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Ain't no such thing: the Higgs Boson particle

higgs bison You know, I love advanced physics. It’s given us satellite navigation, GPS, and fancy medical imaging, and that’s just the theory of relativity, which when Einstein cooked it up seemed like the height of quasi-fictional abstraction. Physicists study the most basic level of reality, the stuff that’s a whole conceptual level below chemistry, so they’re the closest to understanding what the hell reality actually is. Great for them, great for us.

But I’m not sure about where they’ve been going for the last couple of decades. If you talk to a theoretical physicist today, almost any one of them will tell you with almost absolute certainty that existence has exactly eleven dimensions. And the thing is, most of us will never understand why they think it’s so, however many NOVA specials we watch, because when physicists talk to one another they talk almost completely in math. 99% of the physics information is controlled by 1%, etc.

So, they just awarded the Nobel Prize to some physicists who discovered—over a decade ago—that the universe’s expansion is accelerating. They were sure that the expansion was slowing, and were trying to measure the rate, when they discovered the opposite. They measure the rate, by the way, by looking for redshift — a little bit of a red haze that’s caused by light traveling over millions of light years through space. The amount of redshift indicates how fast something is moving away from us. When you look at the redshift for everything we can measure, you get that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. So, that’s pretty indirect, but I’m willing to go along with it.

The problem is that they’ve got no way to explain why the universe is expanding. It doesn’t make sense according to the currently otherwise perfectly functioning laws of physics. The best explanation that physicists have come up with (and again, they did this by plugging the results into mathematical equations, not by sitting around philosopher-like thinking about it) is dark matter: STUFF that exists but cannot be measured by any device or process known to science. And here’s my favorite part: this dark matter makes up roughly 70% of all the matter in the universe. That’s right: you, me, our planet, it’s sun, our galaxy, and all the other galaxies … it all accounts for only 30% or so of everything that exists.

At this point you’ve got to ask: IS IT POSSIBLE THERE’S A MISTAKE IN THE MATH GUYS?????? Well, you’ll not get a good answer. Well, a few years ago they built the Large Hadron Collider, an $8 billion device(!) that was supposed to prove the existence of the Higgs bison particle, which is the stuff this dark matter is made up of. Now, the Large Hadron Collider is near and dear to my heart, because it was built around the time I started this blog, and some of the first posts here, back around 2008, were about it. Cool thing! But here’s the problem: they haven’t found shit. They haven’t found the Higgs Bison! Oh sure, there are tantalizing signs that it’s there, but so far — over three years later — no proof. Ouch, man. Ouch.

Posted: Thursday December 15, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


I’m not sure why we should be freaked out about the speed of light being broken. Yes, it “invalidates” Einstein’s theory of relativity. But it does so in the same sense that relativity “invalidated” Newtonian physics: that is, for a tiny sliver of edge cases that mostly apply just to theoretical physics. Just as bridges didn’t start to collapse after Einstein, nuclear reactors are not going to begin exploding if it turns out to be true that neutrinos travel slightly faster than the speed of light. EVERYBODY CALM DOWN!



As I hinted would happen back when the action was going down, the Gulf of Mexico is springing back from the BP oil spill much faster than imagined. Not that I’m in support of massive oil spills in the future, mind you!



Research shows that certain vision defects help in the production of art. Examination of Rembrandt’s eyes in portraits indicates a misalignment, and art students do worse on 3D vision tests than control groups. The work of Van Gogh speaks for itself.



The flavor industry, Fast Food Nation

Open your refrigerator, your freezer, your kitchen cupboards, and look at the labels on your food. You’ll find “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor” in just about every list of ingredients. The similarities between these two broad categories are far more significant than the differences. Both are man-made additives that give most processed food most of its taste. People usually buy a food item the first time because of its packaging or appearance. Taste usually determines whether they buy it again. About 90 percent of the money that Americans now spend on food goes to buy processed food. The canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used in processing destroy most of food’s flavor — and so a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable. Without this flavor industry today’s fast food would not exist. The names of the leading American fast-food chains and their best-selling menu items have become embedded in our popular culture and famous worldwide. But few people can name the companies that manufacture fast food’s taste.

My favorite chapter from Fast Food Nation, about the flavoring industry, is online in its entirety. Eric Schlosser visits the labs, and the account is startling. You’ve gotta read this.

Posted: Sunday May 1, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Hey Miami, we are back in the hot seat!



Could it be that there is something in Dawn — and only Dawn — dish washing detergent that kills fleas on kittens?



“Beyond 3 days, not only are forecasters totally guessing, but they are also guessing systematically worse than a random-walk.” All that, plus what exactly it means when weatherpersons say 40% chance of rain.



“So, the chances of us being in a naturally occurring real world might be smaller than the chances that we belong to the fifth-grade project of a geeky kid on the planet Xanthar.” — Radiolab on the Multi-universes. (Radiolab is better when they drop the pointless “experimental” editing tricks and just have a conversation.)



newsmap, swine flu

Uh, two things. (1) Newsmap is pretty cool. (2) Are we all going to die of swine flu?



Bizarre devices from medicine’s dark past. (via)



Red, yellow, and blue are NOT the primary colors


I was inspired by Liz Elliot’s Magenta Ain’t a Color (via) article to write out my favorite color theory rant: art teachers are lying when they say that red, yellow, and blue are “the primary colors.”

There are two ways that color is created in the real world: in the additive model, used by light-based devices such as your computer monitor, uses red, green, and blue. When all three are combined in full strength, they create white in other combination, they create all the other colors you see on your screen.

The subtractive model comes into play when physical pigments are mixed. The primary colors there are the slightly less familiar cyan, magenta, and yellow. Again, they can be combined to create all the color you see on the printed page of a magazine (actually, the printing process also uses black, because combining the three dyes makes a muddy, unsatisfying black).

What makes these color models so obviously correct is how they interact — combining any two colors from one model creates one of the primary colors of the other model! Check out my graphic above, or open your favorite graphics program and create one for yourself.

So what the heck is “red, yellow, and blue”? It’s a lie, plain and simple. It started when people didn’t know any better, and it’s perpetuated by art teachers everywhere who for some reason believe that it makes color easier to understand than the truth.

It’s a shame, too, since the RGB/CMY color models are strikingly obvious and beautiful, but a little tricky to understand and remember if in the back of your mind you’re tending to revert to RYB. If art teachers could get with the program, we’d have a much easier time understanding how color actually works.

Posted: Wednesday February 18, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [14]


Excercise? Then you of course know the importance of stretching. But guess what?: Everything you know about stretching is wrong.



Completely messed up photos of hurricane Ike damage in places that are not Miami. Hard to imagine your home getting flooded and burning down all at once.