Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Airport Levity

Broadcast over the San Diego airport PA just now:

"Will the owner of the lime green Ford Pinto parked curbside please move your car immediately. It is not being cited. It is not being towed. It's just really, really ugly."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time's Up ... Someday

A group of physicists from our local UC Berkeley has delivered a chilling bit of news: time itself has a 50% chance of coming to a halt. This conclusion is based on what they term the "measure problem" of an infinitely expanding universe. As the report states,
If the universe lasts forever, then any event that can happen, will happen, no matter how unlikely. In fact, this event will happen an infinite number of times.

This leads to a problem. When there are an infinite number of instances of every possible observation, it becomes impossible to determine the probabilities of any of these events occurring. And when that happens, the laws of physics simply don't apply. They just break down. ...

The only way out of this conundrum is to hypothesise some kind of catastrophe that brings an end to the universe. Then all the probabilities make sense again and the laws of physics regain their power.

Really, that's the argument. Douglas Adams is dead, so despite all appearances, it didn't come from him.

There is good news, though. Time is not expected to stop for another 3.7 billion years.

So go ahead and buy the green bananas.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Michael's 9th Jamboree

Michael thoroughly enjoyed his extended birthday celebration. He had a party for a few friends on Saturday, and we celebrated his actual birthday last night. Like most soon-to-be nine year olds, he was very focused on these events, and the gifts he hoped to receive.

He and his friends had a good time at the party, which was shoehorned into the only free hours we could find among all the soccer, baseball and football commitments he and his friends had. Most of the time was spent in a noisy wiffleball game in the street. The game brought smiles to our neighbors, who noted that it had been a long time since kids played games in the cul-de-sac. Pizza and cake followed, along with plenty of boys being boys (i.e., burping and uncontrollable laughter).

Last night, we provided Michael his chosen dinner: microwaved cheeseburgers from Costco. I feel that I have failed somehow. We also got him the chocolate cake from Costco that he points out every time we go there. You know the one: deep, rich brown, and about eight inches tall. He was overjoyed to find it in the fridge. He was also overjoyed to receive the specific Pokemon videogame he requested, and was so intent on playing it that he didn't focus carefully on the last gifts we held back. First was a baseball game for the Wii system; he was disappointed because "we don't have a Wii." We assured him he could play it on his cousin's system. Then he unwrapped a spare Wii controller. His brain must have still been on his new Pokemon game, because he didn't pick up on the clues. Finally, after he had fully unwrapped the last gift, he understood with a shout that his longest-held gift request (going back years) was finally realized:

We have received many spontaneous hugs over the past few days. He's a blessed kid.

We're even more blessed to be his parents.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Early this morning, an asteroid zipped past Earth, at a distance of just over halfway from the earth to the moon. This afternoon, another asteroid will do the same, at about 20% of the distance from the earth to the moon. Astronomers figured out on Sunday morning, three days ago, that these hunks of rock would be coming. And impressive hunks of rock they are, both estimated to be about forty feet across.

In the vastness of space, we manage to avoid direct hits from full grown asteroids most of the time. The impact from something the size of a small cottage would almost certainly be locally devastating. Monitoring for potentially dangerous asteroids has apparently only been in practice for the last couple of decades. I imagine the astronomers on Sunday got a bit of a fright until they were able to calculate that the asteroids would miss us.

What about the day when the calculations say we will get hit? What purpose will knowing the invitability of the impact serve? If an asteroid were expected to hit somewhere in a 100 mile radius of a heavily populated area within the next three days, would people take to the roads, skies and waterways to escape, as before an incoming hurricane? Would that do any good? It would depend in part on how precisely astrophysicists could predict where the asteroid would hit, presumably based on the trajectory and velocity of the asteroid, the rotation of the earth, and a bunch of math that uses more letters than numbers. It would be fascinating to know what sort of procedures and contingency plans are being developed by scientists and, presumably, government and military leaders to prepare for this unlikely yet potentially catastrophic event.

I fully expect Bruce Willis to be part of those plans.