Thursday, July 26, 2012

Industrial Nucleonics Revisited

Praxair: courtesy PJ Singer @ Citydata
On a drive back home from Chicago on I90/94, I will pass the Praxair facility, where they have three air separation towers. (During the holidays, they put christmas lights on top to make them look like candles, aww). The towers use a cryogenic air separation technique that goes back to Carl Von Linde's laboratory setup in 1895. With the compression, refrigeration, and liqufaction of air (originally for pure scientific purposes, and based upon refrigeration techniques developed as early as 1853 by J.P. Joule and W. Thompson) Linde quickly realized he could adapt the technique for industrial purposes to produce separate bottled gases of exceptional purity. Not surprisingly, the output is reflective of our source atmosphere, with nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%) the largest products, followed by carbon dioxide, argon, neon, krypton, xenon, etc.

Fast forward to 1911, Heike Kammerlingh Onnes, the brilliant Dutch physicist, has recently produced liquid helium in his veritable factory of a physics laboratory at Leiden. When he dropped mercury into the liquid helium, he noticed that the mercury lost all resistance to electricity at the frigid temperature of 4 degrees Kelvin (-452F). The mercury sample had become a superconductor. Over time, many other materials - at much higher but still very cold temperatures - were found to become superconductors.

Various explanations were proposed, but in 1957, three physicists, John Bardeen, Leon Cooper, Robert  Schrieffer, developed what is now called the BCS theory of superconductivity, in which it was explained that electrons form Cooper pairs in an interaction with the cooled media - basically, within the lattice of atoms they are paired up by vibrations called phonons. That's the standard explanation for zero electrical resistance, but what exactly are Cooper pairs and are fermions (particles subject to the exclusion principle) the only beneficiaries of this phenomenon?

The other curious beast of the supercold realm is the BEC: the Bose-Einstein Condensate. BECs are dilute collections of atoms that, when cooled down, start to behave as if they have lost their individual identities: as if the entire collection of atoms is one big atom.

The rather naive observation, that these regimes seemed to share a superficial commonality, made me wonder, if electron can form Cooper pairs in a BCS system, why not other particles? More specifically, could free neutrons form Cooper pairs in a BEC? Neutrons when confined in a nucleus are stable, but free neutrons, outside of the stabilizing field of the nucleus, for whatever reason, tend to beta decay into protons after about fifteen minutes.  Why? I don't know. Would coupling of neutrons as a Cooper pair increase their decay lifetime? I don't know, but a few nights ago, it prompted this comment some few essays back:
"It occurred to me the other night (and I wasn't even stoned) that one should be able to get neutrons to pair up like Cooper pair electrons in a superchilled environment, and get a BCS-BEC (Bardeen Cooper Schrieffer) - (Bose Einstein Condensate) crossover, kind of a paired superconducting neutrons, a lased di-neutron beam, and sure enough, you can do it. Dig that!"
Admittedly, it all now sounds rather geeky and masturbate-y. Nevertheless, it turns out I'm not the only one that has asked this question (although of course, the lased di-neutron beam portion would be politely snickered at). But it's nice top know my hunches pan out more often than not.

So, there are a number of questions I ask. What exactly is a Cooper pair?

Neutrons are electrically neutral, which a neutron beam cannot be manipulated as proton and electron beams can. But neutrons do have a magnetic moment and spin, which means they can be manipulated in extremely strong magnetic fields, in the realm of 2-3 Tesla (the Earth's magnetic field strength is 31-58 microTeslas, depending where on Earth you measure). Can a thermally cooled, Cooper paired neutron beam be more easily manipulated?

These attributes - superconductivity, superfluidity - seen at near-Absolute zero temperatures, are also seen at extremely high temperatures: namely, the quark-gluon plasmas at the beginning of the Universe, and also re-created in places like the RHIC in Brookhaven. Is there a connection? How to exploit it if  so?

