Sunday, March 16, 2014

More alpha-negatrons!

Pal Sahota apparently found my previous post and may have taken offence at me using the words "crackpot physics" to describe his hypothesis. Over Twitter, he asks:
 I would've replied through the same medium, but I find the character restriction rather, well, restricting.

So, point 1: No, Google hasn't paid me. Presumably this question was prompted by the fact that he claims he invented search-as-you-type and Google stole it from him. My post was purely for the love of making fun of bad physics and there were no venal interests whatsoever. 

Also, if Google wanted to discredit him, I'm sure they could've found someone with a much greater audience than me. My readership is largely non-existent.

Point 2: What does the number of views have to do with anything?

Point 3: Were any of those professors and PhDs physicists? That seems relevant. Also, a retweet is not an endorsement.

Point 4: It could be wrong, yes. Further, it actually is wrong. Of that I have already spoken.

Point 5: I don't have a degree in physics yet, though I'm working towards one. Thus, the only qualification I claim is that I know much more about physics than Pal Sahota.

This is evident by looking at his theory. The very format of his argument is flawed, relying overtly in qualitative verbal arguments rather than quantitative mathematical reasoning. There's exactly one equation in the entirety of the alpha-negatron document, Einstein's famous E=mc2, and his attempt to fit it into his theory is severely flawed (I elaborate on that in my previous post, see the second bullet point)

Anyone actually doing physics would, at the very least, make some rough calculation showing, for example, that the alpha-negatrons actually do mediate an interaction of the same order of magnitude as gravity (or any other of the millions of effects he attributes to his pet particle). That he doesn't means he either can't do it, or he doesn't even know what a physics theory looks like.

Anyone who were to seriously propose a theory in physics would, at the very least, get past the 19th century. His particle is clearly classical in behaviour, ignoring pretty much everything in quantum physics except for occasional lip service.

And that's just the generalities of the thing. I brought up plenty of specific mistakes even a lowly physics student like myself should catch, like claiming light is a longitudinal wave or ignoring that the mass/proton number ratio is not constant in all elements (or between different isotopes of the same element). I even provided references to famous experiments that invalidate his theory, like the Michelson-Morley interferometer or Millikan's oil drop.

Those are my qualifications, Pal Sahota. You're welcome to challenge them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Alpha Negatron

Anyone up for some crackpot physics? No? Just me then.

Pal Sahota has a theory that he claims unifies "gravity, magnetism, electromagnetic radiation and time", which is nice. Someone should probably let him know that magnetism and electromagnetic radiation have been unified for a while now, but still.

I took the liberty of looking over this document up on scribd, and I noticed a few odd things, so I decided to give him a hand with some constructive criticism.

So, Pal's bright idea is that, by studying nature, he noticed " there is a basic pattern like fractal which keeps repeating itself" and therefore space isn't empty. He doesn't say what that pattern is yet, but we'll get to that later. Anyway, space isn't empty, because it's filled with particles he calls "alpha negatrons", which as far as I can tell are like the pre-quantum idea of the electron except a lot smaller and with a proportionally smaller charge. He actually says it's "infinitely smaller", but that would mean it's charge is zero and could not do all the wonderful things it does. I'll assume "infinitely" was figurative and it's simply much smaller, though it sure would be nice to have an order of magnitude.

Anyway, these alpha negatrons are negatively charged (hence the name) and so they repel each other. Pal seems to think these would lead them to arrange themselves in an evenly spaced 3D matrix, which seems odd because all the other negative and positive charges (like protons and electron) would be guaranteed to disrupt that, but sure, whatever. Frankly his argument is irrefutable. I'd guess my first question would be why negative charges much smaller than than of an electron didn't irrevocably screw up Millikan's experiment1, but I'm sure Pal can explain that.

