Monthly Archives: September 2008

Scrap Metal and European Banks Collapse

More excitement in the markets: Three days ago we got quoted $0.60 per pound for stainless steel scrap. Today we dropped by with 10 thousand pounds. The manager was apologetic, but they were no longer buying at any price. Scrap metal prices collapsed about in half (at least here on the West Coast), probably due to a lack of buying in China.

And remember my post on the unusual activity at the Federal Reserve? “ For example, it must be noted that business cycles are world-wide” and therefore business cycles cannot be blamed on individuals, political parties, countries, or even continents. The bubbles always burst eventually, and when people in one country see the bubble burst in another, monkey see, monkey do. They act to avoid the consequences of a bubble bursting in their own country and that bursts their bubble. (Hence the famous stock trading advice: Avoid Panic. But, if you absolutely must panic, try to do it before everybody else does.)

Well, as expected, European financial companies are failing and for the same reason US financial companies have had trouble. They did the same thing that US financial companies did. And their equivalents to our Federal Reserve are doing equivalent things.

The human inclination to get over enthusiastic in markets, and to ignore risks, is universal. If you outlawed it one way, they’d find another way to do it. It’s like teenagers and sex. But even worse, humans imitate other humans so the European troubles are identical to our own. Too much debt, and, in this bubble, an inclination to create mortgage backed securities to theoretically decrease risks, part of which is due to physicists. The latest news from Europe:

Wall Street crisis spreads through Europe’s banks
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Filed under economics, physics

PDG on road to fixing psi(3770) meson mass

The big paper on the mesons is coming along. Yesterday I was checking the mass formulas for heavy quarkonium, a subject which was discussed here a few months ago. While checking numbers for the paper, I found that the Particle Data Group has changed the values for psi(3770) in our favor! For us it was exciting so Kea says I have to blog it. And in fact I feel that I did an inadquate job the last posting on this.

So first, a little background. Mesons are made of a quark and an anti-quark, plus the color and electric force that binds them together. The usual method of modeling them is to simplify the color force and treat it as if it were just a scalar force like the electric force, and then calculate the binding energies (and therefore the masses of the mesons) by using the methods used to calculate atomic energies.

What I’ve been doing instead is looking at the problem from the point of view of quantum information theory. With this one ignores the spatial and momentum information and looks only at the information content of the particle states. When one does this to a spin-1/2 particle like the electron, one uses qubits. Since I want to model the color force but don’t care about spin, I use qutrits instead with the three states being red, green, and blue.

The usual method of modeling the mesons works best for lowest energy states of the heaviest quarkonium. This is because these states are the least relativistic (because the quarks are so heavy) and the color force isn’t as strong (since these quarks are so heavy, their deepest bound states are smaller than other mesons, and since the quarks are close to each other, the color force is reduced by asymptotic freedom). With my method, the reverse should be true; I should be more accurate at bigger states where color is more important. These states are either higher excitations or have lighter quarks. This is because I treat the color states correctly but don’t work on getting momentum modeled correctly.
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Unusual Activity at the Federal Reserve

It’s not very often you see graphs like this:

The above would be highly inflationary except that the Fed simultaneously has been selling treasuries. The graph, also in billions of dollars (note that the time scales is shorter than the above):
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Filed under economics, History

Dark Flow, the Speed of Gravity, and the CMB

Kashlinsky, Atrio-Barandela, Kocevski, and Ebeling have just put out a preprint on the peculiar motions of galactic clusters: A measurement of large-scale peculiar velocities of clusters of galaxies: results and cosmological implications. In short, they claim that all galactic clusters appear to have a motion with respect to the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The motion of a galactic cluster slightly effects the energy of the microwave radiation that travels through it, so they use the temperature map of the CMB to determine the velocity of those galactic clusters.

And the result is that the whole (observable) universe appears to be moving with respect to the CMB. This was not expected because the observable universe is approximately isotropic and so shouldn’t be going anywhere. They write (in the abstract):

This flow is difficult to explain by gravitational evolution within the framework of the concordance LCDM model and may be indicative of the tilt exerted across the entire current horizon by far-away pre-inflationary inhomogeneities.