One hundred years after the first successful production of liquid helium (a mere 60 cubic centimeters first produced in 1908), some 193 million cubic meters are now produced. 96 metric tons of liquid helium is used to cool the superconducting magnets in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

I've got to wonder, how long before Bose-Einstein Condensates are mass produced and used on a comparable industrial scale? Given current trends, my $1 bet is 2030 at the latest. And then? And then what?

Although neon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe, argon is 500 times more abundant in our atmosphere. This is so because neon is lighter than argon, and most probably escaped Earth's atmosphere a very long time ago. Argon is important in industry as a welding gas. I have a hunch though, that neon may turn out to be much more important in the long run.

And then? Then what? Well, if I knew what the industrial applications of BECs beyond current applications were, I wouldn't tell you. I'd tell a tech investor. But my guess is, the obvious applications (nano-fabrication/ultra-precise measurements/quantum information and computing) will not be the real true industrial application. My guess is it will be something that, if we now, would make us shit our pants in astonishment.

But my guess is, to borrow from the movie "The Graduate", the word of the future will be "phonons".

Monday, July 23, 2012

Past Credit Due

After the most recent mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, I've heard people express the opinion that we should deny killers the notoriety they seek by not using their names, in essence erasing them from collective memory. And so, we should avoid using the name of... what was his name again?

Oh, right. James Eagan Holmes.

My problem with this is these mass murders occur so frequently, that it is hard to even remember the last rampage killing, let alone the victims, let alone the murderer. So, what the last one? Fort Hood, Texas? Tucson, Arizona, where Gabby Giffords was mutilated? What were the names of those guys, the maniacs that shot people up? I couldn't tell you. I don't think most people could.

And all those thirty-some-plus mass killings over just the past ten years, those are just the ones categorized as mass shootings. What about the gang violence? What about homicides? Here in Chicago, as of July 18th, we've had a murder rate worse than the casualty rate in Afghanistan. Worse than a fucking war zone.

How is it going around the nation? Well, the statistics run about 84 people shot to death per day.
Courtesy Kieran Healy @

Now, the typical weasel logic from the John Wayne can-plinkers and wannabe Rambo range-shooters will invoke a red herring fallacy along the lines of "guns are only tools", or "more people die from automobiles than guns". Well, you know, I'm always using my gun to drill holes in wood and open cans of beer, and, if the sole purpose of cars was to put holes in people, then we might possibly be worried about that auto-related death statistic. But clearly, such arguments are fucking bullshit.

Do we even have to cover the horse-shit argument that, if everyone carried, the incidents for gun violence would drop? Because, you know, it was so satisfying to hear that James Holmes was dropped in a hail of return fire from the movie going audience. What? That didn't happen? But surely there were people in the audience that were packing heat, right? What they doing, aside from undergoing some unfortunate bodily accident? Whimpering and crawling towards the exits? Where is George Zimmerman when you need him? Stalking teenage kids who are packing skittles and ice tea?

Anyone care to name the three people - two men and a woman - who tackled the the gunman who shot Gabby Gifford and others? Were they armed? They were not? There was one person lauded by the right-wing gun-licking press who was packing heat, and he was fortunate enough not to draw. Because he would either a) shot the wrong person, or b) been taken down by cops. Of course, to gun owners, these facts are irrelevant. If only someone had been there to return fire, the loss of life would have been less severe.

Oh, fuck you.

Face it, despite all the pant-shitting from the NRA and the gun/toy rights crowd, the 2nd Amendment is not going away. Period. We will always have guns (currently 88.1 guns per 100 people - the highest ownership rate in the world). And, despite efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the deranged, the inept, and the unstable, those guns will be readily available.

Face it gun owners, this is the price you pay to keep and bear arms. And these maniacs are the bill collectors. Ignoring them is not only dishonest, its delusional.

At least have the common decency and honesty to recognize this fact and remember the victims who, regrettably (ah there's another weasel phrase)  are 'watering the roots of the the tree of liberty' with their blood, so that you can keep and bear arms against some ludicrous imaginary threat to your freedoms.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Word Substitution Game

I've noticed the term "job creator" has been getting a lot less usage in the press lately. I suppose it's gotten to the point where it a parody of itself, certainly almost immediately for anyone with a thinking brain in their head. And so it is time to move to the next agit-prop catch-phrase, which seems to be "job killer".

