Nobody Knows
 & Misc Technical Stuff
                     created 1/07
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Nobody knows
Six things that make you sick
Was Einstein really an electrical engineer?
Astounding coincidence
18th century concert as a window into European culture
Energy out of a black hole
Interesting & random facts
Nobody knows -- discussion

Nobody knows
            Nobody knows how life started on earth (or started anywhere for that matter)
            Nobody knows why the proton, neutron, electron and every other particle have the mass they do
            Nobody knows what happens inside black holes
            Nobody knows how galaxies form
            Nobody knows what black matter is
            Nobody knows what dark energy is
            Nobody knows why the strengths of the four forces have the values they do
            Nobody knows why the physical constants of the universe seem to be narrowly tuned for life
            Nobody knows if there is any life in the universe (outside of earth)
            Nobody knows why the speed of light has the value it does
            Nobody knows how light photons and elementary particles can act both like waves and particles
                              (Well Lenord Suskind seems to know, but it is not in the textbooks. He says photons in sync form classical E and H waves)
            Nobody knows the electric and magnetic fields of a photon
            Nobody knows what the quantum wave function really means
            Nobody knows if a quantum theory can be developed that is not statistical
            Nobody knows why there are three sets of quarks
            Nobody knows why strange/charm, top/bottom quarks exist, since they decay in less than one
                        second. {All bayrons (three quarks) and mesons (two quarks) in the real world are made
                        of only up/down quarks.}
            Nobody knows if there are more dimensions than three
            Nobody knows why calculated vacuum energy is wrong by an astounding 120 orders of magnitude
                            (Leonard Susskind calls this the 'mother of all physics problems')
            Nobody knows if there are other universes
            Nobody knows what is the probability of intelligent life developing from single cell life
            Nobody knows if the first life on earth was based on energy from the sun or earth's thermal energy
            Nobody knows the cause of the biggest mass extinction on earth (Permian Triassic)
            Nobody knows what most human genes do
            Nobody knows what most of the flora & fauna living in humans do, or if they perform vital functions
            Nobody knows how to combine quantum theory with general relativity (quantum gravity)
            Nobody knows how to resolve the problems in the foundation of quantum mechanics
            Nobody knows if the various particles and forces can be unified (derived from a single entity)
            Nobody knows why humans have the number of genes they do
            Nobody knows why all life at the molecular level is right handed
            Nobody knows how much of the human genome originated with viruses
                                    (but evidence on this is rapidly accumulating that it is quite a large amount)
            Nobody knows why the free constants in the standard model of particle physics have the values they do
            Nobody knows where earth's water came from (outgassing or comets and meteors?)
            Nobody knows if the Atlantic Canadian cod population will ever recover
            Nobody knows the gas ratios of the early earth's atmosphere
            Nobody knows to what extent the geological history of the earth has been modified by life
                           or to what extent life has been modified by the geological history of the earth
            Nobody knows why the previous interglacial (eemian) was warmer than today, or if eemian
                           higher temperatures are coming in a few hundred years (with its much higher sea levels)
            Nobody knows why civilization fits entirely within an interglacial (holocene)
            Nobody knows if life formed on earth or came to earth from outer space
            Nobody knows if the Higgs boson (really) exists
                        Retraction --- This was true when I wrote it in 2007, but in 2012 CERN has announced with near 100% certainty
                                                    that they have detected the higgs boson, which was the only particle of the standard model
                                                    that after 40-50 years of work had remained undetected.
            Nobody knows if (any) super symmetric particles exist
            Nobody knows if string theory has any connection with reality
            Nobody knows hardly anything about microbes that cannot be cultured and that is 99% of microbes
            Nobody knows who wrote the plays and poems of Shakespeare
            Nobody knows who wrote the bible
            Nobody knows if god exists

