I read popular physics: Quantum Steampunk

This is an entry in my series where I read physics articles in Scientific American, and provide my weary perspective as a former physicist.

Today I’ll be discussing the article “Quantum Steampunk”, by Nicole Yunger Halpern, in the May issue of SciAm. This one is paywalled, but you can still check out the opening paragraph, in which the author appears to excerpt a paragraph from her latest novel.

It’s a bit indulgent, but hey, whatever works as a hook.

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How my free time disappeared

This article was written for the Carnival of Aces, which this month had the theme of “quarantine”.

Back in February, I got a new job. I like my job, but my main complaint was the long commute–over an hour and a half in each direction. My husband had an even longer commute, so we were in the process of looking for a new apartment in a better location.

In March, my company told everyone to work from home. My husband’s company did the same. Suddenly we had all this extra free time, multiple hours every day that we would have spent commuting. But all that extra free time–and more–got immediately slurped up.

Although it could be said we’re all in this together, I’ve noticed some stark contrasts in the way that COVID-19 has impacted our personal lives. There are those who lost their jobs or were sent home from school, and there are those who kept their jobs and now have to take care of their kids at the same time.

In the ace community, you might expect that since few people have kids, people gain free time rather than losing it. But as someone who keeps track of ace community activity (for linkspam purposes), I’ve observed a precipitous decline in activity in March and April, followed by a slow recovery in May. Other people have noticed it too. I’d like to offer my own experience as a case study of why this might have happened.

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Hoarding is my ultimate boss in Animal Crossing

In early April Animal Crossing: New Horizons celebrated Bunny Day, a secular analogue to Easter. During this event, pastel-colored eggs could be found everywhere, and could be used to craft colored-egg-themed furniture and clothing. This was not entirely well-received by fans, because the eggs would replace other ordinary crafting items, and because the furniture is ugly.

For my part, I crafted every single Bunny Day item, and stuffed them all in a room.

Room filled with pastel-egg themed furniture

And then as soon as the event was over, I sold every single Bunny Day item, and whatever eggs I had remaining. As someone who grew up with a hoarder, I found it cathartic to take all that exclusive special-edition ugly junk, and throw it in the garbage.

Then, I redecorated the room to look like a landfill. [Read more…]

Link roundup: May 2020

Success!  I created a link roundup without COVID-19.  Well, the last one is tangentially related, but not really.

In defense of Carole Baskin | Overthinking TV – I heard about this Tiger King documentary on Netflix, but rather than watching it, I found it much more enjoyable to just read the Wikipedia summary and listen to commentators like Quinton (video).  I was really surprised when the commentators noted that the guy who hired a hitman was the sympathetic character, and his victim was unsympathetic.  That really didn’t come across in the Wikipedia summary.  Anyway, this article explains some relevant cognitive biases.

Benedetti’s Puzzle | Adam Neely (video) – Adam Neely talks about comma pumps, an aspect of music theory that I only learned when I became obsessed with xenharmonic music.  There’s also a more technical introduction on the Xenharmonic Alliance.  Depending on your tuning system, different comma pumps are available.

BiNet USA Falls Apart | Tris Mamone on Splice Today – In the drama category, we have a bisexual organization trying to claim copyright on the bisexual flag.  Several days later, BiNet USA released a statement that sure strings some words together, but I can’t tell if they’re backing off or not.  I had also collected some links on my pillowfort.

What Can We Learn From Female World Leaders? | Rebecca Watson – Rebecca points out the problems with putting female world leaders on pedestals, and praising their womanly virtues.

Origami: Lens tessellation

lens tessellation

Lens Tessellation, designed by David Huffman

The Lens Tessellation is an example of curved-crease origami.  A relatively simple example of curved creases–so simple that a paper explaining the basic mathematics of curved creasing uses this model as a case study.  To make this model, I used a ruler and compass to draw out lines, a hand-cut stencil to copy patterns, and a ceramic stylus as a scoring tool.  I walked through some curved crease methods here.

Something I learned from the math paper, is that this crease pattern has multiple conformations.  If you poke and jab at the paper in the right spots, you can switch its conformation.  I have a photo below, where the left side is in one conformation, and the right side is in another conformation.  You can see the difference in the pattern of shadows on each side.  On the left side, the ripples of paper are horizontal, while on the right side, the ripples are oriented diagonally.

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Basic epidemic math

We are living in an epidemic of armchair epidemiology, and far be it for me to contribute by giving my own feverish take as an expert of an unrelated field. Therefore, I solemnly swear that I will make no predictions about the present pandemic. I am not paid enough to make such predictions–and if you did pay me I would consider it my professional duty to find you a better expert.

What I can do for free, is read up on basic epidemiology, and digest the maths for you, dear reader. My sources: Wikipedia’s article on mathematical modeling and compartmental models, and some lecture notes I found. My expertise: during my PhD in physics, I frequently worked models like the one I’m about to discuss, only with electrons instead of people.

The SIR Model

The very first epidemiological that one learns about, is the so-called SIR model. This model divides the population into three groups (“compartments”): susceptible (S), infected (I), and recovered (R). Susceptible people are those who could be infected; infected people are those who are currently infectious; recovered people are those who are no longer infectious, and are immune to infection. “Recovered” can be a bit euphemistic, since one method of “recovery” is dying. Another method of “recovery” is by developing symptoms strong enough that the victim knows to quarantine themself (becoming less infectious).

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I read popular physics: The Milky Way

It’s time for another entry in my series where I read through physics articles in Scientific American, now through the eyes of a former physicist. It’s a gratifying exercise because I used to struggle through these when I was in high school. Now, if I struggle, I know it’s not my fault!

Today’s article is “New View of the Milky Way” by Mark J. Reid and Xing-Wu Zheng in the April 2020 issue. Oddly the titles in the print version never seem to match the titles in the online version–also the online version is paywalled this time, that means no images, sorry folks!

The main thrust of the article is that they used radio astronomy to map out the Milky Way galaxy. Now you might think that since we’re inside the Milky Way, we have an especially clear idea of its shape. But it’s surprisingly difficult, because determining the distance of stars is hard, and there are dust clouds in the way. If you’ve ever seen an image of the Milky Way as viewed from the outside, those are all artists’ conceptions and we don’t know what it actually looks like.

So the first thing I see in this article, is an image of the Milky Way, as viewed from outside. At first I thought, this is really neat, finally an image that’s more than just an artist’s conception. But nope, it’s just another artist’s conception. Created to be consistent with the study’s results, but still just art.

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