Monday, September 29, 2003

Just another day in the lab

Anne-Marie and I performed the 'speed of light' calculation using Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips in our microwave. We placed a line of chocolate chips on a paper plate, then placed the plate in the center of the microwave with the line parallel to the door. We then heated the chips until the first sign of melting occured, and measured the distance between the melted points. Here are our results:

f = microwave frequency = 2.48 gigahertz
L = measured chocolate melting point distance = 6 centimeters
d = full wavelength = 2 * L = 12 centimeters
t = period of one wave = 1 / f = 0.4032 nanoseconds
c = speed of light in a microwave = d / t = 297,600,000 meters per second

We looked up the speed of light in a vacuum, which was listed as 299,792,458 meters per second. Given that an error of plus-or-minus one chocolate chip results in variations of plus-or-minus 50,000,000 meters per second and that the inside of the microwave wasn't a vacuum, these results look better than they really are... there's only 1 significant digit in the final result, which should be more accurately represented as 3x108 m/s. Still, the fact that you can even get that close to measuring the fastest thing in the universe using kitchenware has a sort of arcane Douglas Adams feel to it.

Now I remember why I like science so much

I've been thinking about the speed of light, and relativity. There are many strange things that come out of relativity, once you make the assumption that the speed of light is constant. The whole thing falls apart if that assumption isn't correct... our understanding of nuclear energy, the size and age of the universe, hell even the way computers work, all of it is based on 'c' being a constant.

So what if 'c' isn't a constant? Recently astrophysicists have made some observations that could only be true if either the electron charge or the speed of light had changed, and both of these values are supposed to be inviolable constants. This has some interesting implications for physics... and personally I've been waiting for something like this to come around, since modern scientists have been pretty smug even though some of their theories (dark matter, for instance) are ridiculous. Shaking the foundation of the knowledge base may cause everything to settle into a new, hopefully more realistic, explanation of how the universe works.

The speed of light is so far beyond the human scale that it doesn't really make much of an impression on people... it's too big to wrap our minds around. A group of physicists investigating a new kind of matter called a 'Bose-Einstein condensate' found a way to change that a couple of years ago, when they slowed the speed of light to 38 miles per hour. It's long been known that materials with an index of refraction, like water or glass, 'bend' light by slowing it down... and there have been theories that exotic materials such as the Bose-Einstein condensate would have a more pronounced effect on light, but until recently it was impossible to build the equipment to try it (incredibly strong vacuum and a temperature within a few billionths of a degree of absolute zero are two of the necessary conditions, for example).

Some less esoteric properties of light are simpler to observe. For instance, the speed of light (in the form of electromagnetic waves) in ordinary matter (in the form of chocolate) can be measured with your microwave oven. And when you are done, you get to eat the experiment. See? Science rocks.

Fucking hell.

Yesterday, just for the record, was the most painful day I have ever had... I almost went to the hospital, but luckily I finally got some relief from the various drugs I'm on and got a few hours of sleep. The problem in my side was severely aggravated, and my guts felt like they were tied in knots... I've never had it as bad as this, and I hope I don't have it that bad again.

There is still some part of me that just watches what is happening to me, this quiet observer... there are times that the pain is so extreme that any response to it would be futile, so I just sit it out, and part of me wonders, from second to second, whether or not I can continue to take it. If it gets that bad again today I'm going in to the hospital, but I don't know that they can do much for me... knock me out, perhaps, for which I would be truly grateful.

I've had a rough couple of days... the change in my medications has been somewhat difficult, and some of the problems I have been having in recent days are suspiciously like withdrawal symptoms, which wouldn't be surprising since I'm ramping down off of the narcotics I've been on for a couple of years. I hope that means that some of what I am experiencing right now will go away... this isn't a sustainable amount of pain.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Nerd fun

My house is wired (and wirelessed) with a Linksys WRT54G, a WiFi-G router that lets me connect the broadband connection to all of the desktops via ethernet and to my laptop via wireless. The device is cool in and of itself... but the folks at Seattle Wireless have figured out how to make it cooler. Fearlessly risking the possibility of turning their nice new expensive routers into nice new useless doorstops, they have probed the innards of the device and find that it is running a very stripped-down version of Linux, and they have developed tools for uploading your own code and executing it on the machine.

C.J. Collier and a number of people on the Seattle Wireless Developer's mailing list have created a number of tools to establish a shell on the router, upload files, and even push a mini-linux distribution up there so you can run your own code.

Rob Flickenger, who pioneered the creation of high-gain WiFi antennas made from Pringles cans, has also pioneered the creation of community supported 802.11b wireless networks through his program NoCatAuth, and guess what, he's managed to use the tools mentioned above to get a mini version of it running on the router. Right now it's an open portal, but in time it will be an authentication tool for controlling who is using your wireless resources.

