Category Archives: Uncategorized

Enjoying Astrophysics and Quantum Mechanics at Home

 

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Image courtesy NASA; NOT the black hole discussed on the blog.

Scientists are busy with the Large Hadron Collider, probe spacecraft to the outer planets, telescopes and mathematics to understand the wonders of the universe.

They really don’t need to go so far and invest in so much technology; it’s far easier to study much closer to home. For example, I have constructed a black hole in my own home. I confess that it was quite by accident, but it’s here and functioning nevertheless.

It started out as a simple cardboard box (shades of Calvin and Hobbes and their transmogrifier!). Its initial purpose was a place for me to drop my keys and other essentials that I tend to carry or keep in my pocket: eye drops, Chap Stick, pens, wristwatch, etc. Over time, it has continued to gain mass as church bulletins, programs for school concerts were added.

Naturally, I assumed that my wife or kids were responsible, but they vehemently denied putting anything in or on the box. Naturally, I accept these statements as absolute fact, with the logical conclusion that its gravitational attraction has become strong enough that anything not firmly secured elsewhere would make its way into the box. It is no longer a surprise to find soiled socks, soccer gear, or even the occasional electronic device in the box.

I’ve observed the lights in our house and realized that the black hole may be at least one reason that the house is always darker than we like it. Buying more lamps and increasing the bulb size does not seem to help. In addition, compact fluorescent lamps and LEDs guaranteed to last five years have the light sucked out of them in mere months.

I’ve tried to examine the light near the black hole to see if it is bent by the mass of the black hole, but have not been able to objectively observe this. A friend claims that with special equipment (a six-pack of beer) the bending of the light should be visible, but I haven’t tried that.

So while we have not yet achieved production of energy by cold fusion, constructing a black hole has now been successfully achieved. I am hopeful that the Nobel Prize committee is writing out a check to me at this very moment.

Climate Solution

 

The Paris meeting is over. The coal producing nations want to continue to export coal. The developing nations point out that Europe and North America had at least a century of cheap energy from coal, so they’re not asking for anything we didn’t have.

What to do? What to do?

In the past I’ve mentioned BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing system. Initially used in the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project, BOINC uses thousands (millions?) of personal computers to analyze data. While it’s true that a single modern PC is more powerful than major computers a decade ago, SETI thought that using the free time when owners’ computers were not checking out cute cat pictures or whatever would provide the computing capacity of a supercomputer—lots of users—and many of us have multiple computers. I’ve had all my computers supporting BOINC for about twelve years, and have helped projects addressing diseases, food, and climate change. What a great idea they had out at Berkeley.

Let’s apply the same idea to energy. The energy companies are constrained by the fact that it will take thousands of square miles of property to install enough solar cells to provide adequate power. What if the power companies took the same distributive idea as BOINC? Imagine your local power company coming to you and saying, “I’d like to install solar panels on your roof (for North America, it would be those roofs that face south). We’ll pay you 10% of the wholesale rate for the electricity your house produces; this will automatically be calculated into (deducted from) your electric meter reading. We still pay retail, they pay wholesale, but the planet benefits. (If you don’t like this planet, don’t participate. Each house is already connected to the power grid, so half the structure is already in place.

Even better, if each house had an electrical storage system so that as the grid needed power—day or night—it could access it. Power losses would affect smaller areas, since the generation and storage would be distributed.

If you think it’s worth a shot, let your congressional representative and senators know. Maybe this idea is half-baked, but there are engineers who can finish the baking job.

A Communications Drill

There was an emergency drill in Virginia this weekend, which simulated a group of boy scouts stuck at about 5,000 feet as the weather deteriorated. (Virginia has mountains as well as seashore). This was complicated with widespread power loss in the same area. Although the “event” was several hundred miles away from my location, the entire state participated.

In my years in healthcare, many times I’d see disaster planning and disaster drills with a lot of “wishology.” People would believe (wish) that power would stay on, and think that they had to budget for power. What needs to be kept operating? What should be shut down? Obviously the surgical facilities and patients with respirators need power. The televisions and the fancy fountain in the lobby—not so much.

The same is true about communications. I remember one hospital telling me (when the technology was new) that they had a satellite telephone.

