Archive for the 'Bad Physics' category

Bad Math from the Bad Astronomer

Jan 17 2014 Published by under Bad Algebra, Bad Math, Bad Physics, Obfuscatory Math

This morning, my friend Dr24Hours pinged me on twitter about some bad math:

And indeed, he was right. Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer, of all people, got taken in by a bit of mathematical stupidity, which he credulously swallowed and chose to stupidly expand on.

Let's start with the argument from his video.


We'll consider three infinite series:

S1 = 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ...
S2 = 1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - 6 + ...
S3 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + ...

S1 is something called Grandi's series. According to the video, taken to infinity, Grandi's series alternates between 0 and 1. So to get a value for the full series, you can just take the average - so we'll say that S1 = 1/2. (Note, I'm not explaining the errors here - just repeating their argument.)

Now, consider S2. We're going to add S2 to itself. When we write it, we'll do a bit of offset:

1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - 6 + ...
    1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 + ...
==============================
1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ...

So 2S2 = S1; therefore S2 = S1=2 = 1/4.

Now, let's look at what happens if we take the S3, and subtract S2 from it:

   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + ...
- [1 - 2 + 3 - 4 + 5 - 6 + ...]
================================
   0 + 4 + 0 + 8 + 0 + 12 + ... == 4(1 + 2 + 3 + ...)

So, S3 - S2 = 4S3, and therefore 3S3 = -S2, and S3=-1/12.


So what's wrong here?

To begin with, S1 does not equal 1/2. S1 is a non-converging series. It doesn't converge to 1/2; it doesn't converge to anything. This isn't up for debate: it doesn't converge!

In the 19th century, a mathematician named Ernesto Cesaro came up with a way of assigning a value to this series. The assigned value is called the Cesaro summation or Cesaro sum of the series. The sum is defined as follows:

Let \(A = {a_1 + a_2 + a_3 + ...}\). In this series, \(s_k = Sigma_{n=1}^{k} a_n\). \(s_k\) is called the kth partial sum of A.

The series \(A\) is Cesaro summable if the average of its partial sums converges towards a value \(C(A) = lim_{n rightarrow infty} frac{1}{n}Sigma_{k=1}^{n} s_k\).

So - if you take the first 2 values of \(A\), and average them; and then the first three and average them, and the first 4 and average them, and so on - and that series converges towards a specific value, then the series is Cesaro summable.

Look at Grandi's series. It produces the partial sum averages of 1, 1/2, 2/3, 2/4, 3/5, 3/6, 4/7, 4/8, 5/9, 5/10, ... That series clearly converges towards 1/2. So Grandi's series is Cesaro summable, and its Cesaro sum value is 1/2.

The important thing to note here is that we are not saying that the Cesaro sum is equal to the series. We're saying that there's a way of assigning a measure to the series.

And there is the first huge, gaping, glaring problem with the video. They assert that the Cesaro sum of a series is equal to the series, which isn't true.

From there, they go on to start playing with the infinite series in sloppy algebraic ways, and using the Cesaro summation value in their infinite series algebra. This is, similarly, not a valid thing to do.

Just pull out that definition of the Cesaro summation from before, and look at the series of natural numbers. The partial sums for the natural numbers are 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, ... Their averages are 1, 4/2, 10/3, 20/4, 35/5, 56/6, = 1, 2, 3 1/3, 5, 7, 9 1/3, ... That's not a converging series, which means that the series of natural numbers does not have a Cesaro sum.

What does that mean? It means that if we substitute the Cesaro sum for a series using equality, we get inconsistent results: we get one line of reasoning in which a the series of natural numbers has a Cesaro sum; a second line of reasoning in which the series of natural numbers does not have a Cesaro sum. If we assert that the Cesaro sum of a series is equal to the series, we've destroyed the consistency of our mathematical system.

Inconsistency is death in mathematics: any time you allow inconsistencies in a mathematical system, you get garbage: any statement becomes mathematically provable. Using the equality of an infinite series with its Cesaro sum, I can prove that 0=1, that the square root of 2 is a natural number, or that the moon is made of green cheese.

What makes this worse is that it's obvious. There is no mechanism in real numbers by which addition of positive numbers can roll over into negative. It doesn't matter that infinity is involved: you can't following a monotonically increasing trend, and wind up with something smaller than your starting point.

Someone as allegedly intelligent and educated as Phil Plait should know that.

174 responses so far

The Latest Update in the Hydrino Saga

Jan 14 2014 Published by under Bad Physics

Lots of people have been emailing me to say that there's a new article out about Blacklight, the company started by Randall Mills to promote his Hydrino stuff, which claims to have an independent validation of his stuff, and announcing the any-day-now unveiling of the latest version of his hydrino-based generator.

First of all, folks, this isn't an article, it's a press release from Blacklight. The Financial Post just printed it in their online press-release section. It's an un-edited release written by Blacklight.

There's nothing new here. I continue to think that this is a scam. But what kind of scam?

To find out, let's look at a couple of select quotes from this press release.

Using a proprietary water-based solid fuel confined by two electrodes of a SF-CIHT cell, and applying a current of 12,000 amps through the fuel, water ignites into an extraordinary flash of power. The fuel can be continuously fed into the electrodes to continuously output power. BlackLight has produced millions of watts of power in a volume that is one ten thousandths of a liter corresponding to a power density of over an astonishing 10 billion watts per liter. As a comparison, a liter of BlackLight power source can output as much power as a central power generation plant exceeding the entire power of the four former reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

One ten-thousandth of a liter of water produces millions of watts of power.

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Oh, but wait... how do we measure energy density of a substance? Joules per liter, or something equivalent - that is, energy per volume. But Blacklight is quoting energy density as watts per liter.

The joule is a unit of energy. A joule is a shorthand for \(frac{text{kilogram}*text{meter}^2}{text{second}^2}\). Watts are a different unit, a measure of power, which is a shorthand for \(frac{text{kilogram}*text{meter}^2}{text{second}^3}\). A watt is, therefore, one joule/second.

They're quoting a rather peculiar unit there. I wonder why?

Our safe, non-polluting power-producing system catalytically converts the hydrogen of the H2O-based solid fuel into a non-polluting product, lower-energy state hydrogen called “Hydrino”, by allowing the electrons to fall to smaller radii around the nucleus. The energy release of H2O fuel, freely available in the humidity in the air, is one hundred times that of an equivalent amount of high-octane gasoline. The power is in the form of plasma, a supersonic expanding gaseous ionized physical state of the fuel comprising essentially positive ions and free electrons that can be converted directly to electricity using highly efficient magnetohydrodynamic converters. Simply replacing the consumed H2O regenerates the fuel. Using readily-available components, BlackLight has developed a system engineering design of an electric generator that is closed except for the addition of H2O fuel and generates ten million watts of electricity, enough to power ten thousand homes. Remarkably, the device is less than a cubic foot in volume. To protect its innovations and inventions, multiple worldwide patent applications have been filed on BlackLight’s proprietary technology.

Water, in the alleged hydrino reaction, produces 100 times the energy of high-octane gasoline.

Gasoline contains, on average, about 11.8 kWh/kg. A milliliter of gasoline weighs about 7/10ths of a gram, compared to the 1 gram weight of a milliter of water; therefore, a kilogram of gasoline should contain around 1400 milliliters. So, let's take 11.8kWh/kg, and convert that to an equivalent measure of energy per milliter: about 8 1/2 kWh/milliliter. How does that compare to hydrinos? Oh, wait... we can't convert those, now can we? Because they're using power density. And the power density of a substance depends not just on how much power you can extract, but how long it takes to extract it. Explosives have fantastic power density! Gasoline - particularly high octane gasoline - is formulated to try to burn as slowly as possible, because internal combustion engines are more efficient on a slower burn.

To bring just a bit of numbers into it, TNT has a much higher power density than gasoline. You can easily knock down buildings with TNT, because of the way that it emits all of its energy in one super short burst. But it's energy density is just 1/4th the energy density of gasoline.

Hmm. I wonder why Mills is using the power density?

Here's my guess. Mills has some bullshit process where he spikes his generator with 12000 amps, and gets a microsecond burst of energy out. If you can produce 100 joules from one milliliter in 1/1000th of a second, that's a power density of 100,000 joules per milliliter.

Suddenly, the amount of power that's being generated isn't so huge - and there, I would guess, is the key to Mills latest scam. If you're hitting your generating apparatus with 12,000 amperes of electric current, and you're producing microsecond burst of energy, it's going to be very easy to produce that energy by consuming something in the apparatus, without that consumption being obvious to an observer who isn't allowed to independently examine the apparatus in detail.


Now, what about the "independent verification"? Again, let's look at the press release.

“We at The ENSER Corporation have performed about thirty tests at our premises using BLP’s CIHT electrochemical cells of the type that were tested and reported by BLP in the Spring of 2012, and achieved the three specified goals,” said Dr. Ethirajulu Dayalan, Engineering Fellow, of The ENSER Corporation. “We independently validated BlackLight’s results offsite by an unrelated highly qualified third party. We confirmed that hydrino was the product of any excess electricity observed by three analytical tests on the cell products, and determined that BlackLight Power had achieved fifty times higher power density with stabilization of the electrodes from corrosion.” Dr. Terry Copeland, who managed product development for several electrochemical and energy companies including DuPont Company and Duracell added, “Dr. James Pugh (then Director of Technology at ENSER) and Dr. Ethirajulu Dayalan participated with me in the independent tests of CIHT cells at The ENSER Corporation’s Pinellas Park facility in Florida starting on November 28, 2012. We fabricated and tested CIHT cells capable of continuously producing net electrical output that confirmed the fifty-fold stable power density increase and hydrino as the product.”

Who is the ENSER corporation? They're an engineering consulting/staffing firm that's located in the same town as Blacklight's offices. So, pretty much, what we're seeing is that Mills hired his next door neighbor to provide a data-free testimonial promising that the hydrino generator really did work.

Real scientists, doing real work, don't pull nonsense like this. Mills has been promising a commercial product within a year for almost 25 years. In that time, he's filed multiple patents, some of which have already expired! And yet, he's never actually allowed an independent team to do a public, open test of his system. He's never provided any actual data about the system!

