Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Perspective- Literally

I attended a very interesting lecture by Fr. George Coyne, Director Emeritus of The Vatican Observatory, entitled The Fertile Universe. While I was listening and watching, I wrote, as is my wont, a joke.

“ He showed a beautiful slide on the screen of the Universe taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. As I stared at it, I saw a very interesting and heretofore unreported anisotropy in the distribution of galaxies. I whipped out my Blackberry and started texting my bulletin to the International Astronomical Union when I realized that it was just because I was sitting way off to the side.”

As my dear and wise friend Dr. V.V. Raman observed, there is truth beneath that quip.

I think that's why I love optical, sound, and word illusions so much. They’re so humbling. Whenever a learned lecturer waxes emphatic, there is this innate cynicism that boils up within me which threatens to spoil the illusion. I love reading about all the cosmological conjurings of dark matter and energy, star life-cycles, distribution of galaxies in the Universe and am astonished at how far we can get based on just a few assumptions. If these assumptions are not correct, everything unravels. Hubble's law is one example. The farther away an object is, the faster it is moving with respect to us, and hence further Doppler-shifted (changed in color) are the familiar spectral lines of familiar elements. If they’re moving away, it’s called a red shift, as the colors appear redder than if there was no relative motion. Conversely, we can determine the distance to an object by measuring this shift with the simplest of spectrometers. Did you know that early on we didn't know whether quasars were very near or very far? I mean that’s a pretty big uncertainty! Very far in Astronomy is really really far. Like 10 Billion lightyears or 5,8000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles (I think that’s like a bazillion). They had huge Doppler shifts indicating a great distance, yet still appeared so bright as to outshine entire galaxies. How can they appear so bright and be so far away? Maybe Hubble’s Law must be suspended in their case. They’ve found a loophole. Maybe they’re really close but are moving at immense speeds, disproportionate to our previous notion of the relation between relative velocity and distance. Or maybe the red shift is due to a completely different phenomenon and has nothing to do with relative motion and therefore nothing to do with distance. Or maybe Hubble’s Law needs either major renovation or the ‘ole Heave Ho! So, are they really really close and that’s why they’re so bright, or are they really really bright and really really very far away as indicated by their spectral shift? There are so many assumptions that need to be made to choose which is true. All we can do is take a poll amongst the various theories and see which explains the most, not all, mind you, but just the most. These days, we choose the latter- They’re very very far away and very very bright. But who knows. Maybe that will change some day. Our ideas about the Universe are so tenuous. Terms like Quasar (quasi-stellar), dark matter, all keep us honest by reminding us of how uncomfortable we are with our ideas and how willing we are to change our views as new data is gathered. This characterizes the Scientific Method more than the equations themselves.

Scientists often seem to jump to conclusions. In reality, we 'jump' because it's far better than to stagnate with skepticism and never know where our line of reasoning will lead.

Isn’t thinking wonderful!?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Modest 3-4-5 Triangle

I was watching a deck being built. That’s how this all started. If you remember any geometry, you might remember the 3-4-5 triangle. It turns out that if the ratios of the sides of a triangle are 3:4:5, it will be a right triangle. In other words, the sides can be 3,4,5 inches, 3,4,5 feet, 3,4,5 furlongs, 6,8,10 furlongs, 6,8,10 feet, or any multiple. I mean, it could even be a 6 inch dachshund, an 8 inch dachshund and a 10 inch dachshund. If this is true, then one of its internal angles will be exactly 90 degrees. How can this be? If you take three anythings, whose lengths are related by 3:4:5, and put them together to form a triangle they will automatically make a perfect right triangle, perfect! In other words, one of the angles will be 90 degrees, exactly 90 degrees! What the heck do 3,4,5 and 90 degrees have to do with each other, I ask you?

