My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sat, 31 Dec, 2005

The Madness at the Edge

At the edge of the year, a cold moist wind is blowing. I envision my neighborhood as it might have been, before any people were there, either Native or immigrant. The city disappears and the trees and swamps re-appear, under a grey and gold winter sky. I see this landscape simultaneously with the high-rises and the big highway. I can see many realities all at once. I always have been able to, even if proper rational thinking demands that only one of them is "really real." Here on Internet, there is no reality, and therefore they are all real.

At the edge of my virtual world, the spam-names are calling, behind the transparent filter. I hear their voices. Am I cyber-schizophrenic? Maybe they are all Electron readers, even if they are not real. They are almost making sense now. Siddharta Blackshear and Thekla Yearta have written to me, as have Zosimos Lu and the unreal physicist Vitali Hirschman, whose subject line reads: "See neutron Eran, but headboard." The Italian Jewish scholar Giustino Palermo writes me a message with the subject line: "On Levine, Diego it's parallel." Want meds at a great price with zero hidden fees? We have a great selection. More pleasurable orgasms, increase in self-esteem.

Tivadar Feuerstein sends his regards from Budapest. Fionnula Foos writes: "Or mullah, Teodoor see excessive." 900 perfect replica watches. Mano Chychrun has written to me, as have Alton Yazzie, Guglielma Atwater, and the firmly named Summer Justice, who advises: "Franni be formatted, on role." Your credit doesn't matter to us…you are prequalified! "Yetta in usurious, try coffeecup," writes Dimitri Prog.

The heavenly-named "Ambrosio Beveridge" sent me this poem, titled "Trounce, a philosoph:"

put in Bowling Ball see any but gave try.
Write! go try Fluffy may found, call and who may open some make in kind, see or warm and.
Look ! got on give in
myself the some put may pull
not. A got are where by he. A when what we off for do yellow. Spiffy and long the clean be on first.
There and write, just it
wish not. Maybe ride all look read never came one drink try ride out. A full only use get then just light please Strudel because.
After an Banana much Crusty here a thank. When very here its want Pants all or Fluffy gave said once.
The politicians dislike playing all day long.

I understand it. This is what the end of 2005 feels like. I am haunted by an enormous, glistening set of lips, thrust upon me by Yahoo. Here comes another hot flash. I hear sirens in the distance.

A reading from the Book of Chaos. "I saw Julius Caesar and the new plethora…to have all those noble Romans alive before and also of the good arequipa Wilson was very glad to see me and told me that the arenas plans. Well well ma'am said the gregarious cheerfully I am not that I thought it best to make no advances The main object on my mind I remember earnestness one day or other. My wonder is that you are not in earnest yourself. The smooth stupendous changes of glittering and brilliant scenery with me unless it is to confirm what I say. You know as well as I do that your cousin Shukor my blue antipasto…"

At the supermarket, "Physicist People's" big headline read: LISA AND BRIAN: ARE THEY AN ITEM?" How many dimensions between them? Jacques Distler, who may be real, writes: "As you know, instantons can have dramatic effects on the vacuum structure of supersymmetric gauge theories. They can induce a superpotential that lifts degeneracies that are present to all orders in perturbation theory. More subtly, in the case of SU(N c) SQCD, with N f=N c flavours, instanton effects can change the topology of the vacuum manifold." But is he pretty?

A block sitting on a frictionless horizontal surface is attached to a wall by means of a spring, as shown in Figure 6-9(a). If a force F pulls the block to the right in such a way that it just balances the force due to the spring at every instant, calculate the work done by the force F…. Ahead of me in 2006 are: more work and mechanical energy; energy and power, impulse and linear momentum, equilibrium and center of gravity, rotational motion, and simple harmonic motion. I don't know how many dimensions there are. I may never encounter perturbation theory. I wouldn't know an instanton if it hit me in the face. However, I hope that in 2006 I will have induced in me a superpotential which can lift degeneracies. Don't worry about approval. Take advantage of this Limited Time Opportunity.

Posted at 3:12 am | link


Tue, 27 Dec, 2005

The Nature of Work

Christmas Day was surprisingly good for me this year. Though it was pouring rain, I ventured out to the house of a friend who said that she might be receiving guests for Christmas. When I arrived, I found a number of familiar people, loads of delicious food, and the hostess welcoming me saying that not only was I invited, but that she had been hoping I would attend. Later that evening I went to another friendly couple's home where I was again fed well and warmly. Much better than what I feared, indeed, and I did not feel like a social loser.

