Monthly Archives: August 2019

Dark Run & Ball Lightning

Recently I’ve dedicated myself to catching up on my reading list. Various life distractions have caused me to not read nearly as much as I used to. Actually, it’s more that I haven’t been reading fiction that much lately; I’ve been more focused on news feeds and science (articles and books). I find I miss curling up for hours with a good story, so I’ve determined to return to it.

Here for Sci-Fi Saturday I thought I’d mention a couple I finished this past week: Ball Lightning, by Liu Cixin, and Dark Run, by Mike Brooks. The former is a standalone novel; the latter is the first (of so far three) in a series.

The Brooks books are sheer adventure yarns, but telling you about Ball Lightning requires a pretty hefty spoiler.

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Home Runs and Strikeouts

There has been a lot of talk in the baseball world about the abundance of both home runs and strikeouts. The former seems to come from the “juiced” ball this year as well as increasing effort by players to focus on “hitting it outta the park.”

That effort also appears responsible for the increase in strikeouts — which obviously can’t be blamed on the ball. Some think the increased focus on high-tech stats, the ability to record “launch angle” and “exit velocity” (not to mention distance), is responsible. Players are chasing the “long ball.”

So I thought I’d make some charts and see for myself.

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BB #62: More News

It’s time for another Friday news dump from my list of links. (Actually a folder of emails sent from my iPad, where I do the news reading, to my laptop, where I write my blog posts.)

The intent, originally, is to write a full post about them — which I sometimes do — but often, if the urge to bang out a post right away isn’t there, the email with that link ends up sitting in the folder. The longer they sit, the less likely I am to post about them.

So occasionally I open the cage and let some of them return to the wild…

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Magnitudes vs Numbers

One of my earliest posts was Analog vs Digital. A few years later, I wrote about it in more detail (twice). Since then I’ve touched on it here and there. In all cases, I wrote from the perspective that of course they’re a Yin-Yang pair.

Recently I’ve encountered arguments challenging that “night and day” distinction (usually in the context of computationalism), so here I’d like to approach the topic with the intent of justifying the difference.

I do agree the grooves on a record, and the pits on a CD, are both just physical representations of information, but the nature of that information is what is night and day different.

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Greg Egan: Quarantine

Last week I read Quarantine (Greg Egan, 1992), a science fiction novel that explores one of the more vexing conundrums in basic physics: the measurement problem. Egan’s stories (novels and shorts) often explore some specific aspect of physics (sometimes by positing a counterfactual reality, as in the Orthogonal series).

In Quarantine, Egan posits that the human mind, due to a specific set of neural pathways, is the only thing in reality that collapses the wave-function, the only thing that truly measures anything. All matter, until observed by a mind, exists in quantum superposition.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to explore how this ties into the plot without spoiling it, so I’ll have to tread lightly.

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Sliced Bread

There is a saying: “The best thing since sliced bread!” That seems a low bar, but sliced or not (and despite the danger), I’m a huge fan of bread. I always have been. Fresh out of the oven can’t be beat, but toasted takes a close second place in my book. Toasting can make mediocre bread tasty and good bread divine.

As such, my standard breakfast for decades has been two slices of toast. (With the occasional substitution of a toasted bagel.) And I’ve noticed that a loaf of sliced bread always seems to have an even number of slices — which works out perfectly for those who make sandwiches as well as for anyone like me with my two-slice breakfast.

So imagine my surprise, today, when a single slice was left!


Size Matters

I have always liked those comparisons that try to illustrate the very tiny by resizing it to more imaginable objects. For instance, one says: if an orange were as big as the Earth, then the atoms of that orange would be a big as grapes. Another says: if an atom were as big as the galaxy, then the Planck Length would be the size of a tree.

The question I have with these is: How accurate are these comparisons? Can I trust them to provide any real sense of the scale involved? If I imagine an Earth made of grapes am I also imagining a orange and its atoms?

So I did a little math.

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The Highwomen

Last week I discovered The Highwomen, a musical supergroup comprised of singer-songwriters Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires. They are, for the moment, my new favorites, and today I’m going to just turn the stage over to them:

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Apollo 11 and Us

We dream of soaring…

Sunday night I watched the new Apollo 11 documentary by Todd Miller. At first, I was really into the show. When the Apollo 11 mission happened I was just starting high school and had been a big fan of the space program going back to Project Mercury. Watching a Saturn V lift off has always induced a profound sense of awe in me.

But I was increasingly struck by how white it all was. And male, but really, really white. That diluted the joy I was feeling with some deep regrets about how we act still today over what are basically paint jobs and some minor accessories.

Given where we find ourselves these days, 50 years hasn’t brought as much progress as it should have. We’re still really stupid about paint jobs.

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Netflix Robots

For Sci-Fi Saturday I thought I’d mention how much I’ve enjoyed some recent Netflix original productions about robots (the very intelligent kind). As usual, I’m a little late to the party. For most people with Netflix, the post’s title probably immediately evoked either or both shows.

I’m speaking, of course, of Love, Death & Robots, an anthology of animated shorts, and of I Am Mother, a movie about a robot raising a child (humanity’s last best hope). I was delighted by the former immediately, but with the latter it wasn’t until I knew the entire story that my opinion changed from poor to good. Through most of the movie it seemed to be a rather flawed story I wasn’t sure I liked.

But the ending put all the plot holes in much better light!

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