## February 27, 2005

### Cole Cr#%

Juan Cole is an indispensable source of information and insight into the situation in Iraq. He really knows the country, and collates an impressive amount of information from both the Western and Arabic Press.

His blog is compelling reading, but it would be that much more compelling, if it were not laced with tendentious crap like

AP reports that the one-day total for war-related violence in Iraq, including the police station bombing in Tikrit reported here yesterday morning, came to 30. That is about 11,000 persons a year if the rate were constant and extrapolated out.

Do you *really* want to take a one-day death count (and an anomalously high one, at that) and extrapolate *that* forward for a year? Do you think the resulting number has *any* meaning?

With a couple of minutes more work, you could take a 5-day running average death count (as reported on his blog and cross-referenced with iraqbodycount) and extrapolate that number forward. Isn’t 4745 deaths/year *bad enough*?

Given the inadequacies of the reportage, it’s likely to be an underestimate. But, at least, it won’t be instantly dismissed — by any reader with an ounce of sense — as a statistical fluctuation.

### Conversations with Greg

Greg Moore was in town for a few days, and we had — as always — some very interesting discussions. Among the topics was his recent paper with Dabholkar, Denef and Pioline.

I’ve talked before about the Ooguri-Strominger-Vafa proposal relating the entropy of a charged $N=2$ black (which appears as a nontrivial solution of type-IIA strings compactified on some Calabi-Yau, $M$) to the topological string partition function for the same Calabi-Yau. Specifically,

$\Omega(p,q) = \int d\phi \left|e^{i\frac{\pi}{2}F(p+i\phi,256)}\right|^2 e^{\pi q\cdot\phi}$
where $(p^I,q_I)$, $I=0,\dots,h^{1,1}(M)$ are the electric and magnetic charges, $F(X^I,\lambda^2)$ is the *holomorphic* topological string free energy, and $\Omega$ is a microcanonical partition function — the number, or perhaps some index, of the number of states of charge $(p,q)$.

There are three questions about this formula

- What contour of integration should be chosen (if one exists) so that the integral is well-defined?
- Exactly what is $\Omega(p,q)$ counting?
- Is the formula right?

## February 23, 2005

### Reinvention

Back in second grade, I was dissatisfied with the algorithm we were being taught for doing subtraction. So I “invented” my own

– 185

5 is bigger than 3, so we subtract them in the opposite order (5–3=2) and take the tens-complement (8) of the result. As usual, we borrow from the 6 (which becomes a 5) and we repeat: 8–5=3 and take the tens-complement (7). Finally 2–1=1, so the answer is 178.

While only slightly different from the conventional algorithm, I felt this one to be an improvement because I never had to know how to subtract from numbers larger than 10 (*e.g.* who cares what 13–5 is?).

I haven’t thought much about this little juvenile act of rebellion until a couple of months ago, when I was going over my daughter’s 3^{rd} grade math homework with her. She was doing similar subtraction problems. But, in keeping with the times, she was charged with *explaining* her methods for arriving at the answer.

Imagine my surprise when she explained her method to me. It was exactly the same “unconventional” algorithm that I had used when I was her age. It was not what the teacher had taught; she had figured it out on her own.

[Her method was the same, but her accuracy was not the greatest. So I taught her the other trick that I learned in that era: check your work by doing arithmetic *modulo 9*: 178=1+7+8= 7 mod 9, 185=1+8+5=5 mod 9. So 178+185=5+7=12=1+2 = 3 mod 9, which agrees with 363=3+6+3=3 mod 9.]

Now, I don’t know what this has to do with Larry Summers’ remarks on the dearth of women in the Hard Sciences (at least in this country). My personal experience echoes that of the AIP Study. An alarmingly large majority of the women who arrived at Harvard the year I did, intending to major in Physics, had decided by sophomore year to do something else. As a consequence, it was unsurprising that, by the time I started graduate school, there was only one woman in an entering class of 28. Sean Carroll takes on the thankless task of confronting Summers hypotheses with the data. I’m afraid I can’t muster the energy.

I’m much too busy trying to nurture that spark of creativity in my daughter, hoping that, a decade from now, she doesn’t face the stark choice that my classmates at Harvard/Radcliffe faced a generation ago.

## February 17, 2005

### Internationalization and Trackbacks

The last straw was when I received a Korean trackback, encoded in `euc-kr`

.

The Trackback Specification makes no mention of character encodings, and **MovableType**’s original implementation was blissfully ignorant of any such notion. The sender of a Trackback ping sent a string of bytes (which represented a string of *characters* in `charset`

of his blog) and the recipient dutifully published that string of bytes on his blog. If the recipient’s `charset`

*happened* not to be the *same* as that of the sender, well, then, the result was gibberish.

