## March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: Godzilla vs The Yukawa Potential

Godzilla

The Case For: Deft, seamless artistic blend of gods and Nilla wafers.

The Case Against: Too whiny anymore to stomp on the pointy skyscrapers around the financial district.

The Yukawa Potential

The Case For: Is so, so good at describing pairwise particle interactions mediated by either a massless or a massed particle.

The Case Against: Is not the name of any noteworthy prog rock band or album.

## The Fast New Sound

So you know about the speed of sound, right? Don’t worry, it’s easy to catch up. Turns out sound travels at some speed. It’s like 750 miles an hour at normal temperature and pressure. Slower at temperatures and pressures that make the speed of sound slower. Faster otherwise. I told you it would be easy to catch up.

But how fast can you make the speed of sound? I don’t mean you particularly. I know you’ve got enough projects, what with looking at the news and then screaming at the wall. I mean you as if you were someone who wasn’t you, and who had to do something about the speed of sound. I admit I don’t know what I’d do about making the speed of sound faster. Maybe drop a loudspeaker from a helicopter and check how fast that sound hits the ground. I know, you’d think, what if we just made the sound louder? But it turns out loud doesn’t convert into fast. Loud just converts into nervous.

So we need better schemes to make fastness. The trick is that sound works by the elasticity of the thing it’s moving through. You know elasticity well, from all the time you spend bouncing. Me, I know it from trying to get the elastic band off this bundle of radishes. I don’t know how but the elastic band winds through every stalk, so there’s no taking it off except by going into higher dimensions of space, from which the radishes are still banded together.

Here’s where I read that a bunch of people at the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge, and the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk worked out just how fast you could make sound. It turns out it’s about 36 kilometers per second.

This fastest possible sound happens if you send sound through solid atomic hydrogen. You don’t have any solid atomic hydrogen, I’m know, because that only exists when you have, like, a million atmospheres of pressure. And I checked. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is one atmosphere of pressure. Maybe physics works a little different in Troitsk. Probably it does, or why would they have a whole institute for the high-pressure physics of Troitsk? But I bet none of the people with the institute are reading this. They’re doing things like figuring out the fastest speed of sound. They don’t have time to read me going on like this.

Or do they? We have to consider some of the benefits of making sound really, really fast. Like, at 36 kilometers per second, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans would zip by so fast you could hear it a third time in your life. So there’s time savings involved. I know, you could just hit the thing on your iPod that makes songs play faster. You can. I can’t. My iPod is in the shop, being repaired. I hope it’s an iPod repair shop. I know you wonder why I didn’t check that first. The answer is that I have spent parts of five consecutive months now trying to get a Nintendo repair shop to repair a Nintendo Switch. No part of that process has gone well. You know that deep bone-weariness you experience when, like, you see “Suncoast Video” is Trending under Politics for some undoubtedly awful reason? That’s what I feel when considering consumer-electronics repair. Entering a storefront at random and wordlessly shoving my iPod at a person who turns out to be the hummus manager at The Pita Pit can not be worse.

What other benefits are there on the sound thing? Oh, I bet if you had sound the fastest it could travel, then inhaling helium would actually lower the pitch of your voice. I wrote that as a joke, but I think that would actually work? Except you have to start out encased in solid atomic hydrogen at more than one million atmospheres of pressure. I don’t know what you’d say in that case.

The article said it turns out the fastest possible speed of sound depends on the fine structure constant and the proton-to-electron mass ratio. The mass ratio is what you get from looking at how often protons and electrons are commented on compared to retweeted. The fine structure constant is a general agreement about how nice it would be to have some direction in our lives these days. How this gets back to sound I’ll never know.

## My thoughts while emptying the fish tank we don’t need downstairs

Water siphons. You put a tube in a water tank, lift one end up until it flows out the other end. Then drop that end into the water, and water just keeps on flowing out. How does that work? There is no explanation for how the water got out of the tank. Maybe advanced evaporation, helped by the water feeling I’d gone to so much trouble to get it out that it would cause a scene if it stuck around. Anyway I’ll take no answers about how siphoning water works, since it can’t possibly work is how.

