Monday, January 29, 2007

Alchemy

Everybody knows that we could in principle make gold from lead using a particle accelerator such as the LHC -- at billions of dollars per ounce, it just would be extremely expensive gold. Everybody also knows that gold is a chemical element, and hence cannot be produced from other elements by chemical means; you really need a particle accelerator or nuclear reactor to transmute elements (except of course for naturally radioactive elements that sort of transmute themselves).

But there are still those brave souls who will valiantly ignore the insights into the nature of things that science has gathered over the past 300 years, and go on a crucible-sade for the philosophers' stone. I am speaking of the members of the International Alchemy Guild, who will be gathering in Las Vegas for their first conference this year (I wonder if the choice of location is symbolic -- just like the roulette tables are money sinks that only con the stupid, so is alchemy?)

I'd be inclined to think this is a joke, but apparently this is a real organisation, whose membership benefits for those who "[d]emonstrate successful creation of the Vegetable or Mineral Stone in private laboratory work" (or are otherwise co-opted into this exclusive society, such as on account of having bought a mail-order degree from a "hermetic college") include a "gilded Certificate of Membership (suitable for framing)" with an accompanying "license to practice alchemy" (I wonder if that license can serve as a legal defence against fraud charges).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Evil, bad, diseased, or just ugly?

"Evil" is a word rarely heard in scientific discourse, at least among physicists, whose subject of study is after all morally neutral for pretty much any sensible definition of "morally". "Bad", "diseased" or "ugly" might be heard occasionally. But having all of them applied to a topic as relatively arcane as the fourth-root prescription for staggered fermions is, well, staggering. At last year's lattice meeting there was a lot of discussion as to whether this prescription was diseased or merely ugly. Now Mike Creutz has taken the discussion from the medicinally-aesthetic to the moral level by suggesting that rooting is actually evil. The arguments are much the same as before: The rooted staggered theory has a complicated non-locality structure at non-vanishing lattice spacing, and there is no complete proof (although there are strong arguments that many find very convincing) that this non-locality goes away in the continuum level. The debate will no doubt simmer on until a fully conclusive proof either way is found; the question is only, what kinds of unusual title words are we still going to see?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Still active

It has been a little quiet around here, mostly because I was staying at home in Germany (admittedly not a good excuse in the days of almost universal WiFi internet access). I wasn't completely lazy, however. And there is a pile of half-finished blog-posts waiting to appear.

Meanwhile, please help me welcome Sujit Datta to the physics blogosphere. Sujit is a Master's student at the University of Pennsylvania who researches quantum transport in carbon nanotubes and is especially interested in condensed matter physics and the study of complex systems. He started his blog on January 1, 2007, and so far has been a very prolific poster of interesting articles.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

PhysicsWeb 2.0

The most recent issue of PhysicsWorld has a feature about how Web 2.0 technologies are transforming physics communications. Physicists' blogs feature quite prominently in this issue: besides a piece about blogs and wikis, which quotes physics bloggers Sabine Hossenfelder, Christine Dantas, Luboš Motl, Gordon Watts and Dave Bacon (apologies if I missed somebody) alongside the more critical voices of Nobel Laureates Philip Anderson and Jack Steinberger, they have an article by Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance about his motivations for blogging.

And finally, they introduce a new column "Blog life", which starts with a profile of Chad Orzel's Uncertain Principles and is going to look at a different physics blog each month.

I suppose this makes physics blogging officially (at least almost) respectable. Now, if only PhysicsWorld would allow trackbacks ...

Update: Backreaction has some thoughts on this.