Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

I saw Dr. Goosey again today. And he saw me. He said that everything looks good, and that he thinks that I wil be very pleased with the outcome. But that won't come until afte rthe stitches come out. And that won't start until my next appointment, which is scheduled for mid-January. After that, my vision should gradually get better over the next three months.

On a side note, while looking over my chart and discussing it with someone to whom I have never been introduced but who has been there for every exam (I assume she's an M.D. working on her opthamology specialization), he told her to pull my chart because he wanted to use it for a talk he would be giving on Saturday (I don't know which Saturday). Apparently, I'm a textbook case. Or at least something worth talking about. Or at least it's apparent that Dr. Goosey thinks there's something instructive about my case.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

What's wrong with Columbia House DVD Club?

That's easy.

You want "Reform School Girls" or "Beastmaster"? No problem.

You want "Life is Beautiful" or "Cinima Paradiso"? Better check Amazon.

The latter two, BTW, were both Academy Award winners and really shouldn't be hard to find. The first two (Wendy O. Williams' acting skills notwithstanding), are late night Showtime fodder, nothing more.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What I think about while I lie awake at night, Part IV: Is there an astro-physicist in the house

If you haven't read parts I - III, don't read this. It'll seem strange.

All that other stuff led me to one other question of cosmic significance. How did our solar system come to have its present form.

The main question is why is it flat?

There are a few subordinate questions..

Lets start from the beginning. God said "Let there be light," and behold, there was light. Or a Big Bang, if you prefer. Either way, its something from nothing.

But lets leave God out of it for now and just look at what happened. We can save the "why?" questions for another time.

So we've got a singularity of nothingness that suddenly divides into the component parts which, if joined together, would cancel each other out and return to nothingness. Pluses and minuses, yins and yangs, or whatever.

But what do we have? An expanding cloud of unconnected subatomic particles? Protons and electrons? Whole atoms? Rocks? Something else entirely?

My big problem here is that I have to guess because I've never studied this stuff. Of course, the people who have studied this stuff have to guess too, but at least they can cite publications where other people have guessed the same way.

But I'm guessing that we start small, Really small. Just how small that is, I wouldn't hazard a guess. But I'm guessing not rocks or water or oxygen. Maybe hydrogen.

Anyway, I have to assume that the dispersion pattern is not entirely uniform because if it were, assuming gravity and such works in the ways I'm accustomed to thinking about it working, the forces that might otherwise pull bits of whatever it is into clumps would cancel each other out.

But whatever it is, you end up with stuff drawing together in clumps within clumps within clumps. Or vice versa, depending on your perspective. Anyway, as these clumps come together with bits coming from all different directions, drawn by each other's gravitational or magnetic or whatever forces. Sooner or later what started out as a cloud ends up as a spinning ball.

And if you have a spinning ball with nothing holding the parts together, centrifugal forces the faster-spinning things around the equater to move farther and farther from the center, turning the ball into a disc. Or something like that, anyway.


What I think about while I lie awake at night, Part III: Is there a doctor in the house?

If you're reading this before parts I & II, don't. It'll make even less sense than usual.

As you will recall, among my possible explanations for the Apollo 13 temperature drop was bad writing. And I just couldn't think about space and bad writing without making a side trip to the mining camp on Io (one of Jupiter's moons), where we find Sean Connery redoing High Noon with some really bad science. I am talking, of course, about Outland.

The writers of Outland had a very strange idea of what a one atmosphere pressure differential would have on the human body. They seemed to think it would explode. I think this was even dumber than Goldfinger getting sucked out the airplane window.

However, since I was eally tired of thinking about the Apollo 13 problem, I thought about this one for a while. What would it be like to go from one atmosphere to no atmosphere in short order? How would it be different from the one atmosphere pressure change you'd experience if you quickly swam to the surface from 33 feet under water?

Obviously, the gasses in the body are going to want to expand and/or escape. But solids and liquids aren't terribly compressable, nor is the body likely to fly apart merely because there's no air pressure holding it together. There might be some seeping or oozing, and some evaporation over time, but nothing like the explosive decompression depicted in the movie.

If you're scuba diving and you surface too quickly, depending on how long you've been down and at what depth, you might get "the bends" or decompression sickness when dissolved gasses form bubbles in the tissues. Or, if the pressure difference is great enough and you don't let it out, the air in your lungs can expand and cause an air embolism.

Not to mention the discomfort that the pressure differential would have on the ears. Ouch.

I expect you'd be dead before the decompression sickness had any effect, and you caould avoid an embolism (assuming the pressure differential is great enough in the first place), by merely exhaling to equalize the pressure.

Which leads me to the question for the physician, if there's one in the house. Sure you'd be dead, but would it hurt?