I know in my case, the phrase "job creator" became just another piece of noise. So much so, that I decided to substitute the word "unicorn" for "job creator", and it works pretty well. Consider this in an excerpt from a speech John Boehner made back in September of 2011:

"I can tell you the American people -- private-sector unicorns in particular --- are rattled by what they’ve seen out of this town over the last few years. My worry is that for American unicorns, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment for unicornation is a permanent state. Unicorns in America are essentially on strike."
And for me it sounds perfectly in tune with the standard GOP song and dance put out by their number one market hack, Frank Luntz. Remember what Frank said:
"...there's a simple rule. You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again... and about the time you are absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time"
The rest of us, those who have a hard time ignoring all the fucking noise coming out of Washington, are also sick of it.

Given the current pitched battle occurring between liberals and conservatives over the role of the government in the direction of the economy, it is not surprising that usage frequency of the "job killer" phrase has increased probably a thousand-fold within the media over the past year. It has been used almost exclusively by Republicans, and usually invariably without any shred of attribution or fact verification.

Therefore, since the phrase threatens to become nothing more than noise, I propose that a new term "gargoyle" be substituted. Thus, when the California Chamber of Commerce releases its annual List of Gargoyle Bills, I might actually be interested. Or when the Christian Science Monitor carries an article entitled "Is Obama's tax plan a gargoyle?", I'd be inclined to read it:  
"Conservatives say the tax plan will harm small businesses - the nation's top unicorns... Mr. Romney doubled down on this assertion at a campaign event in Grand Junction, CO saying that higher taxes on unicorns and small businesses' are the last thing the struggling economy needs'. 'That will gargoyle' Romney said at the event."
Actually, you know what? That wasn't nearly interesting enough. And I am also tired of hearing the phrase "double down", and so will substitute "dry hump" for that, and then also I'm tired of hearing about taxes, and so will substitute "big fat ass" for that, and then also, while I'm at it, substitute "bottom" for business and "penis" for economy. So then we get:
 "Conservatives say the big fat ass plan will harm small bottoms - the nation's top unicorns... Mr. Romney dry humped on this assertion at a campaign event in Grand Junction, CO saying that higher big fat asses on unicorns and small bottoms' are the last thing the struggling penis needs'. 'That will gargoyle' Romney said at the event."
Of course, this also leads to awkward news items like "voters disapprove of President Obama's handling of the penis". Or "Glenn Hubbard, one of Mitt Romney's top penis advisors is promoting some questionable penis theories".

Well, that sword cuts both ways.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Red Velvet Donuts

Donuts are the new cupcakes. I called it. I called it two years ago, and now, all those nay-sayers and pooh-pooh-ers, you can just eat my dust.

One of my favorite donut places - open 24 hours - is Spunky Dunkers in Palatine, IL.  It's like a time-warp in there, with plump ladies in white outfits making old-fashioned hand-cut sugary donuts fried up in beef lard - or some kind of lard, I don't care what kind of lard, as long as it's lard, it's flavorful and exceptionally bad for you.

I've yet to meet a donut I don't like in there. I have a particular fondness for some donuts more than others, but I'll display no prejudice against any of them. That's not the American way.

One wonders if there could be some type of connecting symbolism between donut and characteristic attribute of the larger universe? Could it be that each denizen within that fabulous bestiary in turn represents some virtue or quality of nature? Could it be there should exist some metrical donut fable, some liturgical formulation, some fantastic ritual allegory waiting to be explored here?

Or maybe I'm just display an unhealthy fetish. Homer Simpson-itis.

Spunky Dunkers has a nice variety that includes among my favored the coconut, the blueberry cake, the strawberry ice ring, the buttercrunch, and, when in season, the peanut butter and jelly donut, with it's make-your-teeth-hurt sugary jelly filling and peanut butter cream topping.

Ah, but now they have the new and particularly splendid red velvet donut with cream cheese topping.

Son of a bitch!

