Talk by Genevieve Bell of Intel on “Does Data Have a Secret Life: An Ethnographic Account of ‘Big Data’ and the Cloud”

On May 10, Genevieve Bell of Intel gave a Department of Informatics talk at UC Irvine, titled

“Does Data Have a Secret Life: An Ethnographic Account of ‘Big Data’ and the Cloud”

For her remarkable achievements, I quote from the announcement for the lecture:

“BIO Dr. Genevieve Bell is an anthropologist with 15 years of experience driving innovation in the high tech industry. As the Director of Interaction and Experience Research in Intel Labs, Bell leads a team of social scien­tists, interaction designers, human factors engineers and computer scientists. This organization researches new computing experiences that are centered around people’s needs and desires. In 2010, Bell was named one of Fast Company’s inaugural “100 Most Creative People in Business.” In 2012 she was inducted into the Women In Technology International (WITI) hall of fame, and she was honored by the Anita Borg Institute as the 2013 Woman of Vision for Leadership. Her first book, “Divining the Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing,” was co-written with UC Irvine Professor Paul Dourish and released in April 2011.”

When first hired by Intel she was asked to cover what women needed in computing, and what the “rest of the world” besides the US needed.  She didn’t like those categories and soon changed them.

Her division has 112 employees and 120 interns.

Their job is to bring the outside inside.  It involves both sociology and technology.

I cannot possibly cover all of her thorough discussion.  Either go to one of her talks elsewhere, and/or read the book cited above.  I could only copy the topics that she was covering, as shown on her slides.  They were:

Big data and the cloud.

What is it?  Its old.

What’s new here?

Will everything produce data?

Will everyone produce data?

Cultural lenses

Telling Data’s stories and secrets

What does data want?

What is wanted from it?

Data keeps it real   It is used real.

Data lives a good relationship.

Data doesn’t always have the best network.

Different forms flow differently.

Data has a country.

Data is feral.

Another life

Data has responsibilities.

Stories retold

Data keeps it messy.

Data likes to look good.

Self presentations.

100% of members lied on one dating site.

Data doesn’t want to last forever.

There’s always new data.

For example, the Ozone hole over the Antarctic, which was growing exponentially, was not considered or spotted in the NASA algorithm for seven years until pointed out by an independent observer.  (“In 1984 British Antarctic Survey scientists, Joesph Farman , Brian Gardiner, and Jonathan Shanklin, discovered a recurring springtime Antarctic ozone hole.”  See the informative site www.theozonehole.com )

Studying the new priests and alchemists

Regulating algorithms and data

Critiquing the new empiricism

Need theoretical tools

Does data equal truth?

What is it doing for us now?

Communicating Climate Science and Earth System Sciences

While I am in no way a climate scientist, I use the occurrence and predictions of more climate change to motivate the study of present and future clean energy sources, conservation, and efficiency improvements.  I also added commentary to our eight NOAA lecture series on climate change for OLLI this year.  These are my ideas on giving interesting lectures to the public on climate science, and blogging about it.

The first thing to realize is that a general audience will not be very conversant with science, math, complicated graphs, certainly not climate science, and certainly not the technical jargon.  As an outsider, I can attest to that, especially the rampant use of abbreviations.  In preparation, avoid abbreviations that have to be memorized, and explain concepts as simply as possible, using pictures and analogs if possible.  Graphs should only be used in large size, with at most one per slide.  The axes should be given with the title in large print, as well as what the labels mean.  Don’t let the x-axis label lie on the bottom of the page, hidden by peoples’ heads.  Define carefully what everything on the slide means, since most people haven’t seen this before, and may not often read graphs.  Avoid complicated graphs.  Avoid graphs when citing a number or two could replace it.  A talk can be much faster and easier that way.  People also like to see pictures of the scientists involved and stories of their trials and tribulations.  Explanatory diagrams, pictures, YouTube videos and iPad apps such as those provided by NASA and NOAA help explanation and keep the audience interested.  A useful app for showing climate change situations is called Fragile Earth.  Also, pay attention that your presentation is loud enough and clearly spoken.  “Chasing Ice” glacier calving by James Balog.