The most recent versions of **MovableType** convey the sender’s `charset`

in the HTTP headers of the Trackback. But the recipient doesn’t actually *do* anything with the information.

As a result, I had a slowly increasing number of gibberish Trackbacks on my blog, with no end in sight.

If you want something done right …

## February 16, 2005

### Coming Soon to a Hard Drive Near You

Once upon a time, a megabyte was a lot of data. In 1989, when Joanne Cohn first started emailing preprints to a couple of hundred colleagues, people quickly found themselves exceeding their mail quotas. And not everyone was interested in every paper. So why waste bandwidth and precious disk space on all that junk?

The idea of centralizing the storage, and sending people only the papers they requested, prompted Paul Ginsparg to start the hep-th archive in 1991.

Flash forward 14 years.

250 GB hard drives are cheap, and a laptop with less than 60 GB seems positively claustrophobic. Hep-th has grown tremendously. But even with over two hundred submissions a month, it’s still a *puny* amount of data by today’s standards. The entire archive from 1991 to the present (8GB of PDF files) fits easily on an iPod.

So, in reversal of history, Joanna Karczmarek is gearing up to distribute the whole shebang via bittorent. She’s currently offering 2004 (pdf papers and a plain-text list of abstracts) as a modest 850 MB torrent.

A year’s worth of physics for your iPod Shuffle.

## February 13, 2005

### Words to Live By

“Don’t fire a gun while you’re driving a car.”

— my 9 year old daughter, admonishing her 4 year old brother

## February 11, 2005

### Berkovits Update

I’ve spent the past few days in a lengthy email correspondence with Nathan Berkovits about some of the questions raised in my previous post about his “pure spinor” approach to the superstring.

The main progress has been in clarifying his construction of the bilocal operators, $\hat{b}(y,z)$, which play the role of anti-ghosts in his theory. Recall that I was more than a little worried about the apparent $z$-dependence of the amplitudes.

## February 8, 2005

### MathML News

“Not another one!” I hear you groan.

## February 5, 2005

### Who Do You Trust?

The debate over Google’s new `rel="nofollow"`

attribute for “untrusted” links continues to simmer. I explained our (**Musings** and the String Coffee Table’s) policy a while back. Trackbacks and Comment-Author Links are innoculated with `rel="nofollow"`

.

But then I got to thinking. There is, surely, one class of Comment-Author Link that I do trust: authors who have gone to the trouble to PGP-sign their comments. Previously, PGP-signing your comments gave you that warm feeling of knowing that you cannot be impersonated, nor the text of your comments tampered-with, without that being *evident* to anyone who clicks on the verification link. But *now*, PGP-signing your comments buys you that extra little ε of Google PageRank as well.

Comment-Author Links of PGP-signed comments are exempt from the `rel="nofollow"`

policy.

So … go generate yourself a PGP key, put your public key on your website (make sure it’s served right), start signing your comments here, and watch your PageRank soar.

Well, OK, maybe not the last one. But this is a *wee bit* more incentive to do what you should be doing anyway.

## February 4, 2005

### Multiloop Amplitudes

Surprising to say, at this late date, but there’s been considerable recent progress in multiloop string perturbation theory.

D’Hoker and Phong have a pair of new papers, looking at genus-2 scattering amplitudes. I’ve written about their previous work in some detail. The current papers extend their story to N-point functions at genus-2.

Meanwhile, prodded by Luboš who, in his weblog post and privately, has been championing Nathan Berkovits’s pure-spinor approach to the covariant Green-Schwarz superstring, I decided to take a closer look.

The action, in Nathan’s theory looks deceptively simple:

The only wrinkle is that the commuting ghost fields $\lambda^\alpha$, $\tilde{\lambda}^\alpha$ obey a pure-spinor condition

so, despite appearances, this is not a free field theory. For compatibility with the pure-spinor constraint, the antighosts, $w_\alpha$, have a gauge-invariance

The “BRST operator” is

Because of the gauge-invariance, however, $w_\alpha$ can only appear in gauge-invariant combinations like

and correlation functions involving these objects (and the $\lambda$s), says Nathan, can be computed using free fields. Unfortunately, there’s no candidate (composite) local operator, $b$, which satisfies $\{Q,b\}= T$. Instead, Nathan has a rather strange prescription to contruct a bilocal operator, of ghost number zero, which satisfies

where

for some constant antisymmetric tensor $B$. Aside from the strange bilocality, we *by construction* break the Lorentz-invariance in our definition of the $\hat{b}$s.

Similarly, the dimension-(1,1) (integrated) vertex operators are not built from the dimension-0 BRST cohomology, $V$, by acting with $b$. Instead, they’re constructed in an ad-hoc way as ghost-number zero fields satisfying $[Q,U]= \partial V$. And, in order to define the amplitudes, one needs a plethora of further insertions of non-Lorentz-invariant “Picture-changing Operators” (of which $Z_B$ above was an example).

