Friday, December 13, 2013

Partial Deregulation in Mexico's Energy Sector

I want to spread awareness of some breaking news today in Mexico.
The lower House of Representatives has passed a bill that allows foreign companies to own up to 50% of energy companies in Mexico. This includes oil, natural gas and electricity companies.
The bill still needs to pass in the Upper House of Representatives.
If you haven't read the news already, check out the following story by the LA Times.

I think that this bill is a step in the right direction. Government monopolies over the energy sector are never as effective as private companies, so I'm glad to see this partial deregulation of the oil/NG/electricity sector. However, it's only a partial step, and it doesn't do what's ultimately required for real positive change.

(To my knowledge) The bill doesn't give landowners back their mineral rights.
This has been one of the major problems in Mexico. The mineral rights are owned (and still will be owned) by the government.

The Current Law: Per the Federal Mexican Constitution, the Federal Mexican Government owns and holds all the mineral and petroleum resources located under the surface of the ground (In other words, the owner of land in Mexico only owns the surface thereof and any non-restricted treasure therein).

So, until the Mexican government gives the mineral rights back to the landowners, I'm slightly skeptical that we'll see huge increases in production of oil&gas in Mexico's.
The new law is a good first step, but it's only the beginning towards a free market.

(Side note:  I'm completely in favor of capping CO2 emissions from combusting fossil fuels. The reason I want to see free energy markets is that I think that we'll be drilling for oil&gas long after we stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere because we still need oil&gas for making plastics. Also, we can capture and storage any CO2 generated at power plants. So, you can be pro-oil&gas development and pro-capping-CO2 emissions. The two are not exclusive.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Energy Currency vs. Bitcoin Currency vs. Fiat Currency vs. Gold Currency vs. Google Currency

Currency is a means to an end. The end is growth, happiness, knowledge, complexity, diversity, etc...
Currency is a mean to those ends because it allows people to collectively trade goods, i.e. through the use of currency I don't need to trade my engineering services directly with farmers in order to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. I can trade my engineering services with companies, who pay me in $dollars, and somewhere down the line, farmers trade their food for $dollars.
This is the most important purpose of a currency: a respected Medium of Exchange.

The other major purpose of a currency is not really a function of the currency as it is really a function of the investor. The question is: can the currency be invested into companies and/or banks so that one's investment in terms of real goods increases with time. In order words, the money invested into companies and banks should not have rapid fluctuations and it should increase with time, i.e. it should be a stable Storage of Wealth. This means that all sorts of growing companies need to accept payment of the currency. This also means that the currency must be safe from theft and that you can purchase stocks/bonds/homes using the currency with near-zero transaction fees.

As of the end of 2013, Bitcoin appears to satisfy only one of the two purposes of a currency: Medium of Exchange. (For more details on Bitcoin, check out the following YouTube video. It's the best summary of Bitcoin I've seen so far.) As far as a stable Storage of Wealth, Bitcoin has failed miserably...due to theft, price fluctuations, and arbitrary rules for increasing the number of Bitcoins in circulation. But this is not a complete problem, as long as you realize that you shouldn't be holding onto Bitcoins, but rather you should be investing your savings into projects with real, positive rates of return on investment, such as stocks and bonds. Where are the stable and growing Bitcoin-friendly banks, stocks and bonds?

I think that there are some novel aspects to Bitcoin as a currency, such as the innovative way of having all of the currency transactions recorded by the public and without a central organizing agency. I would like to see a currency like Bitcoin take off and become a global medium of exchange with near-zero friction (i.e. with near zero transaction fees.)

However, people who purchase Bitcoins should realize that there are some underlying problems with Bitcoin:
(1) There is currently an arbitrary limit to the number of Bitcoins. This expected limit is around 21 Million Bitcoins. (See graph below) The problem is that it's not clear what will be the incentive to secure the transactions (i.e. to mine Bitcoins) if there are no more Bitcoins available to be generated.

(2) To continue along point 1, the amount of currency should track the growth in the capability to generate useful work. New currency should be generated when self-replicating power plants are built, and not due to some arbitrary limit and not when gold/silver are mined out of the ground. I'd like to see an alternative to Bitcoin in which new currency is generated only when new power plants are built and only when people democratically vote to allow more currency (i.e. not just when Ben Bernanke says so.)

(3) Right now, new Bitcoins are instead generated when transactions occur, but there is no connection between the amount traded in transactions and the growth rate in useful work.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Highlights from the Last Few Weeks in Particle and Astro Physics News

It's been a roller-coaster month for many scientists. In the US, there was a government shut-down. And in the wider community, there have been a number of news article on some interesting, but inconclusive experimental finding. The goal of this post is to highlight the findings and give people links to the articles by Scientific American and New Scientist.

So, a list of some recent experimental findings:

(1) Dark Matter particles likely have rest mass between 8 keV and 14 keV
Horiuchi et al. recently published a paper that compares experimental measurements with dark matter theory suggests that the rest mass of dark matter particles is somewhere between 8 keV and 14 keV. Only in this range of values of the rest mass can the number of experimentally measured subhalo counts be predicted. (See Figure 2 and Table II from their paper below.) This appears to be strong experimental evidence against dark matter with rest mass values of MeV or GeV. I look forward to see more data collection and analysis along these lines.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Hype this week from the National Ignition Facility

A number of blogs this week have been critical of the hype this week on BBC news that nuclear fusion researchers at the National Ignition Facility reached a "milestone."

The NIF is an exciting research facility because it allows us to understand nature better and because it helps us understand the D-T fusion process used for military applications. However, I'm afraid that what we've learned this week is that the science media (once again) goes after whatever can get hype.

So, let's be clear with what happened at NIF last month.