How good is it? Would I murder a small Western town in its sleep for a box of red velvet donuts with cream cheese topping?

Well, no.

Then again, I don't know. How many donuts would I get? If caught, is the death penalty death by red velvet donuts? Because, then, yeah, maybe. Probably. That's how good they are. That good.

See, that don't look right.
The thing is though, they do look not very appetizing. There's kind of a gruesome meat byproduct look to them. Not quite right. I don't know what they'd look like without the red food coloring, perhaps even worse. And honestly, it's just cocoa powder and sour cream that's making all the magic happen with the cake donut.

Ah, anyway... I've gotten distracted, and here I was going to write about all the silly distractions the politicians have been flashing in front of our eyes.

The upper class tax hike comes to mind. Back last August, when the Republicans created the fake debt ceiling crisis that cost the US of A a ghastly nick in its credit rating, and kept the unemployment rate up, Mitch Mcconnell realized that hostage-taking works. Problem is, the old reptile, running his pink pudgy fingers with the immaculately buffed nails over the knobs and levers of the parliamentary control panel, didn't seem to realize is that this particular behavior could be played by both sides. So now we got Democrats making noises about taking us all over the fiscal cliff if tax cuts for the rich are not ended.

Talk about a red herring! Like raising income tax on the rich is going to have any effect at all - either on the take-home of the rich, or a dent in the deficits. Because it won't. That's not where the rich make their monies. They make it on carried interest and capital gains - and, for long-term gain, they pay a miserable 15% tax penalty.

You know, there are at least four dumb - and I mean demonstrably, empirically dumb - ideas that get bandied about by the angry, flatulent white people: flat tax, term limits, third party, and balanced budget amendments. All of these ideas should be on a Jerry Springer episode entitled "Simplistic Quick Fix Solutions and the Simpletons Who Love Them".

But it is interesting how, for all the people who talk about a flat tax on income, very few wonder about the effects the essentially flat capital gains tax has had upon the economy for the past ten years. Or at least maybe connect income disparity with this flat tax.

Oh, wait. I just read they want to include a raise of the capital gains tax to 20%. Never mind.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Buffoon Watch: Rand Paul

If Rand Paul is just pretending to be a stupid lout; a churlish, sullen slob; a cheerless, dismal, ill-humored, wooden-headed rube; a pampered, privileged, petulant inert lumpish spawn of an entitled career politician; among the worst examples of political nepotism, if it is all just an act, then he's doing a spectacular  - I mean spec-fucking-tacular - job. 

But I don't he is acting. I think Rand Paul really is just a dumb, stupid, cynical mud-sucking fuck-wit of a opportunistic bottom-feeding demagogue. 

Some people may think I'm being too hard on Rand Paul. I don't who those people are, because I've yet to hear from anyone who thinks I am being too hard on him, but I'm guessing they are out there. 

Well, the fact of the matter is, seeing as stupidity is just another form entropy, and Life Itself does it's damnedest to be an-entropic, I figured I would side on the side of Life Itself against Rand Paul.

The dumb motherfucker has been off my Buffoon Watch radar for awhile, but it seems he's putting in extra effort to get back on it. Aside from abusing the particulars (such as senatorial legislative holds and ridiculous amendments) of the Senate - those practices which our Founding Fathers, seeing as they set the minimum age at 30, rather seem to have hoped would be a gathering populated by sober, mature, reflective, intelligent, reserved adults - for his own childish and self-serving ends, Rand just can't seem to be able to speak or write anything that doesn't make him sound like he's arrested at the middle school level, both intellectually and emotionally. 

Did I say middle school? Perhaps something earlier, something involving playground humor and potty jokes is more Rand's style.

When he isn't busy informing church folk that President Obama's views on marriage "couldn't get any gayer", or that, in an apparent return to adolescent bone-headedness regarding the Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the ACA, that "just because a couple of people on the Supreme Court declare something to be 'constitutional' does not make it so". Because, you know, Rand Paul, conservative respecter of societal institutions, and not an bomb-throwing anarchist, mind you, is the final arbiter of what is and is not deemed constitutional. So there. 

