Mar 24 2016

Bill, we love you, but please stop saying that.





This is actually painful.

Bill Nye is a great guy, and a great science communicator, and has been for so many years.   I love him, you (probably) love him — of course we do.  That’s what makes this hurt!

Fortunately, physicist Chad Orzel (benevolent fellow that he is) views this as a teachable moment, and thanks to he can get the word out to a wide audience.  Excellent.

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, on the other hand, is just mad. With good reason.  

Orzel and Hossenfelder each break down the misconceptions point-by-point, and I urge you to click on the links above for the real scoop from people who know what they’re talking about.

Want a really short version?  How about this:

Bill: “…If this turns out to be a real thing…” Entanglement is a real thing, no “if” about it.  But you can’t use it to communicate faster than the speed of light.  It doesn’t work out like that.

Bill: “…it carries, for me, the belief that we’ll be able to go back in time…”  No.  If we could use entanglement to communicate faster than the speed of light, then we could send information back in time, yes…  But that won’t actually happen since we can’t use it to communicate faster than the speed of light.

Bill: “…we’ll be able to harness energy somehow from black holes …”  What? Where is this coming from? What has one thing to do with the other?    I see no connection… unless — wait!  That’s right!  If it’s possible  to send information back in time, then our future selves in their future advanced civilization will send back instructions to us, on how to harness energy from black holes!  Brilliant!  Wait, why haven’t they done that yet?  Oh, right: we can’t use entanglement to communicate faster than the speed of light. Because it doesn’t work that way.  Darn it.

Quoting Chad here:

“There’s no way to determine the outcome of a quantum measurement in advance, so the physicists on either end of an entanglement experiment end up with a set of random numbers that convey no information. Those numbers are perfectly correlated with each other, but they need to compare the two lists in order to learn that, and the comparison can only be done via communication channels at light-speed or below.”

Seriously, check out the links above.

I’m going to lie down and put a wet cloth on my forehead.  This is giving me the fantods.

Mar 21 2016

Not seein’ it yet…


They say more big snow is on the way for our area, but here it is midnight and nothing much is going on.

Just me and the story,  rattling along in the night.

Tomorrow’s my at-home day, so if we get the six inches they predict, I won’t have to worry about driving.  Of course, I’m exactly two miles from the office, so you wouldn’t think I’d worry — but as I’ve said before, there’s this hill that, when it gets icy, can either slam you into the side of an overpass where you’ll sit while the cars behind slam in to you; or deliver you into four-way intersection after possibly careening off the side of an overpass.  Depending on which route you take.

Well. Stayin’ home and cooking a turkey, which was on sale for .99 a pound, the point at which it’s just silly not to buy it.   Also laundry and general chores.

Thanks to all who recommended reading for my chill-out days, by the way.  Alas, I had no chill-out days.

Because my computer arrived, needed to be loaded up, tweaked into submission, told what’s what and who’s boss.   It was recalcitrant at first, but conceded in the end.  I have that skill.

Simultaneously, the cheesy internet connection in my office proved it was even cheesier than I had previously assumed.   We’ll be parting ways Real Soon Now, and I have my solution on hand, so all is well.  But I did need to drag my new computer home, so that I could use the excellent internet we have at home for all the downloading and installation of software that I needed.

Sigh.  Frustration over!  All is well.

After several days in a row spent at home dealing with computer stuff, I was absolutely itching to get back to my lovely office.  And here I am.

And actually, it’s about time to go home.

A few random items of interest:

Sabine Hossenfelder is a physicist whose blog I check in on periodically.  This week she has an interesting post on the so-called myth of the lonely scientist, and how it’s not necessarily as mythical as some say.   I’m not a scientist (I just pretend to be one for literary purposes), but I recognized a lot of myself in what she said.

Jeffrey A. Carver (Schrodinger Cats class of 2015) has dropped the price on the ebook version of From a Changeling Star.  I’m not sure how long the sale is going to last, so here’s your chance to snap it up for peanuts.  Here’s what David Brin said about it: “Starts with a bang and keeps getting better. Carver handles not one, but two hot topics, and presents both vividly.”   Here’s what Roger Zelazny said about it: “[A] fast-paced puzzler, rich in invention, and Jeffrey A. Carver’s most ambitious book to date.”  Here’s what Rosemary Kirstein says about it: “I haven’t finished reading it yet!  I’m only up to Chapter Five!  Get off my back already!  Sheesh.”

Oh, and pal Ann Zeddies has a Kindle Single, which escaped my notice for the longest time.  “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing” is a non-SF, Young Adult, gay romance, and might be exactly what you or a young person you know are looking for.   I found it charming.

Oh, and happy Equinox.  Which isn’t, actually… There’s a video from It’s Okay to Be Smart to explain it.




Feb 12 2016

The buzz: waves!


I awoke this morning to find the Internet all a-buzz with the news that gravitational waves have been detected!

The press conference was at 10:30, and I totally missed it due to: a) waking up late (I’m a night-owl; I make no apologies); and b) using the first half-hour I’m awake every day to write something (literally, before speaking a word to another human, or reading a single line of words in any medium, I try to write something, anything).

Fortunately: Hooray Internet.  Because the entire press conference was made available on YouTube:

This served as a good incentive to go to the gym, since Planet Fitness has free wifi, and I have an iPad  for just such circumstances.  Also for Netflix.  I make no apologies.

For a quick general-public explanation of what the fuss is about, here’s a link to a New York Times article that includes a nice video.

As well as the big-news rush of this discovery, I find myself delighted by the very cleverness of the design of the LIGO apparatus itself.  Splitting a light beam, reflecting it back and recombining in such a way that the waves cancel each other out, and there is no light ( yes, half a beam of light plus half a beam of light equals no light, if you do it right) — UNLESS one of those mirrors moves even fractionally.   If there’s light detected, that means something moved.  And suspending things, such that local vibrations are minimized — How smart is that?  I love the little demo they give in the press conference.  (Also amusing: the part where the reporter from TASS pointed out that the Russians thought of this fifty years ago.)

The day before the announcement, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog had a nice introduction to gravitational waves, somewhat more technical than the New York Times, which she posted because rumors about the discovery were flyin’.

And Randall Munroe of XKCD even broke with his publishing schedule to do a comic on his off-day to commemorate the event today:

Actually, my first news of all this came on Facebook, where author Amy K. Nichols (fellow Schrodinger Cat from the workshop last year) was already sharing links.

She also brought this to my attention:

[UPDATE: bad link! Go to OK GO’s own website to view the video]

Everything’s happy when there’s a new OK GO video…