Thursday, November 30, 2023

Something about Something

          Something about Something


          Many years ago, I was chatting with a young nephew, one of twins. I told him a cool fact about pterodactyls, and he gushed, “Oh Uncle Nat, you know everything!

          “Not really,” I admitted. “But I do know something.

          The lad demanded, “About what?

          “I know something about something,” I said. Disgusted, he turned to leave the room; I said as he left, “That’s the most honest answer you’ll ever get, kid!”


          Addendum: I know that we were discussing pterodactyls, but I forget the cool pterodactyl fact. And I know that I told it to a nephew, but I entirely forget which nephew, Sam or Andrew. That’s how my so-called mind works; which proves my point.


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Boy Topologist’s Fuzzy Boundary

Boy Topologist’s Fuzzy Boundary


A long time ago, when I was a young lad, I had a strange encounter with topology. I was three whole blocks away from home, at the corner of Center and Walnut streets. There was a signpost at the corner; the sign read: “WABAN  - A Village Of Newton”. I hadn’t been anywhere in Waban yet, so I was curious. A village? Were there thatched huts? I saw none. Maybe if I crossed the border and looked a little closer, I could see them. I approached the sign… and hesitated.

I stood at the border between Newton and Waban. Was it any different in Waban? If so, what happens if you have one foot in Newton and one in Waban? Would you feel the boundary? Would it hurt?

I hesitated… then boldly planted one foot in Waban and one in Newton. The boundary went straight through my body. I closed my eyes and concentrated…

          … and didn’t feel a thing. I was just standing there, splayfooted. Spacetime in Waban was no different from spacetime in Newton.

          So I opened my eyes, and have been skeptical about political boundaries ever since.

          (And no, there are no thatched huts in Waban!)





Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Boy Scientist’s Dud Logic Bomb

Boy Scientist’s Dud Logic Bomb


         A long time ago, when I was a young lad, I had a strange encounter with logic. I got a Fisher-Price Science kit for my tenth birthday; it had batteries and wires and lights and toggles and keys and magnetic relays. The instructions showed how to make AND gates, and OR gates, and NOT gates; I made them all. With the AND gate the light went on only if both keys were pressed; with the OR gate the light went on when either key was pressed; and if you wire the magnetic relay in reverse, the light goes on only if you don’t press the key.

          Seventeen days before my tenth birthday, I had seen a Star Trek show. In it, Captain Kirk defeated an evil robot by feeding it a logic paradox. Kirk called Harvey Mudd a liar, and Harvey Mudd agreed. Harvey Mudd told the robot, “I am lying”. The robot fell into a yes-but-no wobble, then shorted out in a cloud of smoke.

I remembered that show and thought, “Cool! Can I do the same thing?” It seemed easy enough; wire a magnetic relay to turn on when it’s off, and off when it’s on. A loop of wire, with a twist; what could be easier? I wired in a battery, and a light, and – just to be safe – a key, so the whole circuit was activated only when the key’s pressed down.

          For that burnt-out robot worried me. How would the relay react to being forced to be in two places at once? Would it break? Would it short out in a cloud of smoke? Would it explode?

          I vowed to leap away if something went wrong; but there were worse possibilities. Maybe the confused relay would tear a hole in the space-time continuum, one that monsters could get through. Maybe a single paradox would destroy the Universe… for I had read those science-fiction stories, too!

I hesitated over my doomsday device… then I figured that other kids must have tried the same experiment before; so it must be safe.

I pressed the key… and the relay buzzed!

I let go of the key; the buzzing stopped. I leaned in close and pressed the key. The relay buzzed; the armature was a blur; a blue-white spark strobed at the contact; the light was half-lit.

Ah, Science! All these effects were new to me, unexpected, yet obvious in retrospect. I have based much of my paradox-logic research upon this experimental observation. The buzz, the blur, the strobing, the half-lighting… and above all the fact that it didn’t explode.

For as you can see, I took a big risk for Science! And I did so without consulting anyone! I didn’t know that a paradox-circuit wouldn’t destroy the Universe; I just figured that it probably wouldn’t. So I went ahead anyhow; but it all turned out OK, because here we are.

          How reckless of me! In my defense I plead the folly of youth. So there you have it: as a boy I thought I invented a Doomsday Device, but instead it was just a Buzzer!