Jul 302012

There is a little bit of a firestorm brewing on Twitter. A journalist, Guy Adams, wrote a critical comment on NBC and made the mistake of including the corporate e-mail of an NBC mandarin. NBC decided to be heavy handed about it and asked Twitter to suspend @GuyAdams. The result is predictable: a flood of messages with the hashtags #nbcfail and #twitterfail.

Now Twitter tends to have this handy little widget about Trends. And the two things I did not see in Trends was, you guessed it: #nbcfail and #twitterfail. One almost has to wonder if the Trends widget contains not what Twitter’s users find interesting but what Twitter’s corporate (or political?) masters allow…

But just before I began my journey down the rabbit hole into the surrealist realm of conspiracy theories, I thankfully refreshed the Twitter page. Guess what? Now #nbcfail is the fifth item in Trends. Phew!

 Posted by at 10:00 pm
Jul 302012

I read about it in a Hungarian political blog, so I gave it a try: I entered the word “kurvák” (Hungarian for “whores”) into Google.

The first hit is the Web site of Hungary’s governing party, Fidesz.

The second hit is the Web site of the Catholic Church in Hungary.

Is this a failure (feature?) of Google’s algorithms or is it a not so subtle message from Google’s (or Google Hungary’s) people?

Perhaps it’s the former. After all, the other day Google had trouble loading people:

 Posted by at 8:07 pm
Jul 282012

I first read Mervyn Peake’s astonishing Gormenghast trilogy years ago, shortly after I discovered the eponymous 4-part BBC miniseries, shown back-to-back one late night on Canada’s SPACE channel.

It was a case of instant love. The book is one of my all-time favorites.

Now I re-read the trilogy, in all its glorious 1000+ pages. Gormenghast is a unique book, genre-defying. It is a Gothic novel without ghosts or much by the way of horror. It also turns into a genuine science-fiction story, but in which the futuristic background is just that, a background, a vehicle for storytelling, nothing more. It has humor and tragedy, even macabre comedy in unexpected places. It is also surreal; the castle Gormenghast may be on this Earth but it probably isn’t, it may exist in the present but it probably doesn’t. In fact, at one point I began wondering if it actually may be hiding somewhere in the near infinite landscape of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Its monsters are thoroughly human and its heroes are flawed. Its language is very rich… indeed, from time to time, I paused occasionally and re-read a sentence or two (or three or four) aloud, just enjoying the words.

Somewhere I once read that Gormenghast is The Lord of the Rings for adults, and there is some truth to that, although Gormenghast is not really a fantasy story at all.

The saddest part is that Gormenghast is unfinished. The author was already struggling with a debilitating case of Parkinson’s disease while writing the third novel; the fourth was never written, only some barely legible scraps remain, written in shaky, undecipherable handwriting.

But now, the fourth book (a version of it anyway) is out there after all. It was Peake’s widow (who worked closely with his husband throughout the writing of the trilogy) who took it upon herself to finish the novel. Sadly, she also died but her notebooks were found, and the family decided to publish the result. I just ordered the soon to be available paperback version. I don’t know what to expect… posthumous sequels are often disappointing, but there are exceptions.

 Posted by at 10:14 pm
Jul 282012

I am so not into sports. But the Olympic opening ceremony is something else. It can be spectacular, it can be inspiring even, and these adjectives certainly applied yesterday.

Except for the way it was presented on CTV to Canadian viewers.

I missed the first 15 minutes of the original broadcast, so by the time I started watching, most of the huge smokestacks were already standing. No problem, I thought: I quickly checked the TV schedule and sure enough, a repeat broadcast was scheduled later in the evening.

So I waited patiently for the repeat, eager to see how a pastoral landscape transforms itself into an industrial heartland (arguably the most spectacular part of the show). Indeed, the leaders of industry arrived in their Omnibus, Sir Kenneth Brannagh had his speech and then… and then CTV decided to have a commercial break. A really long commercial break. So long, in fact, that by the time they returned to the broadcast, most of the huge smokestacks were already standing.

I was irritated but then I thought, maybe I can watch the video on CTV’s Web site. There is no reason for a Web broadcast not to include those 5-6 minutes even if they do insert commercials.

Guess what: the same 5-6 minutes were missing from the Web video version, too.

