Friday, April 18, 2008

"Pajama Game" Opens Tonight!

Left: Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: Taking up matters with the Grievance Committee. Left to right, Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, Lisa Curtis, Amber Jean Moore, Jan Isaacson, and Joshua Smith.

Left: Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore). In background, left to right, Kris Farhood, McKinley Carlisle, and Sarah Pivonka.

Left: Mabel (Dannette Vassar), Gladys (Lauren Miller), and Hines (Herb Shultz).

Left: Hines (Herb Schultz) and Mabel (Dannette Vassar).

Left: Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore) and Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore) and Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: "Pop" Williams (Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg) and Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: "Steam Heat" (Lauren Miller, Jabriel Shelton, and Kris Farhood).

Left: "Steam Heat" (Kris Farhood, Lauren Miller, and Jabriel Shelton).

Left: Hines (Herb Shultz), with women's ensemble (clockwise from left: Kris Farhood, Sarah Pivonka, Cari Porter (obscured), Kristine Hager, Stacey Sheehan, and McKinley Carlisle).

Look at the moiré pattern on Herb's suit!

Left: Mabel (Dannette Vassar), Mr. Hasler (Dustin White), and Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).
Bistro 33 Light Fixture

The waitress said it reminded her of Medusa's Head, but I thought instead of some kind of fusion laser inertial confinement device of some sort.
So, What Is The Hip-Hop Reference That Obama Made?

I'm a little slow, so I didn't catch the Jay-Z reference that Barack Obama made in the video I posted yesterday....

Of course, Jay-Z's lyrics here might work nearly as well....
I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain't one - hit me!
The fact that Obama can even make a Jay-Z reference in a public venue, and be widely-understood, tells a lot about the dog-whistle era of politics we live in now. This is better than even George Bush's anti-abortion "Dred Scott" moment from the October, 2004 debate with John Kerry.

Barack Obama for President!
William Langewiesche Explains Meteorologists

There are two kinds of people in the world: People who divide people into two kinds, and people who don't.

In the latest issue of "Vanity Fair", William Langewiesche discusses the cultural and historical background behind Weather Modification, and contrasts typical meteorologists with meteorologists who dig Weather Modification. (William Langewiesche discusses his discussion here, but the original text appears to be only available in the hard-copy Vanity Fair.) Langewiesche discusses Chinese Weather Modification in particular, but his comments are broadly, internationally, applicable.

Of course, I fall squarely in-between both camps, having been both a typical meteorologist, and a meteorologist who digs Weather Modification. I like singing and dancing (if not drinking) through the night. But my fuzzy classification still doesn't seem to help much: it's as hard as ever to find spawning opportunities:
Meteorology is a miserable job. To be an ordinary meteorologist you have to want to spend your life watching the weather slide by, unable to do anything about it, and subject to public scorn every time you get the forecast wrong. To endure this life it helps to be a social misfit, awkward as hell, and, incidentally, uninterested in mating with the opposite sex. So weak is the natural drive among ordinary forecasters in China, for instance, that the one-child policy should be suspended at underperforming C.M.A. offices, and staffers fined for refusing to give "dating" a try. I have nothing against the Chinese. The fact is that meteorologists everywhere are weenies in the extreme. They are twerps. Dweebs. Instrument tappers. Professional virgins. The moral is that you should never give your child a toy weather station - not if you want them to pass along your genes. Weather modifiers, however, are a different breed. In Ürümqi they enjoy dancing and singing and drinking through the night. There is evidence they enjoy mating too. After all, these are vigorous souls, unwilling to watch the weather slide by, whose impulse when spotting certain clouds is to penetrate them and seize control. At that point the party stops. In a world of weenies they are the action heroes, the alpha dogs, the hunters and providers.
Quick Hoochie Music Review

Been listening to:
  • Fergie's "The Dutchess";
  • Nelly Furtado's "Loose";
  • Janet Jackson's "Discipline"; and,
  • Rihanna's "Good Girl Gone Bad."
Rihanna's "Good Girl Gone Bad" is best.
The Crackpot Index (By John Baez)

Walt interrupted my reverie regarding Natural Philosophy with this statistic. Actually, I was already working on this particular cutting edge of a "paradigm shift", but then Baez, this "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy," stole my idea.....