192 lasers generated photons that had 1.8 MJ of energy. (It should be pointed out that the NIF site consumed well more than 1.8 MJ of electricity to create the 1.8 MJ of photons. If this had been a semi-continuous event, the lasers would likely need at least 5 MJ to create the 1.8 MJ in photons.)

Of the 1.8 MJ in the photons, less than 14 kJ of energy reached the inside of the target as high energy X-rays. And 14 kJ of neutrons were generated from the reaction. Assuming that the neutrons are used to run a Rankine cycle power plant (same as for nuclear fission), then we are talking about roughly 5 kJ of electricity could be generated from the neutrons.

This means that the site spent ~5MJ of electricity to be able to perhaps obtain 5 kJ of electricity.

This means that NIF is three orders of magnitude away from "breakeven," and four orders of magnitude after from being "thermodynamically viable." This is far from a "milestone", and it is far away from what has already been achieved by the magnetically-confined fusion plasmas at JET.

I think that it's silly that NIF is trying to sell itself as an energy source of the future.

With that having been said, I want to point out that the idea of nuclear fusion is not a complete pipe dream. There is a possibly viable route to electricity production via magnetically-confined fusion plasmas, such as the still-being-built ITER experiment in Cadarache, France.

While this experiment is really expensive and there's still a chance that there's another plasma instability that will keep the system from reaching the real "breakeven" milestone (i.e. of generating more potential electricity from the neutrons than the electricity consumed to heat the plasma), I am proud that this facility is getting funding from world governments, including the US. The research at ITER is ground-breaking, and magnetically-confined fusion plasma is a potential energy source in the future if we can figure out how to control a few more of the instabilities have have appeared over the last ~60 years of research in this field.

I'd like to end this post by detailing some more information on some of the main engineering breakthroughs required before magnetically-confined fusion plasma can become "engineering" viable.

List of engineering breakthroughs required for magnetically-confined fusion plasma
(Also see slide 4 of the following presentation. The required engineering 'feats' or breakthroughs are well known. The required feats are all likely achievable...just really damn hard and require lots of upfront capital to do the research.)
(1) Controlling any instabilities that occur through alpha-heating  (i.e. there are likely to be instabilities due to the fact that the alpha particles emerge with energies on the order 4 MeV, but the core temperature of the plasma may only be 100's of keV.) The ability to control potential instabilities in nuclear fusion powered plasmas will be tested at ITER.
(2) Not-steady-state: Tokamak plasmas have a torodial electric field that must be applied by a time-varying magnetic field. This means that the process is inherently not-steady-state because you eventually need to change the direction of the electric field as you reach the maximum magnetic field that can be generated. This means that the plasma needs to be turned off (likely on a weekly/monthly basis), and then the current needs to be restarted in the opposite direction. An engineering 'feat' is required here to design a system that doesn't break during these scheduled start-ups / shut-downs (or a breakthrough is required in steady-state plasmas) and that isn't cost prohibitive. So far, the steady-state stellarators designs have been cost-prohibitive.
(3) The wall materials that can withstand high flux of ions, electrons, photons, and neutrons still need to be tested and proven to work. Also, the process for generating Tritium from Lithium needs to be demonstrated on a continuous basis.  (Note: there are plans to do this testing. I'm just point out that this has still been yet to demonstrated.)
(4) There are also a number of challenges associated with making cheap, super-conducting, high field magnets, with fueling the plasma, with removing heat, and with designing wall materials to withstand instabilities that release large amounts of energy to the wall while not releasing material from the wall that can end up cooling off the core of the plasma.

My overall conclusion (i.e. educated guess) is that magnetically-confined fusion plasma may be engineering-feasible sometime in the next 50 years, but it may not be economically competitive in the next 100 yrs. There's just too much uncertainty to known if magnetically-confined fusion will ever be economically viable against other sources of energy.

What can be stated with 99% certainty is that inertially-confined, laser-driven fusion is nowhere close to being engineering-viable or economically-viable. As a tax-payer in the US, I'd like to be able to vote for where my taxes goes. I would be willing to vote for magnetically-confined fusion plasma research, but I would not vote for my tax dollars to go to inertially-confined fusion research.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A summary of why we need to globally reduce the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

What do coral reefs off of the coast of Australia, computer chip factories in Thailand, ski&snowboarding resort on the US east coast, and islands in the South Pacific all have in common? The answer is that all of these places are already feeling the negative impact of human-induced increases in the concentration of CO2 into the atmosphere.
The goal of this post is explain the science behind the effects of higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, such as global warming, ocean acidification, and sea level rises. My hope is to explain in a somewhat less-technical manner the effects of higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere compared with the recent publication by the IPCC. There's nothing wrong with how the IPCC presents this information; it's just that I think that it's help for the information to be presented by the eyes of somebody who has no connection to those people who wrote the report or the papers cited in the report.
Unfortunately, the topic of CO2 emissions has become so politicized that the actual facts are easily swept under the rug of political ideology. Part of the problem is that environmental groups rarely discuss the actual science (and are quick to bash people who aren't alarmists), and the other part of the problem is clearly that there are people who refuse to accept that humans can affect the global climate, the ocean pH, or the sea level.  I consider myself a fairly moderate person and my goal here is to tell it as it is, regardless of how difficult it may or may not be to solve the problem of preventing major changes to Earth's climate, to Earth's average sea/ocean level, and Earth's average pH level in the seas/oceans.
So, before I get into the science, I'd like to state simply what the actual problem is that we face:
The problem:  Our global society is on pace to cause the temperature in Arctic and Antarctic to raise to the point at which we will likely see at least a 3 meter increase in sea levels. In addition, the higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause lower pH levels in the ocean, which is harmful to major shell forming species, such as coral reefs. These are the straight-forward and indisbutable effects of higher concenrtations of CO2 in the atmosphere. There are also a number of other effects, of varying levels of certainty.

