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 It is no longer being updated.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.
Tue, 31 Jan, 2006
Joules of information
There's all kinds of energy, according to my physics teaching site. There's potential energy, kinetic energy, elastic potential energy, and gravitational potential energy. When it comes to mechanical energy, "Potential energy is the stored energy of position possessed by an object… An object which possesses mechanical energy is able to do work." The unit of work is the joule, which describes "one Newton of force causing a displacement of one meter." It's not a lot, as heavy hauling goes, but it's a start.
There are lots of other sorts of energy, such as heat energy, light energy, chemical energy, electrical energy, and nuclear energy. Someday I'll get to all of those. There is also the energy of information, a form of energy which is just being recognized in the last decade or so. Informational energy is measured in "bits," but maybe the energy of such a bit could be called an "i-joule?" I have not yet decided what the standard measurement for an "i-joule" should be. Perhaps an "i-joule" would be the amount of intellectual work needed to solve a simple high school physics problem. The joules would multiply quickly as the problems became more complex. And so, with the solution to those physics problems which have never been solved, the i-joule quantity may approach infinity. There may not be enough i-joules in the whole universe to do the work.
But as many modern physicists now suspect, there is more than one universe. There may be universes out there which are rich in informational energy but lacking in mechanical or chemical or even electromagnetic energy. If we could just create some sort of working tunnel between these worlds, then we could tap the vast resources of i-joules in that otherwise barren universe, for our own use. We would send, in exchange (to satisfy the conservation of energy) physics texts loaded with problems, as well as philosophy texts and software user's manuals.
There may be universes which have no physical basis at all. They are composed purely of informational energy. These universes, which are known to some people as "myths," have their own rules and laws and qualities. And yet, they too possess informational energy measured in i-joules. Scientists are usually familiar with the idea of alternate or mythical universes, if only from their reading of fantasy and science fiction. One of the more valuable qualities of a scientist is that he (or she) can ask the question, "What if…" without getting scared. However, this openness has its limits, for when most (or those who write the most) scientists encounter religion, their ability to use their imagination goes out the window, and a sort of simplistic literalism takes over. It takes a great deal of i-joules to continue to ask, "What if…" when religion is concerned.
Posted at 3:31 am | link
Sat, 28 Jan, 2006
I have what a rather outmoded psychological theory calls a "need for achievement." It is not just a modest little need for modest little achievements, like building a birdbox or something. I want to do a lot of achievement, both in art and in math/physics. There's probably something wrong with that need, since I feel it so strongly. Maybe it isn't "spiritual" to want to do things ambitiously. Ambition is a sin, perhaps, or more likely just gauche, childish, and low-class. Perhaps one should instead live in a kind of serene Buddhist impersonal selfless compassion, and divest oneself of wanting anything very much. However, I've never been fond of Buddhism, even though it is so very chic these days among intellectual types.
Even though I'm middle-aged, I still want to do "great" things, whatever that may be. When I chose math and physics (or, did it choose me?) I chose something that would not end, and always had the potential for something new. The same is true for art. I want to do stuff that I can be proud of (a regrettably bourgeois sentiment, but there it is). I recently encountered a story about a British theoretical physicist who won a prize at a piano contest. Gawd, now that's achievement. Not just a professor of physics, but a concert-quality piano player. When does the guy get any time to practice the piano? I wanna know his secret. Remember, physicists can do all sorts of arts and sports on a near-professional or true professional level, but an artist or an athlete cannot do physics on a comparable level. There is no symmetry or equality. The world just isn't fair, and I better get used to it. But I still want to achieve something. Yeah, pretty pathetic, but there I am.
Plugging my way through the practice problems in Schaum's makes me feel inadequate. The "illustrative" worked-out problems it puts in its text are designed to teach material as they are solved, but they just make me confused. Am I supposed to solve this on my own, or wait for the book to teach me how to solve it? If I don't solve it, am I doing poorly? I retreat from the red rigor of the Schaum's book to the Web-based "Physics Classroom" site which is aimed at high-school students. I find it much easier to use, even though there is cuteness such as cartoons and pun names which are not necessary for a Serious Older Student. It explains the material clearly and with plenty of easily interpreted diagrams. I print the pages of the site out so that I can work with them when the machine isn't on, but often I work with both printout and machine together.