This morning, I decided to check again to see if perhaps the missing segment was restored. The site is now different, with many more videos available. Too bad I cannot watch any of them… the Silverlight player employed by CTV just shows a grey rectangle regardless of which browser I use (tried another computer, too). Yes, Microsoft Silverlight. I guess that’s CTV’s way of saying “screw you” to Linux users… But even that does not explain the grey rectangle on Windows.

Boneheadedness from CTV aside (eventually I found the missing segment on YouTube, albeit with some completely inappropriate Russian pop music as a substitute soundtrack), the opening ceremony was amazing. Perhaps not the kind of extravaganza produced in Beijing four years ago, but I actually found this one warmer, closer to the heart. Yes, weird at times (I almost thought I’d see Doctor Who appear at one point, chased by some Daleks, but what did I expect? They are Brits, for crying out loud) yet funny and human. In short, I will remember it. I’ll remember this show (and not for the wrong reasons, like I remember the dancer with the ridiculous glowing belly in Athens in 2004) much more than I remember the Beijing ceremony, however extravagant it might have been.

And now I am watching a bicycle race. One of very few sports that I actually enjoy watching.

Update: CTV’s video player is working again, and the version they currently have on their Web site no longer has that 5-6 minute gap at the beginning of the industrial revolution segment. There is still a brief commercial break but I’m not sure if any footage from the opening ceremony is actually missing.

 Posted by at 8:53 am
Jul 262012

Here are some recent gems from my country of birth, all uttered this week by Hungary’s ever so democratic prime minister:

  • “[C]ounterrevolutionary attempts are under way in the higher education establishment” – July 24, in a speech to leaders of his party’s youth organization.
  • “We hope that it will not be necessary to introduce a new political system in place of democracy, but new economic systems, new concepts are necessary.” – July 26, speaking to the National Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers.
  • “Unity is not a matter of intent but a matter of strength. Perhaps there are countries where it doesn’t work this way, for instance in Scandinavia, but such a half-Asian rabble like us can only unite when there is strength. This does not exclude consultations, debate and democracy, but we need a central unity, which can be deduced from the country’s historical experience.” – July 26, as above.

It must be great to know that the future of democracy in Hungary is in such committed, firm hands.

 Posted by at 1:02 pm
Jul 242012

Today would be the 115th birthday of Amelia Earhart, the pioneer female aviator. Google is celebrating with a Google Doodle, showing Ms. Earhart climbing onto a what appears to be a Lockheed Vega 5B (which is not the same as the famed two-engine Electra 10E in which she disappeared.)

Ms. Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. The exact circumstances remain a mystery. At the request of her husband, she was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939, by a California court.

The reason why I looked up her official date of death was that I came across “the official Website” of Ms. Earhart. I put this in quotes because I found it odd that a person who disappeared 75 years ago can have an “official Website”, but then, what do I know? So I went and looked to see what the site was. While the site’s stated purpose is “to honor the life, the legend and the career of Amelia Earhart”, it is fairly evident that the real goal is to market the Earhart brand. Indeed, in the Site Purpose section, they warn would be users with stern language: “Any use of the name, image or likeness of Amelia Earhart , without the express written consent of the estate is strictly prohibited.”

Now I know precious little about personality rights in the United States, but I found this warning curious. Be it far from me to pick a fight with lawyers, but exactly who are these people doing the prohibiting, and on what grounds?

The site is marked “© Family of Amelia Earhart”, but the FAQ states that any e-mail sent through this site “goes to the webmaster of CMG Worldwide, the company that represents the name/image/likeness of Amelia Earhart”. So this is a full-fledged marketing operation. Nothing wrong with that (in fact, I appreciate their candor) but that still leaves my question unanswered: exactly what rights do they have to Ms. Earhart’s name?

Well, if Wikipedia can be believed: none. Had Ms. Earhart been domiciled in Indiana at the time of her death, her estate would hold the rights for another 27 years or so. But in California, the personality rights for a celebrity expire after 70 years. So to the best of my knowledge, Ms. Earhart’s likeness and indeed, anything related to her personality, are now in the public domain. (Not necessarily photographs. The copyright status of those may depend on when the photographer died.)

But then it occurred to me to check Ms. Earhart’s site using archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Unsurprisingly, the site has been in existence for many years. Although its visual style changed, much of the text remains the same, including text in the Site Purpose section. And back in 2003 (the date of the earliest version archived by the Wayback Machine) Ms. Earhart’s personality rights would still have been protected under California law.