The Solution: The only realistic way to prevent major climate change, sea level change and pH change is to globally limit the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. We can't "geo-engineer" our way out of this problem by throwing particulates into the atmosphere to scatter light from hitting the surface because this "solution" doesn't solve the fact that the pH of the ocean will continue to decrease if we were to continue to emit large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thoughts on "The Road to Reality"

It's been nearly a decade since Roger Penrose wrote "The Road to Reality." This weekend, I finally finished the book. (I had read individual chapters here and there, but I finally found the time to sit down and read the whole book.) The reason that I finally forced myself to read the whole book is that I wanted to see how many of his speculations in 2004 are still valid today. Also, Roger Penrose has some very interesting ways of describing mathematical theories, and he recognizes the ad hoc and incomplete nature of the current "Standard Model," but doesn't shy away from stating his negative opinions about supersymmetry and string theory.

The book is a breath-taking overview of fundamental physics and geometry from the perspective of a Platonist. What's refreshing about the book is the fact that it's a history of physics and mathematics from the view point of a Platonist (i.e. somebody who believes that mathematics...and perhaps beauty and morality...are eternal, unchanging, and exist eternal to the material and mental world.)

Three worlds, Three mysteries  p20&1029 "The Road to Reality."

What makes the book so refreshing to read is that, in the decade since this book was published, the "physics media" (i.e. Sean Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, Brian Greene, Martin Rees. Leonard Susskind, and others) have attempted to dismantle neo-Platonism and a belief in an unchanging, external world of absolutes. Post-modernism infected most of the social sciences in the 50s-70s, but physics and mathematics were still holding strong against post-modernism and relativism until the 2000s, at which point in time, the "physics media" began hyping string theory, supersymmetry, multi-verses, universes from nothing, randomness, inflation, time symmetric laws of physics, and the quantum randomness. Luckily, as "natural" string theories and supersymmetries have faced an timely demise due to falsification by high-energy particle collider experiments, it's easier to see that the emperor has no clothes.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Road map for the Libertarian Party in the US

I'm writing this post because I'm in a state of disbelief over recent political changes taking place in Australia. What I mean by recent political changes is that the new prime minister of Australia has removed science and environmental ministers from his cabinet and has ended funded for an apolitical climate change working group. While I am a firm believer in limited government, I find the recent moves in Australia (along with some of the anti-science rhetoric in the tea party in the US) to be counter-productive to the cause of freedom. The goal of this post is to explain my beliefs on limited government (i.e. what should be funded by governments and what should not funded) and state my hope for the future of the Libertarian Party in the US.

My belief is that governments should fund public goods and should refrain from funding non-pubic goods. The strict economic definition of a public good is a good that is "non-excludable" and "non-rivalrous." The classic example of a public good is the military. National defense is "non-excludable" because there is no way to limit the benefits of a strong national defense only to those people who pay for the service. Also, national defense "non-rivalrous" because it does not get consumed (in the same way that hamburgers can be consumed.)

Another example of a public good is basic scientific knowledge.  Basic scientific knowledge can't be consumed and is not "less true" because somebody else learns the knowledge. It is also non-excludable because the knowledge can be transmitted on the internet with near-zero cost to anybody who is interested. It is virtually impossible for the scientists doing the research to keep the knowledge a secret because once they share the information, it can easily be put onto the internet and will spread like a wildfire. (Though, it should be pointed out that many forms of applied knowledge are not public goods. For example, knowledge of the amount of oil&gas in the ground in a specific location can be "consumed" and can be "less true" when somebody else learns this knowledge because this knowledge is not a constant with time.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Experimental updates on the Weak Nuclear Force (and predictions for time irreversible dynamics)

This week, the Q-weak experiment at the Jefferson Lab published some initial results from an experiment in which they scattered electrons off of protons in the form of liquid hydrogen. The experiment involved sending in electrons of one spin, measuring the scattering angles, and then sending in electrons of opposite spin to measure the different in the scattering angles due to the difference spin of the electrons. The weak nuclear force caused differences in the scattering of electrons off of protons depending on the spin of the electrons because the weak nuclear force is parity asymmetric. From this difference in scattering, the researchers were able to measure the weak nuclear coupling constant for electrons and protons. This was the first time that researchers have isolated the weak charge of the proton at low collision energies. The value of this coupling constant is in good agreement with the Standard Model of physics. The figure below (Figure 2 from their paper) shows the asymmetry of scattering (due to the weak nuclear force) as a function of the scattering energy squared. Notice in this figure that the value for the asymmetry at zero energy (i.e. near room temperature energies) is not zero. This means that the weak nuclear force has a non-zero effect at room temperature for electron-proton scattering.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is There a Correlation between Real Growth Rates and Inflation? Yes & No

Is there a correlation between real growth rates and inflation rates?
From the data analyzed and presented below, there is virtually no correlation between quarterly real growth rates and quarterly inflation rates if the inflation rate is between -5%/yr and +10%/yr. However, there is a strong negative correlation between decade average real growth rates and the standard deviation of decade long inflation. In other words, what matters for growth is not the actual inflation rate (provide that it is low.) What matters is having a low standard deviation in the monthly inflation rate for an entire decade (or more.) The goal of this post is to show how these results were calculated.