I did physics on Christmas Day. Not very much, but just enough to establish a token presence and give evidence of my devotion to the One Born on Christmas Day, that is, Sir Isaac Newton. I have put aside the difficult gravity business for a later return, and gone on to the next chapter, which is about "Work and Mechanical Energy." I'm back to vectors and those sliding blocks again, though this time it's about how much work is done to make them slide their distance. It's force multiplied by distance, including forces which are mitigated by their being at an angle from the object's line of motion. That's when I get to trot out my trig again, when I have to vectorize to get the resultant force. This is familiar territory. I go through about a page of the book per day, more if it is not a work day.

The nature of work for this kind of high school physics is defined as moving something over a distance. But of course that isn't the only kind of work. There's my work at the day job, in which I am not moving things over distances (except when putting signs up) but producing things (advertisements). Then there's social work, which I don't do, and body work, about which I have only a vague notion involving massage. There's artistic work, which, at least in modern times, is more about the process of making the art than the actual art object itself. Though for me, being a commercialoid artist, it actually is about the art work made for a commission or for a show or market.

It may sound paradoxical, but I like work. Without it to give structure to my life, I would get depressed, especially at this time of year when there is so little light and warmth. It helps greatly to have a job I like; I know too many people who don't. I worked for many years when I didn't have an "outside" job, doing freelance illustration and art. But right now I like the structure (and, needless to say, the regular paycheck) of a steady job. As the physics book puts it, it is "work of a constant force." And studying physics is work, too, except that the only things that I move, through imagined space, are numbers, symbols, and ideas.

Posted at 2:55 am | link


Sat, 24 Dec, 2005

It worked fine when the teacher demonstrated it

There is a Website, just recently started, called Happy News.com, fashioned in a cheery yellow color, which has taken up the (thankless) task of reporting only positive and inspiring news. Some of this is real news, other material on the site is the kind of thing that gets written about in small-town newsletters when there isn't anything much to report. In the relentlessly ironic, bitter, brutal, and often obscene cultural world we currently inhabit, this is a little yellow flower growing in a pavement crack.

I would like to have said, over 2005, that this Blog was more upbeat, more like Happy News when it comes to my studying physics, and that I could report that I am mastering calculus. But this is Electron Blue, not Electron Yellow, and so the level of grousing, griping, and whining probably will stay as it is. If I do succeed at something, you'll be the first to know. At least the antibiotics are working and the infection and pain that prevented my Christmas vacation has disappeared, or more likely gone dormant until it can be fully treated at a later date.

I had recourse to a Friendly Scientist to help me with a set of high-school-level gravity and planet problems which I could not solve. He helped me solve two of them. The solutions involved dividing an equation (made from Newtonian formulae) by another similar equation, so that terms could be simplified. I had never encountered this procedure before, in my years of studying math, and like a diner encountering an unknown and unusual piece of silverware, I wonder, "What is this?" "How come I never saw it before?" And, "What do you use it for, and when?" Is it for picking oysters out of their shells, or holding a buttery corncob? The problem was, I could work a problem by tracing through the solution the Friendly Scientist gave me, but when I tried to do the same thing with the next problem, I failed. The closest I came was when I got the right numbers, but the exponent (in scientific notation) was way out of range.

I am sure that there are some people who will be doing physics on Christmas Day instead of tearing apart bright wrapping paper and eating too much. I may be one of them. I feel a kind of humiliation that I have not been able to work through these gravity problems. The more I look through this array of Newtonian formulae, the more confused I get. But my physics pride won't let me go on until I know what I was doing wrong. Instead of colorful wrapping paper, I tear apart my failed and overelaborate calculations (simple as they are). I am told that there are more efficient solutions to these gravity problems which I will learn later on, but in my childish way I want to know, why couldn't I solve it the way the book was supposed to have taught me?

Those who do physics on Christmas Day have proposed a replacement holiday for Christmas. It's called "Newtonmas." You see, Sir Isaac Newton (he of the gravitational formulae which are bewildering me) was born on Christmas Day, in 1642. You decorate the tree with apples, and honor Newton (and secular, scientific humanism) with intellectually oriented gifts. It sounds earnest, right-minded, and wintry wistful, kind of like "Happy News."

