Interconnected laptops as supercomputer

Thanks to Webmonk for alerting me to this curious phenomenon. What started as a mass computer linkup to search for life in outer space has turned into a tool for other kinds of astronomical study. And all those individual computers working together now constitute a supercomputer.

Combined computing power of the MilkyWay@Home project recently surpassed the world’s second fastest supercomputer

At this very moment, tens of thousands of home computers around the world are quietly working together to solve the largest and most basic mysteries of our galaxy.

Enthusiastic and inquisitive volunteers from Africa to Australia are donating the computing power of everything from decade-old desktops to sleek new netbooks to help computer scientists and astronomers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute map the shape of our Milky Way galaxy. Now, just this month, the collected computing power of these humble home computers has surpassed one petaflop, a computing speed that surpasses the world’s second fastest supercomputer.

The project, MilkyWay@Home, uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform, which is widely known for the SETI@home project used to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Today, MilkyWay@Home has outgrown even this famous project, in terms of speed, making it the fastest computing project on the BOINC platform and perhaps the second fastest public distributed computing program ever in operation (just behind Folding@home).

The interdisciplinary team behind MilkyWay@Home, which ranges from professors to undergraduates, began the formal development under the BOINC platform in July 2006 and worked tirelessly to build a volunteer base from the ground up to build its computational power.

Each user participating in the project signs up their computer and offers up a percentage of the machine’s operating power that will be dedicated to calculations related to the project. For the MilkyWay@Home project, this means that each personal computer is using data gathered about a very small section of the galaxy to map its shape, density, and movement.

In particular, computers donating processing power to MilkyWay@Home are looking at how the different dwarf galaxies that make up the larger Milky Way galaxy have been moved and stretched following their merger with the larger galaxy millions of years ago. This is done by studying each dwarf’s stellar stream. Their calculations are providing new details on the overall shape and density of dark matter in the Milky Way galaxy, which is widely unknown.

Individual cells link to form an organism; individual persons constitute a society; individual Christians join into the body of Christ. Everything in communion contributes to something bigger than the sum of its parts.

via RPI: News & Events – PCs Around the World Unite To Map the Milky Way.

An even bigger Climategate scandal?

Global warming advocates may have a scientific scandal on their hands that is even more serious than those leaked e-mails:

The global warming scandal keeps getting worse. Revelations over the few weeks show that many important assertions in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were based on misquotes and false claims from environmental groups, not on published academic research as it was originally presented. This is on top of the recent mess regarding data, where the three most relied-on data series used by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 assessment report still have not been released. Other data simply never seem to have existed or cannot be provided to other scientists.

But probably the most damaging report has come from Joseph D’Aleo, the first Director of Meteorology and co-founder of the Weather Channel, and Anthony Watts, a meteorologist and founder of SurfaceStations.org.

In a January 29 report, they find that starting in 1990, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began systematically eliminating climate measuring stations in cooler locations around the world. Yes, that’s right. They began eliminating stations that tended to record cooler temperatures and drove up the average measured temperature. The eliminated stations had been in higher latitudes and altitudes, inland areas away from the sea, as well as more rural locations. The drop in the number of weather stations was dramatic, declining from more than 6,000 stations to fewer than 1,500.

D’Aleo and Watts show that the jumps in measured global temperature occur just when the number of weather stations is cut. But there is another bias that this change to more urban stations also exacerbates. Recorded temperatures in more urban areas rise over time simply because more densely populated areas produce more heat. Combining the greater share of weather stations in more urban areas over time with this urban heat effect also tends to increase the rate that recorded temperatures tend to rise over time.

Their report provides examples of how the systematic elimination of stations and unexplained adjustments in temperature data caused measured temperatures to rise for Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. Many adjustments change what would have been a drop in temperatures into an increase.

via The Next Climate-gate?.

To download the paper, go here.

HT: Paul

Those multiple universes

The respectable Scientific American has an article on multiple universes, also known as the Multiverse:

Several physicists have argued that a slight change to one of the laws of physics would cause some disaster that would disrupt the normal evolution of the universe and make our existence impossible. For example, if the strong nuclear force that binds together atomic nuclei had been slightly stronger or weaker, stars would have forged very little of the carbon and other elements that seem necessary to form planets, let alone life. If the proton were just 0.2 percent heavier than it is, all primordial hydrogen would have decayed almost immediately into neutrons, and no atoms would have formed. The list goes on.

The laws of physics—and in particular the constants of nature that enter into those laws, such as the strengths of the fundamental forces—might therefore seem finely tuned to make our existence possible. Short of invoking a supernatural explanation, which would be by definition outside the scope of science, a number of physicists and cosmologists began in the 1970s to try solving the puzzle by hypothesizing that our universe is just one of many existing universes, each with its own laws. According to this “anthropic” reasoning, we might just occupy the rare universe where the right conditions happen to have come together to make life possible.

Amazingly, the prevailing theory in modern cosmology, which emerged in the 1980s, suggests that such “parallel universes” may really exist—in fact, that a multitude of universes would incessantly pop out of a primordial vacuum the way ours did in the big bang. Our universe would be but one of many pocket universes within a wider expanse called the multiverse. In the overwhelming majority of those universes, the laws of physics might not allow the formation of matter as we know it or of galaxies, stars, planets and life. But given the sheer number of possibilities, nature would have had a good chance to get the “right” set of laws at least once.