(Be right back, putting on dry socks.)

## A Stray Thought About That Black Hole Photograph

I would not say anything to detract from how astounding the photograph of that black hole is. It’s just got me thinking of the progress of technology. Think of the challenge facing when 18th century astronomers. When they wanted to record the image of a black hole 55 million light-years away they had to station people around the world and get them to all paint watercolor pictures of the hole at the same time. And, like, half of them had to grind their own paints because just buying ‘red’ was seen as some kind of being a poser or something. It’s amazing.

## All Kinds Of Thoughts About A Bucket Of Water And The Universe

I should clarify I mean the bucket contains water, and is itself in the universe. If this is not understood then I will be confusing.

Newton’s Bucket is one of the innumerable great physics problems involving buckets. By innumerable I mean two. The other one is the problem of how many buckets you can place over the head of a person sleeping in physics class before they startle awake. But this problem is of only historical interest anymore. Now that they have cell phones students don’t sleep in class, or anywhere else. This has helped them reach the level of maturity where we’re all tired and anxious. That surely helps.

So this is the other great bucket-based physics problem. And the fun thing is that you can work on it without having a bucket of your own. You don’t even need your own Newton, which makes things easier on all of us. First, imagine if you had a bucket. If you really do have a bucket, your imagination is either quite vivid or it’s not good at all. I don’t have a preferred interpretation. You can fight it out with your friends. Make sure to bring up the time they volunteered at the improv night and froze up on stage. That will surely help.

But take your bucket, imaginary or not, and put some water in. You can get water by imagining that you’ve burned some amines and filtered out the carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides. Or you can use the tap if you aren’t any fun. Imagine spinning the bucket, though. As you twirl it around, your arm gets very tired and, if you don’t stop, it falls off. So we maybe imagine hanging the bucket from a rope or a chain that can twirl around without being your arm.

The question is: while you’re spinning the bucket, how do you know the bucket and water are spinning? How do you know they’re not actually staying still while the entire universe spins around them, like the way it works when you’re riding a carousel? For us this is easy to answer. As the bucket spins, it spills water onto your socks. This makes you growl and set the bucket down. You go to change into oh, it turns out those were your last clean socks. Great. Now the day is spilled. You mean spoiled, but it’s spoiled by being spilled, so maybe they’re the same word after all and just look different and mean different things. Anyway your setting the bucket down settles the matter. If the whole universe were spinning instead, it would have to be that your socks spilled into the water. And you know that didn’t happen, unless you stepped into the bucket.

That’s the practical matter. Now imagine this, though. What if there were nothing in the universe except the bucket and the water and the chain it hung from? Then how would you know it was the bucket and water spinning instead? And this is the question that makes cosmologists say “whoooooah” to each other. Meanwhile the other people in the physics department? The ones working on, like, the dispersal of shock waves in rarefied fluids near a phase transition? They’ll say things like, “Yeah, they’re not with us” and “that person with the physics degree and the post as physics professor with an office in the physics department is … uh … we’re going to say in Evo Psych.” The evolutionary psychologists, happy to have someone talking about them in a non-derogatory way, agree.

But this does nothing to answer the question, which we have to do for some reason. So if there was almost nothing in the universe. There’s no distant galaxies. No planets. No things that wiggle. No pillows with flower prints. No battery-powered plastic candles. No nothing except this bucket and this water, how would you know if it were spinning? And the answer is that you don’t know, because you don’t exist. Not unless you’re either the bucket or the water. And we can be sure you’re not the bucket, not with your sense of dignity.

Can we be sure you’re not the water? This is a harder question to answer. To say for sure that you’re water would require pressing yourself into a sponge, pulling back out, and seeing if you can’t. But as the question set out, there are no sponges in the universe. So therefore there’s no way to do this experiment and thus tell.