One of those things I seem to remember being told in some high school biology class is that the impulse to breath is triggered not by a lack of oxygen but by carbon dioxide accumulating in the lungs. This might explain why one can inhale two lungs full of nitrous oxide and hold one's breath until one passes out without experiencing discomfort (or so I've been told). Would complete decompression be similar?

And we can even tie this back in with the Apollo 13 problem. Elton John (or Bernie Taupin, if you prefer), tells us that Mars is "cold as hell," but what about a vacuum? Since there's no air to whisk away the heat, would it even feel cold over the time period we're talking about?

Strange questions, no?


What I think about while I lie awake at night, Part II: Is there a psychologist in the house?

As I said in the last post, I often wake up in the middle of the night with some question or idea that won't go away, and that I end up lying awake thinking about it for hours when I'd much rather be sleeping. There's a definite association, but what about causation? Is there some subconscious need to lie awake thinking about these things, or are these just things that occupy my mind when I can't sleep for other reasons? Did the sleeplessness come from the thinking, or the thinking from the sleeplessness? Which came first?

And, as I said in the previous post, I spent hour after sleepless hour last night thinking about a scene from Apollo 13. During one of those hours, I took a brief detour and as I wandered down that road, I ran across this "chicken or the egg" problem.

If this were something work related--something that I'd been working over in the back of my mind--and my subconscious was just shouting "Eureka!" and insisting that I pay attention, I'd go with the thinking causing the sleeplessness.

But I have no idea why, out of the blue, I would feel compelled to try to imagine as many possible (or impossible) explanations for what happens to heat in space.

Maybe someday a psychologist well studied in these things will run across this blog and post an explanation in the comments section.

Or maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe it's not so much a "chicken or the egg" as a Wild Turkey problem.


What I think about while I lie awake at night, Part I: Is there a physicist in the house?

Last night at about this time (3:00 a.m.) I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. It happens occasionally that I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a thought or a problem or a question that just won't go away. Usually its work related--a odd insight or a different angle or a new approach to a case I'm working on--but not this time. This time, it had to do with Apollo 13. The movie.

In particular, it was the part of the movie where it gets mighty cold in the space capsule. I don't know why this bothered me or why I thought about it last night. I hadn't seen the movie in years.

But here's the problem. We were all told in school that space is a vacuum, or at least pretty darned close. And we also all know that a thermos gets its insulating power from the double-walled bottle with the air sucked out. And, of course, we were all told in some high school chemistry or physics class that heat is heat is just excited atoms bouncing around spatistically.

Now, when a hot thing comes in contact with a not so hot thing, the excited atoms on the hot object bump into the less excited atoms in the not so hot thing, and some of their excitement is transferred. But some things are less excitable than others and act as insulators. But nothing is less excitable than everything, which is why a vacuum bottle in a thermos is so good at keeping hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold.

Which brings us back to Apollo 13. As it hurtles through space past the dark side of the moon, it gets very cold. But its traveling through what's supposed to be a vacuum. So why doesn't all that space (outside the spaceship) work as a first-rate insulator? Since there's nothing for their ship's excited atoms to bump into, where does all that excitement go? It seems like rather than get cold, they all ought to be cooked by the time the mission is over just from their built up body heat, electrical equipment, rocket engines, and so forth.

But that's not what happened.

So obviously it was just a problem of bad writing. The moon landings never happened. All done on a soundstage somewhere. And the Apollo 13 mishap was just another staged event to make the supposedly successful missions look more credible. But when they wrote the script for Apollo 13, they just figured that space was cold without considering that it's really a giant thermos.

That's my favorite theory. Not because I think it's plausible, but because I like conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, the fact that it gets cold at night (proving to my satisfaction that planets have no trouble giving off heat to supposedly empty space) suggests that the conspiracy theory is not an adequate explanation.

So what is it then? A number of possibilities came to mind.

First, suppose space isn't really a vacuum? I'm not thinking the stray bits of space dust or gas molecules floating around. I'm sure they're there, but I don't see how they could possibly be there in sufficient quantities to absorb the amount of heat necessary even to drain away excess body heat.

But I vaguely recall from the reading comprehension portion of a standardized test I took twenty-five or thirty years ago that it had been postulated that everything moves through the ether--an unknown substance (using the term loosely) that allows things like light and electromagnetic waves to travel through space. I believe it was talking about "ether drag," and experiments done to try to prove its existence. But I also recall from that same reading comprehension test that the "ether drag" theory had been discredited and discarded. But I also seem to recall from an article I glanced at somewhere that ether might be making a comeback in some circles. I dunno. But it was something to think about.

And then there's PV=nRT. Another relic of some high school science class rattling around in my head. "P" is pressure, "V" is volume, "n" has something to do with Avogadro's number--the number of moles of gas in V (I think), "R" is a constant, and "T" is temperature. I keep wanting to call this Boyle's Law, but it isn't. He just said PV=C, where "C" is a constant. I think.

But I really am going somewhere with this.