Next, Pal says that the nucleus of the atom and the electron spin around themselves by analogy to the solar system, which is that fractal pattern he mentioned earlier. Of course, there is the minor problem that the planetary model of the atom is wrong and has been obsolete for 90 years or thereabouts2, but it's an understandable mistake. After all, popular images of the atom are still using the planetary model, and you could hardly expect someone to go study physics beyond a pop-sci level when they are so busy developing revolutionary new theories. He's also somewhat liberal in his use of the word "fractal", when referring to a pattern that appears twice (or once) as opposed as to at infinitely many levels of resolution. But other than completely ignoring all of physics after the 1920s there's not much to nitpick here. Oh, right, there's also the fact that we know that the premise being pushed is known to be wrong, also because of that pesky quantum physics3. But that's it, at least until the next few sentences of the paragraph.

There, Pal tells us that the nucleus is "infinitely larger" than the electron (once again being figurative, I'd guess) and that's why it has a much greater influence on the alpha negatrons. I would nitpick and say that being that the interaction with the ANs is electromagnetic, the fundamental property that matters is not "size" (whatever that means in this context) but rather electric charge, and that is in fact very similar in both parts of the atom4. But I'm sure this won't affect his theory greatly.

When the time comes to explain electromagnetic radiation, Pal says that "Similar to sound waves, electromagnetic waves propagate through the alpha-negatron matrix utilizing compression and rarefaction", which is not quite right. First, because we know that electromagnetic waves propagate through the electromagnetic field, and if they had a medium like the AN matrix we would've noticed5. Second, because sound waves are longitudinal but electromagnetic waves are transverse, i.e. they do not propagate through compression and rarefaction of anything. If they did, we would not have polarization of light. But this fundamental misunderstanding of the basic nature of electromagnetic waves should not cause one to doubt the soundness of the theory.

Next in this parade of explanations is gravity, which Pal describes as a fundamentally electromagnetic phenomenon where protons attract alpha negatrons which attract other protons, and thus matter with protons attracts other matter with protons. Also waves. Curiously absent is an analysis of how the electrons in matter with their negative charges would interfere with this, or any order of magnitude calculation to show this would result in the gravitational constant we see, or any math of any other kind for that matter. But this is physics, why would we need to get maths involved?

Pal is clever enough to explain that gravity appears proportional to mass because the number of protons increases with mass, which is almost true. He fails to account for the fact that different elements (or different isotopes of the same element6) have different ratios between charge and mass, so we should observe varying ratios between weight and mass depending on chemical make-up of objects. But this difference would be small and if there's something we know is that precise measurement is kind of a "meh" thing for scientists.

As if all those explainings were not enough, there is a quite extended treatment of magnetism which is so undoubtedly correct it's not even worth detailing, except to mention it's based on "whirlpools" of alpha negatrons and completely disregards electromagnetic theory on what should happen to charges in motion. But then, what has standard electromagnetic theory accomplished, other than being generally considered one of most successful theories in physics and the template all field theories are modelled after? Surely alpha negatron supersedes it in every aspect.

Pal even takes a crack at wave-particle duality in  the photon, explaining it away by saying that it doesn't exist, and boldly asserts that in alpha negatron theory energy travels in wave packets. It seems curious that he borrows this property from quantum theory without bothering to explain why it should be so in alpha negatron theory. It hardly seems worth mentioning that the photoelectric effect cannot be explained through classical waves (such as those in AN theory), which is one of the reasons quantum theory was developed and the idea of the photon came about. I cannot wait to see how he will most definitely account for this.

During his conclusion, Pal takes a tour of all the complex physical phenomena his theory sorts out. These are just a few examples:

  • The speed of light is constant because the separation between alpha negatrons in the matrix is constant (certainly not invalidated by the fact that alpha negatrons could not possibly remain at fixed distances around charged particles)
  • E=mc2. Isn't it just a huge coincidence that the speed of light would show up there? Well, alpha negatrons save the day again, by saying that the transference between energy and mass happens through the AN matrix so the speed of light shows up. I don't see the point in bringing up that the equations for special relativity were in fact trying to explain why electromagnetic waves behave as they do so it's quite natural that the c factor would appear. Much less, that saying that the rate of transference determines the proportionality constant is somewhat like saying that the exchange rate from dollars to euros is determined by how fast the transaction is processed.
  • Relativity and the effects of gravity on time. The rate of passage of time depends on how fast things move through the alpha negatron matrix, which varies because gravity is protons!
  • The quantification of electron orbitals! Because alpha negatrons create forces that balance out exactly at the specified orbitals for no reason given!