How did this triangle get so smart? I will not attempt to answer for I will be lured into a world with which I do not want to associate. - The Occult. As a matter of fact, I don’t WANT to know how this can be. I just know it is, and it’s as close to a religion as a guy can get. As a matter of fact, the secret society The Pythagoreans, who believed in the sanctity of whole numbers must have revered the 3:4:5 triangle. But don’t get them started on the 1:1:? triangle. That bad boy has a third side that’s not a whole number. Now, a 1:1:? triangle is half of a square with the ? side the diagonal of the square. A square is a beautiful thing, being all square and all. Matter of fact, the Pathagorean motto was, “Be There AND be Square.” A guy, a Pathagorean, was killed accidentally on purpose after discovering this ugly not a whole number number inside the Holy Square and then blabbing all over Greece that the number wasn’t even rational. It was The Ugly of Uglies. It was the square root of two. It was supposed to be a secret. I think that sealed his fate.

Want to hear a cool way of using the 3-4-5 triangle? No? Too bad. Suppose you’re building a deck (yes, THAT deck) on the back of your house. You make a rectangular area by taking three 2 x 10’s toenailing them to a ledger board on the side of the house and then to each other. Now, how can you make them square? They wobble all over making every sort of parallelogram except the one you want, a nice rectangle. You can’t use a little dinky carpenter’s square- the sides aren’t long enough to give you an accurate set. Here’s what you do. Mark one joist 3 feet from the corner, mark the adjacent one 4 feet from the corner. Then take a 2 x 4, drive a nail in one end, measure 5 feet and drive another nail in. Now drive one of the nails clear through and into one of the joists at the 3 foot mark. Now, wiggle the whole thing until the second nail strikes the second joist exactly at the 4 foot mark. What do you have? A 3-4-5 triangle. That means the angle between the two joists is exactly 90 degrees and the three joists defining the perimeter of the deck is now a nice rectangle! I LOVE that.

I know smarty-pants topologists call this child’s play, but it doesn’t prevent me from being mesmerized by it all. Just the thought that this is true throughout the Euclidean Cosmos is awesome. Now, you might think it depends on us using the base 10 number system, supposedly originating from the fact that we have 10 fingers. Well, that’s not exactly true. As long as you use a base 6 or above, the ratio will still look like 3:4:5. Any lower than that and you’re in trouble because of carrying and the numbers look odd. From this, it follows that we are NOT the only intelligent life in the Universe and they all have more than 5 fingers! Sagan and Drake! Jealous? Q E freekin’ D.

The Underwhelming Celestial Event

Feb 9,2009

Last night, the Sun, Moon and Earth were aligned in such a way that the sunlight illuminating the Moon was blocked by the Earth. But this shadow, tonight, is very ill-defined. It’s so ethereal that I had to use my imagination to conjure up any evidence of the event. It is so subtle that I thought I saw some difference in the appearance of the Moon when, in fact, due to a very small error in my computations, I was looking on the wrong night.

The next night, which was the correct time to look for the event, I thought I detected that the top of the Moon was not as brightly illuminated as the bottom. But the topography of the top is different than the bottom, so even now, I have second thoughts as to whether or not I was observing the event. The Moon was low, as well, obscured by tree limbs and the atmosphere. My wonderful computer program, Starry Night, recreated the event for me, showed me the subtlety of the effects and convinced me, finally, that I was indeed seeing this underwhelming phenomenon, a Lunar Penumbral Eclipse, a much fancier sounding name than befits the event itself. I’ve actually renamed this phenomenon. I think Subliminal Lunar Penumbral Eclipse is more apt.

But the experience was as vivid as the phenomenon was subtle. I enjoyed the idea that I was looking up at the sky, just as the Sun, Moon and Earth were in alignment. Nevermind that ninety-nine percent of the experience was mental. It doesn’t matter. Our experiences only exist through the wonder of self-awareness. Our realities and fantasies are simply neurons and chemical reactions. It’s depressing, really, and I don’t want to talk about it any more.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Kozmos with Zaza

What a night- Fremont Peak, near San Juan Bautista. The Milky Way from horizon to horizon. Even though I wander through life in the fog and dark, this was the darkest dark I’ve experienced for some time. The familiar constellations were obscured by the appearance of thousands of stars invisible from my back yard. We looked up for 4 hours after which I couldn’t look down, literally.

