CERN LHC b – The SECOND Biggest Discovery at LHC

1 Oct

Even to physics watchers, Supersymmetry Theory (SuSy) is difficult to get your head around.

Essentially, SuSy is an extension to the Standard Model of particle physics, or perhaps a set of extensions.  These theories are built around the idea that each subatomic particle has a “superpartner”, which cannot be detected because it has a different spin, giving it a presence in different dimensions to ours.  Each superpartner is more massive than its partner in our 4 dimensions.

The ideas are extremely attractive to theoretical physicists especially, because they are mathematically elegant, in contrast to the sprawling, fudged up mass of the Standard Model.  SuSy provides neat answers to the the problems of Dark Matter, the Higgs Mechanism by which mass is imparted to matter and even provides a lot of the necessary framework for multiverse theories.

However, there is one problem with SuSy, and the longer it goes on the bigger the problem gets.  There is not one shred of experimental evidence for SuSy’s theory of superpartners.  Contrast the success of the messy Standard Model, which correctly predicted amongst many things that the Higgs would be found at 126GeV.  Accordingly, the longer the LHC has run without any big result to confirm SuSy, the more the theory has been seen to be in the “last chance saloon”.

Well, in what for professional physicists must be a landmark result, LHCb, the unsung hero of the LHC’s major detectors, has come up with a result that shows that the theoretical superpartner of the vanishingly massless neutrino would have to weigh in at 300GeV.  This is so unbelievable that the many SuSy theoreticians attached to the ATLAS detector have now been sent to work on other projects.  It’s looking bad for SuSy.



It’s a major feather in the cap for LHCb, which barely gets a mention behind ATLAS and CMS.  It was set up to observe the beauty  quark (hence the name) and evidence for antimatter, but it’s detectors are extremely sensitive and successful.

Fear Index by Robert Harris – A Missed Opportunity

1 Oct

What I like so much about Robert Harris is determination to write the book he wants to write, rather than stick to a formula.  he could, for instance, have stuck to WWII themed thrillers after the success of Fatherland and Enigma, but instead he’s sent us semi-biographical novels about Cicero (Imperium and Lustrum), another historical thriller in Pompeii, and best of all the cheeky but thought-provoking thriller The Ghost, which I think is his best.

I’m a big fan.  However, how a score of book reviewing journos can say that Fear Index is his best, I simply do not know.  It is a poor effort in truth, with not enough material in terms of either idea, or plot, or characters to stretch to novel length.

See his novel here. 

Now to the spoiler alert.  The idea of an artificial intelligence essentially preying on humans to make bigger and bigger profits is quite thought-provoking, in that Harris states in a single sentence that this is what hedge funds do anyway.

In fact it’s worse than that.  It’s what corporations do in general, not limited to hedge funds.  This is not some left wing “opinion”, just a statement of fact.  In a sense it’s what makes the world go round, BUT governments and legislators should keep fact this front and centre of their minds.

One of the best thrillers I have read this year…

17 Jul

Sorry I had just had to share this.  Amazon UK Top 50 reviewer Bob wrote me a very kind email yesterday, beginning,

“Great book thank you. I think this is the first 5* review of a fiction book I have written this year. I would be happy to read any more you write.”

Sometimes, it’s great to have a little encouragement.  His review can be seen on Amazon here.

Thank you too, Bob.

In the Information Desert, Thirsty Man Drinks Muddy Water: What is actually working for the top-earning self-pub authors.

16 Jul

Those of us in the “community” of self-published authors are making a lot of noise, aren’t we?  There’s a lot of buzz going on.  After all, a couple of years ago we would have been humble supplicants bowing and scraping before agents and publishers – who by and large were too busy sucking their teeth, and shaking their heads at the state of the “market” to actually read our work.