Frankly it seems there's nothing alpha negatrons can't explain. I'm sure they could even explain things that aren't actually true, because that's just how great alpha negatrons are.

In summary, I wholeheartedly and without reservations recommend alpha negatron theory be considered an unqualified success as a unified theory of everything, and frankly it's a crime Pal Sohata doesn't already have one or two Nobels in physics.

1 Millikan showed that electric charges always appear as the multiple of a certain charge, which was determined to be the charge of a single electron. If something with a much smaller charge was around, we'd expect to see things a much more continuous range of charges, rather than the discrete separation we observe.

3 There is a quantum mechanics thing called spin, which people thought at one point had something to do with  the nucleus or the electron spinning around themselves, but was later shown to be fundamentally different.

4 Depending on the element, the charge of the nucleus can be identical (Hydrogen) or about a hundred times greater (elements at the end of the table) than that of one electron. And electrons usually don't show up alone, but rather atoms tend to have enough electrons to balance out their nucleus. 

5 Here I refer to the Michelson-Morley experiment, which attempted to detect what was then called the luminiferous aether, a proposed medium for electromagnetic waves that was disproved and led to the development of special relativity by this fellow named Albert Einstein. If the AN matrix was a medium for electromagnetic waves, Michelson would've detected it in his experiment.

6 An isotope is an atom which has the same number of protons but different number of neutrons as another atom. For example, a regular hydrogen nucleus is just one proton, but in a deuterium nucleus there's also a neutron. If those neutrons didn't matter gravity-wise, all isotopes should weigh the same and, for example, heavy water (where the regular hydrogen is replaced by deuterium) should not be heavier than regular water. Someone might want to look into that, see if we'll have to change the name.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How not to fix the problems with science

Once again, people have said something on the internet, and driven me to say others things in reply. Today's something is How the Scientific Method Silences All Ways of Knowing That Are Not White and Male, by Taeha Condon. If you know me at all*, you know this won't be a glowing review.

One would assume the article is about how they are some ways of knowing that are not White and Male, and the scientific method silences them. One would be wrong. It is in fact about how the author doesn't quite understand what the scientific method is but likes to blame it for everything anyway.

Problem the first: the author confuses quantification with the scientific method. Or at least I think she does, because otherwise I cannot explain why she continually rages against modern society's tendency to measure and quantify and considers that a criticism of the scientific method.

The core of the scientific method is "test your hypotheses", not "put a number to it". Numbers can be precise and amenable to statistical analysis and a lot of other nice things that make them useful for scientific research, but they are not what science is about. So when your title talks about problems with the scientific method and your primary argument is "we're using too many numbers", I'm gonna be somewhat disappointed.

Could one blame the scientific revolution for the abundance of quantifiable measures in today's world? Yeah, definitely. Partly because people use numbers to lend an air of sciencyness, and therefore legitimacy to their nonsense, but mostly because numbers work and science showed us that most conclusively. The author claims that "[w]e have relied on numbers and quantifiable solutions for too long, and clearly, they are not working", but then again quantifiable solutions have taken us to a world with vaccines and the Internet, so they are doing pretty fucking good, if you ask me. If "We've been doing this for a long time and the world is not perfect yet" is an argument against quantifiable solutions, then it's also an argument against agriculture, writing and democracy.

So problem the first is actually two-pronged: Quantifiability is not some sort evil demon, and it's not the same thing as the scientific method

Problem the second: You know those titular "all ways of knowing"? I am struggling to find any way of knowing in the text other than the scientific method**. Sure, the author alludes to "Aboriginal [...] ways of knowing that account for the interconnectivity of land, spirituality, country and kin", but doesn't actually say what they are or describe how they work. But they must be better than science, since they account for all that stuff! And science doesn't! For some reason.