Six things that make you sick
        In order of decreasing complexity:
            parasitic animals ---large animals, like worms, that live in your body (& are able to move around, yikes!) Example: pork trichinosis is a round worm
            protezoa --- single cell plants (including algae), animals, and fungi with DNA segregated in a membrane enclosed nucleus (eukaryotic cells).  Example: malaria
            bacteria --- living single cell microbes with no nucleus (prokaryotic cells)
            archaea --- included in flora and fauna of humans. No pathogenic archaea have been identified, but recently archaea have been found in the gap between the gums and teeth and there is the suspicion that it could be a cause of periodontitis. (prokaryotic cells)
            viruses --- non living DNA (or RNA) chains in a protective protein coat.
            prions --- protein molecule (not living, no DNA) that fold funny and somehow induce copies of themselves to be made (maybe by being a seed or template). The fact that proteins alone can transmit an infectious disease is a recent discovery that has come as a considerable surprise to the scientific community.

        Virus can carry genetic information in four basic ways: single stranded RNA (ssRNA), double stranded RNA (dsRNA), single stranded DNA (ssDNA), or double stranded DNA (ddDNA). Most DNA viruses are double stranded and most RNA viruses are single stranded. RNA viruses generally have very high mutation rates as they lack DNA polymerases which can find and fix mistakes.

        Single stranded RNA and DNA viruses come in two flavors: positive sense and negative sense. In positive sense ssRNA viruses the RNA directly acts in the cell as messenger RNA (mRNA), meaning the virus's ssRNA is directly readable by the cell's ribosomes, which then manufacture (from available amino acids) virus proteins. In negative sense ssRNA viruses the RNA is complementary to mRNA so it must first be copied by RNA polymerase to form positive-sense RNA.

                a)  Example of a positive sense ssRNA virus: yellow fever virus
                b)  Example of a negative sense ssRNA virus: measles virus
                c)  Example of a dsRNA virus: penicillin chrysogenum virus (infects fungi)
                d) Example of a ssDNA virus: bacteriophages, also called phages (infect bacteria)
                e) Example of a dsDNA virus: herpes virus

        Retroviruses are ssRNA viruses that are able to insert themselves into the cell's DNA. Retroviruses in the cell have their ssRNA copied to ssDNA (using reverse transcriptase, which transcribes RNA into DNA), .then copied again to dsDNA, and the dsDNA is then inserted into the cells DNA. In this way the virus genes are copied when the cell replicates, and the virus gets its proteins made.

        A few retroviruses are able to permanently modify their host's genome by infecting a host's germ cells, inserting their (reconstructed) DNA into the germ cell's DNA. It has been estimated that as much as 8% of the human genome may be the remains of ancient virus genes (from an article in Dec 3, 2007 New Yorker by Michael Specter). Paleovirology, which is tracking virus genes in animal/plant genomes, is a new tool to help determine the details of evolutionary decent.

RNA tricks
        Craig Venter in his autobiographical book says that RNA is used in the lab to make a compact DNA for study. He points out that a gene might stretch over a million base pairs of DNA, but usually only a tiny fraction of this DNA is actually encoding for the amino acid sequence of the protein. So a useful trick is to capture the  (transitory and unstable) RNA from the DNA, and then use the enzyme 'reverse transcriptase' to convert it to stable DNA, called complementary DNA, or cDNA. The cDNA will encode for the same protein as the DNA , but might be only a thousand base pairs long instead of a million! A huge advantage in the lab. He implies that the whole genome can be shrunk this way.

Was Einstein really an electrical engineer?
        Was Einstein really an electrical engineer who converted into a physicist? Almost all articles and books about Einstein, whether biographical, technical, or remembrances, are written by historians or physicists. So perhaps it is not surprising that aspects of Einstein's training, thinking, and work that tilt toward (electrical) engineering are barely mentioned.

        The training of an electrical engineer and a physicist have quite a bit of overlap. Because electrical engineers work with magnetic fields, currents (flows of electrons) and materials in their work to design electrical apparatus, in their training and work there is an emphasis on developing a deep, intuitive, understanding of electrical fields, forces, and motion. There is a focus too on gaining a good understanding of Maxwell's equations, which underlie all electrical phenomena, and how to apply them.

