Archive for June, 2008

Angels & Demons

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , on June 15, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

As many will know, Angels & Demons is a rather appalling, if highly successful, book by Dan Brown.

Director Ron Howard is presently working on the movie version of the novel, following up on his previous rendition of another bestseller by Brown, The Da Vinci Code. Tom Hanks will be starring in the movie, in the role of professor Robert Langdon, which he had covered in the previous one as well.

I learned today that the Vatican had denied access to its premises for the shooting, as it had previously done for the Da Vinci Code, on account that the movie “offends common religious feelings”.

As you may know, the novel start with a murder of a physicist taking place at CERN and the theft of an absurd amount of anti-matter in order to set-up an unlikely anti-matter bomb. The process of anti-matter production, the physics involved and the laboratory itself are also described in a rather ludicrous manner. Such that CERN felt obliged to rectify a few questions in one of its public web pages.

I was wondering if the movie plan was requiring some shooting at the CERN site, so I had a look and discovered that it was indeed so. And, guess what, not only CERN management apparently had already granted access to the site, but CERN physicists had helped to get some physics issues straight in the script.

I have still some reserve about the likely result, but this is not the main point. What is worth noticing is the different behavior of CERN and the catholic church administrators.

It could well be that in the novel the church has been treated in a worse way than science or CERN had been. Or they are more easily offended. Or less tolerant. Or again, could be that science is less vulnerable than religion to what adds up to a fair amount of essentially innocuous bullshit wrapped around a cleverly devised plot.

And could be that this has something to do with science being based on facts and logic rather than faith. Up to you to decide.

For me, I’m rather happy to be on the side of Angels, this time. Or are we the Demons?

Well, whatever.


Rollin’ & Tumblin’

Posted in G 0 with tags , , on June 5, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

No, in spite of the title and the picture, this is not a musical post.

I just wanted to inform you that since a few days I’m experimenting with Tumblr. Mainly in Italian. Here.

I’m not sure I’m really getting the knack of it, though. Comments welcome.

Time for choices

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , , on June 4, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

So, America has finally chosen.

Obama will be the one that will run against McCain for the presidency.

Maybe because I’m eternally undecided, but, as I stated in a previous post, I still cannot make up my mind if I like Obama or not. Even if, between him and McCain, I’d rather have him. Well, I suppose.

What is sure is that, after the last Italian elections (and the slogans, the videos and everything), I cannot look at Obama without being reminded of Veltroni. And, alas, I must confess I wouldn’t be able to choose between the two, either.

I must be allergic to decisions.

Except, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t have any possible doubt if I was left to choose between Berlusconi and McCain.

…O, say, does that
Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
And the home of the brave?

A good value for money

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

The world only needs 30 billion dollars a year to eradicate hunger. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for such an effort in order to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food.

This reminded me of a discussion I had last week, during a visit of local politicians to CERN installations. During the discussion, a kind lady made a comment I must have heard a number of times:

“What you’re doing here is fascinating, but when I think about the amount of money needed to realize all that, I wonder whether it could not be used for a better task. You know, with all the people dying of hunger in the third world…”

Yes, I’ve asked myself the same question, a few times. And yes, I have given myself answers. But I won’t provide these to you. I’ll just tell you some facts, some of which I just checked up today:

– The annual budget of CERN is about 1 billion dollar per year.

– The total cost of the LHC is estimated to about 6 billion dollars.

– A single F-22 fighter plane cost is more than 300 million dollars, while a B-2 bomber costs up to 2.2 billion dollars (including R&D costs, subdivided by total number of planes built).

– The annual budget of the US defense is more than 500 billion dollars. The annual military expenditure in Italy is (wanna try to guess?) about 30 billion dollars.

– The direct official cost of the Iraq war to the US administration is 845 billion dollars up to date. In a recent book, the Nobel laureate Stiglitz had evaluated the total cost to the US economy to 3000 billion dollars. A very conservative estimate, he claims.

When somebody ask a physicist today about what practical use one can make of the potential discoveries of an experiment like LHC, there’s only one possible answer: “We don’t know (yet)”. The same answer Faraday apparently gave to Gladstone, then British minister of finances, who was asking him about the practical use of electricity. “But I guess one day the government would put a tax on it.” , he added.

We indeed know a bit more about the practical uses of electricity today. I guess I don’t need to remind you what the practical use of a bomber is.

I hope the information I provided can help somebody to decide whether the money invested in fundamental science is a good value for money or not. Everyone, of course, will have his own opinion. I think I’ll stick to mine.