Cover photo
Matt McIrvin
Attended College of William and Mary
Lives in Massachusetts
1,518 followers|389,772 views


Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
This monstrous garbage reminds me of a passage from Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" that I think I first heard from Fred "Slacktivist" Clark:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

The “bad part” about bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami being captured alive is that now he’ll be treated to “amazing” medical care and an “outstanding” lawyer, Donald Trump said Monday.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
Via Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society: Here's some nice amateur work by Ian Regan with Cassini infrared images, producing pseudo-color views of Titan's north polar lake district. It's showing up well in these pictures now because it's north polar summer on Titan.
Titan's north polar lakes are well-lit by summer sun in these recent Cassini images. Image processing enthusiast Ian Regan shares his recipe for processing the longer-wavelength Titan images into visually pleasing
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
Emily Lakdawalla on the first big Juno release. Here are nice pictures of the north and south poles of Jupiter, full of whirly planet-sized storms. Also auroras.
On August 27, Juno soared across Jupiter's cloud tops from pole to pole, with all instruments operating. NASA posted some terrific first results from several of the instruments today. And the JunoCam team released all 28 raw images taken during the close encounter.
Refurio Anachro's profile photoDan Piponi's profile photoMatt McIrvin's profile photo
Up to now we knew more about the poles of Saturn than of Jupiter, thanks to Cassini. Every orbiter and flyby of Jupiter with instruments to investigate the planet has been close to the equatorial plane, and Jupiter has almost no axial tilt so it doesn't oblige us directly.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
Holy jinkies, Lego Dimensions has Weeping Angels in it. I did not expect Weeping Angels. (Or at the very least, I expected them to turn up in the Doctor Who expansion, which we don't have yet, rather than in the starter kit.) I give major credit to them for putting in a Doctor Who-themed level that is actually pretty true to the spirit of the series.

Ama Simplelady's profile photoMatt McIrvin's profile photo
The fight with the Balrog in the Lord of the Rings level is another one that seemed to just be impossibly difficult, but we were missing a trick. You may need to look up an online walkthrough here and there. In general, nothing in the game should take an unreasonable level of videogame skill.

We also did get hold of the Doctor Who expansion that gives you the Doctor, his TARDIS and K-9, and are starting to play through that. The puzzles in this actually involve time travel: you need to effect some change in the environment in one time period, so you go back in time and do something that alters its history (though I won't say the changes are entirely consistent).
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
My kid and I are a little over halfway through assembling this now. "Surprisingly fiddly"... please! Lego sets on this level are not for the faint of heart. But my ten-year-old is doing pretty well with it.

As usual when we cooperate, I do most of the finding of pieces. What makes this build just a little more difficult than most fancy modern Lego sets, like the Star Wars models, is that it doesn't use the recent technique of separating the pieces into sequentially numbered bags corresponding to different sections of the manual. At the beginning it suggests sorting them by color, which isn't terribly practical if you don't have a work surface that can stay unmolested by a cat throughout the length of a multi-day build.

On the other hand, a nicer old-school touch is that the box is a little more substantial than the ones you usually get these days; you can actually store the pieces in it while you're working.

The thing I'd wondered most about the model itself was how they managed to produce the sixfold symmetry of the TARDIS console in Lego. I didn't come close to guessing the actual method used! (Hint: There are Lego wheel pieces that have six holes suitable for Technic connectors around the hub.)

The manual mentions that this set was originally based on a fan submission, and that the product developer who helped him turn it into a commercial product was also the nephew of Eighth Doctor actor Paul McGann, so he had a personal connection to the show. (According to this review, the originally submitted model was based on the Tenth Doctor's console, and would have had figures styled after David Tennant and Billie Piper.)

It hadn't occurred to me that the reason the Peter Capaldi Doctor is not wearing his cape is that this is the befuddled version who appears immediately after regeneration in the closing moments of "The Time of the Doctor", asking Clara if she knows how to fly this thing. That makes some sense. I also find it amusing that the Matt Smith Doctor and Clara, in Lego form, both have alternate happy and stern facial expressions (by rotating their heads), but Capaldi only gets one. finds that Doctor Who's first ever Lego set is "surprisingly difficult to build" but "immensely rewarding"
Matt McIrvin's profile photo
Finished now. I think my one tiny disappointment with this kit is that they couldn't find a way to make the front TARDIS door operable in addition to the clamshell opening of the rear, so nobody can actually wander through the door directly into the console room and exclaim "it's bigger on the inside!"

Then again, on the classic series they never managed to do that scene without a cut.