He and his team have claimed things like "We can't let people see it, it's secret". But they're filing patents. You don't get to keep a patent secret. A patent application, under US law, must contain: "a description of how to make and use the invention that must provide sufficient detail for a person skilled in the art (i.e., the relevant area of technology) to make and use the invention.". In other words, if the patents that Mills and friends filed are legally valid, they must contain enough information for an interested independent party to build a hydrino generator. But Mills won't let anyone examine his supposedly working generators. Why? It's not to keep a secret!


Finally, the question that a couple of people, including one reporter for WiredUK asked: If it's all a scam, why would Mills and company keep on making claims?

The answer is the oldest in the book: money.

In my email this morning, I got a new version of a 419 scam letter. It's from a guy who claims to be the nephew of Ariel Sharon. He claims that his uncle owned some farmland, including an extremely valuable grove of olive trees, in the occupied west bank. Now, he claims, the family wants to sell that land - but as Sharon's, they can't let their names get in to the news. So, he says, he wants to "sell" the land to me for a pittance, and then I can sell it for what it's really worth, and we'll split the profits.

When you read about people who've fallen for 419 scams, you find that the scammers don't ask for all of the money up front. They start off small: "There is a $500 fee for the transfer". When they get that, they show you some "evidence" in the form of an official-looking transfer-clearance recepit. But then they say that there's a new problem, and they need money to get around it. "We were preparing to transfer, but the clerk became suspicious; we need to bribe him!", "There's a new financial rule that you can't transfer sums greater that $10000 to someone without a Nigerian bank account containing at least $100,000". It's a continual process. They always show some kind of fake document at each step of the way. The fakes aren't particularly convincing unless you really want to be convinced, but they're enough to keep the money coming.

Mills appears to be operating in very much the same vein. He's getting investors to give him money, promising that whatever they invest, they'll get back manifold when he starts selling hydrino power generators! He promises they'll be on market within a year or two - five at most!

Then he comes up with either a demonstration, or the testimonial from his neighbor, or the self-publication of his book, or another press release talking about the newest version of his technology. It's much better than the old one! This time it's for real - just look at these amazing numbers! It's 10 billion watts per liter, a machine that fits on your desk can generate as much power as a nuclear power plant!! We just need some more money to fix that pesky problem with corrosion on the electrodes, and then we'll go to market, and you'll be rich, rich, rich!

It's been going on for almost 25 years, this constant cycle of press release/demo/testimonial every couple of years. (Seriously; in this post, I showed links to claims from 2009 claiming commercialization within 12 to 18 months; from 2005 claiming commercialization within months; and claims from 1999 claiming commercialization within a year.) But he always comes up with an excuse why those deadlines needed to be missed. And he always manages to find more investors, willing to hand over millions of dollars. As long as suckers are still willing to give him money, why wouldn't he keep on making claims?

31 responses so far

This one's for you, Larry! The Quadrature BLINK Kickstarter

Nov 14 2013 Published by under Bad Physics

After yesterday's post about the return of vortex math, one of my coworkers tweeted the following at me:

Larry's a nice guy, even if he did give me grief at my new-hire orientation. So I decided to take a look. At oh my, what a treasure he found! It's a self-proclaimed genius with a wonderful theory of everything. And he's running a kickstarter campaign to raise money to publish it. So it's a lovely example of profound crackpottery, with a new variant of the buy my book gambit!

To be honest, I'm a bit uncertain about this. At times, it seems like the guy is dead serious; at other times, it seems like it's an elaborate prank. I'm going to pretend that it's completely serious, because that will make this post more fun.

So, what exactly is this theory of everything? I don't know for sure. He's dropping hints, but he's not going to tell us the details of the theory until enough people buy his book! But he's happy to give us some hints, starting with an explanation of what's wrong with physics, and why a guy with absolutely no background in physics or math is the right person to revolutionize physics! He'll explain it to us in nine brief points!

First: Let me ask you a question. Since the inclusion of Relativity and Dirac’s Statistical Model, why has Physics been at loose ends to unify the field? Everyone has tried and failed, and for this reason so many have pointed out: what we don’t need, is another TOE, Theory of Everything. So if I was a Physicist, my theory would probably just be one of these… a failed TOE based on the previous literature.

But why do these theories fail? One thing for sure is that in academia every new ideas stems from previously accepted ideas, with a little tweak here or there. In the main, TOEs in Physics have this in common, and they all have failed. What does this tell you?

See, those physicists, they're all just trying the same stuff, and they all failed, therefore they'll never succeed.

When I look at modern physics, I see some truly amazing things. To pull out one particularly prominent example from this year, we've got the higgs boson. He'll sneer at the higgs boson a bit later, but that was truly astonishing: decades ago, based on a deep understanding of the standard model of particle physics, a group of physicists worked out a theory of what mass was and how it worked. They used that to make a concrete prediction about how their theory could tested. It was untestable at the time, because the kind of equipment needed to perform the experiment didn't exist, and couldn't exist with current technology. 50 years later, after technology advanced, their prediction was confirmed.

That's pretty god-damnned amazing if you ask me.

Based on the arguments from our little friend, a decade ago, you could have waved your hands around, and said that physicists had tried to create theories about why things had mass, and they'd failed. Therefore, obviously, no theory of mass was going to come from physics, and if you wanted to understand the universe, you'd have to turn to non-physicists.

On to point two!

Second: the underlying assumptions in Physics must be wrong, or somehow grossly mis-specified.

That's it. That's the entire point. No attempt to actually support that argument. How do we know that the underlying assumptions in physics must be wrong? Because he says so. Period.

Third: Who can challenge the old paradigm of Physics, only Copernicus? Physicists these days cannot because they are too inured of their own system of beliefs and methodologies. Once a PhD is set in place, Lateral Thinking, or “thinking outside the box,” becomes almost impossible due to departmental “silo thinking.” Not that physicists aren’t smart – some are genius, but like everyone in the academic world they are focused on publishing, getting research grants, teaching and other administrative duties. This leaves little time for creative thinking, most of that went into the PhD. And a PhD will not be accepted unless a candidate is ready and willing to fall down the “departmental silo.” This has a name: Catch 22.

It's the "good old boys" argument. See, all those physicists are just doing what their advisors tell them to; once they've got their PhD, they're just producing more PhDs, enforcing the same bogus rules that their advisors inflicted on them. Not a single physicist in the entire world is willing to buck this! Not one single physicist in the world is willing to take the chance of going down as one of the greatest scientific minds in history by bucking the conventional wisdom.

Except, of course, there are plenty of people doing that. For an example, right off the top of my head, we've got the string theorists. Sure, they get lots of justifiable criticism. But they've worked out a theory that does seem to describe many things about the universe. It's not testable with present technology, and it's not clear that it will ever be testable with any kind of technology. But according to Bretholt's argument, the string theorists shouldn't exist. They're bucking the conventional model, and they're getting absolutely hammered for it by many of their colleagues - but they're still going ahead and working on it, because they believe that they're on to something important.

Fourth: There is not much new theory-making going on in Physics since its practitioners believe their Standard Model is almost complete: just a few more billion dollars in research and all the colors of the Higgs God Particle may be sorted, and possibly we may even glimpse the Higgs Field itself. But this is sort of like hunting down terrorists: if you are in control of defining what a terrorist is, then you will never be out of a job or be without a budget. This has a name too: Self-Fulfilling Prophesy. The brutal truth…

Right, there's not much new theory-making going on in physics. No one is working on string theory. There's no one coming up with theories about dark matter or dark energy. There's no one trying to develop a theory of quantum gravity. No one ever does any of this stuff, because there's no new theory-making going on.

Of course, he hand-waves one of the most fantastic theory-confirmations from physics. The higgs got lots of press, and lots of people like to hand-wave about it and overstate what it means. ("It's the god particle!") But even stripped down to its bare minimum, it's an incredible discovery, and for a jackass like this to wave his hands and pretend that it's meaningless and we need to stop wasting time on stuff like the LHC and listen to him: I just don't even know the right words to describe the kind of disgust it inspires in me.

Fifth: Who then can mount such a paradigm-breaking project? Someone like me, prey tell! But birds like me just don’t sit around the cage and get fat, we fly to the highest vantage point, and see things for what they are! We have a name as well: Free Thinkers. We are exactly what your mother warned you of… There’s a long list of us include Socrates, Christ, Buddha, Taoist Masters, Tibetan Masters, Mohammed, Copernicus, Newton, Maxwell, Gödel, Hesse, Jung, Tesla, Planck… All are Free Thinkers, confident enough in their own knowledge and wisdom that they are willing to risk upsetting the applecart! We soar so humanity can peer beyond its petty day to day and discover itself.

There's two things that really annoy me about this paragraph. First of all, there's the arrogance. This schmuck hasn't done anything yet, but he sees fit to announce that he's up there with Newton, Maxwell, etc.

Second, there's the mushing together of scientists and religious figures. Look, I'm a religious jew. I don't have anything against respecting theology, theologians, or religious authorities. But science is different. Religion is about subjective experience. Even if you believe profoundly in, say, Buddhism, you can't just go through the motions of what Buddha supposedly did and get exactly the same result. There's no objective, repeatable way of testing it. Science is all about the hard work of repeatable, objective experimentation.

He continues point 5:

This chain might have included Einstein and Dirac had they not made three fatal mistakes in Free Thinking: They let their mathematical machine dictate what was true rather than using mathematics only to confirm their observations, they got fooled by their own anthropomorphic assumptions, and then they rooted these assumptions into their mathematical methods. This derailed the last two generations of scientific thinking.

Here's where he strays into the real territory of this blog.

Crackpots love to rag on mathematics. They can't understand it, and they want to believe that they're the real geniuses, so the math must be there to confuse things!

Scientists don't use math to be obscure. Learning math to do science isn't some sort of hazing ritual. The use of math isn't about making science impenetrable to people who aren't part of the club. Math is there because it's essential. Math gives precision to science.

