Tag Archives: science

Thirsty Thursdays: exploring the wave–particle duality of writing

They say it’s a bad idea to apologize to your  readers for not writing.

“Never apologize.” That’s my motto. I mean, it’s not like I’m getting paid to write, after all!

So I make it a point not to mention it.

We know that sometimes writing does get put on the back burner for other pursuits – home repair and restoration, playing video games, binge-watching Arrow on Netflix, heavy drinking, etc. But that doesn’t mean that writing isn’t important. It’s HUGE, big enough to threaten the structural integrity of the cast iron grate on that back burner. It’s boiling over, and my tendency of late is to hope that it stays that way while I’m attending to other, somewhat less meaningful pursuits.

When I’m writing my mind is this closet that I’m always dipping into, and when I write, what I take out of the closet goes back in when I’m done with it. From time to time I would get an idea and try to find a nice spot for it in the closet. But when seasons change you might forget what’s even inside the closet; you just throw your ideas in there and shut the door again. Then one day you open the door out of some morbid curiosity and this is what greets you:

picture of a messy closet
Not my closet, but if I weren’t tidy that’s what it might look like. (Photo credit: Scott Rubin)

And yeah, there’s a whole shelf of haiku buried in that morass.

Sometimes writing acts like a wave. That’s what you went out there looking for in the first place, to just have this great big idea splash out of you onto the world. What you got, however, was much more than you expected. But that’s why we ride, isn’t it? It bears down on you with crashing, primal strength. You catch it so it can lift you up and carry you forward. You ride it out, a symbiotic force of nature. You come away from it exhilarated, and you can’t wait to catch the next one.

Sometimes writing acts like a particle. it’s just this little thing that by itself is hardly worth mentioning. But if you pump yourself up you can watch the spontaneous particle spring forth from a single atom in the gas-filled tube of your imagination, watch it bounce back and forth between the mirrored ends. You’ll see it coax other gas atoms to sacrifice just a bit of energy to release other particles to run with it, and each particle added to the run multiplies the effect until eventually that one particle has become a powerfully concentrated beam of inspiration, capable of cutting through writers’ block like nobody’s business.

Writing is a perpetual task. When you’re a writer you write for life. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. That’s why I never make promises when it comes to my writing: that promise would have to be delivered in perpetuity. I couldn’t do that because eventually I’d be forced to break my promise through one means or another, if you get my drift. So for me to call this post Thirsty Thursdays might invite one to infer an implicit promise that next Thursday will bring you another post called Thirsty Thursdays. I assure you that to make this assumption would be a mistake; there are no guarantees in life.

That being said, I think I’m going to try to tackle this closet.

Hold the Crickets?

It’s been a busy weekend!

I had Friday off, and I managed to get quite a bit done! I helped move new couches into our house; orchestrate a fiasco that caused Mme. Ross to realize that we were never going to get the old couch into the upstairs den; then I helped get rid of the old couches. They went to a nice couple who just moved here from Montana, who thought fee couches were pretty cool. I got all the carpeting and padding that Mme. Ross tore up from the first floor and stairs of our house picked up from the side of the house where she had put it and staged it in one of the garage doors to be dragged out the night before garbage day on our upcoming Spring cleaning week. Today, we worked together to get the windows in our living room to open for the first time since we moved in; I even got to go running both Friday and Saturday, and I did all of this while listening to podcasts.

🙂  <– This smiley face means I’m happy.

Some of my to-dos got moved, however. Taking down the DirecTV dish on our roof? I’m pretty sure I can pay someone else to do that and not risk falling to my untimely demise. Cutting back the lilac by the lamppost? Well . . . it turns out Mme. Ross agrees that it doesn’t need to be so big. Next week, I’m buying a chainsaw and taking that f***er down a few notches.

We think of Spring as a time to organize, rearrange, open the curtains and let the sunlight do some disinfecting for us; but also it’s a time to take out the old and bring in the new. For example, our new couches were someone’s old couches. Even though they were beautiful, they could not have gone to waste and we were glad to buy them for a song. We passed down our booger-encrusted couches to someone who was glad to take them for free.

But what happens when something hits the end of the line?

That’s what they made Spring cleanup week for, isn’t it? We put everything on the curb that we’re not allowed to put out during the rest of the year (even if some of us do) and it gets carried off to the dump. Our carpet is a great example of that. I hate carpet with a passion — although it feels great on the toes — because it’s got a way of trapping dirt, dust, and allergens over time. If you wanted proof of that then you should have seen the amount of dirt, dust, and sand that was built up underneath those carpets when Mme. Ross tore them out; the sheer volume of it could have choked an elephant.