So we’re all mightily pleased that we can self-publish and take our shot at joining the dozens of authors who are now making tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from their work.  The only problem is – most of us are writers, not publicists.  We’re all shouting as loud as we can about our books, but mostly to other self-pub authors who are shouting right back about theirs.  Thousands of us!

To make matters even more difficult, the well-publicised tactics that produced a million sales two years ago are old hat.  Last year’s winning methods are now universally employed.  Let’s say it’s ahem, not that easy to stand out.

So the recent Taleist survey on the activities of current self-published authors comes like a draught of water to the thirsty man, crawling along in the deserts of Facebook and Twitter.  Warm, slightly muddy water, albeit – but we’re desperate for some hard info, aren’t  we?

The survey used 1007 responses, and found that 20% made serious money.  80% did not, of course, but who is surprised by that?  No, (and I speak for all of us here) it’s the 20%, and in fact the top 5% percent making in the $100,000 range that interests us, isn’t it?

It wouldn’t be fair to give spoilers here, but it’s not good news for literary fiction, story editors, full-time tweeters or newbie writers.  The survey also details what appear to be objectively the most effective promotional tactics – and I can tell you now that by no means everyone is using them.

This information is not all perfect.  It appears to quite frequently confuse cause with effect.  For example, the attribute most heavily associated with the highest earners was “self-published and later acquired an agent”.  That surely is a result of their success, not a cause or even a factor.

That said, in the information desert, I suspect many of us thirsty self-pub writers are happy to drink dirty water.

See the survey here.

I have no association with this survey or its originators.

Digital Self-Pub: The Tsunami of Creativity

10 Jul

One story in the mainstream press this last week that really is essential reading for writers is Your Ebook is Reading You, in the Wall Street Journal.  The first paragraph gives a flavour of the thing:

“It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy on the Kobo e-reader—about 57 pages an hour. Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” And on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the first thing that most readers do upon finishing the first “Hunger Games” book is to download the next one.”

Now, leaving aside the privacy issues (passages re-read and highlighted in Fifty Shades anyone?), this looks to me like a game changer – in the long term at least.  Commercial fiction can be tweaked and fine-tuned to the market like other consumer goods.  And digital publishing means that new copies of the book can be altered on the fly to suit the market.  Whether you like it or not this will begin to happen.

Almost all authors will be delighted to find out where the average reader skips, or quits or simply puts the book down.  They will be hungry to know which passages have been highlighted.  At the same time, writers of literary fiction will be dismayed to find that, compared to commercial fiction,  literary work is read in fits and starts, is put aside way more often, and worst of all, often is not completed at all.

I’ve been a bookseller for twelve years and this came as no surprise to me.  But it’s not that obvious to the rest of the reading public, when you consider the amount of media buzz generated around literary prizes in particular.  You see, the brutal fact is that top selling commercial fiction is driven by word of mouth and buzz.  Literary fiction is driven by media hype.

Digital publishing changes the game in many ways.  As a selection process, the pressured personal judgements and hunches of agents and editors cannot compete with the democratic free-for-all of Amazon and Nook.  And as a business model, the publisher/agent system looks vulnerable to low-cost digital publishing.

Publishers and agents will be left with shorter and shorter lists, dominated legacy top sellers and TV celebrities.  Which come to think of it is not so different from where things are now.  Meanwhile, the upsurge of creativity is happening.

Yukio Mishima coined the term “The Sea of Fertility”.  The human population is indeed a sea of fertile, creative minds.  And the tsunami is about to hit the shore.

Guest Blog: Lexi Revellian – “Print and Prejudice”

8 Jul

Today’s guest blog is from author Lexi Revellian – high successful self-pub author of REPLICA and REMIX, which she terms “fantasy-for-readers-who-don’t -like-fantasy.

Lexi’s site can be seen here,  and her blog is here.