Back to the Higgs boson for a second. The people who proposed the Higgs didn't just say "There's a field that gives things mass". They described what the field was, how they thought it worked, how it interacted with the rest of physics. The only way to do that is with math. Natural language is both too imprecise, and too verbose to be useful for the critical details of scientific theories.

Let me give one example from my own field. When I was in grad school, there was a new system of computer network communication protocols under design, called OSI. OSI was complex, but it had a beauty to its complexity. It carefully divided the way that computer networks and the applications that run on them work into seven layers. Each layer only needed to depend on the details of the layer beneath it. When you contrast it against TCP/IP, it was remarkable. TCP/IP, the protocol that we still use today, is remarkably ad-hoc, and downright sloppy at times.

But we're still using TCP/IP today. Why?

Because OSI was specified in english. After years of specification, several companies and universities implemented OSI network stacks. When they connected them together, what happened? It didn't work. No two of the reference implementations could talk to each other. Each of them was perfectly conformant with the specification. But the specification was imprecise. To a human reader, it seemed precise. Hell, I read some of those specifications (I worked on a specification system, and read all of specs for layers 3 and 4), and I was absolutely convinced that they were precise. But english isn't a good language for precision. It turned out that what we all believed was perfectly precise specification actually had numerous gaps.

There's still a lot of debate about why the OSI effort failed so badly. My take, having been in the thick of it is that this was the root cause: after all the work of building the reference implementations, they realized that their specifications needed to go back to the drawing board, and get the ambiguities fixed - and the world outside of the OSI community wasn't willing to wait. TCP/IP, for all of its flaws, had a perfectly precise specification: the one, single, official reference implementation. It might have been ugly code, it might have been painful to try to figure out what it meant - but it was absolutely precise: whatever that code did was right.

That's the point of math in science: it gives you that kind of unambiguous precision. Without precision, there's no point to science.

Sixth: What happens to Relativity when the assumptions of Lorentz’ space-time is removed? Under these assumptions, the speed of light limits the speed of moving bodies. The Lorentz Transformation was designed specifically to set this speed limit, but there is no factual evidence to back it up. At first, the transformation assumed that there would be length and time dilations and a weight increase when travelling at sub-light speeds. But after the First Misguided Generation ended in the mid 70’s, the weight change idea was discarded as untenable. It was quietly removed because it implied that a body propagating at or near the speed of light would become infinitely massive and turn into a black hole. Thus, the body would swallow itself up and disappear!

Whoops… bad assumption!

The space contraction idea was left intact because it was imperative to Hilbert’s rendition of the space-time geodesic that he devised for Einstein in 1915. Hilbert was the best mathematician of his day, if not ever! He concocted the mathematical behemoth called General Relativity to encapsulate Einstein's famous insight that gravitation was equivalent to an accelerating frame. Now, not only was length assumed to contract, but space was assumed to warp and gravitation was assumed to be an accelerating frame, though no factual evidence exists to back up these assumptions!

Whoops… 3 bad assumptions in a row!

This is an interestingly bizarre argument.

Relativity predicts a change in mass (not weight!) as velocity increases. That prediction has not changed. It has been confirmed, repeatedly, by numerous experiments. The entire reasoning here is based on the unsupported assertion that relativistic changes in mass have been discarded as incorrect. But that couldn't be farther from the truth!

Similarly, he's asserting that the space-warping effects of gravity - one of the fundamental parts of general relativity - is incorrect, again without the slightest support.

This is going to seem like a side-track, but bear with me:

When I came in to my office this morning, I took out my phone and used foursquare to check in. How did that work? Well, my phone received signals from a collection of satellites, and based on the tiny differences in data contained in those signals, it was able to pinpoint my location to precisely the corner of 43 street and Madison avenue, outside of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

To be able to pinpoint my location that precisely, it ultimately relies on clocks in the satellites. Those clocks are in orbit, moving very rapidly, and in a different position in earths gravity well. Space-time is less warped at their elevation than it is here on earth. Relativity predicts that based on that fact, the clocks in those satellites must move at a different rate than clocks here on earth. In order to get precise positions, those clocks need to be adjusted to keep time with the receivers on the surface of the earth.

If relativity - with its interconnected predictions of changes in mass, time, and the warp of space-time - didn't work, then the corrections made by the GPS satellites wouldn't be needed. And yet, they are.

There are numerous other examples of this. We've observed relativistic effects in many different ways, in many different experiments. Despite what Mr. Bretholt asserts, none of this has been disproven or discarded.

Seventh: Many, many, many scientists disagree with Relativity for these reasons and others, but Physics keeps it as a mainstream idea. It has been violated over and over again in various space programs, and is rarely used in the aerospace industry when serious results are expected. Physics would like to correct Relativity because it doesn’t jive with the Quantum Standard Model, but they can’t conceive how to fix it.

In Quadrature Theory the problem with Relativity is obvious and easily solved. The problem is that the origin and nature of space is not known, nor is the origin and nature of time or gravitation. Einstein did not prove anything about gravitation, norhas anyone since. The “accelerating frame” conjecture is for the convenience of mathematics and sheds no light on the nature of gravitation itself. Quantum Chromo Dynamics, QCD, hypothesizes the “graviton” on the basis of similarly convenient mathematics. Many scientists disagree with such “force carrier” propositions: they are all but silenced by the trends in Physics publishing, however. The “graviton” is, nevertheless, a mathematical fiction similar to Higgs Boson.

Whoops… a couple more bad assumptions, but where did they come from?

Are there any serious scientists who disagree with relativity? Mr. Bretholt doesn't actually name any. I can't think of any credible ones. Certainly pretty much all physicists agree that there's a problem because both relativity and quantum physics both appear to be correct, but they're not really compatible. It's a major area of research. But that's a different thing from saying that scientists "disagree" with or reject relativity. Relativity has passed every experimental test that anyone has been able to devise.

Of course, it's completely true that Einstein didn't prove anything about gravity. Science doesn't deal with proof. Science devises models based on observations. It tries to find the best predictive model of the universe that it can, based on repeated observation. Science can disprove things, by showing that they don't match our observations of reality, but it can't prove that a theory is correct. So we can never be sure that our model is correct - just that it does a good job of making predictions that match further observations. Relativity could be completely, entirely, 100% wrong. But given everything we know now, it's the best predictive theory we have, and nothing we've been able to do can disprove it.

Ok, I've gone on long enough. If you want to see his last couple of points, go ahead and follow the link to his "article". After all of this, we still haven't gotten to anything about what his supposed new theory actually says, and I want to get to just a little bit of that. He's not telling us much - he wants money to print his book! - but what little he says is on his kickstarter page.

So let me introduce that modification: it’s called Quadrature, or Q. Quadrature arose from Awareness as the original separation of Awareness from itself. This may sound strangely familiar; I elaborate at length about it in BLINK. The Theory of Quadrature develops Q as the Central Generating Principle that creates the Universe step by step. After a total of 12 applications of Quadrature, it folds back on itself like a snake biting its tail. Due to this inevitable closure, the Universe is complete, replete with life, energy and matter, both dark and light. As a necessary consequence of this single Generating Principle, everything in the Universe is ultimately connected through ascending levels of Awareness.

The majesty and mystery of Awareness and its manifestation remains, but this vision puts us inside as co-creative participants. I think you will agree that this is highly desirable from a metaphysical point of view. Quadrature is the mechanism that science has been looking for to unify these two points of view. Q has been foreshadowed in many ways in both physics and metaphysics. As developed in BLINK, Quadrature Theory can serve as a Theory of Everything.

Pretty typical grandiose crackpottery. This looks an awful lot like a variation of Langan's CTMU. It's all about awareness! And there's a simple "mathematical" construct called "quadrature" that makes it all work. Of course, I can't tell you what quadrature is. No, you need to pay me! Give me money! And then I'll deign to explain it to you.

To make a long story short, Quadrature Theory supports four essential claims that undermine Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Cosmology while placing these disciplines back on a more secure foundation once their erroneous assumptions have been removed. These are:

  1. The origin of space and its nature arise from Quadrature. Space is shown to be strictly rectilinear; space cannot warp under any conditions.
  2. The origin of the Tempic Field and its nature arise from Quadrature. This field facilitates all types of energetic interaction and varies throughout space. The idea of time arises solely from transactions underwritten by the Tempic Field. Therefore, time as we know it here on Earth is a local anomaly, which uniquely affects all interactions including the speed of light. “C,” in fact, is a velocity, and is variable in both speed and direction depending on the gradient of the Tempic Field. Thus, “C” varies drastically off-planet!
  3. Spin is a fundamental operation in space that constitutes the only absolute measurement. Its density throughout space is non-linear and it generates a variable Tempic Field within spinning systems such as atoms, or galaxies. This built-in “time” serves to hold the atom together eternally, and has many other consequences for Quantum Mechanics and Cosmology.
  4. Gravity is also a ringer in physics. Nothing of the fundamental origin of gravity is known, though we know how to use it quite well. Given the consequence of Spin, gravity can be traced to forms that have closed Tempic Fields. The skew electric component of spinning systems will align to create an aggregated, polarized, directional field: gravity.

Pop science, of course, loves to talk about black holes, worm holes, time warps and all manner of the ridiculous in physics. There is much more fascinating stuff than this in my book, and it is completely consistent with what is observable in the Universe. For example, I propose the actual purpose of the black hole and why every galaxy has one. At any rate, perhaps you now have an inkling of why Quadrature Theory is a Revolution Waiting to Happen!

Pure babble, stringing together words in nonsensical ways. As my mantra goes: the worst math is no math. Here he's arguing that rigorous, well-tested mathematical models are incorrect - because vague reasons.

14 responses so far

Vortex Math Returns!

Nov 12 2013 Published by under Bad Physics

Cranks never give up. That's something that I've learned in my time writing this blog. It doesn't matter how stupid an idea is. It doesn't matter how obviously wrong, how profoundly ridiculous. No matter what, cranks will continue to push their ridiculous ideas.

