Monthly Archives: March 2007

Responsibility Has No Borders. Vote!

Today’s title was the winning slogan in the DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program slogan contest of 2005. Guess what, I just filled out my FPCA Voter’s Registration and Absentee Ballot Request.

In 2000 I (having lived abroad for a very long time) didn’t think it would matter and lateron smacked myself more than once for it. Is it a coincidence the winning slogan to make overseas voters make use of their right comes from Florida?

In 2004 I didn’t think it would matter.

Now, after a couple of days of blogging and blogosphere experience, I am convinced that every single voice counts. This time, I won’t even let myself be warded of by a field in the form where some states may require you to fill in your kind of race. I am not going to miss my chance next year.

Tagged , ,

Books Most Unwanted

Let me start by making it very clear that I love books! I hardly ever throw or give away a book once I have it in my clutches. There are times, however, when you come across a book that does not fit into a category like “novel” or “drama”, but only “personal injury”. Here, I’m going to introduce one of them, and it may well develop into a series of blogs.

If you don’t speak German, you’re safe, this time. It all started out when I came across the book in one of the major book stores hereabouts (yes, I still physically visit book stores.) I had just picked up “Holy Grail, Holy Blood” (which I kept unread in my bookshelf for weeks afterwards until after I had read the “Da Vinci Code” only to find that the primary source), still had some money on a voucher and came across this sign saying “If you’ve enjoyed reading the ‘Da Vinci Code’ you will love this book.” By the time I had not read the “Da Vinci Code” but had heard of it, of course. Also, I should have become suspicious of that kind of advertisement, but I fell for it.

The book in question is “Die Bruderschaft der Runen” (“The Brotherhood of Runes”) by Michael Peinkofer.

Bruderschaft der Runen Titelbild

It starts with a mysterious murder in a monastery’s library. This murder is researched by a policeman and a writer mistrusting that policeman. It turns out to have been committed by a pre-Christian cult. That cult has supposedly secretly directed Scottish politics and attempts to reestablish that influence. The book’s major merit (and what has let me read the book to its end, no matter what) is the idea of making Sir Walter Scott and his nephew the protagonists. It is them who eventually save the world, or at least Scotland and Britain.

This greatest merit is also what exposes the book’s major weakness. If the characters had all been completely fictional with no relevance or relationship to the reader’s real world and its past, the book could have passed as one of a billion moderately well told detective stories, decently well crafted fodder for the mass market. Because the book implicitly claims to describe historical settings and persons, it becomes blatantly obvious, however, that this is in fact not the case. And that does not just mean that Sir Walter Scott is depicted in a way that may not correctly reflect his character (which I couldn’t even tell.) All the book’s characters are just entirely not characters of their time but modern persons, thinking like modern persons. This is also, to some extent, true for William Baskerville of the Name of the Rose, but much more so here and for all the characters. The most painful example, to me, is the character of Mary of Egmont, a young noblewoman for who a marriage is arranged with, an unattractive Scottish nobleman who in turn is the head of the cult of the runes. That lady is coincidentally, just for good measure, the reincarnation of the wife fo the first head of that cult, who was later sacrificed (the wife). Something about her (in my own translation):

“The reason why she betook herself to Scottland was her marriage with Malcolm of Ruthven, a young Scottish landlaird, the family of whom had come to a great fortune. The marriage had been arranged without Mary having been asked. It was one of those arrangements customary among families of the nobility, for mutual good, as they said. Of course, Mary had answered back to it. Of course, she had argued she would not want to marry a man she neither knew nor loved. But her parents had taken the stance that love was something commonplace and burgeouise, the meaning of which was greatly overestimated […] Mary, however, resisted. She had struggled with all her power against this agrrement when Eleonore of Ruthven […] had come to Egton to inspect her future daughter-in-law. Mary had felt like cattle for sale on a market. She had accused her parents of selling her for privileges.”

Then it turns out she is a romantic bookworm, of course, with an exceptionally kind manner towards her servants. She saves an accused Scottish dissident from British soldiers, migles with common people in a Scottish pub, etc. etc.

