So I just had a false Aha! moment. Or rather an Aha! moment that happened to be incorrect.

It happened at the end of the first show in the series Mr. Selfridge. As Mr. Selfridge and his wife walk away from the store (after it’s first day open) they are crossing the street in a diagonal fashion. The camera is initially a close-up just ahead of them backing away in front but then switches to another one further back so you can see the whole street and the few cars passing in the street and the pedestrians crossing the street.

And in a few seconds my train of thought went:

  • Note the people crossing at any point in all directions, jaywalking.
  • Note the lack of any road markings denoting pedestrian crosswalks – it is 1909
  • Thought: Gee I bet when they decided to restrict pedestrians to the new painted lines in later years it might have been hard.
  • Because those pedestrians would have been crossing at any place they want just like I see them doing in front of me on the screen looking like a bunch of crows, or a bunch of … Jays?

That’s when the Aha! moment happened.

Alas it was not to be. I checked and there’s no mention about birds. It was fun for a few moments. And I got to watch my mind make that split second connection and come to a conclusion that appeared to make sense even though it’s wrong.

Maybe I’ll use it in a story someday. Have one character explain to another character this alternate reason for why it’s called jaywalking. Then sit back and check every year or so to see if it’s penetrated the culture … am I that devious?

Do Jays even walk about? Well they likely do because they are members of the Crow family.


Quantum Spookiness Spreads

Ok, the title should really read: Our Awareness Of Quantum Spookiness Spreads but the shorter one works better on a number of levels πŸ™‚

Quantum Spookiness, what is that?
Quantum Mechanics has been called the most successful physics theory ever because it’s ‘predictions’ always work out when tested. It’s also the most perplexing because so much of it is counter intuitive – it flies in the face of how we think the world works. And when I say that I mean how our scientific understanding of the world, pre-QM, said it worked.. And one of the things that still perplexes is ‘spooky action at a distance’.

When objects are paired in a quantum sense it means that they are connected in some way that defies explanation. Not only does it defy explanation it also flies in the face of the Theory of Relativity (that other most successful physics theory) because this information flows through this connection instantly. Meaning faster than the speed of light which is the fastest anything can go in the physical universe.

This may fly in the face of reason but when they finally figured out how to experimentally see if this was the case they found that it works like QM says it should.

So how do we reconcile these two opposing but real views of the way the world works? Well for most of the time since 1929 we’ve seen that on the level of everyday things like cars, people, weather, and the such it’s the rules of Classical physics that are followed. And down at the level of atoms it is Quantum Mechanics rules that dictate behaviour. And that’s almost workable for many scientists because thinking about QM can make your head hurt. So when someone points at some QM reality like Quantum Tunneling (the equivalent of baseballs magically crossing brick walls without actually being within the wall as they do it) and asks how is that possible? Scientists can say ‘That only happens at the scale of electrons. At the scale of baseballs we use different rules.’

Well … as we learn more and more about this world we find ourselves in we bump into things that do not fit nicely on one side of this ‘fence’. And in this Science Daily article they talk about recent findings that seem to violate our understanding of QM and show this Spooky Action at a Distance with macroscopic sized objects.

Before I close this draft I wanted to put in a reminder that this reminds me of work by Edwin R. Fitzgerald on Phonons in Crystalline materials. In his 1966 book “Particle waves and deformation in crystalline solids” he talks about inelastic deformations of crystalline latices. And makes a good case for a quantum aspect to some things we take for granted like … friction for instance. And he also makes a case for spall deformation in metal on metal impacts being the result of phonons at work. That the lattice of the target material will deform before the lattice of the impact-or material physically touches it. This is because the phonon waves ‘cross the space’ between lattices before the collision happens. Not that they actually reach cross the space but the space that they cover comes to encompass the atoms in this new lattice. And the effect of phonons / waves travels this way and momentum is transferred, as is energy.

It males me wonder if something of the same is going on here … I’ll try to dig up my copy of Fitzgerald and take a refresher πŸ™‚

applied science

Pain, Pain, Go Away

Science Daily reports that in an article in Nature (I really have to figure out if I can subscribe without breaking the bank)Β  “have discovered a way to block a pain pathway in animal models of chronic neuropathic pain … (that) prevents or reverses pain that develops slowly from nerve damage without causing analgesic tolerance or intrinsic reward (unlike opioids).”

1st – how many ‘pain pathways’ are there in our heads anyway? This article at McGill describes how pain perception and pathways works. Alternatively you could check out this article at How Stuff Works.

2nd – WOW! I’ve known people who have suffered chronic pain that is so debilitating they basically have no life. And next to no friends because their pain colours their outlook and makes then ‘painful’ to be around. If I wasn’t managing my own sciatic issues with morning stretches I’d be uncomfortably aware of that by lunch time. And heading towards weeks of physical immobility if unchecked.