One way that this manifests is the comments on old posts never quite die. Years after I initially write a post, I still have people coming back and trying to share "new evidence" for their crankery. George Shollenberger, the hydrino cranks, the Brown's gas cranks, the CTMU cranks, they've all come back years after a post with more of the same-old, same-old. Most of the time, I just ignore it. There's nothing to be gained in just rehashing the same old nonsense. It's certainly not going to convince the cranks, and it's not going to be interesting to my less insane readers. But every once in a while, something comes along in those comments, something that's actually new and amusing comes along. Today I've got an example of that for you: one of the proponents of Markus Rodin's "Vortex Math" has returned to tell us the great news!

I have linked Vortex Based Mathematics with Physics and can prove most physics using vortex based mathematics. I am writing an article call "Temporal Physics of Vortex Based Mathematics" here: http://www.vortexspace.org

This is a lovely thing, even without needing to actually look at his article. Just start at the very first line! He claims that he can "prove most of physics".

Science doesn't do proof.

What science does is make observations, and then based on those observations produce models of the universe. Then, using that model, it makes predictions, and compares those predictions with further observations. By doing that over and over again, we get better and better models of how the universe works. Science is never sure about anything - because all it can do is check how well the model works. It's always possible that any model doesn't describe how things actually work. But it gives us a good approximation, in a way that allows us to understand how things work. Or, not quite how things work, but how we can affect the world by our actions. Our model might not capture what's really happening - but it's got predictive power.

To give an example of this: our model of the universe says that the earth orbits the sun, which is orbits the galactic core, which is moving through the universe. It's possible that this is wrong. You can propose an alternative model in which the earth is the stationary center of the universe, and everything moves around it. As a model, it's not very attractive, because to make it fit our observations, it requires a huge amount of complexity - it's a far, far more complex model than our standard one, and it's much harder to use to make accurate predictions. But it can be made to work, just as well as our standard one. It's possible that that's how the universe actually works. I don't think any reasonable person actually believes that the universe works that way, but it's possible that our entire model is wrong. Science can't prove that our model is correct. It can just show that it's the simplest model that matches our observations.

But Mr. Calhoun claims that he can prove physics. That claim shows that he has no idea of what science is, or what science means. And if he doesn't understand something that simple, why should we trust him to understand any more?

Ah, but when we take a look at some of his writings... it's a lovely pile of rubbish. Remember the mantra of this blog? The worst math is no math. Mr. Calhoun's writing is a splendid example of this. He claims to be doing science, math, and mathematical proofs - but when you actually look at his writing, there's not a spec of genuine math to be found!

Let's start with a really quick reminder of what vortex math is. Take the sequence of doubling in natural numbers in base-10. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, .... If, for each of those numbers, you sum the digits until you get a single digit result, you get: 1, 2, 4, 8, 7, 5, 1, 2, 4, 8, 7, 5, ... It turns into a repeated sequence, 1, 2, 4, 8, 7, 5, over and over again. You can do the same thing in the reverse direction, by halving: 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.125, 0.0625, 0.03125, 0.015625, 0.0078125, where the digits sum to 1, 5, 7, 8, 4, 2, 1, 5, ...

According to Rodin, this demonstrates something profound. This is the heart of Vortex mathematics: this cycle in the numbers shows that there's some kind of energy flow that is fundamental to the universe, based on this kind of repeating sequence.

So, how does Mr. Calhoun use this? He thinks that he can connect it to black holes and white holes:

Do not forget that we already learned that black holes suck in matter while "compressing" it; and, on the other side of the black hole is a white hole that then takes the same matter and spits it back out while "de-compressing" the matter. The "magnetic warp" video on Youtube shows the same torus shape Marko had illustrated in his "vortex based mathematics" video [see below]:

You can clearly see the vortex in the center of the torus magnets. This is made possible using two Ferrofluid Hele-Shaw Cells [Hele-Shaw effect]. Here are a few links about using ferrofluid hele-shaw cell to view magnetic fields:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hele-Shaw_flow

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/ejournal/issues/volume2issue1/snyder/

Here is a quote from a Youtube user about the magnets:

"Walter Rawls, a? scientist who did a great deal of research with Albert Roy Davis, said that he believes at the center of every magnet there is a miniature black hole."

I have not verified the above statement about Walter Rawls as of yet. However, the above images prove beyond doubt Marko's torus universe mathematical geometry. Now lets take a look at Marko's designs:

The pictures look kind-of-like this silly torus thing that Rodin likes to draw: therefore they prove beyond doubt that Rodin's rubbish is correct! Wow, now that's a mathematical proof!

It gets worse from there.

The next section is "The Physics of Time".

If you looked at the Youtube videos of the true motion of the Earth through space you now know that we are literally falling into a black hole that is at the center of the galaxy. The motion of the Earth; all of the rotation and revolution, all of that together is caused by space-time. Time is acually the rate and pattern of the motion of matter as it moves through space. It is the fourth dimension. you have probably heard this if you have studied Einstien theories: "As an object moves faster the rate of its motion [or time] slows down". Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it? Well it not so strange once you understand how the fabric of space-time relates to Vortex Based Mathematics.

Motion of the Earth

The planet Earth rotates approx every twenty-four hours. It makes a complete 360o rotation every twenty-four hours. That amount of time is the frequency of the rate of rotation.

Looking down from the north pole of the Earth, you will see that if we divide the sphere into 36 equal parts the sunrise would have to pass through all of the degrees of the sphere in order to make a complete cycle:

Remember the Earth is a "giant magnet" that is spinning. The electromagnetic field of this "giant magnet" is moving out of the north pole [which is really at the geographic south pole] and going to the south pole [which again is really at the geographic north pole]. This electromagnetic field is moving or spinning [see youtube video at top] according to a frequency or cycle.

I don't know if you realize this, but matter can be compressed or expanded without it being destroyed. A black hole does not de-molecularize matter then in passing to the white hole reassemble it again. Nothing that is demolecularized can naturally be put back together again. If an object is destroyed then is it destroyed; there is no reassembly. Matter can be however, compressed and decompressed. As you probably know and have heard this before there is an huge amount of distance between the atoms in your body. Like the giant void of space and much like the distances between planets in our solar system; the atomic matter in our bodies is just as similar in the amount of space between each atom.

What fills the spaces between each atom? Well, Its space-time. It is the fabric of the inertia ether that all matter in space moves through. Spacetime or what I call "etherspace" is what I have come to realize as "the space in between the spaces". This "etherspace" can be compressed and then decompressed. Etherspace can enable all of the matter in your body to be greatly compressed without your body being destroyed; and at the same time functioning as it normally should. The ether space then allows your body to be decompressed again; all the while functioning as it should.

It is the movement of spacetime or "ether space" that is causing the rotation and revolving of the planet we live on. It is also responsible for the motions of all of the bodies in space.

Magnets will, whether great or small, act as engines for etherspace. They pull in etherspace at the south pole and also pump out etherspace at the north pole of the magnet. All magnets do this; the great planet earth all the way to the little magnet that sticks to your refridgerator door. Vortex based mathematics prove all of this. I will show you.

As I stated earlier the Earth is a giant magnet and if we apply the Vortex Based Mathematics to the 10o degree spacings of this "giant magnet" lets see what happens. Now we are going to see the de-compression of space-time eminatiing from the true north pole of the giant magnet of the Earth. Let's deploy a doubling circuit to the spacings of the planet. We will start at 0o and go all the way to 360o .

Calhoun certainly shows that he's a worthy inheritor of the mantle of Rodin. Rodin's entire rubbish is really based on taking a fun property of our particular base-10 numerical notation, and without any good reason, believing that it must be a profound fundamental property of the universe. Calhoun takes two arbitrary things: the 360 degree conventional angle measurement, and the 24 hour day, and likewise, without any good reason, without even any argument, believes that they are fundamental properties of the universe.

Where does the 24 hour day come from? I did a bit of research, and there are a couple of possible arguments. It appears to date back to the old empire of Egypt. The argument that I found most convincing is based on how the Egyptians counted on their hands. They did a lot of things in base-12, because using your thumb to point out the joints of the fingers on your hand, you can count to 12. The origin of our base-10 is based on using fingers to count; base-12 is similar, but based on a slightly different way of counting on your fingers. Using base-12, they decided to describe time in terms of counting periods of light and darkness: 12 bright periods, 12 dark ones. There's nothing scientific or fundamental about it: it's an arbitrary way of measuring time. The Greeks adopted it from the Egyptians; the Romans adopted it from the Greeks; and we adopted it from the Romans. There is no fundamental reason why it is the one true correct way of measuring time.

Similarly, the 360 degree system of angular measure is not the least bit fundamental. It dates back to the Babylonians. In writing, the Babylonions used a base-60 system, instead of our base-10. In their explorations of geometry, they observed that if you inscribed a hexagon inside of a circle, each of the segments of the hexagon was the same length as the radius of the circle. So they measured an angle in terms of which segment of the inscribed hexagon it crossed. Within those sig segments, they divided them into sixty sections, because what else would people who use base-60 use? And then to subdivide those, they used 60 again. The 360 degree system is a random historical accident, not a profound truth.

I don't want to get too far off track (or too farther off track), but: In fact, when you're talking about angles, there is a fundamental measurement, called a radian. Whenever you do math using angles, you end up needing to introduce a conversion factor which converts your angle into radians.

Anyway - this rubbish about the 24 hour day and 360 degree circle are what passes for math in Calhoun's world. This is as close to math or to correctness that Calhoun gets.

What's even worse is his babble about black holes and white holes.

Both black and white holes are theoretical predictions of relativity. The math involved is not simple: it's based on Einstein's field equations from general relativity:

\[ R_{munu} - frac{1}{2}g_{munu}R + g_{mueta}Lambda = frac{8pi G}{c^4}T_{munu}\]

In this equation, the subscripted variables are all symmetric 4x4 tensors. Black and white holes are "solutions" to particular configurations of those tensors. This is not elementary math, not by a long-shot. But if you want to really talk about black and white holes, this is how you do it.

Translating from the math into prose is always a problem, because the prose is far less precise, and it's inevitably misleading. No matter how well you think you understand based on the prose, you don't understand the concept, because you haven't been told enough, in a precise enough way, to actually understand it.

That said, the closest I can come is the following.