Why would there be some ineffable, science-proof quality to interconnectivity of land et al.? I have no idea. Can you not formulate testable hypotheses about it? Or is it just that it doesn't look like the sort of thing you find in a lab with microscopes and test tubes?

Problem the third: The author consistently asserts that science is a white male way of knowing. And I'll grant that science has a gender problem; it's mostly a male dominated field, women's contributions are under-appreciated and boys are encouraged to pursue STEM careers much more than women. This has been said a thousand times before. You know how you don't go about solving that problem? By claiming that empirical thinking is a male thing and women are made for intuition and feeling. In fact, that strikes me as exactly the sort of thing that caused the problem in the first place.

Telling women that they cannot be scientists? That the single most successful way of knowing humankind has found is not their thing? That they are not built for logic and analytical thinking? That's one of the most unfeminist memes our society has. When you spread that meme, you are part of the problem.

So, in summary:
1) Learn what science actually is.
2) If you're gonna talk about how science stifles other ways of knwoing, kindly provide an example of one that has been successful to a level at least comparable to the scientific method
3) And for the love of all the nonexistent gods, there are enough sexist assholes telling women science is not for them. We don't need more.

*Which of course you do not.

**I am strongly reminded of learning about Feyerabend in my Introduction to Scientific Thought class in college.

Friday, August 16, 2013

FSTDT Forums...

A long time ago, in the mysterious times known as 2006, my younger self came across a website. It was funny, and it appealed to various interests that teenage me happened to be developing in that very moment. It was a website about making fun of stupid people, mostly stupid people that said stupid things in ways relating to taking religion waaaay too seriously. Seriously enough that one might call them fundamentalists, or even fundies. That website was called Fundies Say the Darnedest Things, or FSTDT.

One might simply dismiss it as a humour site, one of a billion that populate the webs, but there was more to it. It had a community of really smart people (or so they seemed, to me), who said things I hadn't known then and now find obvious, and yet it seems they still need saying. Even when I eventually grew tired of reading the quotes they collected, the community that lived in its forums kept my interest. It would be fair to say that if I hadn't met those people when I did, this blog would likely not exist, and I perhaps would be a very different person.

I've been in and out of this community, in the past. At times when I needed a break from the internet in general, at times when I grew disillusioned with the people, but I returned every time, because I liked it there. My latest return was earlier this year, around April. Not long afterwards, the current webmaster made an announcement that he wished to retire from administering the forum and focus only on running the website itself, so he was looking for a replacement.

This wouldn't be the first time there was a change in administration; indeed, he had taken over the website back in 2009 when the then-owner burnt out and rather unexpectedly shut everything down. She, in turn, had received the website from its creator, who passed away at an unfairly young age. That was before my time, though.

In any case, the webmaster started a thread in the forums asking for candidates, and said there'd be a more or less democratic process: those candidates that got a reasonable amount of endorsements would spend a trial period as moderators, and then maybe there'd be a general election. I submitted myself as a candidate, not expecting much but thinking I would like to see what people would say about me.

To my continuing amazement, I won. I was apparently the only candidate credible enough to make it to the trial phase, I passed it more or less uneventfully, and I became the forum admin.

Now, like I mentioned, the webmaster kept control of the website itself, I just handled the community at the forums. Which suited me just fine, since it was the only part I visited anyway. Being that it still was his website, though, he warned me that he kept a kill option on the forums if things went too far out of hand. I figured this wasn't something likely to come up.

So, retiring from his position as admin, the webmaster still kept posting as a regular forum user. He took the chance, after leaving the position of power, to say things on a couple of subjects that he really couldn't have said when he was in charge. I thought, sure, a chance to get past some old forum drama, this should be a good thing, right?

It didn't go well. People got angry at the things he said. He got angry at the things people said to him. At some point, it seemed the discussion might die down and we could all move past it, but no. Instead, it came to the point where he didn't want to associate with the forums in any way. Including having them in his website.