“Great,” I replied. “Who are you going to call?”

They hadn’t thought about that.

In this drill, we focused on the fact that if the Red Cross needed cots, that meant they had used all they could get their hands on—their stock, the next few counties’ stock, etc. The only place to get more cots was from a distant location. The same held true for hospitals; if they needed supplies, or even doctors, they too had used up all the local resources. Although we were using ham radio as the means to tie the state together, it was really less about radio and more about the ability to convey a message to someone who can respond to it, and getting a response.

Imagine if that was what drove communications at home, work, on the television, etc. It might be better for everybody.

When Did I Catch Up with the Future?

As a kid, the ice cream guy and the paperboy both had these mechanical devices on their belts to dispense coins for making change. Busses had the same device, but it was mounted near the box into which you put your fare. You dropped your money in, it sat on a little shelf, and if correct, the bus driver would press a lever to drop the coins into the hermetically sealed, iron-sheathed, impenetrable lock box. It must have been so, because nobody robbed bus drivers.

These people also “counted back” your change. No computer told them how much change was due. If the cost of an item was $1.73 and you handed them a five dollar bill, merchants of all types would do the following:

Put two pennies in your hand and say, “That’s $1.75,” then add a quarter. “Two dollars, followed by three more bills (or maybe silver dollars), “and that’s five. Thank you.”

I got used to handing my credit card to the cashier so they could imprint it on the proper form (don’t forget to get the carbons to prevent identity theft!). Then I was required to swipe the card myself through a reader; today, with microchips, you plug your credit card in.

My point?

As an old guy, signing the little LCD pad was always a challenge. Today, however, I noticed that I was able to sign as legibly on the electronic pad as I can with pen and paper.

Ouch.

Pastwords

Is this a game or is this real? Wargames

Is this a game or is this real?
Wargames

Psst! Over here! Under the desk!

Yeah, it’s me.

With all the hackers, worms, Trojans, spam, and who knows what, I have to protect myself.

I’ve got the latest virus protection and firewall. I never click on hyperlinks. I’m suspicious of every e-mail, CNN, Fox News, and talk show.

But, still, every time I turn around, I’m told to change my password. Most of the time it’s because I changed my password the last time around and forgot to write it down. Of course, you’re not supposed to write passwords down, but then I have more passwords that Greece owes Euros.

Honest—I have passwords that are just to protect my passwords. Which I am going to change as soon as I finish this blog.

So, from now on, I guess I should write everything on parchment with a quill pen and have it hand delivered for security’s sake.

Which makes blogging very, very difficult.

Too Busy with Wonderful Things

Finding time to write has become a challenge.

I thought that once I was done with my editing course, I’d have all kinds of time, but not so much.

I’m too busy spending time with family, catching up on guitar and drum practice, completing a few projects, and whatever.

I’m having a ball so today’s blog is short.

I Miss Them

Do you want to know what I miss? Impressionists.

When I was growing up, Frank Gorshin, David Frye, and Rich Little entertained us by combining humorous situations with the voices of well-known celebrities. Those of us who grew up way back when will never forget hearing the voices of Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock, William F. Buckley (pause) Jr., and of course Walter Brennan in unlikely combinations and outrageous scenarios.

Today we have some comedians who do an impression or two, thanks to shows like Saturday Night Live, but no one like David Frye who could do a whole album populated with dozens of characters, all of whom were recognizable. They didn’t have to be perfect impersonations—just recognizable impressions, which made it fun, as opposed to disrespectful.

Of course, I have to admit that we no longer have personalities with distinctive voices (or faces). All the girls on television look like they’ve been recycled from some female star in the 1960’s. All the guys look alike, if you divide them up into about six different groups. Voices? Does anyone know or care what a Kardashian sounds like? The only decent voices to impersonate are the members of Monty Python, Ian McKellan, or Alan Rickman—all of whom are British. And, to his fans, I’m sorry, but Chuck Norris does not have a truly distinctive voice; Burgess Meredith had a distinctive voice.

The best American voice we can hope to parody today is James Earl Jones. It’s a great voice, but hard to build a drama with one voice, no matter how distinctive.

So, here’s to the impressionists, whose time has come and gone—and all that laughter with them.