Consumer Price Index
I've analyzed the monthly inflation in the consumer price index from 1913 to 2012 and graphed the inflation rate at each month. There are 1200 data points in the graph below. In addition to the actual data, I've plotted some black lines that represent the average inflation rate over the decade...the average monthly inflation rate in units of [per month]. The grey lines represent standard deviation about the average inflation rate. The brown lines represent the average yearly inflation rate over a given decade, such as 1913-1922, ..., 203-2012. Roughly, not exactly, the brown lines are 12 times larger in value than the black lines.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

LLNL Energy Flow Charts: Energy Services vs. Useful Work

Each year the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory publishes data on the flow of energy throughout the economy. Below is the latest graph. In general, it's a pretty useful graph and it conveys a lot of information. However, the goal of this post is highlight the underlying problem with LLNL's concept of "Energy Services."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jigsaw pieces are falling to place: Neutrino Minimal Standard Model

It seems that the jigsaw pieces are really starting to fall into place, as far as proving the Neutrino Minimal Standard Model and as far as disproving supersymmetry and string theory.

For example, some data presented at the EPS-HEP Conference in Stockholm this week, is lending more evidence towards the Neutrino Minimal Standard Model and against supersymmetry (and hence against string theory as well.)

Discovery at LHC leaves less room for new particles by Symmetry Magazine
(This article discusses how the Standard Model passed an experimental test with flying colors. For more information, you can go directly to the LHCb website. There are other results on the b→sγ  transition on their website they recently presented at the same conference, but which hasn't received as much media attention, but could potentially be extremely important in constraining modification to the Standard Model.)

T2K experiment catches neutrinos in the act by Symmetry Magazine
(This article discusses the publication of an improved data set showing tau neutrinos converting into   electron neutrinos. This data now completes the experiments required to calculate the values inside of the PMNS matrix...i.e. the neutrino mixing matrix.)

Why is neutrino mixing important?  I'll answer this questions throughout the rest of this post.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can you build a self-replicating coal power plant that doesn't emit CO2?

The question posed in the title of this post is yet unanswered. We still do not know if we can build a fossil fuel power plant whose emission of greenhouse gases is zero across its entire life cycle (i.e. construction, operation, and deconstruction.)
But with that having been said, we still don't know if we can build a solar PV or a wind turbine with zero life cycle greenhouse gas emissions. Nobody yet has proven that a solar PV panel or a wind turbine can self-replicate without replying on the existing fossil fuel based economy. (For example, today's solar PV technologies and wind turbines rely on relatively cheap gasoline and fossil fuel based electricity during the construction phase of operations.)
This is a problem because we need to limit the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (While there is still uncertainty on what should be the maximum allowable concentration in the atmosphere, the likely maximum should probably be in the range of 400-800 ppm.) Given that we are currently increasing the concentration of CO2 at a yearly rate of ~3 ppm and given that we have yet to demonstrate a single 'modern' technology that has a zero lifecycle emission of greenhouse gases, we need to get out acts together and start demonstrating technologies that can self-replicate without reliance on an economy that emits greenhouse gases. This means that solar PV projects can't count as truly self-replicating and truly zero GHG-emitting until the electricity from the solar panel and only from the solar panel is used power the factory and build the factory that makes the solar panels.

So, let me know get to the main point of this post: I think that there are ways to design self-replicating coal power plants that don't emit greenhouse gases and that have positive growth rates. While there are a lot of people researching the topic of carbon capture and sequestration at coal power plants, most people in this field stop short at the power plant and don't address the question of how to limit CO2 emissions from factories and steel mills that make products used to construct the power plant. In other words, who cares if you can design a coal power plant that doesn't emit CO2 during operation if there are significant amounts of CO2 emissions during the construction and deconstruction phases of the lifecycle? You can't determine if the system can self-replicate without CO2 emissions until you design and model the whole system (not just the power plant.) This means including the cars that the workers drive into your model of the system.

Therefore, we must start thinking about designing self-replicating power plants cycles that don't emit CO2 emissions. As such, I think that there is one type of coal power plant that is more likely to be able to self-replicate without CO2 emissions than other types of coal power plant. This type of coal power plant goes by the acronym IGCC-CCS. The acronym stands for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle with Carbon dioxide Capture and Sequestration. (Note: Sequestration here refers to storing CO2 under the ground. It should also be noted that there are a number of natural CO2 reservoirs in the U.S and there are plenty of locations to safely store CO2 in the U.S.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Is Dark Matter 2 keV Sterile Neutrinos?

In various previous posts, I've been summarizing the recent evidence for dark matter particles in the keV range. Last month, there was a conference in Paris (Chalonge Meudon Workshop 2013) devoted specifically to the question of whether "warm" dark matter could explain all of the current data collected by astronomers on the distribution of dark matter in the universe. The presentations from the conference can be found online here.

Here's my summary of the presentations from the conference:
(1) The evidence for dark matter particles with a rest mass of 2 keV is getting stronger by each day. The leading candidate particle that matches this rest mass would be a right-handed (sterile) neutrino. However, there are still many unanswered questions, such as how a right-handed, sterile neutrino has a rest mass that is heavier than left-handed neutrinos and how there are so many sterile neutrinos.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Socrates vs. JayZ: Are we awake or just sleeping?

JayZ's Answer:  Hustlers, we don't sleep, we rest one eye up

Socrates's Answer:  I, Socrates, don't have the answer, but I will gladly help you ask the question and help you determine whether your answers make sense logically. But when we ask the question, we should make sure to use a language of absolutes (such as mathematics) rather than a natural language (like English, in which it is easy for Sophists to confuse us.)

I've been re-reading the Theaetetus by Plato (one of my favorite Socratic dialogues). In this dialogue, Socrates is helping a young geometry student (Theaetetus) answer the question "What is knowledge?" and is helping him see the problem with his first answer "Knowledge is perception." To help see the problem with this answer, Socrates asks a series of questions, one of which is the question of how we know we are awake or dreaming: 

Soc. But then, Theaetetus, how can any one contend that knowledge is perception, or that to every man what appears is? 

