Fantastic film 

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has said she has planned scripts for a total of five Fantastic Beasts films.

The first movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – which marks Rowling’s debut as a screenwriter – is released on 17 November.

A sequel had already been confirmed by Warner Bros, but Rowling made her new announcement at a promotional event in London’s Leicester Square.

She said that she was “pretty sure” the story would unfold over five films.

The Fantastic Beasts film is set in New York, and tells the story of a fictional author mentioned in the Harry Potter stories.

Eddie Redmayne plays the part of the animal-loving Newt Scamander, who lives among New York’s secret community of witches and wizards. The film is set 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in the Hogwarts school


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The black hole 

This is the first in a short series on black holes and we start with the falling in.

Ever wondered what would happen if you had the nasty fate of falling into a black hole or what you would see happen if you were at a safe distance watching your friend fall in? Well read on and find out…

To set up the scene we need two characters (or observers as is the language of theoretical physics). I’ve always fantasised about interstellar travel and this site has two authors so i’ll indulge myself. Joe and Mekhi are orbiting a black hole at a safe distance in their spaceship. By safe distance I mean their spaceship is at a stable radius, far enough away from the center of the black hole such that it does not spiral inwards as a result of the hole’s immense gravitational pull. Mekhi has decided she wants to die in the most spectacular way possible, being engulfed by a black hole and Joe, for science’s sake, is very keen to see what happens to Mekhi as she falls in. So, she puts on her spacesuit on to stop her exploding prematurely, waves goodbye to her best friend and exits the spaceship.

[Black Holes have a very large gravitational pull and as such can distort even the paths of photons passing by, in a process called ‘lensing’ causing them to be whipped into an orbit around the black hole which leads to this eerie surrounding glow.]

Right, let’s flash back to special relativity for a moment (get it?). Remember one of the consequences of moving extremely fast? Time dilation. (You can read more about it here). This means, an observer, who watches an other observer travel at a high proportion of the speed of light measures the time between their events to be longer than the travelling observer doesFor example Mekhi is about run a race at a high proportion of light speed and she has  a stopwatch in her pocket. She starts the stopwatch when she starts running and stops it when she finishes the lap. Joe does the same, he starts the stopwatch when Mekhi starts running and stops it when she finishes the lap, all the while sitting still watching. The time measured on Mekhi’s stop watch will be less than the time measured on Joe’s. Remarkable but true, this is time dilation – a consequence of moving very fast. Now let’s get back to general relativity, which is the big theory in the case of Black Holes. Here’s the relevance –  time dilation is also a consequence of a gravitational fields. Time runs slower in strongergravitational fields. If you’re close to a large gravitational mass, the field will be subsequently stronger and your clock will run slower than somebody’s who is not. For example if you spent all your life at the top of a skyscraper, your clock would run slightly (almost negligible but slightly) faster than someone on the ground (closer to the Earth’s center of mass i.e. a stronger gravitational field) – general relativity decides your pay off for enjoying such a wonderful view would be having a slightly shorter life.