A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:
  1. A -5 point starting credit.
  2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
  3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
  4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
  5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
  6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.
  7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
  8. 5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann".
  9. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
  11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
  12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.
  13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.
  14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
  15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".
  16. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.
  17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".
  18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".
  20. 20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it "suppresses original thinkers" or saying that I misspelled "Einstein" in item 8.)
  21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
  22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
  23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.
  24. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
  25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the "The Evans Field Equation" when your name happens to be Evans.)
  26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
  27. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary".
  28. 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy".
  29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)
  30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
  31. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).
  32. 30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.
  33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
  34. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
  35. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.
  36. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)
  37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.
    © 1998 John Baez
Our Hearts Reach Out....

Our heart-felt sympathies and prayers for Andy & Susan (& Gracie) Sullivan at this difficult time.....

from Marc (and the rest of the DMTC family, and the Magic Circle family as well...)
As most of you know, Sue and I were blessed to have a precious little girl delivered Sunday morning. She was delivered at 24 weeks gestation, about 4 months short of full term. It was a pretty dire situation, but out little Gracie came out fighting. That was the most consistent comment from the N-ICU team of doctors and nurses. Every time we went down there, she was groovin' and dancing away. Sue said that was very much like what was happening before delivery.

Doctors say that micro-preemies (as ours was) honeymoon for a couple of days, then the problems kick in. The first 24 hours and the first 7 days are the true tests to see how the baby does in the world. The honeymoon ended Tuesday night....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cranking The Numbers

NASA near-miss:
A 13-year-old German schoolboy corrected NASA's estimates on the chances of an asteroid colliding with Earth, after noticing the boffins had miscalculated.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP) to calculate that there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

NASA had previously estimated the chances at only 1 in 45,000 but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency, that the young whizzkid had got it right.

...Both NASA and Marquardt agree that if the asteroid does collide with earth, it will create a ball of iron and iridium 320 metres (1049 feet) wide and weighing 200 billion tonnes, which will crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

The shockwaves from that would create huge tsunami waves, destroying both coastlines and inland areas, whilst creating a thick cloud of dust that would darken the skies indefinitely.
The Utility Of A British Accent

I wonder if I could do something similar in the UK?:
A British holidaymaker with no acting experience bluffed his way on to a film set in a Las Vegas casino and was asked to act in a scene with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Carl Kelly, 29, of Knebworth, Hertfordshire, told security that he had left his pass inside the set and was believed “because I had a British accent”. He sat down with the other extras and, several hours later, was called to do a scene with Ms Paltrow.

He said yesterday: “Some 38 takes later, I think they were getting pretty fed up with me — but that’s what happens when you let an untrained nobody into your film.”

The salesman, who had been staying at Caesars Palace after watching the boxer Ricky Hatton take part in a world title fight last June, now appears in the background of promotional images for the science fiction thriller Iron Man.
Don't Deny The Queen

Because you are just going to regret it:
COMMERCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Police say a man dressed as a woman repeatedly crashed his car into a suburban Detroit lingerie store that refused to hire him.

Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe says Jeremy McIntosh, 27, was arrested Saturday outside Intimate Ideas. Damage to the store was estimated at $3,000.

McCabe says McIntosh was wearing ‘‘facial makeup, lipstick, blue Capri pants, red flip-flops, a flowery blouse and a matching flowery women’s bra.’’

McIntosh told deputies he is homeless and wanted to go to jail because he had nowhere else to go.
How To Deal With Dumb Media

The debate last night was just the worst example yet of how degraded our national news media have become. This is a good response....
Swedes Go After Oldest Tree Record

Not fair! Not fair!:
STOCKHOLM (AFP) - The world's oldest living tree on record is a nearly 10,000 year-old spruce that has been discovered in central Sweden, Umeaa University said on Thursday.

