Thursday, April 21, 2011


The image above is a cosmic microwave background radiation map of the universe, bright colors hot, dark colors cold. The circled bit at the lower right is a part of the sky deemed too large and too cold to be easily explained by science.

The reason I'm posting this is because of one sentence in the explanation of the map and the CMB cold spot on the Astronomy Picture of the Day, where I found it. The sentence is this:

Published speculation has included spectacular progenitor hypotheses that involve a supervoid, a cosmic texture, or even quantum entanglement with a parallel universe.

These are actual scientists speculating about this, not addled callers to Coast to Coast. I'm not saying I understand what that sentence even means. But it sure is fun to read.

Monday, April 18, 2011


The last time I posted an excerpt, it was of a paragraph I cut, as it was a little too over the top.

This one I'm keeping.

When he got the call in the middle of the night he packed the barely-awake kids into the back seat and drove to his mother’s home, expecting to be greeted by ambulances and the flashing lights of fire trucks, but of course they had all left by the time he had completed the three hour drive. Pools of fog lay in the pre-dawn fields and shallow valleys between his house and hers; months later now and he still thinks of grief in this way, laying low to the ground, indistinct, inert. He remembers how during the drive he wanted to gently pull the car to the side of the road so as not to wake the kids, get out and lie down in it, cool grass against his back, damp air against the skin of his face. How he wanted to be blanketed by fog, asleep in its arms, the rest of the world disappeared into the wide hazy distance forever.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spooky Action at a Distance: The Home Game

I saw this article a couple weeks back in Scientific American. If you have $28,000 lying around, you can buy a "quantum eraser," which will show proof that quantum entanglement is an actual thing (Einstein was leery of the concept, and called it "spooky action at a distance"). According to the article, the device
...produced pairs of particles that acted like magic coins: when flipped in unison on opposite sides of the lab, both coins always came up with the same side, either heads or tails. Aspect's apparatus produced about 100 spooky coincidences per second. The qutools kit, which would fit on a living room end table, sees more than 10 times as many.

What Einstein found spooky is that there's no way for the particles to communicate with each other, as the effect is simultaneous, whereas information can only travel at the speed of light. The only way for it to work is that the particles, even though physically separate, are entangled in some way that science doesn't entirely understand. We can prove quantum entanglement exists - from your living room coffee table, no less, thanks to the folks at Qutools - but don't yet fully understand the mechanism at work.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Unwilling Suspension of Disbelief

I was never a big fan of Disney growing up. Too cute, too soft, too cuddly. I liked the Warner Brothers cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote. They were anarchists. Trouble-makers. Anti-social slackers. Not a cute one in the bunch (well, maybe Tweety Bird, but even she was pretty cruel to that cat).

I decided Disney was evil with a small "e" after learning that they hired an army of lawyers and lobbyists to change copyright law so they could own their creations for over a lifetime (overturning the notion that artistic work falling into public domain contributes to the public good).

Disney became evil with a big "E" to my admittedly biased mind with their hyper-sexualization of pre-teen girls and glorification of celebrity on shows like Hannah Montana.

But I digress.

Disneyland is great fun (to help insure this, I left my prejudices at the gate). It's great fun because they do several things very well. Lines are long, but they get you on and off the rides quickly and efficiently. And while you're in line, there's stuff to do, things to look at (the people watching alone is worth the price of admission). It a well-designed park, laid out with crowd-handling in mind, and something for everyone always within eyesight. It's cheaper than I expected (much cheaper than, say, a major league baseball game). And everyone there does their job very well. They are knowledgeable, polite, well trained. The Mad Hatter and Alice even knew why a raven is like a writing desk!*

Most of all, though, they make sure that the illusion they want you to buy into is so wildly appealing you are willing to suspend your disbelief. The costumes and makeup and sets and animatronics are all so detail-perfect you are more than willing to throw reality out the window and just go with it.

There was a moment, at the very end of the first day, with the fireworks display lighting up that famous Disney castle, when Tinkerbell appeared over the castle, amid the fireworks. I couldn't figure out how they did it. She was higher than the castle! How were they doing this? She must really be...flying!

Minutes later, all the cordite in the air revealed the cable tethered between the Matterhorn and the castle, and you could kinda see how they pulled it off. But it was too late by then. I had already bought into the illusion, hook, line and sinker. I was a kid again.

Damn you, Disney.

*because Poe wrote on both