## April 11, 2022

### Monterey and Samba

I reluctantly upgraded my laptop from Mojave to Monterey (macOS 12.3.1). Things have not gone smoothly. My biggest annoyance, currently, is with Time Machine.

## January 8, 2022

### Spinor Helicity Variables in QED

I’m teaching Quantum Field Theory this year. One of the things I’ve been trying to emphasize is the usefulness of spinor-helicity variables in dealing with massless particles. This is well-known to the “Amplitudes” crowd, but hasn’t really trickled down to the textbooks yet. Mark Srednicki’s book comes close, but doesn’t (IMHO) quite do a satisfactory job of it.

Herewith are some notes.

## March 21, 2021

### Cosmic Strings in the Standard Model

Over at the n-Category Café, John Baez is making a big deal of the fact that the global form of the Standard Model gauge group is $G = (SU(3)\times SU(2)\times U(1))/N$ where $N$ is the $\mathbb{Z}_6$ subgroup of the center of $G'=SU(3)\times SU(2)\times U(1)$ generated by the element $\left(e^{2\pi i/3}\mathbb{1},-\mathbb{1},e^{2\pi i/6}\right)$.

The global form of the gauge group has various interesting topological effects. For instance, the fact that the center of the gauge group is $Z(G)= U(1)$, rather than $Z(G')=U(1)\times \mathbb{Z}_6$, determines the global 1-form symmetry of the theory. It also determines the presence or absence of various topological defects (in particular, cosmic strings). I pointed this out, but a proper explanation deserved a post of its own.

None of this is new. I’m pretty sure I spent a sunny afternoon in the summer of 1982 on the terrace of Café Pamplona doing this calculation. (As any incoming graduate student should do, I spent many a sunny afternoon at a café doing this and similar calculations.)

## January 6, 2020

### Entanglement for Laymen

I’ve been asked, innumerable times, to explain quantum entanglement to some lay audience. Most of the elementary explanations that I have seen (heck, maybe all of them) fail to draw any meaningful distinction between “entanglement” and mere “(classical) correlation.”

This drives me up the wall, so each time I am asked, I strive to come up with an elementary explanation of the difference. Rather than keep reinventing the wheel, let me herewith record my latest attempt.

## February 28, 2019

### Instiki 0.30.0 and tex2svg 1.0

Instiki is my wiki-cum-collaboration platform. It has a built-in WYSIWYG vector-graphics drawing program, which is great for making figures. Unfortunately:

- An extra step is required, in order to convert the resulting SVG into PDF for inclusion in the LaTeX paper. And what you end up with is a directory full of little PDF files (one for each figure), which need to be managed.
- Many of my colleagues would rather use Tikz, which has become the de-facto standard for including figures in LaTeX.

*Obviously,* I needed to include Tikz support in **Instiki**. But, up until now, I didn’t really see a good way to do that, given that I wanted something that is

- Portable
- Secure

## February 15, 2019

### Brotli

I finally got around to enabling Brotli compression on Golem. Reading the manual, I came across the `BrotliAlterETag`

directive:

**Description:**How the outgoing ETag header should be modified during compression

**Syntax:**

`BrotliAlterETag AddSuffix|NoChange|Remove`

with the description:

- AddSuffix
- Append the compression method onto the end of the ETag, causing compressed and uncompressed representations to have unique ETags. In another dynamic compression module,
`mod_deflate`

, this has been the default since 2.4.0. This setting prevents serving “`HTTP Not Modified (304)`

” responses to conditional requests for compressed content.- NoChange
- Don’t change the ETag on a compressed response. In another dynamic compression module,
`mod_deflate`

, this has been the default prior to 2.4.0. This setting does not satisfy the HTTP/1.1 property that all representations of the same resource have unique ETags.- Remove
- Remove the ETag header from compressed responses. This prevents some conditional requests from being possible, but avoids the shortcomings of the preceding options.

Sure enough, it turns out that ETags+compression have been completely broken in Apache 2.4.x. Two methods for saving bandwidth, and delivering pages faster, cancel each other out and chew up more bandwidth than if one or the other were disabled.

## December 27, 2018

### Python urllib2 and TLS

I was thinking about dropping support for TLSv1.0 in this webserver. All the major browser vendors have announced that they are dropping it from their browsers. And you’d think that since TLSv1.2 has been around for a decade, even very old clients *ought* to be able to negotiate a TLSv1.2 connection.

But, when I checked, you can imagine my surprise that this webserver receives a *ton* of TLSv1 connections… including from the application that powers Planet Musings. Yikes!

The latter is built around the Universal Feed Parser which uses the standard Python urrlib2 to negotiate the connection. And therein lay the problem …

## February 24, 2017

### Responsibility

Many years ago, when I was an assistant professor at Princeton, there was a cocktail party at Curt Callan’s house to mark the beginning of the semester. There, I found myself in the kitchen, chatting with Sacha Polyakov. I asked him what he was going to be teaching that semester, and he replied that he was very nervous because — for the first time in his life — he would be teaching an undergraduate course. After my initial surprise that he had gotten this far in life without ever having taught an undergraduate course, I asked which course it was. He said it was the advanced undergraduate Mechanics course (chaos, etc.) and we agreed that would be a fun subject to teach. We chatted some more, and then he said that, on reflection, he probably shouldn’t be quite so worried. After all, it wasn’t as if he was going to teach Quantum Field Theory, “That’s a subject I’d feel *responsible* for.”

This remark stuck with me, but it never seemed quite so poignant until this semester, when I find myself teaching the undergraduate particle physics course.