I could on with a list of all his half-wit antics, but fortunately, is keeping tabs on the trail of wet little turd droppings Rand Paul is leaving for posterity

The latest is a letter to the editor he sent to the Louisville Courier-Journal in response to editorials they have written about him that are all, like, mean-like, and they should be, like, nice to him and all. I don't feel the need to reproduce the whole letter, given that it is mostly standard political bullshit and partisan whining, but, I would like to direct your attention to one particular item. Perhaps it is a small item, but it speaks volumes about the pretensions of the Senator - and 2016 Presidential hopeful as his father continues to groom the lice off him like an old chimp - Rand Paul:

"Recently, the Courier-Journal editorial page took a number of pointed attacks at me, misrepresenting me and my efforts to serve the people of the commonwealth of Kentucky. I have approached legislating with a sense of moderation that seems to be lost on my critics, and I would like to clear the air. To be moderate is often held up as the paragon of modern political virtue. With apologies to the Bard, today’s narrative argues that: to be uncompromising is to err, to be moderate is divine-"
I hate to sound like your 7th-grade English teacher, Rand, but, uh.... That quote you just mangled? "To err is human, to forgive divine"? That was by Alexander Pope. Not Shakespeare. True, Pope was known as the Bard of Twickenham. But to capitalize The Bard is generally viewed as to refer to the Stratford-on-Avon guy. Which, with just a small amount of lazy googling, you could have avoided fucking up on. 

But see? Now everyone knows that you wrote this letter, Rand! Because your intelligent staff persons, the ones that roll their eyes from behind you on camera, wouldn't have committed a fuckup like that.

Secondly, when writing an essay, you get you point out up front, and then argue it. So, your main point is? "Despite what people say, I am a moderate". So, what you don't want to do is then present being a moderate as something bad, since you present yourself as a moderate,  and, seeing as you've made your argument that moderation - bipartisanship, cooperation, reaching across the aisle,  doing good by the country - is bad, you're doing what now? 

And in the future, see if you can avoid using 'scare quotes'. 

That just makes you come across as some kind of a smarmy fuckface. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Higgs

Yup, I guess it's time to comment on the Higgs. A few physics trivia in no particular narrative or point behind it.

I guess it all started with QED. Quantum Electrodynamics. Talk to Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger about all that. Well, not now, they're dead.

Schwinger took first crack at it, and figured it out, but the maths were exceedingly byzantine. Feynman, after a few stumbles, came up with the elegant Feynman diagrams still used today. The problem with a description of even just a simple electron, as, for example, described in Dirac's equation is a bit more messy and filled with infinities than is usually described in the media. Small wonder. It can't be reduced to a thirty second description. As Feynman put it, when pressed, "If I could describe it in thirty seconds or less, it wouldn't be worth a Nobel prize..."

Here's my favorite. Think of a electron as a dot on a computer screen. All the charge is in one central pixel. You and I want to get a better look at it, so I increase the resolution and zoom in by hundredfold, so that the one pixel showing the electron is now one hundred pixels - a ten by ten square.

Now, the electron's charge is... one central pixel. And surrounding it is ninety-nine pixels in a whirlpool of positive and negative virtual charges that pop into and out of existence. Okay, fine, zoom in another hundredfold.

Now, the charge of the electron is... sonofabitch, one pixel. And surrounding that is an even more detailed and complicated whirlpool of positive and negative charges.

Want to do it again? Because I think you know where this is going. Each magnification shows that crummy little electron as a single point charge in the middle of the screen, with an increasingly huge peacock tail of virtual particles surrounding it.

QED has an infinity problem, which Schwinger and Feynman resolved by rewriting the equations to basically cancel the infinity part out. Cheating? No, it just looks that way.

So, success! The electromagnetic force, with its accompanying boson (the particle carrying the electromagnetic force, called a photon) is successfully described mathematically, and, even better, produces an answer, when you chug through the equations, that matches reality.

