Old School Viral

Remember when “going viral” didn’t mean hospitalization and possible death? (Obviously if we go back even further to the original meaning, it did.) I had an old post go briefly and mildly viral last week. Big traffic spike with a very rapid tail-off. Most bemusing.

I’ll tell you about that, and about a spike on another post, this one weirdly seasonal — huge spike ever September for three years now. I have no idea what’s going on there. Most puzzling.

There is also a book about the friendship and conflict between Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger that I thoroughly enjoyed despite it not being my typical sort of reading (I’ve never gone in much for either history or biography).

I don’t think that’s taste so much as time. One can’t read everything. (Or watch everything, or learn everything, or even taste every kind of craft beer. More’s the pity on all counts.)

In any event, the book in question is Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics (2015) by Paul Halpern.

My interest in quantum mechanics tends to focus on current knowledge and theories, rather than the sociology and history behind them. A phrase I rather identify with is, “Spare me the labor pains; show me the baby.”

Essentially, the who and how of theories just doesn’t grab me as much as the what and why. But as I said, it’s really more a matter of being selective. I may be more interested in the workings, but that doesn’t mean I’m disinterested in the workers.

But Halpern is a professor of physics as well as being a prolific author on science topics, and the synopsis of the book made it sound like it might contain some interesting nuggets, so I gave it a try.

I quite enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone with an interest. The book did contain some bits that added to my understanding of Schrödinger’s wave-function, but mostly I just enjoyed the read. Some authors get almost baroque in style. (I read a David Berlinski book about math I couldn’t finish because the style was so ornate.) Halpern has a nice clean style that carried me along nicely.


This is mainly a book about the lives of the two men and, as the subtitle says, their (futile) attempts to derive a unified physics theory.

It’s a little sad how, despite being almost universally (and rightfully) revered, in his later years Einstein became one of those old physicists the younger ones need out of the way. (And, in fact, in his old age, he was mainly a sideshow attraction.) For one thing, his later theories completely ignored nuclear physics — the weak and strong forces — and focused only on attempts to unify gravity and electromagnetism.

Schrödinger also flailed futilely, but is universally and rightfully revered for his wave equation, which went on to create something that almost amounts to religious or cult divisions in quantum physics. Never quite as famous as Einstein, but Schrödinger was certainly one of the major players in the game.

One thing I found interesting was how press hysteria over science announcements isn’t by any stretch new or unique to our era. Very much as is true today, the press of the time went bananas over what amounted to press releases about new unified theories. Huge hoopla. Meanwhile actual working physicists just shook their heads.

Halpern mentions a recent almost canonical example: When OPERA released a paper suggesting they’d discovered faster-than-light neutrinos. I remember that very well. One segment furiously writing papers about why it might be true (and insuring a Name for themselves if they happened to be right), and more reasonable papers saying why it couldn’t possibly be right. The press and public where enthralled, but people in the know shook their heads.

Of course, when someone somewhere does make a surprising new discovery (assuming any are left to be made) no doubt those in the know will shake their heads. One should never be entirely certain.

§ §

Back in 2011, when I started this blog, one of my earliest posts was about irony. It was called, God is an Iron (it’s a line from a Spider Robinson story).

For the first four years it was about as popular as most of my posts, which is to say not very. Not hardly at all, in fact. Never more than a handful of hits per month.

Then in 2015 activity picked up a bit, and there were even occasional spikes:

As you see, in April 2017 there was a big spike, way off the chart (423 hits that month). Then it happened again just last month.

As the hits started coming in I wondered if it would beat the 423 from 2017, and it did. There were 364 hits the first day, 78 the second (442!), 20 the third day, then 17, then 5, and none since. All told, the count is 484, so this spike wins handily.

(One thing that fascinates me is how the big spike dropped to zero in a matter of days, and there have been no hits since. Talk about one’s 15 minutes of fame!)

It’s all small taters for anyone with a popular blog, but kind of a deal to me. Nice to know a bunch of people shared the post. It’s one I do like a lot.

Not that any of those 484 viewers clicked Like or seemed to explore the blog. Certainly no one has introduced themselves in any way. Ah, well, so it goes.

(I wonder about the Like button being problematic for outsiders and possibly just problematic in general. I’ve been tempted to eliminate it entirely.)

§ §

The much weirder one is a post I wrote in 2014. It was called Leon Wieseltier, and it concerned said gentleman’s appearance on The Colbert Report. (‘Member that show? I ‘member that show!)

I didn’t notice it until last month, but when I did notice the spike in views and looked at the history, I saw it had been getting September spikes for three years in a row:

Well, that’s weird! What’s up with that? Why September?

Mr Wieseltier, it turns out, is not without some controversy. In late 2017 he faced some accusations from female employees that resulted in an apology on his part.

(Damn it. Is nothing good anymore? Is everything shitty or at least tainted?)

There is a rise in hits early this year (starts last November, actually), and at first I wondered if that was when he was accused, but that turned out to be years ago. Maybe there was a public appearance or news article that spurred interest.

His Wiki article doesn’t indicate he’s currently teaching. If he was, I thought might explain the September bumps. I get the sense the accusations against him cost him a position or two, so I have no idea what’s going on.

September Leon. Something to do with the leaves turning?

§ §

Speaking of irony, I finally got around to buying a ladder this summer.

There are a lot of good reasons for having a ladder; it’s been kind of dumb that I haven’t. The main reason I finally got one was to clean my gutters (which the condo association has generally mostly ignored).

But in the late summer the condo association had a crew come around, do a serious cleaning, install gutters anywhere that didn’t have them, and put those mesh covers over all the gutters so no more leaves ever.

So other than testing it to make sure it works, I haven’t used my new ladder. (I suppose I could use it to put up Christmas lights this year. Or paint my ceiling.)

Just another of life’s ironies.

Stay safe, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

3 responses to “Old School Viral

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    The Einstein / Schrodinger books sounds like the kind of thing I find interesting. I like science, and I like history, particularly the human stories of how ideas were developed. And I find that the debates about the various developments actually sharpen my understanding of them. When I find something confusing, it ends up being therapeutic to read how controversial it was.

    Halpern did an interview with Michael Shermer on Shermer’s podcast on his new book, Synchronicity, which appears to be a whole book on non-local phenomena.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I certainly enjoyed this one, and I think you would, too. I’m going to keep my eyes open for any other of Halpern’s books available through the library. That Synchronicity sounds interesting.

  • BB #73: Wavefunction Collapse | Logos con carne

    […] I wrote about Halpern’s book, Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat (2015), last year. As the title implies, it focuses on two great names from physics. Quantum Labyrinth (as its title also implies) also focuses on two great physics names. […]

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