2013/11/24 Leave a comment
2013/11/17 2 Comments
The Las Vegas strip is all colorful and flashy when seen at night. During the day though you get Vegas without that comforting veil of darkness, and all its warts are exposed. The neon, flashing bulbs, and aging metallic shapes can be seen for what they are. It’s sad in a way, like finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real. This particular facade can be found on the Riviera Hotel, a 1955 piece of Las Vegas royalty. It looks pretty dated compared to its more modern neighbors on the strip, but as royalty the place remains relatively popular to this day. By day, the demolition of many other dated properties nearby have left the Riviera, and Circus Circus across the street, looking like the survivors of a destructive storm. But by night the neon glows, the lights flash, and the decades-old allure of the Riviera shines.
2013/11/12 2 Comments
When I noticed earlier this week that today’s date would be 11-12-13, a little tingle ran through me. For a moment it seemed as though the weird way we separate time into units of twelves and sixties and thirties suddenly made sense. 11, 12, and 13 were in perfect numerical alignment, nature was in order, the universe must now be expanding and contracting responsibly, and that made me happy. This was perfect justification to stop in a bakery for eleven baker’s dozens of absolutely anything I wanted. Then I was struck with the sudden realization that my giddiness was complete nonsense. What possible difference could it make if the numbers we use to express the date were in numerical order? Most other former British colonies, and of course the Brits themselves, are expressing today’s date as 12.11.13 and likely find no value in that sequence whatsoever. In fact, I generally catalog dates in a logical year-month-day fashion, meaning that today is expressed as 2013-11-12, neither British nor American, sadly Y2K influenced, and also not at all numerically exciting. Maybe the trip to the bakery will have to wait.
This fascination with number sequences probably began with my first digital clock. I had received it as a gift when I was a child back in the prehistoric days of the twentieth century. I say prehistoric because the digits on this digital clock were actually numbers printed on tiny plastic squares. The squares had been carefully arranged on a spindle, and every minute an audible “click” announced that the timing mechanism had mechanically, not digitally, flipped over a plastic square. Essentially this was an electric clock with a spindle rather than hands, and the similarity to the big displays I’d seen at train stations made my new digital clock remarkably entertaining. I looked forward to seeing such times as “12:34,” “1:11,” and “4:44,” and actually maintained a checklist. The last time I checked off, with some relief, was 3:33 A.M.
So, why the fascination with numerical patterns? Remember all the people who raced to get married on 10-10-10 and 11-11-11? People throughout recorded history have studied numbers and assigned meanings and relationships to them. The presence of fractals and Fibonacci spirals in nearly everything in the world around us, and even in our own bodies, is likely behind our curiosity with patterns. Mathematics reaches across cultures, businesses, and borders, allowing humanity a universal language to describe the patterns of our world and communicate them in occasionally understandable terms to anyone bored enough to listen.
Where there are patterns there are mathematics, and though mathematics seem very black and white the results are always subject to interpretation, game for debate, and fodder for superstition. We use them to prove and disprove, support and attack, bring luck and cast spells, and win and lose fortunes. She’d be a ten, if it weren’t for that 666 tattoo. We may be number one, but none of us can get off an elevator on the thirteenth floor. Thank goodness it’s always five o’clock somewhere, because I need some relief after those annual budget debates.
Knowing that I spend a great deal of time pouring over numbers of some significance makes me feel better about an occasional indulgence such as “11-12-13.” And imagine the fun next year, when we have “12-13-14″ to enjoy. After that, such a sequence won’t occur again until “1-2-3,” which happens in the very distant year 2103. Until then we can console ourselves with intermediate dates such as “1-2-34,” coming up in a mere twenty one years, and “2-3-45,” just eleven years after that. The anticipation is just killing me.
2013/11/11 4 Comments
The Golden Gate Bridge was built in 1937, so must be very tired of holding the same position for all these years. At 4,200 feet long, if it were to stand up and stretch the Golden Gate Bridge would be very, very tall. You could fit more than seven and a half Washington Monuments in something that tall, if you had seven of them. But the Golden Gate Bridge reclines in luxury, more splendor on the water than splendor in the grass, and its vast 4200 feet of length could hold an awful lot of stuff. With that much space at its disposal the Golden Gate could hold 56 Karvi Viking longships, which would be quite a formidable armada. Vikings were European, and so was Rupunzel, and while there’s no real way to know if Rapunzel’s hair were forty two feet long you could lay a hundred strands of it end-to-end on the Golden Gate. You can bet she burned out the motor on a vacuum cleaner or two. Being stuck in a tower, Rapunzel would have had no use for a 1967 Pontiac GTO, which was 206.6 inches long. That means that nearly 244 of them would fit on the Golden Gate Bridge, bumper to bumper. In 1967 that might have actually happened once or twice, and while that sounds like one heckuva traffic jam imagine how much worse it would have been with 20,160 Matchbox cars. All those poor Shriners, late for work, shaking their tiny fezes in the air. Now if that sounds incredible, consider that over 38 million vehicles cross the Golden Gate Bridge every year these days. Rapunzel may have been stuck in a tower, but the Golden Gate’ two towers have no princess suites at the top. There is a big steel door on each tower of the Golden Gate though, leading to all sorts of guesses as to what might be hidden inside: a fortune in gold, a golden ladder through the fog and into the clouds, or a golden parachute through the water and into an octopus’ garden in the shade. What must be behind those doors in the Golden Gate’s towers? Morpheus said he could only lead us to the doors; it was us that would have to go through them. I tried, but it was locked. As I stood there pondering it struck me that the Golden Gate isn’t actually golden. In fact it’s not even golden colored. It’s made of steel, not gold, and is more of a rusty pumpkin color, very appropriate for Autumn. The paint is currently supplied by Sherwin Williams, and the closest tone available to us mere consumers is a color called Fireweed. No matter what color they paint it, just consider for a moment that yes, someone paints it. Touching up the paint is a continual process to combat the rust, whose creeping speed must therefore be just a little slower than that of paint drying. The speed limit on the bridge is 55 miles per hour, so in theory once a smart officer arrests the rust for impeding traffic we should be done with it. Of course, there’s nowhere to pull someone over on a bridge, so this problem is likely to be with us for a while. If they had thought about the rust problem back in 1937 maybe they would have built the bridge out of toothpicks. Toothpicks never rust, but it would have taken 19,200 of them just to cross only once. That would allow ants to cross, but not many of us. Getting the 19,200 toothpicks for such an ant bridge would have required a lot of trips to the convenience store, or an awful lot of whittlin’. Whittling was probably more popular back then, but just the toothpick procurement aspect of the Golden Gate’s construction would have taken years. Steel was probably a better choice. If people made toothpicks from steel we could buy one and it would last our whole life. If people made toothpicks from bridges we’d never be able to fit them in our mouths. At least most of us.