With my telescope, a scarf and veteran astronomer Alan Zaza, and his, (OK, bigger) telescope, I spent a glorious night looking up in space and back in time. The most magnificent object we observed was The Veil Nebula. This gossamer object, 50 light-years across, is the remnant of a supernova explosion. Imagine. An object 300,000,000,000,000,000 miles across imaged on my little ‘ole retina. Goodness! The number itself barely fits.

In order to see this ghost of an object, it is necessary to block out all the light behind and in front of it. We used an OIII filter, which lets through only light resulting from a very improbable event- the forbidden* downward energy transition of doubly ionized oxygen (Naughty, naughty atom!). For many years, the origin of this light was thought to be evidence of a new element, Nebulium. The actual origin was ruled out because of its statistical improbability. But in 1927, a guy named I.S. Bowen said, “Hey, in space, ANYTHING can happen” And so it does and so right he was. I mean, I’ve heard of thinking outside the box, but this was RIDICULOUS! What a great thinker.

Unbelievable, no? We are seeing forbidden light from an atom trillions and trillions of miles away. As we encounter so many times in astronomy and cosmology, the very large, the very small and the very improbable are evident at once. The Veil Nebula is thought to be about 1,500 light-years away. When those oxygen atoms made their impudent transitions, King Arthur was looking for the Holy Grail. Think about that. And when you’re through, think about something else, like who you’re going to vote for in November.

I re-read this piece and I see words like ‘forbidden’, ‘improbable’, and lots and lots of zeros. And that’s astronomy for ya’. So much of it is difficult to imagine. Astronomy reminds us how restricted our “born-with” senses are and how infinite, in comparison, is the intellect which has enabled us to perceive so far beyond the limitations of vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Clever, us Earthlings.

* For ‘forbidden’ read ‘highly improbable’. Scientists are always exaggerating for dramatic effect.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Eclipse Expedition 2008

How I watched the August 2008 Solar Eclipse

Here's a sad story. Too lazy to go to Russia. Too lazy to go to China. Too lazy to drive to Exploratorium to view the marvelous 3 satellite bounce China live-cast, only 40 minute away, plenty of parking, too lazy to get out of bed, go down to my computer to watch it on the net, so brought laptop into bed, set alarm for 3:50 AM because too lazy to watch the whole partial phase, then the ULTIMATE laziness, too lazy to TURN ON the alarm. So, too lazy to sit up in bed until 8:30, opened up laptop to watch replay, and finally, fast-forward because too lazy to watch through partial- oh- mentioned that one before.
The pay-off? I was transported by the images. So was my family with whom I've seen 3 of my 8 eclipses. We were all jumping up and down in front of the monitor, and I even instinctively tried to use my mouse cursor to brush away the clouds that preceeded totality. Surprise! It worked.

Hours before, had telescope in backyard and looked at Jupiter. We were having a big party for my daughter and all her artistic and talented right-brained friends and, as usual, blew them all away. Proves my contention that amateur astronomy is indeed an intellectual, even more than a scientific, pursuit.

It is left to the student to explain why I set my alarm to watch a solar eclipse at night.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Calculator Follies

I’ve spent an hour this morning taking apart a calculator I bought at Walgreen’s today. Nice, but one fatal flaw. It’s a 7 segment display and the exponent in scientific notation is so far to the right that the two rightmost (vertical) segments are hidden under the front bezel, so you can’t tell if you have a 6 or 8, (so you can make a mistake of 2 orders of magnitude). Worse, a hapless 1 in the LSB location is completely missing. So here you could make a mistake of 82 orders of magnitude if you read 10^91 as 10^9. If you work it out it’s like thinking you have something the size of a quark when actually you’re dealing with something which is 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 ( sadly, this is the right number of zeros, using today's estimates) times as large as the observable Universe. If I’m not mistaken, this is the biggest error humans are capable of other than Bush. It's amazing that it can FIT onto this modest calculator.