And so we see the importance of Newton’s Bucket. Thanks to it we understand how fortunate we are to live in a world with sponges, as we would otherwise have no knowledge of which things were spinning. This surely helps.

## Still More Trouble With City Hall

So it transpires that sometime last year the whole eastern wing of the sixth floor transcended ordinary existence and turned into beings of pure energy. Which sounds cool, sure. But then you try bringing any springs in and they suddenly compress as far as possible, soaking up all that potential energy? Hardly convenient. Or if you bring in that steel-balls-on-pendulums things that they put on the boss’s table in 1980s sitcoms, and the balls all fly up to the top of pendulum and wait? Yeah, that’s just inconvenient. And that’s before you even consider what happens when you take a mechanical watch in and let that soak up the potential energy that used to be the Office of Rental Inspections. I really hate to give up on a handsome enough building but I have to admit it’s sounding like City Hall just needs more work than we can expect to get out of it, at least not without a major source of energy and I just don’t see where … saaaaaaay! I have to go make some calls.

OK, I tried making calls. But you know that long spiral-cut rubber wire that connects the part of the phone you use to the part of the phone that falls off the table when you pick up the part of the phone you use? Yeah, that one. Well, it turned into this impossibly tight, energy-laden supercoil and that’s too hard for me to deal with. I’ll write them a letter, maybe. Meanwhile please everyone admire the correctness of my use of the word “transpire” to start this article. I’ll wait.

## What Is Air Conditioning and Why Not Already?

With the days getting a bit warmer than they were two weeks ago it’s worth spending 819 words talking about air conditioning. Air conditioning is — please hold your questions until the essay has come to a full and complete stop — where some air is conditioned so that it’s less like air and more like conditioned air. It’s probably safe to toss in whatever your questions were now.

Why Should We Condition Air? Many reasons. The air that you get all around you is free and as such, that’s great. But it’ll often be too hot, or too cold, or too clammy, or be filled with too many feathers from an exploded pillow, or some other problem, such as that it’s too dry. And it’s never any of these at the right time. For example, it would be great if just before your history midterm the air were filled with sparkly confetti and party favors. At the least it would distract from thinking how you have no opinions about the Reform Act of 1832 except that it’s probably good they got that done before 1833 started or it would have needed a snappier name.

How Can One Condition Air? This depends what you want conditioned. If you want the air hotter, for example, all you need do is gather enough lumber. Trying to get it into the fireplace wil make you as warm as you want, as you determine by the sixth time you check every room that the house hasn’t got a fireplace and you’re now quite mad about that. Fuming mad, as they say.

But cooling down has always been a different problem. In ancient days the Romans noticed that the same room might be perfectly chilly in the winter and too hot in the summer. Their ingenious engineering minds started a system in which each winter they’d seal one room up tight in the middle of winter and leave it that way until the middle of summer. Only then would they open it up to enjoy that stored winter air. This never worked, but after all the trouble they’d gone to sealing the room up and then opening it again, they weren’t going to stop. They kept at it year after year, insisting to themselves that they did feel a lot cooler and saying maybe next year they would try this with three or even eight rooms. Eventually the Roman Empire fell, but I wouldn’t say the air conditioning was the only reason. There was also their calendar.

What Scientific Breakthrough Made Air Conditioning Possible, And What Important Spinoff Came From It? The most important breakthrough was the discovery of Charles’s Law by Boyle, unless it was Boyles’s Law by Charles. It was Towneley-Powers’s Law, and was discovered by Mariotte. However it turned out the discovery was simplicity itself: if you spray a can of antiperspirant the spray will be cold, and the can will be cold, and your hand will be cold. The implications were obvious. By the end of the century scientists all over Europe were trying to invent a spray can of antiperspirant.