And Jim Buzbee has done alot of work porting Snort (a packet-sniffer), a fancy webserver that can handle CGI scripts, and a VPN daemon (these allow you to run applications that normally only work on a LAN over the Internet) to the router.

Break out the floaties

Just three weeks after scientists announced that the glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting at an alarming rate and will have disappeared completely in three decades, the largest ice shelf in the Arctic region has broken up, sending alot of ice islands out into the sea, where they are floating into shipping lanes and drilling platforms. Hrmmm... looks like maybe there is something to that whole 'global warming' idea after all.

Now if only someone could convince our dumbass president.

File under 'Our society is doomed'

There is a hotel next to the New York Public Library that decided to capitalize on the popularity and geographic proximity of the library by naming themselves The Library Hotel and numbering their rooms according to the Dewey Decimal System. (Do you remember the DDS? Yes kids, it's true, back in my day we actually read books that we got at a library that was so full of books that they had to have this complex numbering scheme just to keep track of all of them... it's so easy to forget that 10 years ago we couldn't just Google for information in the comfort of our own homes). So you could stay, for instance, in room 700.003 (Performing Arts), and your room would have a bunch of relevant books in it. A bit of a gimmick, but there are Tackier Things in this country. (Or maybe not: take a look at their Erotic Reading Room special...)

It turns out, as it usally does nowadays, that there's a hitch: the Dewey Decimal System that both the library and the hotel are arranged under isn't in the public domain, and the company that has legal rights to the classification system is suing the hotel for trademark infringement. There have already been other similar court cases, most of which were resolved in out-of-court settlements.

The trademark lawyer who is on the case said that "a person who came to their web site and looked at the way the hotel is promoted and marketed would think they were passing themselves off as connected with the owner of the Dewey Decimal Classification system." True, true, true... if the person in question had the intelligence of a fern and an eMpTyVee attention span and zero fucking clue about anything. No one with more than 3 or 4 neurons in their head would associate the hotel with 'the owner of the Dewey Decimal Classification system' because it would never even occur to them that such an owner even existed... it's like getting sued by the Greeks for using the signs of the zodiac.


The visit to the pain management clinic was interesting... the doc took me off of the drug that gave me the IQ of a hamster while failing to reduce my pain, and (unfortunately) started me on some new drug. Wheeee.

He also did some electro-acupuncture, which was pretty interesting: 2 needles inserted directly into the worst part of the pain, with an electric current running between them. This hurt like hell. Anne-Marie was given a little box with a dial on it, and told to periodically turn it up to where I just couldn't take anymore. When this ordeal was over, I found (even now, a half hour later) that the core of my pain is somewhat numbed. The fringes still hurt - I feel like I have a bruise (picture a bruise on a plum... I feel like the plum) that I can't see, but most of the right side of my body hurts still and it worries me that these other areas are hurting, because what if it isn't just local nerve damage? It would be so nice if I could just get this pain problem licked and get on with my life, but I'm a bit pessimistic about the whole thing, enough so that I just have to pretend there is a happy ending somewhere, so I have a reason to get through the next day.

This, if I recall correctly, is not how I thought my life would turn out.

I'm going in for a diagnostic nerve block procedure on 28 October. They'll put me on an x-ray table and watch the x-ray real-time as they poke around inside me trying to definitively identify the wellspring of the pain. If they can find it, they can then shoot painkiller in there for short-term relief, and work on a solution for long-term relief (if it is a damaged nerve branch, they can sever the nerve where it exits the spine, and the pain goes away along with any other sensation I may have had in that area... if that sounds like a severe remedy, you aren't up to speed on how seriously this problem has demolished my life). Once again, keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, September 19, 2003

"What's up, doc?" ... "Not you."

I just got back from an appointment with my doctor... I asked her to start reducing the amount of narcotics I am taking. If I am going to be in pain either way, I'd rather have the full use of my brain than go through life fogged by drugs. Of course, I run the risk that the drugs might actually be working, and my pain has just grown so much that it pokes through the medicated haze, but that would BE THE FUCKING SUCK so I'm going to hope there is some other explanation. Anyway, the pain meds are ramping down now... so the next couple of weeks might get very interesting.


I spent the whole day in bed today, dizzy and pained. One of my drugs, or some combination of them, is making me feel like my whole body has been rubbed with sandpaper, and there is a horrible pressure in my side, and there is a pain I feel that does not actually reside on or within my body... I feel all over, and I can't find it, and I can't even tell when I am getting close. I think it is safe to say that my nervous system is pretty fucked, when I am having pains that are either so deep within me that I can't find them, or are outside of my body entirely.