We'll start with black holes. Black holes are much easier to understand: put enough mass into a small enough area of space, and you wind up with a boundary line, called the event horizon, where anything that crosses that boundary, no matter what - even massless stuff like light - can never escape. We believe, based on careful analysis, that we've observed black holes in our universe. (Or rather, we've seen evidence that they exist; you can't actually see a black hole; but you can see its effects.) We call a black hole a singularity, because nothing beyond the event horizon is visible - it looks like a hole in space. But it isn't: it's got a mass, which we can measure. Matter goes in to a black hole, and crosses the event horizon. We can no longer see the matter. We can't observe what happens to it once it crosses the horizon. But we know it's still there, because we can observe the mass of the hole, and it increases as matter enters.

(It was pointed out to me on twitter that my explanation of the singularity is wrong. See what happens when you try to explain mathematical stuff non-mathematically?)

White holes are a much harder idea. We've never seen one. In fact, we don't really think that they can exist in our universe. In concept, they're the opposite of a black hole: they are a region with a boundary than nothing can ever cross. In a black hole, you can't cross the boundary an escape; in a white hole, once something crosses the boundary, it can't ever re-enter. White holes only exist in a strange conceptual case, called an eternal black hole - that is, a black hole that has been there forever, which was never formed by gravitational collapse.

There are some folks who've written speculative work based on the solutions to the white hole field equations that suggest that our universe is the result of a white hole, inside of the event horizon of a black hole in an enclosing universe. But in this solution, the white hole exists for an infinitely small period of time: all of the matter in it ejects into a new space-time realm in an instant. There's no actual evidence for this, beyond the fact that it's an interesting way of interpreting a solution to the field equations.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when it comes to black holes, Calhoun is talking out his ass. A black hole is not one end of a tunnel that leads to a white hole. If you actually do the math, that doesn't work. A black hole does not "compress" matter and pass it to a white hole which decompresses it. A black hole is just a huge clump of very dense matter; when something crosses the event horizon of a black hole, it just becomes part of that clump of matter.

His babble about magnetism is similar: we've got some very elegant field equations, called Maxwell's equations, which describe how magnetism and electric fields work. It's beautiful, if complex, mathematics. And they most definitely do not describe a magnet as something that "pumps eitherspace from the south pole to the north pole".

There's no proof here. And there's no math here. There's nothing here but the midnight pot-fueled ramblings of a not particularly bright sci-fi fan, who took some wonderful stories, and believed that they were based on something true.

18 responses so far

The Gravitational Force of Rubbish

May 01 2013 Published by under Bad Math, Bad Physics

Imagine, for just a moment, that you were one a group of scientists that had proven the most important, the most profound, the most utterly amazing scientific discovery of all time. Where would you publish it?

Maybe Nature? Science? Or maybe you'd prefer to go open-access, and go with PLOS ONE? Or more mainstream, and send a press release to the NYT?

Well, in the case of today's crackpots, they bypassed all of those boring journals. They couldn't be bothered with a pompous rag like the Times. No, they went for the really serious press: America Now with Leeza Gibbons.

What did they go to this amazing media outlet to announce? The most amazing scientific discovery of all time: gravity is an illusion! There's no gravity. In fact, not just is there no gravity, but all of that quantum physics stuff? It's utter rubbish. You don't need any of that complicated stuff! No - you need only one thing: the solar wind.

A new theory on the forces that control planetary orbit refutes the 400-year old assumptions currently held by the scientific community. Scientific and engineering experts Gerhard and Kevin Neumaier have established a relationship between solar winds and a quantized order in both the position and velocity of the solar system's planets, and movement at an atomic level, with both governed by the same set of physics.

The observations made bring into question the Big Bang Theory, the concept of black holes, gravitational waves and gravitons. The Neumaiers' paper, More Than Gravity, is available for review at MoreThanGravity.com

Pretty damned impressive, huh? So let's follow their instructions, and go over to their website.

Ever since humankind discovered that the Earth and the planets revolved around the Sun, there was a question about what force was responsible for this. Since the days of Newton, science has held onto the notion that an invisible force, which we have never been able to detect, controls planetary motion. There are complicated theories about black holes that have never been seen, densities of planets that have never been measured, and subatomic particles that have never been detected.

However, it is simpler than all of that and right in front of us. The Sun and the solar wind are the most powerful forces in our solar system. They are physically moving the planets. In fact, the solar wind spins outward in a spiral at over a million miles per hour that controls the velocity and distances that planets revolve around the Sun. The Sun via the solar wind quantizes the orbits of the planets – their position and speed.

The solar wind also leads to the natural log and other phenomenon from the very large scale down to the atomic level. This is clearly a different idea than the current view that has been held for over 400 years. We have been working on this for close 50 years and thanks to satellite explorations of space have data that just was not available when theories long ago were developed. We think that we have many of the pieces but there are certainly many more to be found. We set this up as a web site, rather as some authoritative book so that there would be plenty of opportunity for dialog. The name for this web site, www.MorethanGravity.com was chosen because we believe there is far more to this subject than is commonly understood. Whether you are a scientific expert in your field or just have a general interest in how our solar system works, we appreciate your comments.

See, it's all about the solar wind. There's no such thing as gravity - that's just nonsense. The sun produces the solar wind, which does absolutely everything. The wind comes out of the sun, and spirals out from the sun. That spiral motion has eddies in it an quantized intervals, and that's where the planets are. Amazing, huh?

Remember my mantra: the worst math is no math. This is a beautiful demonstration
of that.

Of course... why does the solar wind move in a spiral? Everything we know says that in the absence of a force, things move in a straight line. It can't be spiraling because of gravity, because there is no gravity. So why does it spiral? Our brilliant authors don't bother to say. What makes it spiral, instead of just move straight? Mathematically, spiral motion is very complicated. It requires a centripetal force which is smaller than the force that would produce an orbit. Where's that force in this framework? There isn't any. They just say that that's how the solar wind works, period. There are many possible spirals, with different radial velocities - which one does the solar wind follow according to this, and why? Again, no answer from the authors.

Or... why is the sun producing the solar wind at all? According to those old, stupid theories that this work of brilliance supercedes, the sun produces a solar wind because it's fusing hydrogen atoms into helium. That's happening because gravity is causing the atoms of the sun to be compressed together until they fuse. Without gravity, why is fusion happening at all? And given that it's happening, why does the sun not just explode into a supernova? We know, from direct observation, that the energy produced by fusion creates an outward force. But gravity can't be holding the sun together - so why is the sun there at all? Still, no answers.

They do, eventually, do some math. One of the big "results" of this hypothesis is about the "quantization" of the orbits of planets around the sun. They were able to develop a simple equation which predicts the locations where planets could exist in their "solar wind" system.

Let’s start with the distance between the planets and the Sun. We guessed that if the solar system was like an atom, that planetary distance would be quantized. This is to say that we thought that the planets would have definite positions and that they would be either in the position or it would be empty. In a mathematical sense, this would be represented by a numerical integer ordering (0,1,2,3,…). If the first planet, Mercury was in the 0 orbital, how would the rest of the planets line up? Amazingly well we found.

If we predict the distance from the surface of the Sun to each planet in this quantized approach, the results are astounding. If D equals the mean distance to the surface of the Sun, and d0 as the distance to Mercury, we can describe the relationship that orders the planets mathematically as:

\[ D=d_0 S^n\]

Each planetary position can be predicted from this equation in a simple calculation as we increase the integer (or planet number) n. S is the solar factor, which equals 1.387. The solar factor is found in the differential rotation of the Sun and the profile of the solar wind which we will discuss later.

Similar to the quantized orbits that exist within an atom, the planetary bodies are either there or not. Mercury is in the zero orbital. The next orbital is missing a planet. The second, third, and fourth orbitals are occupied by Venus, Earth, and Mars respectively. The fifth orbital is missing. The sixth orbital is filled with Ceres. Ceres is described as either the largest of all asteroids or a minor planet (with a diameter a little less than half that of Pluto), depending on who describes it. Ceres was discovered in 1801 as astronomers searched for the missing planets that the Titius-Bode Law predicted would exist.

So. What they found was an exponential equation which products very approximate versions of the size of first 8 planets' orbits, as well as a couple of missing ones.

This is, in its way, interesting. Not because they found anything, but rather because they think that this is somehow profound.

We've got 8 data points (or 9, counting the asteroid belt). More precisely, we have 9 ranges, because all of the orbits are elliptical,but the authors of this junk are producing a single number for the size of the orbits, and they can declare success if their number falls anywherewithin the range from perihelion to aphelion in each of the orbits.

It would be shocking if there weren't any number of simple equations that described exactly the 9 data points of the planet's orbits.

But they couldn't even make that work directly. They only manage to get a partial hit - getting an equation that hits the right points, but which also generates a bunch of misses. There's nothing remotely impressive about that.

From there, they move on to the strawmen. For example, they claim that their "solar wind" hypothesis explains why the planets all orbit in the same direction on the same plane. According to them, if orbits were really gravitational, then planets would orbit in random directions on random planes around the sun. But their theory is better than gravity, because it says why the planets are in the same plane, and why they're all orbiting in the same direction.

The thing is, this is a really stupid argument. Why are the planets in the same plane, orbiting in the same direction? Because the solar system was formed out of a rotating gas cloud. There's a really good, solid, well-supported explanation of why the planets exist, and why they orbit the sun the way they do. Gravity doesn't explain all of it, but gravity is a key piece of it.

What they don't seem to understand is how amazingly powerful the theory of gravity is as a predictive tool. We've sent probes to the outer edges of the solar system. To do that, we didn't just aim a rocket towards Jupiter and fire it off. We've done things like the Cassini probe, where we launched a rocket towards Venus. It used the gravitational field of Venus twice to accelerate it with a double-slingshot maneuver, and send it back towards earth, using the earth's gravity to slingshot it again, to give it the speed it needed to get to Jupiter.

This wasn't a simple thing to do. It required an extremely deep understanding of gravity, with extremely accurate predictions of exactly how gravity behaves.

How do our brilliant authors answer this? By handwaving. The extend of their response is:

Gravitational theory works for things like space travel because it empirically measures the force of a planet, rather than predicting it.