Meanwhile, Ms. Earhart’s disappearance must remain a mystery for now. The latest expedition to locate her aircraft was called off as it ran into unexpected difficulties.

 Posted by at 9:01 am
Jul 232012

Good-bye, Sally Ride. America’s first female astronaut died today, at age 61, after a battle with cancer. When she flew on board Challenger in 1983, Ride was also NASA’s youngest astronaut to have made it to space.

Ride is also known as the only person who publicly supported Roger Boisjoly, the Morton-Thiokol engineer who tried to warn NASA that Challenger was in mortal danger, only to be overruled by his bosses. Boisjoly himself died earlier this year, at age 73.

The world’s first female astronaut, or rather, cosmonaut, is still alive: Valentina Tereshkova is 75 this year, seemingly in good health (judging by her appearance in recent press photographs). May she enjoy many more happy years!

 Posted by at 6:08 pm
Jul 202012

I completely forgot: four days ago was the 25th anniversary of my arrival in Canada as a landed immigrant. I never had a reason to regret my choice… in fact, politics of the day notwithstanding, I appreciate this country more than ever.

 Posted by at 12:47 pm
Jul 202012

43 years ago today, the lunar module (nicknamed Eagle) of Apollo 11 touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, fulfilling a centuries-old dream of humanity.

Too bad that the 40th anniversary of the last Moon landing is rapidly approaching. That, if you ask me, is four wasted decades of manned space exploration.

Incidentally, the book The Eagle Has Landed, by Jack Higgins, was the first English-language book I ever read, sometime in the late 1970s. It was given to me by my aunt (the one who, sadly, is no longer with us) when I complained to her that I was having a hard time improving my English. That particular book, along with several others, was lost when the post office lost a parcel from my Mom. Thanks to Amazon, I managed to replace them all, with one exception: an English-language collection of 11 science-fiction stories that was published in Soviet-era Moscow.

Reading books is a good way to learn a language. My French leaves a lot to be desired (being able to utter a meaningful sentence would be nice) but what little I know I was able to improve by trying to read Jules Verne’s De la Terre à la Lune in French. I first read that book (in Hungarian, of course) at the age of six, in 1969… just as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.

 Posted by at 12:45 pm
Jul 202012

I just came across a photograph of a building that looks like one of the abandoned edifices in the ghost city of Prypiat, right next to the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Indeed, the picture appeared in a Facebook blog that features many pictures from Prypiat… but this wasn’t one of them.

Instead, the picture was taken in Hungary, on the south shore of Lake Balaton. The building is an abandoned hotel that before the collapse of Communism served as a resort, owned by the Hungarian Industrial Association. I spent nights at that resort. In particular, I spent nights in this very building shown in the picture.

What I found most striking is that the building looks exactly the same as it did 30-odd years ago (except for the decay, of course). It was apparently never modernized. Never really renovated. Presumably, it was privatized some time after 1989, served as a hotel for a while, and then it was abandoned… but it still looks exactly the same (insofar as I can remember) as it did back in the late 1970s.

I guess I now have a better appreciation of how residents of Prypiat feel when they come across present-day photographs of their once proud town. It is an eerie feeling.

 Posted by at 10:42 am
Jul 182012

Having been told by a friend that suddenly, there is a spate of articles online about the Pioneer anomaly, I was ready to curse journalists once I came across the words: “a programmer in Canada, Viktor Toth, heard about the effort and contacted Turyshev. He helped Turyshev create a program …”.

To be clear: I didn’t contact Slava; Slava contacted me. I didn’t “help create a program”; I was already done creating a program (which is why Slava contacted me). And that was the state of things back in 2005. What about all the work that I have done since, in the last seven years? Like developing a crude and then a more refined thermal model, independently developing precision orbit determination code to confirm the existence of the anomaly, collaborating with Slava on several papers including a monster review paper published by Living Reviews in Relativity, helping shape and direct the research that arrived at the present results, and drafting significant chunks of the final two papers that appeared in Physical Review Letters?

But then it turns out that journalists are blameless for a change. They didn’t invent a story out of thin air. They just copied the words from a NASA JPL press release.

And I am still trying to decide if I should feel honored or insulted. But then I am reminding myself that feeling insulted is rarely productive. So I’ll go with feeling honored instead. Having my contribution acknowledged by JPL is an honor, even if they didn’t get the details right.