2013/11/10 2 Comments
The Tardis has just transported you back to October 2007, to a location around the corner from Central Park in New York City. You find yourself seated at a table in the tiny basement of luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman. The little room has been remodeled into a cafe, but today it is closed for a private event: perfumers from around the world have come to introduce their latest scents to a small, influential group. Your group. Among the perfumers is a nervous Kilian Hennessey, who has just arrived from France literally moments ago. Heir to the Hennessey cognac empire but eager to make a name for himself, Kilian became (among other things) a perfumer. In his carry-on luggage he brought the very first supply of his perfumes to enter the United States. After an infuriating delay with customs he rushed to his hotel, decanted the perfumes into smaller sample sets, then dashed to Bergdorf Goodman. It was odd to see a multimillionaire so out of breathe and nervous; this was a sign of how important the morning’s United States launch was to him. He spoke in broken English, frustrated with himself when he couldn’t find the right word, a little embarrassed laugh here and there. You listened to him describe his philosophy, how he designed each scent, the concepts behind the top, middle, and base notes of each. After a moment the realization hit him that he had arrived, all was well, and today would be a success. His poise returned, and he began to notice that one or twenty women were smiling at him. Rich, young, French, and designing perfumes… Several minutes later you and your group were among the first people in the world to try each of the By Kilian scents on your skin, testing how the perfume’s notes reacted with your body’s unique chemistry.
Skin chemistry experiment completed, the evidence was now becoming alarming: New York was filled with Daleks. Back to the Tardis!
2013/11/08 6 Comments
Remember back in the good old days, before we knew the truth about air travel? Back then flying was exciting, and sometimes even luxurious. While flying over oceans it was fun to look down and ponder the hardy men and women who, centuries ago, had spent harrowing weeks making the same journey we now regularly make in just a few hours. Comfortably seated, listening to music, reading a book, eating a snack, while floating miles above the Earth and speeding along at 300 miles per hour. It doesn’t even really sound plausible or possible. Shouldn’t we be rowing or something?
Scientists spend countless hours measuring myriad details of our mundane lives, and some of the most striking data to emerge are the huge environmental costs related to our century-old habit of traveling by fossil-fuel powered aircraft. Exact numbers vary depending on type of aircraft, distance of flight and other criteria, but chew on this for comparison’s sake: every person on a cross-country round-trip flight has put somewhere between 2-3 tons of carbon dioxide in the air. That’s each, per passenger. What might the total be if your family or a team from the office flew? It’s hard to imagine any business or lifestyle efficiency upgrades an individual could make – reusable shopping bags, recycled paper, CFL light bulbs, double-glazed windows, etc – that would result in saving 2-3 tons of CO2 in a year. This means that every time a person flies, he or she destroys the positive carbon footprint impact that their otherwise environmentally-friendly lifestyle might have had that year.
Dropping the habit of air travel won’t be easy for most people; it allows distant family members and business colleagues to quickly and affordably connect in person. But the money we think we’re saving now will come in the form of a bill later. When it arrives we will be forced to pay many times over with money, air, water, soil, species, food, and other things. Stop and consider for a moment how people lived before air travel was so inexpensive – back when air travel was exotic and people were still called “jet-setters.” In those days generations of families tended to remain in the same area. Rather than expect visits on every holiday, it became an exciting occasion when any family members who had moved far away were able to make the long journey home. Businesspeople made exploratory trips, established connections and local representatives, and then worked by telephone.
What if we broke our habit?
What if we didn’t fly to some distant place on vacation or business? What if we vacationed somewhere closer to home instead? What if we teleconferenced? What if the money we would have spent on airline tickets supported our local economy instead? What if we weren’t personally responsible for 2-3 more tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
I’ll bet we would all breathe easier.
2013/11/03 Leave a comment
WordPress had a link to another weekly photo event that involved producing a black and white photo every Sunday. Haven’t joined, but the concept sounds like fun. Here’s a first effort: Will Rogers Beach just north of Los Angeles. Wikipedia tells me this is where Baywatch was originally filmed, but on this cool morning there weren’t any bikinis to be seen. We laid on the sand while the sun struggled to warm our skin, listening to the waves crash. Even in cool weather the beach is wonderful. Maybe even more so, because you have so much more of it to yourself.