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Jun. 23rd, 2006

Odd Lots

  • For some years now I've been reading books, scratching my head, and suppressing the urge to complain that string theory is Emperor's Clothing, 0% cotton, 0% polyester, 0% science. It sounds more like the Supreme Fudge Factor to me, and popular because it's the only way we can make the math in modern physics come out right, and it seems to be evolving rapidly into yet another piece of Science Religion, which is any theory that May Not Be Questioned. (At least not if you want your grant to come through.) Nobody can explain to me why it's so compelling, other than the fact that it makes the math come out right. Nobody can tell me how we can detect higher dimensions or why we're so sure they're there—except that they make the math come out right. Nobody can even tell me why they're so sure that if higher dimensions exist, they have to be rolled up to the Planck length—when I get the distinct impression from other physics literature that things of the Planck length or smaller cannot be said (in all honesty) to exist. (Hunch: So that we can use nonexistent higher dimensions to make the math come out right!) I haven't said much because I am not a physicist (nor do I play one on TV) but a technical writer. So this morning, I was delighted to find that somebody with real credentials is calling bullshit on string theory. About damned time. And nobody who objects to this opinion will get past my trash folder without explaining how we detect higher dimensions, and why we're so sure that they're rolled up to a sort of borderline non-existence. "Making the math come out right" is not an explanation. No, I'm not going to let it pass.
  • Hey, am I in a bad mood tonight or what?
  • Now here's an example of the sort of physics (and engineering) that I can get my head around: An honest-to-God jet-powered VM Beetle. So much easier to control than JATO bottles. Thanks to Henry Law for the pointer.
  • Pete Albrecht send me a pointer to the SkyShed POD (Personal Observatory Dome) designed to keep the elements off your Meade GoTo telescope. It's plastic (albeit good plastic) and if you want, you can pay a little extra and have yours manufactured to glow in the dark. Hey, having recently bruised my head multiple times on various excrescences of a too-small RV while trying to get up in the two ayem darkness to pee, I'm way more than fine with that!
  • I just learned from Chris Gerrib that on June 12, Jim Baen of Baen Books had a very serious stroke, and it's unclear whether or to what extent he will recover. (Prayers are called for; as best I know he is still in a coma.) Jim is one of the only guys in publishing who really seems to understand ebooks, and quite apart from any personal suffering he may undergo, we as an industry can ill afford to lose him.