So he told me he was killing the forums, and gave me a chance to make a new place for them. After a period of lots of panic, and with the help of the people hosting us, I managed to secure us a new home. We even got to keep the forums mostly the same, with a different address and name being the most significant change

FSTDT continues to exist, but there no longer are any FSTDT Forums. Instead, Frequently Questioned Answers is now an independent community, which for some weird reason has me as an admin. I still feel like I'm not exactly sure how I ended up in charge, even though I just told you.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts I have during class, 2

After an introduction to the uncertainty principle, and a clarification that some of the common examples for it are not quite true:

"Huh, that makes a lot more sense now. It's not that position and momentum are there but we can't measure them because of quantum magic. Position and the wave number k are Fourier conjugate variables, and by De Broglie's postulates k equals momentum divided by h-bar, so of course if one is highly focused the other is very spread out, and in the limit you have one as a Dirac delta and the other as a wave over all space. I wonder why science popularizers don't discuss it this way, it's not that complicated...

...oh, right, Fourier transforms."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Oh, hey

As has become a sort of tradition by now, I've noticed the state of abandonment of the blog once again and decided to revive it. Mostly, I blame the fact that I haven't been writing a lot, lately. Also, my last computer died in early January and I only got a new one a couple of weeks ago. Lost with that computer, incidentally, is all or most of my latest story, which was actually coming along nicely before everything went kablooey. 'Nicely' to be considered relative to my usual standards of creative output, that is.

While I muster the will to rewrite it or wait for a miracle to bring it back from the depths of a busted hard drive, here's a story from math class.

* * *

We are discussing how a particular mathematical transformation (a linear map) affects a rhombus. The computer shows first a parallelogram, then what appears to be a straight line. "Of course, this is actually a very thin parallelogram, not a line", says the professor."What would it imply, if it was an actual straight line?", she asks, while she tries to use the zoom tool to demonstrate.

The answer comes to mind, even before she has finished asking: "the matrix would not be invertible". Right behind me, another student says the same thing. The professor confirms this is so. Meanwhile, I am thinking, furiously, "How the fuck did I know that?"

It's not that it's an odd thing, or an unfamiliar subject. A few moments later, I figured out a couple of satisfactory answers as to why it must be so. It's just that, the moment I knew it, I had not gone through any of the intermediate steps in my mind. The answer seemed obvious in itself, as though a cached thought. And yet, as far as I recall, I have not come across this particular kind of question before. Did I do so and forget? Or did I just happen to have a cool flash of mathematical intuition?

Mathematical details, for those so inclined: A linear map is, for our purposes, a function that given a vector returns another vector, with some properties. Namely, if X and Y are vectors and f is a linear map, then f(X+Y)=f(X)+f(Y), and if k is a real number, then f(k*X)=k*f(X). We'll be working with vectors in R2, which can be thought of as arrows in a plane.  Every linear map has an associated matrix, and iff the map has an inverse map (i.e, a map g such that g(f(X))=X for all vectors X) then the associated matrix is invertible (i.e., there is another matrix which, multiplied by it, returns the identity matrix). If you don't know what a vector or a matrix are, I suggest Wikipedia, an algebra class, or giving up. The idea above of applying the map to a rhombus means, essentially, that you apply the map to the vectors of every point of the rhombus and see what happens. In practice, all you actually need to do is apply it to the vertices of the rhombus and then connect the dots.

Now, the reasons a rhombus couldn't be turned into a line by an invertible matrix can be expressed in many ways. The first, is that it would imply that the transforms of all the corners of the rhombus are in a straight line. Because of the second property above, all vectors in the same straight line (which are all multiples of each other) also go to a straight line after mapping. If two separate lines in the rhombus go to the same line in its map, that implies there are different vectors that are being mapped to the same vector. A function that takes two inputs and sends them to the same output cannot have an inverse function. Therefore, the matrix associated with the map cannot be invertible.