However, the tilt is easy to explain when you assume that the speed of gravity is larger than C: If gravitational interactions travel faster than light, you will automatically be able to feel the gravitational attraction of matter even if it is too far away for you to see.
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Filed under gravity, physics

The image of the Sun

Today at Moses Lake the sun went down in cloudless skies. Naturally, my mind drifted to the subjects of religion, time, astronomy, sunspots, optics, history, and climate, and of I ran into the fermentation section of our ethanol plant to see if I could image the sun. The west wall of our plant has a lot of little (maybe 1/8″ = 3mm) holes in it and a good view of the setting sun. The sun shines through each of these holes, and they produce images of the sun on the opposite wall. These are, literally, sunspots in the sense of “spots of sun”:

Images of the sun like these were used by the Catholic Church as a very accurate sun dial. They drew curves on the floor to indicate noon, summer and winter solstice, etc. These are called Meridian lines. When one specifies a time as “AM” or “PM”, this is an abbreviation for “ante meridian” or “post meridian.” The moment at which the disk is perfectly centered on the meridian curve indicates high noon. High noon occurs in slightly different directions depending on the time of year, so the meridian figures are curved in a distorted figure eight, called an analemma. The very interesting history of the meridian lines inside churches is the subject of the book The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories by J. L. Heilbron.

With the improvement of time keeping, the necessity of making solar observations by sunshaft decreased and some of the beautiful meridian curves have been removed from cathedral floors. The Catholic Church, however, still supports astronomy. The tradition is carried on at the Vatican Observatory in Arizona.

You can get a better sun image at home if you use a piece of paper. After adjusting contrast and brightness, here’s my image of the sun:

The above is a nice clean image of the sun. You can tell that it is in pretty good focus by noticing how sharp the border of the sun’s disk is. If there were sunspots visible at that time, I would have seen them.
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Filed under History, physics

Quantum Entanglement

Alice and Bob are very anti-social electrons. For financial reasons, they have to share a house (a helium atom). Due to their antisocial nature, they come to a condition where both of them never are in the same spot (state) at the same time. We’re interested in their spin, (political spin). If we ask one of them what their spin is, a question that technically would be phrased like “is your spin aligned with the y-axis?”, the answer we must get is “with” or “against”. That is all the answer they can give. And if we then immediately go and ask the other the same question, we will have to get the opposite answer. If Alice answered “with”, then Bob will answer “against”.

This all assumes that Alice and Bob are in their “ground state”, which is the worst financial condition (lowest energy) possible. If one of they hae a little cash, they could be in an “excited state” and they could end up with the same spin. But in that case, they would still have to be found in different positions (and with different energies). For example, Alice could be downstairs eating while Bob is upstairs sleeping.

The physicists say that these sort of living together difficulties arise because electrons are fermions: anti-social quantum creatures in that two of them are never found in precisely the same quantum state. This is called Fermi-Dirac statistics, or the Pauli exclusion principle. Fermi, Dirac and Pauli are three physicists. “Statistics” from the fact that when you make computations using “statistical mechanics,” you have to count up the number of ways a certain situation can be achieved, and if the particles can’t fit into the same state it reduces the number of ways. Fewer ways makes that situation less likely. Statistical mechanics forms the foundation of thermodynamics, the science of temperature, pressure, volume and all that.

So electrons are fermions. This is a good thing. The reason that gravity doesn’t pull you down to the center of the earth is because the electrons in your shoes can’t fit into the same quantum states as the electrons in the stuff you’re walking on. The same principle keeps neutron stars from collapsing into black holes. Hooray for fermions!!!

The helium atom has two electrons. While two electrons cannot be in the same state, all electrons are identical in that they all have negative charge and are attracted to positively charged things. In the case of the helium atom, the nucleus is positively charged and the two electrons are attracted to it. They can’t escape, but they can’t be in the same state either.
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Quantum Cloning

It’s time I blogged some physics instead of filler like mouse transportation. There’s a lot of physics stuff going on around here but right now it’s kind of hush-hush and I can’t tell you about it. Which reminds me, I found an older version (perhaps a reader will disavow me of the notion that it is the oldest) of the line used in Top Gun, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you“: Alexandre Dumas, in The Man in the Iron Mask aka The Vicomte de Bragelonne, writes:
“It is a state secret,” replied d’Artagnan, bluntly; “and as you know that according to the King’s orders it is under the penalty of death that any one should penetrate it, I will, if you like, allow you to read it and have you shot immediately afterwards.”

“The man in the iron mask” was a mysterious 17th century prisoner of the reign of Louis IV in France. Will I spoil the book if I tell you that in it, the state secret is that the man in the iron mask is the exact twin of the King of France? I hope not. It’s germane; in this post we will discuss what one would have to do to make the twin (or clone) of a quantum object, a [state] secret that evaded science until quite recently.

I will explain why this is of interest, and how this comes about in the language of quantum mechanics. For us, the quantum object will be an electron, and it’s state will be its spin.
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Filed under History, physics