One thing I appreciate about the Physics Classroom website is that, like Kuhn's introductory text, it offers very simple problems for the student to solve, which build up experience with the material. Gifted young science-hotshots would scoff at such dim little bits, but I am grateful for these problems. Rather than place a block of complex, barely familiar material in an initial problem, they mention and work with what the text has just explained. The solutions are available only by mouse-click, so you have to have the machine on to get them.
The best thing about the problems on the Physics Classroom site is that I can solve them. Which forces are doing work upon the object in the diagram? Calculate the work done by these forces. How many joules? I find out on paper, and then the site yields the answer, which is more or less right, since for some reason the Physics Classroom has rounded off the 9.8 m/s2 acceleration of gravity to 10 m/s2. I solved a problem! It was a little problem, no harder than drawing a straight line with a ruler, but I solved it. I need even a tiny bit of achievement. This gives me a droplet of it, enough confidence to go on to another page.
Posted at 4:11 am | link
Wed, 25 Jan, 2006
Winter work and energy
When it comes to health, I regret to say I've had a lousy winter so far. Working in a public place puts me in the way of all sorts of viruses carried by customers and their children, and I've endured the annoyance of several of them since the fall. I continue to boil and stew every forty minutes with embarrassing hot flashes which are literally "un-cool." And for the last month, I've had an ongoing dental problem with an infection in an old worked-over tooth. On Tuesday I had it re-worked, a truly unpleasant experience which felt like a mining operation being done with power tools and picks and shovels, located in my jaw. I was dosed with plenty of local anesthetic so it wasn't exactly painful, but I would rather have been at a movie, and I hate movies. A week or so from now, they will complete the operation, but as the dentist explained, there is no guarantee that it will not go bad again in the future.
So I won't think about bad futures. All this adversity plus the dreary lightless days of winter (which seem somehow to be lightless even when the sun is shining brightly) have cut into my drive and energy. I have not been able to do much art or much physics this January, so far. I feel ashamed of this. The macho physicist does not suffer these vapors, but soldiers on through sickness, exhaustion, "insane busy-ness," and bad computer code, fueled by coffee and ambition. And so, I will too. I am not insanely busy yet.
I am working on work. Work for physics in the simplest sense means force times distance; something actually has to be moved. I am also studying potential and kinetic energy, which seem to be complementary entities during the designated period of an object's motion. At the beginning of the journey under gravity, the energy is all potential; just before the object strikes the ground, the energy is almost all kinetic. Is it right to say that one is "transformed" into the other? Or that one must decrease while the other increase? Schaum's is quite elaborate about the descriptions of these energies, though other sources like my favorite learn-physics website, The Physics Classroom, are more user-friendly.
In my winter torpor, I sit motionless in front of the screen, reading physics blogs and science sites. This is not always helpful. When I read about the vastness of physics and astronomy and the other sciences, and the incredible amount of information, technology, and mathematics that these science types know, I feel like a small thing just poking its nose into their world. I am terribly impressed by complexity. It has a kind of power of its own. Will I ever get beyond these little high school equations? I must pay attention. They are fundamental.
Just a few days ago, I dragged myself home to find a colorful bag left at my door. Inside the bag was a set of DVD's and a note from an old friend and art client whom I had recently caught up with at a convention. I had mentioned my physics quest to her at the convention, and she said she would try to find resources for me. The DVD set was from The Teaching Company, which puts course lectures on DVD or video for home learners. The course she picked for me was: "Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos," taught by Steven Pollock of the University of Colorado at Boulder. My friend gave me this as a gift! The Teaching Company also has a DVD-based course in calculus which more than one of my Friendly Mathematicians has recommended to me. But for now, even if I don't have the math yet, I can learn about quanta, quarks, and leptons right here in my studio. It will be a good way to work through the rest of the winter.
