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.
Last time I explored five physical systems. This time I want to implement those five systems as information systems, by which I mean numeric versions of those five systems. The requirement is that everything has to be done with numbers and simple manipulations of numbers.
Of course, to be useful, some parts of the system need to interact with the physical world, so, in terms of their primary information, these systems convert physical inputs into numbers and convert numbers into physical outputs.
Our goal is for the numeric systems to fully replace the physical systems.
In the last quarter of the 19th century — USA-centrically, call it 139 years ago — we began to experience having the sound of strangers’ voices in our lives, even in our homes. Not just voices, but music from concert halls and clubs. And other sounds, too: the clip-clop of horse feet, the slam of a door, a gun-shot. Less than 100 years go, those sounds went electric, and we never looked back.
At the beginning of the 20th century, we started another love affair — this one with moving images on rectangular screens, a dance of light and shadow, windows to imaginary worlds. Or windows to recorded memories or news of distant places. When sound went electric, those moving images took voice and spoke and sang. No one alive in our society today remembers a time when moving images weren’t woven into our lives.
Here, now, into the 21st century, in an age of streaming video and music, from cloud to your pocket device (with its high-resolution display and built-in video camera), I can’t help but be impressed by how far we’ve come.
A long way, indeed.
Early this year I wrote an article comparing how we store music in digital versus analog form along with a followup article exploring the contrast between them. There is another major consideration that predominates when it comes recording information these days. Quite simply: what are we going to record onto?
How many of you remember (or have even seen) eight-inch floppy disks? How about five-and-a-quarter floppies? Show of hands if you’ve ever actually used a three-and-half inch floppy? Some of you might not even know what a “floppy disk” is!
Not very permanent, were they. Now consider the Rosetta Stone.
One of the cool things that happened in 2013 is that Voyager 1 has left our solar system. This time it was really, for sure, no kidding! There have been some previous occasions where it left, but this time we really mean it. (Truth is, it’s still way inside the Oort cloud, so in some sense it’s merely left the city for the ‘burbs.)
Say rather that Voyager 1 no longer flies in skies affected by the sun. The heliosphere, the giant fart bubble around our solar system, is filled with our sun’s gassy emissions. Outside that bubble is the galactic ass gas of a billion other suns. Voyager 1, for the first time in human history, samples farts not our own.
It got me thinking about our interstellar golden record: Earth’s Greatest Hits!