29 April 2008

Why I'm a Lostie

All the recent controversy about whether or not progress on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN should be continued has found its way into my favorite television show, Lost. In case you aren't familiar with the story, there is some concern that experiments with the collider might produce the conditions for a black hole. On Earth. Though if we really had the power to create a black hole, then I wouldn't exactly mind being sucked up into it just to find out if I still exist on the other side--it's not like we'd know what hit us, anyway, since it would be painless.

I've always been a fan of shows that aren't just spoon fed to you, but leave room for a whole mythology and cater to those with an obsession for detail. I guess that is a roundabout way of saying that I'm a science fiction nerd. Anyway, the best part about Lost is that it has all of the conspiracy theory, but its writers try to ground it in real science. In a recent interview between the writers behind Lost and the magazine Popular Mechanics:

But the creators did let slip that the rest of this season will revolve around some very real—and very big—physics: the Large Hadron Collider, the much delayed European particle accelerator that could reveal information about the Higgs boson and dark energy. Some physicists believe the LHC will produce mini black holes, which might actually be able to open a one-way portal to another universe—a gateway that can only be kept open by a force of energy as strong as Jupiter ... or an electromagnet inside a desert island.

Michio Kaku, author of Physics of the Impossible, thinks the Lost creators are using cutting-edge science to lay the groundwork for a transversible wormhole to another point in space and time—a trip foreshadowed in an off-season video about the so-called Orchid station, which Lindelhof and Cuse promised would be a key to the next few episodes. "They're amping up the energy to the point where space and time begin to tear, and the fabric begins to rip," Kaku tells PM. "When the fabric of space and time begin to rip, things that we consider impossible become possible again."

Now I'm even more excited to see how the writers handle the rest of the season. I think everyone has a fetish with physics-they-don't-understand. It's so unfathomable, but such a fascinating idea that we could be capable of creating the conditions for a microscopic black hole. It's one of the (very few) reasons why I almost enjoyed learning quantum mechanics. Oh and just in case you are suddenly worried about the Collider, here's some reassuring news:

Microscopic black holes will not eat you...

Massive black holes are created in the Universe by the collapse of massive stars, which contain enormous amounts of gravitational energy that pulls in surrounding matter. The gravitational pull of a black hole is related to the amount of matter or energy it contains – the less there is, the weaker the pull. Some physicists suggest that microscopic black holes could be produced in the collisions at the LHC. However, these would only be created with the energies of the colliding particles (equivalent to the energies of mosquitoes), so no microscopic black holes produced inside the LHC could generate a strong enough gravitational force to pull in surrounding matter.

17 April 2008


Also, I just finished the last exam of my college career. Well, two of them to be exact. It reminds me (reference credit goes to my friend) of the T. S. Eliot poem:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

But I love my Nalgene

A panel of scientists in Canada just announced that they recommend labeling bisphenol-a (BPA), the polymer used in Nalgene bottles and other hard plastics, a toxin. It resembles and acts on your estrogen receptors, so it's a hormone disrupter. On top of all the top 10 NYTimes articles I just read about rising grain prices and food shortages, potential medical record sabotage, and more problems with doctors' conflicting interests with pharmaceutical companies, this was not exactly happy news. I use my Nalgene a lot. And I wash it--when I wash it--with harsh detergents and high temperature liquids, which, according to Wikipedia, just aggravates the amount of BPA that leaches out of the plastic. As if the bacteria (from lack of washing) doesn't do enough harm....

Now I'm in a quandary. I use my Nalgene because it's nice to always have water around, and it's more sustainable than getting plastic cups for water everywhere I go. It's far more sustainable than using normal plastic water bottles. And, by the way, the rumors you hear about normal plastic bottles releasing toxins when you reuse them are not entirely based on fact. They were based on some random student's master's dissertation (read: not peer reviewed!) about the dangers of a carcinogen called DEHA, when in fact water bottles today are made out of something called polyethylene teraphthalate (PET).

So, normal water bottles are okay (until otherwise notified). But then there's the problem of polluting the world with more of those ridiculous plastic bottles.

I guess I should switch to glass (but it's so heavy!). On the other hand, I figure I'm exposed to so many toxins already that I don't really mind using my Nalgene. Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right? And that's why I always forget to wash my Nalgene. The bacteria is just a practice run for my immune system.

16 April 2008

Head in the clouds

I've just discovered how much I like Radiohead--about 15 years after everyone else, and after first listening to nearly every band that came after and sounds just like them.

I liked them okay before. Paranoid Android, Nice Dream, High & Dry are some of my favorites--but somehow their twisting chord progressions never really got me hooked. Something would happen mid-song, and I'd lose interest. Prematurely? I think so.

I just found out that their newest album isn't up for download anymore. What a sad moment. The good thing is that I can always make a YouTube play list!

And now I have to go listen to 18 years' worth of music.

03 April 2008

Tracing my roots

This is a great article in the NYTimes Magazine about the changing landscape of Taiwan.
I really wish I could go back now. All the other times I've visited, I was either too young or too ignorant to really experience the place. Now that I can sort-of speak Mandarin, and a couple of random phrases in Taiwanese ("wash your hands," "beautiful people don't have beautiful names," "tired-to-death"..."anything-to-death")--and now that I've learned to enjoy traveling like a real traveler and not a tourist, I am dying to go back. I just want to go back and get to know my relatives in their own language. I want to go back before I forget the measly amount of Chinese I've managed to learn in the past three years, which is already happening too soon. I want to go back before the culture is diluted with the mainland.

My immediate family is a tight knit group, but whenever big events come around (like my impending graduation), I get asked a lot, "So, are all of your relatives coming down? Grandparents?" As I explain, I am thinking, no, I don't really know my relatives or my grandparents. They don't really know me, because we've never spoken to one another beyond a couple of broken sentences in either of our native languages. To me, they are just the cute grandparents who I see in pictures, and maybe once every five years, who make amazing food and send me money. To them, I am just the American child who grows up too quickly and comes back every five years a foot taller, speaking less and less Chinese.