So as Mekhi approaches the Black Holes she gets closer and closer to the Black Hole an object with a colossal mass and as such a colossal gravitational field. Think of each tick on Mekhi’s clock (that she carries with her) as an event. When Mekhi and Joe were together in the spaceship the time between Mekhi’s ticks would coincide with the time between Joe’s clicks.  But as she gets closer and closer to the black hole the time between Mekhi’s ticks/events, as measured by Joe, get further and further apart – time dilation. Now there is this special radius that every black hole has called the event horizon. It the radius (or distance) from the center of the black hole at which the gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape. The event horizon is determined purely by the mass of the black hole and is given by the equation: r = 2GM/c^2  Where r is the radius (distance), G is the gravitational constant, a fundamental universal constant, c is the speed of light and M is the mass of the black hole. So remember the ticks on Mekhi’s clock coincide with events in Mekhi’s experience for example the blinking of her eyelids or the kicking of her feet as she realises what she has done. As she gets closer and closer to the Black Hole the time Joe measures betweens these events gets longer and longer, it as though Joe essentially sees all Mekhi’s movements go in to hyper slow motion. Now how is Joe receiving this information? He is seeing her and how is he seeing her – he is seeing her through the transmission of photons which are carrying light from her towards him. Now here is the link with the event horizon part – when Mekhi crosses this radius during her fall the photons can no longer escape the gravitational pull and make it back to Joe. Joe cannot see the Mekhi who crosses the event horizon. Now, counterintuitively, it’s not that Mekhi disappears suddenly. The time as measured by Joe between her events just before she crossed the horizon became so so very dilated that he essentially sees her frozen image just before she crossed the point of no return. The light waves stretch to lower and redder frequencies and the image of Mekhi slowly dims and fades, over and out.

[A depiction of the warping of space time around the center of a black hole. The gravitational pull becomes so strong that the center of the black hole results in a singularity where the laws of physics break down.]

Now what about Mekhi’s experience of this whole thing, after all she’s the one doing the travelling. Well Mekhi sails through the event horizon without experiencing anything different at all, she probably couldn’t even tell it was happening. In fact as she crosses she can still look back and see the spaceship and the region outside the black hole horizon as normal and she can probably also just about make out Joe’s horrified face through the spaceship window. Now if the black hole is a small one tidal forces can come into play here and the force on her feet (which are closer to  the center and hence experience a stronger gravitational pull)  may be significantly stronger than the force on her head and thus she would experience spaghettification – one of my favourite words in theoretical physics – where she gets stretched so much that she becomes elongated like a piece of spaghetti until eventually she gets torn in two. If the hole is small and this effect is quite large she will see a lot of warping of the light around her as well as she undergoes this gruesome process. However if the black hole is a larger one these tidal forces will be much weaker and she will go on her merry way sailing down to the center of the black hole without noticing much difference. Moral of the story if you’re going to go off galavanting in a black hole, choose a large one! So on she goes down the center where most likely she will be torn apart before she reaches the singularity. The singularity is the point at the center of the black hole where the spacetime has been warped so immensely, density and the gravity have become infinite and the laws of physics as we know them have disintegrated. If Mekhi remarkably reaches the singularity without being spaghettified her only reward will be being crushed to an infinite density… probably, the truth is we don’t have a clue what actually happens at the singularity because our laws of physicscompletely break down. There are theories in modern day theoretical physics that believe the gravitational field does increase as your get closer to the black hole’s core but then eventually reduce as if you’re coming out the other end of the black hole, into what could be a new universe, this hypothetical exit region has imaginatively been named a white hole. Though it’s very likely a meek human being would not survive the crushing forces of gravity before this point occurred.

Forthcoming posts in the series will delve into mysteries surrounding black holes such as the information loss problem and the black hole firewall paradox. Black holes have always been a source of many cosmic problems and the answer to the paradoxes surrounding them may help us answer some of the most pressing questions in theoretical physics, such as how to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics. For now however we stop here having explained what it looks like when an observer falls in and how this contradicts with what the observer themselves experiences. 

Keep on reading

Physics massive

On 14 March 2013, CERN announced the discovery of a particle with the qualities theorized by Peter Higgs (above) in the 1960s. The discovery of the Higgs boson was arguably the most significant experimental result in the history of particle physics, confirming why certain particles have mass and others do not. The hunt for the Higgs was one of the longest and most expensive scientific experiments ever conducted, which the majority would agree was worth every single Earth coin spent. Today we examine why the Higgs boson is so important to particle physicists, as well as clarifying an area of much confusion; the distinction between a Higgs field and a Higgs boson and the role they play in the universe at what we believe to be the most fundamental level.