The antiperspirant part and the spray part would be challenges, sure. But the practice was an immediate success, a century later. And it had spinoff benefits. The cans proved to be great ways to can food, for example. This allowed people to take the peaches that they weren’t going to be able to eat before the end of summer and turn them into a fine aerosolized powder that they’d spray on their armpits or, if their aim was off, the bathroom door. This solved some problem. And considering that tells you a lot about what life was like back then.

How Does This Affect The Movies? Well, by the 1920s all the major problems of air conditioning had been solved. Soon industrial-grade air conditioning was popping up all over, like it or not. Cities began building movie theaters around the air conditioning so that at least it would go to some purpose. The air conditioning would stay on full-blast all year, so that wintertime movie patrons had to dress in parkas and carry shovels to help the usher scoop out a trail through the snow. Often patrons would be lost in snowbanks and not be discovered for days or weeks until they emerged in the concessions stand. Over one in five ushers didn’t survive the first year of work, which is why we now regard it as tasteless to expect ushers to ush at the movies. We may ask them to ush in other non-movie contexts and then they can show us their ush stuff.

Is Air Conditioning A Form Of Skinnerian Behaviorist Stimulus-Response Training? No. You are thinking of air hypnosis, which has been discredited as a scientific method but can be a lot of fun as a party trick. It’s a common mistake and you need feel no shame for making it. 818, 819.

## How To Not Be Overly Organized

Is it possible to be too organized? Physics offers us an answer: it explains that the polhode rolls without slipping over the herpolhode. This sounds dirty. It really has something to do with the rotation of rigid bodies as they begin their nutation. This makes it sound unbelievably filthy. Physics reports now that it misheard the question and apologizes fiercely.

Now that we ask physics again, where it knows its mother is listening, we have a better answer. It would be too organized if all the mass and energy of the universe were piled into a single spot of extraordinarily high, by which we mean low, entropy, causing the expansion of space to restart with a new Big Bang and the formation of a different universe with physics that might be substantially different from those we know. Even the person who’s so orderly as to have a ten-point checklist for connecting the garden hose would agree this is too organized, given how long it would take for a new universe to expand and cool enough to support stars, life, limited-edition holiday-flavor candy corn, and the part of town where they’re always having ukulele festivals.

Most of us stop before that point anyway, because we are stymied by questions such as: does it count as a pair of socks if they are noticeably not alike, but they are each the only one of their kind, and you have two of them? This is the problem I posed to my advanced physics lab partner in college, when he said he was starting to organize his dorm room by dividing it into “pair of socks” and “not a pair of socks”. His answer was to look at me with sad despair. His dorm-room organization project ended in failure, and we were unable to show that the Inverse Zeeman Effect ever happened.

The Inverse Zeeman Effect is a physics thing you look for in advanced physics labs and it has nothing to do with polhodes as far as I know. It’s named for the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who was such the life of the party he was known in every physics lab as Pieter “The Man” Zeeman, only in Dutch. Eventually he got a sinecure working for the water-reclamation agency. This allowed him to be Pieter “Zie Man” Zeeman of the Zeiderzeewerken. For putting up with this all his life they gave him a Nobel Prize and asked him to say “sinecure” with a Dutch accent.

Even we who are not Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicists find natural limits to organization. Most things enjoy a natural resting spot which doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be consistent. Which is why, in a boring anecdote I am not making up, I kept my toothpaste in the refrigerator for about four years when I was living in Singapore. It was probably an accident at first. But then it kept happening, and before you knew it, if somehow there were toothpaste in a more traditionally sensible place in my apartment, such as the bathroom, I’d never know it. Clearly the natural habitat of Singaporean toothpaste was in the refrigerator. I should have left a note for whoever got my apartment after I moved out. But if I had left one, would they have believed me? What might they have said about it? “This person writes too small to be legible”, most likely. I’ve left notes for people before.

