Sixty today

On on Dec. 16, 1947 – sixty years ago today – the world’s first transistor was constructed and tested at Bell Labs, New Jersey, USA. Those responsible for the device were William Shockley, the theorist and John Bardeen and Walter Brattain who actually constructed the first one.

What started life as a heap of precariously balanced parts…

Replica Transistor

…ended up kick-starting the microelectronics revolution.

Today’s equivalent to Bardeen and Brattain’s part is one of the myriad sub-millimeter sized black specks you’ll find on the PCB of just about any modern electronics. Yet even these dwarf their tiny sibblings on the silicon die of a CPU, where they are packed with more than 150 million to the square centimeter.

Tech support to random neighbours…

The door bell rang earlier – I answered it to one of the lesser seen neighbours carrying a laptop.

“Hello, I’m Brian from number 18, I wondered if you could do me a favour, Tony says you are good with computers.”

“Hello, Er, Ok. What’s the problem?”

Brian had been using someone else’s WiFi connection and now he couldn’t connect. He’d been told by someone else that the WiFi owner had probably changed the key and he needed to use WEPcrack to get the new key. He didn’t have a clue how to use it, could I help?

I suggested that maybe the key had been changed to keep him out?

“Nah, nah mate, he said I can use it.”

I take a look at the laptop screen and see that the SSID of the access point he is trying to crack is 8bob. This being my WiFi connection. I asked him how long it had been since he was unable to use the WiFi?

“About 3 weeks now”

“Yeah, that’s about right – that’s when I fixed it to stop others using it. Don’t think I can help you really. See you later.”

I upgraded from WEP to WPA about three weeks ago when I noticed the odd connection I couldn’t account for.

“Oh, um, right. oh. er. fookin’ hell. So you can’t help then?”

“No, not really. Can’t help you.”

I think he missed the bit where I said I’d changed it to stop it being used…

He left.

I hope we don’t find the Higgs

As I said yesterday, there are rumours that the Higgs particle may have already been spotted at the Tevatron thus rendering LHC at CERN a tad redundant, but what is the Higgs anyway?

Basically the Higgs particle is the last particle predicted by the Standard Model. The Standard Model being the particle physics theory that describes the interactions between all of the particles that make up matter (it doesn’t describe gravitational interaction, but does describe Electromagnetism, the Weak force and the Strong force).

The Standard Model is both wildly successful and rather boring; it explains with great accuracy the result of every particle physics experiment in the last fifty years, yet if true it predicts we are not going to discover very much else. We know the Standard Model is incomplete specifically because it does not include a description of gravity, however it does predict that while not complete, it is ‘good enough’ until you reach close to the Planck energy – around two billion joules per particle (an insane amount of energy).

Interestingness in particle physics scales with energy, typically the more interesting discoveries happen at higher and higher energies; energy scales with accelerator size – using current technology you’d need to build a particle accelerator of galactic proportions to reach the Planck energy.

If however the Higgs particle isn’t discovered at the Tevatron or CERN, then things get interesting. It would show that there must be physics beyond that explained by the Standard Model and for good reasons, this interesting physics must occur at energies closer to current day experiments than the Standard Model would have you think. Hopefully this would point the way towards a better description of the way the universe is constructed.

Not discovering the Higgs could well be one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century.

Dear Friend,

I write to you in closest confidence.

This morning while leaving the house I made a most marvelous discovery. Upon setting foot outside my front door I was buffeted and pushed around by an invisible force. Now being a God-fearing man I at first assumed the rapture was upon us and the end times were drawing near, however, neither recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, nor offering up my soul to Beelzebub made any difference to my plight.

Like a man possessed I twisted and turned and thrashed around seeking to lessen the violence upon my person. By happenstance I was fortunate enough to fall over and I lay close to the ground by a low wall. Hailuih! All at once the pummeling of my body ceased.

By good fortune and grace I, while sheltered, was able to observe several other poor wretches caught up in the violent maelstrom. I was able to witness the effect I had so recently been subject to being played out on those in my vicinity, some of whom appeared to be suffering moreso than I.

With time, the effect died away and I was able to leave the rude shelter that had so perfectly shielded me from the havoc. The street was a scene of disarray, litter was scattered hither and thither with nary a care for good order or recycling. Of the poor wretches I had observed but was unable to assist, there was no sign.

It has taken me most of the morning and a good deal of opium laced brandy to calm my nerves and formulate a theory as to what happened.

I believe there was some kind of disturbance in the All-around null-state that Invades and peRmiates Earthly creation (AIR for short). I further believe this may be the first recorded account of such a disturbance. As such it falls to me to name this natural wonder.

After much consideration (and the aforementioned brandy) I propose the appellation “wind” for this phenomena. I will need to work on the theory of this “wind” somewhat further before going to the Royal Society with my discovery, but I will first send a communication to the Editor of the Times to claim the discovery for myself.

I trust this letter finds you well.


Recycled from a posting elsewhere earlier in the year