On the other hand, the look of the iconic blue police box is reproduced with extreme fidelity, and it's actually possible for one of the figures to ride inside it when it's closed. I also like the hint of the console room's wall styling inside the rear doors, and the subtle scaling trick they pull with the interior door graphics.

Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
Over the past week, we were visiting my parents in Virginia and took a side trip to my old neighborhood of Chantilly, Virginia, to visit the Udvar-Hazy Center, the large suburban annex of the National Air and Space Museum.

My daughter greatly enjoys the museum on the National Mall, so I figured she'd be interested in seeing this one too--I'd made a couple of brief visits when my parents lived in the area, but not since they moved to another town.

The biggest change since my last visit years ago is that the Space Shuttle orbiter Enterprise, used for glide tests in the 1970s, is no longer there: it's been moved to the Intrepid museum in New York (where we saw it a while ago) and replaced by Discovery, the most-used of the spacegoing orbiter fleet. Discovery has the same shape as Enterprise but its appearance is dramatically different, since the exterior systems required to make an orbiter spaceworthy are in place: most obviously, a clearly well-used heat-shield system. I think that some parts currently installed, such as the Main Engine bells, are not real (the originals were scavenged for the SLS program), but they're identical-looking facsimiles.

In some ways, the Udvar-Hazy Center is a less sophisticated museum than the original NASM building downtown. Its primary mission is the display of things that won't fit in the other building (either because they're too large, or simply because the other building is full; there's a lot of stuff there that got rotated out of the other building to make space for new exhibits). So the collection is somewhat less organized, and there aren't as many contextual or hands-on exhibits. Families with kids, in particular, will probably not want to spend quite as much time there. But it will interest them for a few hours.

There is, however, more there than the museum's famous large objects (such as the Shuttle, the Enola Gay, an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the prototype 707), and the museum seems to be filling out. From the beginning, it filled a gap in the downtown museum's military aviation coverage, which seemed to abruptly stop after World War II: Udvar-Hazy has a lot of aircraft from the Korean War, Vietnam and later. There are also a lot of early aircraft and an exhibit devoted to helicopters and autogyros, including some really peculiar ones.

There's also a restoration workshop there with large observation windows where visitors can see aircraft being restored, and an observation tower overlooking Washington Dulles International Airport, with a small exhibit about the air-traffic-control system (which is a bit thin, but it does convey some information).

The Space Hangar is definitely worth visiting for any space fan: as a supplement to the historically epochal capsules on display downtown, it has a more oddball collection of surplus and test spacecraft, including the only original Mercury capsule that still has its retrorocket and parachute modules intact (intended for a cancelled orbital flight by Alan Shepard), and a Gemini demonstrating the ultimately unused system in which the capsule would land hanging from a sort of inflatable hang glider (I think the modern hang glider was invented as an offshoot of this project). There's also a Soviet Vega probe, a boilerplate Apollo with its splashdown bags and flotation ring deployed as if it were floating in the ocean, and the famous Airstream trailer in which the Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined after their return.

There are a bunch of spacesuits on display, and the gloves and visor used by Neil Armstrong when he stepped onto the Moon. When my daughter was examining Discovery there were some volunteers nearby talking about the features of a Shuttle-era EVA suit, and she got to try on the suit's glove.
Richard Holmes's profile photoMatt McIrvin's profile photoDean Lenort's profile photoChristopher K Davis's profile photo
IIRC, the MOL Gemini used to be on display at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum (at CCAFS); I saw it there years ago. Not surprised they moved it to WPAFB for a more accessible display.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
If you were a kid in the 1970s, this may be of interest.
Stuntman Eddie Braun has recreated Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon rocket bike stunt in every technical way but one—Braun actually succeeded. He is the first to pull off the jump in the 42 years since Knievel’s attempt was mired by a parachute malfunction.
View original post
Andrew Reid's profile photoJohn Baez's profile photo
I was.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
Via +J. Steven York. Not really a surprise, I suppose.

I think the Lego/Travelers' Tales Minecraft-alike, Lego Worlds, had some kind of beta last year (update: apparently it's still going on, you can buy it on Steam); my impression is that it will not initially be any kind of networked MMO, if it even materializes as a finished product.

They could probably do curated model-sharing like the system Disney Infinity used for uploading user-created content... though that's expensive--notice that Disney shut that down the moment they decided they were done with Infinity, and Lego's rough equivalent, Lego Dimensions, doesn't even have a free-construction mode.
NP-Hard Dep't:
You think you have problems? Try coding a universal penis detector, then we'll talk.
View original post
Franc Schiphorst's profile photoMatt McIrvin's profile photoSteve Schuller's profile photoRichard Healy's profile photo
I wonder if they reached out to Google to see if it could provide some kind of filtering service? Seems like GIS with safe search enabled does a fairly good job.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
So, having gotten Lego Dimensions for her birthday and gotten her curiosity whetted by the Doctor Who-themed level therein, my daughter spent some birthday money and augmented it with the Doctor Who-themed expansion reviewed here.