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Wealth of Nations 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again. It's summer time, and it's also the time of year when BP releases it updated data of world production and consumption of coal, oil, gas, and electricity. There are a few surprises this year...well surprises to me at least. But in general the overall trends are the same:  Brazil, India and China are growing while everybody else is stagnant. I'll start with the surprises, and then I'll present some graphs using data from the 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy workbook.

(1) The US economy (as measured in [TW-hrs] of electrical and mechanical work produced) decreased slightly in 2012 compared with 2011. This means that we are not putting the work we generate to good use. Countries like Brazil, India and China are putting the work they generate to good use. The US (like a lot of other countries) is getting ~0% return on work invested. The reason that this is a surprise to me is that I'm confusing the feeling of growth recently (since Nov 2012), and forgetting that in 2012 the US was focused on the 2012 election rather than trying to grow its economy. 
(2) Japan's economy grew by 3%. This was a surprise to me because they shut down all of their nuclear power plants. I was expecting to see their economy significantly shrink in size. So, you could understand why I was shocked to see Japan's rate of growth exceed the US's rate of growth. (To put it sarcastically, an election in the US can cause more economic damage than a tsunami that causes a country to shut down all of its nuclear power plants.)
(3) China's economy continues to catch up with the U.S. economy. China's rate of growth was 5%/yr compared with the -1%/yr for the US. If China maintain a rate of growth that is 6%/yr larger than the U.S., then in roughly a year and a half years China will be able to generate as much electrical and mechanical work as the U.S. This means that when I do this calculation again using the 2015 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, there is a good chance that China will have the world's largest economy in terms of economic output as measured in [TW-hrs].
(4) The purchasing power parity GDP (i.e. PPP GDP) is a pretty good reflection of the wealth of country, i.e. the capability to do mechanical and electrical work. However, the calculation of the GDP appears to be biased against a few countries, especially Canada and Russia. I can understand why it would be biased against Russia (i.e. black markets and collective farming), but I have no clue why the IMF and other world organizations consistently underestimate the size of Canada's economy.  (Any ideas?)

So, now I'm going to present the data in graphical form. If you are interested in seeing these graphs for prior years (as well as a discussion of the methodology), check out the graphs from previous posts in 2011 and in 2012 on the Wealth of Nations.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The "Past Hypothesis" and the Arrow of Time

I've been watching Sean Carroll's lecture series Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time. In general, I would say that it's a good lecture series. I'm a big fan of the Great Courses lecture series concept. Sean Carroll is a great lecturer, and the Great Courses lecture series does a good job of adding in photos and videos to help explain the material. Some of my favorite lectures were the neuroscience lectures, probably because I've never taken a class in neuroscience. However, as a former physicist, it's easy to pick up on the physics mistakes in the lectures. In any lecture series to a general audience, there are going to be mistakes that wouldn't be there if the actually equations were used. I'll point out a few of the mistakes at the end of this post, but the main point of this post is to highlight the general problem I see across the whole set of lectures. The problem is that the "Past Hypothesis" and reversible laws of physics can not alone explain why entropy increases with time. So, I'll try to explain (a) why Sean Carroll thinks that the "Past Hypothesis" is enough to explain the arrow of time, (b) why the "Past Hypothesis" is not enough to explain the arrow of time, and (c) why we actually need a time-irreversible force of nature (such as the weak nuclear force) to explain the arrow of time.

Carroll knows that the weak nuclear force is the only force of nature that is space-time asymmetric. However, in Lecture 7, Carroll unfortunately dismisses the weak nuclear force. "The weak nuclear force has almost no effect on our everyday lives. In fact, it is really weak." 
But the fact that weak nuclear force is weak does not mean that it's not the cause of the arrow of time. There are lots of particles interacting in the universe. The arrow of time can be smaller (i.e. weaker) than the gravitational or E&M forces without causing any concern. In fact, if the gravitational or E&M forces were the cause of the arrow of time, we would have a lot of explaining to do because these fields exist everywhere.
The other reason why Carroll doesn't think that the weak nuclear force is the actual cause of the arrow of time that we perceive is that weak nuclear force (according to him) "is just an arrow in which the rates are higher in one direction than another?" (According to Carroll, the weak nuclear force is not the cause of the arrow of time because asymmetric part of the weak nuclear force is only a small component of the force and very small in general.)

While it is true that the time-asymmetric part of weak nuclear force (i.e. the component of the CKM matrix that is time-asymmetric) is a small component of the weak nuclear force (i.e. of all of the components in the matrix), this doesn't mean that the asymmetric component isn't the cause of the arrow of time. Note that this 1 component in the CKM matrix is the only part of a force of nature that is time asymmetric. There are no components in gravity or E&M that are time-asymmetric. There are components in the strong nuclear force that hypothetically could be time-asymmetric, but experimentally have been determined to be near-zero. And all of the time-asymmetric components of the weak nuclear force boil down to the same time-asymmetric component of the CKM matrix. I do not think that it is a coincidence that there is one arrow of time, that the universe is expanding, and that there is only one component of the forces of the nature that is time-asymmetric.

So, let me rephrase this because it's important to highlight. The time-asymmetric part of the weak  nuclear force is small compared with the time-reversible parts of the weak nuclear force. Think of this as a small drift velocity sitting on top of a symmetric distribution of velocities in a gas. The drift velocity is small compared with the root-mean-square velocity, but this can cause a large macroscopic effect over time as all of particles eventually move in one direction. So, to be precise, it is one of the (relatively small) components of the weak nuclear force that is the cause of the arrow of time. Unfortunately, Prof Carroll focuses on the whole CKM matrix rather than focusing on the 1 component of the CKM matrix that is time asymmetric.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Leonard Susskind: Holograms and Indestructible bits

For those of you who haven't watched this video by Leonard Susskind on Holograms and Black Holes, I suggest watching it (a few times.)
Below are some of my favorite lines from the lecture, as well as some comments on the ideas.

