few on the slope below Shanti Stupa in Leh, Ladakh

The Chortens of Ladakh
Chortens crowd the valley floors,
    Chortens mount the steeps.
Chortens climb the ridges;
    There are chortens at the peaks.

Chortens loft the sun and moon,
    Chortens shelter bone.
Chortens case the scriptures;
    Every chorten is a tome.

Chortens shine a bright, lime-white;
    Chortens light the air.
Chortens chant in silence;
    Every chorten is a prayer.

Chortens meditate by day;
    Chortens dream of sleep.
Chortens know their purpose
    Is the promise that they keep.

Chortens are the testaments
    Of chorten-builders’ faith;
Every chorten is a last bequest –
    And all of them decay.

Chortens are impermanence –
    Chortens show the way;
Chorten brick, like human flesh,
    Is merely will-full clay.

When the wind has flayed the flesh,
    When sun has bleached the bones,
When ice has pierced the marrow,
    There is no strength of stones.

Chortens rise and chortens fall,
    Lime-white pales to grey;
Chortens are impermanent –
    And scripture too decays.

Chortens moulder on the hillsides,
    Chortens crumble on the plains,
Chortens tumble from the ridges;
    The lotus flower fades.

Chortens teach what chortens know –
    Each teacher makes it plain –
Chortens must be raised anew...
    Lest wisdom too decay.

June 6th 2010; Oriental Guest House, Leh, Ladakh

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

It's done DONE

Well, at long last (and it's a very long last - nearly four years since I pitched up in Budapest just to "finish IT off") - and despite the many, many impediments presented by a cold December Monday yesterday, the book, "IT" was finally uploaded to the printers and the order emailed.

It is done: the text, the design, the illustrations - all of it.

Except for the bits that aren't, whatever they might be: there's bound to be something.... for example, recent tribulations included (but were not limited to)
  • Complete lack of internet chez nous (until Monday evening... "That's not a valid IP address..." [Thinks: but you gave it to me by DHCP!!!] "... I'll update/reset the database..."
  • Death of the headset microphone when I finally got to Castro and could get online
  • A typographic miscalculation by the printers in a page count
  • Complete failure of printer's FTP site to be accessible to any browser (Firefox, Chrome, IE8)
  • Unexpectedly appalling costs of hand binding (eschewing which then negated considerable expense and effort in attempting to productionise a "burnt in" title..."
  • Und so weiter, und so weiter, und so fort...
But, it IS done.. all 720pp large pages (Royal Octavo... sort of - 234 x 156mm) of it (a few blanks to round things up nicely) - though I have admit that whilst certain bits still make my spine tingle the bulk of IT is just Stuff That I Did. (hmmm... if Stuff were more interesting that could make an interesting title for an autobiography).

So... in about a month's time it should turn up in hard-copy, at last...

Notice has been given on the apartment and so the last day of occupation should be 24th March 2010... home beckons (see thoughts on Home in "IT" for an explanation of that that feels like).. and then some new adventure... Soon it will be farewell to Budapest - a lovely city, hot in summer, cold in winter but always invigorating - and Hello England! again.

I'm not sure it's actually sunk in yet... perhaps when I have a volume in my hands. Now all I have to do is find an agent, get the car sorted for returning to Blighty, sort out immigration stuff, fix up my LinkedIn profile, get revenue generating (= "a job") and so on... but first I think I've earned a bit of a break - all I have to do is work out what do with it.

But that's just Stuff. Old Stuff. Coming soon - New Improved Stuff... with extra Stuffness.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

It is done...

The proof-read. Only took 16 weeks (from 29th June to 20th October 2009). Just a bit more reading aloud (a bit behind with that - have been doing that in parallel) to catch up on and then it's all spell and grammar check, typesetting, printing...

When will it be finished finished? Pretty damn soon. Then home. I'm exhausted; I'm tired & broke, and I need a holiday. Nearly there....

But, if I say so myself, it's beautiful.

Shared the last of the cognac (left over from the great drunken celebration of completing the narrative) with Orsi, Reka and Janette to celebrate and now....?

Stuff. Just stuff.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Phew! Wot a Scorcher!

The basic problem with electron microscopy is that it's no good for looking at living things - it just fries them with electron radiation.

So, of course, someone is looking for a way around that problem - they might be onto something.

However, what really caught my eye was the analogy used to explain just how nasty it would be to find oneself in an electron microscope.
The radiation dose received by a specimen during electron microscope imaging is comparable to the irradiation from a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb exploded about 30 meters away.
Yeah... last time that happened to me I couldn't get my hair to comb flat for a week, but at least I got a nice tan.

Hot Stuff!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Big Bang Conspiracy & Baryogenesis

Did you know that those amazing maps of the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background were produced by a webcam placed inside a painted sphere in a studio in Pasadena? Just another put-up job like the moon landings!

No? You mean you actually think the Big Bang - or something rather like it - actually occurred about 13.7 billion years ago?

Good - we can proceed.

The conspiracy I was actually alluding to was that of the scientific writers and science popularisers who state blandly that in order for everything we see in the universe to be ordinary matter - as opposed to a mixture of matter and anti-matter) the universe had to have been created with a slight excess of protons over anti-protons from the very beginning; "slight" being here about one in a billion, i.e. for every 1,000,000,000 anti-protons there were, there were 1,000,000,001 protons. [My preferred "popularisation" of this issue is given at the end]

The "reason" for this "necessary" excess is that particles and their antiparticles annihilate: if the numbers had been exactly equal there would be no matter at all, just radiation, since every particle would have had a corresponding anti-particle to annihilate with.