Remember that you may be the only climate scientist that people have heard a full lecture from.  Your influence can be of great import because: you are a well educated scientist; most people trust scientists; you are backed up by an entire scientific community in agreement on the subject; the audience may have only heard one-liners before from non-scientists; and you are giving them the full picture.  You should be prepared to answer the standard top ten one-liner doubter statements listed on www.skepticalscience.com,   If it’s one that you don’t know the answer to, just refer them to the webpage.  An audience will actually get upset with some audience member trying to monopolize the time with arguments, so just say that you have to move on, and continue.  Don’t think that you have to win any argument – just state your case and let people think it over and decide.  Some skeptics will always remain skeptics, and they may be skeptics for other reasons than the subject at hand.  Allowing time for discussion is important, since it gives you a chance to dispel myths that people have that you don’t imagine, and to learn of concerns that you may not know about.  You will also find out what they did not understand that you can elaborate on and improve in future talks.

A lot of the opposition to mediating climate change comes from the costs and disruptions to change from fossil fuel energy to clean energy sources.  It doesn’t hurt to learn about realistic ways that this change can be brought about, including how developing countries can also fit into the changes.  If you look back over the past century, many changes take place in energy even without requiring clean energy.  Maybe its time to give up my horse and buggy and candles.

Talks can range in length, from a half hour to some clubs, to two hours at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  There are also elevator, interviewer, supermarket, and party encounters of much shorter length.

Blogging and giving public talks is very important, since the climate science professional articles are very complicated and written in very complicated language with multi-fold abbreviations and concepts.  The public needs and deserves to have this important and publicly funded research translated to them in simple terms and concepts.  It is also important for keeping up funding for the science.  Communication and outreach is a requirement for government grants these days.  Even giving comments in the comment sections of news articles that clarify points in the article or discussion are useful.  Occasionally when you spot an error in news coverage, the writers are appreciative if you can correct them.  The release of the final AR5 report on climate science this fall will give a lot of new data, analyses, and new approaches to be communicated to the public.  Recently, there were new government reports on climate science and effects expected in the US, that could also use blogging about.

One dilemma facing climate change communicators is how to discuss the most recent weather or climate disaster, such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.  Since climate change may only have partly enhanced the problem, it would be nice to have good estimates of the energy involved in the phenomena, based on set of appropriate measurements.  Then as oceans warm, scientists could observe whether the total energy of such phenomena was increasing, and blame that part on warming.  The contact time and area of contact with warm water should be related to the total energy of the phenomena, and that could be of predictive value as well.

The nice thing about UCI blogs, is that commenters can only be those with UCI email addresses.  That eliminates those who want to use the website to either air skeptic one-liners, or argue about politics and religion.  However, commenting on sites of major newspapers or popular blogs gives you a lot more coverage.  The peak exposure may be a guest columnist on Huffington Post or a local newspaper.  Since the few remaining science writers are writing on a national or international level, local and state coverage is needed.  The science writers usually only cover the journals Nature and Science, not the other ones used by climate scientists.

Since energy and conservation solutions are often local, and adaptation and climate change damage is local, scientific communications are needed by local and state officials, community groups, and local environmental groups.  I have watched local city council meetings where there was no scientific input, but audience members were allowed to make any claim that they wanted without any rebuttal.  The needs of local and state communities present problems that need separate analyses, and these governments may also be able to provide funding for them.