The trouble is that organizing tries to put things where it makes sense for them to be, which is rarely were they want to be. The displaced things respond by going missing altogether. Who among us hasn’t tidied the office supplies on their desk and discovered the stapler can’t be found? Or organized the stuff in their medicine cabinet to find that not only is their toothpaste gone but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever had toothpaste? To tidy up the house so well that the guest room goes completely missing and there’s just a vacant spot on the wall is an unusual event. But it’s not unprecedented.

If there is one important thing to consider, it’s this: the Dutch have a municipality named “Urk”. It’s a former island, as the Zuiderzee’s been reclaimed all around it. Now it’s geographically part of the Noordoostpolder, which sounds like they’re doing physics over there. Somebody look into that. After knocking.

## In Which My Sleeping Mind Doesn’t Accurately Remember When Ogden Nash Died, Somehow

It was your typical sort of dream, by which I mean typical for me. One of those long, rambling, confusing dreams shuffling back and forth between offices as cramped and overstuffed as a used book store’s aisles are. I was doing the best I could to help a friend interview for a job he wasn’t actually qualified for but could probably get up to speed on fast enough that people wouldn’t catch on. The way all of us do.

But dragging me down was one of the people with an actual job there, who kept demanding I explain how it was Ogden Nash wrote such a fantastic book explaining nuclear fusion. And to be fair it did look like a great book. Even in the ancient, falling-apart copy they had, all the illustrations were still animating very well. Had to agree the publisher had a lot of confidence to publish a book quite that lavish. She wanted to know when Ogden Nash was going to publish another science book and I had to say, I was pretty sure he had died. Even found in the preface that the book hadn’t been quite finished as Nash died just after turning in the first draft in December 1956. I felt like a bit of a heel dashing her hopes for a follow-up book on brane theory. In the non-dream worlds, Nash died in May 1971, so my powers to accurately pluck dates out of nowhere seem not to extend to writers of amusing verse.

I have no evidence that Ogden Nash wrote any science popularizations of note.

## Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index woke today to find it was the close of trading and it was seven points higher than it was that time yesterday. It has no explanation for this mystery.

# 113

## The Big Picture

We’ve started looking at maybe buying a new TV. Our current TV is working fine, which has been part of the problem, since it’s your old-fashioned standard-definition tube-model TV screen hewn by Alan B DuMont himself from his shadowy hidden laboratory deep in the highlands of North Jersey. It was a fine TV in its time, and it’s clearly determined to outlast the entropic heat-death of the universe, but it’s starting to get annoying watching TV shows that assume screens are wider, like they are anymore. The Daily Show is pretty good about not putting stuff outside the bounds of the standard-definition screen, but it’s getting tiresome to guess what’s happening on the missing edges of Cona O’Brie.

The obvious change in TV technology since our old set was made has been the size, of course. There’s now no way to buy a TV set smaller than a tennis court in area, which will demand we rearrange the living room so it fits. We might have to have a carpenter come in and take out the stairwell, and just get to our bedroom by way of a rope ladder, trampoline, or perhaps a very patient giraffe (possibly mechanized). On the bright side modern TVs are only half as thick as other units of the same model, so if we buy a flatscreen we’ll be able to slip it in-between the wall and the paint on the wall.

The other thing is that shapes have changed. Picture-tube TVs all had that slight outward curve made. That curve was great as you could just place a large enough number of picture tubes near one another and automatically form a ball of television sets thirty feet across, allowing anyone to create an art installation about the disposability of modern pop culture whenever they wanted. But then they started making screens flat, so that every TV show you looked at seemed to be weirdly impacted in the middle, like someone had smooshed Bob Barker right in the belly. They’ve fixed that now, by finding a pre-smooshed host for The Pric Is Righ, and I suppose they’ve worked out what to do for other shows too.

And now the stores have innovative new shapes, too. The big one at the store last week was screens curled inward, giving us the experience of watching a couple seconds of a waterfall then a roller coaster then fireworks then the Grand Canyon while staring at the inside of a bowl. I guess that’s got advantages in how it makes the picture look curled inwards, and how the eyes of the Best Buy sales associates follow you wherever you go until in a fit of shyness you curl up behind the bin of \$4.99 games for the Wii.

