The model of the world we all learned in school, where everything is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons, is not only wrong but is woefully incorrect. For example, the neutron is actually not a fundamental particle, but is a proton, neutron, and another little guy called a neutrino all stuck together. Neutrinos have no mass and no charge so they're darned near impossible to get ahold of and study--or so we believed. The proton itself isn't really fundamental but is comprised of three smaller particles called quarks. The theory says you can never pull them apart separately, so a proton is pretty close to being fundamental. We've all heard for years about other strange particles but they sounded too confused and abstruse to bother about. The "standard model", illustrated at the left, shows that the situation really isn't that bad. The main part is pretty simple really: there are only six quarks and three leptons that really matter (the electron, the muon, and the tau). Almost everything is made of these. Further, each of the main leptons has an associated neutrino, shown above it, and each the four fundamental types of force has its own particle to carry the force, these being shown on the right of the chart. Unfortunately, just when things started to settle down into something comprehensible, the standard model must now be rejiggered because it has been confirmed that--contrary to the standard model and nearly everyone's belief--the neutrino has mass after all(!).
For this week's quantum weirdness discovery, it was found that "entanglement", the process by which one particle "knows" what another one is doing, even though they have absolutely no way of communicating with each other, can be transferred like momentum from one particle to another entirely different one.
In scam land, the latest thing to worry about is an email going around claiming that you're subject to a lawsuit. It looks real, but avoid it at all costs. The technique, called "phishing" in the hacker community, has been around for quite a while, but the lawsuit angle is new. This is very dangerous--a close relative got phished just a couple of weeks ago with an email which seemed to be from the bank. Once the credit card or bank account information is obtained, it is sold online. As an aside, this link, which goes to the NYT, is yet another example of a phenomenon I noted sometime back: the presse ancienne is continuing to work overtime to disparage the Internet in every way it can muster. Gee I wonder why.
Google still wasn't sitting on its thumbs this week. It released fantastic three-inch-resolution imagery. Just open up Google Earth and go to Las Vegas to check it out. There's an interesting background to this tale. More on that later.
A "live" CD is one which allows you to run the whole operating system from the CD. You just pop it into the CD drive and boot from there and the whole OS is loaded into memory. Your hard drive remains untouched. This is a great way to fix your system if broken or to try out a new OS with no fear of breaking your installed system. While this has been available literally for years in the Linux world, Windows users should be thrilled that a Windows bootable CD was released this week. You still have to have a legitimate license for Windows and can only be using your license on one machine at a time.
Apple meanwhile announced the latest free upgrade to Mac OS X 10.4, is working closely with Intel to develop the desktop world's best parallel computing algorithms, and sought to convince a court that blogging about Apple secrets should be illegal.
Apple is allegedly putting "virtualization" into Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X due out this Fall. This would allow users to run Windows as an application within their Macintoshes, so that all of the Windows software would now run on the Macintosh. The implications could be serious for Microsoft, or they could be minimal, depending on how people react. My guess is that it will help Apple somewhat but most people will still avoid Macintoshes like the plague. Microsoft is putting its own version of virtualization into the next version of Windows, Vista, due out next year. This will allow users to run Linux inside Windows. As usual, this technology is available in Linux today, so that Linux users can run Windows inside Linux right now if they so choose.
Speaking of Bill Gates, a test is now online which allows you to check whether you are autistic or just weird. But it turns out that autism may end up being an evolutionary advantage because a new study shows that the brains of very smart kids mature later. And a new device has been created to help autistic people determine when they are acting inappropriately in social situations--it warns you that you are boring or irritating the people around you. I've needed one of those for years.
Speaking of cool devices making life better, something promised in my childhood has now become reality. A new artificial eye has allowed a blind woman without eyes to see. We live in a miraculous age. We should be thankful.
More good news on the health front--researchers at the University of Texas shown in the photograph have found a possible amelioration or cure for Alzheimers disease. They use the immune system itself to remove the protein (amyloid-beta 42) known to be associated with Alzheimers from the brain. The new approach has been proven to work very well in rats so far.
Surgeons believe that they will now be able to fix hearts with closed-heart surgery, greatly enhancing the prospect of surviving a heart attack.
In other biology advances, cockroaches have been discovered to possess a form of democracy, bacteria apparently move around using a jet of slime, and Greens everywhere will be bitterly disappointed to learn that whale strandings are not the fault of the US Navy.
A very cool online simulation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is available here, courtesy of the US taxpayers.
In psychology, it has been discovered that people sometimes ignore the evidence of their own eyes, that the Dutch and the Germans have the highest IQ's in Europe, and that the scent of fear causes higher scores on standardized tests, rather vitiating the very idea of IQ to some extent. Psychiatrists are once again trying to treat depression with a more refined form of electroshock (this always gives me the willies); patients report that
"When we turn the current on, the emptiness disappears." On the bright side, a new study shows that "just the expectation of a mirthful laughter experience boosts endorphins 27 percent".
In a major blow to the world's culture, the great Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, arguably the greatest science fiction writer of all time, passed this week. He was the author of Solyaris (Solaris), where both the Russian movie and the book were infinitely superior to the American movie. If you haven't read it yet, put it on your list. It's one of the few science fiction books that deeply speaks to the human condition.
Finally, this week's biggest endorphin booster: Japanese robot wrestling has arrived.
Update: The neutron is not quite what I said--I fudged a bit--see chuck's comment below for the full picture.
Update 2: Link to device fixed.
The frying pan versus the fire
1 minute ago