Happy holidays, patient readers, Friendly Scientists, and cyberwanderers all. May your chaotic paths be guided by benevolent intelligence.

Posted at 5:32 pm | link


Mon, 19 Dec, 2005

A surrealistic solstice

Outside the chilly window of my spam filter, this year's snowfall of hungry ghosts, the trillions of names generated by spammers trying to get past, are whispering. The names have gotten more and more baroque as the name generators reach into the "more unusual" name lists. Mohan Broadfoot, Delicia Blount, Odoacer Darrigo, Zhenya Prenatt, Niloufar Willetts, Myrddin Ramage, Ponzio Faust, and Leokadia Goranson have sent me solicitations for the usual drugs and mortgage renewals. Aghavni Bernhard, Rhydderch Dolloff, Pablo Hawk, Platon Polzin, and Tabatha Thivierge have also tried to contact me. If I could reply to them, I would. But they are ghosts, verbal phantoms, momentary creations as ephemeral as those "virtual particles" the advanced physicists talk about.

Their subject lines are just as intriguing as their names; these are also generated by some stoned program which puts words together in sentence-like, but addled order. "Silver may pliancy, a Amalia" asks one e-mail. A certain Kobus Tibbles sends me a note: "Maggot some ergodic, it Paloma." What am I to make of a message titled "Campanile or lockout, or Shaun?" Shaun, can you get back to me? Some of the titles are more terse: "Unhappy inedibility." "Ingredient cult." "Outgrown nowhere." Or a more holiday-oriented one, perhaps: "Song peaceable."

I am here for the holidays, not there. On the Internet, there is no here or there. And in the Holiday Season, as elsewhere, it is the myths that are true, not the reality. The miles-long backups of cars exist in the other world, but in Mythworld, silver bells ring, as perfect snowflakes drift over a little village of wood houses with white porches. You really can take a ride on a one-horse open sleigh. And families and friends can't wait to get together to celebrate, with tasteful presents and home-baked goodies around a real Christmas tree.

Somewhere in a wintry, woodsy area is a little cabin filled with light and warmth. An old couple lives there. He is rotund and good-natured, with a big fluffy white beard. She is nurturing and creative, surrounded by things she has knit or sewn or baked. They invite all their friends and relatives to their cabin, but it never seems to be crowded. Every present that Mr. and Mrs. Winter give out seems to be just what the guest desires, or needs. What only a few of the guests know is that this couple are a benevolent Pagan God and Goddess in disguise.

Out in the clear winter night the planets roll in their crystal orbits, and the stars twinkle their insect-like wings of light. In the trees, owl physicists pose problems: The acceleration of gravity at the surface of planet X is 8.0 m/s2….is the string theory "landscape" anthropic? They hoot to each other in woodsy scientific conferences. Beyond the virtual gateway, in the outer darkness, a billion spam people shop in frenzied malls. It's the longest night of the year, and the cold heavens wait for the dawn.

Posted at 2:38 am | link


Sun, 18 Dec, 2005

Winter setback

It hasn't been a good fall or winter for me health-wise. I endured a three-week-long cold in October (which afflicted my co-workers on its second round) and a week-long stomach virus. I'm now under treatment for a painful dental infection which has re-infected a tooth that was worked on seven years ago. Because of this, I am hesitant to do stressful long-distance driving. So I have had to cancel my plans to take a winter vacation in Tennessee and Georgia. I'll be working at my day job as usual instead. Maybe, after whatever needs to be done to my mouth is done and healed up, I'll be able to take that vacation later on.

The dismal Holiday Season, which longtime readers of the Electron know I hate, also has taken its toll on me. I live near a huge mall and during this orgy of buying, the roads are crammed for miles around it. I was hoping to avoid all this but now I must be content with staying as close to home as possible, and just going to work. Any gifts I give will be goodies from Trader Joe's. Edible treats are the best thing to give anyway. They will be gladly consumed and not clutter up the already too-cluttered houses of your friends and hosts.

Meanwhile, I am bogged down in a problem set which I cannot seem to get through. I managed the sliding blocks and a few of the spinning things under gravity, but the last section involves orbiting velocities, orbital periods, and gravitational attraction. I don't know whether it's due to the painkillers I'm taking or just plain tiredness, but I just don't have the energy to work these through, even if I have already done similar problems before. I would have to go over the entire section on orbits again, and re-work through all the derivations which lead to the formulas which I can't seem to get to work.