Besides these inverted-bowl shapes there’s exciting new concepts in solid geometry coming, such as the saddle-curve hyperboloid which wowed people at the Consumer Electronics Show. It expertly suggested the experience of horse-riding, what with how as you get closer to the screen it looms higher and higher over you, until you get right up close to it, at which point the it bites your hair, covers your head an inch deep in horse boogers, and stomps on your foot, which any horse-expert person like my sister will tell you is a show that the horse likes you and it’s all your fault anyway. I didn’t even know my sister watched that much TV, what with her horse-experting to do. Anyway, television boogers clean up easily, but cleaning them off leaves you open to charges you’re one of those people who announces “I never watch television” every four minutes, even to empty rooms.

Personally, I think the most exciting new TV shape is one that projects the image onto the contact surface formed in the tangent space $M \times \textbf{R}^{2n+1}$ so that for any fiber bundle $\alpha$ you can find a sympletic coordinate pair perfectly matching, say, the statistical entropy to the chemical potentials of the system. I think most of you agree with my assessment because you’re hoping if you nod vigorously enough I’ll stop talking what might be mathematics or physics or possibly some conspiracy theory linking Nikolai Tesla to the Knights Templar and go on to literally any other topic at all. (Hi, LFFL!)

Anyway, this is all very thrilling stuff and it makes me figure that I should go back to watching narrower programs on the old TV set.

## People Who Do Things To Metals

I was reading a collection of the writings of Count Rumford, the late-18th/early-19th century scientist who pioneered the study of heat and was only a traitor to his country by certain definitions of the term, and ran across this in a paper he wrote about, among other things, whether it’s better to wear a fur coat with the fur pointing outward or inward (this was just, like, a little one-page digression, plus back then they didn’t know so much about which stuff needed to be scientifically proven):

Experiment No. 14. — Procuring from a gold-beater a quantity of leaf gold and leaf silver about three times as thick as that which is commonly used by gilders, I covered the surfaces of the two large cylindrical vessels, No. 1 and No. 2, with a single coating of oil varnish; and, when it was sufficiently dry for my purpose, I gilt the instrument No. 1 with the gold leaf, and covered the other, No. 2, with silver leaf. When the varnish was perfectly dry and hard, I wiped the instruments with cotton, to remove the superfluous particles of the gold and silver, and then repeated the experiment, so often mentioned, of filling the instruments with boiling-hot water, and exposing them to the cool in the air of a large quiet room.

OK, so, wait a second: there’s a profession called “gold-beater”? And not only are they responsible for beating gold, they’re adulterous gold-beaters because they also smack silver around? Or at least back two hundred years ago you could be a professional beater of gold. It leaves me wondering about other such professions which involve doing terrible things to elements; have we now progressed to the point that someone could have a job as:

• cobalt-burglar
• yttrium-flasher
• manganese-spindler
• nitrogen-embezzler
• helium-poisoner
• niobium-arsonist
• beryllium-libeller
• xenon-ransomer
• praseodymium-speller
• polonium-strangler
• rhenium-kidnapper

Of course not, because you can’t libel beryllium, since anything awful you say about it is true. But it’s got me wondering about the others. The world is suddenly bigger and more complicated than I thought and I need to blame someone for this, so I fault beryllium.

## Quarks of nature

And for this morning I’d like to offer a pointer/reblogging of “Quarks of Nature”, on a Labor Of Like’s WordPress blog. Labor of Like writes a good number of pieces using a comic mode that I’ve somehow avoided in these parts, that of the mock news article. Labor of Like also works heavily in the science-news stream, which is a tough kind of humor to write: there’s a terrific drive to write informationally if you start talking about subsurface oceans of gas-giant moons or superlatively weird constructions of quarks, if nothing else to make sure the average reader has a hope of knowing what’s being talked about.