Researchers had discovered a spruce with genetic material dating back 9,550 years in the Fulu mountain in Dalarna, according to Leif Kullmann, a professor of Physical Geography at the university in northwestern Sweden.

That would mean it had taken root in roughly the year 7,542 BC.

"It was a big surprise because we thought until (now) that this kind of spruce grew much later in those regions," he said.

Scientists had previously believed the world's oldest trees were 4,000 to 5,000 year-old pine trees found in North America.

The new record-breaking tree was discovered in Dalarna in 2004 when Swedish researchers were carrying out a census of tree species in the region, Kullman said.

The tree's genetic material age had been calculated using carbon dating at a laboratory in Miami, Florida.

Spruces, which according to Kullmann offer rich insight into climate change, had long been regarded as relatively newcomers in the Swedish mountain region.

The discovery of the ancient tree had therefore led to "a big change in our way of thinking," he said.
The bristlecone pines in California's White Mountains had hitherto been considered the record holders.

California's White Mountains, east of Bishop near the Nevada state line, are a strange place. Very dry, even at high elevations, due to the rain shadow in the lee of the nearby, much lusher Sierra Nevada Mountains. Starved of rainfall, the plant community in the White Mountains is unusually sparse and simple, and time just seems to S-L-O-W...... D-O-W-N...... there....

Then again, some people have thought that creosote bushes of the American Southwest might be the oldest plants on Earth. The question there is, what exactly is meant by a plant? Apparently creosote bushes generate clones in increasingly-larger concentric circles around the original plant, so today you have large rings of bushes where the genetic material is thousands of years old, but where the original bush in the middle perished long-ago. So, how old is it, really?

I hate to see the Swedes competing in this race. Really old stuff should be an American preserve, right?
"Pajama Game" - Wednesday Night Rehearsal

Left: Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith) and Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore).

Left: Poopsie (McKinley Carlisle) and Mabel (Dannette Vassar).

Left: Mabel (Dannette Vassar), Gladys (Lauren Miller), and Hines (Herb Shultz).

Left: Prez (John Ewing).

Left: Max (Michael McElroy) and Mr. Hasler (Dustin White).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trying To Make That Difference

Ten Sixes

I remember being amazed by the Reader's Digest Atlas that Cousin Eddie from Santa Fe gave to me in 1964, and its predictions that the world's population would reach six million by the year 2000. Such a rapidly-growing number!

And that prediction came true, right on schedule!

On May 10, 2008, the world's population will reach 6,666,666,666.

[Update: Steve points out that I meant "billion", not "million", but really, who's counting?]
"Pajama Game" - Tuesday Night Rehearsal

Left: Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith) and Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore).

Left: Tension on the floor of the Sleep Tite pajama factory.

Left: Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith) and Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore).

Left: Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore) and Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: "Pop" Williams (Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, on right) is impressed by Sid Sorokin's (Joshua Smith's) appreciation of the finer points of philately.

Left: "Steam Heat" (Kris Farhood, Lauren Miller, and Jabriel Shelton).

Left: Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: Max (Michael McElroy), Mr. Hasler (Dustin White), and Sid Sorokin (Joshua Smith).

Left: Hines (Herb Schultz).

Left: Mabel (Dannette Vassar).

Left: Hines (Herb Shultz) and women's ensemble (clockwise from left: Kris Farhood, Sarah Pivonka, Cari Porter, Kristine Hager, Stacey Sheehan, and McKinley Carlisle).

Below: Babe Williams (Amber Jean Moore).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You're Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today

Left: Byron Sneed (aka Dante Hicks)

After six years of managing two Subway stores (21st & J Streets; and 65th Street, near Folsom), Byron Sneed is moving on, and following former manager Eric Osberg's footsteps, to manage the Sonic Drive-In in Woodland (Eric has since moved on to manage a Subway in Yuba City).