The local motivators for climate action start with sea level rise, since Balboa Island is facing an $80 million increase in the height of the dikes that hold the ground in place. Another is this years low rainfall in Southern California, about a third of normal, that are leading to an early forest fire season. Both of these affect expensive properties. There is the long term effect on our summer and fall water supply in Southern California, which comes from the Sierra snow pack, that will accumulate for shorter times and melt sooner as the climate warms. We also face less water from the Colorado river. On the other hand, California scored seven of the fourteen most polluted cities in the US and the Los Angeles area came out number one in particulates. More general national motivators for climate action are the many ways that the wealthy will be most affected by climate phenomena, since they have the most valuable properties that they have to pay insurance on. They also own interest in insurance companies, banks, businesses, stocks and bonds that will be most affected by climate changes. Farmers, including Big Ag and Big Food, and ranchers and investors in these will be most affected by floods and water shortages, by new parasites and crop diseases, and by drought. Environmentalists are affected by the warming climate causing pine bark beetles and other tree killers to flourish. Here is a picture of Spruce damage on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. There is also a faculty speakers list for the campus and Physical Sciences, although it may not be well used. Profs. Michael Prather and Charles Zender are listed there from ESS. There also should be one for student speakers, which students could initiate on a blog or on Facebook. There are also campus environmental groups to speak to. In general, personal networking and putting talks or blogs on the web lead to more contacts. The students are knowledgeable about Facebook, and able to establish climate science communication there. If you are going to go to the trouble to make up a public talk, make sure that you put it on a blog or Facebook where you can revise or update it as well as keep track of how well it is being accessed. It is undoubtedly the case that real climate scientists have a different outlook than science writers, and need to be heard from. Also, young people who have whole careers ahead of them and will face the full consequences of climate change will have a different outlook and audience than more senior lecturers or bloggers. Local politicians need scientific input about relevant issues and legislation. Sending emails on their websites is easy. They also need encouragement to back scientific research, especially in climate science, and to keep it free of political oversight. Regardless of which party they follow, scientific information could always be useful. Some of the impediments to scientific communication are the practice of journals keeping the copyrights on their publications (while collecting 35% to 45% profits) on research funded by the public, with publication costs paid for by the public and subscribers. Trying to use some figures in a talk can cost around$1,000.  The government is forcing them to open publication after a year, but it really should be immediate, with free use of graphs paid for by the taxpayers.

The other frustration in climate science communication, is that the research cited in the IPCC ARs must be submitted to journals a year before the report is final and available for public consumption and reference to.

Another constraint on climate scientists is that they may feel that their public communications require scientific accuracy and full credit attribution.  Plain science writers don’t have such restrictions.  On the other hand, bloggers don’t have to pay publication fees, get delayed by editors and having to argue with reviewers, wait for publication, and then wait a year before there is open use of their graphics.

Why It Is Hard to Convince the US Public of Climate Change

The primary reason that acceptance of climate change has been opposed in America, is that climate change is mainly caused by CO2 from fossil fuel burning, and is strongly opposed by those industries, which are the richest in America.  They have also been able to have their views dominate politicians and Republicans.  In addition, the views dominate a vast conservative media empire.  Automakers also favor highly profitable large and powerful vehicles, and have worked to maintain their numbers.

We can start with the two Koch brothers that own Koch Industries, an oil company.  They  jointly are worth $68 billion dollars, and jointly would be the world’s richest person. They are strongly conservative and fund institutes that oppose global warming, as well as the Tea Party. They both have Chemical Engineering degrees from MIT, and with the enormous scientific resources of oil exploration companies, probably have an excellent understanding of climate change. US oil companies in general have yearly profits exceeding$150 billion dollars, and have lots of money for political influence.  The amount that individuals and industries can contribute to campaigns through Super PACS is now unlimited, and anonymous.  To get an idea of what is at stake financially, there are supposed to be about 1,000 billion barrels of easily obtained conventional oil available.  At $100 per barrel, this amounts to$100 trillion.  Non-conventional oil has been estimated to be possibly as much as triple this.  Compare this to the US GDP of $16 billion for scale. Recently, people have started considering what would be the effect on fossil fuel industries if so much has to be left in the ground unused. The last President and Vice President of the US, Bush and Cheney, were both Texas oilmen. They stifled government funding of climate change research and muffled its conclusions in government studies. This era is in danger of returning on the congressional side, since Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the new Chair of the House Science Committee, has been discussing criteria to limit NSF funding in the social sciences study of politics, and this may well be applied to climate science. The criteria is to only fund research which is essential to the national interest. The topics of teaching evolution and of teaching climate change are also coming up in the the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 schools. The real hope in this is the appearance of natural gas by fracking. The companies are being bought up by the major oil companies. At some point, as they are already pushing for its adoption to replace coal, they may be advertising its great potential to slow climate change, and provide jobs and tax revenue. It is apparent that the Republican party has taken an enforced position that climate change is wrong or to be doubted. This is partly by financial support from fossil fuel companies, and that fossil fuel jobs are well distributed across the country. The role of the media companies can not be under emphasized. Rupert Murdoch controls a vast newspaper and TV station empire, which is reflected in the uniformity of their daily emphasis of the same views, topics and catch phrases. The American public is partly polarized by political parties, and subscribes to papers and watches TV channels that reflect their views. In these outlets, the public is rarely exposed to the views of the opposite side, and is subject to a 24/7 list of commentators and guest “experts” that trumpet those views. Rupert owns the Wall Street Journal, and it had for decades denied or ignored climate science. It is hard to understand how subscribers could pay hefty subscription rates, and yet not get news that is crucial to the future of fossil fuel, alternate power, and natural disaster insurance industries. Another problem is the long range conception of climate change, and the short range appreciation of overwhelming needs elsewhere. National security, jobs, economic recovery, recovery from natural and man-made disasters, gun violence, and threatening weather, are all real problems for which immediate action is called for, while a response to climate change is really a multi-decadal problem of restructuring our energy industry and modes of energy consumption. Even though a majority of the public believes in climate change and in working on a response to it, a mere majority or even a 92% demand for action, as in uniform background checks for gun purchases, does not master a political system built to thwart such action. The supporters of mitigation and adaptation to climate change must be as persistent and active as opponents are. In the end, science will triumph, since the truth cannot be averted. Kenneth Feinberg’s Talk at UC Irvine, March 21, 2013 Kenneth Feinberg spoke to the UCI Law School in the Disaster Law Lecture Series sponsored by the Center for Law, Environment and Natural Resources, on March 21, 2013. He has now taken on the task of distributing charitable contributions for The One Fund Boston, following the tragic events there. So far, the fund has collected$28 million.

