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I’m not getting older, dammit! The world is just getting darker!

So I have a problem. One that requires more than a little blue pill to resolve.

Oh, if only a pill could solve this problem!

Or, for that matter, even a suppository.

I am deeply saddened to report that when it gets dark, and I mean very, very dark, I can’t see.

This is particularly disturbing because I do my best work at night. When it’s, you know, dark.

Yes, when my body most desperately needs to rest and rejuvenate itself, my brain is all, “Hold my beer.”

But in a good, non-alcoholic, non-electoral sort of way.

As you might be starting to suspect, I wrote this entry during the day. But I had no choice, given I can’t see at night.

You see, since everyone else in my household have brains that listen to their bodies, they’re all asleep at night.

Or should be. Get back to bed right now, Kiddo!

Sorry about that. Because of this (nearly) mass slumber, I can’t just flip on all the lights, crank up the volume on my .mod files, and take care of business.

Oh no. Everyone else in my household gets cranky when I turn the productivity up to 11 past, well, eleven. Suddenly the Missus and the one kiddo who actually does sleep at night are making snide remarks about needing rest and don’t I have work in the morning and look you’re making the dogs bark and oh my gawd what is that racket you are listening to it should be illegal to distribute it!

(My hearing is fine. Spider by They Might Be Giants is meant to be listened to loud.)

In order to appease the Missus, I turn everything off, go to bed, and when dawn’s surly light finally returns, make yet another medical appointment.

My doctor always sort of wilts and sighs when he walks into the exam room and sees me, like a blow-up punching bag suddenly deflating after one punch too many, then mutters “Oh no, not again.”

While most people would see this reaction and think, “Uh oh, I must be really sick!” I’m not worried. I’ve been here before. Seen the doc about this many times. And after the poorly hidden but inevitable eye roll, he always tells me the same thing:

“Still not getting more exercise? I really think you should focus more on that. Not being able to see in the dark? That’s nothing to worry about. You’re just getting old. Try turning on the lights.”

I am not getting old!

And turn on the lights?? Did he not read the above paragraph about other people in the house wanting it dark so they can sleep?

Since modern medical science has cast me aside despite my numerous co-pays, I was forced to do my own research.

My own experiments.

And I figured it out.

(So start writing up those Nobel Prize nominations, in case they won’t accept my self-nomination.)

I’m not getting older. Nope.

The world…is getting darker.

Hear me out. Once you see the evidence you will drop your jaws in amazement.

(Or disbelief. But if you stay silent, I can still imagine it’s amazement. So hush.)

Here’s a modern-day keyboard. Notice anything about it, aside from the dirt?

Peek-a-boo, I can't see you, goddammit!

Who uses this? Members of the band Disaster Area?

That’s right. It’s super dark.

Here’s what it looks like at night with all the lights in the house in the mandated OFF position:

I see London, I see France, I do not see this freakin' keyboard

The real reason schools started mandating touch typing classes…

Now you can see my problem (or more specifically, can’t).

And don’t tell me to get a back-lit keyboard! I’ve tried that! They require you to press a key combo to turn on the back-lighting.

Can you see any of the keys in the dark on the above keyboard? Can you? Then how the hell am I supposed to see them, hmm?

Think about it. Their design solution when you can’t see the keyboard is to require you to hit specific keys on the keyboard so you can see the keys. On the keyboard! It’s Kafkaesque!

They’ll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes, let me tell you!

But, I perceive you mumbling as you nervously edge away, what do keyboards have to do with my supposition that the world is getting darker?

Well, aside from black reflecting back less light into the environment (ergo, making the surrounding environment darker), we once had, long ago, better keyboards.

And by better I don’t mean clickier (though that was better too). I mean beige:

Seriously, does it get any better than an IBM mechanical keyboard?

If my sunglasses were handy, I’d put them on before using this keyboard

See what this pinnacle of keyboard engineering looks like in normal lighting? Compare that to yet another modern keyboard (this time grey):

The Great Computer Compromise of 1995 between IBM and Apple solved nothing and only punted down the road the final, disastrous decision to switch to black for computers and accessories that future generations would lament for all time.

“We think beige is too bright. Waa waa. If black is too dark, how about we meet in the middle and try gray?” No. Just no.

But check it out what happened when I photographed my, if the Keyboard Industrial Complex PR hacks are to be believed, “old, tired, and passé” vintage keyboard in the dark.

WTFtl;dr! It actually got brighter:

OK, even I agree that white is too bright. Turn it up to beige AND THEN STOP!

CAPS LOCK on because DAMN IT, YES, I’M EXCITED ABOUT THIS KEYBOARD! AND NO COLLUSION! TOTALLY NO COLLUSION! COVFEFE!

Beige is a color I can type on in the dark. Because with beige, the cold encroachment of darkness is stopped in its sneaky, disabling tracks. I can look down and see the damn keys I need to press and then press them.