Another way of looking at it is that if the map turns a two-dimensional figure such as a rhombus into a one-dimensional line, there must be some direction in space it makes zero. (This is by no means rigorous proof, just the sort of thing that would be stored in my brain and influence my intuitions). A linear map always maps zero to zero, so if there is another vector that also goes to zero, it cannot have an inverse.

A third way, which came to mind on the bus ride home, is that the determinant of the transformation of a matrix tells you how it changes areas after transforming. (This is only obvious to me because it's an important part of the change of variable theorem in integration. Being a physics student, calculus is something I use much more often than algebra). A straight line has area zero, which means the determinant of the transformation is also zero, and there's a theorem that states that if the determinant is zero, the matrix is not invertible.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Hace un par de semanas, la blogger Jen McCreight publicó un poste proponiendo un nuevo movimiento dentro del ateísmo. En particular, un movimiento que vaya más allá de estar en contra de la religión (el Nuevo Ateísmo estilo Dawkins) y se manifieste sobre cuestiones como racismo, sexismo y homofobia.

El contexto es todo el quilombo que hubo en la blogosfera atea en el último año donde ciertos elementos misóginos de la comunidad se hicieron muy visibles (googleá "Elevatorgate"). Naturalmente, los elementas más socialmente progresivos quieren que la comunidad sea más inclusiva. Como resultado, sale el Ateísmo+. Ateos que además se preocupan por otras cosas.

Vale aclarar: ateísmo sigue significando lo mismo. No creés en dios, sos ateo. Esta es la base de un enorme número de críticas al movimiento A+, que ateísmo no requiere ninguna preocupación por derechos iguales o lo que sea.

Y es cierto. Los misóginos son tan ateos como los feministas. Sin embargo, el asunto es que nadie dijo lo contrario. A+ no intenta redefinir el ateísmo sino que juntar a un grupo de personas que tienen preocupaciones comunes (y que les jode esa onda en el resto de la comunidad).

Por cierto, algo parecido ya pasaba con el Nuevo Ateísmo. La gracia de la parte de "nuevo" era la idea de pasar de simplemente no ser religioso a a combatir activamente la religión como una fuerza negativa, algo que tampoco es parte de la definición del término.

Así como el Nuevo Ateísmo reconoce que no creer en dioses nos lleva (a algunos) a querer combatir la religión, el A+ extiende esa idea a otros asuntos. Reconocer la influencia de la iglesia sobre los derechos LGBTQ lleva a muchos ateos a combatir a su favor. Reconocer la cultura patriarcal de las religiones más importantes nos lleva al feminismo. Y así sucesivamente.

Tengo un cierto optimismo sobre este movimiento. No puedo declarar demasiado, visto y considerando que existe hace dos semanas, nomás, pero me interesa ver como evoluciona, y si puede no solo agregarle conciencia social al ateísmo sino también un punto de vista escéptico a la lucha por las minorías. Veremos que onda.

(este poste me vino al la cabeza en respuesta a esto, donde el autor critica al A+ en base a que "el ateísmo es una posición filosófica, no idelógica". Completamente cierto, completamente irrelevante.

Para quienes les interese el tema, tiene un foro bastante activo donde ahora mismo se está discutiendo qué es y que debería ser el A+. Solo en inglés por ahora.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The power of the human soul

"Oh yes, the complex is entirely self-sufficient. Food, water treatment, electricity, we handle it all ourselves. Right here in this very building, as a matter of fact"

"Is that so? How exactly do you manage that?"

"Well, we harness the power of the human soul.This structure is the result of years of hard work, of research, of trial and error. I've lost track of how many designs I tried until I settled on this one, but it's paid off, let me tell you. It's the largest, most efficient soul distillery in the world!"

"Soul... distillery?"

"Of course, the process has little to do with distillation in the technical sense, but the name has stuck. That large tower in the middle houses an aether vortex of billions of souls, which are progressively run through a series of subsystems which ultimately provide all we need to subsist."

"What?! How?"