The announcement for his talk describes him as: “Kenneth Feinberg is the administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund and one of the nation’s leading experts in dispute resolution. He has also served as Special Master for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, provided oversight of TARP Executive Compensation, and administered compensation for he Virginia Tech, Aurora Theater, and Penn State-Sandusky tragedies.”

In this lecture, Feinberg spoke on “Unconventional Responses to Unique Catastrophes: Tailoring the Law to Meet the Challenges.” Here are my notes on the talk.

His book, published in 2012 is “Who Gets What?”

In the 9/11 tragedy, policy makers decided to come to aid of innocent victims.

Collecting compensation from BP was voluntary, as in 9/11, but you must sign that you will not sue.

It is a no fault compensation system.

Victims are paid generously. Typical compensation in 9/11 was $2,000,000 for a death, tax free. Injured responders received$400,000.

97% chose the public compensation.

Only 94 sued and their cases were settled.

$7.1 billion was given out in compensation. This situation was a unique response and not likely to be repeated. In the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill, BP agreed with President Obama to pay$20 billion to victims, for which BP got a full release. There were 1.2 million claims, where losses had to be justified. Of these, 555,000 were honored and $6.5 billion were paid. (Don’t take these numbers to be officially accurate, since between my poorly hearing a number and typing it into my cell phone, a lot can happen.) They obtained 225,000 releases. 18,000 cases of fraud were detected, and there are around 2,000 prosecutions. They got almost all legitimate claims. His duties included talking to people who wanted to be heard, and he also did this at town hall meetings. He is a dynamic speaker who can be both serious and humorous. He can be both emphatic and emotional. In the other cases in which he was the compensation master, private money was used. No waivers were needed as people could still sue. In meeting with victims families, they were often emotional, angry, and troubled. One’s law training was not helpful. Empathy, sensitivity, and understanding are needed. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know how they feel. He met personally off the record with 900 people. Their talks were not about the money but about the memory of lost ones. In the agent orange or dioxin situation from the Vietnam war, the victims did not sue as individuals but as a group. The standard for compensation was based on how disabled they were. In 9/11, the injured must have been in the immediate vicinity of the world trade center. The compensation system must be an equitable, transparent, and clear system. Fairness could not be the major consideration. Many emotional cases were cited by him. In the University of Virginia shootings there were 32 deaths. The families received$212,000 each as a “gift”. They can still sue, and the money was unconditional.

In the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting, there were 12 dead and 30 injured.

Free mental health care was given by the city.

Hospital length of stay was used as a proxy for the extent of physical injury.

The 9/11 BP settlement was a good policy and gets an A. But he would not recommend that anyone do it again. It should not be a precedent. It was singular and unique. The regular court system works well every day.