Byron's last day at 21st & J was eventful. A man tried to shortchange Tim at the counter over some cookies, and in just seconds was threatening to bash him with a baseball bat. No rest for the wicked!

Byron claims his mother did some genealogy and tracked his ancestry back to 12th Century Transylvania's Vlad the Impaler (aka Count Dracula). Privately, I wondered if it was possible to track his ancestry any farther back than a New Jersey QuickStop, circa 1988. But if we track our ancestries back far enough, we are all related - even to folks like "Silent Bob".

I will miss Byron's steady hand and great humor. I remember the day I deliberately maintained a very low-key demeanor, expressionless and eyes downcast, and passed entirely through the sandwich line, standing directly in front of him, without him even noticing. Gosh, that was fun! I will miss his ribbing about the gubernatorial run, about Lauren Miller's feckless ways in "Titanic", and half a dozen other topics.
Little Brother Is Watching You

The surveillance society is healthy (even if the surveillance state is sometimes blind):
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, unveiled plans on Monday to film its gun sales in the United States and create a computerized log of purchases in a bid to stop guns falling into the wrong hands.

Wal-Mart, which is the largest seller of firearms in the United States, agreed a 10-point code, which also includes rigid inventory controls, with a bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns led by New York's Michael Bloomberg.

The retailer said it will develop a first-of-its-kind computerized crime gun trace log that will flag purchases by customers who have previously bought guns later recovered in crimes.

"Wal-Mart currently uses a strong point of sale system," said J.P. Suarez, senior vice president and chief compliance officer of Wal-Mart. "This code is a way for us to fine-tune the things we're already doing and further strengthen our standards. We hope other retailers will join us."

The Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership is designed to strengthen the points in the gun purchasing system that criminals have exploited in the past, Wal-Mart and the Mayors Against Illegal Guns said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 46 percent of its criminal gun trafficking investigations involved cases in which someone who is not legally allowed to purchase a firearm does so through the use of a proxy, known as a straw buyer.
"Mole Man" In Trouble

Just having too much fun:
William Lyttle, 77, spent 40 years excavating a maze of tunnels beneath his 20-room Victorian property in Hackney, East London, before the council intervened.

...Inspectors discovered that parts of the house were supported by nothing more than household appliances and that ceilings had fallen in as a result of his extensive “home improvements”.

Mr Lyttle also dug out holes around his home, in which he placed a range of items including cars and boats.

The London Borough of Hackney had Mr Lyttle evicted in 2006 so council workmen could move in and save the house and a neighbouring property. The pavement outside was also affected.

Judge McKenna, presiding at the hearing at the High Court in London, ordered Mr Lyttle to pay £283,026 for the repairs and £10,000 in legal costs.

He also imposed an injunction on Mr Lyttle to prevent him undoing any of the work completed so far on site.

Simon Butler, representing the council, said in his written submissions that Mr Lyttle had used assorted items such as a fridge-freezer and a bath to prop up portions of his home. “There were poles which had been used to prop sections of floor, which were clearly bowing out of vertical due to the excessive load which the building had been subjected to,” he wrote.

“Mr Lyttle had extended below the existing basement to the property and mined the two main garden areas. He had also undermined and cut away at the foundation of the neighbouring property.”

Mr Butler said Mr Lyttle was ordered by Thames Magistrates Court to take down or repair the house in May 2006, but failed to comply, and the council moved in to undertake the work.

He told the court: “Mr Lyttle has been obstructive, has issued numerous applications in the County Court and the Royal Courts of Justice over the last five years, and has caused the council to incur unnecessary expenses abating a nuisance he has created, because he fails to use his land in a reasonable manner.”

Mr Lyttle, who defended himself in court, was given 14 days to pay.