As a solitary student I have no idea what I must do, what I can leave for later to return to, and what I must make myself do even if I am tired. After all, "real" scientists have already taught themselves this material in their young teen years, endowed with endless energy. I note with regret, at the end of 2005, that my few fellow-travelers in Blogville, those other folk who are trying to learn physics in middle-age, have disappeared along with their Weblog, or have stopped or abandoned their quests for one reason or another. I would put out a request-for-help to a Friendly Scientist but this is a lousy time to do that; they have lives and families, and Christmas trees to decorate. I will have to make my priority decisions by myself, as I have had to do with my travel plans.

Posted at 3:41 am | link


Sat, 17 Dec, 2005

Avant Garde Music

I am on the reviewers' list for ReR Megacorp Records, a British-based label that specializes in music so obscure, weird, eclectic, or just plain unlistenable that no one else will publish it. They send me CD's. Every couple of months I get some more offerings from ReR. They have never forgotten that I wrote reviews of some of their releases back in the old days about ten years ago. I just got two new CD's yesterday.

ReR was founded by the British rock and avant-garde drummer Chris Cutler to showcase recordings which he personally wanted the world to hear. The extensive ReR catalog naturally features loads of music which he and his many collaborators have played over the years. Cutler has been putting out experimental music now for more than thirty years, so he's got a big backlog.

I dutifully listen to just about all the CD's ReR sends me, but despite my tolerance for unusual and even weird music, most of the ReR material just isn't to my taste. I'm not sure just whose taste it is for; the intended audience seems like even more of a sliver population than those who prefer my own favorite electronic space and rhythmic ambient. Much of the ReR music is re-releases of older work, the result of crossing the atonal, chaotic musical trends of the late twentieth century with rock bands and instrumentation. You get screechy sopranos or spasmodic male vocalists doing a sort of twelve-tone nonmelodic line over a noisy background of fuzzing electric guitars. There are a lot of soundtracks to old performance art pieces from "back in the eighties" when this was hot stuff, what they used to call "transgressive" before it was co-opted by pop culture. There are a number of "arty" European or even Anglo-American bands who play rock using "classical" instruments like oboes, cellos, or bassoon. All this music has its moments but in general, in my opinion, it has not aged well. The music world is still waiting for something with a fresh, attractive new tonal profile, and probably will wait a long time.

There are some ReR discs, though, which I find captivating. These are the "world" or "environmental" recordings. These are more like sound-collages where an artist or composer allows some indigenous, or traditional, or folk music to show forth while he makes minimal changes to it. I have heard medieval or even ancient-sounding music from Hungary or Macedonia on ReR, as well as Italian folk music which makes familiar Italy sound disturbingly alien. And then there are the recordings where the makers take equipment into the field, picking up sounds from places I will never visit. One recording (BAIKAL ICE by Peter Cusack, 2004) features the sounds of the ice of Lake Baikal in Siberia along with some of the sounds from the people and animals who live around it. Another, POND by Tod Dockstader and David Lee Myers, gives us a creepy and sometimes funny mix of real amphibian and insect noises along with electronic manipulations. Albums like these are the reason why I don't mind finding the next installment of ReR review copies at my door. You never know what might emerge from Cutler's cabinet.

Posted at 2:54 am | link


Tue, 13 Dec, 2005

Solving without meaning

There are physics problems to be done. Schaum's book is always with me in my studio. These days my mundane work load is so high that I don't get to do more than one or two at a session. Late at night I apply myself to a problem about sliding blocks or friction or banked turns or spinning things or orbiting satellites and gravity. I'm still in the Newtonian world and will be for at least another year, probably much longer.

I attempt to remember the relevant formula, along with some of its derivation. I don't want to think of myself as an unimaginative student who just memorizes formulas to get by, but sometimes that's what I am. Once I have the formula in mind, I plug in the numbers, or get a number which I plug into another formula to get the one the book's problem asked for. Having written it down, I then pull aside the paper I use to mask the answer.

Schaum's gives you the answer right after the problem, rather than having you look it up in the back. Sometimes you have to look at the answer in order to look at the relevant diagram, due to how they have printed problem, answer, and diagram on the page. This can kill the suspense, so I try not to look at it or put a piece of paper over it. But it usually doesn't work, so I have had a glimpse of the answer. I try to forget it while doing the problem, but most of the time it is still tantalizingly on the edge of my memory.