In the question of fairness, some other tragedies in the US have not been compensated.

What he did was not rocket science. Others can do it, he said.  He also said “No good deed goes unpunished”. His job was tough and stressful, and delegated to one person. You have to use your personal judgement in the settlements.

He answered a number of questions. FEMA is a model program with the right people.

Now there is a new settlement program for BP.

In his work, he represents the victims, not BP.

He did the 9/11 settlement pro bono.

Airline lobbying on 9/11 and patriotism led to that settlement.

The work had great emotional impact but tremendous rewards.

He received personal thanks with his family from President Obama.

He also received personal thanks from President Bush.

Ocean Acidification Conference by the Newkirk Center, May 3, 2013

Toward a Sustainable 21st Century

Ocean Acidification

There was a great one day conference on Ocean Acidification (OA) at the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering next the UC Irvine.  The speakers were the major researchers on OA, some political leaders on the environment, and ocean environmental groups, almost all from the West Coast.  The Pacific Coast can face major OA problems, in addition to the oyster nurseries already having difficulty.

The amount of information presented far exceeds the capability of this blog, and the videos of the talks will be available on the Newkirk Center website, since the Center sponsored and arranged this conference, under the guidance of Prof. John Whiteley of UC Irvine.

I will just add some of the good comments on communicating with the public and public officials.

State Senator Kevin Ranker of Washington said that if you want to influence Congress, start with State legislators since 48% of congressmen come from legislatures.

It was said that communication leads to action.  One of the best ways to communicate is  through stories with affected people.  The audience finds the stories relatable, emotional, with real characters.  Journalists and TV presenters often use this method.  (Us academics don’t, since we most often just present the facts.)

An important aspect of environmental degradation is that it costs jobs and businesses, and these resonate with politicians.

Another approach to congressmen is to tell them what is going on in our states, and what the people back.

Cylvia Hayes, and environmentalist and the First Lady of Oregon, pointed out that there are 500,000 clean energy jobs on the West coast.  She also pointed out the the Gross Domestic Product only counts the economic activity, but does not include our aid or degradation to the environment.  People are working on a General Progress Indicator to include this.  It was also pointed out that Nature is tied to the Economy, and we should use that aspect in our politics.

Surveys were shown, that indicated that only 7% of Americans know that ocean acidification is a problem.

Pushback on the environment occurs when you start telling people to change how they live their lives.

When considering environmental affects, it is most effective to look at the local context of the effects and for limits on local resources.

For government funding and actions, legislators and administrators should integrate government agencies.

For environmental scientists, it is important to the relevant research on the effects and mitigation and adaptation.  To be effective, the research often has to be interdisciplinary.

Scientists also have to monitor any actions in response to environmental corrections.

Solutions must be evaluated with a cost-benefit analysis to be accepted.

Public officials have to be communicated with and educated about science issues in the environment, which can be called closing the science-policy gap.

(I must admit that I had to review my high school chemistry for the definition of pH.  I think it was much more effective when speakers translated this into percent or factor increases in the H+ concentration or acidity.  What has to be recalled is that the pH scale is a log scale for H+ concentration.  Plain water has a pH of 7, meaning a concentration of H+ of 10^(-7).  Each lower unit of pH means an increase in H+ by a factor of 10.  From Wikipedia, since pre industrial times, pH has declined by 0.11.  This is an increase in H+ by 10^(0.11) = 1.29, or a 29% increase.  To the public, a decline of pH by 0.11 doesn’t sound like much, but a 29% increase does sound like an important change.  The other thing confusing about the scale is that as acidity gets worse, the pH declines.  The Wikipedia article also took a sample projection to 2100 of a decline of 0.355, giving a 127% increase in acidity since pre-industrial times. )

As in global warming, it is hard for the public to think that our activities could have caused a global scale change.  In fact, the source is the same.  26% of the emitted CO2 goes into the ocean, and this combines with H20, creating carbonic acid, H2CO3.  The hydrogen ions disassociate and break apart calcium carbonate CaCO3, which form shells for sealife and coral reefs.   Not discussed was the very long term affects that these shells fall to the bottom of the ocean and sequester carbon.  Also, as warming proceeds, less CO2 can be absorbed by the ocean (open a warm carbonated drink for dramatic proof of this), so more of it will be sent to the atmosphere, to cause more warming.

