Archive for January, 2008

The fast track life

My family has an old cat–a paradoxical, or at any rate a relative concept, given that she hasn’t yet crossed her 16th year. But she has diabetes and probably some other health problems, so she is suffering real indignities of age. She reminds me of what Claude Lévi-Strauss said about the cities of the New World: they go from freshness to decrepitude without stopping at agedness. The amount of memories and experiences you have isn’t totally dependent on how much time has passed in your life, so I suppose cats are probably about as well acclimated to the amount of time that they have on earth as we are to ours, which is to say not very. The fact that she hardly does anything all day long also no doubt makes the time pass more slowly. Even so, having to deal with getting old just a decade after being born is something no human has ever had to endure (unless they have some weird genetic disease), and it does seem like a burden in its own right on the bendy, elasticky back of a cat. Surely even in beings that look like walking lint balls that deserves our respect enough to temper any over-idealizations of their “carefree” lives.

Higher-dimensional linking integrals

My first research paper, “Higher-dimensional linking integrals” (co-authored with my office mate, David Shea Vela-Vick), just went up on the arXiv, which is the most popular preprint server for mathematics, physics, computer science, and a few other related fields. We haven’t decided where to submit it yet, but hopefully we’ll get that figured out in the next few days. If I have some time this week, I’ll try to write up a short, non-technical summary to post here.

Quantum smoking

What is a cigarette? You might say that it’s a long white cylindrical papery-type object, but I say that it’s a unit of temporo-spatial measurement. I have a friend from my undergraduate days who’s a reprehensibly heavy smoker, to the point where apparently his life expectancy is only about 40 (of course totally refusing to eat vegetables of any kind, even when they’re mixed up in a sauce or something so that you can’t taste them, and having on at least one occasion drifted from cutesy college “oh I’m such an alcoholic” level to actual sad withdrawing-from-school “oh shit, I’m an alcoholic” level surely hasn’t helped), and would always try to plan his walks from one building to another by the number of smokes he could rip through on the way, especially when it was cold. He knew exactly, down to the fraction, how many it took to walk between pretty much any two buildings on campus. Now, America is separated from the rest of the world in our measuring systems for weight, length, volume and so forth. It’s a shame that most Americans, like me, don’t smoke: should we ever cease to share common units of time, it would be such a practical replacement, universal, understood in every corner of the globe–and the French would the natural nation to lead the way, like with the metric system, if only they could get the EU health regulations off their back. Of course, like with quantum physics, the act of measuring affects the situation: you walk around too much measuring distances by smoking, and pretty soon it’ll start to get more difficult to walk around.

links for 2008-01-13

links for 2008-01-06

  • “Medicine today has entered its B-17 phase. Substantial parts of what hospitals do—most notably, intensive care—are now too complex for clinicians to carry them out reliably from memory alone. I.C.U. life support has become too much medicine for one person to fly.”

Backing up to youth

I’ve never really understood why at stoplights the flashing hand on the walk sign goes longer than the yellow light. You would think that since people on foot go about 1/10 the speed of cars and therefore need less time to slow down and stop it would be the other way around. Maybe the traffic engineers are simply reflecting the stages along life’s way: you know, first you crawl, then you walk, then you drive. At every stage you gain speed and at every stage time seems to go by more quickly. I suppose relativistic speed would be like the minds of old people driving: outside everything is flying around at high speeds, but inside the gears are moving by rope and pulley. Maybe this correspondence explains a strange phenomenon in China: a popular form of exercise seems to be walking backwards, but only among women over 40. Since this also happens to be the group that is most sensitive about age on the face of the earth, I figure maybe it’s like when people put their cars in reverse to roll back the odometer.

links for 2008-01-04