That's a pathetic handwave, and it's not even close to true. The gravitational slingshot is a perfect answer to it. A slingshot doesn't just use some "empirically measured" force of a planet. It's a very precise prediction of what the forces will be at different distances, how that force will vary, and what effects that force will have.

They do a whole lot more handwaving of very much the same order. Pure rubbish.

19 responses so far

New Dimensions of Crackpottery

Feb 26 2013 Published by under Bad Physics

I have, in the past, ranted about how people abuse the word "dimension", but it's been a long time. One of my followers on twitter sent me a link to a remarkable piece of crackpottery which is a great example of how people simply do not understand what dimensions are.

There are several ways of defining "dimension" mathematically, but they all come back to one basic concept. A dimension an abstract concept of a direction. We can use the number of dimensions in a space as a way of measuring properties of that space, but those properties all come back to the concept of direction. A dimension is neither a place nor a state of being: it is a direction.

Imagine that you're sitting in an abstract space. You're at one point. There's another point that I want you to go to. In order to uniquely identify your destination, how many directions do I need to mention?

If the space is a line, you only need one: I need to tell you the distance. There's only one possible direction that you can go, so all I need to tell you is how far. Since you only need one direction, the line is one-dimensional.

If the line is a plane, then I need to tell you two things. I could do that by saying "go right three steps then up 4 steps", or I could say "turn 53 degrees clockwise, and then walk forward 5 steps." But there's no way I can tell you how to get to your destination with less than two directions. You need two directions, so the plane is two dimensional.

If the space is the interior of a cube, then you'll need three directions, which means that the cube is three dimensional.

On to the crackpottery!

E=mc2 represents a translation across dimensions, from energy to matter.

No, it does not. Energy and matter are not dimensions. \(e=mc^2\) is a statement about the fundamental relation between energy and matter, not a statement about dimensions. Our universe could be 2 dimensional, 3 dimensional, 4 dimensional, or 22 dimensional: relativity would still mean the same thing, and it's not a statement about a "translation across dimensions".

Energy can travel at the speed of light, and as Special Relativity tells us, from the perspective of light speed it takes no time to travel any distance. In this way, energy is not bound by time and space the way matter is. Therefore, it is in a way five-dimensional, or beyond time.

Bzzt, no.

Energy does not travel. Light travels, and light can transmit energy, but light isn't energy. Or, from another perspective, light is energy: but so is everything else. Matter and energy are the same thing.

From the perspective of light speed time most certainly does pass, and it does take plenty of time to travel a distance. Light takes roughly 6 minutes to get from the sun to the earth. What our intrepid author is trying to talk about here is the idea of time dilation. Time dilation describes the behavior of particles with mass when they move at high speeds. As a massive particle moves faster and approaches the speed of light, the mass of the particle increases, and the particle's experience of time slows. If you could accelerate a massive particle to the speed of light, its mass would become infinite, and time would stop for the particle. "If" is the key word there: it can't. It would require an infinite amount of energy to accelerate it to the speed of light.

But light has no mass. Relativity describes a strange property of the universe, which is hard to wrap your head around. Light always moves at the same speed, no matter your perspective. Take two spacecraft in outer space, which are completely stationary relative to each other. Shine a laser from one, and measure how long it takes for the light to get to the other. How fast is it going? Roughly 186,000 miles/second. Now, start one ship moving away from the other at half the speed of light. Repeat the experiment. One ship is moving away from the other at a speed of 93,000 miles/second. From the perspective of the moving ship, how fast is the light moving away from it towards the other ship? 186,000 miles/second. From the perspective of the stationary ship, how fast is the laser light approaching it? 186,000 miles/second.

It's not that there's some magic thing about light that makes it move while time stops for it. Light is massless, so it can move at the speed of light. Time dilation doesn't apply because it has no mass.

But even if that weren't the case, that's got nothing to do with dimensionality. Dimensionality is a direction: what does this rubbish have to do with the different directions that light can move in? Absolutely nothing: the way he's using the word "dimension" has nothing to do with what dimensions mean.

All “objects” or instances of matter are time-bound; they change, or die, or dissolve, or evaporate. Because they are subject to time, objects can be called four-dimensional.

Nope.

Everything in our universe is subject to time, because time is one of the dimensions in our universe. Time is a direction that we move. We don't have direct control over it - but it's still a direction. When and where did I write this blog post compared to where I am when you're reading it? The only way you can specify that is by saying how far my position has changed in four directions: 3 spatial directions, and time. Time is a dimension, and everything in our universe needs to consider it, because you can't specify anything in our universe without all four dimensions.

The enormous energy that can be released from a tiny object (as in an atomic bomb) demonstrates the role dimensions play in constructing reality.

No: the enormous energy that can be released from a tiny object demonstrates the fact that a small quantity of matter is equivalent to a large quantity of energy. As you'd expect if you look at that original equation: \(e=mc^2\). A gram of mass - something the size of a paperclip - is equivalent to about 25 million kilowatt-hours of energy - or more than the total yearly energy use of 1,200 average americans. That's damned impressive and profound, without needing to draw in any mangled notions of dimensions or magical dimensional powers.

Higher dimensions are mind-blowingly powerful; even infinitely so. Such power is so expansive that it can’t have form, definition, or identity, like a ball of uranium or a human being, without finding expression in lower dimensions. The limitations of time and space allow infinite power to do something other than constantly annihilate itself.

Do I even need to respond to this?

Einstein’s equation E=mc2 bridges the fourth and the fifth dimensions, expressed as matter and energy. Imagine a discovery that bridges expressions of the fifth and sixth dimensions, such as energy and consciousness. Consciousness has the five-dimensional qualities of energy, but it can’t be “spent” in the way energy can because it doesn’t change form the way energy does. Therefore, it’s limitless.

And now we move from crackpottery to mysticism. Einstein's mass-energy equation doesn't bridge dimensions, and dimensionality has nothing do with mass-energy equivalence. And now our crackpot friend suddenly throws in another claim, that consciousness is the sixth dimension? Or consciousness is the bridge between the fifth and sixth dimensions? It's hard to figure out just what he's saying here, except for the fact that it's got nothing to do with actual dimensions.

Is there a sixth dimension? Who knows? According to some modern theories, our universe actually has many more than the 4 dimensions that we directly experience. There could be 6 or 10 or 20 dimensions. But if there are, those dimensions are just other directions that things can move. They're not abstract concepts like "consciousness".

And of course, this is also remarkably sloppy logic:

  1. Consciousness has the 5-dimensional qualities of energy
  2. Consciousness can't be spent.
  3. Consciousness can't change form.
  4. Therefore consciousness is unlimited.

The first three statements are just blind assertions, given without evidence or argument. The fourth is presented as a conclusion drawn from the first three - but it's a non-sequitur. There's no real way to conclude the last statement given the first three. Even if you give him all the rope in the world, and accept those three statements as axioms - it's still garbage.

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The Intellectual Gravity of Brilliant Baseball Players

Feb 21 2013 Published by under Bad Math, Bad Physics

Some of my friends at work are baseball fans. I totally don't get baseball - to me, it's about as interesting as watching paint dry. But thankfully, some of my friends disagree, which is how I found this lovely little bit of crackpottery.

You see, there's a (former?) baseball player named Jose Canseco, who's been plastering twitter with his deep thoughts about science.

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At first glance, this is funny, but not particularly interesting. I mean, it's a classic example of my mantra: the worst math is no math.

The core of this argument is pseudo-mathematical. The dumbass wants to make the argument that under current gravity, it wouldn't be possible for things the size of the dinosaurs to move around. The problem with this argument is that there's no problem! Things the size of dinosaurs could move about in current gravity with absolutely no difficult. If you actually do the math, it's fine.

If dinosaurs had the anatomy of human beings, then it's true that if you scaled them up, they wouldn't be able to walk. But they didn't. They had anatomical structures that were quite different from ours in order to support their massive size. For example, here's a bone from quetzlcoatlus:

Media,111639,en See the massive knob sticking out to the left? That's a muscle attachement point. That gave the muscles much greater torque than ours have, which they needed. (Yes, I know that Quetzalcoatlus wwasn't really a dinosaur, but it is one of the kinds of animals that Canseco was talking about, and it was easy to find a really clear image.)

Most animal joints are, essentially, lever systems. Muscles attach to two different bones, which are connected by a hinge. The muscle attachement points stick out relative to the joint. When the muscles contract, that creates a torque which rotate the bones around the joint.

The lever is one of the most fundamental machines in the universe. It operates by the principal of torque. Our regular daily experiences show that levers act in a way that magnifies our efforts. I can't walk up to a car and lift it. But with a lever, I can. Muscle attachment points are levers. Take another look at that bone picture: what you're seeing is a massive level to magnify the efforts of the muscles. That's all that a large animal needed to be able to move around in earths gravity.

This isn't just speculation - this is stuff that's been modeled in great detail. And it's stuff that can be observed in modern day animals. Look at the skeleton of an elephant, and compare it to the skeleton of a dog. The gross structure is very similar - they are both quadripedal mammals. But if you look at the bones, the muscle attachment points in the elephants skeleton have much larger projections, to give the muscles greater torque. Likewise, compare the skeleton of an american robin with the skeleton of a mute swan: the swan (which has a maximum recorded wingspan of 8 feet!) has much larger projections on the attachment points for its muscles. If you just scaled a robin from its 12 inch wingspan to the 8 feet wingspan of a swan, it wouldn't be able to walk, much less fly! But the larger bird's anatomy is different in order to support its size - and it can and does fly with those 8 foot wings!

That means that on the basic argument for needing different gravity, Canseco fails miserably.

Canseco's argument for how gravity allegedly changed is even worse.

What he claims is that at the time when the continental land masses were joined together as the pangea supercontinent, the earths core moved to counterbalance the weight of the continents. Since the earths core was, after this shift, farther from the surface, the gravity at the surface would be smaller.

This is an amusingly ridiculous idea. It's even worse that Ted Holden and his reduced-felt-gravity because of the electromagnetic green saturn-star.

