How to make writing be more better?

To be honest, I’m not too enthused over my writing from the last several weeks. I feel like I missed my point on the 100% Pure Energy post in particular — that it’s hopeful and plausible to have energy-based life persist after the heat death of the universe — and so I want to take a step back and re-evaluate how I approach writing on my site.

I do have a theory on how to improve my writing: you know how there are people you converse with naturally? It may be in person, over IM or via e-mail but I know there are people I just communicate with more smoothly. If I imagine I’m writing to that person, I think my writing will come out more natural, whereas when I address the void of the internet, I feel like I’m writing a drab, monotonous manual, and so I cut the zing out of my writing.

Oh, nevermind that this site was supposed to have mostly cartoons. I’m getting to that!

A tardy review of the Macbook Air

Did you say you wanted a review of the Macbook Air several weeks after its debut? Well, you’re getting one anyway. I was going to call this review the “Macbook Who Cares” because I’m so witheringly clever, but I’m sure there’s a bandwagon of bad “air” puns out there already. Into “thin air”, “hot air”, “break like the air” — those are all for free.

Part laptop, mostly air.The first thing you notice about the Air is how small it is. How did Apple do it? If you’d told me all you had to do to make a smaller laptop was remove the optical drive and a bunch of ports, I would never have believed you. But somehow Apple harnessed the power of “removing stuff” and produced the Air.

Will wonders never cease?

It was while reading a better review from Engadget that I realized what other Apple product the Air most resembles: the G4 Cube.

Both were received to great enthusiasm and are a marvel to look at. They are also too small, too expensive, oddly-ported, difficult to upgrade one-offs that have no long-term sustainability. In both cases, Apple has released to manufacturing what are the computer equivalent of concept cars. Just as the slot-loading drive, touch-sensitive buttons, smaller form factor and DVI port of the Cube began to appear on a lot of later Mac hardware, the features and advances of the Air will soon find their way into much cooler — and more practical — iMacs, Power Macs and iPods.

Yes, “there’s something in the air” — unfortunately it’s Icarus.

Lights in the sky

He’s been on the air since before the invention of television, so I’ll cut Larry King some slack when he runs short on credible topics to cover, but last weekend after reawakening from a surprise nap in a Las Vegas hotel room, I found myself with an hour to kill and Larry King’s episode about UFOs caught my befuddled attention. I guess there’s a conference in Dublin, Texas this week covering UFOs and Larry wanted to put a couple of housewives trained observers on the air to tell their tale about a sighting of a ludicrously large UFO over their house.

The observers know it was a spacecraft of alien origin because they saw five lights in the sky which looked connected. Of course. This begs an oft-overlooked question: do UFOs even have running lights? None of the satellites earth has sent into orbit or to the surface of another planet have blinking lights on their wings or bodies. Even the space shuttle — the only craft we know to have visited the earth from outer space — doesn’t have running lights. Navigation lights are an earth contrivance, standardized by the FAA. Are we to assume that the Greys from Omicron Persei-8 stopped to certify their craft with the feds before taking their silent, mile-long boomerang out for a joyride?

I’m guessing that idea hasn’t occurred to the brainiac sisters in the clip below. I feel for skeptic James McGaha when having to deal with the staggering genius of a UFO witness who refutes him with, “I don’t really care about the subject enough. I saw what I saw.”

100% Pure Energy

From the back to the middle and around again,
I’m gonna be there ’til the end

While doing the embarrassingly lazy equivalent of “research” into the origin of the universe on Wikipedia, I came across an interesting timeline for — wait for it — THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. With the cryptic name 1 E19s, this article lays out what’s expected to happen to the universe at time scales after 1 x 1019 seconds (or about 317 billion years).

Anyway, nothing particularly interesting happens in the first 1030 years of the universe, apart from entropy, the synthesis of heavy elements, and heat death, at which point all matter is swallowed up by black holes. Yawn.

BUT! After only 1036 years the universe will undergo a dramatic change: it will become entirely energy-based. The protons in the nucleus of every atom will start to decay. Oh yeah, every proton and every atom everywhere has existed since the birth of the universe, some 1.3 x 1013 years ago. Did I forget to mention that?

