I think we all agree 2020 has been, as the curse puts it, an “interesting” year. Going into it, I had intentions about making changes. Most fell by the wayside due to COVID-19; I still haven’t taken the bus to watch the St. Paul Saints play. Or the bus-light rail combo to Target Field.
As a life long hard-core introvert, “social isolation” mostly meant I shopped for groceries less often but stocked up more when I did. The pain was fewer occasions of meeting a friend for tasty food, drink, and chat. I’m really looking forward to dining out again.
All-in-all, the last four years, this year… It’s been exhausting.
Sometimes it feels as if nothing much happens in retirement. The days and weeks can pass without much obvious sign of change. Streaming TV means there’s no weekly clock (or a very weak one, the few shows that dole out episodes).
One of my few weekly markers is that Monday is laundry day. I often find myself thinking, “Wow! It’s Monday again? What happened to the week?”
I’ve seen pictures of old people just sitting watching the world go by. One gets the impression they sat for hours. Fishing, contemplating a campfire, staring at ocean waves; these are similar. As I’ve gotten older, thoughtful modes like that have become easy and restful. Sometimes I realize I’ve been sitting thinking for quite some time.
Combined with how fast time passes now, I worry that all I’m doing is turning into one of those pictures. I love the constant idle freedom — it’s something I haven’t experienced since kindergarten — but sometimes I wonder what I’m doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.
It’s only in looking back I realize, “Holy canole, I’ve been busy!”
It’s almost hard to know where to start. Trivial first?…
I bought a new clothes washer and dryer after the original washer finally died. The washer is fine, but the dryer doesn’t always dry completely. Not sure what’s up with that; I can think of multiple possibilities.
I have to say I’ve been very lucky with the appliances here. I’ve been here since 2003 and only had to replace the water heater, the furnace control unit, and the washer-dryer. (I figure I’m on increasingly borrowed time with the dish washer, built-in microwave, and fridge.)
I finally said good-bye to BOOL, an intentionally weird programming language I’d been designing (but never completing) for thirty years.
It was obviously time to let it die; sitting here now I can’t think of a single useful thing to say about it.
Some projects turn out to be too ambitious to fulfill, but often trying to scale the mountain teaches one a lot. I did learn a lot tinkering with BOOL over the years. It was my “ship in a bottle” project — no useful value other than just being what it was. An example of “yeah, you could, but why would you?”
My thanks to the handful that attended the five-day wake.
Baseball in 2020 was just one more thing that was wrong with 2020. I didn’t pay nearly the attention to the season I have since 2010. The year was just too weird and fraught.
My Minnesota Twins did okay; they won the Division, but immediately lost to the Houston Asstros in Postseason. (That wasn’t a misspelling. The Asstros are now widely reviled for cheating to win the 2017 World Series. They’re the new Black Sox. I hope they all suffer from debilitating athlete’s foot.)
In late December, Pele woke up in Kilauea, the youngest (above water) volcano in the Hawaiian Island chain. I’ve always liked geology. Since living in Los Angeles, I’ve been interested in volcanoes and earthquakes.
[No volcanoes in Los Angeles (usually), but earthquakes and magma are underground kin, so there is a relation. For me, it’s the appreciation of Mother Nature’s power, so thunderstorms and tornadoes are included in the fascination.]
I fell in love with Pele when she threw a major temper tantrum in 2018. (That’s the thing about gods. When they get pissed, run for your life.) The eruption from May to August was an extraordinary geological event to witness in action.
She’s quieted down for the moment. The water lake that used to be down in the crater flash evaporated very quickly when the lava hit it. Check out this graphic from the USGS:
Now the crater has filled with lava (a bit more than shown above). It’ll be interesting to see what Pele does next.
The consequence of access to all those free books is that I’ve done a lot of reading this year. I swept through entire catalogs of mystery authors. I read, and mostly thoroughly enjoyed, all The Expanse books. There were a bunch of other science fiction books, including some new authors (see: Ellis, Huang, & Chambers).
Which has been awesome and fun, but I’ve especially appreciated being able to read some of the popular science books I’ve had my eye on (but been thus far unwilling to pony up for).
I very much enjoyed Jim Baggott’s book about fairy tale physics as well as Philip Ball’s book about quantum mechanics interpretations. Both books concerned ideas I’ve been reading about and pondering for a while now. Quantum mechanics has stalled for decades looking for a way to advance. It’s easy to think we might not be on exactly the right path.