        In other words an electrical engineer, at least in training and understanding (if not in day to day work) is a specialized physicist, one who specializes in electrical phenomena. A lot of Einstein's training and work had an electrical tilt. Consider the following:

       *  Einstein's father and uncle owned an electrical motor shop. Einstein as a child hung around the shop, where motors were taken apart, rewound, and where there were lots of magnets, wire, motion, and electricity. As a child, his father explained to him about how magnets make current and how current makes magnets.

      *  In his undergraduate work in Switzerland's Federal Polytechnic, where grading was 6 highest, Einstein took both electrical engineering and physics classes. His final grade in electrical engineering was 6, in physics 5.25.

     * As any student of physics and engineering will tell you, the study of physics requires extensive study and mastery of much more complex mathematics than needed by engineers. Theoretical physicists are often called mathematical physicists for a reason. Yet Einstein was not that good at mathematics. He was a great modeler, had great intuitions, and the ability to think deeply, but mathematics was not (really) his thing.  In his most complex work, like general relativity, Einstein had to go to others to get help with the math.

      *  Einstein's lifelong friend and colleague (Michele Besso) was an electrical engineer, not a physicist. Einstein's only (non crazy) son became an engineer.

      * Every book on Einstein mentions that he worked (for a while) as a patent clerk. Firstly, this is an engineering job. Secondly, Einstein worked at the Swiss patent office for eight years!

      * Einstein's famous 1905 paper on special relativity {titled: On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies} was, as the title indicates, really an electrical paper about how Maxwell's equations apply, and were to be interpreted, when an observer is moving.

        * Another famous 1905 paper, for which Einstein won the Nobel prize, was Einstein giving an explanation for an electrical effect. He explained (& calculated) the current generated by light of various frequencies and amplitudes hitting a metal plate, known as the photoelectric effect. The physicist types virtually always describe the the photoelectric effect in these terms: light (photons) knock electrons free from metal. But free electrons in a metal (with a voltage applied) are a current, and it is the current that is measured. The photoelectric effect is a relationship between light and current in a metal plate.

        * Einstein worked on and off as an electrical inventor. He teamed (for seven years) with the younger Leo Szilard working on inventions. One of their inventions that they patented was a non-mechanical refrigerator pump, i.e. a pump with no moving parts.

        When Einstein was 50, he and another famous physicist, Leo Szilard, who trained as an engineer, developed a fundamentally new kind of refrigerator. Together, they held eight patents. The key to their system was the electromagnetic Einstein-Szilard pump (annular linear induction pump). They finally sold the idea to Germany's A.E.G, which got a prototype to work sucessfully. Einstein also worked with gyrocompasses. For years, a Dutch firm paid him royalties on the compass he patented in 1926. In 1935 he invented a new airplane gyrocompass.
        * One of few times Einstein worked with an experimenter, he worked to measure and explain an electrical effect: the total loss of resistance that occurs at very low temperatures in some materials, called superconductivity.

Astounding coincidence (or is it?)
        John Adams, who was the leading figure in the Continental Congress, and Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the 2nd and 3rd presidents of the USA, both die on the same day, within three hours of each other, and that day is the 4th of July (1826), and that day is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence!   (It's true.)

18th century concert as a window into European culture
        An 18th century orchestral concert with music by say Mozart or Haydn is a wonderful window into European culture.
         Concert Hall --- an example of complex, classical architecture, highly developed construction techniques, engineering to span wide open spaces, acoustics.
         Musical instruments --- Every instrument in the orchestra (two dozen or so) has its own long complex history and development, each an interplay of highly specialized construction methods, musical quality, and players spending a large part of their lives learning how to play it well.
        Music fundamentals --- musical scales, music theory, equal temperament tuning, and music notation.
        Musical tradition --- music was valued and highly integrated into the culture. At one point nearly every middle class house had a piano, and women especially were expected to be able to play. Over time the top composers and players became professional able to support themselves full time with music.
        Music composition --- scores by Mozart (etc). Works by extraordinarily talented individuals of beauty and sophistication. The culmination of generation of creative work by generations proceeding them.