Went back to see if the other calculators on the rack had same flaw. They did. So, I took mine apart, removed the display, filed away some of the bracket holding it, slid it to the left, re-affixed with hot-glue and Voila! The calculator was 11 bucks. At $40/hour, it wasn’t worth it, but then I realized I was at home where my rate is $ZERO per hour. Now it seems like it was a deal. Resounding in my head was the Mantra of the Maker. “If you haven’t taken it apart, you don’t own it.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

Seder, Saturn and Scopes

We had a wonderful Seder this year with 18 people and only one telescope. I turned it’s mirror on Saturn and invited all who were interested outside to planet-gaze. The responses were gratifying. “No! That’s not real! You painted it on!” One clever kid put his hand in front of the scope to make sure the image disappeared, and that I hadn’t just cleverly mounted a projector inside.

"It's MOVING!"
"Well, it is, but not for the reason you think it is. It's the rotation of the Earth that's moving the telescope."
"No! Get out!. Really? That is so cool"

What is it about gazing through a telescope at a tiny image of an object that has been mapped, landed on, orbited around, and has posed for great imaging probes, yielding breathtakingly detailed pictures, that make it still a thrill to view with your own eye. It’s a truly right-brained activity, actually, when you think about it (with your left brain!)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Sheltered Spellchecker

I have learned much about myself from my spellchecker. I use words that are very familiar to me but unknown to the spellchecker. Each time it underlines a word, common in my vocabulary, I feel more isolated. I even have arguments with the spellchecker, repeatedly changing the autocorrected word back to what I wanted. I found that after only 3 tries, it relents. So, if not part of the rest of society, I’m at least, to a group of silicon-based semiconductors, quite persuasive.

The most disheartening experience is to have your own name unrecognized by the spellchecker and have to press that button, “IGNORE”. I always mutter- “Ignoring myself. It’s come to this”

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Kasevich's Great Gravity Experiment

I just read that Dr. Kasevich and crew at Stanford, are designing an experiment to test the theory that objects fall at rates independent of their mass, to a precision of 20 decimal places.

Now, Galileo already did this atop the Leaning Tower, but these Stanford guys are serious. Serious to 1 part in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000. No kidding. So, if it's successful, they can proclaim, "Galileo was right!"

As a gedenken experiment,

Define m1= mass of Stan Laurel
Define m2= mass of Oliver Hardy
Assume that m2/m1=2

Assume Laurel is spherical and Ollie is cylindrical and that m2/m1=2

Assume that the acceleration differs between Stan and Ollie by 1 part in 10^20, the precision of the present experement.

Assume also that the acceleration is constant, for both.

Then, in order that Ollie hit first by one diameter (assuming a spherical Hardy, as aforeto mentioned, R(Ollie)=2 Meters, the distance they must fall is 21 light years.

A light year, if you're still awake, is 5,878,499,810,000 miles or 5.8 TRILLION miles. Heck, that's not even 1 National Debt Ceiling.

Sometimes it is helpful to explain the sophistication of these experiments with examples everyone can relate to.

Smith's Cloud

Got my latest copy of Astonomy Magazine. According to the American Astronomical Society, a giant cloud of gas is heading towards our Milky Way Galaxy.

Good news. The Smith's Cloud will collide with our Galaxy with enough energy and material to form a million stars like our own Sun. And around some of these million stars will be planets. And on many of these planets life will form, and on one of THESE planets humans will evolve. And one of these humans might well be a decent Presidential candidate!

Bad news? The collision will occur 40 million years from now, well after the polls close............for good.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mark Pitta and Friends

Tuesday night at the Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley, I had the pleasure of sharing the Green Room with Robin Williams and Dana Carvey and I can tell you that these greats of comedy put their rants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. Carvey brought his 14 year old son with him and confessed to producer Mark Pitta that he was nervous as this was the first time his son had seen him perform. No nervousness detected. To the contrary, everything that came out of Carvey’s mouth had the genius of both improv, studied mimicry, ruthless satire and hilarious caricature of every celeb he skewered . Too precious for words was his send-up of Deepak Chopra. I couldn’t stop laughing. Deepak was nailed. If you closed your eyes you would have sworn that Chopra was up there onstage, albeit under the influence of something, but there nonetheless, dispensing his cryptic wisdom to the delight of us all.