This will serve as a brief introduction to the Higgs, with the intention of producing some follow-up posts around specific areas I feel have been done an injustice. I am trying to keep posts a little shorter, particularly when conceptually challenging to aid digestion.

Motivation for the Higgs

It is hardly ground-breaking news that objects possess a quality known as mass since we are so accustomed to its effects. Yet as with many things in this universe, when you give it some extra thought it does start to seem rather curious. Weight is a force which varies according to two things; the strength of gravity and the mass of the object – so what actually is this second quality? It isn’t sufficient to say something has mass because it is made of “stuff”, since as we delve down into the most fundamental levels (e.g. the level of the standard model) that definition would break. If we accept that when we drill down deeper into the structure of matter we eventually reach a fundamental building blocks of the universe this cannot be made up of anything, otherwise it would not be fundamental. There must be a mechanism whereby these fundamental particles obtain this mysterious quality known as mass – then we can say an object has mass because it is made of fundamental particles.

The standard model is one of the most successful pieces of Physics to emerge from the twentieth century, which let’s not forget included Einstein’s relativity. In the same way that the periodic table summarises the known elements and tries to group them in such a way as to illuminate their related properties, the standard model does the same. In the below diagram we have the quarks, in which vertical rows interact with each other (so up interacts with down), the leptons which are split into the charged leptons (electron, tau and muon) and associated neutrinos and the force carrying bosons – the photon being the most familiar as the quanta for electromagnetic radiation. Then over in the corner we have the elusive Higgs boson.

When you consider the problem you can understand why Physicists needed to solve it; it is a little embarrassing to be teaching mass to high-school children without any explanation of its origin. To be able to boldly state F=ma, but actually have no idea why the m is even a thing in the first place. As noted the problem was theoretically resolved in the 1960s and experimentally verified a few years ago; so we really are only beginning to understand the most basic properties of existence – this truly is a remarkable time to be alive.

The Higgs Field

To understand the Higgs boson you have to first understand the associated Higgs field. A field is an important and conceptually difficult idea to understand in modern Physics, but generally speaking a field assigns a value to each point in space. This may be, for example just a value known as a scalar field, or it may be a number and a direction known as vector field. A magnetic field assigns a value and direction to every point in space in such a way that any particle which magnetically interacts will experience a force. Whilst it sounds like a field is simply a mathematical construction to allow the human mind to rationalise, remember these things do definitely exist. It is quite possible to demonstrate a field in action and predict the outcome – be it magnetic, electrical, gravitational or otherwise. Jump and see. Mekhi’s most recent post offers more depth in regard to fields, which I would recommend being comfortable with before continuing. 

The Higgs field is an energy field which it is believed permeates the entire universe, (although proving this is a little difficult, but it seems consistent with our experiences). It is very easy to appreciate that an electric charge will influence the behavior of an electron which has an electric charge, yet a neutron can pass through the field and feel nothing since it possesses no electric charge. Well it is similar for the Higgs field – a particle can experience the Higgs field a large amount, experience it a little or not at all. The field can be thought of like a permanent resistance or drag, often likened to moving through a molasses like substance. Try to picture this – you are in the gym with a personal trainer, and they get you to perform a fun exercise where they attach an elastic band around your waist and get you to run while they resist your motion. If they provide a little resistance, you would feel a little more massive, or if they provided a lot of resistance you would feel much more massive – yet your  actual bodily stricture is unchanged. It is the varying resistance to you moving forwards which gives the phenomena of a varying mass. This is the idea of a Higgs field, but do try to drop the requirement for motion in a line as in the previous example.

When we look at it this way, mass isn’t really so special. It is not something which “stuff” is naturally endowed with, or any magical property of the universe – it is simply the wonderful interaction of particles and fields. The massless particles, a photon for example, are only massless because they do not interact with the field – this is the difference between a massless particle and a massive particle. Personally I find it strange and exciting to think of it like this, but it really reconciles some of the perceived differences in the fundamental particles of the universe. There is one final quirk about the Higgs field which it is worth illuminating before we move forwards – the Higgs field is non-zero centered at low energies, as shown in the bellow diagram, fondly referred to as a Mexican hat.