An excellent short presentation on Ocean Acidification was given by Gary Oberts to our OLLI class on Climate Change (see from page 8 to 20 on the above link).

(It seems odd to be blogging about the ocean acidification climate related problem, while I am watching the fires in the Los Angeles area on the television.  LA only received a little more than 1/3 of the average rainfall since the start of last summer, and today was a very hot Santa Ana wind day, bringing hot air from the desert to the East..)

Here are some links to reports on ocean acidity or to ocean environmental and government organizations that were referred to in the talks.

The Newkirk Center  www.newkirkcenter.uci.edu

The Oceanography Society   www.tos.org

Washington State Department of Ecology   www.ecy.wa.gov

www.ecy.wa.gov/water/marine/oa/overview.html

NOAA Carbon Program “Ocean Acidification Blue Ribbon Panel” for Washington State www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification+Blue+Ribbon+Panel

Center for Ocean Solutions  www.centerforoceansolutions.org

California Current Acidification Network C-CAN  c-can.msi.ucb.edu

CORAL Triangle Initiative  www.coraltriangleinitiative.org

Ocean Conservancy www.oceanconservancy.org

Beyond GDP  www.beyond-gdp.eu/

The Ocean Foundation  www.oceanfdn.org

California Coastal Commission  www.coastal.ca.gov

California Marine Protective Areas  www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mpa/index.asp

National Marine Protective Areas Center  www.mpa.gov

California Ocean Science Trust  calost.org/

Some of the many things I learned was that ocean acidity varies greatly over the oceans, with the Atlantic, northern and southern oceans having more of it.  It also varies with time and with upwelling currents.   It can also be affected locally by runoff of fertilizer and other pollution.

The northern Pacific coast is meeting the challenge to the tidewater oyster farms by growing young oysters in Hawaii.  It also closes seawater access when northern winds cause upwelling of more acidic water.  Production is approaching levels of the past.

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake’s Address to the Retiree’s Association on April 30, 2013

In discussing the financing of students, the tuition is $13,400. Yet with aid, the average tuition paid per student is$5,000. Also, 45% of students pay no tuition. UCI is rated in the top 20 for value.

In applications, UCI received 76,000 this year. 11,000 were out of state or foreign applications. 60,000 were for freshmen, the rest for transfers.

In a quote from UC Irvine news: “UC Irvine’s Smart Labs Initiative, which safely reduces energy consumption in both new and retrofitted research laboratories by as much as 60 percent, has been recognized with a 2013 Green California Leadership Award. “  We also have four Leeds platinum and eight Leeds gold certified buildings on campus.

In a worldwide rating of newer universities under 50 years of age, UC Irvine ranked first in the United States, and fourth in the world.

In honors, Wilson Ho of the Department of Physics and Astronomy was just elected to the National Academy of Sciences. (Also, Shaul Mukamel of the Department of Chemistry was elected to the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences.)

Our Provost Michael Gottfredson has left to become President of the University of Oregon.

Our greatest sport is Men’s Vollleyball, and we have won three Championships in the last six years. We are now competing in the final four. Our previous coach, John Speraw, departed to coach at UCLA, where he was a player. He has also been chosen as the Olympics coach for 2016.

As an unusual new statistic, the Chancellor pointed out that life expectancy varies by zip code from 73 years to 88 years. The longest expectancy happens to be in Irvine, perhaps partly due to the University.

In answer to a question about online learning, he pointed out that 14% of summer credits for our students are earned online. The students can also review the lecture multiple times. (Actually, classroom lectures are also often taped for students.)

The Chancellor is receiving an award for fostering diversity.

The medical school faculty is lagging in having tenured women because we recruited a young faculty and positions there have been frozen since 1970.

The majority of university graduates are women these days.

(I apologize for any inaccuracies in this account since I am still distracted by typing this into my iPhone while the talk is going on.)

Comments on the Movie “Switch” and discussion at UC Irvine

I have just returned from a showing of the movie Switch about forms of energy generation, and searching for our energy future, sponsored by the Newkirk Center.  Presenting was the film’s director, Harry Lynch.  We are planning to show this to an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute class in the Fall.