(1) Dr. Susskind has created what he calls the Negative First Law of Physics:
"Bits are indestructible"

By this, he means that information can't be destroyed. To paraphrase how he puts it, "Can you erase a bit?"   Answer: "From the computer..yes. But you eject it out of the computer into the environment, the bit does not get destroyed." This means that information can be spread out or brought together, but it can't be destroyed.

While I completely agree with Susskind's statement that information can't be destroyed, I think that this is just a partial restatement of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (as stated by Joe Rosen.) Dr. Rosen stated that "The symmetry group of the cause is a subgroup of the symmetry group of the effect. Or less precisely: The effect is at least as symmetric as the cause." According to Dr. Rosen, the symmetry group of the universe increases or remains the same. In fact, the symmetry group of the past is embedded into the symmetry group of the future, and hence you can't destroy information. This is why I think that Susskind's Negative First Law is just part of the Second Law of Thermodynamics...which is really just the Symmetry Principle, as stated by Joe Rosen.

But there's more to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics than what is stated in Susskind's "Negative First Law." The 2nd Law states that the symmetry state of the universe can increase. This means that we can increase the amount of information. Second Law of Thermodynamics is saying that the information in the universe is non-decreasing with time. The negative first law states that information can't be destroyed, so when you combine the two (as in Joe Rosen's formulation of the 2nd Law), you get the following: "Information in the universe can't decrease with time and can't be destroyed." New information can be generated, but old information can't be destroyed. Information might be hidden from us (such as inside of a Black Hole.) But the black hole eventually will evaporate. When it evaporates, it releases the information it grabbed when it "ate my homework" plus it also releases more information about what happened inside of the black holes during its irreversible lifetime. Just like the information in the thermal energy ejected from your computer screen into the environment when you go to a new website, the information ejected from a black hole is in a form such that it is virtually impossible for us to "recreate our homework after the black hole eats it."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Lee Smolin's "Time Reborn"

Below is Lee Smolin's summary of his new book Time Reborn. (See Peter Woit's critic of the book or Smolin's article in New Scientist which is included at the end of this post for those readers that don't subscribe to New Scientist.)

Smolin: "
(1) Whatever is real in our universe is real in a moment of time, which is one of a succession of moments.
(2) The past was real but is no longer real. We can, however, interpret and analyze the past, because we find evidence of past processes in the present.
(3) The future does not yet exist and is therefore open. We can reasonably infer some predictions, but we cannot predict the future completely. Indeed, the future can produce phenomena that are genuinely novel, in the sense that no knowledge of the past could have anticipated them.
(4) Nothing transcends time, not even the laws of nature. Laws are not timeless. Like everything else, they are features of the present, and they can evolve over time.

The problem with Lee Smolin's conclusions (especially conclusion #4) is that once you state that "the laws of nature transcend time," then you destroy any attempt at rationality. For example, how does one make predictions if the laws of nature transcend time? In general, I think that the argument that the laws of physics can evolve randomly is just silly because one has to explain why the laws of physics (such as gravity) haven't changed over the last billion or so years. (For example, the gravitational force didn't change from inverse squared to inverse or inverse cubed...or else the solar system wouldn't have been stable.)

It's not that hard to introduce time into the laws of just need one of the forces of nature to be time asymmetric. My personal belief is that time is intimately associated with the weak nuclear force because, by including the weak nuclear force, we now have a force of nature that is not time-reversal symmetric. In fact, there is exactly one parameter in the CKM matrix that describes this asymmetry. (Had there been two or more independent parameters in the CKM matrix that are time asymmetric, then there could have been some weird worlds with multiple axes that expand or contract.)

But Lee Smolin only discusses the weak nuclear force once in the book.

"The Standard Model of Particle Physics is almost time-reversible but not fully so. (There is one mostly inconsequential aspect of the weak nuclear interaction that does not reverse.)" (pg52)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Table of Contents for “Grow, Baby, Grow: How to expand life in the universe”

I've been working on updating the table of contents to this blog because the last time I updated the Table of Contents was October 2011. This post contains the update to the TOC, it hopefully provide a way for people new to the blog to see what are the main topics discussed here.


My goal is to communicate how life can expand and grow, both on this planet and on others. To grow, we need to obtain a large rate of return on investment from our electricity generating technology, so a main focus of this blog is on the economics of electricity generation. Another main force of the blog is physics and mathematics, and the reason for this focus in this blog is the same reason that Plato wrote the following above the entrance to the Academy:

"Let no one ignorant of Mathematics enter here."

The study of mathematics and physics is the study of the timeless truths, and a reminder that there are things/ideas that exist independent of particular physical realizations. We are self-replicating mathematical structures that want to grow, and mathematical structures can't be killed.

To summarize, the goal of life is to expand. Life requires mechanical or electro-chemical work to survive, and to grow, it requires a large, positive rate of return on work invested.

The goal of this post is to present a table of content of the posts created for this site, and to highlight the connections between the posts.  Each of the major themes is numbered below:

1)    A detailed summary of my philosophy of life can be found at the following post.

A Summary of My Philosophy of Life: How Best to Expand Life?

There is an underlying digital structure to our analog world

2)     One of the main themes throughout the blog is that we don’t face an “energy” or an “exergy” crisis, but rather a crisis of decreasing rates of return on investment. We suffer from a ‘growth’ crisis in the US, Japan and Europe.