Our recent studies, however, suggest that some of these other universes—assuming they exist—may not be so inhospitable after all. Remarkably, we have found examples of alternative values of the fundamental constants, and thus of alternative sets of physical laws, that might still lead to very interesting worlds and perhaps to life. The basic idea is to change one aspect of the laws of nature and then make compensatory changes to other aspects.

The article goes on to do that and to speculate on the kinds of universes they might create. But notice what is going on here. Supernatural explanations are ruled out “by definition.” And rather than so much as contemplate the existence of God, scientists find it more plausible to believe in lots of different universes, the arguments for which are based on philosophical theory, as far as I can tell, rather than evidence. And notice the fallacy in the notion that if the number of universes approaches infinity, the chances are that one of them would be finely-tuned for life. (No, monkeys typing for a long enough time period would NOT produce the works of Shakespeare. No, Nietzsche’s contention that since time is infinite eventually the same constellation of molecules will come together to create our consciousness again after we die will NOT work.)

The context of Climategate

Defenders of the climate scientists whose embarrassing e-mails have cast doubt on their work are saying that the messages are taken out of context. Well, Steven F. Hayward supplies the context in a fascinating article on the whole fiasco and what it means.

Basically, the principles were the researchers responsible for the famous “hockey stick” graph that shows global temperatures as being essentially flat for the last millennium, then shooting up in the 1990s. But this model ignores the Medieval Warming Period beginning in the year 1000 (in which Greenland was apparently actually green, with data from tree-rings and other sources suggesting that the pre-industrial Middle Ages were actually warmer than today). The hockey stick graph also ignores “the Little Ice Age” from the 16th century through the 1850s.

Climategate has to do with researchers trying to make the Medieval Warming Period disappear. The e-mails record the “hockey team” trying to suppress that data. They also record climate scientists admitting that the hockey-stick graph has problems. We also see evidence of scientists using selective data to prove their pre-conceived theories and leaving out evidence that doesn’t fit. The attempts to sabotage their critics by manipulating the peer review process did not involve just climate change deniers, but respected paleo-climatologists. The article also shows how the Climategate crew are refusing to share their data, which in some cases has apparently been destroyed to evade British Freedom of Information Act requests. That flies in the face of the scientific method, in which evidence must be subject to continued testing and replication.

HT: my son Paul

More historical forensics

Forensics experts have reconstructed the faces of other historical figures, just as they did St. Nicholas (see yesterday’s post), based on study of their skulls. Here is Copernicus:

Copernicus, reconstructed

Here is Pharoah Tutankhamun:

Tutankhamun, reconstructed

Here is possibly Phillip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s one-eyed father (though the identification has been disputed and is possibly that of Phillip III who succeeded Alexander):

Phillip II of Macedon, reconstructed

Climategate and Wikipedia

More climate research manipulation, this time on the most used and the most easily-abused source of popular information, Wikipedia:

The Climategate Emails describe how a small band of climatologists cooked the books to make the last century seem dangerously warm.

The emails also describe how the band plotted to rewrite history as well as science, particularly by eliminating the Medieval Warm Period, a 400 year period that began around 1000 AD.

The Climategate Emails reveal something else, too: the enlistment of the most widely read source of information in the world — Wikipedia — in the wholesale rewriting of this history.

The Medieval Warm Period, which followed the meanness and cold of the Dark Ages, was a great time in human history — it allowed humans around the world to bask in a glorious warmth that vastly improved agriculture, increased life spans and otherwise bettered the human condition.

But the Medieval Warm Period was not so great for some humans in our own time — the same small band that believes the planet has now entered an unprecedented and dangerous warm period. As we now know from the Climategate Emails, this band saw the Medieval Warm Period as an enormous obstacle in their mission of spreading the word about global warming. If temperatures were warmer 1,000 years ago than today, the Climategate Emails explain in detail, their message that we now live in the warmest of all possible times would be undermined. As put by one band member, a Briton named Folland at the Hadley Centre, a Medieval Warm Period “dilutes the message rather significantly.” . . .

One person in the nine-member Realclimate.orgteam — U.K. scientist and Green Party activist William Connolley — would take on particularly crucial duties. Connolley took control of all things climate in the most used information source the world has ever known -Wikipedia. Starting in February 2003, just when opposition to the claims of the band members were beginning to gel, Connolley set to work on the Wikipedia site. He rewrote Wikipedia’s articles on global warming, on the greenhouse effect, on the instrumental temperature record, on the urban heat island, on climate models, on global cooling. On Feb. 14, he began to erase the Little Ice Age; on Aug. 11, the Medieval Warm Period. In October, he turned his attention to the hockey stick graph. He rewrote articles on the politics of global warming and on the scientists who were skeptical of the band. Richard Lindzen and Fred Singer, two of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, were among his early targets, followed by others that the band especially hated, such as Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, authorities on the Medieval Warm Period.

All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred — over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions. Acolytes whose writing conformed to Connolley’s global warming views, in contrast, were rewarded with Wikipedia’s blessings. In these ways, Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement.

The Medieval Warm Period disappeared, as did criticism of the global warming orthodoxy. With the release of the Climategate Emails, the disappearing trick has been exposed.

This also raises questions about the nature of Wikipedia. Yes, it assembles a vast amount of information and makes it easily accessible. But since virtually anyone can change that information, unreliability is built in. (Let all students beware.) I understand the theory behind it, how it is self-correcting by drawing on collective knowledge. But isn’t it really predicated on the assumption that knowledge is a social construction, conveniently giving a platform for that to happen? What do you think about Wikipedia?