The Higgs fields may only take a zero value in the centre if it has enough energy to “overcome” the hump. When we reach a low energy state, this is not the case and so the value of the field must be nonzero centrered, just like it is pictured above. You have a seemingly contradictory situation, where in order to come as close as possible to “nothing” – to reduce the Higgs field down to zero you need to add energy, which as we know is synonymous with mass. Particle physics is truly a wonderful playground. The mechanism behind this is a central pillar of modern particle physics, which for those who are interested is called spontaneous symmetry breaking. This is one area which I feel warrants a post in its own right in the future; but could only be done a disservice tagged on the end of a section.

The Higgs Boson

So Peter Higgs creates the Higgs field as described above – and actually on a high level it makes a whole lot of sense. So why the hell does everyone talk about a boson and why was the Nobel prize given in 2013 for work from the 1960s? The Higgs boson is simply a fundamental particle that obeys the equations laid down by Higgs which is the carrier of this quality we label mass. The field, as described above works theoretically but it isn’t really possible to test in its own right – even though it predicts mass to exist in the way it does it isn’t theoretically possible to observe. So, to put it simply if you spank the field with enough energy you create a particle, the Higgs boson much like smacking the surface of water and watching a droplet leap up. The electromagnetic equivalent the photon, which is an excitation of an electromagnetic field. This might sound strange, but in the quantum world we are quite used to this. If you have 100GeV you can get any particle with this mass energy burst into existence. The best way to prove that the Higgs field is the correct description of mass in the universe is to produce the Higgs boson as predicted by the model. This is exactly what CERN has been busy doing.

There were however some serious obstacles. A Higgs boson is not massless – it interacts with the field itself and the model does not predict a value for the Higgs boson but rather a range of values. Secondly, the Higgs is highly unstable – unstable particles don’t hang around they decay into other more stable particles. Particle physicists can only detect these decay products, which creates another problem. Say your decay product is two down quarks – this could have come from a Higgs but it could have come from many other different decays too. The Higgs decay is actually very rare, so how do you know which you have? The predicted difference between the observed collisions with the Higgs existence and without is so slight that to be able to have confidence in its existence you need millions (and millions and millions) of data points. This is exactly what CERN have been busy giving us – smashing relentlessly around the clock. We are now at a point where this subtle difference has been predicted beyond reasonable doubt. It is accepted that mass is caused through interactions with the Higgs field, carried by the Higgs boson.

This is the most expensive particle in the standard model, but if it takes us further on the journey to a Grand Unified Theory it represents excellent value for money

Reverse osmosis 

Reverse osmosis


“How can we use pressure to purify seawater?”

Already humanity is facing a major water problem. As the water reservoirs start to dry up, there will be entire areas with no hydration to speak of. So what is one way we could solve this? Well, how about we look to the most plentiful form of water, the ocean, to solve our problems. Ocean water is normally unusable for humanistic concerns due to it’s salty nature, but what if we were to desalinate it to make it usable?

Now that we have the idea, let’s think about how we could make this a reality. Well, first of all, we should notice that salt water probably has other elements in it that are a result from exposure to the rest of the environment, such as seaweed and dead animals parts. These items are usually larger than the molecules of water and salt, so they can be filtered away easily through the use of a permeable layer. We can accomplish this by extracting sea water, and then using pressure to force it through a permeable layer. However, the leftover water will still have a high concentration of salt. But to our luck, it is still possible to separate the salt if we notice one factor, that both water and salt have different evaporation points, and more specifically, water has a lower point of evaporation. So what we can do with this leftover salt water is boil it until the point of evaporation for water, and then pass this steam off into another area, and then cool it until it solidifies again. After all of this, we will finally have ourselves some freshwater! This process is known as reverse osmosis, and plants are currently being used in arid regions such as California, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to create a usable water supply


I have always kept information on my gardens and plants and find it more important as I study medicinal properties.  I have made charts of bloom color every month of the year to have flash all year long. Similar charts for 12 month fresh food supplies.  Each layer of knowledge got new charts and notes.  Both my education in Biology and my work as a paralegal encouraged that.