When I unmask the answer, it shows my answer to be wrong. On rare occasions, my answer is right the first time. I am usually astonished and relieved when this happens. But most of the time my answer is wrong. Why is it wrong? Schaum's doesn't work through these practice problems the way it does in the text. I have to carefully go back through all the formulizing and calculating I've done to find out why it didn't match the answer (which in Schaum's well-proofread text, is always right).

Many times I find that it isn't my physics, but my calculation that is wrong. I have copied wrongly, or missed or transposed a number here or there. Or I have forgotten that in some problems I am using the British (feet, inches, pounds) system rather than the metric system. (My Mars probe would be lost.) More often, I find that I have not converted units, for instance that I am using miles per hour instead of feet per second. There are other problems that I simply haven't understood. I save those for later, since they can be discussed with an advisor when it is possible to contact him.

Finally, after some re-calculation, I find an answer that is more or less the one in the book. Time to move on to the next problem, number 5-49. None of these problems are solving anything about a specific real-world question facing me. Their data are all given by the book's authors, not the results of any experiment I have done. The problems are all about simulated, ideal situations. They have no meaning for the world and have no practical use. But I work on them nevertheless, on a long winter night.

Posted at 3:03 am | link


Sun, 11 Dec, 2005

Not Seeing Movies

Last week I dragged myself into a movie house and actually saw a movie in its intended place, on a big screen. It was even a digital rendering, so it was clearer than the ordinary without the usual pits and scratches and fibers and blurring. But that experience reminded me why I don't go to see movies. The film was "Harry Potter 4," and it was adequate entertainment, with plenty of fantasy special effects and some scary horror moments. But it wasn't worth the discomfort I had to endure.

I don't go to movies. I don't even see them on TV or video/DVD, most of the time. In this, I think I am probably deficient in some way. Movies and cinema are a huge part of our modern culture and they provide things to talk about which establish a common civilized humanity. When my co-workers talk about movies, I am out of it. I don't know what they are talking about, unless it's some famous film that even I have seen, such as the earliest three STAR WARS films or GONE WITH THE WIND.

How do the other folk manage to go to so many movies, and sit through them? I find it physically difficult. First of all, I have to pee at least once during a movie, even if I don't drink anything. During Harry Potter 4, I took two bathroom breaks, and I rushed back to find that I really hadn't missed much at all. This isn't a good sign for a movie. Long ago I used to know a teenaged youth who rated movies by how many times you had to go to the bathroom during it. A "no-pee" or "one-pee" movie was so good that you didn't want to miss it, so you waited. A "two-pee" movie was OK, and a "three-pee" movie, well, was pretty mediocre. (This has nothing to do with the famous movie robot, "Three-pee-O," who didn't have to pee at all.)

Sitting in a crowd with other people, especially strangers, and especially in the dark, makes me nervous. It's not that I am afraid of them, it's that I feel trapped. I get claustrophobia in a movie theater, even if there are only a few other people in it. I also get the same feeling in a church, which is one reason why, despite my supposed religious obligations, I don't go all that often. I even get the feeling during a concert, though if the music is good I can forget about it for a while. Is there something mentally disturbed about this? "Normal" people sit there calmly and even fall asleep, while I am glancing at the exits and hoping I can get out.

Movie theaters smell bad, and the one I went to, which was a grubby suburban multiplex, had seats that were too low-slung. It was also chilly in the room, so I kept my winter jacket on the whole time I was there. After I left, I got a painful back spasm that lasted for hours. This was too much. There are things I will not put up with just to be part of my mainstream culture.

Would it fulfill my cultural experience if I viewed movies on DVD at home, where I can pause the machine and get up to go to the bathroom without missing anything? Are films supposed to be viewed only on a big screen, where we viewers can appreciate the details blown up large before us and the thunderous soundtrack, or is it OK if a viewer sees it miniaturized but easily visible on a little home screen? (Sorry, can't afford either the money or the space for a wide-screen "home entertainment center.") If you were a film director or producer, would you care how people viewed it, as long as people saw (and paid for) your movie? The only film people I ever knew were a pair of nature photographers who worked for PBS's NOVA TV series. I had a short-term job selecting music for their soundtracks. The question of how the films were to be seen never came up, since this was directly for TV. Most nature films are pretty soporific anyway, unless they have predator animals or erupting volcanoes in them. So it's better to fall asleep in comfort on the couch in front of the TV.

