Lawrence Krauss Explains Cosmology

Those of you who attended my Big Bang lecture last year know how difficult cosmology can be to explain, and how poorly a job I really did. Luckily, we don’t have to rely on me. Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Arizona State, discusses a wide range of topics in cosmology, including the expansion of the universe, dark energy and dark matter, the Big Bang, and how it may be possible that the universe actually did create itself from nothing. Most importantly, he discusses the evidence and reasoning for how we know what we do know.

BREAKING NEWS: California’s Proposition 8 Overturned

LA Times reports:

“Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the judge wrote. “Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”Vaughn added: “Plaintiffs seek to have the state recognize their committed relationships, and plaintiffs’ relationships are consistent with the core of the history, tradition and practice of marriage in the United States.“

Ultimately, the judge concluded that Proposition 8 “fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. … Because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

Judge Vaughn Walker’s full decision is available here.

Here’s a Twitter feed thingy about Utah’s reaction, and a reaction by the creator of 8: The Mormon Proposition.

This is incredibly good news. I’m especially pleased the Judge’s decision notes that marriage is a fundamental right. But it begins a (likely) long road to the 9th Circuit and then to the Supreme Court. Overall though, this is a wonderful moment for justice and equality, and is a big boost in confidence for other challenges and activism around the country.

Department of Science Hosts Robert Lang

I just got this email from the computer science mailing list:

This Friday, the College of Science is hosting Dr. Robert Lang, who
will be visiting USU to talk about the connections between
mathematics, science and art through origami folding.  Robert is a graduate of Caltech in engineering and applied physics, and  the recipient of their Distinguished Alumni Award.

While he is here on campus, we’ve arranged for some informal time for students and faculty to visit with Robert and talk about his career and current activities.  It  should be of interest to students and faculty alike.  Please join us:

—> Dr. Robert J. Lang
—> FRIDAY, 2 April 2010
—> 3:00 – 4:30pm
—> College of Science Conference Room, ESLC 245D

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Climategate Investigation Results In . . .

. . . and nothing bad was going on. Surprised? Yeah, me neither.

A UK parliamentary Science and Technology Committee investigated the whole East Anglia CRU thing, and their results have been released.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. But this was not an inquiry into the science produced by CRU and it will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel, announced by the University on 22 March, to determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built.

(Bolding added)

Continue reading Climategate Investigation Results In . . .

Oil Reserves Dramatically Over-estimated

We may have one-third less oil globally than previously thought.

The Telegraph reports that OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) over-reported their reserves in the 80’s. This means that world oil reserves, previously thought to range from 1,150bn to 1,350bn (billion barrels) may actually be between 850 and 900 billion barrels. Supply could outstrip demand for oil as soon as 2014, especially considering Asia’s growing thirst for oil.

Also, many public statistics have started to incorporate unusual sources whose costs are uncertain, such as shale and tar sands. These sources may never be economically sound to develop.

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Violence Flares Over Healthcare Passage

This is distinctly disturbing.

Across the country, rocks or bricks are being thrown through the windows of Democratic Party offices. Congressmen are receiving threats to themselves and their children. Even Sarah Palin herself makes some unsavory implications.

It seems the “break the windows” idea is coming from this guy. As mentioned in my first link, the parallels to Kristallnacht are pretty obvious, but luckily the scale is much smaller.

What’s going on here?

Robot Composers Rise Up

And destroy humanity. With the power of their rocking!

David Cope, a UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor, wrote some software that could compose music in the style of the classical greats–Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov. Emmy, from EMI (Experiments in Musical Intelligence), could actually write (generate, produce, whatever) scores so convincing–even moving–that scholars of classical music couldn’t tell that they were computer-created. In a sense, Emmy had passed a musical version of the Turing Test. Winning praise from fellow computer scientists and a few musicians, Emmy’s music was so good that it attracted far larger condemnation and criticism.

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Interesting Aliens

I’m a pretty big Star Trek fan. I grew up watching The Next Generation with my dad, then DS9, and I even mostly liked Voyager (awesome premise, mediocre execution). The recent movie was incredibly excellent. But one thing that’s always bugged me about the franchise is how not-at-all-alien all the aliens are.

Vulcans have green blood, but they can still reproduce with humans and make Spock? 95% of the species follow a humanoid body plan? Captain Kirk seduces women from anywhere and everywhere? It’s not just biology, but culture as well. Voyager gets flung across the width of the galaxy and meets a guy who understands human jokes? Kirk visits a planet filled with the Italian Mafia? Yeah, I know it was because there aren’t any septapods in the Actor’s Guild, and the humanoid thing was established in the ’60s and became a calling card of the show (and a source of quite a few in-jokes). It’s too bad make-up and special effects budgets for film limit the creativity of the setting.

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