Wow. April First, but it’s no joke how much — and how quickly — life changed. March 2020 changed the world. Now we’ll see if we survive it.
Spirits seem high around here. On my morning walk, in the park I saw that someone had used colored chalk to write good thoughts on the asphalt path: “Stay Positive!” “Nature!” “Yay! Vit. D.” “Family Time” “Exercise!” (Maybe others will join in. I think I have some colored chalk…)
It’s hard to top the real life wows, but I do have a few interesting items that might at least offer something of a distraction.
When possible, I try to find a theme for the Wednesday Wow posts. Last time, for instance, the theme was aviation and fireworks (two things you wouldn’t normally think went together, but in one case they delightfully did).
The problem is that I’m jaded and have seen a lot, so I can be hard to impress. Not lots of things raise to my highest rating, Wow! Fortunately, I’m not so far gone I can’t still see a world filled with wonder, some of which drops my jaw.
The theme, such as it is, concerns measurements, especially tiny and precise ones. Like, for instance, Planck Length tiny.
There are, firstly, the unique sort of jaw-droppers I usually have in mind for Wednesday Wow. Secondly, there are the little, almost hidden, daily wonders with so much behind them. But it occurred to me there is yet another category, one that is both daily and also jaw-dropping.
It has to do with the human mind and the kind of art it can create. It also has to do with how we respond to that art. What is it that an artist puts into their best work, and what is it that we take from it? Whatever it is, profound or mundane, it can touch us deeply.
As with the greatest guitar solo, ever:
Two things that get me out of bed every day and keep me going through a world I often find brutish, mean, and stupid, are my sense of curiosity and my sense of wonder. It’s another Yin-Yang thing: the Yin of the world’s crap balanced by the Yang of so many neat things to discover and explore.
Those neat things exist on all scales, from the vast to the tiny. (The crap, on the other hand, tends to come in human-sized, in fact in human-shaped, packages.) From quarks to galaxies, the universe is an interesting place.
For today’s Wednesday Wow, I bring you some smaller wonders…
I’m feeling lazy today and not at all like working on a post. But since I’m shooting for 899 by year’s end, and have
16 15 to go, I’m returning to an idea I had long ago but never really pursued. The idea, called Wednesday Wow, is writing posts (on Wednesdays, obviously) about things that really wowed me.
The truth is, lots of things do. For all my cynicism and misanthropy, life and people still fascinate and enthrall me. The various mysteries of physics and consciousness are engaging on their own, but life — for all its ups and downs — is one hell of a ride. (And, of course, I’ve been both blessed and lucky.)
Anyway, here are some wow things and a nice Christmas tune…
Fourier Curve 1
Don’t let the title put you off — this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. It’s because of math, but there’s no need to get all mathy to enjoy this, you just need to think about clocks. Or even wheels that spin ’round and ’round.
The fun thing is what happens when we connect one wheel to another in a chain of wheels of different sizes and turn rates. If we use the last wheel to trace out a pattern, we get something that resembles the Spirograph toy of old (which worked on a similar principle of turning wheels).
And if we pick the wheel sizes and spin rates just right, we can draw just about any picture we want.
The previous year was an interesting one for me. Last July marked five years of retirement, which has been great, but part of me misses the high information content and challenges work threw at me daily. I’ve tried to keep busy with my own pursuits, one of which was a temporary obsession with the Kīlauea volcano on the Big Island, Hawai‘i.
I wrote about this back in August, just after the (unprecedented) activity subsided. At the time, no one knew if the volcano was just taking a breath, or if the lava flow was really over. At this point we know it was over; there has been no activity since.
For two-and-a-half months, though, it was an impressive display of the undeniable power of Mother Earth and, in particular, her fiery daughter Pele.
Infamous Fissure #8!
I’ve been semi-obsessed the last few weeks by the Kīlauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Back in early May there was a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in the volcanic system, and then things got interesting (in the curse sense). By late May a fissure in the east rift zone was emitting lava at a rate (100 cubic meters per second) not recorded in our history of recording things like that.
All that lava came from a reservoir — the magma chamber — in the volcano, so Kīlauea began experiencing “collapse events” as the summit subsided into the space left by the departed magma. These collapse events resulted in magnitude 5.3 (or so) earthquakes roughly every 32 hours (plus or minus a lot).
And a bunch of us interested parties were online chatting, watching, and waiting for the next collapse event!
In my family, we were rather casual about birthdays and other event days. It wasn’t unusual to celebrate a birthday, not on the exact day, but on a nearby day. We were fairly poor, so birthdays mostly consisted of a cake and a token present of some sort. (Put it this way: I can’t recall a single birthday present I ever got. We just weren’t that into birthdays.)
But I don’t recall ever not celebrating Christmas or Easter on the day. That may be as much due to my father being a pastor and having to do his thing at church on those days. The religious upbringing — and the strong streak of anti-materialism that went with it — likely accounts for downplaying birthdays and other gift-giving occasions.
Which is all to say that I missed posting on John Venn‘s birthday!