Judge McKenna, giving his judgment, said the costs bills were reasonable.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama's "Bitter" Comments

It's been fun listening to the various elitists hold forth about what has been seen as Obama's elitist tone-deafness, by linking gun culture and immigrant-bashing to economic insecurity. Hillary Clinton has a rebuttal (Yale vs. Harvard, of course), and so does John McCain (although I'm sure he, the son and grandson of admirals, knows nothing about elitism). Even William Kristol at the New York Times, the son of Irving Kristol and a complete stranger to real work, has joined in the fun.

Yup, just pork rinds and beer-swilling in fly-over country like Pennsylvania.

In any event, I'm glad we are having these nano-controversies now, rather than in the general election. By leeching the poison out now, there will be less available in October and November.

Kevin Drum opines:
Once you clear out all the meta-clutter, though, what really strikes me as odd about Obama's statement is that, on its merits, it's largely untrue, isn't it? Economic distress probably is responsible for growing anti-trade sentiment (though the Midwest has never exactly been a bastion of free trade support), and maybe for a bit of the increase in anti-immigrant sentiment too (though I think this has been more cultural than economic, and is primarily rooted in the simple fact that we have a lot more illegal immigrants today than we did 15 years ago). But does anyone really think that stagnant wages and globalization are responsible for rural gun culture? Or the rise of the Christian right? Or an increase in bigotry? This stuff just doesn't seem to be related to recent economic distress in any serious way at all. Gun culture, for example, has been around forever. It's just that it was largely unnoticed until liberals started trying to take guns away in the 60s and 70s. The rise of the Christian right has lots of causes, but it's part of a long American religious tradition that has very little to do with the ups and downs of the economy. And bigotry hasn't increased in the past 25 years, so that part doesn't even make sense on its own terms.
Mixing Up Your "Frames"

I'm sure Davis was trying to bitch-slap Obama, and contrast McCain's age and (supposed) judgement to Obama's youth and (supposed) inexperience, but boy (there's that word again!), it's easy when race is mixed up in politics to make mistakes (as Bill Clinton also found out during the South Carolina primary):
You don't call a black man a "boy" when you're from the south, unless you're intending to harken back to the racist language of slavery, and then segregation, when all black men were called "boy" as a prejudiced pejorative. Even worse, the GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell was there when it happened. Here's what Rep. Geoff Davis (that's really his name, talk about irony) R-KY had to say about Obama:

"I'm going to tell you something: That boy's finger does not need to be on the button," Davis said.

Again, in southern speak, everyone knows what "boy" means when it's said about a black man.
Changes In Latitude, Changes In Attitude

Interesting way of coping (via Wicked Thoughts):
In a hot-pink Mohawk haircut and leotard to match, he pirouettes before taking down his muscle-bound enemies with a swift kick to the groin.

Maximo, Mexican professional wrestling's latest sensation, then delivers a crowning blow – a kiss on the lips of his macho opponent – to the delight of a roaring crowd.

Maximo is one of the "Exotics," a group of effeminate fighters in the testosterone-fueled world of Mexico's Lucha Libre, the inspiration for the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment. Known casually as "gay" wrestlers, Exotics have been around since the 1970s but are experiencing a wrestling revival. Their characters are strong, yet sensitive good guys overcoming evil, they say.
Crossing The Line

Criss Angel was upset because his girlfriend didn't win the Miss USA pageant:
As silly as it seems to take a beauty pageant owned by Donald Trump and hosted by Donnie and Marie Osmond, with Paul McCartney's ex-wife as a judge, at all seriously, this apparently makes for pretty high emotional stakes in the world of Criss Angel. According to Clarke, Angel flashed an obscene gesture on the NBC telecast after his girlfriend was out of the competition.

But that was just the beginning of Angel's tantrum. His real eruption apparently happened after the pageant. Angel presumably was upset by coverage Clarke wrote earlier about how Angel had urged a judge to give "my girl" high marks. Clarke also reported that Donald Trump, the owner of the pageant, was disturbed by Angel's talk with the judge. All of this was moot, as it turned out the judge in question had already turned in her vote.