Am I culturally deprived? From what I can gather about modern movies, I am not missing much, except brutal violence, bondage, torture, warfare, blood and guts, bad language, and an awful lot of sex. (There was bondage and torture in "Harry Potter 4.") Isn't the real world full enough of that? I guess that I am already into the territory of old-lady prissiness that I don't like seeing stuff like that. I'm faced with a culture that fills its art, and its public life, with bitterness, endless irony and cynicism, noise, violence, and relentless quick-cutting speed. I'm supposed to like it. Go go go! I won't go. I take refuge in the studio, with my spacemusic, art, and the comforting, non-violent work of math and physics.

Posted at 3:21 am | link


Wed, 07 Dec, 2005

Winter Ambient

I haven't been writing about music much at all this year, since I've been so busy with physics and art. But that doesn't mean I haven't been listening, not only to classical music of all eras and my beloved electronic ambient, but other types of music as well. I have been enjoying blues, bluegrass, and modern jazz, things I never heard much of in my younger years. I haven't written reviews, because the site I used to review for changed its focus so that they weren't featuring my specialty. But just lately I've encountered another site that will post my reviews, so I intend to return to writing them, though not as frequently as before.

I've had this album by Canadian Tim Gerwing for more than a year. He sent it to me hoping to get a review and I put off writing it for all this time. He has probably given up on me but I have finally written a review. This is a sophisticated, "high-concept" album which is quite different from usual "New Age" fare. I figure it's better to write a review late than never to write it.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
by Tim Gerwing, 2004
Self-published, available at Tim Gerwing's Web site

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is the second album from Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Tim Gerwing. It is a diverse mix of many styles, textures, and moods, which seem to have no unifying feature at first. You will find prog-rock electric guitar and garage-band songs, Vangelis-style synthesizer lushness, electronic drones, Middle Eastern oud lute and percussion, overtone singing, neoclassical piano, nature sounds, and spoken words all on the same album! Gerwing used spoken words in different languages such as Greek and Chinese, as sound-material in his previous album, BEING TO BEING (2002) in which the translations were only available on his website. Here, he stays mostly with English (with a bit of Japanese layered in on track10).

The unifying factor in this album, as with his previous one, is not necessarily musical, but intellectual. Gerwing is an adherent of a philosophy sometimes called the "Fourth Way," which was created (or perhaps "brought to the West") by the esoteric teacher G. I. Gurdjieff in the early 20th century and elaborated by inheritors such as the English philosopher J.G. Bennett (whose voice can be heard on BEING TO BEING). A bit of knowledge about this philosophical practice can explain otherwise cryptic lyrics and titles on this album. In the "Fourth Way," simple words such as "sleep," "waking," "work," or "available" are given spiritual meanings specific to the "Way," whose Zen-like spiritual practice is not easy to categorize. For instance, the "Fourth Way" assumes that all people are "asleep" and unaware of the inner dimensions of life until they begin "working" on themselves to eventually become "awake." This may account for the highly meditative quality of many of the cuts, such as track 5, "effect04" which combines very soft, eerie electronics with the sound of crickets. The lyrics of the songs on track 8, "Working with you," and track 12, "Stream of Consciousness," also use Fourth Way language. The Gurdjieff heritage is also musical, and Gerwing's piano "etude" in track 9 is influenced by piano music composed by one of Gurdjieff's collaborators, composer Thomas de Hartmann.

Another theme in this Gerwing collection is science, that is, the view of the world that science gives us. In that meditative track 8, Gerwing includes a spoken word element which features a male voice (Canadian biologist and science writer David Suzuki) reciting simple numerical facts about the mass of the sun and the earth, the weight of the atmosphere, and other bits of environmental knowledge. Gerwing's use of nature and water sounds (as on the beautiful Track 6) give a quiet sound-picture reminding me of a Zen garden, as well as a vision of an unspoiled environment. He uses "scientific" terminology in his titles: "Biota," "Cumulonimbus." And his album title refers to the famous idea, first promoted by "chaos theory," that the effect of a single butterfly's wing could be multiplied in the earth's atmosphere to create a storm somewhere across the globe.

