R.I.P. Stephen Hawking

Teeshirt reads: Obey gravity. It's the law!
Obey gravity. It’s the law!

When I was twelve, my father recommended I read a book. It is the only book one I can think of that he has ever made to me. But, I have to say, it was probably the best recommendation anyone has ever made to me. See, when I was a kid, I loved space technology and astronomy. I could recite fact after fact about NASA missions, the planets, and the stars. Anything I could learn about them was appreciated.

A Brief History of Time by Hawking opened up to me cosmology, physics, and quantum mechanics. Reading about these topics stretched my brain and put me in my happy place. I save up the books about this stuff for when I feel at my lowest because diving into them will correct my mood. A difficult week at work? Definitely, time to remove thinking about that stuff by thinking about the multiverse, chaos, and quantum entanglement. Perspective is everything.

Dr. Hawking also represented something I think science desperately needed: celebrity. His popularity and brand recognition showed that academic papers are not the only way to talk about science to the masses. He paved the way for Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian Greene. Scientists are writing great books on their areas and the masses are gobbling them up because there is interest. It makes me happy that a society we think of as having gotten intellectually lazy has a hidden interest in science.

It makes me sad that he is gone because he provided me so much more than I could ever adequately explain.

Total Eclipse


Total Eclipse over Greenville, SC
Total Eclipse over Greenville, SC

A friend invited others to her parent’s house inside the totality. It was fantastic placement very near the center of totality, so we got to see it for a couple minutes rather than a few seconds just inside totality. [Photo album]

I experienced the annular eclipses in 1984 and 1994. I was a kid at the time, so my recollection is fuzzy. We also were not in the path, so it got dimmer but not… this.

The sky was BLACK. Night BLACK. Eerily unnerving BLACK. I felt like a quark inside a nearly infinite universe. And then the light returned.

It hands down is the most spectacular moment I have ever experienced. I understand how peoples found this event so terrifying. I understand the physics and have a hard time believing it. I now get why people become eclipse chasers. I could become a junkie for wanting to experience this again and again.

It would be amazing to see the next one in the USA April 8, 2024. It goes over Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine.

We expected traffic getting there and returning home to be horrendous with the interstates, highways, and roads swamped with people. From what I heard, traffic on I-85 was really bad in places, since that was the direct route from Atlanta to Greenville. And it was pretty bad up in the mountains.

Review: The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God
The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was originally Glasgow University Gifford Lectures for the theme The Search for Who We Are in 1985. Sagan does a great job explaining difficult concepts clearly and with compelling evidence. Unfortunately, in several places I also knew about the contrary evidence which undermines his position. That they were not addressed very much disappointed me.

I mentioned this book in my Evidence blog post a few days ago. The search for proof is never ending because new information leads to new questions not satisfactory answers. So why do we continue to search? Because we want to know. Maybe we even feel entitled to know. (I also mentioned it in my Missing Hydrocarbons when I learned the point methane condenses is way out near Saturn not Earth, so why does Earth have life?)

View all my reviews

Healing Is Anti-Entropy

The Science of Healing Places was on the radio this morning. A statement near the end to the effect that healing is life or a part of life reminded me of something. Entropy, aka the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is the force behind why when you break a glass it cannot be reversed and come back together. Similarly, it works on our bodies and cells to destroy them. Bonds break. The odds of them joining without an intervention is low.

Yet the organization of our cells runs counter to entropy. Bonds regularly join and break on what seems like demand. Take breathing as an example. Red blood cells enter the bloodstreams of the lungs. Oxygen collected there takes the places of carbon dioxide by bonding with iron. Those red blood cells travel to different parts of the body where cells strip off that oxygen and carbon dioxide joins up with the iron.

Healing though is cells recognizing a malfunction of the body and bringing resources to bear in restoring the organization of the structures. Amazing to consider this goes on without our conscious consideration.

So, death is when these reorganization mechanisms have shut down. Entropy can then break down our cells at as normal.

God Lives 9 Light Years Away

This passage comes from the book Big Bang.

[George] Gamow was infamous for his limericks and his sometimes offbeat application of physics. On one occasion, he argued God lived 9.5 light years from the Earth. This estimate  relied on the fact that in 1904, at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, churches across Russia had offered prayers requesting the destruction of Japan, but it was not until 1923 that Japan was struck by the Kanto earthquake. Presumably prayers and God’s wrath wee limited by the speed of light, and the time delay indicated the distance of God’s abode.

The current year is 2013. 2013 – (9.5 * 2) = 1994. If it turned out to be 1995, then that would confirm Gamow and Republican prayers about defeating the Democratic president during the shutdown. OR… Maybe God is only 9 light years away now. Now the math works. Hindsight being 20/20 and all. He’s getting closer to us?


P.S. The whole post is a farce. I do not believe God lives a specific distance away. The passage was funny when I read it. I did the quick math and was disappointed it was just close. It would have been funnier to be right on target.

Tearing the Fabric of the Cosmos

Scientists plan an ultrapowerful laser to tear apart the fabric of spacetime to see what is inside. Everyone knows when you cause a rip in the spacetime continuum, bad things happen from Star Trek. Know science wants to destroy the universe.

arielwaldmanFreakin’ laser beams! Actually one of the most awesome lasers coming from of science in the next few years: t.co/3RTGF5vo

Ariel Waldman

The laser requires 200 petawatts of energy, aka 200,000 terawatts. A problem is world-wide production of energy by coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass combined is just 21 terawatts. So they plan on huge batteries to store up the power. That seems like a really bad and enormously expensive idea. Saving up that much power when resources are already on edge increases the price for the rest of us.

A Laser to Give the Universe a Hernia? : Discovery News

3 days ago … Those pesky physicists are at it again; they want to build a laser so powerful that it will literally rip spacetime apart.


Originally posted to Storify.

Vibration-Induced Drop Atomization

Something really cool from Georgia Tech.

… a small liquid drop is placed on a thin metal diaphragm that is forced to vibrate by an attached piezoelectric transducer. The vibration induces capillary waves on the free surface of the drop that, upon attaining the critical conditions, begin to eject small droplets from the wave crests.

They call it Vibration-Induced Drop Atomization. If the embedded video below fails, check it out on Youtube.

TED Talk: Leonard Susskind: My friend Richard Feynman

What would be in your sandwich?

Richard Feynman wrote a couple of my favorite books: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist. It was reassuring to find someone who held similar views on the world.

Susskind’s The Black Hole War is on my to-read list. Guess I should bump it up higher in the list.