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Monthly Archives: May 2015
David Walton’s Superposition bridges quantum and classical physics, right across the valley of courtroom drama

Filed under Reading / Watching / Consuming

David Walton’s Superposition is a book that offers lots of fun, from experiments in a supercollider to courtroom drama, with each of those threads entangled by a technology that projects quantum effects up to the classic, Newtonian scale. It’s fun for the reader, I mean; it’s more like the opposite of fun for its characters.

It’s hard to get specific here without being spoilery.

Superposition by David Walton Once you’ve read the first few chapters you’ll understand one of the fundamental things about the book; like most everything else, this hangs on an effect of quantum physics. You won’t be sure how much more of that you’ll encounter as you go on.

The book could be seen as an expansion on the famous thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat – which is described, at one point – and the reader has to keep wondering just how many probability waves are collapsing (or not collapsing) as time goes on.

You ought to expect a certain amount of handwavery here, seeing as we don’t actually know how to edit the laws of physics on a local scale. This technology isn’t understood by the characters, either, so it gets a convenient pass. I was left wondering a bit about how a part of their own technology (“smart paper”) can run software that projects its effects into the physical world. This was a small, nagging bit that did bother me.

But by the time that comes up we’ve seen so much that’s (reasonably) inexplicable that this may not trouble everyone. Quantum theory itself is described in terms that even a common mortal – me – can understand. But what it does…!

Another lovely part of the book is also tied up with spoilers, but it concerns the family relationships that are wounded, patched up, and sometimes survive while the structure of reality is torn one way or the other. Superposition succeeds on levels that aren’t limited to the quantum and classical.

This is the first book of Walton’s that I’ve read, but I’m now looking forward to its sequel (Supersymmetry) as well as Quintessence, an Age of Exploration tale in which science has proved that the world is flat.

If you can read this line, the experiment will now begin

Filed under Works in Progress

If you can read this line, the experiment will now begin

Standard Agreement for Visitors
to this Establishment:

By entering this laboratory and reading this sign, you have irrevocably and permanently (not to say, voluntarily) relinquished all and every means of remedy or remediation regarding any action by the occupant, including (but not limited to) any and all forms of behavior that may be considered to be violations of your “basic human rights” whether through common usage or through action, definition, or establishment of law.

Now, if you’ll just step on the red “X” and hold your breath for a moment, we will begin.

The cause of Science (Mad) thanks you for your cooperation in this matter, and during any event that is about to occur. Which will be awesome.

Once again, my dear experimental subject, you are invited to drape your comely torso with this handsome and practical garment from the Retropolis Transit Authority. It functions as a perfectly usable and possibly a legally binding EULA, to serve at once the interests of Science and Amusement.

As do we all.

An Amazing UFO (or ringed planet) lamp from High Desert Dreams; also I invent words, possibly Welsh

Filed under Found on the Web

UFO Lamp by High Desert Dreams

This isn’t the first time I’ve linked to the Etsy shop called High Desert Dreams, and it may not be the last, either, unless I somehow fill my house with lamps that look like retro rocket ships and flickering, high-stakes laboratory lights.

But, for today, it’s the nowth time I’ve linked there. You may tell me that nowth isn’t a word. It should be. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can try spelling it nwydd, and we’ll pretend that it’s Welsh.

With that settled, then, treat yourself to a look at the UFO table lamp pictured above. I thought it was a ringed planet lamp; in this I was mistaken. For the nowth time.

Six city plans from the retro future, via Web Urbanist

Filed under Found on the Web

Retro Futuristic San Francisco

Web Urbanist goes retro-futuristic in this short series of city planning visions for five American cities – and one imaginary one.

It’s good to know that – this being the future – we’re all zooming around San Francisco in our (patented!) flying saucers; Columbus will, by now, have floating skyscrapers Houston, in the retro futurein a very nearly Retropolitan setting; and Manhattan gets a familiar, multi-tiered layout to accommodate air traffic, cargo hauling, and trains.