Posted at 3:22 am | link
Sun, 22 Jan, 2006
The Whirling Virgin
A few posts ago, I lamented that my light-up Virgin Mary devotional object had burned out. It has now been placed back in my archive of religious devices, but I needed more illumination. A couple of days ago I saw just the thing at a kiosk at a nearby mall. It took some haggling with the Pakistani vendor to bring it within my price range, but things worked out and now I am once again seeing the divine rays. Let me present to you:
Our Lady of Psychedelia!
It is impossible for a single photograph to do this item justice, because this not only lights up, but is in motion. An electric motor behind the Sacred Heart turns a colorful disc of whirling spirals, which interacts with the blue and clear alternating rays around Our Lady to produce a constantly spiraling centripetal/centrifugal moire' pattern. Staring at it for too long will induce dizziness, if not Marian apparitions.
For those of you who read the previous entry about clutter, let me assure you that Our Lady of Psychedelia is not clutter. This replaced a cluttery wall picture, which I threw out. And it inspires devotion, without the use either of liturgy or mind-altering chemicals. Never let it be said that I am not "spiritual."
Posted at 7:18 pm | link
Sat, 21 Jan, 2006
Culling the clutter
I've lived in my current apartment now for about 14 years. That is a long time to live in one place, at least in the United States. In those 14 years I have filled just about every space in this dwelling with stuff. Mostly this is books, magazines, papers, and other media storage devices such as CD's, DVD's, videos, and ancient vinyl records. I have a large amount of "archival papers," some of which I keep due to tax requirements and others which I keep either for art records or sentimental value. I have printouts of computer designs I did in 1992, printed on an HP PaintJet printer which left my possession thirteen years ago. I don't believe in putting everything on vulnerable computer hard drives or discs; paper is simpler and often more durable.
When I moved into the apartment in 1992, it seemed to be brimming with space, wonderful white space which I would surely never fill up. But over the years, the bookcases have multiplied and populated all those spaces; the big walk-in closets are full of things which I cannot get rid of due to various inexorable reasons. Spaces which I hoped would not have to be filled, are now filled. Everywhere I turn, there is stuff. And my workspace for flat work such as cutting mats is now reduced to a single surface, about 20 by 30 inches. That's the only open space left, and even that's often covered with papers, bills, art sketches, or junk mail.
In the winter, I'm confined within these walls when I'm not at work. Nowhere is there rest for the eyes. Where could I find any space? I must at least thin the shelves out. Cull the books, just as you would cull a herd of deer, nice things that you just have too damn much of. How do you decide which book will go? The usual way is to remember whether you have used it or even opened it in the last five years. Some dust-covered volumes on my shelves do not pass this test. Another way, regarding picture books, is for me to consider whether I will use the images on the pages as models for art. If not, then it's time to cull. But if I love the pictures just for their own sake, then it stays.
I want to find good homes for everything I remove. This means not just books, but articles of clothing, accessories, appliances, even unused art materials. I believe that there is a rightful destination for everything that is still in working order; I just have to find it. An upscale used book store takes the better books; a humbler store takes the lesser ones. I even culled a large, redundant physics book. CDs, even those of avant-garde or just plain bad music, can be traded in at a nearby used-CD store, strategically located under an ice-cream parlor. Unused clothing, fabric, or costume items go to my friends who make fantasy costumes. I handed no-longer-used kitchenware to a friend who was able to re-distribute it to people on an online sharing list. Other things, meant for discarding rather than giving, go to the recycle bins.
But no matter how many cluttery things I cull, there is no change in the overcomplicated texture of my dwelling space. Nothing so far has brought back the restful whiteness of an unoccupied stretch of wall or floor. I am forced to entertain the terrifying fantasy of moving to larger quarters. The thought of moving to a larger space reproaches me. Couldn't stop buying things, could I? Aren't you supposed to have bought everything you would ever need, by the time you were fifty? Haven't read all the ones you already have, right? Live with the clutter, then. I couldn't afford larger quarters anyway, especially in the neighborhood I live in. Clutter is a failure of "spirituality,"…holy un-materialistic types live in austere, uncluttered cells.