The problem is that it is obvious after a moment's thought that there is another possibility - and one which is actually more coherent than positing the slight imbalance referred to above ex nihilo: we know that (yes we do, don't quibble) there are symmetries in physics and that symmetries are often broken, so why not assume that the numbers of particles and anti-particles were in fact equal at t~=0 and that the ratio then drifted away from 1:1 owing to some broken symmetry?

Ever since that thought occurred to me (as a solution to the problem of Baryogenesis - i.e. where all the baryons - things like protons and neutrons - came from, how and in what proportions, etc.) I had wondered "Well, why not?"

Well, you can go this way. In fact Andre Sakharov worked it all out in 1967 - but being then in the Soviet Union his work wasn't seen for quite some time, and it was left to Susskind and Dimopoulos to independently suggest exactly the same thing to the West in about a decade later.

Having subsequently read up on Sakharov's work, I rather thought, OK... it can work that way, but I didn't really see how neatly and simply it could be put together until I saw Susskind's Lecture 6 on Cosmology - thank you Stanford and Prof. Susskind for putting your excellent lectures on YouTube, and thank you to whichever student asked precisely the question I wanted to ask.

I'll try to restate his answer here, and add one tiny observation of my own on why the alternative (the magic of an ab initio imbalance in numbers) is in fact doubly improbable...

Caveat - if we were to do properly we would, like surgeons of old, very quickly be up to our knees in the full gore of particle physics, quantum mechanics and relativity, so following Susskind's lead I'll just talk about electrons and protons and neglect the fermion/boson, hadron/baryon/lepton/etc. distinctions, and all the other gristly bits.

All you really need to know to get the hang of this is:
  1. E=mc2, and
  2. the mass of the proton (mp) is about 2000 times the mass of the electron (me)
E=mc2 is from Einstein's Special Relativity and says in essence that from certain quantity of energy you can create a certain quantity of mass - e.g. a high energy photon can turn spontaneously into particles - and vice versa.

Once upon a time the universe was very small, and thus rather a lot hotter than it is now. In fact the temperature increases without limit as you approach t = 0 (this is the problem for modern physics: how to get rid of such unpleasant infinities by some clever theory that subsumes both general relativity and quantum mechanics) .

Temperature being just a measure of energy, it's not too hard to see that when things are hot enough, light (which is just energy in the form of photons) can create pairs of electrons and anti-electrons (they come in pairs because electrical charge has to be conserved). And when things are even hotter - remember, mp is 2000x me, so it takes 2000x as much energy to create a proton as an electron - even more energetic photons can create protons and anti-protons.

OK, the stage is set... Fiat lux! It's started - space and time are now up and running and the microscopic fireball is seething. For a while after Fiat Lux there is just FLUX as mass and energy inter-convert, but as the universe expands, the fire cools. Now it just so happens that the expansion at the relevant time is relatively slow - sufficiently slow in fact for the fireball to be in thermodynamic equilibrium, which means that reactions have time to "go to completion"... in other words, if there are 1,000,000,001 protons and 1,000,000,000 anti-protons, there is sufficient time form them each to find their anti-particle and annihilate.

If there were an initial imbalance in the number of protons and anti-protons, the period in which energy and mass inter-converted would not have affected the imbalance because every photon that became particles would become a pair of particles (charge conservation)... adding equal numbers of protons and anti-protons, or if the reaction went the other way, removing a matching pair.

But, the universe is expanding, and as it expands it cools and there suddenly comes a time at which the photons cool to the point at which they don't have enough energy to make protons & anti-protons any more; they can still create lighter particle pairs for a while, but that will stop too eventually. The same thing will occur for the electrons and positrons as happened for the protons & anti-protons - they will annihilate until either there are none left or the remainder of an initial imbalance is revealed.

And there's the odd thing: the universe is electrically neutral - the numbers of electrons and protons match perfectly. Now, if by fiat there was an imbalance in the number of protons & anti-protons, it takes another fiat to create a perfectly matching imbalance of electrons and positrons.

The most logical inference is that some process is creating equal numbers of electrons and protons, indeed we may suppose that at some extremely high energy photons can create not particles and their anti-particles but any pair of particles as long as charge is conserved. The only problem with this is that there is no such process in the enormously successful Standard Model - which is why most physicists agree that there is physics beyond the Standard Model to be discovered.

The Standard Model does not "allow"an electron and a proton to be created from photons because that would violate the so-called law of baryon number conservation. Protons have a baryon number of +1, and anti-protons have a baryon number of -1, so it a pair is created the baryon number doesn't change, but if an electron and a proton were created the baryon number would increase by 1. But this "law" is just an empirical observation thus far: we have just never seen baryon number change in any of our particle accelerators - or other experiments (such as filling giant tanks with water and watching to see if any protons decay - anything that can be created can be destroyed; we haven't seen that either and the half-life of the proton is now estimated to be at least 6.6x1033 years... which is about a trillion trillion times the age of the universe)

Supersymmetry is I believe the extension considered to be the solution to the problem as it contains processes that allow the individual baryon (and lepton) number to change... as long as the baryon-lepton number total doesn't.

There's a nice review paper on baryogenesis on arXiv here (it's for experts... I just look at the pictures...)

And the preferred "popularisation" of the Big Bang baryogenesis issue is: Given the observed facts that the universe if made of matter and not a matter/anti-matter mix and that there are about a billion photons for every proton we can see, at some point very, very early in the history of the universe not only were there about a billion and one protons for every billion anti-protons, there were also a billion and one electrons for every billion positrons, and rather than call this a monstrous coincidence of not only ratios but absolute numbers, it is preferable to consider this as evidence for new physics that would allow the so-called "law" of baryon number conservation to be broken at sufficiently high energies and for electrons and protons to have been created together and equally in slight preference to positron and anti-proton creation.

Watch the lecture - it's better than a blog posting.

Fiat Stuff - et Stuff Erat.