So of course it’s getting thrown out. Part of me feels guilty about that because energy was put into making the carpet, and now it’s going to be buried for who knows how long, until natural geological forces can return it to the Earth (arguably, the padding was breaking down at a faster rate.)

Remember when our carbon footprint was a big deal? It’s something that picked up less than a decade ago — they talked about how much energy it took to create this, that, and the other thing, and how our lives would be measured in that — how the costs we paid would be measured in that. Back then, UPS started charging their customers a surcharge to offset their carbon footprint because of that, but today I’m suddenly wondering where all that hubbub went because of a podcast I had been listening to.

It was Science Friday, PRI’s weekly rundown of science news, hosted by Ira Flatow. If you’ve seen that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon makes an ass of himself on public radio, this is the show I’m referring to. Ira ends the second hour of this week’s episode with this little idea to chew on:

. . . the California drought is forcing . . . all of us who enjoy their produce to think about how our eating habits might affect the water situation out west, because that hamburger you’re having tonight? It costs about 1,700 gallons of water per pound of protein. You’d rather switch to a porkchop? 700 gallons a pound. “Ah, but I’m going to go with a chicken, that’s gotta be better.” Well, a little bit: 250 gallons a pound. And if you think vegetarian sources of protein are much better, those chickpeas used to make your falafel and hummus? They suck up 1,200 gallons of water per pound of protein. . . . I want to propose a much more water-friendly option . . crickets, checking in at just one gallon of water per pound.

As it turns out, there’s a new concept on the horizon. One that’s already being formulated and that will soon be foisted upon us as the new metric that we should be watching closely. It’s the new conservation: forget turning your lights off when you leave, since you have LED light bulbs. Forget turning off your computer or your TV, since they will automatically go to sleep. Now, we have to be concerned about our use of water.

I’m not making fun of this issue: it takes a lot of water for one person to live a modern life, and if you were to see how much water you actually use, you might question how it is that you use so much more than that. Do you let the water run while you’re lathering your hands with soap? Does every opening of the commode invite a flush at the end? Do you wash out your recyclables? (Yes, you should!) Our days are punctuated with brief hits of water use, and they add up. But the water footprint also incorporates the hidden water costs of our consumption.

Here’s one question: is this sensationalized? I mean sure, it’s a public radio show and it’s science news. But consider the number that Ira gave us for a hamburger: 1,700 gallons per pound of protein. Let’s consider that the typical burger that any American wants to eat (except me, because I tend to eat twice as much) is a quarter-pound, that should be more like 425 gallons. Right?
English: Hamburger.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, consider this: a quarter pound of hamburger is around 30 grams of protein.  When you consider the words “per pound of protein”, then you might be encouraged to do the math: 30 grams is about .064 pounds, times 1,700 gallons is more like 109 gallons of water.

What a relief, right? That’s only enough water to fill two bath tubs!

Let’s just say that the more processing a product requires, the more water it uses, and if you’re the end user then it’s on you. But meat and dairy are special, because they come from living organisms that require water the same way that we do. This is not to put you off your steak, of course, but it’s estimated that on the planetary scale, consuming animal products makes up around 25% of our water footprint. Most of that is actually used to make the feed for those animals.

Insects food stall in Bangkok, Thailand
Insects food stall in Bangkok, Thailand (Image credit: Wikiped

But hey, if we turn to entomophagy, we could save a whole bunch of water!

Where did I get robbed? Was it being brought up in a steak-and-chicken culture? Was it being taught that insects were disgusting and unclean? I ask, because it turns out that around 80% of the world’s population eats over a thousand species of insects!

Consider this a fair warning: they’ve been talking about eating insects for years. This really isn’t anything new. Heck, some of you may have tried some, even if it’s just chocolate-covered grasshoppers or something. But now it looks like they plan to ramp it up. If it came down to paying something like fifty dollars for a steak, would you turn to a diet of scorpions and cockroaches?

Personally, I’d go vegetarian.

The hidden water resource use behind meat and dairy | Arjen Y. Hoekstra

Insects could be the key to meeting food needs of growing global population | Damian Carrington

Would I really hold the world hostage?

First of all, for all you prompt bloggers out there, there is a new writing challenge that can take off if we are willing to help out, called the “What If? writing challenge”. Find it here.

mad scientist
mad scientist (Photo credit: dzingeek)

Imagine for a moment that I am a mad scientist; I “have the knowledge, the lab, and the madness.” You know what I would do with that?