I was very impressed by the film, since it showed all the sources of energy and power plants, and interviewed people at the energy source, and at the power plants.  It is different from a dry lecture where the audience is required to imagine these sources and facilities.  Of course the suppliers put their best foot forward, yet the drawbacks of the various sources were also explained.

The presenter, Dr. Scott Tinker of Texas, argued for replacing coal with natural gas, since it emits only half as much CO2 as coal does.  For the future, he also at the end argued for a very large expansion of nuclear power, essentially doubling or tripling the nuclear capacity, since current plants will age out.  He also argued for a large factor increase of renewables, and developing fast reacting gas power plants to make up for rapid variations in wind and solar.

Many options to gasoline to power transportation were explored, but options to reduce the need for transportation or to car pool or use mass transit were not.

The people interviewed were very impressive since they included the new Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, and the Undersecretary of Energy, Steve Koonin.

After the movie, a panel of over 20 energy research students on campus explained briefly what their groups were working on.

I was impressed by the report on the campus energy savings, since the energy use has been reduced by 17% over the last five years.  This was partly from controlling hoods in labs, and from switching to more efficient lighting and heating and cooling controls.

It was also announced that the campus was now allowed to add 2.7 MegaWatts of solar power to its present 1.0 MegaWatts.  This should be completed by 2014.

While possible fracking water pollution was discussed in the movie, it was claimed that it was more likely from the liquids at the surface, and not from the wells themselves.  Dr. Ernest Moniz expressed my attitude, that you do the best job you can, and when problems arise, you improve on it.

One thing that was not discussed in the film or by the audience, was that to achieve the factor of two savings by switching from coal to natural gas, the leakage of natural gas had to be much less than 4%.  This is because natural gas gives 23 times the greenhouse gas effect as CO2 does.  EPA requirements in the US are in fact that no natural gas should leak, and what does has to be burned, or eventually used for energy generation.

Universal Background Check Defeat and its reflection on the US as a democratic nation.

In some past posts, I have commented on how the US differs from a perfect, real, or even effective democracy.  There have been many excellent articles in major newspapers on the need for universal background checks, and I don’t have to add to them.  But the aspect of how the US fails to be a democracy is dramatically demonstrated by the defeat of the universal background check in the US Senate.  The current polls show that the public backs by an incredible 92% extending the background checks to unlicensed sellers at gun shows and on the internet.  Even a majority of NRA members backs this.  Even the vote to bring this to a vote gained a majority of 54 backing.  However, it was not enough to overcome the filibuster restriction of 60.  The fact that a life and death subject that is backed by 92% of the American people cannot even be voted on in the Senate, much less not passing the Congress with a 92% or even 51% vote astoundingly illustrates the undemocratic situation to which our political system has fallen.  Shame should not be cast only on the Senators who voted against it, but the blame is on the American people for not taking politics seriously enough and voting enough in off year elections and state elections that lead to seriously biased redistricting.

Higgs contributions to Weak Bosons With Weak Isospin and Spin

Here we attempt a diagram to show where the Higgs Bosons fit into the Weinberg-Salam Electroweak Unification Bosons, when the symmetry breaking turns on the particle masses.

Initially, all particle masses start out at zero, so that there is weak isospin symmetry. The basic weak interaction bosons are: the weak isospin T = 1 triplet, W+, Wº, and W¯; and the weak isospin T = 0 singlet, the Bº.   Then the Higgs gets a constant value in the vacuum, giving masses to all particles except the photon.  The neutral Wº and Bº bosons mix by a rotation through the Weinberg angle, resulting in the massive Zº, and the remaining massless photon γ.

Spin enters the mixture, since the bosons are all spin 1.  Massless spin 1 bosons travel at the speed of light and do not have a rest frame to measure the Sz = 0 spin component along a single allowed axis or z-axis.  Thus they can only have two spin states, that of Sz = + 1 or along their direction of motion, or Sz = − 1, opposite their direction of motion.  These are also called right circularly polarized, and left circularly polarized, respectively, as with the massless photons.  When the symmetry breaking gives the bosons a mass, they need the extra fields associated with the Sz = 0 components.  These are provided by the three Higgs states as shown in the following table.  The Higgs field was designed as a Weak Isospin doublet (H+, Hº), where H+ has T3 = +1, and Hº has T3 = 0.  Its anti-doublet is (anti-Hº, H¯), where anti-Hº has T3 = 0, and H¯ has T3 = − 1.

