Friday, September 26, 2008

Sustainable Energy - without the hot air

David MacKay (Professor of Natural Philosophy, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge) has just finished writing his book Sustainable Energy - without the hot air. The online version of the book is free.

You can learn what the purpose of the book is from this extract quoted from the book's preface:

I’m concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about sustainable energy. Everyone says getting off fossil fuels is important, and we’re all encouraged to “make a difference,” but many of the things that allegedly make a difference don’t add up.

Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional (for example about wind farms or nuclear power) and no-one talks about numbers. Or if they do mention numbers, they select them to sound big, to make an impression, and to score points in arguments, rather than to aid thoughtful discussion.

This is a straight-talking book about the numbers. The aim is to guide the reader around the claptrap to actions that really make a difference and to policies that add up.
Nice one! I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to base their knowledge about sustainable energy on science rather than hot air.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Methane Bubbles in the Arctic Bathtub

The Independent has an alarming report on a potential methane time bomb. The sub-sea deposits of methane beneath the Arctic are beginning to bubble to the surface as the region warms up and the ice retreats. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, and its past release from deposits has been suggested as the cause of abrupt changes in the past global climate. If these observations are confirmed, and if there is found to be a positive feedback loop driving the effect, then it would be rather bad news for the projected rate of climate change.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

2008 Dirac Medal - Institute of Physics

The Institute of Physics has awarded its 2008 Dirac medal to Bryan Webber who was my PhD supervisor at the Cavendish Laboratory circa 1980.


The brief version of the citation is:

For his pioneering work in understanding and applying quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of the strong interaction which is one of the three fundamental forces of Nature.
The full citation is:

The Dirac medal of the Institute of Physics for outstanding contributions to theoretical, mathematical and computational physics has been awarded to Professor Bryan R. Webber, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, for his pioneering work in understanding and applying quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of the strong interaction which is one of the three fundamental forces of Nature.

The strong force is felt by quarks, the constituents of protons and neutrons, and is carried by gluons which themselves interact via the strong force. To verify that the theory is correct requires being able to make accurate predictions of its consequences in particle physics experiments. Since the interactions are complex, this represents a formidable challenge.

Professor Webber is recognised worldwide as having a profound understanding of QCD - from which he has derived key practical numerical tools for extracting quantitative information from high-precision experimental data. Over the past 20 years, these tools have been used in high-energy experiments around the world, for example, in the Large Electron-Positron Collider at CERN.

Webber proposed a number of successful models that show what happens during high-energy particle collisions, for example, the break-up of quarks into jets of other particles. He developed powerful algorithmic approaches that not only allow much more accurate interpretation of particle events but also provide theoretical insights into the complexities of QCD. His work led to the theoretical consolidation of QCD, as recognised by the ensuing award of the Nobel Prize to the originators of the theory.

Recently, Webber performed ground-breaking work on the phenomenology associated with the kind of physics that will be explored in the very high energy proton-proton collisions shortly to begin at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Professor Webber’s contributions to our understanding of the fundamental properties of matter have been invaluable, as revealed by the large number of citations of his published research.
I notice that the winner of the 2008 Dirac Medal (Institute of Physics) appeared in Wikipedia on 8th October 2007, so this blog posting of mine brings year-old news to you. My apologies for this oversight.

I also notice on Wikipedia that the winner of the 1987 Dirac Medal (Institute of Physics) was Stephen Hawking, who was my brother Julian's PhD supervisor, so we are now both "descended" from Dirac Medallists.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Luttrell Psalter

I've just got around to looking at a book that I bought in early 2007. The photo shows the front cover of the book, which immediately suggests the reason that I bought it. It is 36cm high by 25cm wide, it is 7.5cm thick, it weighs over 5kg, and it is by far the largest book that I possess.

It is a facsimile copy of the Luttrell Psalter, which was written and illuminated during the second quarter of the 14th century, and is famed as a source of pictorial information about everyday life during the Middle Ages. A small sample of this can be seen in the photo above.

The original project to create the Luttrell Psalter was very expensive in both time and money. It was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell who ensured that an image of him and his family appeared in the book, which guaranteed that his name would never be forgotten, as no doubt he intended.

The Luttrell Psalter will be a great source of pictures for me to write about in this blog.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Scientific Linux - navigation blocked

I was browsing the Scientific Computing World article A Universe of Data on the computing resources at CERN, when my attention was caught by mention of a version of Linux that I had not heard of before called Scientific Linux. What's so special about that? So I duly Googled the string "Scientific Linux" and the top hit was described as:

Scientific Linux - Welcome to Scientific Linux (SL) - 13:58Is a Linux release put together by Fermilab, CERN, and various other labs and universities around the world ready tuned for experimenters. - 26k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

So I then followed the link to get this:

I have never seen this sort of warning before, and I do a lot of internet browsing. I didn't explore any further because unexpected things on the internet always spook me, and by playing very safe I have managed to avoid all the nasty problems that I regularly hear about from other people.

I am reasonably sure that the problem is a trivial misconfiguration of the site, rather than a malicious attempt by Internet Explorer to try to prevent people from visiting this particular site. Surely, it couldn't be the case that a is so self-righteous that they shoo away Internet Explorer users? Or am I just being paranoid?