Every object that leaves my house, then, is a blessing. I rejoice in the departure of a trash bag full of old magazines. The opening of a single square foot of space on a shelf is cause for celebration. It's even more satisfying when I find a perfect home for an item I no longer need. But the process will always fail under normal conditions, because in my weakness I continue to acquire new things. There is no attractive force more powerful than an empty space on a bookshelf.
Posted at 3:53 am | link
Mon, 16 Jan, 2006
Potential and kinetic
I'm into a new chapter in my physics studies. A reading from the Book of Conceptual Physics:
"Energy is the ability to do work. There are many types of energy, including electrical energy, heat, and nuclear energy. In this chapter we will be concerned primarily with with two types of energy: gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy."
This is the word of the, uh, Cosmic Order-Logos. There is mental energy and imagination energy, too, but no word on whether this also follows the rules for physical energy. And what of mental friction, the endlessly nagging lack of confidence, the nay-saying notions which relentlessly drag at me, and the underlying fear that my whole project is going nowhere? How is work defined? In newton/meters? Joules? Or in questions answered and problems solved?
The Book of Conceptual Physics is actually my early introductory text, BASIC PHYSICS, A self-teaching guide, by Karl Kuhn. I got this one long before I got Schaum's Outline. It has only mild mathematics, no more than basic algebra, and its teaching is very simplified. The printing and the graphics are easy to see and read, and it has a patient, easygoing attitude toward the reader, rather than the concentrated verbiage and numbrage of Schaum's. It's just right for my first encounter with important physics concepts, before I work on the heavier weight (mass times intellectual gravity) of Schaum's.
And so it is in Kuhn's text where I finally have been formally introduced to the equation for kinetic energy, which is the basis for That Famous Einstein Equation, as science writer David Bodanis made clear in his book about it. Kuhn of necessity only gives the formula, without its derivation, so the Kuhn book is of the "plug-in" school when it comes to physics. This formulaic approach is always condemned by sophisticated physics teachers, but I feel the need to keep this simple and memorized before I am faced with its derivations and complexities.
I regard physics formulas and concepts as if they were learned, high-placed authorities, into whose presence I am being introduced, as if I were meeting ambassadors or admirals. I must be excruciatingly polite, and not say anything out of order, and keep a respectful distance until I am cleared to work with them. So, good day, Doctor MV2. I hope that I will be able to work well in your service.
Posted at 2:43 am | link
Sat, 14 Jan, 2006
Art from the archive
I haven't died of bird flu yet, so I suppose I'd better get back to work. I got a new scanner, this one a Hewlett-Packard, with a two-year warranty that will replace it if something goes wrong with it. This scanner can scan sixteen 35 millimeter slides at a time, while the previous one could only do 4. I did this as soon as I realized that I had to plug in the "Transparent Materials Adapter." Then it scanned a full load of slides.
I have an extensive art archive of more than a thousand slides, going back all the way to the late '70s. It goes with my art catalog, which begins with my first sold work back in about 1976. I don't have a slide of catalog number 1 (unfortunately, the original is lost), but I do have most of the others. I am currently at catalog number 930. This number doesn't represent the number of artworks actually made, because many of the single numbers in the catalog represent sets of artwork. These sets can sometimes number more than a dozen.
For instance, catalog number 691, which by fortuitous numerology was created in June of 1991 (6/91), contains 18 pieces. These were created all at one time, and are all the same size, though some are vertical and some are horizontal. At that time I used to make "editions" of airbrushed astronomical pictures, which I would then sell for very modest prices at science fiction conventions. I would lay the small panels out on newspapers spread on the floor, and paint them en masse. I used only bright, primary colors like blue and red, with perhaps a touch of purple and yellow, because this is what attracted viewers. Then I gave them evocative titles. Not all of them turned out well, but enough did so that I could earn a few bucks from them.