As anyone who's ever emptied a scuba tank or done whippets (the little cylinders of nitrous oxide, not the dogs) knows, when you release a gas under pressure, it gets cold. I believe it was a man named Carrier who first put this principle to good use and made Southeast Texas almost fit for human habitation.

Suppose the space capsule was leaking. If it were venting gas, that could cool things off. But that doesn't seem to be the case, and it certainly wouldn't explain why it generally gets colder when the sun goes down.

Or maybe its something like evaporative cooling. The way the most excited water molecules turn themselves into vapor and zoom away, taking all that extra excitement with them (not to mention the energy involved in changing states). But that's just dumb. Unless bits of the metal skin of the spaceship were sublimating in pretty prodigious quantities, this isn't a real possibility. Ant thy weren't and it isn't.

But what about light? In any event, light seems to be able to travel through an alleged vacuum and carry with it energy from point A to point B. Of course, a space capsule does not appear to be emitting light, but that shouldn't get in the way. If thermal imagers can take pictures of varying gradations of temperature, something must be going on far outside the visible spectrum.

That was the one I finally went with.

I wonder if they could avoid problems like the Apollo 13 chilliness by wrapping the ship in a reflective film. Maybe one of those Mylar Space Blankets.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

A recommendation, not a review.

I got an e-mail yesterday (Thursday) from 9 Station Drive, my favorite semi-local, semi-original, semi-cover, kick ass club band. And the e-mail said that they were playing Thursday night at Courville's in Beaumont with Hayes Carll.

I'd never heard of Courville's, and, as far as I could tell, no one else had either. But I like 9 Station Drive (their version of "Dead Flowers" is way better than the Stones'), and I thought liked Hayes Carll. I'd only seen him once before when he opened for Al Stewart at the Mucky Duck in Houston. I thought he was significantly above average. And the Mucky Duck is a damn fine place to hear good music.

So I found someone to drive me out there and listened to the bands. The $15 cover charge included a buffet that was not entirely impressive, although I thought the gumbo was good. But I didn't go for the food. I went to see Hayes Carll.

And let me tell you, folks, he's the real deal. Two thumbs way up, and I even bought his new album. Great stage presence, really good song writing, good singing, and all that kind of stuff. If you like guys who play guitar and sing songs that aren't stupid or sappy, you might like him. I know I did. I think he may have displaced Ray Wylie Hubbard as the top of the heap for the moment in my view of the Texas music pantheon.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Stuff.

It's not quie 10:30 CST, and I'm watching the election returns on TV. At this point, thre's not enough information to call it on the Presidential election.

And I'm remembering the first election that I got really involved in. It was 1998, and I did stuff fot the Bush 41 campaing. Enough to get an invite to the election-night thing at the George R. Brown Convention Center thing in Houston where Mr. Bush had his victory celebration.

Back then, I was excited about it. I believed that my candidate was better than the other. And I was very happy to see him win. Happy enough to gloat about some friends who went to the wrong post-election party. To my everlasting shame.

This time, I don't know what to think. I intensely dislike Mr. Kerry, but on the other hand, I don't think that Mr. Bush deserves another term. No President who gets into a war that was not absolutely necessary deserves another term. But, my God, Kerry sucks.

Now they're reporting that Bush has a 52-40somehting% lead, but they won't make a call. Lawsuits will ensue. That sucks.

But in local stuff, I am very disappointed to see that Nick Lampson has conceded the District 2 Congressional seat to Ted Poe. I've got nothing against Ted Poe, but Nick has done a good job, and I think the mid-term redistricting that ther Republicans did was truly dispicable. Although I was a life-long Republican and a former Republican precinct chairman, I voted for Lampson. I was sorry to see him lose.

And as a life-long Republican. I hope that the Republicans get a firm hold on Congress (enough to deny Kerry his Supreme Court choices), and that Bush loses the Presidency. And that after the election, nothing gets done. Please God, give us Four Years of Gridlock.

No matter how this one comes out, I can't imagine attending a "victory" party for either candidate. I fear for the future of my country. Whatever the outcome, it will not be good.

(I suppose I have further undermined my chances of ever getting the federal judicial judicial appointment that I have long coveted.)


Monday, November 01, 2004

What does it mean?

I'm sitting here watching late night TV, and I hear that Vladimir Putin has pubicly endorsed Bush, but 72% of Frenchmen would vote for Kerry. Are them Ruskies our friends now? And more importantly, would they be willing to invade France if Bush wins the election? I think that would put him over the top. Easily.


It's been a week, and I have nothing new to say.

So I'll repeat something I said before. Gridlock is good.

Although I can't stand Mr. Kerry even more than I can't stand Mr. Bush, I would be perfectly happy to see his sorry ass in the White House so long as there are enough sorry-ass Republicans in Congress to keep him from doing any of the wicked things that he might care to do.