.                                                                               Spin Component Sz

.                                                                   Sz = -1                   Sz = 0                      Sz = +1

Weak Isospin                 T3 = +1               W+                     W+(H+)                       W+

Component T3               T3 =   0    Wº+Bº→Zº+γ      Zº(Hº − anti-Hº)    Wº+Bº→Zº+γ

.                                         T3 = −1               W¯                    W¯(H¯)                         W¯

The Higgs Boson Field that has the constant vacuum part v and excitable field h is

Hº+anti-Hº = v + h.

The field h shows up as the Higgs particle found at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) with a mass of 125 GeV.

The mixture of Wº and Bº fields is a rotation by the Weinberg angle to get the neutral weak boson Zº and the massless photon γ.

Factors of $$frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}$$ were left out of the Higgs mixtures for simplicity.

Musings on the Naming of the Higgs Boson

First of all, I am the world’s worst science historian, so don’t take this as a reputable history article.  Second, the field will sort out the historical credit, so I am not concerned with that.  Here is a picture of the young Peter Higgs, who worked on the Higgs Boson around 1964, but the picture is from 1954

What the press has not noted about the name Higgs Boson, is that it contains the name of two physicists.   The Higgs Boson is a spin 0 particle.  The fact is that spin 0, spin 1, spin 2, and other integer spin particles are named Bosons after the Indian physicist from Calcutta, named Satyendra Nath Bose, or often S. N. Bose.  He wrote his paper on the identical treatment of these particles, of which the spin 1 photon is the most important example, in 1924.  He sent it to Einstein to translate into German, who submitted it for him for publication.  Of course, Wikipedia has an excellent article on him.  He did not receive a Nobel Prize for his discovery.  Paul Dirac named such integer spin particles Bosons.  So the naming of the particle the Higgs Boson, also pays great honor to S. N. Bose.  Here is his picture, dated in 1925:

The musing is about what the Higgs field has been named when discovered on other planets, or might be called in the future.  Since it has the role of providing mass to the quarks, leptons, and other bosons except for the photon, I would think that the field might just be called the “mass field”, or “vacuum field”, or “aether”.  The new particle or excitation of the field, might be called “mass particle”.  It could also be called “the ultimate scalar”, where scalar means a spin 0 particle.  Only in a secular society could it be nick-named “The God Particle” as a supposed joke by Leon Lederman.  Yet, it is everywhere in space and time, and is always interacting with all particles, except not photons, and maybe not neutrinos.

Just as in the rest of language, the younger generation creates the new additions to the Physics language, with new concepts, or new interpretations of older concepts.  Historical names often get replaced.  The combined theory of electromagnetic and weak interactions that uses the Higgs field was created by Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam.  It was initially called Weinberg-Salam theory.  Now it is more often called Electroweak Theory.  Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig developed the theory of “colored” quarks bound by gluons into mesons and nucleons, and that is now called QCD, or Quantum Chromodynamics, a mouthful.  The quarks were not named for Gell-Mann, since he chose the name “quark” after its sound and its occurrence in a triad in Finnigan’s Wake, since there are three colors.

The spin 1/2 particles like the electron, proton, and neutron that make up our everyday universe are called “fermions” after Enrico Fermi.  To my knowledge, the spin half nature of them really emerged in solutions to the relativistic, quantum mechanical equation derived by Paul A. M. Dirac.  The exclusive statistics is called Fermi-Dirac statistics.  This is better known to chemistry students as the Pauli Exclusion Principle after Wolfgang Pauli.

In 2010, the J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Physics, from the American Physical Society, was awarded to the six physicists who worked on the Higgs theory.  Besides Peter Higgs, who is not in this photo, there are from our left to right: T. W. B. Kibble, Gerald S. Guralnik, Carl R. Hagen, Francois Englert, , Robert Brout.  Kibble, Hagen and Guralnik worked together, and Englert and Brout worked together.

Of course credit for the discovery of the Higgs particle has to be given to the physicists who built the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN, to the 3,000 physicists at each of the ATLAS and CMS detectors, and to the many nations which funded this project.