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I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

                     T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

22 January 2007

What We Don't Know.
I think I mentioned here before that one of the things I've been unexpectedly delighted with has the free subscription to Wired that I received as part of my renewal of my Salon membership this year. The current cover feature in the print edition carries the same title as this posting and is available online.

Two of my favorite entries:

Is time an illusion?
Plato argued that time is constant - it's life that's the illusion. Galileo shrugged over the philosophy of time and figured out how to plot it on a graph so he could get on with the important physics. Albert Einstein said that time is just another dimension, a fourth one to go along with the up-down, side-side, forward-back we move through every day. Our understanding of time, Einstein said, is based on its relationship to our environment. Weirdly, the faster you travel, the slower time moves. The most radical interpretation of his theory: Past, present, and future are merely figments of our imagination, constructs built by our brains so that everything doesn't seem to happen at once.

Einstein's conception of unified spacetime works better on graph paper than in the real world. Time isn't like those other dimensions - for one thing, we move only one way within it. "What's needed is not to make the notion of time and general relativity work or to go back to the notion of absolute time, but to invent something radically new," says Lee Smolin, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario. Somebody is going to get it right eventually. It'll just take time.
- Erin Biba, San Francisco-based writer

and
How can observation affect the outcome of an experiment?
Paging Captain Obvious: To perform a legitimate experiment, scientists must observe the results of a system in motion without influencing those results. Turns out that's harder than it sounds. In 1927, German physicist Werner Heisenberg discovered that in the Wonderland-like subatomic realm, it is impossible to measure position and momentum simultaneously. "In an attempt to observe an electron or other subatomic particle using light, very short wavelengths of light are required," says David Cassidy, a science historian and Heisenberg expert at Hofstra University. "But when that light hits the electron, it knocks it all over the place like a billiard ball." This can become a serious issue when you're working with the kind of focused, high-intensity beams found in, say, particle accelerators. "The more precise the momentum of the beam particles," Cassidy says, "the more difficult it becomes to focus the beam."

The real problem, though, is what this so-called observer effect does to reality. Do an experiment to find the fundamental unit of light and you find particles called photons. But change the conditions of the experiment and you get waves. Physicists have no problem with the cognitive dissonance of this "wave-particle duality." But... so... what's light made out of, really? The dichotomy raises the mind-boggling prospect that unless we observe an event or thing, it hasn't really happened, that all possible futures are quantum probability functions waiting for someone to notice them - trees falling unheard in a forest. Maybe this article wasn't even here until you turned to this page.
- Elizabeth Svoboda, San Jose-based writer

Lots more. Fun for all ages. Go now and while away an hour or two.

That lazy old sun.
The lead story in today's email from newscientist.com begins with this paragraph:

There's a dimmer switch inside the sun that causes its brightness to rise and fall on timescales of around 100,000 years - exactly the same period as between ice ages on Earth. So says a physicist who has created a computer model of our star's core.
I was hooked right there.

Your gummint at work...or maybe not.
An Associated Press story written by Emily Wagster Pettus and Lara Jakes Jordan ran on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning under the headline An arrest decades after 2 blacks deaths. It's about the arrest of a white former sheriff's deputy named James Ford Seale, age 71, for the murdering two nineteen-year old black hitchhikers near Jackson, Mississippi during the racially charged summer of 1964.

Fascinating stuff and satisfying reading, seeing justice being done no matter how late, but what caught my attention was a passing note in the first paragraph about how the arrestee was "once thought to be dead" and then this explanation later in the story:

For years, Seale's family had told reporters that he had died. But in 2005, Thomas Moore and a Canadian documentary filmmaker, David Ridgen, found Seale, old and sick, living just a few miles down the road from where the kidnapping took places.

"If they hadn't brought it to my attention, I wouldn't have known to do anything," said U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, chief federal prosecutor in Jackson.

That's downright mind-boggling, that the Justice Department had to learn that a suspect under investigation was still alive decades later from an itinerate filmmaker. It's even more scary, no matter whether you attribute the situation to incompetence, lack of concern or pure laziness.

[posted by Jack Curtin 5:43 pm edt]




22 January 2007

Yowzah!
The website Humorous Maximus (which I was unfamilar with prior to just now) has added one of the great comic strips of all time, Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon, to its offerings as of this very day, beginning with the first ever daily from January 7, 1947.

Gentlemen, cock and load your bookmarks.

[posted by Jack Curtin 5:23 pm edt]




21 January 2007

Home is the wanderer.
My Idaho trip last week went really well, fast, easy and fun. At this point, though, I'm in Hassle City, trying to catch up on past-deadline work, a cash flow disrupted by missing checks and all the stuff that needs must be done to recover from time away from the homestead. That, and working out my schedule for the next couple of months to make upcoming cataract surgery and other medical tests et al as non-disruptive as possible.

Short version: posting here will be light and erratic. Yeah, yeah, I know: so what's new about that?