Working in a computer environment encouraged me to go high tech and that was fun too.  Lost a lot of information due to technology changes and out of date programs.  At least I have much of it in my head, old and outdated as my head may be.

As I study my local plants and medicinal qualities of wild and garden plants, this time I am organizing my work in a new… oops… old way.

Index Cards!

I know it is hard to imagine in this day and age, but I am putting my experience and research on index cards this time.  Color coding only amounts to each plant has one color and I make sure adjacent plants are different colors for ease of finding them.  Alphabetical order by family.  For this project, I am only including plants on my 5 acres or nearby.  In a way, herbal books are a sales pitch for the Market Economy because they infer that herbals are from distant and exotic locales, when they are in that empty lot of weeds you want mowed flat.

Yes, I have herbal books, but none of the information serves me as much as knowing what is at hand.  Each geographical area has plants that serve many medical needs, and there is little need for Market Economy reliance as far as herbal cures go.  Granted, I will add temperate climate medicinal and food plants to my food forest, but don’t feel it is required.  I do feel compunction to restore any missing parts of my Pinyon-Juniper ecosystem and circular economy to ensure its health and mine.

I also admit that my plant index cards are sorted by plant family and scientific name because each family’s chemical constituents are similar.  If I don’t have herb A, cousin B may do.  For example, if I read something about Lamiaceae family, Mentha X, and I have Mentha Y, it might do the job.  The closer the relationship, the more likely it is.  That is a botanist’s way, not a doctor’s way.  So I gather information from medical research reports, but rearrange and plug it back into my plant family matrix.  Keeps me entertained and out of trouble.

I found a new little plant this morning while out moving stones and gravel.

Mystery Plant

This Mystery is Plant  less than 1 in tall and 2 inches across, and I zoomed 4x for a photo.  I guess I am going to learn more about moss and lichen because I have a dozen or so and I have no idea what they are.  I will start with the families and work from there.  A big project considering my current level of ignorance.

Now that I have regressed all the way back to high school (last time I used index cards) I am gaining an appreciation for their simplicity.  They are a synopsis requiring reading comprehension rather than cutting and pasting.  Reading comprehension has been reduced in our computer world, even in law firms.

I suspect if the place burned down, I would grab my dog Little Guy and my index cards.  Or just my index cards since Little Guy would probably lead the way.  I love my books but these cards are a distillation of my journey to deeper understanding of the connection between plants and human health by way of my food forest

On Gender and Acceptance

After several important victories in 2015, the LGBTQ community faced challenges both old and new in 2016. The so-called “bathroom laws” around the US are still making everyday lives more difficult for thousands, while exposing widespread bias and hypocrisy. As blogger Gretchen Kelly powerfully said, “Those predators you’re so worried will sneak into the Target bathroom? They’re all around you. They are your Priest, your kid’s coach, your neighbor, your uncle, your youth group leader, your United States Speaker of the House.”

Jacob Tobia, featured at Neutrosis Nonsense.

But the push for equality and for the acceptance of people regardless of gender identity or sexuality continues — thanks, in large part, to people like Jacob Tobia, who wrote earlier this year at Neutrosis Nonsense about the challenges facing genderqueer professionals:

While people may try to discriminate against me and tell me that I’m dressing “inappropriately” for work, I will hold on to my gender identity and sense of self. In the workplace, I will stick up for those who, like me, find that their gender does not match a prefabricated box. I will wear my heels, pearls, and skirts to work until, hopefully, the world can learn to respect people like me.