## December 4, 2016

### MathML Update

For a while now, Frédéric Wang has been urging me to enable native MathML rendering for Safari. He and his colleagues have made many improvements to Webkit’s MathML support. But there were at least two show-stopper bugs that prevented me from flipping the switch.

## June 14, 2016

### Coriolis

I really like the science fiction TV series The Expanse. In addition to a good plot and a convincing vision of human society two centuries hence, it depicts, as Phil Plait observes, a lot of good science in a matter-of-fact, almost off-hand fashion. But one scene (really, just a few dialogue-free seconds in a longer scene) has been bothering me. In it, Miller, the hard-boiled detective living on Ceres, pours himself a drink. And we see — as the whiskey slowly pours from the bottle into the glass — that the artificial gravity at the lower levels (where the poor people live) is significantly weaker than near the surface (where the rich live) *and* that there’s a significant Coriolis effect. Unfortunately, the effect depicted is 3 orders-of-magnitude too big.

## January 10, 2016

### BMiSsed

There’s a general mantra that we all repeat to ourselves: gauge transformations are *not symmetries*; they are *redundancies* of our description. There is an exception, of course: gauge transformations that don’t go to the identity at infinity *aren’t* redundancies; they are actual symmetries.

Strominger, rather beautifully showed that BMS supertranslations (or, more precisely, a certain diagonal subgroup of $\text{BMS}^+$ (which act as supertranslations on $\mathcal{I}^+$) and $\text{BMS}^-$ (which act as supertranslations on $\mathcal{I}^-$) are symmetries of the gravitational S-matrix. The corresponding conservation laws are equivalent to Weinberg’s Soft-Graviton Theorem. Similarly, in electromagnetism, the $U(1)$ gauge transformations which don’t go to the identity on $\mathcal{I}^\pm$ give rise to the Soft-Photon Theorem.

A while back, there was considerable brouhaha about Hawking’s claim that BMS symmetry had something to do with resolving the blackhole information paradox. Well, finally, a paper from Hawking, Perry and Strominger has arrived.

## June 19, 2015

### Asymptotic Safety and the Gribov Ambiguity

Recently, an old post of mine about the Asymptotic Safety program for quantizing gravity received a flurry of new comments. Inadvertently, one of the pseudonymous commenters pointed out *yet another* problem with the program, which deserves a post all its own.

Before launching in, I should say that

- Everything I am about to say was known to Iz Singer in 1978. Though, as with the corresponding result for nonabelian gauge theory, the import seems to be largely unappreciated by physicists working on the subject.
- I would like to thank Valentin Zakharevich, a very bright young grad student in our Math Department for a discussion on this subject, which clarified things greatly for me.

## May 12, 2015

### Action-Angle Variables

This semester, I taught the Graduate Mechanics course. As is often the case, teaching a subject leads you to rethink that you *thought* you understood, sometimes with surprising results.

The subject for today’s homily is *Action-Angle* variables.

Let $(\mathcal{M},\omega)$ be a $2n$-dimensional symplectic manifold. Let us posit that $\mathcal{M}$ had a foliation by $n$-dimensional
*Lagrangian* tori (a torus, $T\subset M$, is Lagrangian if $\omega|_T =0$). Removing a subset, $S\subset \mathcal{M}$, of codimension $codim(S)\geq 2$, where the leaves are singular, we can assume that all of the leaves on $\mathcal{M}'=\mathcal{M}\backslash S$ are
*smooth* tori of dimension $n$.

The objective is to construct coordinates $\varphi^i, K_i$ with the following properties.

- The $\varphi^i$ restrict to angular coordinates on the tori. In particular $\varphi^i$ shifts by $2\pi$ when you go around the corresponding cycle on $T$.
- The $K_i$ are globally-defined functions on $\mathcal{M}$ which are
*constant*on each torus. - The symplectic form $\omega= d K_i\wedge d \varphi^i$.

From 1, it’s clear that it’s more convenient to work with the 1-forms $d\varphi^i$, which are single-valued (and closed, but not necessarily exact), rather than with the $\varphi^i$ themselves. In 2, it’s rather important that the $K_i$ are really
*globally*-defined. In particular, an *integrable Hamiltonian* is a function $H(K)$. The $K_i$ are the $n$ conserved quantities which make the Hamiltonian integrable.

Obviously, a given foliation is compatible with infinitely many “integrable Hamiltonians,” so the existence of a foliation is the more fundamental concept.

All of this is totally standard.

What never really occurred to me is that the standard construction of action-angle variables turns out to be very closely wedded to the particular case of a cotangent bundle, $\mathcal{M}=T^*M$.

As far as I can tell, action-angle variables don’t even *exist* for foliations of more general symplectic manifolds, $\mathcal{M}$.

## December 18, 2014

### Smoke Signals, Morse Code or … ?

It seemed like a straightforward question. If you use Apple’s `Contacts.app`

to store your contacts, you’ve surely noticed this behaviour: *some* of your contacts auto-magically sprout clickable links for Facetime video/audio chats, with no intervention on your part. I was curious enough to submit a query about it, via Apple’s Support Site:

Contacts.app seems to know whether each of my contacts has registered their email for FaceTime, even if I have NEVER tried to facetime with them (or call their cell-phone or …). How does it do this? Are all of the email addresses in my addressbook automatically uploaded to Apple’s servers? If so, how do I turn this off, as it seems to be a MASSIVE invasion of my privacy.

That was a month and a half ago (2014/11/02). Today, I received a response:

## October 25, 2014

### Wikipedia

Wow! After a decade, Wikipedia finally rolls out MathML rendering. Currently, only available (as an optional preference) to registered users. Hopefully, in a few more years, they’ll make it the default.

Some implementation details are available at Frédéric’s blog.