Houston (left) will obviously have at least one Hugh Ferriss building. In other words, pretty much what we ought to expect – with one exception. Where are the greenbelts?

‘Cause you just can’t have a retro-futuristic megacity without its essential farmlands, dairies, and orchards.

Cities like this nearly make sense. But if you’re still trucking in your food from distant farming communities then you’ve got some shocking waste of energy. You will also have created two societies instead of one, where the cities get everything they need from the farms and the farms get more or less exactly what they have today.

So get those greenbelts in there. We really need ’em, no matter how many flying cars we have.

The Retropolis Rocket Works (noun, not verb)

Filed under Works in Progress

Retropolis Rocket Works

The most anticipated event of every year is the “Rockets of Tomorrow!” exhibition by the Retropolis Rocket Works. That’s the show where we find out what exciting new models are about to pour off the production lines at one of the city’s most famous factories.

And what a show it is! In recent years visitors went agog over the introduction of the Pulsating Phaeton, the Auburn Beauty Six, and the Morgan Plus Forty-Eight.

And even in those years when we haven’t seen a major model launched the Rocket Works has always shown us fantastic advancements and new features for their existing lines, offering what Brooks Stevens has called:

“…something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.”

It may be a little sooner than is necessary… but we can’t wait to get ’em!

Brooks Stevens’ idea of planned obsolescence was a pretty benevolent one, when compared with the reality we’ve come to know and hate – the reality in which things are designed to last slightly longer than their warranties, I mean. But since we can ignore The Present We Really Have for the moment, let’s enjoy the gradual and steady improvement of things in The Future That Never Was.

And the point of that enjoyment, once again, is a new version of a Retropolis Transit Authority staple: the Retropolis Rocket Works t-shirt, poster, coffee mug, and mousepad.

Retropolis Author Business Card

And although I published them with less than a whisper, there are also thirteen (count ’em, thirteen!) new business card designs at Retropolis, too. From even more retro rockets through a variety of characters laboring away on mechanical typewriters; mad scientists of two genders; and some other odds and ends, as well. Because your business card should be as peculiar as you are. I’m here to help.

Some concerns about recent advances in the science of robotics

Filed under Can't Stop Thinking

Tell it to my GIANT ROBOT

Sometimes I feel a little guilty about my mad scientists of Retropolis. That’s because I don’t normally think that our scientists are mad. Not, you know, muahahahaha, you cannot escape my Dessicating Diffracto-Ray mad.

But I have to say that any time the death rays and the giant robots and the curiously effective molecular destabilizers begin to get me down, I remind myself that there are avenues of research in our own Earth that are, to put it plainly, absolutely and positively demented. No. That’s not plain enough. What I mean is: bug-loving, glands to the wall crazy. Which is nearly plain enough.

For example, let’s look at robotics.

Recent advances in robotics include building robots that are fueled by meat. Wow, that’s nuts, right? So they did it again. With corpses.

But fueling robots with meat is pretty harmless, so long as robots can’t detect meat. So let’s make sure they can. In fact, let’s teach them to flense and debone meat. That’s better!

So now that the robots know how to prepare and eat meat, let’s ask them what they think of us, shall we? According to the robots, we are bacon. Mmmmm. Bacon.

But we shouldn’t worry, should we? At least they can’t escape. Oh, no, wait.

Okay. That is a little distressing. Shall we recap, then? We have built robots that are fueled by meat; we have taught them to recognize meat; they now know how to butcher meat; and we’ve made sure that they can get out of their paddocks and onto the streets.

What shall we do next? I know! Let’s build ANGRY robots!

That’s the kind of meditation I go through when I feel badly about the scientists of Retropolis. By the time I reach the end I don’t feel badly about them at all. Because I’m running down the street with a can opener in my hand and screaming that I am not bacon.

Oh, sure, the neighbors stare. But wait till they see what’s coming up behind me.

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Down in the Basement. Where it Strains Against its Chains and Turns a Gigantic Wheel of Pain, for all Eternity. Muahahahahaha.