        All cultures around the world developed musical instruments and music. There is an huge and varied collection of musical instruments (many from the islands of the Pacific) in a museum in Munich Germany that I once visited. But the instruments, music fundamentals, tradition, and composition that today dominate the world are virtually 100% European (including Russia) in origin. America, asia, africa, australia contributed (as far as I know) nothing to the early classical music tradition. I believe every instrument of the classical orchestra was developed entirely (or mostly) in Europe. (Cymbols may be an exception as it appears they may have entered into classical music via Turkey & Turkish bands.)

Energy out of a black hole
          How many ways can you get energy out of a black hole?  Here are three ways.

        1) Hawking radiation (or Bekenstein-Hawking radiation) --- There is a natural mechanism that causes all black holes to emit some energy. Applying the quantum mechanical concept of the vacuum seething with virtual particle and anti-particle pairs (due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) near the event horizon of a black hole, Hawking found that occasionally one particle of a pair would fall into the hole while the other particle escaped. The escaping particle converts into a real particle that, in effect, is emitted by the hole. It carries away a tiny amount of energy and slightly reduces the size of the hole. This is discussed in an excellent Scientific American article written by Hawking himself. (I remember reading this article when it was published and being very impressed.)

        The probability of a virtual particle converting depends on how far it has to travel in the brief time it exists. In the case of hole with the mass of the sun this is several km, so it is rare. The theory says the hole radiates like a black body, so like all black bodies the hole has a temperature. The temperature of a black hole of one solar mass is measured in millionths of a degree (micro kelvin). However, holes with lower mass are hotter. It is conceivable that a black hole could exist (or be made by an advanced civilization!) that would radiate as much energy as our sun!

        How long would such a black hole last?? Rough estimate: Temperature of the black hole is inversely proportional to it mass. The ratio of 1 micro kelvin to 5,000 kelvin (surface of the sun) is 5 x 10^9. The fuel burning time of our sun is estimated at 10 billion years (10 x 10^9). So a black hole with a 0.2 x 10^-9 solar masses would radiate like the sun (?), and if it converted mass to energy with the same efficiency as the sun would have 2 year lifetime. I think nuclear reactions are pretty inefficient (about 1% of mass converted to energy - see next), so maybe such a hole could last 200 years. It's radiation output will, however, not be stable like the sun's because as the mass of the hole shrinks the temperature of the hole will rise inversely. Maybe the advanced civilization can keep the temperature of the hole stable by feeding mass into the hole!

'Burning' 4 H to He4 converts 0.72% of mass to energy

            atomic mass of helium (4.00260)                   4.0026
        --------------------------------------------  =  --------------- = 0.99277
        4 x atomic mass of hydrogen (1.00794)             4.03176

        Wikipedia data (see entry for 'Hawking radiation')--- Wikipedia says a one solar mass black hole has a temperature of only 60 nanokelvin (0.06 microkelvin). If the power output of the sun at earth is (about 1,000 w/meter^2) , and radius of earth orbit it (about) 100 million miles x 10^3 m/mile = 10^11m, then power output of the sun (order of magnitude) is (power/m^2 x 4 pi x r^2) = 10^26 watts. Wikipedia formulas for power and time vs mass, says a hole with this power output has a tiny mass of 10^3 kg and it lives only 100 nanoseconds! Check: P = E/time =m x c^2/time = 10^3 kg x (3 x 10^8 m/sec)^2)/10^-7 sec = 10^27 watts. OK.

        2) Black hole dynamo ---  The rotating part (rotor) of an of an electric generator (dynamo) has magnetic fields that extend out and sweep around as the rotor rotates driven usually by steam turbines. The outside of a dynamo, the non rotating part called the stator, consists of many coils of wire. Voltage (& power) are generated in the stator coils when the rotor magnetic field sweeps through, a process known as induction.