Okay, now what? It's 1950, and Abdus Salam starts working on a quantum mechanical description of the strong and weak atomic forces. How well does he do? Well, he does okay. He doesn't quite get all the way, but, with the help of John Ward, they start to construct a theory of the weak nuclear force.

What is the weak force? (This is kind of important, because this is where the Higgs comes in). What is the weak force?

I don't know. But I can tell you what it does. The weak force is responsible for radioactive decay and radioactivity. It basically is what causes one nucleus to transmute into another one (usually, but not always downhill). When a neutron decays into a proton (spitting out an electron and a neutrino), that's the weak force in action. The weak force essentially transmits charge (electric) from one particle to another - turning one nucleon into another.

Take fusion in the sun, the strong nuclear force (not gonna cover it) squeezes four protons together, and the weak force converts two of the protons into neutrons, the four hydrogen atoms are transmuted into a helium. But the weak force is so feeble, that this does not always occur - so much so that, even after some 5 billion years, only half the hydrogen fuel in the solar core has been burned.

Well, Salam and Ward, Feynman (get used to him) and Murray Gell-Mann, and eventually Shelly Glashow, and Steve Weinberg figured out the maths for this force description looked a lot like what had been done for QED, but a little more complicated.  (Basically, the hope was that the photon could be used as a weak force carrier, but, oh dear, the maths suggested a triplet was at work).

So, they end up around 1964 or so, through various papers and arguments (and not a few physicists grabbing microphones in tears at conferences blubbering and sobbing "I thought of it first, I just didn't publish in time. Honest, I did!"), that the triple boson threat for the weak force consisted of two massive particles W+ and W-, and a massless boson dubbed Z0. (Z0 is also referred to as "heavy light" since it is the weak force counterpart to the photon - clever, huh?)

So, now we are at a point where people are asking what they hey? Why all these bosons? And the answer increasingly seems to be: broken symmetry. When the universe was younger and hotter (temperature-wise), the weak and electromagnetic force where balanced and equal, and there was an underlying symmetry between the W, the Z, and the photon, which were at the time all massless. But as things cooled down, the symmetry broke, and suddenly the W gained mass, but the Z and photon did not.  This symmetry breaking, this W boson gaining a mass as the universe cooled down is where Higgs steps in.

And actually not. Back in the 1960s, when this was all being worked out, there were six physicists each with one piece of the puzzle, called the "Gang of Six" - Francois Englert, Robert Brout, Tom Kibble, Gerald Guralnik, Carl (dick) Hagen, and Peter Higgs. All worked on what it now called The Mechanism as to how the symmetry got broken, but it was Higgs who published a paper concerning the boson.

So that's the big deal. If you look around today, you don't see Higgs bosons. They existed in a younger, hotter universe, which is you need to use the LHC to see them. And all sorts of nonsense has been written up in the media about what it all means. Does Higgs give us a theory of everything? Fuck no!

Theory suggest it gives mass to hadrons, which are all the particles that make up the visible matter in the universe - some 4% of the total mass of the universe. But that other 96% of matter we can't see? The so-called dark matter. Well, no one has a clue. Not Standard Model theorists. Not string theorists. So, there you go.

Of course, the interesting thing is, the LHC is just at the beginning of its working life, so its probably got some empirical discoveries to go through.

Of course, what I'm more interested in is... industrial nucleonics! Particle accelerators have yet to demonstrate their real tool usage to us? What do I mean by this? Well, take the laser. When it was first developed, everyone could think of obvious hillbilly uses for it like burnin' shit and blowin' shit up. But, lasers to read CDs and DVDs? Lasers used to cool matter down to a near Absolute Zero? Lasers that might be tractor beams, or for quantum computers? Get the idea?

Particle accelerators, despite the fact they are being used for cutting-edge physics, are probably still only used for the hillbilly phase. True, they are used in medical imaging and cancer therapy, materials investigation, to produce isotopes, probably to be used for nuclear reactors and maybe fusion, but that's all the obvious stuff.

