Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
I don't know if I've come home. Tucson had become my home in that I felt settled, but I was most definitely a foreigner. Australia, where I've spent most of my life, was supposed to be home but I always felt like a British import. England, where I spent my formative years, felt foreign when I went back there in the mid-90s to work for a year. I realized the reason for that was that I missed the 80s, so my peers weren't quite my peers.
Let's see how this all works out.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In 6 to 8 weeks, we'll see it all again on the other side of the globe. Then some Aussie movers will unpack the lot into a new house, assuming we have a house by then, which depends on whether MCP has a job by then.
Sophie is taking it all in stride, happily watching the activity when she's not unhappily grumbling for food or a nap. Right now she's asleep on my lap and MCP is doing a food run and last-minute errands like returning our cable box and taking a Nadine's cookie platter to our vet.
When he comes back with sandwiches from Jimmy Johns, we'll pack up the computers and I'll be offline for a few days, 22 hours of which will be spent in planes and airports. Hard to believe we'll soon be in Australia. It feels rather like the days before giving birth - the preparations take up all your energy, so you barely have time to think about what it'll be like afterwards. Makes it hard to believe it'll actually happen. But inevitably it will happen, ready or not.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Compared to the 747, this plane has 50% less cabin noise (perhaps not a good thing when one has a crying baby) and increased cabin air pressure -- both of which are supposed to reduce travel fatigue. It has larger windows and overhead bins, and lots more headroom.
The seats are 3.5 cm wider but I can't find any mention of more leg room. However, our current seat assignment is right in front of the self-service bar (we've been put there because there's a baby bassinet) and the leg room is much bigger than the average seat gets. I imagine there will be lots of traffic, but that just means more people to admire Sophie and more interesting things for Sophie to look and smile at.
MCP won't fly anyone but Qantas. I used to fly United because it tended to be cheaper, but there is indeed a noticeable difference in service between the two airlines. MCP says Australia is 20 years behind in many respects (no online shopping at Target!??) but in the case of flying, that's a good thing for us Economy passengers. On our last trip, our breakfast included a muffin in a fancy origami box and color-coordinated napkins. Wow.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
It's Trekkie technobabble at its finest. So what's wrong with this picture? Transporter technology is capable (in the Trek universe) of reconstructing a person from subatomic particles plus recorded data - it does it all the time. What's fishy is that the scientist has to use these particular subatomic particles. No others will do. And what is a subatomic particle anyway?
Let's back up a bit and start with something bigger, then work our way down to the smaller things, as promised in my previous post. Living organisms like Bob and Jenny are made up of cells -- tiny bags of salt water containing various cell organelles (such as mitochondria, ribosomes, a nucleus and [in plants] chloroplasts).
A cell is composed of billions of molecules. A molecule of water or ethanol or glycine looks exactly the same whether it's found in a human liver cell or a daffodil. One exception to this is DNA molecules, which are unique to an individual organism.
A molecule is two or more atoms held together by electromagnetic forces. Some molecules are simple and others are complex and relatively large. A water molecule is simply two atoms of oxygen and one of hydrogen. Organic molecules contain carbon atoms (among other things) -- they are the basis of life on Earth. Hydrocarbons (such as methane or petroleum) contain only hydrogen and carbon atoms in various combinations. DNA is a pair of long complex molecules composed of billions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorous atoms, twisted together in a double helix.
An atom consists of an atomic nucleus -- protons (positive charge) glued together with neutrons (no charge) -- surrounded by a sort of cloud of orbiting electrons (negative charge).
The number of protons in an atom is important because it determines which element we're talking about. (An element is a substance made up of one kind of atom.) Atoms with one proton are hydrogen atoms, atoms with six protons are carbon atoms, etc. The periodic table is a list of the known elements.
Protons and neutrons are made up of elementary particles, and that's as small as you can get, meaning these particles are not made up of yet smaller particles -- as far as we know. Protons and neutrons and their elementary particles are by definition subatomic particles because they're smaller than an atom, but protons and neutrons are more specifically called composite subatomic particles because they consist of several elementary particles.
One type of elementary particle (there are hundreds of types) is the quark. Quarks come in six "flavors" called up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm. So, a proton is two up quarks and one down quark. I'm not making this up. If I'd made it up, I'd have called them vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, lime sorbet, gingerbread and hot fudge.
If you're still with me, you can see that subatomic particles don't contain any information that links them to a specific person. Nor do atoms. Only at the molecular level do we have enough information to say which person it comes from, and only then when we're talking about the DNA molecule. So the transporter in Star Trek could have used any subatomic particles in the universe to recreate those people.
Friday, September 3, 2010
If you're paying attention, your brain will have gone "Wait a minute..." when you read that. There's something wrong with the sentence. Intergalactic trade routes are bigger than planets, but planets are smaller than star systems. My list of very big things is in the wrong order.
I see mistakes like this all the time, particularly in popular SF TV, when it comes to the terminology of space. How big are these very big things, and which very big things are bigger or smaller than the other very big things? Consider the following a sort of resource for both writers and readers - I hope it clears up a few things!
Let's start small - relatively speaking. A meteoroid is a small asteroid (less than 10 m across). An asteroid is a big rock in space that orbits the sun. A comet is an asteroid with a "tail" of ice, dust and gas.
A moon is an astral body that by definition orbits a planet. A planet is an astral body that orbits a star. Our star is the "sun", whose Latin name is Sol. From sol comes solar system. Our solar system is the sun and its eight orbiting planets. The names of other star systems are defined by the name of their stars. So the Beeswax system consists of the star Beeswax and its planets and moons.
A space station might orbit a star or a planet, or any other object in space with sufficient gravitational pull. Add engines and the space station becomes a space ship, able to escape orbit and travel through space.
Back to Latin for a moment. Intra means within, and inter means between. Thus an interplanetary ship flies between planets. It could also be called an intrasystem ship. An interstellar ship flies between star systems. An intergalactic ship flies between galaxies.
What's a galaxy? It's a system of tens of millions of stars, orbiting a central black hole. Our galaxy is called the Milky Way, and from our perspective on Earth, which is on the edge of the Milky Way, we see it as a dusty ribbon across the night sky. Some of the "stars" you see in the night sky are in fact galaxies. There are well over 100 billion galaxies in the universe.
An intergalactic trade route would stretch from one galaxy to another, a distance of about 100 million trillion km - that is, 1020 or 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 km. These numbers are so big that we use the term light-year to describe the distance, to keep the numbers manageable. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, about 6 trillion miles or 9.5 trillion kilometers. Galaxies are millions of light-years apart (the closest one to the Milky Way is Andromeda, 2.5 million light-years away) and our galaxy is 100,000 light-years across. If you and I stood at opposite edges of the galaxy and I hit the switch of a bright light, you would only see that light 100,000 years later. When we look at distant stars and galaxies in the night sky, we're seeing those objects as they appeared thousands or millions of years in the past. For that matter, when we look at the sun, we're seeing it eight minutes in the past because it's eight light-minutes away from Earth.
Gravity causes galaxies to clump into revolving groups (each containing hundreds or thousands of galaxies), called clusters, and clusters may group together to form superclusters.
Finally, the universe itself consists of all the existing stars, galaxies, clusters and space in between, along with things like nebulas (clouds of dust where stars are born). Religious and other mythological tales notwithstanding, our observations lead us to conclude that the universe began as a hot dense state (to borrow from The Big Bang Theory theme song) that expanded rapidly and then began to cool and coalesce into discrete objects such as stars. The universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old.
Whew. In another post I'll go in the opposite direction and talk about the size order of atoms and cells and DNA, etc.