        Black holes can spin and (like neutron star pulsars) can have strong magnetic fields that extend out into space that sweep around as the hole rotates. Such a black hole (close up) looks a lot like the rotor of a dynamo. In fact, Kip Thorne, an expert on black holes, says that an advanced civilization might be able to extract usable energy from a rapidly spinning black hole, by, in effect, building a stator (a conducting structure) in a ring around the hole. The energy generated by this dynamo would be extracted from the angular momentum of the hole and would gradually slow the hole's rotation. This is discussed in some detail in Kip Thorne's book on black holes.

        3) Black holes collide --- A third (exotic) possibility for energy from by black holes is gravity waves. Were two black holes were to collide, the spinning and shaking as the merged, would output energy as gravity waves. The US has three gravity wave detectors in operation. As far as I know, they have yet to detect any gravity waves, but the hope is that they will do so (within a few years)  when planned upgrades improve their sensitivity and noise rejection.

Interesting & random facts
            About 1% of the earth's atmosphere is argon (0.93%).  This is more than x20 times CO2 and all the other trace gases in the atmosphere combined!  The Martian atmosphere is 1.6% argon and the thin atmosphere of Mercury is 70% argon. One source of argon is decay of patassium 40 (0.12% of potassium), which is unstable with a 1.25 billion year half life, and it is thought that argon escapes from lava.

Mendelian randomization (7/09)
        A new method, Mendelian randomization, has only recently became feasible for researchers to use as a way to determine quickly causality in medicine. It looks like a huge advance, because without it, the only method to determine causality was the 'gold standard in medicine': large clinical trials in which people are randomly assigned to take a drug, or not, and followed for years. "It's changing the way we think about causality, Dr. Lauer said.

        NYT reported this July 2009 --- It has been know for a while that high levels of a blood protein, known as CRP, are associated with inflammation of the blood vessels and heart attacks. So the 64 dollar question is, Is CEP the cause of the heart attacks or just a symptom. If it's the cause, then lowering CRP could lower the rate of heart attacks. There was some evidence last year that maybe lowering CRP was useful, because people who already had low cholesterol and were given statins, which also lower CRP, had lower levels of heart attacks. To answer the question Mendelian randomization was applied to a study with 100,000 people.

        "Different people produce different amounts of CRP, and the amount a person produces is determined by tiny inherited changes in the CRP gene. So in a population, there are people who just happen to produce more CRP throughout their lives and others who just happen to produce less. If CRP causes heart disease, those who make more would have more heart disease."
        What the study by Dr. Paul Elliott of Imperial College in London found indicates that CRP is probably not the cause of heart attacks.

        My thoughts --- I'm not sure I understand how this determines causality. They seem to be saying that a randomized population has already been made my mother nature and the experiment has been run. But how is this different from testing for a correlation? How does it determine causality?

        Some ideas --- Maybe it's just more practical because it can quickly (?) look at the person's gene rather than actually measuring CRP levels, which may be too expensive or difficult to do on a large population. Maybe CRP levels are variable, so a single test is not accurate, whereas the gene variant would give a long term average.
Nobody knows how life started on earth (or started anywhere for that matter)
         Nobody has a clue as to how the to bridge the gap from simple amino acids (10 to 20 atoms), which can be made in the lab and are found in meteorites, to the staggering complexity of even the simplest of life forms with their DNA  memory, molecular translation machinery (ribosome's), and resultant thousands of complex proteins.

Nobody knows the cause of the biggest mass extinction on earth (Permian-Triassic)
        251 million years ago at the Permian-Triassic transition Earth's worst mass extinction (the P/Tr or Permian-Triassic extinction event) killed 53% of marine families, 84% of marine genera, about 96% of all marine species and an estimated 70% of land species.

Nobody knows if the Higgs boson (really) exists
Nobody knows if (any) super symmetric particles exist
            There is strong theoretical support for the Higgs particle and moderate theoretical support for super symmetric particles, but no experimental support for either.  The Large Hadron Collider  (L.H.C.) at CERN, which goes into operation at the end of 2007, will have enough energy (smashing counter rotating protons together) to look for the Higgs particle and maybe find some lower energy super symmetric partners of known particles, like the gluino, the squark, the slepton and the wino.