First, the earths core isn't some lump of stuff that can putter around. The earth is a solid ball of material. It's not like a ball of powdered chalk with a solid lump of uranium at the center. The core can't move.

Even if it could, Canseco is wrong. Canseco is playing with two different schemes of how gravity works. We can approximate the behavior of gravity on earth by assuming that the earth is a point: for most purposes, gravity behaves almost as if the entire mass of the earth was concentrated at the earths center of mass. Canseco is using this idea when he moves the "core" further from the surface. He's using the idea that the core (which surrounds the center of mass in the real world) is the center of mass. So if the core moves, and the center of mass moves with it, then the point-approximation of gravity will change because the distance from the center of mass has increased.

But: the reason that he claims the core moved is because it was responding to the combined landmasses on the surface clumping together as pangea. That argument is based on the idea that the core had to move to balance the continents. In that case, the center of gravity wouldn't be any different - if the core could move to counterbalance the continents, it would move just enough to keep the center of gravity where it was - so if you were using the point approximation of gravity, it would be unaffected by the shift.

He's combining incompatible assumptions. To justify moving the earths core, he's *not* using a point-model of gravity. He's assuming that the mass of the earths core and the mass of the continents are different. When he wants to talk about the effect of gravity of an animal on the surface, he wants to treat the full mass of the earth as a point source - and he wants that point source to be located at the core.

It doesn't work that way.

The thing that I find most interesting about this particular bit of crackpottery isn't really about this particular bit of crackpottery, but about the family of crackpottery that it belongs to.

People are fascinated by the giant creatures that used to live on the earth. Intuitively, because we don't see giant animals in the world around us, there's a natural tendency to ask "Why?". And being the pattern-seekers that we are, we intuitively believe that there must be a reason why the animals back then were huge, but the animals today aren't. It can't just be random chance. So people keep coming up with reasons. Like:

  1. Neal Adams: who argues that the earth is constantly growing larger, and that gravity is an illusion caused by that growth. One of the reasons, according to his "theory", for why we know that gravity is just an illusion, is because the dinosaurs supposedly couldn't walk in current gravity.
  2. Ted Holden and the Neo-Velikovskians: who argue that the solar system is drastically different today than it used to be. According to Holden, Saturn used to be a "hyperintelligent green electromagnetic start", and the earth used to be tide-locked in orbit around it. As a result, the felt effect of gravity was weaker.
  3. Stephen Hurrell, who argues similarly to Neal Adams that the earth is growing. Hurrell doesn't dispute the existence of gravity the way that Adams does, but similarly argues that dinosaurs couldn't walk in present day gravity, and resorts to an expanding earth to explain how gravity could have been weaker.
  4. Ramin Amir Mardfar: who claims that the earth's mass has been continually increasing because meteors add mass to the earth.
  5. Gunther Bildmeyer, who argues that gravity is really an electromagnetic effect, and so the known fluctuations in the earths magnetic fields change gravity. According to him, the dinosaurs could only exist because of the state of the magnetic field at the time, which reduced gravity.

There are many others. All of them grasping at straws, trying to explain something that doesn't need explaining, if only they'd bother to do the damned math, and see that all it takes is a relatively small anatomical change.

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Euler's Equation Crackpottery

Feb 18 2013 Published by under Bad Math, Bad Physics

One of my twitter followers sent me an interesting piece of crackpottery. I debated whether to do anything with it. The thing about crackpottery is that it really needs to have some content. Total incoherence isn't amusing. This bit is, frankly, right on the line.

Euler's Equation and the Reality of Nature.

a) Euler's Equation as a mathematical reality.

Euler's identity is "the gold standard for mathematical beauty'.
Euler's identity is "the most famous formula in all mathematics".
‘ . . . this equation is the mathematical analogue of Leonardo
da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting or Michelangelo’s statue of David’
‘It is God’s equation’, ‘our jewel ‘, ‘ It is a mathematical icon’.
. . . . etc.

b) Euler's Equation as a physical reality.

"it is absolutely paradoxical; we cannot understand it,
and we don't know what it means, . . . . .’
‘ Euler's Equation reaches down into the very depths of existence’
‘ Is Euler's Equation about fundamental matters?’
‘It would be nice to understand Euler's Identity as a physical process
using physics.‘
‘ Is it possible to unite Euler's Identity with physics, quantum physics ?’

My aim is to understand the reality of nature.

Can Euler's equation explain me something about reality?

To give the answer to this. question I need to bind Euler's equation with an object – particle. Can it be math- point or string- particle or triangle-particle? No, Euler's formula has quantity (pi) which says me that the particle must be only a circle .

Now I want to understand the behavior of circle - particle and therefore I need to use spatial relativity and quantum theories. These two theories say me that the reason of circle – particle’s movement is its own inner impulse (h) or (h*=h/2pi).

a) Using its own inner impulse (h) circle - particle moves ( as a wheel) in a straight line with constant speed c = 1. We call such particle - ‘photon’. From Earth – gravity point of view this speed is maximally. From Vacuum point of view this speed is minimally. In this movement quantum of light behave as a corpuscular (no charge).

b) Using its own inner impulse / intrinsic angular momentum ( h* = h / 2pi ) circle - particle rotates around its axis. In such movement particle has charge, produce electric waves ( waves property of particle) and its speed ( frequency) is : c.

1. We call such particle - ‘ electron’ and its energy is: E=h*f.

In this way I can understand the reality of nature.

==.

Best wishes.

Israel Sadovnik Socratus.

Euler's equation says that \(e^{ipi} + 1 = 0\). It's an amazingly profound equation. The way that it draws together fundamental concepts is beautiful and surprising.

But it's not nearly as mysterious as our loonie-toon makes it out to be. The natural logarithm-base is deeply embedded in the structure of numbers, and we've known that, and we've known how it works for a long time. What Euler did was show the relationship between e and the fundamental rotation group of the complex numbers. There are a couple of ways of restating the definition of that make the meaning of that relationship clearer.

For example:

\[e^z = lim_{nrightarrow infty}(1 + frac{z}{n})^n\]

That's an alternative definition of what e is. If we use that, and we plug \(ipi\) into it, we get:

\[e^{ipi} = lim_{n rightarrow infty}(1+frac{ipi}{n})^n\]

If you work out that limit, it's -1. Also, if you take values of N, and plot \((1 + frac{ipi}{n})^1\), \((1+frac{ipi}{n})^2\), \((1 + frac{ipi}{n})^3\), and \((1 + frac{ipi}{n})^4\), ... on the complex plane, as N gets larger, the resulting curve gets closer and closer to a semicircle.

An equivalent way of seeing it is that exponents of \(e^i\) are rotations in the complex number plane. The reason that \(e^{ipi} = -1\) is because if you take the complex number (1 + 0i), and rotate it by \(pi\) radians, you get -1: \(1(e^{ipi}) = -1\).

That's what Euler's equation means. It's amazing and beautiful, but it's not all that difficult to understand. It's not mysterious in the sense that our crackpot friend thinks it is.

But what really sets me off is the idea that it must have some meaning in physics. That's silly. It doesn't matter what the physical laws of the universe are: the values of \(pi\) and e will not change. It's like trying to say that there must be something special about our universe that makes 1 + 1 = 2 - or, conversely, that the fact that 1+1=2 means something special about the universe we live in. These things are facts of numbers, which are independent of physical reality. Create a universe with different values for all of the fundamental constants - e and π will be exactly the same. Create a universe with less matter - e and π will still be the same. Create a universe with no matter, a universe with different kinds of matter, a universe with 300 forces instead of the four that we see - and e and π won't change.

What things like e and π, and their relationship via Euler's equation tell us is that there's a fundamental relationship between numbers and shapes on a two-dimensional plane which does not and cannot really exist in the world we live in.

Beyond that, what he's saying is utter rubbish. For example:

These two theories say me that the reason of circle – particle’s movement is its own inner impulse (h) or (h*=h/2pi). Using its own inner impulse (h) circle - particle moves ( as a wheel) in a straight line with constant speed c = 1. We call such particle - ‘photon’. From Earth – gravity point of view this speed is maximally. From Vacuum point of view this speed is minimally. In this movement quantum of light behave as a corpuscular (no charge).

This is utterly meaningless. It's a jumble of words that pretends to be meaningful and mathematical, when in fact it's just a string of syllables strung together nonsensical ways.

There's a lot that we know about how photons behave. There's also a lot that we don't know about photons. This word salad tells us exactly nothing about photons. In the classic phrase, it's not even wrong: what it says doesn't have enough meaning to be wrong. What is the "inner impulse" of a photon according to this crackpot? We can't know: the term isn't defined. We are pretty certain that a photon is not a wheel rolling along. Is that what the crank is saying? We can't be sure. And that's the problem with this kind of crankery.

As I always say: the very worst math is no math. This is a perfect example. He starts with a beautiful mathematical fact. He uses it to jump to a completely non-mathematical conclusion. But he writes a couple of mathematical symbols, to pretend that he's using math.

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Vortex Garbage

Jan 22 2013 Published by under Bad Physics

A reader who saw my earlier post on the Vortex math talk at a TEDx conference sent me a link to an absolutely dreadful video that features some more crackpottery about the magic of vortices.

It says:

The old heliocentric model of our solar system,
planets rotating around the sun, is not only boring,
but also incorrect.

Our solar system moves through space at 70,000km/hr.
Now picture this instead:

(Image of the sun with a rocket/comet trail propelling
it through space, with the planets swirling around it.)

The sun is like a comet, dragging the planets in its wake.
Can you say "vortex"?

The science of this is terrible. The sun is not a rocket. It does not propel itself through space. It does not have a tail. It does not leave a significant "wake". (There is interstellar material, and the sun moving through it does perturb it, but it's not a wake: the interstellar material is orbiting the galactic center just like the sun. Gravitational effects do cause pertubations, but it's not like a boat moving through still water, producing a wake.) Even if you stretch the definition of "wake", the sun certainly does not leave a wake large enough to "drag" the planets. In fact, if you actually look at the solar system, the plane the ecliptic - the plane where the planets orbit the sun - is at a roughly 60 degree angle to the galactic ecliptic. If planetary orbits were a drag effect, then you would expect the orbits to be perpendicular to the galactic ecliptic. But they aren't.