Proton decay is a process where matter turns back into energy as predicted by the Grand Unification Theory. The one problem here is that proton decay has never been observed and may not exist. Well screw you, it’s my story.

Just as radioactive elements decay, the protons that make up all matter will themselves begin to erode after a long enough time. So what you have is all the matter across the universe slowly breaking down into energy. This won’t create a big bang, but rather think of proton decay as you slowly turning up the heat in your oven until your dinner is burnt. Wait, bad example. Some like it hot, but some sweat when the heat is on. Is that any clearer?

Once this matter-decay energy has reached a high enough level, the plainly-titled grand unification energy predicted by GUT transforms “the electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear forces are fused into a single unified field.” This energy level is estimated to be around 1015 electron volts, and only a few orders of magnitude under the limits of the Plank temperature, Max Plank’s “these go to 11” idea of the greatest allowed energy state of matter before it begins to break apart. We now have enough energy throughout the universe that the four fundamental forces have become one.

So just as the universe started out as hydrogen, then built itself up into heavier elements, which combined to form compounds, which then created life, as the universe undergoes this change from a matter-based to an energy-based system, could the next stage of life be one entirely based on grand unification energy? Will life and intelligence survive beyond the heat death of the universe and survive into this brave new world? What would having control over electromagnetic, gravitational and atomic forces mean for whatever life that does exist?

I know it’s an old sci-fi staple, but seeing the theories behind energy-based life made it once again interesting to me.

While the heat death of the universe seems to be a bit of a downer, the Grand Unification Theory does provide some hope. Though the matter-based universe has run its course, it’s fascinating to speculate that at a certain time, when all matter has dissipated into energy, the state of the universe will reach a critical flashpoint where the four horsemen fundamental forces will unite and the universe will become pure energy (or at least 99 & 44/100% pure). Doesn’t this scenario sound somewhat similar to the conditions before the big bang? To anything living after that flashpoint, it would seem that the conversion from matter to energy would be their big bang.

Still no word yet on whether there will be a Crystal Waters / Information Society crossover club mix to herald that in.

Pumaman does not kill my people

The No Country for Old Men / Pumaman crossover macro no one wanted.

Pumaman does not kill my people

I do not need to kill to find you

OK OK, I promise no more Pumaman posts for awhile. Sheesh, it’s like I’m obsessed. I will shamelessly plug my Pumaman tee-shirts one more time, however.

Steady State vs. Big Bang model of the universe

A recent episode of The Universe, the thought-provoking series about (you guessed it) the universe, explained man’s increasing understanding of the origin of the universe as well as our place in it. Through the work of Galileo, Kepler, Einstein and Hubble we’ve come to understand more about the true nature of our universe and discovered with some trepidation that the more we understand about our universe, the further removed we become from the center of it.

What got me thinking were two competing models of the origin of the universe from the late 1940s. (As an aside, it’s unbelievable that what seems like a given fact today about the origin and nature of the universe was only a theory as recently as 1965.) These two theories were the Big Bang theory behind the creation of the universe — perhaps you’ve heard of it? — versus the Steady State model, which states that while it is expanding, the universe did not originate in a single explosion, but the way it is now is the way it will always be through the steady but infinitesimal introduction of new matter.

SPOILER ALERT: The Big Bang model has become the accepted theory.

Anyway, the thing that concerned me was the amount of heavier elements in the universe. Steady State said that at the non-moment of creation, we got all the heavier elements we have now: carbon, nitrogen, iodine, whatever. The big bang states that all matter originally formed from hydrogen, which was later fused together in the core of stars. That makes everything in the universe a byproduct of solar fusion, or to borrow one of Carl Sagan’s more popular terms, we are “star stuff”.

But if the heat and pressure of billions and billions of tons of hydrogen at millions of degrees is enough to fuse hydrogen into heavier elements, why did the heat and pressure of the big bang (roughly the mass of everything compressed into a space the size of nothing) result in only the creation of hydrogen, nature’s lightest element?

The easy out here is that the rules of general relativity are kind of thrown out for oddball situations like the big bang or when mass, velocity, or scale are very large, but it seems atypical — or at least unusual — that the universe’s largest explosion produced just one kind of matter.