There is no Energy or Exergy Crisis. It's a Problem of Low Rates of Return on Investment. Understanding the Problem by Correctly Defining Energy, Exergy and Entropy

The Cause of the 2007/2008 Recession: Our Decreasing Return on Work Invested and How to Fix the Problem

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Heavy Dark Matter Particle is an Oxymoron

So, there's been a lot of news recently about possible evidence for a dark matter particle. But this is probably just media hype. The science media (such as New Scientist) has been going full throttle since the Higgs discovery last year, and now they don't know what to do with themselves, so they jumps on any news, regardless of its quality.
And that's the case with the recent hype about finding evidence for a 8.6 GeV dark matter particle using an underground detector in Minnesota, USA.
If you're not familiar with the story, check out one of the following articles before continuing:

New Scientist: Tentative dark matter hits fit with shadow dark sector
New Scientist: Going Underground in Search of Dark Matter Strikes

The actual data results can be found here.

A realistic assessment can be found at the Résonaances blog

Résonaances: More mess with dark matter detection

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where does Mathematics come from? Views from Pythagoras, Plato & Cognitive Scientists

In a previous article (Pie in the Sky), I reviewed a book by George Lakoff and Rafael Núñez called "Where Mathematics Comes From."  In that article, I give what I think is a fair treatment of their argument that "There must ultimately be a biologically based account of the mechanism by which [mathematical idea] are created, learned, represented, and used." (pg 347 of the original hard cover version)

The authors have a great deal of respect for mathematicians, but they do not believe in the "Romance of Mathematics." To them, the "Romance of Mathematics" is the idea that mathematics is eternal, non-human, and fundamental to the universe. They are afraid of this Romantic idea because, to them, "The Romance of Mathematics is not a story with a wholly positive effect. It intimidates people. It makes mathematics seem beyond the reach of even excellent students with other primary interests and skills. It leads many students to give up on mathematics as simply beyond them. The Romance serves the purpose of the mathematical community. It helps to maintain an elite and then justify it. It is part of a culture that rewards incomprehensibility, in which it is the norm to write only for an audience of the initiated--to write in symbols rather than clear exposition and in maximally accessible language..." (pg 341)

While I agree that most papers on mathematics are beyond my understanding (even though I studied physics for roughly 20 yrs), this has nothing to do with the fundamental question: is mathematics eternal, non-human, and fundamental to the universe?

So, I think that it's important to review what other great thinkers have believed, and their arguments for those beliefs.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Stop the Stimulation

I'm not sure about you, but I'm getting tired of central banks stimulating their economies.
No means no!
How did the concept of "printing money" get turned into the concept of "stimulus"? Printing money is an indirect tax on anybody who saves. [Unlike direct taxes, which are paid by those who work (employment taxes) or those who consume (sales taxes).]  Printing money is not likely to have a significant effect on the economy unless the printed money is invested into projects with higher values of return on investment than the money would have been invested by those peopled taxed by the "inflation" (or less "deflation".)

The reason that "printng money" may have turned into the concept of "stimulus" is that stock markets indexes often increase whenever Central Bank propose printing money. So, non-economists often think that printing money is a good thing because the "DOW JONES was up for the day." But this stock market rise is not an indicator that printing money is a good thing. Why? Because printing money will cause the value of everything to go up. Stock market gains after a Central Bank proposes printing money are not a proof that printing money is good for an economy. It's like cheating on a test in high school. At first, it looks like your grades are improving, but it's not sustainable in the long-run.

Japan's Central Bank is once again hoping that they can cover up their indirect taxes in the sweet-sounding wording of "stimulus." According to the AP,

"Japan is taking aggressive action to lift consumer prices, encourage borrowing and help pull the world's third-largest economy out of a long slump."

Journals are one of the main culprits in this "stimulation" fiasco because they seems to report whatever Central Banks tell them to report. How many journalists actually take the time to look into the historical data on whether printing money improves an economy?

Here's why I think that printing money is not going to solve Japan's lack of economic growth:
Falling prices means that people are more likely to save rather than consume. Higher savings leads to higher growth if the savings are placed into wise investments (and by wise investments, I mean those investments with large values of rate of return on investment.)

Sure, you can print money, but who do you think is better able to make choices on where to invest? (Government? Or Individuals?) This is not an easy question to answer. But if you study history, you are likely to think that individuals are better at choosing investment with large values of rate of return than are governments because the highest growth rates have been achieved when there is limited government interference in an economy. A lot of the printed money ends up going into government bonds (i.e. useful work that governments spend rather than individuals invest.) Remember: printing money doesn't affect the amount of useful work being generated in a country. It's just a tax that takes from those who save (invest) and gives to governments to waste. Printing money doesn't instantaneously change the number of power plants or the amount of petroleum in reserve.

So, I'm doubtful that printing money will solve Japan's lack of growth. But I know of at least one idea that Japan could return to growth:  restart the ~52 nuclear reactors that are shut down. The biggest stimulus to the Japanese economy would be to turn back on these nuclear reactors. This will drastically increase the amount of useful work in their society. It's real simple. If Japan wants to return to growth, they just have to turn back on their nuclear reactors.  (For more information on Japan's nuclear reactors, check out the following article I wrote in Feb 2012. As of Mar 2013, only 2 of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors were operating.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why we need to regulate global carbon dioxide emissions

The level of vitriol in the public sphere (as far as climate change goes) seems to getting worse recently.
I normally try to stay out of the climate debate because it's extremely complicated and I think that it's important to not be alarmist. Alarmist (to me) means either advocating for an immediate return to 300 ppm levels of CO2 in the atmosphere (which would likely have drastically negative effects on economy...and ultimately on life in general) or it means advocating for the status quo because CO2 taxes would somehow destroy the economy. The economy will not tank if we implement a market-based CO2 tax that kicks in slowly over the next 20-50 years (and that doesn't lead to higher levels of government waste/spending.)

