DuckDuckGo

I've been surprisingly pleased with DuckDuckGo. For nearly a decade I've used nothing other than Google. Their results were far beyond anything at the time, but with the recent privacy shenanigans it's time to separate my digital life into discrete chunks. There's no reason why my web browsing, my email service and my searches need to all be funneled into the same company, especially if they're going to be only showing me chunks of results that they think are relevant to me. Let me decide for myself.

So no more Chrome. No more google.com. I'll need to be on Gmail for the foreseeable future, at least until I can find an email solution that allows me to be as blissfully ignorant of spam as Gmail has allowed me to be.

More Physics News - Majorana Particles

I had just posted this other entry on CP violation and was reading up on antineutrinos. Since they don't interact via the electromagnetic force I was puzzled as to how there can even be an anti-particle for something that only interacts via the gravity and weak forces. It turns out that antineutrinos are distinguished from neutrinos by chirality. There's also some serious discussion about neutrinos possibly being Majorana particles which would mean that a neutrino is actually its own antiparticle.

Then just the next day there's news that a Majorana fermions may have been discovered.

In his group's set-up, indium antimonide nanowires are connected to a circuit with a gold contact at one end and a slice of superconductor at the other, and then exposed to a moderately strong magnetic field. Measurements of the electrical conductance of the nanowires showed a peak at zero voltage that is consistent with the formation of a pair of Majorana particles, one at either end of the region of the nanowire in contact with the superconductor. As a sanity check, the group varied the orientation of the magnetic field and checked that the peak came and went as would be expected for Majorana fermions.

Now, it's not entirely clear what these particles would be since the results are so early, but there's some possibility that they might be something from the world of supersymmetry such as a neutralino.

Ze is Back!

Remember what it was like back in 2006? Bush was president, housing prices were going up, up, up, and the financial crisis was still a couple of years in the future. Oh, and the best thing? The Show. Well, guess what, he's bringing it back.

CP Violation

So there's some pretty exciting news coming out of Fermilab:
To witness CP violation, physicists study particles to see if there is any difference in the rate of decay between normal particles and their antiparticles. The accepted theory of elementary particles, the standard model, allows for a low level of CP violation—including that revealed in the discoveries of the 1960s and 2000s—but not enough to explain the prevalence of normal matter. So researchers have been trying to find cases in which CP violation is higher. In November, the LHCb team reported that the decay rates differed by 0.8%—some eight times the amount the standard model is generally expected to allow, and perhaps enough to help explain the origin of matter's prevalence over antimatter.
This sort of difference in decay rates is a pretty difficult thing to measure since it's really a very slight difference, and as the article talks about, it's not entirely clear if this actually violates the Standard Model or not. And, even if it did, it's not totally clear where this would take us. Is the difference due to some essential difference between quarks and antiquarks? Are there differences between electrons and positrons as well? Muons and anti-muons? I won't even get into antineutrinos, since they're neutral particle anyway, and the difference that is coming to light from these experiments is likely due to some sort of electrical charge difference.

Is College Worth It?

Why are many many college students going into fields that will never allow them to repay the debts they're incurring? Part of the problem is that it's very easy for students to get loans for whatever amount they want. Of course, once they have them, nothing, not even bankruptcy can erase the debt. Alex, over at Marginal Revolution has an excellent take on the whole thing:
In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985. ... There is nothing wrong with the arts, psychology and journalism, but graduates in these fields have lower wages and are less likely to find work in their fields than graduates in science and math. Moreover, more than half of all humanities graduates end up in jobs that don’t require college degrees and these graduates don’t get a big college bonus.
The best thing about this article is this graph, which exactly shows what the problem is:

currency.io

It seems like "web apps" have unfortunately fallen by the wayside. It's a real shame. They don't require any approval from Apple, they can work offline, and they're built with HTML5 and javascript.

If you want to see how they're built take a look at Currency.io. It's open source and very very slick.

Canadian cracks NYT paywall during his lunch break

An enterprising programmer donated his lunch break and put together a workaround to the new New York Times paywall.
"It’s just an iron rule of nerd-dom, if you put an interesting looking wall in front of us, we’ll try to get around it.”
If your business model can be broken by a programmer with 30 minutes to spend then you didn't really have a business model to start with.

The New York Times Paywall Returns

The New York Times is finally putting their paywall back up.
On NYTimes.com, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site. On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber. ... Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.
I understand how tough the newspaper business has become, but making content hard to read and access on the Internet has not been a successful business model for anyone yet. I'm sure NYTimes.com knows what they're doing, but these changes raise an awful lot of questions about what content is going to be available from which sources. If a friend emails me a link to a NYTimes.com story will I be able to read it? Will services such as Twitter have to be whitelisted to enable access to content via links? By biggest question, though, is "how will this affect Instapaper?" If I can't Instapaper content then I'm going to find similar content elsewhere. Prices and details are here.

Modular Robots

When I was a kid I grew up surrounded by Legos. I spent hours rooting through boxes searching for the perfect pieces to make the array of spaceships and cars that occupied my younger years. At one point one of my friends got a Capsela set and my interest was peaked. There seemed to be a world of possibilities with those little spheres. I think it was the modularity that I loved so much. I'm a still a sucker for things that click together in any sort of functional way, and especially if they're robots. If these Cubelets are half as cool as they look then I'll be first in line.

Cubelets Engineering Prototypes