"The main product of the process is a sort of nutritious sludge, obtained from the deepest essence of the souls. The necessary steps are mostly a series of filters inscribed in runes of ancient power and a centrifuge and some, um, other steps, but anyway, in the end we get our main food source. It has some wonderful properties, it's healthy, and filling, and has some curious side-effects at the, uh, higher concentrations some of us take"

"I'm sorry, you're telling me you eat souls-"

"Not just eat, no, like I said earlier, the sludge's just one of the products of the system. The vortex functions as a turbine, too, that's how we power the complex, and there are other byproducts of the refining of the soul we take advantage of for various purposes. Fertilizers for what little farming we do, building materials, disinfectants, some other things..."

"But, I... you mentioned billions of souls, right? How does that even work, where do the souls come from?"

"Oh, that was my biggest problem in the early stages. My first soul processing system was designed for harvesting them one at a time, can you believe that? Sure, it worked as a proof-of-concept and for the early research, but if I wanted any significant volume? The logistics issues alone gave me nightmares. Fortunately I didn't give up, I had many other ideas. The aether vortex, for example! In the initial designs, it was supposed to suck in all the recently deceased souls floating around, which would in turn power up the vortex even more, so it would cover a wider area, and so on and so forth."

"In the initial designs."

"Right. Eventually it became apparent that there simply wasn't anywhere on the planet with enough population density to power the system like that, and the problems with even getting it running where just too many. Frankly, the sheer numbers involved would have doomed any scheme I or anyone else tried. A single soul produces at best a few millilitres of anything useful, and I simply didn't have a large enough source available. That is, until I thought of wanking"

"...come again?"

"Wanking. Turns out sperm have souls, too! Well, half-souls, really, the other half is in the ovum. Not terribly well developed, either, only a fraction as juicy as that of a developed human being, but at a couple hundred million per ejaculation, it doesn't really matter. I could power the entire thing myself if necessary!"


"I don't, if that's what you're wondering. No, most of the male elders do their part. We engage in certain practices that, uh, ensure we have the highest quality spiritual children, so to speak"

"So... the basis of the entire community... is the semen of the elders..."

"The condensed essence of the proto-souls contained in the semen of the elders, yes."

"You know, when I write about this, I'm gonna tell them 'the power of the human soul' is a metaphor for solidarity and working as a group"

"Seems like it would be wise."


Sometimes I just need to write things.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A word of warning

What I'm going to do today is leave a note so that if at any point anyone finds themselves in the situation I did one month ago, they might find this post and save themselves some panicked guesswork.

One of the CDs I shot lasers at
Let's rewind one month, then. I am shooting lasers at CDs. And I don't mean in the usual "use the laser to read the information encoded in the CD" sense. Nor the slightly less usual "use the laser to burn the information onto the CD" sense. I mean I grabbed a CD, stripped away part of the label and reflective layer, and aimed an He-Ne laser through the resulting transparent opening into a wall.

Spots of light caused by diffraction

Why would we do such a thing? The short answer is that CDs (and optic discs in general) work as diffraction gratings. The rough idea is that diffraction gratings allow you to divide a beam of light into a lot of beams of light, and since all those beams of light have the same source , they can interfere with each other in a way that is simple to calculate and visualise*. In particular, what you see when you shoot lasers through a CD is a number of bright spots on the wall behind. One of them is located exactly where it would be, if the CD was just an ordinary piece of transparent plastic. Just trace a straight line from the laser to the wall, and there you go. The other spots are located on either side, at places that can be found with something called the grating equation.

The grating equation relates the angle of the position where the bright spots are, the wavelength of the laser, and something called the "period" of the grating. In a CD, that amounts to the distance between two consecutive grooves, AKA the track pitch.

I already know the wavelength of the laser I'm shooting at the CD, and I can figure out the angle of the bright spots by measuring a couple of distances and using trigonometry. Which means that I can use all this data to measure the track pitch of a C. A distance, incidentally, that a bit of prior research on people who had done similar experiments had shown to be 1.6 micrometers  (a micrometre or micron is a unit of length equal to the millionth part of a metre. It has the symbol μm)

So, as I was saying, I am shooting lasers at the CD. I mark the location of the spots, measure all the relevant distances, do all the relevant math, and find a result: 1.49 μm. Well damn. That's not good.