Lego Mission to Iraq

Mars MissionLEGO Mars Mission? I have a bone to pick with you. While I continue to enjoy your toys recommended for people 1/3 my age, I must take issue with the theme of your Mars Mission sets. From the packaging, the Mars Mission story is: humans take armored assault vehicles to an arid, sandy world to plunder its natural resources, but wind up in a conflict with the natives, who seem very much intent on keeping their natural resources and rebuking the alien invaders.

…does this story sound familiar at all?

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so

Discover Magazine tells me time may not exist, which will be handy to tell my employer the next time I show up to work “late”.

The article’s point is that time is a bit of an oddball force in that it only ever moves in one direction. But I wouldn’t call it unique by that alone. One of the things that always bugged me in high school physics was that one could never have negative centripetal force, only a positive force from zero to whatever. And even velocity can’t have a negative value, just a different vector in which it’s moving. An object may be moving backwards relative to you because of its direction, but its velocity is still a positive value. It’s either moving or it isn’t. So is one-directional time really so unusual, or are we merely unable to perceive it moving in different directions?

Disintegration of the Persistence of MemoryMaybe it’s incorrect to assume that time moves in a strictly linear fashion. The Physics and Phenomenology of Time states that time may not necessarily move as the crow flies, but meander around like a vine on a pole, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, but it gets where it’s going in the end. I left home this morning and arrived at work afterwards; I didn’t take a straight line to get there — but I got there in the end. Just as the motion of subatomic particles occur on such a small scale that we don’t notice them, maybe that we’re all meandering through time on such a large scale that we don’t notice it, just as my car moved along various city streets on my way to work, but I didn’t change my position inside it.

Even the measurement of time may have cause and effect backwards:

“I recently went to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder,” says Lloyd. (NIST is the government lab that houses the atomic clock that standardizes time for the nation.) “I said something like, ‘Your clocks measure time very accurately.’ They told me, ‘Our clocks do not measure time.’ I thought, Wow, that’s very humble of these guys. But they said, ‘No, time is defined to be what our clocks measure.’”

This illustrates the problem of time: it cannot be observed. The change in the state of objects (such as the hands of a clock) can be measured over a given period of, erm… time, but what’s being measured is just the objects themselves: the unwinding of a spring, the rotation of a cog, the pulse of an atom… but where is the “time” happening?

Now one question remains: if time doesn’t exist, why hadn’t I heard about this sooner?


Slowboat to Hades & Super Mario Galaxy

The navigation for the Gorillaz DVD Slowboat to Hades puts you, the viewer, inside the Gorillaz world as an ersatz crime scene investigator / tomb raider, skulking through the not-quite-abandoned Kong Studios and all its leaking, shorting, smoldering disrepair. Navigation can be either an immersive or a tedious experience (depending on your point of view) as you move from room to dimly-lit room, shining your flashlight over whatever strewn detritus it is that will unlock the next featurette.

Kong StudiosJamie Hewlett’s design and animation support the themes established in the Demon Days album which this DVD is derived from. The premise, shown in broken 52″ flatscreen TVs hung askew on puched-in, graffitied walls, and studio recording equipment connected through a dizzying rat’s nest of patched, mismatched cables, states that all the money and success you enjoy will not stop the world from falling apart, and all those creature comforts will too succumb to systemic decay.

It was while immersing myself in this (fantasy… I hope) world that I noticed it had something in common with a few other games I enjoy: Super Mario Galaxy, Mario 64 and Myst.

Myst islandEach environment is an island unto itself (sometimes more or less literally so). Each game establishes a series of very detailed worlds, each with its own flora and fauna, themes and internal logic. Each is a puzzle; constrained but with enough room to allow the visitor to move freely, to explore and interact with this unique, peculiar environment. It’s comforting to know that the experience is bounded, but not limited — there can still be a great deal of variation inside its isolated shores, and maybe finding out what those limits are is part of the fun.

And is it a coincidence that they all involve islands?

Super Mario Galaxy

This reminds me of when I asked an artist friend to paint me a picture of “an enclosed space”, not really knowing myself what it meant (neither did she, which is probably why my fine art collection is floundering).

Whether it’s Noodle’s flying windmill island, the Stoneship Age, or Mario making his way across the Gusty Garden galaxy, I find something captivating (no pun intended) about each game’s world.