There are limits to how much I can fight this... I can fake it through a day or even two, but I pay for it later. And I find that even if I do smile and nod and fight the pain, I am not very stable in perception or personality, and I am prone to fucking up in my dealings with the humans... so when I make the effort to be more 'there' I run the risk of doing more damage than I would do by just removing myself from the equation and staying in bed.

One of the hardest parts of this is that I am no longer able to think as well as I once did. Those who know me well know that I am happiest when I am learning something new... I am usually found in the middle of a pile of books, or running simulations while I study some new topic, or drawing up circuits, or writing code... I am always hooked to the web, finding connections between different subjects and following ideas wherever they lead. This, of course, has all changed in the past few months... I am no longer able to hold as much in my head as I once was. I still find joy in learning, but the spark is dim, and my attention and ability are diminished, and what focus I can still muster up is used to fight off pain.

I've got appointments with my doctor (tomorrow) and the pain management clinic (Tuesday), and I am going to ask them both to start getting me off of these drugs. Right now I am in as much pain as I was 8 months ago (despite my daily diet of narcotics), so it looks to me like the only 'benefit' my medication provides me is dizziness, confusion, personality disorder, and a reduced ability to think. Wheeeee.

Thursday, September 18, 2003


My real-world email is having issues, so any mail sent to me at that address in the last 12 hours or so has disappeared, and the server is still down. If you need to get ahold of me, use the email from this site, .

I've had my primary email for almost 11 years... and I'm not going to bitch about the outages, since it's been free the whole time. (I always had to have some other way to get on the net, but once I was on I had the POP account available). The last few months they have been plagued with outages and glitches... they appear to be getting slammed right off of the net with the amount of spam and those Microshaft internet virii that are sweeping the net. I suspect that this is just the way of things... the little companies will get knocked off the net, and the Walmartization of everyting will proceed as planned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Blogger sucks.

Today I discovered that the kind folks at Blogspot have changed the way they store this blog, thereby killing most of the links to past posts. I'll have that fixed soon.

Going... going... gone.

After a hectic week of talking with mortgage brokers and realtors and home inspectors and architects and civil engineers, we decided to take the advice of our friends and withdraw our offer on the house. This is a bit disappointing, but I think that it is The Right Decision. I'm not really looking forward to the resumption of the house hunt though :/

We really liked that house. When we first walked in, we felt like we were home. There was just that one little problem, though... we needed to add (at the very least) a couple of dormers to increase the headroom upstairs. This could be a reasonable project, if things went smoothly. It could also turn into a life-draining money-pit nightmare if they didn't.

Given that I am *we* are currently engaged in the full-time project of dealing with my health problems, the additional burden of making that particular house fit our lives would be a bit too much. I am still sad to see it go. Tomorrow we are going out to search for a home that more closely matches our dreams.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Home again home again jiggety jig

Well, we came home, and it looks like we really came home, since we just signed the papers on a house. It was a mildly amusing sensation signing away that much money, but we ran the numbers and in this market they are basically paying us to buy the house (for the first few years anyway), and our monthly payment in the new place will be less than our rent here. Sheesh.

Anne-Marie and I have been looking forward to making a place our own since forever... or running away from here and living nekkid on an island beach somewhere.

I guess for now we can just vacation on the island beaches.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Dust free

Burning man was great, of course. The creativity and beauty and love per square mile there exceed that of any other place I've ever been. It's difficult, if not actually impossible, to explain what it is like to people who haven't been there: like explaining 'blue' to someone without sight. It's even difficult explaining things to people who were there, if they didn't see the same thing or have the same experience... it's bigger than words. It's bigger than thought, too... I find that my memories have already succumbed to some level of abstraction, making the experiences smaller so they fit inside my head. They are still beautiful, sparkling, lovely...

Anne-Marie and I camped our way home, taking a few extra days to visit anyplace on the way that had a description involving the word 'water'. Goose Lake, Summer Lake hot springs, Odell Lake, McCredie hot springs... we camped next to rivers and lakes, in forests and stars. I wish my whole life were like that.

Now we are home. I spent a few days in bed, 'recovering' from the whole thing (I say 'recovering' because I am not in fact recovering, I am just readjusting to my usual level of poor health. Anne-Marie woke me up to go look at a house that is for sale in one of the neighborhoods we want to live in... it is very nice. I think we could make a home there.

Oh yeah: somewhere in there I had a birthday. So did five or six of my friends. HBTYHBTYHBD_HBTY.

You can click on the pictures to get a larger view.




I always feel like somebody's watching me.


It got a little dusty.