I’ve also enjoyed some popular math books. Matt Parker’s Humble Pi was a lot of fun (highly recommended for everyone), and I’d like to read more by Steven Strogatz — I really liked his book about the calculus.
Speaking of quantum mechanics and math, I reached a point where popular science books weren’t enough. I decided to try to learn the math and the mechanics. It’s a challenge still in progress, but it’s been a lot of fun.
It turns out YouTube is a wonderful resource for physics lectures. There are various QM courses and lectures. A lot has been over my head at first, but by chewing and chewing on it, it starts to come clear.
It’s long been said that QM can’t be fully described or understood with language, one must learn the math. I think part of the problem is that we don’t yet know what the math means. Once we truly understand what’s going on down at the quantum level, it might be easier to put it into words.
That said, currently our classically trained intuition is lost when it comes to QM. Learning the math does take it to a new level. I’m only in the foothills, but already my view is a lot broader and clearer.
I’ll talk more about this in the coming year.
Recently I’ve been getting into quantum computing. It started with a PDF text Scott Aaronson made available. Then I saw a lecture that mentioned the IBM Quantum Experience.
It’s an online quantum computing resource. Apparently anyone can join; I had no problem signing up for an account. There is a tutorial and documentation to get you started.
Here’s my first quantum computing “circuit” (program):
It’s a simple simulation of a Bell state — an entangled system of two qubits.
I’ll post about this in detail as I get more into it, but very briefly, from left to right, two qubits (q0 and q1) are initialized to |0〉, then q0 is put in superposition (|0〉+|1〉) and entangled with q1. Finally both qubits are measured.
Because of the entanglement, the expected output is either |00〉 or |11〉 with equal probability. That is, if q0 is measured as |0〉 then q1 will also be measured as |0〉 (and vice-versa if we measure q1 first). Likewise if q0 is measured as |1〉 then q1 will also be |1〉.
In quantum computing, since outcomes are probable, the circuit is run many times (thousands of times). The idea is that the desired answer shows up most of those times. When I ran the above circuit:
Which is what was expected. The infrequent |01〉 and |10〉 outcomes are due to the inherent uncertainty and probability of quantum mechanics.
It turns out the work I did with linear algebra and matrix rotation is very much the sort of math used in QC. All quantum logic gates are expressed as matrices, and so are quantum states. Mathematically, multiplying a qubit matrix by a gate matrix applies the gate to the qubit.
Stay tuned for more!
I’m very thankful 2020 brings the end of the #DiaperDonny era.
How do 74 million Americans look at that POS and see a hero? It has nothing to do with media spin or bias. His own words and actions say everything there is to say. That so many aren’t more deeply appalled says terrible things about our culture.
Republicans, for decades, planted seeds that grew into a brier patch of thorny weeds. They trained themselves to respond to noise and nonsense, and that had exactly the result one would expect. It may be the end of the Pumpkin Goblin’s reign, but it’s nowhere near the end of the problem.
I was going to list all the fun names, Twitler, Cheeto Charlie, and so, but I realized how much I no longer care and want to just forget he ever existed.
I say we just give the far right Mississippi and Alabama. Let them secede. We’ll even build their wall — between them and us. We’ll pay for it and guard the border carefully. No more Federal help, obviously. They’ll be on their own regarding highways, power and communication infrastructure, weather, disease and other resources, etc.
We may also have to do that with Vermont and Oregon for the far left end of the political spectrum. (I’d like to visit the Deschutes Brewery before we do, though. Their Fresh Squeezed IPA is a regular pick of mine. There’s some in the fridge right now. Love that Mosaic hops!)
Then maybe the rest of us can get on with having a decent moderate country.
[I am so goddamned tired of the polarization and extremist bullshit. Our national color is outrage and the national bird is the middle finger. The culture has become way over-amped.]
So it has been a busy year. (There was even a brief and strange torrid online affair during the summer. It’s definitely been an interesting year.)
I’ll leave you with this new video from Boston Dynamics. The robots are coming, and they’re going to kick your ass… on the dance floor:
This is hysterical and really well done. It’s even better than the one from two years ago featuring UpTown Spot.
What’s impressive to me is how they’ve got the motor control so precise and fast. And, wow, they’ve sure got the balance thing down!
It is true that, if one gazes into the Abyss, it gazes back. But if one is strong enough one can get used to it — even become friends. The strength comes from knowledge, of self, of others, and of the world. Darkness gives way to light.
Lux et veritas. Sapere aude.
Stay interested, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.