But wait!, you're thinking. Aren't we talking about a difference of 0.1 microns? A tenth of a millionth of a metre? That's a minuscule difference!

It sure might seem that way, but the measurement I was doing was supposed to be much, much more precise. Specifically, with an error margin of 0.02 μm. A result of 1.49 ± 0.02 means that the biggest possible value for the track pitch, given all those measurements, is 1.51. 

So I recheck all my math, measure the distances again, etc, but nothing changes. and I start to get worried. All the other further things I was supposed to do with that CD would be completely pointless, with such a large error. I needed to know what was wrong! 

And so I turned to the internet, and explored the issue, and what do I come across? Well, that the ubiquitous figure of 1.6 μm that everyone keeps quoting is not, in fact, quite so. Certainly, there are CDs with that track pitch. Those are what we call 74 minute CDs. The much more common in modern times 80 minute/700 MB CD, why, that has a 1.5 μm track pitch.

The industry standards for CDs say that track pitch has to be 1.6 ± 0.1 μm, so of course, many assume that 1.6 is the most common. Certainly that was the case with every single previous experiment on the subject I'd checked previously. What happens is that nowadays, CD players are more reliable than they were when the CD was first created, so you can have a CD with grooves closer to each other and you won't have any trouble playing it. A tighter track pitch means more information can be stored in the same space, so naturally you want to take advantage of that and go to the lower end of the allowable range. Thus, 1.5 μm track pitch CDs.

You hear me, people of the future who might consider doing experiments with CD diffraction? The groove spacing or track pitch for a 700 MB / 80 minute CD is 1.5 μm! Don't let everyone else mislead you!

* In theory, there is no requirement that light be from the same source to interfere. In practice, however, what happens is that any observable effects of interference between different sources lasts for too short a time to be seen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In which Ashes is recorded for future use

This is apropos of nothing, but this idea has been worked into my mind and I feel like recording it here, because it might have some future use. Or not. It's here, either way. It's a simple system I call "Ashes", based on its two main symbols, the dash and the asterisk.

The rules are as follows:
  1. -- is a valid sequence
  2. ** is a valid sequence
  3. You can add - to the end of a valid sequence ending in --
  4. You can add * to the end of a valid sequence ending in **
  5. If you have a valid sequence composed entirely of asterisks, and a valid sequence composed entirely of dashes, you can insert a copy of the dashes sequence between every asterisk of the asterisk sequence
  6. If you have a valid sequence that contains the fragment -*-, you can add # to both ends and remove all the asterisks.
You'll notice you can have sequences of any length greater than 1, as long as they are composed entirely of dashes or entirely of asterisks, thanks to rules 1-4. For example:

Rule 5 allows you to combine them. For example, combining the first and the fourth would result in

You could use the second with the fifth and the third with the sixth, getting



And so on and so forth.

Rule 6 is the closer, where the # symbol appears. Using it with those above we would get



But we cannot use rule 6 on  *-------* to get #-------#, because at no point does -*- appear in *-------*.

There is a reason behind this bizarre set of rules, of course, some interesting property behind the chains that can and can't appear. It seems obvious to me, actually, but that's probably because I thought it up so it would fulfil that express purpose. I suspect it is not immediately clear to most other people. It might be a fun riddle, I don't know.

The answer is ROT13'd here:

Vs bar gnxrf frdhraprf bs qnfurf orgjrra unfurf naq pbhagf gur ahzore bs qnfurf, gur bayl (cbfvgvir vagrtre) erfhygf lbh pna'g rire trg ner gur cevzr ahzoref naq 1. Va bgure jbeqf, rirel unfu frdhrapr unf n pbzcbfvgr ahzore bs qnfurf.

This serves no purpose, so far, other than as an illustration of a pattern hidden in rules that don't refer to it directly.