A note about “Mark Pitta and Friends”, Throckmorton Theater, every Tuesday night. It doesn’t get any better than this. No other comedy venue approaches the Laughs/Buck metric. The chance of seeing surprise guests like Williams and Carvey is high, but whoever performs has proven himself to Pitta whose keen eye for talent and intelligent wit assures a great show. Mark, himself, a well known standup, is the master of masters of ceremonies, warming up the audience with engaging jokes and jolly schmoozing with the audience.

Mark features musical acts as well, and precedes the fun with video clips shown while the audience is being seated. Tuesday, he chose a collection of vintage TV commercials for toys. I wanted most of them.

The lobby serves up a variety of wines and non-alcoholic beverages as well as luscious chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies and other pastries.

The audience demographic is mid-life critical to senior with some young curve-breakers as well. A warm sophisticated and most important to our ego-starved personalities, very appreciative, intelligent and ready to laugh.

Oh…. I killed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comet Holmes

Comet Holmes came into naked eye view a few weeks ago and is still visible. What is remarkable is that, prior to about Oct 20, it was absolutely undetectable by anything but the largest telescope. It suddenly brightened by a million fold and we don’t know why. Image! We don’t know something. Isn’t it wonderful? All you need is a pair of binoculars and you can examine something nobody understands. Of course, there are enough Earthbound things you can observe, even without binoculars that nobody understands, but that’s not as interesting. I’ve been watching Comet Holmes as it marches across the star field behind it and as it changes in both appearance and brightness. It is approaching a rather bright star, Mirfak, and tomorrow night will be as close as it will come to that star. There are so few things in the heavens, other than the major planets, the Sun and the Moon, that change in time spans comprehensible to us short lived humans. This is what, to me, is remarkable and fascinating. And most people don’t know that the position of the brightest objects in the sky, the planets, change night to night, year to year.

I’ve found casual observational astronomy a wonderful way of engaging in the Cosmos and avoiding eye contact. It’s wonderful for both the thinking and the shy, especially because it takes place in the dark, safe from the withering gaze of, well, people. Even if I weren’t shy, I still like astronomy because at night, when you’re explaining that a light-year is not a measure of time, or inviting people to look in your telescope at some distant object that, through a telescope looks REALLY distant, you are spared seeing the eye-rolling that inevitably occurs whenever I wax enthusiastic about something that couldn’t be less relevant to our daily lives. Ahhh—the burden and suffering of the obscurist.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

For The Records

Remember records? Phonograph records? They were a very important part of my life, from the 50 pounds of 12 inch 78’s containing the complete Aida that my parents proudly owned before I was born to my present decimated collection of classical, folk and comedy records. As I was culling the collection, I realized that each record had its own relationship to my life. I remembered where I was and who I was when I bought each of them. If I were to keep some, which would they be? I did find that not all had sentimental value. Many were impulse purchases I made before going on the air at WBFB-FM Rochester for my nightly 6-8 program, Dr. G’s Empirical Compound. I had a little ritual. Before I sat down in the studio each night, I did a fast walk down the eclectic aisles of a nearby record store. Out of each purchase, there were at least one or two cuts interesting enough to make it onto Dr.G’s playlist for the evening. It was an odd program, completely self- absorbed. The selections were purely those that touched some nerve, a good nerve or a bad one. I remember putting together a set for Halloween. The calls I got that night spanned the entire range of human emotion, which pleased me no end. I played everything. Luciano Berio’s orgasmic “Parole” , Saint-Saens skeletons, and Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, reportedly an opium dream of love unrequited. He also contributed Damnation of Faust, giving the evening a decidedly maroon cast. Maroon music? Synesthesia, I think they call it- an association of one sensory input with another. Many composers were ‘afflicted’ with this neural confusion. But I begin to digress.

