Links for March 2015

  • The eclipse seen from an airplane, time lapse:
  • A 2003 proposal [PDF] to send a probe to the center of the earth riding a $60 million slab of molten iron:

    This proposal is modest compared with the space programme, and may seem unrealistic only because little effort has been devoted to it. The time has come for action.

  • Will the paternoster be reborn?:
    (HN Comments.) This could alleviate a serious limiting factor for extremely tall skyscrapers, which use a surprisingly large fraction of their square footage for elevators.
  • Toward a systematic assessment of the rent hypothesis.

    Rent…is…a payment for a resource in excess of its opportunity cost, one that instead reflects market power. There has been, for the last few years, a “big idea” floating around the economics conversation that these rents are growing — that unearned gains are eating up an larger share of income. Let’s call it “the rent hypothesis.” It’s an appealing idea from a certain perspective. It seems to explain a lot.

    Trying to spot rents is, in this sense, a bit like trying to spot a black hole… the idea is to spot rents by what is missing, by the presence of a contradiction where only rents can fill the gap. This is a fun game to play, but it ends up being pretty unconvincing.

    What, then, might a more convincing analysis show in support of the rent hypothesis? Here are four ideas….

  • The physical appearance of the ISS, from first principles: Why Does The International Space Station Have Such A Weird Shape?
  • National Science Foundation to require open access after one year:

    NSF will require that either the version of record or the final accepted manuscript in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions must:

    • Be deposited in a public access compliant repository designated by NSF;
    • Be available for download, reading and analysis free of charge no later than 12 months after initial publication;
    • Possess a minimum set of machine-readable metadata elements in a metadata record to be made available free of charge upon initial publication;
    • Be managed to ensure long-term preservation; and
    • Be reported in annual and final reports during the period of the award with a persistent identifier that provides links to the full text of the publication as well as other metadata elements.
  • It appears that the childhood cause of myopia (near-sightedness) has finally been pinned down: it’s probably outdoor light exposure, not focal distance. (HN comments.)
  • Cubic robot that walks purely with inertia:
  • A tour of the British accents:
  • On the heritability of entrepreneurship:

    We find that parental entrepreneurship increases the probability of children’s entrepreneurship by about 60%. For adoptees, both biological and adoptive parents make significant contributions to this association. These contributions, however, are quite different in size. Postbirth factors account for twice as much as prebirth factors in our decomposition of the intergenerational association in entrepreneurship.

  • More on modular construction in China.
  • Witten on consciousness:

    I can’t conceive of [consciousness] not remaining a mystery, unless there’s some modification of the laws of physics that’s relevant to understanding the functioning of the brain. And I think that’s very unlikely.
    (H/t Sean Carroll. Like Sean, I think Witten is too pessimistic.)

  • Is there a pattern to when mathematical terms derived from the names of mathematicians are capitalized?

    Having one’s name an uncapitalized mathematical adjective is the highest honor a mathematician can get

  • Psychology journal takes stand against p-values. Here is some good commentary.
  • Skydiver has seizure in middle of jump. (Warning: distressing.)
  • Sabine Hossenfelder has some excellent discussion of public criticisms of scientific research, and some of the incentives at play.
  • A 2,000-atom-wide bacteria:
    Bacteria. Sooooo small.
  • Raytracing, and an explanation for the appearance of the accretion disk of Gargantuan in Interstellar.
  • Weinberg on quantum mechanics:

    There’s something I’ve been working on for more than a year — maybe it’s just an old man’s obsession, but I’m trying to find an approach to quantum mechanics that makes more sense than existing approaches. I’ve just finished editing the second edition of my book, Lectures on Quantum Mechanics, in which I think I strengthen the argument that none of the existing interpretations of quantum mechanics are entirely satisfactory.

    It is becoming more acceptable to admit that quantum mechanics might be unsatisfactory even as new experiments do nothing but confirm it. Why?

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  1. Public criticism of quantum mechanics is more acceptable because the unification of fundamental physics “… hasn’t advanced very much, except for the fact that the theories we speculated about in the 1960s have been confirmed by observation.” In particular, the cosmological constant problem remains unresolved: . For a recent review, see:

    • People don’t criticize the QFT or GR more. Rather, as those have been confirmed, criticism of them has been pushed out of the mainstream.

      • Direct criticism is rare. More common is the systematic attempt to relax assumptions, to contemplate a broader space of theoretical alternatives. For example, an excerpt from the abstract of – “We identify the guiding principles for rigorous and consistent modifications of the standard model, and discuss the prospects for empirical tests. We begin by reviewing attempts to consistently modify Einstein gravity in the infrared, focusing on the notion that additional degrees of freedom introduced by the modification must screen themselves from local tests of gravity. We categorize screening mechanisms into three broad classes: mechanisms which become active in regions of high Newtonian potential, those in which first derivatives become important, and those for which second derivatives are important.”

  2. I agree with you that it is “becoming more acceptable to admit that quantum mechanics might be unsatisfactory even as new experiments do nothing but confirm it.” I suspect one reason is that it is so opaque to the general public. As science becomes more democratic and less of about lone irrefutable geniuses, widespread acceptance of quantum mechanics is a big ask. In fact I have a sneaking suspicion that most physicist who are not directly working with quantum phenomena just ignore it, or simply “shut up and calculate” till they can; and if they were really pinned down, would admit to a deep discomfort with qm.

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