I had 16 slides of the 691 series. I failed to photograph one other, and the last one is still in my collection, because I liked it too much to sell it. So I loaded all the 691's into the scanner, and then processed the images from the slides, one by one, until they were once again presentable. I don't know whether other artists keep such complete and detailed records of their art. Cataloguing has a "commercial" quality to it, a bit too crass for "fine" artists perhaps. But I enjoy rolling out the numbers. One ongoing project of mine is to make digital files of all my art slides and negatives. Then I can put the whole catalog onto DVD's or whatever storage medium shows up in the future.
Here's a couple of examples of what I was doing in 1991. These are small paintings, 7 inches by 10 inches. They are painted by airbrush and spatter brush in acrylic on black illustration board.
This one's catalog number 691A, "Lighthouse Beacon."
And this one is catalog number 691M, "High Energy Radio Source" (depicting colliding galaxies):
Posted at 2:49 am | link
Wed, 11 Jan, 2006
The Meme of Four
One of the physicists at COSMIC VARIANCE generously suggested that I take up the game of the "Meme of Four." This is one of a variety of blogging games that encourage self-revelation (within the bounds of good taste of course). Well, self-absorption and self-revelation are what Blogging is all about, right? And I badly need some distraction. So here's the ELECTRON BLUE version of the "Meme of Four."
The object is to list various things all in sets of four, no more no less. It's a fairly long series, so be prepared.
FOUR Jobs I've had:
1. Counter help at "Paco's Tacos," a fast food place in Harvard Square
2. Brief stint at the counter of a photograph developing booth
3. Architectural rendering artist at "The Architectural Art," in Northern Virginia
4. Sign designer and sign maker at Trader Joe's, my current job.
FOUR Movies I could watch over and over:
1. STAR WARS (the first one, released 1977, which later got re-named "Episode 4")
2. LORD OF THE RINGS, part 3
3. THE TRUMAN SHOW
4. "BOOM" with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Bizarre film rated "unwatchable." I love it.
FOUR places I've lived:
1. Natick, Massachusetts
2. Rome, Italy
3. Cambridge, Massachusetts
4. Fairfax County, Virginia
FOUR TV Shows I love to watch:
1. STAR TREK, any version of it except "Enterprise"
2. Red Sox, Orioles, or Nationals Baseball
4. NOVA the PBS science show, especially if it's about volcanoes
FOUR places I've been on vacation
1. New Orleans (2003) during a tropical storm
2. The Greek Islands
3. Nebraska City, Nebraska (2003)
4. Nashville, Tennessee
FOUR of my favorite foods:
1. Blue Castello, triple cream blue cheese
2. Grilled steak with a spice crust
3. Smoked salmon
4. Artichoke hearts
(Naturally, these are all available at Trader Joe's.)
FOUR places I'd rather be:
4. Island of Stromboli, with constantly erupting volcano
FOUR music albums I can't live without:
1. LUDUS TONALIS by Paul Hindemith: Piano cleverness
2. SKY OF GRACE by Paul Avgerinos (Exquisite New Age)
3. WORLD'S EDGE by Steve Roach (desert electronic spacemusic)
4. String quartets and "Phantasy" quintet by Ralph Vaughan Williams, played by the Maggini Quartet, Naxos Records
FOUR Vehicles I've owned:
1. Dodge Aries K wagon, light silver-blue. Often fell out of third gear or lost power completely while at speed on a crowded road.
2. Mitsubishi/Plymouth Colt Vista. Bought in wretched condition and could not ever be fully fixed. Miserable vehicle nicknamed the "Zero."
3. Honda Civic Wagon, pewter grey. Ten years of flawless humble service.
4. Honda CRV Wagon, Electron Blue color. My current vehicle, the "Electron."
Posted at 3:05 am | link
Fri, 06 Jan, 2006
At the beginning of the year, as countless others do, I go through my accumulated saved e-mails and evaluate whether I want to keep them or not. I worked through my various mailing list archives, and saved them to text files (the much-maligned Microsoft Outlook allows me to do this). Somehow, during this fit of archiving and deleting the copied messages, I deleted all the messages in my "inbox." These were saved mostly from 2005, but a few of them went all the way back to 2003. There were about a hundred and thirty of them. Some came from friends and relatives, others from one-time or prospective art buyers. Others came from music correspondents or members of one or another group mailing list I belong to. With one negligent keystroke, they all disappeared for good.
