March 31, 2011

The Beauty of Science

There are some who say that attempting to break apart and analyze the world removes from the world some of its beauty. I myself have seen examples of exactly this phenomenon. But not all times does understanding the world take something from our perception of the world. Let me tell you a story.

In the beginning of all things, there was a god awful bang. In this explosion were created two hydrogen atoms. These atoms, in concert with many trillions of their kin, existed as they had done since their creation. A vast cloud was formed of them, as they waited patiently for billions of years as other stars were born. It was not until a nearby star, formed from the same elemental hydrogen, came to the end of its life, that our star began its coalescence.

Unable to sustain its process's of nuclear fusion, this nearby star collapsed and rebounded in a massive explosion which created the shockwave that started the collapse of our cloud of hydrogen. Our two atoms, having waited through the eons, have at last started the long process of coalescing into a star. After many millennia swirling around the cloud's center of gravity, these two atoms will arrive at the edge of what will one day be our sun.

They are taken down into the broiling heart of our new-formed sun, and there, at the end of all their waiting, they are brought together under intense heat and pressure in a process which will produce one atom of helium. The fusion of these two atoms released energy, energy which had been stored within the two original atoms since the moment of their birth. The energy from the formation of the universe was used to create these two atoms, and in their transformation into helium some of that energy was returned to the universe. This energy became a photon, a particle of light.

This particle, birthed in the fiery center of a star, began its torturous journey to the surface. There is a lot of matter in the depths of our stellar neighbor, and for millions of years our photon struggled against the amassed weight of material pressing down against it. But after many centuries of hardship, our photon finally broke free from the tyranny of the sun. Once released, this photon began traveling away from its stellar nursery, on into the vasty night between the worlds. Flying past the roasted world of Mercury, and barely glancing at the clouds of acid encircling Venus, our photon finally reaches our pale blue world. Light travels fast, more than 186,000  miles a second, but even at this breathtaking pace our photon must travel for more than eight minutes before it can reach our home planet.

As this photon enters our atmosphere, it's wave becomes bent and curved in accordance with the immutable laws of physics. Created in the heart of the star, and born from the union of two atoms created at the beginning of all things, having fought its way clear of the sun and traveling through the empty miles of space, bent and scattered by our atmosphere, our photon finally reaches the surface of our fair planet.

Our photon may strike a rock, or a tree, or a rooftop. It might splash into the ocean or rebound off of bare earth. But once it does strike, it briefly becomes a part of whatever structure it just impacted. The energy contained within the photon is absorbed by the material. Our photon, with some slight changes brought on by its interaction with the Earth, is emitted once again, travels through the atmosphere, and enters my eye.

This preserved energy from our creation gets absorbed in my retina and travels, as electrochemical impulses, from my eye along a nerve which leads to my brain. This impulse is sorted and used, is transformed into an image. This photon, along with trillions of others just like it, have come together to create an absolutely stunning sight: sunset over the mountains. The fires of creation have been preserved through these aeons in order to create jaw dropping beauty.

Knowing how the world works does nothing to detract from its beauty. Quite the opposite in fact.


March 29, 2011

Money Bags

This year, July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens
once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So, forward this to
your friends and money will arrive within 4 days. Based on Chinese
Feng Shui. The one who does not forward.....will be without money.

I think can sorta see things from the perspective of those who are mistrustful of science. Especially for those who place their trust in pseudoscience. Science is, at times, boring. I know. A shocker. But you know what, so is every job. So what. If someone told me all about the new form they had which combined three different tasks into one sheet, I wouldn't care. Not unless there were a truly spectacular storyteller. So I have to imagine that hearing about the particle wave duality of light, or watching a news broadcast talking about electrochemical pathways and or the photosynthetic capabilities of chlorophyll, can get, well, dull. A person might lose interest. Right up until the scientist claims to have found a way, from studying plants, of creating highly efficient solar cells capable of  not just supplying the worlds energy, but also of growing delicious tomatoes.

Of course, we would want to see some evidence to back up such a claim, as well we should. But the evidence is mostly reams and reams of data or rather boring videos of the same thing, over and over and over again. However, a demonstration is also acceptable, provided that we are allowed to see everything that's going on. If someone is trying to convince me to part with my money to buy their new device that they claim can do all this amazing stuff, than I want to be absolutely sure that the device can actually do all that amazing stuff.