This bit, about the discovery of a bizarre kind of quark construct dubbed Z(4430), gives I think a fairly good sense of what the blog’s humor style is like and so, if you like science-news-based-humor (and done in the style of stuffing each sentence full of jokes, a style that I can find exhausting to write, but which if it works evokes the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films with jokes piled on top of jokes) then this could be something fresh that you’ll enjoy.

In matter-that-doesn’t news, the recent discovery of a four-quark something or other has triggered a new round of physics gang warfare.

The new particles go by the name Z(4430).  Physicists give these particles names starting with the letter Z because all the good letters, like M and G, are already taken.  The number is derived from the fact that the particle showed up sometime between 4:00 and 4:30, while scientists were out having afternoon tea.  “I just came back, and there were these 4 quarks laying on the floor of the collider.  They weren’t there when we left, but we’re not sure exactly when they showed up.”

In 2008, the Belle Collaboration*, a street gang of Hot and/or BrightDisney heroines, announced it saw the world’s first evidence of Z(4430) in Japan.  Then another group, led by the elephant king BaBar, ran its own experiments in California. BaBar said their…

View original post 338 more words

## Giving The People What They Want

I’ve learned through sources that some of my best-liked posts are the ones where I just state my statistics for the month, with the countries listed and all of that stuff. So, well, who am I to argue with what’s successful? Here are some countries and some associated statistics.

Country Statistic
United States (America) 139,608
Denmark 1,305
Belize 139,608
Carpatho-Ukrainian Republic 139,608
Free City of Krakow 1,164 (449)
Silicon Dioxide 42 J mol-1 K-1 standard molar entropy
Muonium 2.2 microseconds
The Long And Winding Road 3:38 (Lennon-McCartney)
United States (Reprise) 139,608

I hope you’ve enjoyed this data.

## Did We Need Spaceships All *This* Fast, Actually?

So now the space probe Juno’s gone and swung past the Earth, building up a little extra speed on its way to Jupiter and becoming the fastest man-made object that isn’t just trying to escape something embarrassing it said in an online forum, so I hope nobody’s left on it anything they wanted back anytime soon. These planetary flybys are really neat ways of getting a space probe to travel faster even though you can explain why it works to a bunch of freshman physics majors and they’ll still stare at you the way a Labrador retriever stares at the glass coffee table hoping that maybe this time the potato chip you tossed on it will fall through.

If it isn’t going fast enough by this time, though, it’s possible it’s going to go even faster than that. Back in 1990 when Galileo (the space probe) went flying past Earth on its way to Jupiter it got a whole bucket full of extra speed, but it turns out it got about four millimeters per second more than it was supposed to. Maybe that doesn’t sound like too much, since it was already going at 13,740,000 millimeters per second, but when you get down into the grit of the numbers you realize: this isn’t even that much.

But nobody was quite sure where it came from, as the satellite was launched before they had the E-ZPass lanes where you don’t even have to slow down at the toll booths. So in 1992 when Galileo went flying past the Earth again on its way to Jupiter (it was supposed to do that, so this wasn’t just Jupiter being fickle and pretending not to be there) NASA watched very closely and the probe didn’t do anything funny at all except for sticking out its tongue and making a sound which experts still dispute, as they can’t settle whether it was said “nyah-nyah” or “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” or “this is Andy Griffith for the Mutual Radio Theater” (a short-lived 1980 project to revive scripted network radio programming in the United States), but they’re pretty sure it wasn’t that last one.

This is obviously an extremely tiny anomaly in a phenomenon very difficult to precisely measure, or as New Scientist probably billed it, a fundamental challenge to our understanding of physics and a potential revolution in interacting with the world, except for those of us who interact with it using only pointed sticks or sarcasm. But it all could’ve been a mistake, maybe someone failing to keep track of how many millimeters per second they had in petty cash or something, and this only got more interesting in its way when the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, flying by Earth on the way to not flying by Jupiter, got an extra 13 millimeters per second. Obviously, space probes were getting greedy. When Rosetta, which flew past Earth three times over to try getting to a comet, it got a lousy 1.8 millimeters per second the first time around, nothing on the second, and on the third left two and a quarter millimeters per second on the moon just to spite us.