I was horrified at first. What had I done? Suddenly all those nagging messages, which I had promised myself I was going to answer someday, had vanished. Old school contacts, Persian college students, esoteric researchers, and a couple of e-mails from Friendly Scientists went into the black hole. What a fool, I thought.
Then I realized that it wasn't that bad. In fact, I had probably done the right thing, however unplanned. If those lost clients or old schoolmates had wanted to get back in touch with me, my address hadn't changed. The researchers had probably already gotten whatever information they wanted from me and moved on. As for my Friendly Scientists and other current contacts, I had plenty of archived messages from them so that not much of our correspondence had been lost. And, frankly, I just don't get that much e-mail. I recently talked to a scientific researcher who said he got hundreds of (non-spam, research-related) e-mails every day.
Everybody tells me how "hectic," "crazy," and "insane" their lives and work are. This is an ongoing theme, and many Electron readers will also describe their lives this way. Physicists and other scientists, whose work hours are marvels of endurance, certainly do, and in fact one of the writers of the brilliant physics/life blog COSMIC VARIANCE posted a humorous essay about the need to take a break from that kind of life. But the reality is that "hectic crazy insane" can also add up to "productive." Work and ceaseless activity, with every hour scheduled and filled, is the badge of the achiever's life. And that's just what I haven't had in these last few weeks. I stumble home from work (usually after a coffee tipple at Starbucks) and just sit numbly in front of the computer, reading other people's writing or following various disasters on the newsfeeds. Where is my art, where is my physics? I have to get going, otherwise 2006 will go into the deletion bin as fast as my e-mails did. C'mon and get hectic! Do something now!
Posted at 3:05 am | link
Thu, 05 Jan, 2006
The Virgin Mary burned out during the 2005 Holiday Season. Or rather, my light-up Virgin Mary did. This electrified devotional trinket came to me from a dear friend about 20 years ago. I kept it faithfully and only lit it up during the Christmas season and briefly at Easter. But time and use eventually caught up with it, and this Holiday season it went dark.
The whole item is about seven inches (17 cm) tall. The Virgin and Child are surrounded by four hollow plastic crystal pylons, and each of them was illuminated by a tiny jewel-like Christmas lightbulb inside it. There was also a light under the Virgin's pedestal. This is the one that burnt out. Since all the lights were connected, the failure of one meant that none of the others would light up either.
I thought of trying to fix it, but replacing the lights would require that I break the plastic welding which attached the pieces of the pedestal together to the base. This would probably destroy the whole thing, so it's better to let the Virgin Mary remain un-illumined.
I suppose this has something to do with religion. I venerate most things which give off light or glow in the dark, whether they be the great stars in the sky or harmless little fireflies in the summer night. It is no accident that the word for "divine" comes from an Indo-European root that means "shining." The Zoroastrian religion, which I studied for so long, specializes in this kind of light-based spirituality, which is why I like it so much.
The glowing Virgin isn't the only artifact to go Kaput on me. My scanner, which I have only had for a few months more than a year, has failed. I thought it might be a problem with the driver software, but using another driver didn't solve the problem. The scanner works correctly for a brief minute or so, but after that, any subsequent scan turns bright yellow, no matter what color it is scanning. This sounds like an electronic failure of some component which is overheating, not to mention bad taste in color choice. This means that, as with the Virgin Mary, some repair would be needed which would no doubt be more destructive, and expensive, than buying a new scanner. I will be hauling it back to Micro Center, where I bought it, to see whether they will simply take it back and give me a new one (though it is by now off the "official" warranty.).
