FCC Ends Sports Blackout Rule

Earlier today, the FCC voted to end the sports blackout rule that prevented professional sports games from being broadcast locally if not enough tickets were sold. The vote was unanimous, which is not surprising given how unpopular this rule is with basically everyone who doesn’t own a team. Reportedly, this does not actually end the blackouts, just the FCC rule that causes it. Leagues could still black out games, but they would at least have to admit that they are the ones responsible and not use the FCC to deflect criticism away from themselves. From now on, game blackouts can only be blamed on the leagues and not the government.

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New Marathon Record

The world record time for the marathon was broken over the weekend by Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon. He finished the race in 2:2:57, 26 seconds lower than the previous record. This is quite a large improvement and the record time is now closing in on 2 hours.

World records for road races like the marathon are rather strange since courses and course conditions can vary greatly. Some notable marathons like the Boston Marathon don’t count for world records because the courses deviate too much from what’s considered the standard. According to Wikipedia, the 7 fastest marathon times are all at Berlin in recent years, which suggests that the Berlin course may just happen to be one of the faster courses available. Nonetheless, this is an impressive accomplishment by Kimetto.

EXO-200 on Double Beta Decay with Majorons

On Thursday, the EXO-200 experiment released a preprint on a search for exotic double beta decay modes involving no neutrinos but with emission of one or more “Majorons,” which are bosons related to the violation of lepton number required by these decay modes.

EXO-200 is an experiment at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM. It consists of a time projection chamber (TPC) using highly enriched liquid xenon as the target material. The xenon is enriched with a higher fraction of a particular isotope that is expected to undergo double beta decay – which happens when regular beta decay is disallowed due to energy constraints but double beta decay, where two electrons (or positrons) are emitted at once is allowed. The main goal of EXO is to search for neutrinoless double beta decay, where the two neutrinos created along with the two electrons basically cancel one another. The existence of neutrinoless double beta decay requires that neutrinos be Majorana fermions, where they are their own antiparticles, instead of Dirac fermions like all the other known fermions. This paper looks at more complicated decay mode than the standard one of just two electrons and a nucleus in the final state.

The paper sets lower limits on the lifetime of xenon-136 using different models of neutrinoless double beta decays with Majorons in the final state. It also sets equivalent upper limits on the Majoron-electron coupling for some of these models.

On Jeter’s Retirement

Major league baseball is rapidly coming to a close, so I’ve decided to have at least one post on baseball this fall.

One of the big stories of the year is Derek Jeter’s impending retirement at the end of the season. While he was never my favorite player on the Yankees, he has been a major fixture on the team for 20 years. It seems like he is quite well liked by both fans and players, so his presence will be missed even if the Yankees find a better shortstop for next season.

One thing I don’t really like is the farewell tour. Mariano Rivera did that last year, but I think it was more warranted because he was such a dominant player for so long but still remained popular with everyone. Rivera was by many measures the greatest closer of all time and remained nearly unhittable even at the end of his career, while Jeter was an iconic player who avoided scandal in a scandal-plagued era but was by no means the best player of his generation. While for Rivera it seemed as if the rest of the league really wanted to honor his contributions, Jeter doing the same a year later seems as if it’s maybe more of an ego trip. This isn’t necessarily true, but that at least is how it appears to me. I hope this kind of farewell tour doesn’t become a regular fixture in baseball. Things like the Jeter retirement patch are frankly bizarre when such things are usually used to commemorate people who have died or are very sick and not someone who is still actually playing.

2014 Ig Nobel Prizes Awarded

Last week, the 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded at Harvard.

The physics prize went to a scientist studying the friction of banana peels to see if bananas really are slippery enough to trip us. Obviously, this is important to validate the physics of Mario Kart.

A couple other examples:

The economics prize went to the Italian government for discovering how to inflate its GDP by counting illicit trade like drugs and prostitution.

The medicine prize went to some people testing the efficacy of treating severe nosebleeds by packing the nose with bacon.

Planck CMB Polarization and BICEP2

The Planck collaboration has released a new measurement of the power spectrum of polarized light from dust. It’s been getting a lot of press because the measurement seems to present a challenge to the earlier (and much-touted) BICEP2 result that claimed to see evidence of primordial gravitational waves in polarized light from the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

Sean Carroll has a summary here. It seems that there is a good chance that BICEP’s measurement was good but their interpretation of it as gravitational waves was not correct. However, a member of the Planck collaboration shows up in the comments to say that Carroll is probably overstating the case that the BICEP2 result was spurious. The two groups are apparently working on a combined result that will hopefully clear up the current confusion over what was actually seen.