I remember the first “unbreakable record”. One true thing of my young life was that if you dropped a record, it would break. when I was about 10, my parents gave me a recording of Tubby the Tuba on a Decca Unbreakable record. This was a miracle before my eyes. I remember that for days before I actually played the record I played WITH the record, giddily rolling it across the basement floor and watching it not break. And surprisingly, it still played. This is undoubtedly because the weight of the tone-arms back in those days could both play and cut a record simultaneously. Any scratch in the surface was traversed by the needle as if it weren’t there and undoubtedly the errant topography of the scratch was leveled by the tons (literally- I did the calculation) of stylus pressure.

Not to diminish the recorded program, Tubby The Tuba, narrated by Danny Kaye, was a sweet story of a Tuba trying to fit into a symphony orchestra. It ends well. Just last week, I transcribed it onto my computer hard drive as an MP3, there to remain never further scratched, until, I suppose, the giant magnetic fields of the Sun, as it consumes the earth in it’s bloated, Red Giant phase will undoubtedly wreak havoc with the music if the temperature doesn’t go above the Curie point disorienting the magnetic domains first. The MP3 will outlive the vinyl unbreakable record by probably about a million years, so there’s some advantage to having transcribed it. Unfortunately, those million years come in about 5 Billion years and are therefore somewhat irrelevant. End of digression. Beginning of next delusion.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Great Gas Cap Incident

I filled up, left the cap on top of the trunk and drove home. 1 mile! 2 stop signs, 2 turns and a pothole. And it was still there! I went through all the relevant principles of Newtonian mechanics and came up with the only two possibilities. Either I had low tire pressure or I was driving like an old fart. I checked the tire pressure, and, to my dismay, it was normal.

I do drive more carefully, according to Gloria. Pulling out from an intersection the lane has to be really clear, REALLY clear. If I see a car coming over the horizon, I wait, and at a height of 5 feet, the horizon, according to Bowditch American Practical Navigator, is 2.61 nautical miles away (3.00 statute miles), so at a speed of 30 knots, that car would be on top of me in a pulse quickening 4 minutes and 24.6 seconds. But I point out to her that you can’t trust the car will accelerate when you step on the gas. The carburetor could flood. To which she replied, “Cars haven’t had carburetors in 25 years.” I then queried, “How do you know THAT?” To which she shot back, “My Cousin Vinnie”. To which I quipped, “You’re no Marisa Tomei…(risky delay)…You’re cuter!”. She smiled and I safely, and gracefully I might add, merged.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The MightyTerabyte

Fry's Electronics is selling a 1 Terabyte hard drive. Let's put this in perspective. We'll compare it to the humble, all but forgotten, floppy. A floppy can hold 1.44 Megabytes. That sounds like a lot, a Mega being a million and all, but compared to a Terabyte? OK, by illbegotten calculations, to equal the storage capacity of the mighty Terabyte, you would need 700,000 floppies! Stacked on top of each other, this stack would be 1.4 miles high. Laid out like tiles, it would cover an acre. It would fill, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, a good size cubicle. You can buy 1000 floppies for 21 cents a piece. 700,000 floppies would cost you $147,000,which makes Fry's price for a terabyte drive of about $250 a steal.

A page of text is 2Kbytes or 0.02 Meg, so on a Terabyte hard drive, you could store,
1,000,000,000,000/2000= 500,000,000 pages of text, FIVE HUNDRED MILLION PAGES of text regardless of the text itself- five hundred million pages of Shakespeare or five hundred million pages of self absorbed nonsensical ramblings of a lonely engineer.