The main story level in the pack is not a huge amount of game content; as stated, it's one game level. But it's a longer-than-usual level, about yet another Dalek invasion of Earth (they never learn), with some cameos by other famous enemies. Because of the length, it did annoy us slightly that there don't seem to be any internal save points, like most of the main game's levels have. (Correction: There actually are internal save terminals at various points in the game, in the Trenzalore and Skaro sections at least. We just never found them on first play-through.)

It's filled with clever little puzzles involving time travel: typically, you have the Doctor hop into the TARDIS and do something in an earlier time period to affect the environment in a later one. As with all Lego game levels, there are a lot of optional achievements and hidden areas and such that ought to boost the replayability.

There's also a particularly nice open-sandbox Adventure World (with appearances by Captain Jack Harkness, Zygons and Missy), and, as with all the Dimensions toys, you can use the Doctor, the TARDIS and K-9, and their special abilities, in all the other parts of the game too. A few levels apparently have "alternate time period" Easter eggs.

Best of all (this is the thing that will probably attract adult geeks the most), once you beat the story level, you unlock the ability to regenerate into every incarnation of the Doctor. With a period-themed TARDIS interior for each one.

Considered purely as toys, the K-9 toy and the alternate costume for the 12th Doctor are also nice addenda to the TARDIS Console Room Lego playset I mentioned earlier. We found ourselves harassing the Dimensions figures with the Daleks from the other set pretty frequently.

The LEGO Dimensions Doctor Who level pack plays out like a television episode, and like any television episode it starts with opening credits—what might be the best Doctor Who opening credits sequence ever.
Nrd gamer 21st century (21stcenturynrdgame)'s profile photoMatt McIrvin's profile photo
..You can't regenerate into the Peter Cushing movie Doctor, though.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
So my daughter got Lego Dimensions for her birthday, Lego/Travelers' Tales' entry into the money-grubbing genre of "toys-to-life" games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

We've only played a little way into the Starter Kit campaign (and I got her the Wicked Witch of the West and The Lego Movie's Princess Unikitty as add-on characters), but I have to say, so far it sure seems like the developers of this game took a long, careful look at Disney Infinity and decided to fix everything that was wrong with it.

The campaign gameplay is way better, being based on the long and mature line of Lego games based on licensed properties, so it has a high degree of polish. There are no stupid restrictions on characters wandering into levels based on the wrong franchise: in fact, the game positively revels in this and the storyline is based on it. The writing is tight and funny, and it looks as if the game will have at least as much replay value as the Lego Harry Potter games, which was a lot.

The leveraging of Lego toys is ingenious: the little character and vehicle toys, and the portal that is the central gimmick of the game, are things you actually build from Lego bricks and put on the USB platform and RFID bases that unlock things in the game. The vehicles even have multiple alternate forms with different functions, and in-game instruction manuals tell you how to build them (since the bases can't detect what's built on them, of course you don't in principle have to do the building, but that's all part of the fun).

My one criticism of the in-game instruction manuals is that they are a bit trying for old people like me who can't focus their eyes on both a Lego model and a TV screen without changing glasses.

Also, they've managed to turn the placement of characters on the portal platform into a bit more than just an unlock for game content: there are game mechanics that involve moving characters around to different sections of the platform (which can light up in different colors) to make things happen in-game and solve simple puzzles. It seems to me that in general they're trying to turn the "playing with real toys" aspect of the game into more than an excuse to raid your wallet, which is nice.

The one thing it lacks (ironically, given what Lego is) is a Minecraft-like free-construction mode like Disney Infinity's Toy Box. (That's a different game, I think.) But, on the other hand, the incorporation of actual physical Lego construction does add to the game's Lego-nature.

With more characters joining in on the fun, get ready for the wildest mash-ups this side of the Multiverse. Play through full-movie experiences of the year’s biggest blockbusters with immersive 6-level Story Packs, and prepare for battle in all-new Adventure World Battle Arenas where you can challenge friends in 4-player competitive split-screen. So grab your favorite characters and make room for the new ones to continue the LEGO Dimensions adv...
Bill Carter's profile photoMatt McIrvin's profile photo
...We finally figured out how to access the open "Adventure Worlds": in the opening hub world with the big portal in it, there's an elevator to at the left front corner of the level that leads up to an upper floor containing little portals to the Adventure Worlds.