The idea that there might be real hope that doesn’t come with dependence and dopiness is almost too good to be true. Let’s hope it’s a gift without bad side effects.

Oh, and that pathway? It’s the A3AR pathway. Adenosine Receptors are found on the surfaces of cells throughout the body. There are more than one type, the one being used in this research is A3. Receptors are like little switches on the face of the cell wall. When the right chemical key mates with the receptor (in this case the key is Adenosine) it initiates a sequence of activity. Some receptors are part of the systems regulating things like oxygen uptake or calcium channel openings. Because of the interdependent operations of biological systems most components serve more than one role.

We’re learning more about A3’s function and interaction with the rest of the system as we go, hence advances like this one. Gotta love science.

applied science

Virtual Is Stil Virtual In The Brain

It appears that our best efforts to provide an immersive virtual reality experience still fall short of fooling even a rat brain that the world it is in is real.

We know this because researchers studied just that, how the neural activity in a rat’s brain experiencing a real world and then a virtual world differed. From the sounds of it they kind of expected that the pattern of activity would be similar but surprise, not even close.

In this article at Science Daily, referring to an article in Nature, UCLA researchers were studying the space mapping neurons in the hippocampus. It turns out when the rat is in the virtual world the way these neurons act more closely corresponds to randomness. And half of them shut-down. Translation: The VR experience is not good enough to fool a rat’s brain or keep it’s attention.

Of course it sounds like they provided a walk around space for the rat to explore. Maybe it there had been something more stimulating, like a predator image, the rat’s brain might have suspended its disbelief long enough to change the results …

applied science

Synthetic Biological Circuitry

“it could lead to synthetic biological circuits that constantly measure glucose levels in the blood of diabetic patients, automatically triggering the release of insulin when it is needed”

Synthetic biology.

Cells and components made by man.

Circuits added into the cells in your body.

As I read this Science Daily article bursting with so much possibility I’m also cognizant that the community where I live has shown a serious anti- attitude, heavily tinged with fear and distrust of many things that they do not understand and the people who do.

And I wonder just how ‘shocked’ and ‘horrified’ they’d be if they heard about this …

Anyhow, in the article they talk about using synthetic biology to construct ‘circuitry’ that takes various Inputs and responds with predictable Outputs under the right conditions. Just like electronic circuitry does.

Apparently there has been progress in this area – they can make individual components of these circuits work fairly reliably. But they’ve had a problem with that when these component parts are assembled into larger assemblages, circuits. What was predictable, consistent, behaviour as a single component became less predictable and consistent in a circuit. The article talks about an advance which might allow these to become as predictable and their electronic counterparts. Which brings man-made bio-circuitry closer to reality.


Panspermia Gets Another Boost

Panspermia gets another boost.

For those who don’t know panspermia is the theory that life may not have started here on earth. It might have come on comets or meteoric dust particles that drift into the earth’s gravity well and then into the atmosphere.

The new boost is a test recently done where they applied plasmid DNA molecules to the outside of body panels of a spacecraft before launching. Then they checked after re-entry. All the panels they had painted with DNA still had salvageable DNA. And when they checked most of this DNA was still able to transmit genetic information to bacterial and connective tissue!

Now this was plasmid DNA, not a spore. It ‘survived’ launch, space and re-entry into the atmosphere. Not too shabby for a molecule.


Spacecraft Earth Has Another Shield

It would appear that Spaceship Earth has one more Shield against assault from space that we were not aware of.

We’ve known for 60 years about the Van Allen Radiation belt. And the Ozone layer. These protective layers absord and deflect charged particles from the Solar Wind and the more intense form of Ultra Violet radiation (light).

Well they have discovered a previously unknown shield between the two Van Allen belts. As described in the ScienceDaily article what this one protects us from are dangerously energetic electrons. These electrons are looping around the Earth at speeds of 100,000 miles per second. But they don’t get into the atmosphere because of this ‘transient storage ring’.

Congrats to Dr. Baker of CU-Boulder for carrying on his professor’s area of interest. That was Van Allen himself.


Driving in Winter

I grew up on the prairie where it gets down to -40 in the winter. The last 4 years I lived there I did the commute to the city, 45 minutes to town, 15 minutes in town. The same on the way back.

The times I saw the most accidents: Fall and Spring. On days that got warm enough to melt snow and ice followed by nights that got cold enough for ice to form I’d see the results the next morning. Cars and trucks off the road in many places. And as often as not this would happen in stretches with no turns or curves. At first I was perplexed but then I read a Volvo brochure and it all made a kind of sense. More about that at the bottom.

