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A 'massive' discovery at the LHC? Maybe, maybe not

Geekend contributor Ken Hardin highlights news about the Large Hadron Collider, gypsum, the sounds of sorting algorithms, and Star Trek noise command-line fun.

Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) yesterday set off a big media buzz when they announced that they have observed an unusual density of particle collisions in the 115 - 130 Giga electron volt range, more or less. These collisions might, or might not, be evidence of a theoretical particle essential to the Standard Model of cosmology. Why all the media attention? The particle in question, the Higgs boson, has the nifty nickname "the God particle."

The Higgs boson is necessary to explain how electroweak force particles had no mass in the first moments of the universe; it's believed to be the carrier of the Higgs field that causes fundamental particles to have mass. From there you get your atoms and nebulae and Expanding Universe and about 20 hours a week of Science Channel programming.

To date, the particle has been a theoretical placeholder; Einstein had his cosmological constant, and three groups of physicists working independently of each other (imagine that) gave the Standard Model its "God particle" theory back in 1964.

The Guardian posted last week that the physics world was already abuzz about the coming press conference. The Guardian also collected thoughts of leading physicists on the viability of the boson theory that range from ruminations on magnetic monopoles to a snide limerick from a Nobel Prize winner. (If watching 20 hours of Science Channel programming has taught us nothing else, it's that physicists are a cutthroat lot. And not all of them are down with the Standard Model.)

So, has the LHC crew proven the existence of the Higgs boson at about twice the weight of a copper atom? Of course not, according to a comprehensive report at Discovery News. They've simply narrowed their search window. However, they did suggest they may have an answer in 2012.

Cannelés, part deux2

The Mars rover Opportunity has found on the Red Planet a deposit of the stuff we humans use to make drywall here on Earth. Ray Bradbury fans, calm down -- the gypsum was most likely deposited by water that had dissolved it earlier from volcanic rocks, according to a press release from NASA. It's more data in the ongoing study of how liquid water helped shape the Martian terrain.

More computer-generated noise

What happens when Star Trek nerds run headlong into Linux nerds? Trick question -- they are the same nerds, so they can't run into themselves. At any rate, check out this thread at Reddit.com that started with a single-line command to make your Linux box make a sound not unlike the background hum on the Starship Enterprise. The conversation multiplies like Tribbles on quadrotriticale (apologies), and by the end of the thread you've got start-up scripts and Mac guys trying to get in on the action.

Playing by the numbers

King Crimson has got nothing on Bubble sort. That's the takeaway from this YouTube video by andrut of an audibilization he created by running various sorting algorithms and then using the values to modulate sounds. The comments on the video are as entertaining as the Atari 800 light show; one poster took the opportunity to take a shot at Bubble sort, but we can't tell if it was for musical value or computational veracity.

Thanks to TechRepublic Australia Editor Chris Duckett for the tips about the Reddit thread and the YouTube video.

About

Ken Hardin is a freelance writer and business analyst with more than two decades in technology media and product development. Before founding his own consultancy, Clarity Answers LLC, Ken was a member of the start-up team and an executive with TechRe...

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