As game content, they're relatively thin: each has a few little missions and challenges you can do that award Gold Bricks (one of the Lego games' many and varied measures of total completion), but there's no overarching story; they're mostly just scenery to hang out in and do some low-stakes messing around and exploring. Younger kids may prefer them to the main game.

I am amused that there is both a Lord of the Rings Middle-Earth world, and a Lego Movie world that contains the different sub-realms from the movie, one of which is "Middle Zealand". I suppose it's in the same spirit as the game's juxtaposition of Lego Batman and the Lego Movie version of Lego Batman.
Add a comment...

Matt McIrvin

Shared publicly  - 
New physics at the LHC? Nope.
Death of the diphoton bump

In June 2015, after a two-year upgrade, the Large Hadron Collider turned on again.  In its first run it had discovered the Higgs boson, a particle 133 times heavier than the proton — and the main missing piece of the Standard Model.   When the collider restarted, with a lot more energy, everyone was hoping to see something new.

In December 2015, two separate detectors saw something: pairs of photons, seemingly emitted by the decay of a brand new particle 6 times heavier than the Higgs boson.  

But was it for real?   Maybe it was just a random fluctuation — noise, rather than a true signal. 

It seemed unlikely to be just chance.  Combining the data from both detectors, the chance of coincidentally seeing a bump this big at this location in the photon spectrum was one in 100 thousand. 

But in particle physics that's not good enough.  Physicists are looking for lots of different things in these big experiments, so rare coincidences do happen.  To feel safe, they want to push the chance down to one in 3 million.  That's called a 5 sigma event.

So they looked harder. 

Meanwhile, theoretical physicists wrote 500 papers trying to explain this so-called diphoton bump.  It turned out to be easy to make up theories that have a particle of the right sort.  Not so easy, though, to make a convincingly elegant theory.

New data have come in.  The bump is gone.

Theorists are bummed.  A particle physicist named Adam Falkowski wrote:

The loss of the 750 GeV diphoton resonance is a big blow to the particle physics community. We are currently going through the 5 stages of grief, everyone at their own pace, as can be seen e.g. in this comments section. Nevertheless, it may already be a good moment to revisit the story one last time, so as  to understand what went wrong.

In the recent years, physics beyond the Standard Model has seen 2 other flops of comparable impact: the faster-than-light neutrinos in OPERA, and the cosmic microwave background tensor fluctuations in BICEP.  Much as the diphoton signal, both of the above triggered a binge of theoretical explanations, followed by a massive hangover. There was one big difference, however: the OPERA and BICEP signals were due to embarrassing errors on the experimentalists' side. This doesn't seem to be the case for the diphoton bump at the Large Hadron Collider. Some may wonder whether the Standard Model background may have been slightly underestimated,  or whether one experiment may have been biased by the result of the other... But, most likely, the 750 GeV bump was just due to a random fluctuation of the background at this particular energy. Regrettably, the resulting mess cannot be blamed on experimentalists, who were in fact downplaying the anomaly in their official communications. This time it's the theorists who  have some explaining to do.

For more, see Adam Falkowski's blog.  He goes by the name of "Jester":

By now we have to admit it's quite possible that the Large Hadron Collider will not see any new physics not predicted by the Standard Model.   Unfortunately, this triumph of the Standard Model would leave a lot of big questions unanswered... for now.

The video explains the diphoton bump in simple terms.  It was made back in the early optimistic days.

33 comments on original post
Richard Holmes's profile photo
I never was impressed by this bump; its global significance was just too damn small. It got oversold and overhyped, leading to all sorts of breathless stories in the media, not to mention 500 theory papers... and one large embarrassment for the field.

Or possibly two large embarrassments, because Jester's post and the article in the Daily Mail about this precede any actual announcement of new results. Passing off rumors as facts isn't helpful right now. I'd be surprised if they're wrong, but still, they jumped the gun.

Add a comment...
Collections Matt is following
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Northern Virginia
Other profiles
I'm the Matt McIrvin who lives in Massachusetts, formerly of northern Virginia.  I was trained as a particle physicist but quickly got into programming instead.

People who have been around on the net for a while may remember me from Usenet in the 1990s and early 2000s, posting mostly in physics-, science fiction- and humor-related groups. Since then I've hung out mostly on LiveJournal, but am curious about this Google+ thing.

  • College of William and Mary
    Physics, 1986 - 1990
  • Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
    Physics, 1990 - 1997
Basic Information
Other names
Matthew James McIrvin