Thursday, December 23, 2010

Double Helix

          I went to squash a bug today
          It saw my form and flew away
          Preserving for another day
          Its double helix (DNA)

          I couldn't help but wonder why
          For usually I get my fly
          With stealth, dispatch, and steely eye
          Passed down through the milleni-i

          But on this day my strike was slow
          Or just a bit too high or low
          Thus saving my intended foe
          From crippling force of mighty blow

          The reflexes are not as keen
          As when I was a scrawny teen --
          Or had the bug evolved a gene
          And thus was my appendage seen?

          A thousand generations hence
          Some mutant fly with sharpened sense
          Grows fangs, and then comes back at me
          To snack upon my six-foot-three

          I doubt that I could self-defend
          And thus it's to a sticky end
          And all because upon this day
          It saw my form and flew away

          © 2010 Bob Wait

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Schrödinger's Dishwasher

For your consideration: an everyday kitchen appliance -- perhaps very much like one in your kitchen -- that's both clean and dirty at the same time:

          Beloved Spousal Unit: "Is the dishwasher clean?"
          Me: "No, I just emptied it. It's dirty now."

At the instant I said that our dishwasher was "dirty" -- and spoke truthfully -- it didn't have a spot of dirt in it. This pristine, yet fallen state would continue for a few more blissfully ambiguous moments until I fouled the nest, defiling our beloved Putzmaschine with the first crumb-stuck breakfast plate and stained coffee mug of the day.

This ambiguous state of our pre-pastried power-scrubber is related to the Physics conundrum known as "Schrödinger's Cat":

          Schrödinger's Cat's a metaphorical cat
          It lives in a box with a nuclear vat
          When a nucleus decays, a loaded gun is released
          And although the box hides it, the cat is deceased
                    ...or is it?
                                                            -t.s. eliot

To the outside world, the cat is unobservable as it waits for the ax to fall; it's unobservable after the ax has fallen. In some external sense, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

Or, consider the moment of any creature's demise. Let's say there is one last atom left in a cat's Central Nervous System that has kept the cat alive; for surely there must be a last one, as there must have been a first one. It's down to its ninth life, as it were, and it's the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes. We know from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that the exact position and state of a particle are mutually indeterminate. Is our beloved kitty dead or alive at the indeterminate moment of the last atom's expiration? Or both?

Notwithstanding any of this, our feline friend clearly picked the wrong box to crawl into; it should have selected our dishwasher instead (or else the curtain where Carol Merrill is standing). It might have gotten clean, it might have gotten dirty, or both; but it surely wouldn't have fallen into the clutches of that horrific sadist Erwin Schrödinger, the mere mention of whom, properly framed, could lift PETA's Freshman Orientation Week fund drive to goal immediately.

I saw the following headline recently: "World's Oldest Person Dies".

Not any more.

* * *

UPDATE: Since writing this piece, I Googled "Schrödinger's Dishwasher" to see if Google had indexed the article yet. What I found instead surprised me: one metaphorical variation on Schrödinger's Cat is indeed called Schrödinger's Dishwasher! Imagine dirty dishes inside a dishwasher; then, imagine an atomic switch for the dishwasher whereby the electrical circuit is closed, and the appliance starts, when the atom decays. Are the dishes inside clean or dirty? Or both? It's an equivalent dilemma to the classic metaphor involving an atomic-triggered gun, except that no animals were harmed. Hooray animals!

          It would be such a pity
          If we bumped off the kitty!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How It's Made: Blog Entries

[V.O.] Today on How It's Made: Blog Entries.

[Sx: Light techno-pop music]

[V.O.] A "Blog" is a formatted presentation of digitally encoded, creative content, produced and published on the Internet by one or more authors or editors. It's often, but not always, organized in reverse chronological order around a single, coherent theme. "Blog entries" are the short, mildly amusing essays, anecdotes, and other elements of content that make up a blog.

To start with, the Worker turns on his personal computer and waits for it to boot up. This may take 10 to 15 minutes, so the Worker places a nearly full mug of tap water into the microwave for a serving of instant coffee. He closes the door of the microwave and sets the timer, using the touchpad on the face of the appliance, to 99 seconds and presses the Start Button. This saves one keystroke, compared to entering 1 minute and 39 seconds.

While the water is heating, the Worker notices and then ignores the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. This skill is essential for the successful blogger.

Instant coffee crystals are shaken from their container into the container's lid, for later transfer to the hot water. Using the container's lid instead of a spoon results in one less utensil for the Worker to clean. He knows the correct amount of coffee to use based on his many years of writing blog entries. A shake of cinnamon, a pour of sugar, and a blip of whole milk add to the aromatic and flavor qualities of the beverage.

Returning to his computer, the Worker carefully places the mug of hot coffee on the folded paper towel on the desk. He's careful to avoid bumping the mug with his left wrist, forearm, and elbow for the remainder of the production cycle.

By now, the computer is almost ready.

[Commercial Break: End of Part I]


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