So, the question of course is: why should we regulate CO2 emissions? The answer that most people discuss is "The Climate." Some of the more extreme climate alarmists link CO2 emissions to specific hurricanes, storms, and droughts. They often ignore any benefits of a warmer climate, and then proceed to attack anybody who isn't 110% behind their cause. This is not the way of scientific discourse, let alone discourse in general. So, I figured that I'd write an article that trying to focus on known facts.

CO2 is a known greenhouse gas. There's no debate here. The question is: what is the effect of CO2 on the climate? The answer is that it's an extremely complicated effect. It depends on the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, along with a lot of other positive and negative feedback mechanisms. Both the weather, the climate, and the economy are extremely complicated, and extremely non-linear. This means there is no solution to the question: what is the "optimal" amount of CO2 in the atmosphere? But before we throw up our hands, let's also look at the other aspects of CO2.

CO2 is required for photosynthesis. (But even those people working in greenhouses typically don't allow the CO2 levels to exceed 1000-1500 ppm. Too much CO2 is not good for least for the type of plants that have evolved to live in an environment of 300 ppm of CO2.)

CO2 is a known acid gas, though a really weak acid gas compared with NOx and SOx. But it is still an acid gas, and it is this quality to CO2 which makes it different than other gases in the atmosphere, such as N2. Higher levels of COwill slowly cause the oceans to be less basic (i.e. lower the pH) and will increase the concentration of dissolved CO2 species in the ocean. The effect of changing pH is complicated because it's not just a change in's also a change in CO2 concentrations and possibly temperature.

CO2 is also a toxic gas a quantities above 5000 ppm for humans (and likely for other animals.) OSHA and NIOSH (as well as the equivalent safety organizations in other countries) regulate indoor air quality and air quality in confined spaces so that workers aren't exposed to CO2 levels above 5000 ppm (8-hr time-weighted averaged.) See the following sites.
According to these sites, CO2 levels between 1000 and 2000 ppm can lead to drowsiness  Levels between 2000  and 5000 can lead to headaches, sleepiness, and loss of attention. At concentrations above 5000 ppm, this can lead to nausea.

Given that many of us work in buildings, it's important to make sure that CO2 concentrations don't go above 1000 ppm. If the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere increases from 400 ppm to ~800 ppm due to continued emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel power plants and vehicles, then it will be a lot more difficult to keep the concentration of CO2 in building below 1000 ppm. It won't be impossible to do this. I'm just pointing out the fact that, regardless of CO2 's effect on global temperatures, we will eventually want to regulate CO2 emissions so that we all don't start falling asleep and complaining of headaches/nausea. There is more than enough fossil fuels in the ground to cause the CO2 levels to go above 1000 ppm. It would be nice to hope that plants and photosynthesis micro-organisms could keep the CO2 levels below 800 or 1000 ppm, but this does seem like a risky bet.

So, in conclusion, I'd like to see more discussion on the health effects of CO2 emissions, and less on "CO2 emissions caused this storm." As somebody who works in the area of non-linear dynamics, I recognize that  there is a slippery slope to lawlessness if we start blaming tropical storms on CO2 emissions. We might as well blame butterflies in the Amazon on Hurricane Sandy. The reason that I'm writing this post is that I'd like to see people focus on those aspects of CO2 emissions which have no possible benefits (and only negatives, such as sleepiness, headaches and nausea) and which are not highly non-linear. Personally speaking, I think that more people would understand the need to regulate CO2 emissions if you tell them that higher CO2 levels will cause sleepiness, headaches, and nausea than if you tell them that it will be warmer outside. Unless of course you happen to be talking to somebody who skis, snowboards, lives in the desert, or lives on the coast...then I suggest sticking to the global warming argument.  :-)

p.s. And as should be pretty clear from his website, we can still have a growing society, even after we regulate global CO2 emissions. We just need to switch to power plants with CO2 capture/storage (along with some renewables), and we'll need to switch to vehicles that don't rely on fossil fuels. This could be battery-electric vehicles, fuel cells, or cars running on renewable-derived liquid fuels. This transition needs to happen over the next ~50 years in order to keep CO2  levels at or below ~600 ppm. But it's got to be a global transition. We can continue to grow while keeping CO2  levels below ~600 ppm. But it will require global regulation of CO2 emissions or else we'll run into the age-old "Problem of the Commons."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Overhype of Negative Temperatures

A lot of the major scientific news agencies have recently picked up an article recently written in Science that claims to have created a material with a “so-called” negative temperature. The authors of the paper have not created a system that violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (Though, many of the ‘science writers’ for Scientific American and New Scientist make it sound as if they have.) Worse, the authors of all of the magazine articles suggest that this research might be relevant to dark energy in the universe. The goal of this post is to refute the conclusion in this Science article and the speculation by the news agencies.
Here are links to articles written by the science news agencies: New Scientist     Scientific American          Science Daily
While there have been a lot of previous research papers that discuss the topic of negative temperatures, the problem is that we should only be using the word temperature to describe a system that is in thermal equilibrium. The term “temperature” is only really defined for systems that are in thermal equilibrium. A system of particles can be out-of-thermal equilibrium when the energy distribution function (EDF) is a not perfectly straight line (on a log-linear) scale with a negative slope. In thermal equilibrium, the EDF is a perfectly straight line, and the negative slope of the line is inversely proportional to temperature.
When a system of particles is out-of-thermal equilibrium, you can’t use a single variable to describe interactions (such as reaction rates); you have to plot the full EDF. There are some interesting examples of EDF’s in which there are locations in the EDF in which locally the slope of the EDF is positive, i.e. there are more particles at energy (E) than at energy (E-x), where E-x is some value less than E. Below are a couple of electron energy distribution functions from weakly ionized plasmas (i.e. fluorescent light bulbs.)