Anyway, here are a couple of things that caught my attention this week while perusing the myriad corners of the 'net:

2100: A world of wild weather is one of those damned serious scientific things that drives Global Warming deniers into a spittle fit.

This report on privileged youth veers real close to the political arena I promised not to visit in this corner of my online world (politics I save for over here, in both visual and textual form), but this was too funny not to pass on.

See ya when I see ya.

[posted by Jack Curtin 11:00 am edt]




11 January 2007

As promised, secrets revealed.
Last night I watched the first two episodes of season six of 24, the episodes which will be telecast on Sunday night as the first half of the four-hour roll-out of the show. I downloaded two BitTorrents versions of the program which were uploaded to the internet after a CD with all four of the opening episodes fell into someone's hands it shouldn't have.

All four shows were on the site I went to originally, but the latter two have since been taken down. I did this because I'll be out of town Saturday through next Wednesday and having seen these two hours puts me ahead of the game catchup-wise when I get back (I mean, there's Cold Case and the debut of Season Two of Rome to tape). And, to tell you the truth, I really like Torrents versions of TV shows with my new flat screen 'puter monitor. They are clear, clean and fast, all the adverts and extraneously material removed.

(No, I don't feel any guilt about this; if anyone wants to challenge me on that point, send an email request and I'll do a posting about my rationale.)

I won't put a link here because, quite honestly, I've lost the damned thing. Nor will I say anything else expect this: in episode one, Jack really, um, sinks his teeth into things.

More in keeping with our ongoing "secrets revealed" theme is gethuman.com, a database which lists all the secret telephone numbers and work-arounds that allows you to talk to a real person at various entities where that is seemingly impossible. Check it out; you will want to bookmark the site.

Invaluable.

Here, hardly a secret, is an interview with Alan Moore about the controversial Lost Girls which is Real Good Reading.

Finally, no secret at all is the Apple iPhone:

The iPhone is the most beautiful and functional phone I have ever seen. Apple totally overcame all my issues with music phones and there's an elegance that must be seen to be appreciated. First time I held it, I was speechless for more than a few seconds.

Apple unveiled what is probably the most hyped product... Well ever. And despite high expectations, they knocked the ball out of the park.

Wow! I'm really out of the loop on a lot of these modern devices and I cannot imagine that my fat fingers could ever allow me to work with this one (I really, really need to see one of the damned things to even be able to conjure it up in my imagination), nor is it anywhere within my price range at this stage.

But, dammit, I want one.

[posted by Jack Curtin 7:12 pm edt]




7 January 2007

The truth will out.
The New Year's resolution of this website and this page in particular is that 2007 will be The Year of Truth.

Secrets will be revealed, mysteries solved, questions answer and answers questioned. You have been warned.

And so we begin...

"Yo Adrian! I did it!"
In keeping with our new commitment, I hereby confess perhaps the most heinous shortcoming possible for someone who considers himself, proudly, a Philadelphian: until last week, I had never seen Rocky, nor any of the sequels.

Pause here for shocked gasps, cries of outrage and stunned silence.

I can't recall if, when the first movie came out, I just decided I didn't care. I know I had one shot at it and was pleased and delighted, then frustrated. My then wife and I were on a plane bound for San Francisco and a book convention and the announced movie was Rocky. The whole thing crashed a few seconds into the credits and they never did get it back and running.

Over the years, especially as each subsequent iteration after the second one was panned by critics and friends alike, I just let that ignominious secret fester. With the release of Rocky Balboa late last year and the almost universal, and surprised, acclaim for the thing, not so much as a film but as an event, a righting of a cultural legend gone awry, I finally was moved to rectify matters.

I rented the first two and watched them on consecutive nights as 2006 faded away into history. I marveled at how good they were, how clever they were, how Stallone managed to make Rocky himself both an uneducated oaf with the proverbial heart of gold and a man wise enough to recognize the odds against him while pressing ahead anyway and sly (pun intended) enough to punctuate the condescension and phoniness of others with a well placed, in-character aside.

I loved how the first movie ended with the fight decision not quite clear (or, if it was, it didn't come across on my less-than-stellar sound system) and how the second recreated those final moments to put us right back in the scene, then how it too ended in much the same fashion, although with a very clear and decisive outcome to the bout.

Given that I'm told that Stallone himself ignores all the stuff that happened in numbers 3, 4 and 5 in the new release, I guess I'm caught up at last.

I feel so cleansed.

Cool.
Speaking of mythology as I was above, Mythbusters is one of those websites where you can easily kill some time, learn a few things you thought you knew were dead wrong and enjoy yourself in the process. Go thee hence and see.

When I sent in a story to my fine editor at Celebrator Beer News in which I referred to a brewing recipe from 9000 BC, he wrote back and asked him if I want to go with "BCE" instead. I was--as my li'l buddy out West might say--confuserated, until I read this.

[posted by Jack Curtin 1:12 pm edt]





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The complete December 2006 postings have been archived here.

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