For a while now, there is talk of table-top sized accelerators, and a group at Sandia has produced a neutron bran generator on a chip. Why just this past week, Los Alamos produced the most powerful neutron beam on the planet. Okay, cool! Do something cool with it! Something new. Something not thought of before. Like, I don't know, figure out how to manipulate with a Tesla sized magnetic field to produce a fusion engine. Or create a supercooled neutron laser, a matter laser, that can maybe manipulate a Bose-Einstein into hitherto unknown regimes of energy and space and time. Or perhaps create collapsium. Or a figure out a way to manipulate the weak nuclear force, or, oops, tap into the vacuum energy, like whoever it was that did it the last time, some 13. 7 billion years ago.

Come on man! Do I have to think of everything?

Industrial Nucleonics

Wouldn't you know it that a cool phrase I just came up with would have already been used by some company from the 1950s?

I tried an experiment this past Saturday. The heat wave broke about mid-day, and after getting my weekend job done in the afternoon, it was just too goddamn glorious out not to waste any time indoors. It had been nearly two months since I so painfully turned my foot running, and although there was still some visible swelling, sloshing liquid and pain around the torn ligaments, I figured let's go for a run. (And here is 
still more evidence that, despite the fact I feel like I'm eighteen, I am not. Had I turned my foot at the age of eighteen - which I no doubt did
back then - I'd have been back to running in just a few days...) So, I went out running. I think the experiment was successful, in that, my
injury did not get worse. I was intensely aware of my foot placement, posture, and all that other proper form and techniques covered in
kinesiology. So, I no doubt looked like a dainty little fawn prancing carefully through the woods. (No, probably not, more like that bigfoot 
footage). In any case, the foot didn't hurt when I was running.
I went for another run on Tuesday, and again, no pain during the run, as long as I run in a straight line.
(Still hurts when I walk, and I can feel fluid jiggling around on the top side of my foot... so not the ankle I damaged, but the best guess is the long plantar ligaments, as the tops of my toes bruised up soon after). Anyway, I 'm back to running, and about time too. I pretty much lost
all my wind. Those elliptical machines? I'd be drenched with sweat on them and my legs would be shaking, and I still couldn't get myself
out of breath. I really need my high impact aerobics and wind sprints to do the job on me.

Monday, July 9, 2012


It's been almost three years since I quit smoking. I hardly ever have the urge now. Know what makes me want to light up? Funerals.

I don't know what it is, the hidden stress, the nicotine bonding of the bereaved, the need to share? Whatever it is, I get a powerful urge to go up to the group puffing out side the funeral home and try to bum a smoke. I don't do it, but...

This past weekend I attended a funeral of the father of friends of friends of mine - which makes them acquaintances. That seems to be the way it works as you get older. When you're young, you go to funerals of your closer orbiting social circles - friends and relatives. As you get older, those circles seem to expand outwards - possibly because as you get older more die than get married, but even so, it's um, it's some kind of community bonding, a respectful gesture, or perhaps just a gathering against the coming dark.

The thing about this guy that passed is, he was maybe about six foot tall and weighed a good 650 pounds, easily. He was so fat - and this isn't meant as a fat joke, but - he was so fat, that he could have given birth to a fat person.

He and his growing constituency seem to indicate that America needs a whole new category for being overweight. I mean, this guy was beyond morbidly obese. He pretty much immobile - barely able to negotiate his way out of bed, out to his chair in the garage. There, his buddies would come over and jaw with him, and do whatever chores he requested, and bring him beer and cigarettes. Since he and his buddies are all industrial rednecks that populate this rusted up region of Northwest Indiana, I can't help but think of him as an immobile hillbilly. And thus - an immobilly.

Not to speak ill of the dead, but the other thing that really got to me was, when he checked into the hospital with a blood clot in his lungs and his kidneys shutting down, everyone assumed he would be out in a few week - because he was "indestructible".


What an interesting use of the term, that a man could do such grotesquely unhealthy things to his body, turn himself into a soft-serve tub of goo, and be considered indestructible because he continues to survive.

(Shaking my head here).

Friday, July 6, 2012

The London Shard

People don't like it. They say it looks like a giant salt shaker. I don't mind. I'm no Dr. Who fan, but it doesn't bother me any...