 Posted by at 4:15 pm
Jul 172012

Imagine you come across a cult whose leaders, either through malice or ignorance, let their gullible followers consume raw sewage. You might not expect gratitude from the cult proper (fanatics are rarely rational) for revealing the truth, but you may expect society as a whole to applaud your actions.

Not when the cult is the Catholic Church and you are in India. Sanal Edamaruku, founder-president of Rationalist International, president of the Indian Rationalist Organization, was recently invited to investigate a weeping statue of Jesus. He found that the weeping was caused, in fact, by a nearby clogged drain and sewer water seeping through walls through capillary action.

You might think this gentleman should deserve some recognition for having saved possibly thousands of believers from the consequences of consuming sewage (they were licking and consuming Jesus’s “tears”).

No… the Catholic Church, in their infinite wisdom, chose to file a complaint instead under India’s penal code alleging that he hurt the religious sentiments of their community.

No wonder it took these superstitious clowns half a millennium to apologize for Galileo.

Hey, you pompous Pope person, perhaps it’s time to open your pie hole and say something on this matter, reining in your nutty followers? Surely you are not this nutty yourself?

And no, I don’t care one iota if anyone’s religious sentiments are hurt by my present tirade. You have a right (a right I am willing to stand up for) to believe whatever nutty fairy tales you want to believe in, but conversely, I have a right to ridicule your nutty beliefs. At least I have that right here in Canada.

 Posted by at 6:48 pm
Jul 172012

Paris, the city of light, is also known for its cuisine. Why someone would go to Paris and then choose to eat plastic hamburgers at McDonald’s, I have no idea.

But in case culinary reasons are not sufficient to deter you, consider this: next time you go to a McDonald’s in Paris, they may assault you because they don’t like your electronic eyewear. This is what happened to Steve Mann, a well known University of Toronto engineering professor who is a wearable computing pioneer.

I am guessing that McDonald’s chose not to respond to this gentleman’s complaints and reimburse him for the damages that occurred because they enjoy the free publicity.

Perhaps it’s best to avoid McDonald’s restaurants everywhere, just to be safe?

 Posted by at 6:22 pm
Jul 172012

If you were reading newspapers, science blogs, or even some articles written by prominent scientists or announcements by prominent institutions (such as Canada’s Perimeter Institute), you might be under the impression that the Higgs boson is a done deal: it has been discovered. (Indeed, Perimeter’s Web site announces on its home page that “[the] Higgs boson has been found”.

Sounds great but it is not true. Let me quote from a recent New Scientist online article: “Although spotted at last, many properties of the new particle – thought to be the Higgs boson, or at least something similar – have yet to be tested. What’s more, the telltale signature it left in the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) does not exactly match what is predicted”.

There, this says it all. We are almost certain that something has been discovered. (This is the 4.9-sigma result). We are not at all certain that it’s the Higgs. It probably is, but there is a significant likelihood that it isn’t, and we will only know for sure one way or another after several more years’ worth of data are collected. At least this is what the experimenters say. And why should you listen to anyone other than the experimenters?

 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Jul 162012

I just listened to an interesting story on NPR: how the Red Cross lost (and never regained!) the trust of American soldiers 70 years ago. It’s a cautionary tale about charging for things that were once free, and how that can irreversibly change perceptions.

The Red Cross made a mistake in 1942 when it obeyed a request from America’s then secretary of war and started charging GIs overseas, to eliminate tension that arose because British soldiers had to pay for similar services. Just how bad are the consequences? Seventy years later, when NPR’s reporter told a veteran that the Red Cross still offers donuts for free, the response was predictably skeptical: “stale donuts probably, too”.

 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Jul 162012

In the last several years, much of the time when I was wearing my physicist’s hat I was working on a theory of modified gravity.

Modified gravity theories present an alternative to the hypothetical (but never observed) substance called “dark matter” that supposedly represents more than 80% of the matter content of the Universe. We need either dark matter or modified gravity to explain observations such as the anomalous (too rapid) rotation of spiral galaxies.

Crudely speaking, when we measure the gravitational influence of an object, we measure the product of two numbers: the gravitational constant G and the object’s mass, M. If the gravitational influence is stronger than expected, it can be either because G is bigger (which means modified gravity) or M is bigger (which means extra mass in the form of some unseen, i.e., “dark” matter).

In Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravity is the curvature of spacetime. Objects that are influenced only by gravity are said to travel along “geodesics”; their trajectory is determined entirely by the geometry of spacetime. On the other hand, objects that are influenced by forces other than Einstein’s gravity have trajectories that deviate from geodesics.

Massless particles, such as photons of light, must travel on geodesics (specifically, “lightlike geodesics”.) Conversely, if an originally massless particle deviates from a lightlike geodesic, it will appear to have acquired mass (yes, photons of light, when they travel through a transparent substance that slows them down, such as water or glass, do appear to have an effective mass.)

Modified gravity theories can change the strength of gravity two ways. They can change the strength of Einstein’s “geometric” gravity (actually, it would be called “metric gravity”); or, they can introduce a non-geometric force in addition to metric gravity.

And herein lies the problem. One important observation is that galaxies bend light, and they bend light more than one would expect without introducing dark matter. If we wish to modify gravity to account for this, it must mean changing the strength of metric gravity.

If metric gravity is different in a galaxy, it would change the dynamics of solar systems in that galaxy. This can be compensated by introducing a non-geometric force that cancels out the increase. This works for slow-moving objects such as planets and moons (or spacecraft) in orbit around a sun. However, stars like our own Sun also bend light. This can be observed very precisely, and we know that our Sun bends light entirely in accordance with Einstein’s general relativity theory. This cannot be explained as the interplay of geometric curvature and a non-geometric force; photons cannot deviate from the lightlike geodesics that are determined in their entirety by geometry alone.

So we arrive at an apparent contradiction: metric gravity must be stronger than Einstein’s prediction in a galaxy to account for how galaxies bend light, but it cannot be stronger in solar systems in that galaxy (or at the very least, in the one solar system we know well, our own), otherwise it could not account for how suns bend light or radio beams.

I have come to the conclusion that it’s not galaxy rotation curves or cosmological structure formation but modeling the bending of light and being able to deal with this apparent paradox is the most important test that a modified gravity theory must pass in order to be considered viable.

 Posted by at 5:13 pm
Jul 152012

I just discovered a new Canadian television series: Continuum, on the Showcase channel.

The premise: a group of terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on one’s point of view) in a corporatist, dystopian future escape execution by traveling 65 years back in time, to 2012. Along with them, a female police officer also ends up in present-day Vancouver.

Back in the old days, discovering something like this mid-season would have been a disappointing experience: not knowing the back story, I might have lost interest. But these are not the old days anymore; all the episodes of Continuum that aired to date can be viewed on Showcase’s Web site.

And they are worth watching. It’s a remarkably good series, and so far, after seven episodes, the quality has not slipped yet. Likable characters, believable effects, and a thought-provoking story. Only three episodes remain from its first season… I hope it gets the green light for a second. Series like this tend to die prematurely even in bigger markets. But then, some of them survive, even in Canada.

 Posted by at 10:27 pm
Jul 152012

An anniversary I completely forgot about (no, not my wedding anniversary; I’d never forget that!) It was in May 2002, just a little over ten years ago, that I began my Day Book, a term I borrowed from Jerry Pournelle as the word “(we)blog” was not invented yet.

It took me a while to get used to the word “blog”. To be honest, I hated it at first. Later, I told myself to accept the inevitable. Society changes. Culture changes. Language changes. I can either go with the flow or choose to be left behind, prematurely condemning myself to being a grumpy old man. And it’s way too early for that.

 Posted by at 1:06 pm
Jul 142012

In just over three weeks’ time, the Mars Science Laboratory rover named Curiosity will land on the surface of Mars.

At least that’s what we hope will happen.

The Curiosity landing sequence is extremely complex, using never before tried technologies. The large rover is equipped with a parachute and a giant heat shield when it plunges into the Martian atmosphere. First, it has to discard its heat shield at the right time. Next, its parachute must open. At the right altitude, the parachute must detach, and retrorockets must fire. Then, the rover itself is lowered onto the surface on nylon ropes (effectively, a skycrane mechanism). Then, the ropes must be cut by explosive bolts and the skycrane with the retrorockets must fly away before crashing onto the surface at a safe distance. In this entire sequence, there is very little room for error.

Mars has not been kind to spacecraft. More than 50% of missions to the Red Planet failed. Hopefully, Curiosity will not contribute to that sad statistic. But, it will be a scary landing.

 Posted by at 9:07 am
Jul 132012

I have been thinking about neutrinos today. No, not about faster-than-light neutrinos. I was skeptical about the sensational claim from the OPERA experiment last year, and my skepticism was well justified.