Me neither. Define madness! Are we talking about the kind of mad where you think destroying the planet or blowing up the Moon is a good idea for some reason that no one else can comprehend? Or is it more like the kind of mad where you’re so eccentric that nobody understands what you’re up to? I have to assume it’s not the stark, raving madness that lands one in an asylum, the madness that affects those who have been reduced to gibbering lunatics that can’t interact normally.

The primary target: imagine it in two pieces. Kiss that moonlight romance goodbye. Ha ha ha! (Photo credit: penguinbush)

I’d like to think that as a mad scientist I would be one of the latter, but let’s go ahead and address the former first. Let’s say that I have a plan. I have decided that it would be a great way to assume world dominance if I held the Moon hostage; to that end, I have built a super-concentrated ion beam emitter ray, also known as a SIBER. With it, I plan to slice the moon into two pieces; each having half the original mass of the moon, will also exert half the gravitational force, and thus will fly out of the current orbit, causing meteorological havoc all over the planet – we’re talking earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, wildfires, stock market surges, new Rob Schneider films, and all manner of things generally unpleasant; complete with the attendant uptick in police and military presence, and while they’re trying to keep the peace, I will seize control of the planet with the plan which I will not reveal here.

Of course, all of that can be avoided if you just hand over the reins of power now. Think about it; nobody has to die, nobody has to get hurt. Nobody loses their home or their loved ones, their SUVs, their wood-fired meat smokers, their beehives, their plastic pink lawn flamingos. . . and then I can turn all of my mad science to good causes, like ending world hunger and curing cancer. Except the SIBER, of course. You’ll be my hostages in perpetuity, or at least until I have decided that I can trust you not to try anything. . . stupid.

Mad scientist
Mad scientist (Photo credit: BWJones)

Or if I were one of those (more or less) harmless mad scientists who did things that seemed like a good idea, but that are rarely understood by others, I might focus my efforts on the beneficial causes right from the start. Maybe I will end world hunger by inventing a manna machine that causes nutritive substances to form in the cloud layer and then rain down upon starving third-world countries. It’s like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, only not burgers and fries, but just kind of a hyper-nutritive bread from heaven that will biodegrade over a short period of time. On the other hand, if things do not go as planned there might be issues of pollution and meteorological havoc to deal with, as well as possible unintended effects upon the ozone layer, worldwide darkness, things like that. All easily fixable, I’m sure.

Or maybe I could cure cancer by creating nanoscopic swarms of robots, controlled by custom software algorithms, finely tuned to the individual patient, that will allow them to work together to seek out and destroy cancerous tumors and cells; or in some cases where that’s not possible, at the very least keep them under control, limit angiogenesis, and prevent metastasis. That is, if I can prevent them from getting outside of the body, which is famous for being able to expel anything that does not belong in it (and some things that do.) Once on the outside they might cause havoc by creating a grey goo epidemic, which would lead to widespread respiratory illness and heaven knows what else, thanks to the individual nature of the algorithms and variation between different people, plus possible unforeseen bugs in the software. Ha ha! Yeah, we probably ought to address that now. . .

English: Bela Lugosi in "The Devil Bat&qu...
I’m really a good guy, I just don’t like touching people. Or talking to them. Or being in their presence, or really anywhere near them. Just stand way, way back. PLEASE. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, those are just two examples, and in fact I took them from the previous supposition that I was out to rule the world. But what if the so-called “evil” mad scientist really thought he was doing what was best for humankind? I mean, what person commits senseless acts on a worldwide scale for no reason? What do you do with the money when you have to take down the economy to get it, right? That mad scientist who wants to rule the world probably has some really good ideas for reinventing Earth into the planet of the future; it might involve killing all of the lawyers and politicians, but hey, how do you make an omelette without breaking some eggs? Especially if the end result is an end to world hunger, an end to dependence upon fossil fuels, an end to terminal illness, an end to involuntary workaholism – making the world, in essence, a veritable utopia?

And what if the average brilliant scientist came up with a perfectly good plan that backfired in unforeseen and unimagined ways, would we villainize him, even demonize him to the point where everyone believes that he was up to no good in the first place? How do we punish someone who really just made an innocent mistake, but doesn’t really relate that well to others and so could possibly flub his defense?

If all the lawyers are already dead, I’d hope I could get Neil DeGrasse Tyson to represent me. People just love that guy!

Neil deGrasse Tyson at The Amazing Meeting 6.
I swear, I had nothing to do with his crimes. But he really is just a good guy! He just doesn’t like touching people. Or talking to them. Or being in their presence. . . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post was prompted by today’s What If? writing challenge prompt