What all this naturally reminds everyone of once they’re reminded about it is the Pioneer Anomaly, where Pioneer 10 and 11 were found to be travelling aster than they were … er … they were accelerating more slowly than … they were accelerating to outer space more than … I’m not sure what it was they were doing, but they were doing it for an awfully long time until someone went back and checked very carefully and, to the delight of popular science magazines the world over, discovered they hadn’t been doing anything funny at all and we should feel bad for suspecting them of it. That’s why in 2012 NASA launched an emergency expedition to send the Pioneer spacecraft some special apology editions of New Scientist, which are going to use these cracks in spacetime that might totally exist and prove the world’s actually a computer simulation of itself to get there sooner.

So overall I’m interested knowing there’s these anomalous millimeters per second being thrown around, since knowing how space probes do it would probably help next time I need a teensy little bit of extra speed and am going to Jupiter.

## Higgs Boson Wins Nobel Prize

There’s an engaging little spoof over at the Scientific American that claims the Nobel Prize in Physics is going to the Higgs boson rather than to any of the many, many people who deserve some attention and reward for that. It’s a little science-y but I think makes all the context clear enough. From Ashutosh Jogalekar’s report, so you can judge if you want to read the whole thing:

Since interviews with the particle could not be held for obvious reasons, the media was instead shown a graph displaying a bump supposed to indicate its existence. A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations.

## Again, Science Makes It Harder

It’s all very well to say the universe is about 14 billion years old, but physics will pipe in to tell you that it isn’t that simple because apparently physics is worried people aren’t listening to it anymore. Yeah, they had some big successes with the atom bomb and with the moon landing but that’s all a long time ago. And they don’t just mean the obvious stuff, like if you wait around 22 billion years my declaration the universe is about 14 billion years old is going to look pretty hilariously wrong.

Here’s the thing: because of relativity there’s particles out there moving so fast that from their perspective it’s only been sixteen years since the universe was created, and so they’ve never known a world without the Beloit College Mindset List. More, there are some particles, moving even faster, which know the universe only to be eight years old. Such particles, of course, find it very hard to swerve in time.

## History In The Making

I bet you didn’t realize this is an historic year, what with most of it still being in the future. But it doesn’t do to say this is “an futuric year”, as the particle just doesn’t fit there at all. It should be a long-lived neutral kaon instead. That’s the sort of kaon which lives for as much as fifty nanoseconds before it expires, at the hands of natural kaon predators such as the lesser Malagasy snarking W+ boson or to creeping deforestation. This reminds of us why it’s important for pop historians to keep informed on group theory and the value of gauge invariance.

## Who Do I Know Goran Topalovic From?

I didn’t think anything bad could come of learning something about Drew Carey. Who would? But a bit about the cameo he makes in The Sims: House Party lead me to thinking about people named “Goran”, and from about an hour after that I got haunted by the idea that at some point in my life I knew someone named “Goran Topalovic”. This threw off my whole evening ritual of brushing my teeth, flossing, and considering how I don’t know anyone named Goran.

And thank you, Internet, for letting me know the number of people named “Goran Topalovic” is at least four, and not one of them makes any sense as anyone I could ever have met for any reason, ever. Even if I was introduced to him once, the name couldn’t possibly have stuck in my mind, as I’m a person who once failed to recognize his own mother’s name. I can’t have made up his name; I haven’t got the knack. I might imagine the Goran part, with help, but I’d finish it off with some word drawn from the depths of mathematics or physics, like, “Goran Eigendecomposition”, which doesn’t work at all.

The lesson for me is to stop learning things about Drew Carey, although if he’s got any leads on Goran Topalovic I’d appreciate hearing from him.