What puzzles me is why people don't apply the same scrutiny to the claims of astrologers, homeopathy therapists, and random chain emails. For instance, I got this email just today. If we really weren't going to see another July like this one for 823 years, than we ought to celebrate. I was so excited in fact, that I opened up my computers calendar, and guess what! This July really will have 5 full weekends! Sweet! And then I wanted to put a note on my calendar for July, 2834, just in case I'm around then. I would want to be reminded to party. Unfortunately, my computer only went a hundred years into the future. Dang.

Oh well, Google is often pretty useful. So I checked out their calendar. It only goes half as far into the future. Which I guess kinda makes sense, seeing as how that calendar is geared more towards keeping an agenda than just checking to see what day it is.* But on the other hand, you only really need  two formulas, one for the date and one for the day. Add to that a starting point, any date you want, say 01.01.02001. Then, make sure that you have the right day for the date (a Monday, by the way. Hell of a way to start the decade.) and let the computer fly. I figured that I would be able to find some online calendar, kinda like the world clock, fairly easily.

I couldn't. First, it's really hard to phrase the query in a way that doesn't produce a lot of sites selling calendars or proffering online agenda services. Second, I couldn't actually find one. I figured that some sites have calendars on them that you can scroll through, which might get tedious. But some allow you to input a date, like 01-31.07.02834. But jeez, that seemed tedious. So I decided I'd give another good crack at good old Google search.

I tried a lot of things. Some were quite good. I looked up both how to tell the date, and how to find out what day any date happens to be+, and the formulas needed.** But not immediately useful. But as luck would have it, simply putting in "calendar for July, 2834" returned a whole slew of sites, like boards of education and state governments, which had a perpetual calendar on their site, and Google brought me right to it.

So why in the world did I go through all that effort to find a calendar for 2834. Oh yeah! Will July, 2834 have 5 full weekends? No.


Well, whatever. Maybe the email has been floating around for awhile, dug up from the last time this happened. Maybe we only have to wait 819 years. I figured that it would be pointless to try and guess at how long we would have to wait until we saw this again. So out of boredom and unspent excitement, I started checking out July for a couple of years into the future. You know what? July will have 5 full weekends in 2016. And August will do the same in 2014. Actually, all months that have 31 days will sometimes get 5 full weekends. So I guess the email wasn't really accurate, and I probably won't get money within 4 days if I send this email on (actually, I’ll be really pissed if I don't get money soon. I'm supposed to be getting paid in two days.) That's kind of a bummer.++

So what. Having 5 full weekends right at the heart of summer? That's a great excuse to have a barbecue.

*an excellent reason to have a calendar on your computer. I know that when I have finished up a few days of hard partying, when I wake up groggy, hung over, and vitally, really freaking dirty, I'm quite interested in knowing what day it is, where are my pants, where am I and why aren't I wearing any pants, and did I have to work during any of those days that I now can't remember?

+Interesting side note: an alternative version of the terms I used didn't ask "How to find the day for any date" but "How to find the day for a specific date". Interesting dichotomy there. Both statements ask the exact same thing, but from two different angles. The first is general, the second specific. Conclusive? No. Comprehensive? Hardly. No, this is merely one observation, the subject of one interesting side note.*+

**For the date, that's pretty easy. Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year, except those years ending in '00. There is also a leap year every time the year is divisible by 400. Thus 2000 was a leap year, 2001 was not, 2004 was, and 2100 will not. For the day, just use Zeller's congruence. This a rather arcane bit of mathematics that I have only the barest comprehension of. I know that it's an equation, and I'm pretty sure some division is happening in there. But as for the rest of it, I have no idea. But apparently it works.

*+Interesting companion side note: If one were to peruse my recent search history, they would find a whole lot of variations on the theme "calendar july" with some embellishments of '2834' and 'formula'. The one stand out is I think "clorofil". I could not spell that damn word for the life of me. No matter what combination of letters I tried, I kept seeing that damn red squiggly line. Now I don't.

++Both the inaccuracy of the email and the fact that I have to wait two more days to get paid.

Enhanced by Zemanta