Print and Prejudice

 Travel back in time with me to 2005, the year I started my first novel. I was naïve and full of enthusiasm and writing was huge fun. I knew nothing of technique apart from what I’d learned in a lifetime of reading, and had some strange ideas about the publishing industry. I thought (cue rueful laughter) that if one wrote a reasonably coherent novel, then a publisher would publish it and after that The Public Would Decide. If readers loved your book, they’d turn it into a best seller.

 I joined YouWriteOn and discovered this was not so; I would need to acquire an agent in order to find a publisher. I read about the importance of polishing my text, researching each agent and writing an appealing letter. Hey, I could do that. Over the next year I realized that agents like books to fit neatly in a genre, and my fantasy-for-people-who-don’t-normally-like-fantasy-novels wouldn’t hack it. Which was a shame, as I’d written another one while waiting for the agents to get back to me.

 Okay, I thought, I’ll write something more commercial. Something as pacy and unputdownable as an early Dick Francis. So I wrote Remix. This one, I knew, was good. I decided to give myself a year to find a publisher. If I failed I would self-publish, even though with publishers’ monopoly of distribution to bookshops, selling my own paperbacks would be hard. But I was certain this drastic step would not be necessary.

 Forty-odd agents and a handful of publishers rejected Remix, mostly with form rejections. Over Christmas 2009 two agents were reading the full typescript simultaneously – what would I do if they both wanted it? Turned out I need not have worried. Neither did.

 Time to self-publish. Summer 2010 I designed a cover and formatted the paperback. I heard that Eric Christopherson had sold 600 ebooks of his thriller Crack-Up – then, in a little over a year, 6,000. Impressed, I decided to e-publish too.

 I was lucky in my timing. The Kindle was new in the UK, and ebook numbers low. Remix spent over eight months in the UK Kindle Top 100, my next novel Replica more than two. To date I’ve sold over 57,000 ebooks, and made serious money. Best of all I now have readers, who sometimes email me to say they’ve enjoyed my books.

 What is the moral of my far from unique story?

 Publishing has changed. Up till quite recently, if you wrote an excellent book, it would find a publisher – and you could submit directly to them, with no need of an agent. If rejected, you would receive a personal letter explaining the reasons. If no publisher would take your book, that meant it was not good enough. Many people assume this is still the case, hence the stigma lingering about self-published books.

 These days, publishing via Amazon’s KDP is so simple and offers such generous terms – 70% of the selling price goes to the author – that some writers no longer bother with the angst-ridden traditional route at all. In the US Top 100 Kindle chart, 22 of the books are indie-published. Legacy publishing now offers less than it did – smaller advances, less exposure in bookshops, while demanding more concessions in its contracts and offering a royalty of 17.5% for ebooks and around 8% for print.

 Books need writers and readers, but bridging the gap between the two does not necessarily have to be done the same old way. Now there is more choice, which is great for readers and authors – and even for those publishers who are prepared to stop grumbling about indies and digital and embrace change.

 P.S. This year a prestigious New York agent approached me. But I decided with all the upheavals in the industry, this is not the time to acquire an agent.


Lexi Revellian

Samuel L Jackson gets serious about Higgs Boson…

4 Jul
Higgs Boson Announcement

I dare ya… I double dare ya!

So the announcement has finally come out of CERN.  The Higgs Boson, which imparts mass to all matter in the universe, has been shown to exist at the predict energy/mass level at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva.  As I wrote earlier, whatever properties the Higgs is shown to have, this is very exciting.  A whole new era for both the theorists and the researchers…

Why DO so many people call it the “God Particle”?  I mean…. why?

Suggestion from Yousef below is that a researcher coined it the “…goddamn particle…”

Gigisko on Twitter states that “il bosone di #Higgs è stato chiamato “particella di Dio” per motivi commerciali, invece di “particella dannata”.  Which means “The Higgs boson was called the GodParticle, instead of the goddamn ‘particle’,  for commercial reasons”.

It was Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Leon Lederman, who popularised the term in his book, The God Particle.

Bet he regrets it.



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