Not only is this unbearably tacky, it is also completely unhistorical. One may say that, with Mary of Egmont, it is natural she is the odd one out, because she is the reincarnation of another noblewoman of a far more distant past. But then, that makes things even worse. The middle ages have been even less romantical than the early 19th century. Maybe I’m exaggerating the case of Mary of Egmont, and maybe I am a little touchy with those things as a former Historian, but shallowness, far-fetchedness of the plot combined with the sum of all the out of place and time characters made this a very hard read for me. Had the author set this story as an adventure of Sherlock Holmes a hundred years later, it might have worked a lot better.

Tagged , , ,

Free energy good to fry my brain, at least

This post here got me onto the topic I had always dismissed as myth without further research. Cold fusion, free energy … we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, no?

Turns out there is a scientifically proven phenomenon called Zero-Point energy which advocates of the machines supposedly capable of producing more energy than they consume (over-unity machines) think may at some point in the future be able to explain why they work. It appears that the effectiveness of such devices has not been proven, nor (so some people claim) completely disproven. On the basis of current scientific theories, however, free energy should be impossible unless we have hitherto overlooked something fundamental. The theoretical problems with free energy is largely due to the laws of thermodynamics and the discussions are summed up fairly well here.

So, the first law of thermodynamics says you cannot create energy out of nothing. The second one says you don’t get stuff to a level of higher energy by itself. For example hydrogen and oxygen separately are more energetic than water. That is why you normally see the two react and result in water and some energy in the form of heat and potentially motion (explosion). You don’t typically see water split into hydrogen and oxygen by itself. And if you make it split by electrolysis you need to put in more energy than goes into breaking the covalent bonds and therefore more than you can later get out again, because again you lose some energy in the process. All this is normally regarded as making over-unity machines (or perpetual motion machines, because if you can produce more energy than you consume, you can use that energy to move something for ever) impossible. Enter zero-point energy to the rescue.

Zero-point energy (or residual energy or vacuum energy) was proposed by Einstein and Otto Stern in 1913 and proven e. g. by the Casimir effect. It has a somewhat more specific meaning, though, than what’s typically inferred by popular reception. In the context of quantum theory where all amounts of energy are quantized it means that the amount of energy anywhere cannot be zero. There must be a minimal quantum of energy everywhere. This can be understood as a consequence of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. One way of putting it is this: If you have a particle moving it essentially behaves like a wave and can pop up anywhere on the wave at a given point in time. Thus the zero point energy must be able to materialize as what is called virtual particles, a couple of matter and anti-matter particles. They annihilate each other eventually but can interact with their environment during their lifetime. Which is more or less another way of saying that the energy can have an effect on the world around it. For more information on this read this presentation. By the particle explanation, this also becomes the source for the Hawking radiation which is radiation emitted by black holes when the event horizon separates one half of a virtual particle couple from the other. The one is sucked into the black hole, the other emitted.

Now, this would be a handy explanation to reconcile over-unity machines with the laws of thermodynamics. It could mean that in fact the machines do not create more energy than you put in, but just produce energy from what you put in plus additional energy taken from the store of vacuum energy. The over-unity machines would then be a kind of catalyst for causing the vacuum energy to flow e. g. into a process of electrolysis with a little bit of energy added by the user to get the process going. Of course, because zero point energy is the lowest possible energy a system can have, it cannot be removed from the system. But then, we’re not in a vacuum on earth, and there is enough energy around us all the time, anyway. So, I think, it would be feasible to have the vacuum energy flow somewhere because the lack of energy in the system could easily be refilled e. g. from the warmth of the environment. In that way, producing energy with over-unity machines could help fight global warming ­čśë

What I don’t quite get (is there a physicist in the house?) is (a) in which way the virtual particles could create energy in the macroscopic world (it cannot be electricity because if the virtual particle pair is electron and positron, the electron cannot move as an electric current because it will be annihilated shortly) and (b) what happens if with the Hawking radiation the black hole swallows the particle and emits the antiparticle? Shouldn’t it annihilate some other particle somewhere? Also, there is this nagging question why life on earth depends on the sun if we have all this free energy around us (in other words: If this form of energy is exploitable, why haven’t the last million years provided an example).

Fascinating as the whole issue may be, though. There actually is enough free energy around us without resorting to extravagant theories. The sun provides loads of energy for free, and if the human race were capable of jointly exploiting it by e. g. putting in place a giant solar power plant in the Sahara, we wouldn’t need to rely on oil. But then there’s politics again.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,