If you look at it mathematically, it's even worse. The video claims to be making a distinction between the "old heliocentric" model of the solar system, and their new "vortex" model. But in fact, mathematically, they're exactly the same thing. Look at it from a heliocentric point of view, and you've got the heliocentric model. Look at the exact same system from point that's not moving relative to galactic center, and you get the vortex. They're the same thing. The only difference is how you look at it.

And that's just the start of the rubbish. Once they get past their description of their "vortex" model, they go right into the woo. Vortex is life! Vortex is sprirituality! Oy.

If you follow their link to their website, it gets even sillier, and you can start to see just how utterly clueless the author of this actually is:

(In reference to a NASA image showing the interstellar "wind" and the heliopause)

Think about this for a minute. In this diagram it seems the Solar System travel to the left. When the Earth is also traveling to the left (for half a year) it must go faster than the Sun. Then in the second half of the year, it travels in a “relative opposite direction” so it must go slower than the Sun. Then, after completing one orbit, it must increase speed to overtake the Sun in half a year. And this would go for all the planets. Just like any point you draw on a frisbee will not have a constant speed, neither will any planet.

See, it's a problem that the planets aren't moving at a constant speed. They speed up and slow down! Oh, the horror! The explanation is that they're caught by the sun's wake! So they speed up when they get dragged, until they pass the sun (how does being dragged by the sun ever make them faster than the sun? Who knows!), and then they're not being dragged anymore, so they slow down.

This is ignorance of physics and of the entire concept of frame of reference and symmetry that is absolutely epic.

There's quite a bit more nonsense, but that's all I can stomach this evening. Feel free to point out more in the comments!

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Audiophiles and the Need to be Special

Dec 30 2011 Published by under Bad Physics, People, woo

I love laughing at audiophiles.

If you're not familiar with the term, audiophiles are people who are really into top-end audio equipment. In itself, that's fine. But there's a very active and vocal subset of the audiophile community that's built up their self-image around the idea that they're special. They don't just have better audio equipment than you do, but they have better appreciation of sound quality than you do. In fact, their hearing is better than yours. They can hear nuances in sound quality that you can't, because they're so very, very special. They've developed this ability, you see, because they care more about music than you do.

It's a very human thing. We all really want to be special. And when there's something that's really important to us - like music is for many people - there's a very natural desire to want to be able to appreciate it on a deep level, a special level reserved only for people who really value it. But what happens when you take that desire, and convince yourself that it's not just a desire? You wind up turning into a sucker who's easy to fleece for huge quantities of money on useless equipment that can't possibly work.

I first learned about these people from my old friend John Vlissides. John died of brain cancer about 5 years ago, which was incredibly sad. But back in the day, when we both worked at IBM Research, he and I were part of a group that ate lunch together every day. John was a reformed audiophile, and used to love talking about the crazy stuff he used to do.

Audiophiles get really nutty about things like cables. For example, John used to have the cables linking his speakers to his amp suspended from the ceiling using non-conductive cord. The idea behind that is that electrical signals are carried, primarily, on the outer surface of the wire. If the cable was sitting on the ground, it would deform slighly, and that would degrade the signal. Now, of course, there's no perceptible difference, but a dedicated audiophile can convince themselves that they can hear it. In fact, this is what convinced John that it was all craziness: he was trained as an electrical engineer, and he sat down and worked out how much the signal should change as a result of the deformation of the copper wire-core, and seeing the real numbers, realized that there was no way in hell that he was actually hearing that tiny difference. Right there, that's an example of the math aspect of this silliness: when you actually do the math, and see what's going on, even when there's a plausible explanation, the real magnitude of the supposed effect is so small that there's absolutely no way that it's perceptible. In the case of wire deformation, the magnitude of the effect on the sound produced by the signal carried by the wire is so small that it's essentially zero - we're talking about something smaller than the deformation of the sound waves caused by the motion of a mosquito's wings somewhere in the room.

John's epiphany was something like 20 years ago. But the crazy part of the audiophile community hasn't changed. I encountered two instances of it this week that reminded me of this silliness and inspired me to write this post. One was purely accidental: I just noticed it while going about my business. The other, I noticed on boing-boing because the first example was already in my mind.

First, I was looking for an HDMI video cable for my TV. At the moment, we've got both an AppleTV and a cable box hooked up to our TV set. We recently found out that under our cable contract, we could get a free upgrade of the cable box, and the new box has HDMI output - so we'd need a new cable to use it.

HDMI is a relatively new standard video cable for carrying digital signals. Instead of old-fashioned analog signals that emulate the signal recieved by a good-old TV antenna like we used to use, HDMI uses a digital stream for both audio and video. Compared to old-fashioned analog, the quality of both audio and video on a TV using HDMI is dramatically improved. Analog signals were designed way, way back in the '50s and '60s for the televisions that they were producing then - they're very low fidelity signals, which are designed to produce images on old TVs, which had exceedingly low resolution by modern standards.

The other really great thing about a digital system like HDMI is that digital signals don't degrade. A digital system takes a signal, and reduces it to a series of bits - signals that can be interpreted as 1s and 0s. That series of bits is divided into bundles called packets. Each packet is transmitted with a checksum - an additional number that allows the receiver to check that it received the packet correctly. So for a given packet of information, you've either received it correctly, or you didn't. If you didn't, you request the sender to re-send it. So you either got it, or you didn't. There's no in-between. In terms of video quality, what that means is that the cable really doesn't matter very much. It's either getting the signal there, or it isn't. If the cable is really terrible, then it just won't work - you'll get gaps in the signal where the bad packets dropped out - which will produce a gap in the audio or video.

In analog systems, you can have a lot of fuzz. The amplitude of the signal at any time is the signal - so noise effects that change the amplitude are changing the signal. There's a very real possibility that interference will create real changes in the signal, and that those changes will produce a perceptible result when the signal is turned into sound or video. For example, if you listen to AM radio during a thunderstorm, you'll hear a burst of noise whenever there's a bolt of lightning nearby.

But digital systems like HDMI don't have varying degrees of degradation. Because the signal is reduced to 1s and 0s - if you change the amplitude of a 1, it's still pretty much going to look like a one. And if the noise is severe enough to make a 1 look like a 0, the error will be detected because the checksum will be wrong. There's no gradual degradation.

But audiophiles... ah, audiophiles.

I was looking at these cables. A basic six-foot-long HDMI cable sells for between 15 and 25 dollars. But on the best-buy website, there's a clearance cable for just $12. Great! And right next to it, there's another cable. Also six feet long. For $240 dollars! 20-times higher, for a friggin' digital cable! I've heard, on various websites, the rants about these crazies, but I hadn't actually paid any attention. But now, I got to see it for myself, and I just about fell out of my chair laughing.

To prolong the entertainment, I went and looked at the reviews of this oh-so-amazing cable.

People who say there is NO difference between HDMI cables are just trying to justify to themselves to go cheap. Now it does depend on what you are connecting the cable between. If you put this Carbon HDMI on a Cable or Satellite box, you probably won't see that much of a difference compared to some middle grade cables.

I connected this cable from my PS3 to my Samsung to first test it, then to my receiver. It was a nice upgrade from my previous Cinnamon cable, which is already a great cable in it's own right. The picture's motion was a bit smoother with gaming and faster action. I also noticed that film grain looked a little cleaner, not sure why though.

The biggest upgrade was with my audio though. Everything sounded a little crisper with more detail. I also noticed that the sound fields were more distinct. Again not sure exactly why, but I will take the upgrade.

All and all if you want the best quality, go Audio Quest and specifically a Carbon HDMI. You never have to upgrade your HDMI again with one of these guys. Downfall though is that it is a little pricey.

What's great about it: Smooth motion and a little more definition in the picture

What's not so great: Price

It's a digital cable. The signal that it delivers to your TV and stereo is not the slightest bit different from the signal delivered by the $12 clearance cable. It's been reduced by the signal producing system to a string of 1s and 0s - the identical string of 1s and 0s on both cables - and that string of bits is getting interpreted by exactly the same equipment on the receiver, producing exactly the same audio and video. There's no difference. It has nothing to do with how good your ears are, or how perceptive you are. There is no difference.

But that's nothing. The same brand sells a $700 cable. From the reviews:

I really just bought 3 of these. So if you would like an honest review, here it is. Compared to other Audio Quest cables, like the Vodka, you do not see a difference unless you know what to look for and have the equipment that can actually show the difference. Everyone can see the difference in a standard HDMI to an HDMI with Silver in it if you compare, but the difference between higher level cables is more subtle. Audio is the night and day difference with these cables. My bluray has 2 HDMI outs and I put one directly to the TV and one to my processor. My cable box also goes directly to my TV and I use Optical out of the TV because broadcast audio is aweful. The DBS systems keeps the cable ready for anything and I can tell that my audio is clean instantly and my picture is always flawless. They are not cheap cables, they are 100% needed if you want the best quality. I am considering stepping up to Diamond cables for my theater room when I update it. Hope this helps!

And they even have a "professional quality" HDMI cable that sells for well over $1000. And the audiophiles are all going crazy, swearing that it really makes a difference.

Around the time I started writing this, I also saw a post on BoingBoing about another audiophile fraud. See, when you're dealing with this breed of twit who's so convinced of their own great superiority, you can sell them almost anything if you can cobble together a pseudoscientific explanation for why it will make things sound better.

This post talks about a very similar shtick to the superexpensive cable: it's a magic box which... well, let's let the manufacturer explain.

The Blackbody ambient field conditioner enhances audio playback quality by modifying the interaction of your gear’s circuitry with the ambient electromagnetic field. The Blackbody eliminates sonic smearing of high frequencies and lowers the noise floor, thus clarifying the stereo image.

This thing is particularly fascinating because it doesn't even pretend to hook in to your audio system. You just position it close to your system, and it magically knows what equipment it's close to and "harmonizes" everything. It's just... magic! But if you're really special, you'll be able to tell that it works!

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