Anyway, Clarke reports that after the pageant, Angel, along with his brothers and a bodyguard, charged over to him, with Angel yelling obscenities. Clarke has battled serious medical issues and wears an eye patch because his eye was removed. Angel, according to Clarke, didn't shy away from tasteless threatening: "Don't ever write another word about me, or you'll need an eyepatch over your other eye." Real clever.
RIP, John Wheeler

Another of the great 20th Century physicists passes on:
John A. Wheeler, a visionary physicist and teacher who helped invent the theory of nuclear fission, gave black holes their name and argued about the nature of reality with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, died Sunday morning at his home in Hightstown, N.J. He was 96.

...Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of Dr. Wheeler, “For me, he was the last Titan, the only physics superhero still standing.”

Under his leadership, Princeton became the leading American center of research into Einsteinian gravity, known as the general theory of relativity — a field that had been moribund because of its remoteness from laboratory experiment.

“He rejuvenated general relativity; he made it an experimental subject and took it away from the mathematicians,” said Freeman Dyson, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study across town in Princeton.

Among Dr. Wheeler’s students was Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology, who parlayed a crazy-sounding suggestion by Dr. Wheeler into work that led to a Nobel Prize. Another was Hugh Everett, whose Ph.D. thesis under Dr. Wheeler on quantum mechanics envisioned parallel alternate universes endlessly branching and splitting apart — a notion that Dr. Wheeler called “Many Worlds” and which has become a favorite of many cosmologists as well as science fiction writers.

Recalling his student days, Dr. Feynman once said, “Some people think Wheeler’s gotten crazy in his later years, but he’s always been crazy.”

...Their relationship was renewed when Bohr arrived in 1939 with the ominous news of nuclear fission. In the model he and Dr. Wheeler developed to explain it, the atomic nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, is like a drop of liquid. When a neutron emitted from another disintegrating nucleus hits it, this “liquid drop” starts vibrating and elongates into a peanut shape that eventually snaps in two.

Two years later, Dr. Wheeler was swept up in the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. To his lasting regret, the bomb was not ready in time to change the course of the war in Europe and possibly save his brother Joe, who died in combat in Italy in 1944.

Dr. Wheeler continued to do government work after the war, interrupting his research to help develop the hydrogen bomb, promote the building of fallout shelters and support the Vietnam War and missile defense, even as his views ran counter to those of his more liberal colleagues.

...One particular aspect of Einstein’s theory got Dr. Wheeler’s attention. In 1939, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who would later be a leader in the Manhattan Project, and a student, Hartland Snyder, suggested that Einstein’s equations had made an apocalyptic prediction. A dead star of sufficient mass could collapse into a heap so dense that light could not even escape from it. The star would collapse forever while spacetime wrapped around it like a dark cloak. At the center, space would be infinitely curved and matter infinitely dense, an apparent absurdity known as a singularity.

Dr. Wheeler at first resisted this conclusion, leading to a confrontation with Dr. Oppenheimer at a conference in Belgium in 1958, in which Dr. Wheeler said that the collapse theory “does not give an acceptable answer” to the fate of matter in such a star. “He was trying to fight against the idea that the laws of physics could lead to a singularity,” Dr. Charles Misner, a professor at the University of Maryland and a former student, said. In short, how could physics lead to a violation itself — to no physics?

Dr. Wheeler and others were finally brought around when David Finkelstein, now an emeritus professor at Georgia Tech, developed mathematical techniques that could treat both the inside and the outside of the collapsing star.

At a conference in New York in 1967, Dr. Wheeler, seizing on a suggestion shouted from the audience, hit on the name “black hole” to dramatize this dire possibility for a star and for physics.

The black hole “teaches us that space can be crumpled like a piece of paper into an infinitesimal dot, that time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame, and that the laws of physics that we regard as ‘sacred,’ as immutable, are anything but,” he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, “Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics.” (Its co-author is Kenneth Ford, a former student and a retired director of the American Institute of Physics.)