This is what happens if calculators fall into the hands of the wrong people.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Astronomical Week

First, the wonderful lunar eclipse, then the elusive Aurigids. We witnessed both of the early morning events and thoroughly enjoyed them. The lunar eclipse occurred with the Moon quite high in the sky. Most of the eclipses I've seen have occurred with the Moon closer to the horizon, and in clear view of earthly structures, like buildings, utility poles. As everyone has noticed, the Moon appears much larger when it is lower and it is the ability to readily compare the size of the Moon with the size of a house that makes the Moon seem "larger than a house", and that's pretty big. Our mind tricks us into this irrelevant comparison and we fall for it and may even fall in love under it. When the Moon is high, we have nothing to compare it to and it seems much smaller. In truth, the the image of the Moon on our retinas is precisely the same in both cases.

The Aurigids, a rare collision of the Earth's orbit with a particular comet tail, promised a spectacular shower of meteors, or maybe nothing. That's what made it fun. We saw, between the two of us, 10 in about 1/2 hour. Many were persistent, colorful and awesome. Others could have been illusory- maybe a phosphene generated by pressure on the retina. It takes two sensate beings to disentangle illusion from truth. It makes you realize that all we see could be just neurons firing and have no other universal basis. What a silly idea.

So, this week, two wonderful events Both have elements which call into question the absoluteness of what we observe. But I think what I see is 'real' and I love what I see. Don't spoil it for me.


A new opera will be premiered next month in SF. Appomattox, music by minimalist Phillip Glass. Phillip Glass? The singers don’t need a range. They just need a note! I hope they stage it like his Koyaanisqatsi -time lapse. I have to be in bed early. (Just kidding- sounds fascinating)
Would you believe that the spellchecker had no IDEA what to do with Koyaanisqatsi.

Music at Fry's

At my favorite geek mecca, Fry’s Electronics, they have, believe it or not, a concert grand piano playing. Really! Chopin- but there was something wrong. All the notes were there, but it was missing the Chopin. Whoever was playing it was playing Chopin the way Steven Hawking would recite Whitman. The right words, but… Turns out the piano was being played by this electronic device that dutifully presses the key when commanded to do so. The other day, they had a live person playing- he wasn’t much better. Fry’s should stick to electronics. They DO have personal grooming apparati in the impulse purchase section of the store, but no one has ever bought any of it (duh).

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Second Law

Cleaning up the garage: The curse of the dilettante. Good news? When interests are pursued superficially, you can pack a lot of them into a lifetime. Bad news? Organizing my man-space seems to defy the law of thermodynamics which states that entropy (disorder) always increases. One may argue that local entropy can indeed be decreased, but in the case of my man-space, even a modicum of artificial organization evidently has a profound impact on the Universe which, in it's blind wisdom, insists on forcing the garage back into a more submissive state of chaos. I mean, what does one do with a tub which contains waxed twine, a USB cable, tripod adaptor for binoculars, intervalometer for firing cable shutter releases, 1000 foot spool of wire for a 1948 recorder, a model T ignition spark coil, antique razor strop, boomerang, giant 12 inch fresnel lens, a hearing device for confessional booths, an empty bottle of Stolichnaya saved for the label which proclaims that it was imported from the USSR (remember the USSR?), an Eveready D battery with an expiration date of March 1942, 2 bottles of Purell, a K and E slide rule, and oh! look at that- the thumbwheel from my digital voice recorder I've been looking all over for. I'm really afraid of touching this stew for fear of upsetting at least the balance of our own Milky Way. There will definitely be some cosmic push-back and I would fully expect to wake up in the morning to find my organizational efforts reversed by the great 19th century physicist, Clausius. So, to heck with it. I'm going to bed.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Begin the Beblog

Glo and I cleaned house all day. Would you believe I uncovered over 25 unused 'wall warts'? This is a beautiful metric of consumerism, for each wall plug power supply came with SOME piece of consumer equipment, long recycled (yeah, right!) and replaced with the latest up-to-date need-not. Before you feel too superior, take the number of wall warts in YOUR collection and multiply by 1.25, to account for all those that are still behind the bed, couch,desk, with their forlorn little outputs plugs, just lying there. The pitiful black eye of these electric cyclops-like plugs seemingly looking for a mate, to inseminate with their 3.5,4.5,5,6,9,12 VDC electrons.