Okay, no, here's the real one:

Photo courtesy of Christian Science Monitor

Hot! Most of the middle American continent is hot. After an 80 degree Marhc and a very mild winter, I  was expecting this. 120 in August? People don't seem to realize that North America is traditionally arid. Maybe, with the latest drought map, they will.

I'm wondering if it is time to start looking at land in the Hudson's Bay area.

Lastly, I've heard no good jokes about the Higgs boson. I made a groaner about priests liking the Higgs, because it has something to do with mass, but... oh, fuck it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Electric Jello

Is there any image that is not a tattoo?
The big news this week is out of CERN. Something about finding a particle. Some kind of Higgs boson. Or rather, that the scientists at the LHC have amassed enough evidence to suggest that they may have found a particle that corresponds to the Higgs boson - since it is within the right range of mass. It doesn't mean it is the Higgs, or even that the Higgs actually exists.

The Higgs boson, after all, is a mathematical construct. It could be as real as an epicycle - a mathematical method used to explain the motions of the stars and planets under the assumption that the sun revolves around the earth. The mathematical theory behind epicycles explains the empirical data quite well. It's also completely fucking wrong.

So it could be with the Higgs. There's a lot of work to do find out exactly what it is that the CMS experiment has "found", but that won't stop the press releases.

As it happens, I'm reading a book detailing the history of quantum mechanics from QED to the Standard Model. I'll not bore you with the details, but suffice to say any detailed and accurate explanation of what the Higgs is all about would involve boring you with details.

And actually I think there is a much more important science announcement this week coming out of Stanford U. A team there has developed electric jello. It's an electrically conductive gel that can be used to print circuits using an inkjet printer. It promises cheap printable electronics, and probably a method to interface biological systems with technological hardware. "The researchers envision it being used in everything from medical probes and laboratory biological sensors to biofuel cells and high-energy density capacitors". Not to mention I just may have to get that central-nervous-system-controlled animated cuttlefish tattoo on my arm that I have threatened to get if ever the technology allows it.

Ah, well, I've never felt the need for personal adornment, and have misgivings about modifying mysefl. But I've probably a few years before this becomes a problem.

Anyway, if it turns out I've made a mistake, I can always try and change the past, right? Google's XNet will have developed time travel by then, and I can just go back and say "Don't that tattoo! It will be nothing but an embarrassment for you!  Some old fuck trying to be hip. It's pathetic. Worse, if you really are hip and old, it's just creepy! Don't do it!"

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why I don't weigh 700lbs is a mystery

Horse-radish encrusted beef tenderloin, steamed potatoes, asparagus (pineapple slice desert not shown)
I was, save for a brief period when I was on a frozen pizza and milkshake kick in high school, never what you could call a picky eater. When someone presented something weird, I'd ask what it was, but then I'd eat it. And if I didn't like it, I'd spit it out. Most of the times I liked.

Not so my other brothers. Each of them, in turn, had a particular favorite type of meat and starch combination they would eat, but vegetables? Salads? Even fruits? No way. As far as I can tell, from hearing from the sister-in-laws, still pretty true today. Meat and starch. It's probably why I am not a fat-fattie like they are.

Me? I love vegetables. I lo-oove asparagus spears. I'm one of those people who's pee smells funny after they eat it. It turns out some people's pee doesn't smell funny, and they can't even smell the smell of your funny pee if they smell it. But me, I'm glad my pee smells funny after eating asparagus, because it means my kidneys are functioning.

Okay, so anyway, the meal above (which I thought to take a picture of half-way through eating it). Leftovers from Mom's home cooking. Eaten this Monday after a visit back home over the weekend. Mom likes to cook. I like to eat.

They tell the story of my sister-in-law finding a type-written recipe in the recipe book, which, written in ink on the back of the notecard, says "Use twice the amount of ingredients if John is home".

It's true. I'm not quite the eater that my Uncle Fred was, he would, very patiently, continuously tuck it away. I would eat like a starving wolf. Slow and steady wins the race.

I'm still not quite sure why I am not 700 lbs.