My phone answering machine also perished, of old age, in 2005, after 17 years of faithful service. Those of you who have left messages on my phone machine over the years will remember the birdsong which I used as an identification message. I will now have to re-create the birdies, or their equivalent, on a new machine. I hear that the newer ones, uh, don't use "tape" any more.
My physics books haven't failed. They are low-tech information delivery systems. You don't even have to turn them on. I am about to be introduced to kinetic and potential energy. I await illumination.
Posted at 2:44 am | link
Mon, 02 Jan, 2006
Old Dominion, New Year
Virginia is a beautiful state, and I'm glad I live in it. I finally got away from the city just for New Year's. I drove into the rural heart of the Old Dominion to stay with friends who have a country home. It is an old farmhouse, with a lot of outbuildings, a pond and pastures, and plenty of forest land around it. When they bought it, it was in very poor shape and they have been fixing it up ever since; while I was there, they were refinishing an entire room that had been gutted and re-walled.
They have four head of Black Angus cattle which were grazing in the field next to the house, and there were domestic white ducks on their pond. In their neighborhood, hunting for food is an ordinary part of life, and I ate a casserole made with venison from a deer shot by my hosts. They heat their house with wood stoves. There is neither TV nor a computer in the house, though there is phone service (including cell phone) and electricity. They get around their property on a four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle and a farm-enabled golf cart. There is plenty of mud.
Sitting by the wood stove, I felt as though I were welcoming in 1906 rather than 2006. The Washington Post had an article about that, describing American culture at the end of 1905 and comparing it to our current era. I am glad that people cannot really see the future. If they had known what was awaiting them in the rest of the twentieth century, would they have wanted to celebrate at all? After our own year of disasters, apocalypses and foreboding, I didn't feel like celebrating either.
Out in the country darkness, the stars shine brighter than I have seen them for decades. They blaze like permanent fireworks in the night sky. I have forgotten that sight, living in the hazy, light-polluted city for so long. Sounds carry for miles across the fields and forests: dogs barking, train whistles, owl hoots, all stretched out over the open land. But the noise level is nothing like that in the city. Quietness and space: the ultimate luxuries.
At one point, some years ago, I considered moving to the country. I almost did it, but I never found a place that really suited me. Now I wouldn't do it, because my job is in the city, a convenient half-mile from my residence. And I must have my broadband cable Internet access, which is not usually available in rural areas. I can paint pictures of the country, but I don't really want to live there.
I have no resolutions for 2006, other than just surviving (a sentiment shared by many around me). I will continue my physics, math, art, and writing. I am considering changing the scope of this Weblog somewhat, to include discussions about religion and science. But I am wary that this will alienate some of my scientist atheist readers, for whom any form of religion is delusion and nonsense. This would also mean that I would speak about my own religious beliefs, which I haven't discussed during the two years I have been writing this. If I were openly religious, would any scientist trust me? I haven't decided yet. I don't have the kind of certainty that the scientists have. But I find it increasingly hard to keep silent about spiritual and religious matters, and their relationship to science and knowledge.
I will have to be careful as I write, and include explanations and disclaimers. Some of my readers were disturbed by my previous entry, which I admit was unusually loopy for this journal. They thought perhaps I had actually gone schizophrenic. I must assure them that none of the texts I quoted were actually written by me. They were mostly taken from spams (unsolicited bulk e-mails) which were caught in my filtering software. Spammers use computerized word-salad generators in the hopes of fooling the filters and getting their messages to your e-mail inbox. Sometimes the word salad resembles avant-garde poetry and prose, such as the bizarre "cut-ups" composed by American author William Burroughs (1914-1997). I will have to remember that such excesses are not to everyone's taste, and that not everyone who reads this Electron knows the background culture of the "internet world."
I will still be working on classical mechanics in 2006. Classical physics, like classical music, is defined by canons of restraint, clear structure, rationality, logic, balance, and a striving for perfect form. It looks backwards, to the greats of the past such as Galileo and Newton, Mozart and Beethoven. In 1906, no one yet knew that quantum uncertainty would challenge those classical ideals in ways that are even now, still unfathomable.
Posted at 4:03 am | link