All of these various sources of non-Lorentz-invariance, says Nathan, only change the integrand by surface terms. And, if you use a certain prescription for integrating over the zero modes of the $\lambda$s (remember, it’s a nonlinear space), all will be OK.

As you can tell, I have many, many questions about this — very interesting — proposal. But I’ll close with four:

Is it true that

(8)$\partial_z \hat{b}(y,z) = [Q,\cdot]$(as surely is required for a sensible amplitude)? The expression for $\hat{b}(y,z)$ is deucedly complicated, and I can’t see why this is true.

- The usual relation that $b_{-1}\overline{b}_{-1}$ acting on the dimension-0 (fixed-location) vertex operator gives you the dimension-(1,1) (integrated) vertex operator is crucial to the proof of unitarity of multiloop amplitudes (so crucial, that we rarely think about it). What replaces that here?
- The unphysical poles that one encounters in multiloop NSR amplitudes when one naïvely uses the picture-changing formalism is a consequence of the index theorem applied to the bosonic ghosts (not, as implied in footnote 12, of bosonizing those ghosts). One might worry that similar poles arise here.
- Is it really true that the only legacy of the nonlinear nature of the pure-spinor constraint is in the zero-mode integration?

## February 1, 2005

### Trackback Spammers

The group of spammers I blogged about previously, the ones using crapflooding techniques (multiple POSTs from behind anonymous proxies) for comment spam, finally returned, this time as Trackback spammers. Lotta people seem to have been hit hard.

Since it took the Crapflooders only a week or so to figure out that Trackback flooding was easier and more fun than Comment flooding, I was wondering when these spammers would come to the same realization. Last night, they finally did. Golem received several hundred trackback attempts, in two concerted waves.

When the crapflooders were at it, a throttle on the number of trackbacks in a given time-period was my main defence. That throttle is now built-into MT 3.1x.

Since then, I’ve wised up a bit, and block submissions (of Trackbacks *and* Comments) from open HTTP Proxies. Thanks to Brad Choate’s plugin, modified to use the `opm.blitzed.org`

DNSBL list of open Proxies (instead of the irrelevant `dsbl.org`

list of open SMTP servers), *all* of the hundreds of would-be spam Trackbacks were blocked.

The modifications to Brad’s plugin are easy,

`--- plugins/dsbl_deny.pl.orig Thu Nov 11 11:06:29 2004 +++ plugins/dsbl_deny.pl Thu Nov 11 11:08:58 2004 @@ -12,9 +12,9 @@ my ($eh, $app, $comment) = @_; my $remote_ip = $app->remote_ip; my ($a, $b, $c, $d) = split /\./, $remote_ip; - if (checkdnsrr("$d.$c.$b.$a.list.dsbl.org")) { + if (checkdnsrr("$d.$c.$b.$a.opm.blitzed.org")) { $app->log("Blocked comment post from known open proxy: $remote_ip"); - my $url = "http://dsbl.org/listing?$remote_ip"; + my $url = "http://opm.blitzed.org/proxy?ip=$remote_ip"; # we're forcing out the header here and exiting since I can't find # a cleaner way to force a redirection to the DSBL.org site...`

The only surprising thing was *how well* it performed.

#### Update (2/2/2005):

Zack is, alas, correct. My “internal working version” is a little more heavily hacked than I let on (or even remembered). So, pending Brad releasing a new version of his plugin, here’s a (slightly neatened-up) canned replacement which filters*both*Comments and Trackbacks.

#### Update (2/4/2005):

Ever the scientist, I decided to check whether the success of the`opm.blitzed.org`

open proxy list in covering the particular proxies used by these spammers in their recent Trackback Spam runs was due to dumb luck or to genuine comprehensiveness. So I decided to look up a much *larger*sample of IP addresses, used in recent weeks by these lowlifes for referrer spam and their (feeble attempts at) comment spam. The result is that

`opm.blitzed.org`

lists only about half of those IP addresses^{1}. In other words, I got lucky

^{2}.

So I’ve begun to deploy some other countermeasures against them, which I will surely write about anon. In the meantime, there’s a wee buglet in the plugin I posted the other day. If you downloaded it, please download it again.

^{1} Looking back at a weeks-old list of proxies *may* not be a reliable measure. Many of these may once have been open, but are now closed and delisted. So this surely understates the effectiveness of the Blitzed list. By how much is hard to tell.

^{2} In case you’re wondering about the Central Limit Theorem, a spam run seems to use about a dozen different proxies, but these are likely *not* uncorrelated. If the spammers use trojanned PCs for their spam run, *none* of them will show up on the Blitzed list. Conversely, if they happen to use open proxies, which have previously been used to connect to certain IRC channels (monitored by the BOPM), they *all* will appear.