All this philosophy wouldn't be much good if the music weren't up to it. As long as you're all right with the wide diversity of musical styles on the album, this album is well worth the (spiritual and listening) "work." On most of the tracks, Gerwing sustains an austere, contemplative, detached, cool aesthetic, keeping his harmonies simple and modal, kind of "Western-oriental," with hardly any dissonance. I sometimes wonder whether the detached self-observation of Fourth Way practice might have something to do with this. But then you get the prog-rock songs as well, which I admit I am less fond of. Even those, though, have a certain coolness about them; he's not shouting his way through it or pumping up the hot action, but singing in a rather philosophical way, tinged with more than a bit of romanticism. Altogether, this is one of the most interesting and complex albums to come my way in a long time, in which music, spirituality, and a "scientific" attitude interact in a rewarding and enjoyable way.

This review can also be found at the Ambient Visions website at this review page.

Posted at 3:42 am | link


Sun, 04 Dec, 2005

Physics attack on a Saturday night

It's Saturday night, and most people are out socializing or partying, or spending time with their families, or even working at an off-hours, demanding job. I am doing my physics problems. Take that as you will; I may be a pitiable soul who has no life, or I am highly dedicated (or both). I haven't done anything with it in two weeks, due to the convention, illness, and the need to clear my studio desks. Tonight I was able to go back to the important stuff, since I have finally vanquished the piles of papers, magazines, bills, and correspondence.

So, back to the sliding blocks on the inclines. Here's one in British units, featuring a 96 lb. weight being pulled up a 45 degree angle (quite a job, you would need a simple machine or two to handle it, but they're off-camera in this problem). Find the acceleration and so forth. I calculate the "normal" and parallel force components of the weight under inclined plane gravity, but then I realize I've forgotten how to do this kind of problem. Arggh! Physics panic! It's late at night. There is no one I could reasonably call. E-mail is too slow (they have to pick it up and answer it, which they certainly won't do on Saturday night) and Friendly Scientists don't waste time in internet relay chat. I hate weekends sometimes. Outside my windows, icy freezing rain is falling.

I flounder around scribbling on my paper, trying to figure out how the book got the answer it did. There is something simple I've forgotten. What do I do? Give up working this problem and go drink some soymilk or do some pointless websurfing? Do some art? Go to bed? None of these are options. I must get a grip. I have resources. The grip I get is on my brilliant yellow "physics problem tutor" book, which was so unhelpful many months ago. Now it is a welcome rescue. Books are patient. Books are kind. Books don't care what time of day or night it is. Nor do they make snide remarks about your lack of lifestyle. Here's one just like that problem, explained on page 68. I have the components, right. But I have to remember that the pulling force is opposed by the downward force of the sliding weight on the incline (friction is disregarded here) so the net result force causing acceleration will be less. And with that British system, the mass isn't 96 pounds. That's the weight. The mass is 96 pounds divided by 32 feet per second2, which is 3 "slugs." So that's what goes into the Newtonian equation: resultant force and slugs. Now back to slugging it out with weight, movement, mass, and gravity.

Posted at 3:17 am | link


Fri, 02 Dec, 2005

Brumalia again

It's that time of year again, the three weeks before the Winter Solstice, and then the three weeks afterwards, which are the darkest time of the year. Since I came back from the convention I've been, as the famous poem might say, a slithy tove these days, struggling with a stomach-upset virus and an unusual amount of disorganization for me. I've been feeling mimsy and I haven't got an ounce of work done other than at the day job. Even there I've been frumious and have been seen to outgrabe at even moderate provocation. So I sit in uffish thought trying to get my act together.

My studio is filled with bits and pieces of things I must do: bills, CD's, papers all over, books to categorize and put away, things taken home from work, art supplies, sketches, my physics text open to a set of problems, my laptop sitting cold and unused on the desk, catalogs and magazines, boxes, plastic bags, packing materials, tote bags, toys, and a lot of dust. There is also a small pile of money, which I think I got at the convention from print sales. There is mailing-off to be done. In short, it looks just like the studio of any other bohemianoid you might name. Probably a good bit neater, in fact. But where is the production?

I've got to take my vorpal sword in hand again and get back to the art and the physics. I have no taste for holiday shopping, so I won't do it. I'm planning to go away to the South again this Christmas-New Year week, if I can get the time off. There is a silence around this time which I don't want to break with icky Christmas carols.

Posted at 3:24 am | link


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