In 1973, Dr. Wheeler and two former students, Dr. Misner and Kip Thorne, of the California Institute of Technology, published “Gravitation,” a 1,279-page book whose witty style and accessibility — it is chockablock with sidebars and personality sketches of physicists — belies its heft and weighty subject. It has never been out of print.

...At a 90th birthday celebration in 2003, Dr. Dyson said that Dr. Wheeler was part prosaic calculator, a “master craftsman,” who decoded nuclear fission, and part poet. “The poetic Wheeler is a prophet,” he said, “standing like Moses on the top of Mount Pisgah, looking out over the promised land that his people will one day inherit.” Wojciech Zurek, a quantum theorist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said that Dr. Wheeler’s most durable influence might be the students he had “brought up.” He wrote in an e-mail message, “I know I was transformed as a scientist by him — not just by listening to him in the classroom, or by his physics idea: I think even more important was his confidence in me.”

Dr. Wheeler described his own view of his role to an interviewer 25 years ago.

“If there’s one thing in physics I feel more responsible for than any other, it’s this perception of how everything fits together,” he said. “I like to think of myself as having a sense of judgment. I’m willing to go anywhere, talk to anybody, ask any question that will make headway.

“I confess to being an optimist about things, especially about someday being able to understand how things are put together. So many young people are forced to specialize in one line or another that a young person can’t afford to try and cover this waterfront — only an old fogy who can afford to make a fool of himself.

“If I don’t, who will?”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dreadful, Sleepless Night At Thunder Valley

Am I on a roll? Am I not on a roll? Only one way to tell.....

Once again, a Saturday night at Thunder Valley, playing blackjack. I started losing, first the $500 in my pocket, then $500 from the ATM. Then I got a credit card advance, but mistakenly asked for $1000 rather than $500. No problem, soon they had all of that too, save $100.

I grimly forged ahead and tried to tough out the nausea. 10 p.m. 2 a.m. Stasis.

I decided that it was time to dance. The music was bumping at the Falls Bar. I could see two cute women who had had a cute "Night At The Roxbury" little dance routine worked out at the blackjack table a couple of hours before. Maybe I should join them....

But I discovered, as I stomped through the bar, that I was extremely tense: so extremely Richard-Nixon-During-The-Worst-Days-Of-Watergate tense that I could tell I wouldn't be able to persuade anyone to dance with me, short of carelessly discharging firearms in close quarters.

So, back to the fickle tables....

Then abruptly, a five-minute, $1000 winning streak at 4 a.m. Again, at 5 a.m., a ten-minute, $1000 winning streak. I was even again! But could I win?

Departed at 6 a.m. Went to bed at 7 a.m.

Win: $3142.50, minus $51 credit card fee, minus $3 ATM fee, minus $50 E. stake, minus initial $2,000 = $1,038.50.

Filling up at a Roseville gas station at dawn, a man mistook my evening wear for Sunday best. "Last Sunday evening, my preacher called my home, asking me where I had been that morning," he said. "Is that right?": I replied. As he rolled his eyes, he said, "I told him I had to work overtime, in order to make an extra big donation to the collection plate today."
Microwave Oven Goes All Amok, And Turns Into A Handy-Dandy Death Ray

Saturday afternoon, I heard two large pops from my Sears Kenmore microwave oven. Well, that sometimes happens, depending on what's cooking, so no big deal. But Saturday evening, I saw flashes of light coming from inside the oven, and what looked like smoldering cinders. "What's going on in there?": I thought.

Turned out, after 21 years of hardy, faithful daily use, the microwave oven had burned a hole clear through its back metal case. The flames I saw came from the ragged, burning metal edges of the gaping hole. A perfect "Faraday cage" no longer, the oven was now more like a death ray analogue to a search beam. Fortunately, the beam was pointing towards the tile kitchen counter top, not outwards towards clueless biological units.

That's too bad. I certainly will miss that microwave oven. It's been just about the most stable part of my entire life. It certainly lasted longer than my marriage. I change dogs and houses more frequently than I change microwave ovens.

The microwave oven is dead! Long live the microwave oven!