Anyway, now I live in the mountains. And it snows here too. Like last morning … I had to go to Trail BC (about an hour or so) and the roads were snowy. I ended up diverting to Castelgar on the way there and back to pick up a friend at the airport. By the afternoon I’d put in 3 hours of snowy, slippery mountain driving. Luckily I stayed on the road – I had no worries with good snow tires and 4 wheel drive. And fortunately I did not get pranged by anyone though I came close to piling into the backend of a semi along the way. You can see that in the video below. As well as the aftermath of two off the road single car accidents.

Those happened along the valley of the Columbia River. In the day time it’s a few degrees above freezing and there’s a moisture in the air. At night I’d imagine black ice is all over the roads.

And that Volvo brochure? In it they were going on about the features in their vehicles and one of them was a Do-Not-Auto-Shift switch for the Automatic transmissions.

Why would they have that you ask?
Well you can drive and maneuver on icy surfaces as long as your wheels don’t lose traction. You lose traction by holding the brakes on all of a sudden. The wheel stops moving and a slide begins.
You also lose traction if your wheels just change speed quick enough. Like when you find you are on bad ice and you slow down, way down, and somewhere along the way your automatic transmission shifts down a gear. And the torque on the drive system is strong enough that this new engine RPM, it’s now higher, is enough to break traction. And your car starts to slide and to you it doesn’t make sense – you haven’t DONE anything! So you sit there confused OR you compensate (but because you weren’t quite sure why the slide was happening you over compensate). And soon your vehicle is off the road and heading for the ditch.

Gotta love Standard Transmissions πŸ™‚


How Tasty Is Your Music?

Today was Drum Circle day down at Kokomos. On my way there I stopped at the supermarket and browsed in the produce department for my musical instruments.

For this first public foray I chose an Apple, Pear, Orange and a Mandarin Orange.

I was late – they’d already stared drumming. And I had to stop and ask the proprietors if I could borrow 4 forks and a knife. (needed for the musical instrument of course!)

As everyone was having fun on the drums I set about assembling my ‘musical instrument’.

  • I removed the fruit from the plastic bag and laid them out on the flattened bag (so the table would not get messy).
  • Then I stuck a fork into each fruit.
  • Then I fastened a different alligator clip to the handles of each fork.
  • Then I connected those alligator clips to the Makey-Makey board. (I hadn’t mentioned this component yet had I? more on that in a second)
  • Then I connected the board to the USB port on my tablet. My tablet was already up and running SoundPlant software.
  • Holding the ground clip in my left hand I then touched each fruit in succession with the knife in my right hand. The knife didn’t work all that well so I dropped it and used my hand.
  • The oranges worked right away, but they did require some squeezing. The Pear and Apple did not. So I stabbed them with their forks a few times and smeared their blood juices over their bodies. Then they worked.
  • I found that if I squeezed the fruit I got a good connection and a sound. But squeezing too hard yielded machine-gun rapid sounds. Just like holding a key down on the keyboard. I also did that when I bit into the fruit and ripped chunks off it. Music from dining!

Ok, what am I talking about?

Last winter I got a Makey-Makey. This little device allows you to turn almost anything into a ‘key’ on a keyboard to your PC. And using software like SoundPlant you can put any sound behind almost any key. So that means you can pick a sound and then make a real world thing make that sound.Β  A Carrot can sound like a Picollo. A Croissant like a French Horn. Bowls of Jelly become keys on a scale.

And when the drumming session was over I got to eat my musical instruments. And share them with others. Delicious.

tech gripes

My Most Deadly Year (For Hard Drives That Is)

This morning I ran into a critical health alert for my Windows Home Server. One of its hard drives had failed …

I think this is the 4th drive failure I’ve seen this year.
All on different machines mind you.

This one will likely take out some backups. The last one took away the boot volume for my oldest i7 desktop PC. That one I’ve still got on the ‘back burner’ to try and recover somehow because I’d rather not lose the installed software, and some of the data, I had on it. It wasn’t being backed up … the original external BU drive had filled a while back and I hadn’t switched it to the WHS machine. But it’s backups would have been on the now failed drive …

I’m looking at adopting FreeNAS instead. My WHS is an older version 1 base on an Atom-CPUed dedicated box. I’d rather be able to adapt and extend the machine and I’m thinking FreeNAS is a better path for me. Plus FreeNAS costs time and hardware while WHS has software costs as well. Not just the actual WHS program but they’d want you to use anti-virus software and from what I’ve seen the AV vendors see WHS customers as having deep pockets. And for the range of PCs I already own the yearly AV subscription updates are getting pricy. Might be time to switch off some and replace others with Linux …