They may not be faster than light, but neutrinos are still very weird. Neutrinos of one flavor turn into another, a discovery that, to many a particle physicist, had to be almost as surprising as the possibility that neutrinos are superluminal.

The most straightfoward explanation for these neutrino oscillations is that neutrinos have mass. But herein lies a problem. We only ever observed left-handed neutrinos. This makes sense if neutrinos are massless particles that travel at the speed of light, since all observers agree on what left-handed means: the spin of the neutrino, projected along the direction of its motion, is always −1/2.

But now imagine neutrinos that are massive and travel slower than the speed of light. As a matter of fact, imagine a bunch of neutrinos fired by CERN in Geneva in the direction of Gran Sasso, Italy. It takes roughly 2 ms for them to arrive. Now if you can run very, very, very fast (say, you’re the Flash, the comic book superhero) you may be able to outrun the bunch. Looking back, you will see… a bunch of neutrinos with a velocity vector pointing backwards (they’re slower than you, which means they’ll appear to be moving backwards from your perspective) so projecting their spin along the direction of motion, you get +1/2. In other words, you’re observing right-handed neutrinos.

This is just weird. On the surface of it, it means that our fast-running Flash sees the laws of physics change! This is in deep contradiction with the laws of special relativity, Lorentz invariance and all that.

How we can interpret this situation depends on whether we believe that neutrinos are “Dirac” or “Majorana”. Neutrinos are fermions, and fermions are represented by spinor fields. A spinor field has four components: these correspond, in a sense, to a left-handed and a right-handed particle and their respective antiparticles. So if a particle only exists as a left-handed particle, only two of the four components remain; the other two (at least in the so-called Weyl representation) disappear, are “projected out”, to use a nasty colloquialism.

But we just said that if neutrinos are massive, it no longer makes sense of talking about strictly left-handed neutrinos; to the Flash, those neutrinos may appear right-handed. So both left- and right-handed neutrino states exist. Are they mathematically independent? Because if they are, neutrinos are represented by a full 4-component “Dirac” spinor. But there is a possibility that the components are not independent: in effect, this means that the neutrino is its own antiparticle. Such states can be represented by a two-component “Majorana” spinor.

The difference between these two types of neutrinos is not just theoretical. The neutrino carries something very real: the lepton number, in essence the “electronness” (without the electric charge) of an electron. If a neutrino is its own antiparticle, the two can annihilate one another, and two units of “electronness” vanish. Lepton number is not conserved.

If this is indeed the case, it can be observed. The so-called neutrinoless double beta decay is a hypothetical form of radioactive decay in which an isotope that is known to decay by emitting two electrons simultaneously (e.g., potassium-48 or uranium-238) does so without emitting the corresponding neutrinos (because these annihilate each other without going anywhere). Unfortunately, given that neutrinos don’t like to do much interacting to begin with, the probability of a neutrinoless decay occurring at any given time is very small. Still, it is observable in principle, and if observed, it would indicate unambiguously that neutrinos are Majorana spinors. (A prospect that may be appealing insofar as neutrinos are concerned, but I find it nonetheless deeply disturbing that such a fundamental property of a basic building block of matter may turn out to be ephemeral.)

Either way, I remain at a loss when I think about the handedness of neutrinos. If neutrinos are Dirac neutrinos, one may postulate right-handed neutrinos that do not interact the way left-handed neutrinos do (i.e., do not participate in the weak interaction, being so-called sterile neutrinos instead). Cool, but what about our friend, the Flash? Suppose he is observing the same thing we’re observing, a neutrino in the OPERA bunch interacting with something. But from his perspective, that neutrino is a right-handed neutrino that is not allowed to participate in such an interaction!

Or suppose that neutrinos are Majorana spinors, and right-handed neutrinos are simply much (VERY much) heavier, which is why they have not been observed yet (this is the so-called seesaw mechanism). The theory allows us to construct such as mass matrix, but once again having the Flash around leads to trouble: he will observe ordinary “light” neutrinos as right-handed ones!

Perhaps these are just apparent contradictions. In fact, I am pretty sure that that’s what they are, since all this follows from writing down a theory in the form of a Lagrangian density that is manifestly Lorentz (and Poincaré) invariant, hence the physics does not become broken for the Flash. It will just turn weird. But how weird is too weird?

 Posted by at 10:13 pm