Nobody knows how galaxies form
        Lee Smolin says this in his 1997 book life of the Cosmos. It may be less true now. In the last 10 years extensive computer modeling (including dark matter and dark energy) have begun to shed some light on galaxy formation.

Nobody knows how light photons and elementary particles can act both like waves and particles
       This may not be true, QED theory might explain it.  Feynman in his book QED shows how the probability arguments for the motion of individual photons and charged particles explains (some) wavelike phenomena like reflection, refraction and diffraction. His argument in the book seems to be that (at least from one point of view) wave theory of light is a simplified model that allows the (most likely) paths of photons to be easily calculated explained.

Nobody knows to what extent the geological history of the earth has been modified by life
        or to what extent life has been modified by the geological history of the earth
        While the history of earth's atmosphere is poorly understood, it's now looks likely that earth's atmosphere was drastically changed about half way through the lifetime of earth by life. Some bacteria (cyanobacteria) are able to do a simplified version of plant photosynthesis. They take in CO2 from the atmosphere and split it apart into carbon and oxygen using the energy of the sun, using the carbon for food and structure and 'throwing back' the oxygen into the air. Over time if even a tiny fraction of the captured carbon gets sequestered (into earth), then this might have caused a huge substitution of the active gas oxygen for CO2 in the earth's atmosphere.

        An example of how life was very likely (drastically) modified by the geological history of the earth is the wiping out of the dinosaurs, and subsequent opening of huge ecological niches for mammal development, by a meteorite hitting earth 65 million years ago (cretaceous-tertiary boundary) probably at the Chicxulub Crater in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

Nobody knows if the Canadian cod population will ever recover
        Cod fishing off Newfoundland has been totally band for over 15 years (since 1992), yet cod numbers have barely increased. Cod mature in 4-5 years, but can live to be 25 years. For hundreds of years cod has been heavily fished on the grand banks, yet remained the dominant bottom living fish there. Is this just a slow recovery (perhaps to take decades), or will cod never return as the dominant species? No one knows. What's scary is that more than one stable ecological configuration may be possible in the bottom dwelling world of the grand banks, and man, by vastly depleting cods numbers, may have inadvertently 'flipped' the system into a new mode.

Nobody knows if god exists
        In spite of there being no evidence for god's existence, some people just assume he exists. Not only that, but in spite of there being no evidence, they assume that god takes an interest in man's affairs (on earth) and may even interfere on a personal level. Not only that, but they assume that they know the nature/wishes/desires/commands of god, even though what they understand of god's nature is based on claims of only a handful of individuals in history who claim to have talked to god or received messages from god, and all these individuals are either poorly documented historically and/or tell tales that are absurd on their face. Not only that, but there is no consensus among god believers on earth as to which of these supposed 'god info conduits' were real and which were frauds. So while nobody knows (for sure) if god exists, the probability of all these assumptions being true is pretty close to metaphysical zero.

            Graphics gallery of  National Health Museum.  Sketches of viruses, cells, much more. Great introduction to biological cells.

Minor mystery --- How come an 8 oz 'serving' of so many 100% fruit juices have 120 calories?
        A check of the required label shows an amazing number of sweet drinks, natural and artificial, show it marked 120 calories for an 8 oz serving. If this is soda or any manufactured drink, there is nothing surprising here because 120 calories/8 oz might just taste good, so this could be the target for how much sugar to put in, but what about 100% fruit juice drinks, especially a drink of only one fruit juice? Wouldn't it be very surprising if mother nature has adjusted the sweetness level of different fruits to come out at 120 calories/8 oz? I have two 100% apple juice containers in my fridge, one of which is much darker with more apple solids than the other, but both are marked 120 calories/8 oz. I wouldn't think the manuf would be allowed to add water to dilute a sweeter juice down to 120 calories/8 oz and still be allowed to claim it is 100% juice.

        One issue to explore is the rounding on the labels. You never see 121 or 119 calories, so there must be rounding. What is it? Well I also have a grapefruit-cranberry cocktail (30% juice) in my fridge and it is 130 cal/8 oz, so the rounding cannot be more than 10 calories.