Presto! No back-light, front-light, or side-light required.

And it’s not just the keyboard. Tell me, how am I going to find that black CD eject button, cleverly placed, of course, right next to the black power button, on this particular, recently manufactured computer?

Stephen King's got nothin' on this scary beast

Hell, in this photo I have a spotlight on the chassis and I’m using a flash, and you still can’t see anything (except the dust bunny residue)!

But take away the above modern, fancy-pants, 1080p, USB 3.0, multi-core and multi-threaded (guess the color of the thread – hint: it’s BLACK) super computer and replace it with a late-80s, early-90s computer, and what do you get?

You get this, a right proper computing machine:

This. This I can effin' see.

The IBM “Just Try And Make The Room This Is In Dark” PS/2 P70. They don’t build ’em like this any more. Can’t afford to. Too much lead needed for the chassis.

That’s right. I closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and then tented the entire house (due to termites) before taking this picture, and it still looks like I’m standing outside on a bright summer day.

That’s how much frickin’ light beige computers give off!

Now it might be the termiticide talking, but I think I’d be able to use my computer at night just fine…if it were made out of beige. But sadly, as amazing as the above computer is, it does lack one feature deemed unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s:

WiFi.


Do you have tales of horror trying to use an albedo-challenged computer in the wee hours? Share them in the comments so we can commiserate together and maybe put together a kickstarter to make a modern beige computer!

(Please comment. The Missus thinks I’m nuts and I need you to help me prove her wrong.)
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The unheralded performance art of Niels Bohr, the Man Who Would Be A Physicist

I’ve come across a certain misconception so often in my reading of Physics and General Science textbooks, that I feel the need to point out the truth.

Yes, I read science textbooks for pleasure. You should try it. They can be quite exciting. Though the mysteries aren’t terribly engaging – they tend to spell everything out, including the solution, right away. And some of the problem sets are blatant red herrings.

Neils Bohr, the Marcel Marceau of performance art, and possible future Doctor Who

Niels Bohr, world’s greatest performance artist. His one man show, Atom and Eve, is wildly credited as the inspiration for Cats.

That misconception? That distortion of truth? That lie portrayed as alternate reality?

Niels Bohr, despite his Nobel Prize, was not a groundbreaking physicist, nor was he the “Uncle of the Atomic Bomb.”

Now if someone told me Niels Bohr spent his free time investigating murders in Copenhagen, I could believe that.

Or if he was a leading member of the Danish underground, who spent his free time investigating the war crimes of the Nazis during the occupation, I could believe that.

Hell, if you combined the two, I’d believe that as well.

And if those activities formed the focus for a series of mystery novels, I’d totally read them.

But a physicist? Who made meaningful contributions to the understanding of the atom?

Please.

The truth is that Niels Bohr was a performance artist.

A Danish performance artist.

A damned good Danish performance artist.

His most famous piece was a years-in-the-making performance purporting to plumb the depths of the then greatly misunderstood atom.

Titled simply “The Bohr model” (or, in some smug circles, the “The Rutherford-Bohr model”), it was Niels’ way of protesting against the dangers of the complicated system of alliances in Europe and the risk of all-out war.

In a letter to his wife, Margrethe Nørlund, Niels explained the themes and hidden meanings behind his so-called model of the atom:

The 'n' stands for 'neutrality'.

The model that caused all the trouble. Not as sticky as the plum pudding model of J. J. Thomson, but still more sticky wicket than mere tacky wicket.

The nucleus represents the nation-state, a single country, any country. The positive charge of the nucleus: the fact that it is alone is a good, a positive development. The negatively saturated electron shell beyond the happy nucleus represents the draining, subtractive threat of complicated, binding alliances, circling around the carefree nation like an unseen shark, ready to neutralize a country’s sovereignty and drag it into war. The emitted photon is a metaphor for the weapons of warfare, the fiery horror of Man’s inhumanity to Man.

I am fine. How are the children doing? I miss you all terribly. The cafeteria food here is horrible. Please send sausages. And chalk. There is a terrible shortage of chalk, and I can’t get work done without it.

Also, I need lotion. The chalk really dries out my skin.

I am amazed, to this day, that most high school science classes, and far too many college physics classes, continue to propagate the foolish notion that Niels Bohr was a serious and influential physicist.

I blame Texas’ influence on textbooks. There are, inexplicably, a large number of Bohr fans on the Texas Board of Education. Whether or not they know the truth of his livelihood is open to debate, but it is unassailable fact that they consider his contribution as a physicist to be more beneficial to his reputation than his contribution as a performance artist.

This is not to say he wasn’t influential in the world of physics. Paradoxically, and much to his own personal amusement, he was.

Why?

Because people, not realizing he was a performance artist, took him seriously.

They weren’t alone. He took himself seriously too.

Or, more accurately, he took his art seriously.

He took it so seriously he actually studied Physics in college and grad school, despite how repugnant and confusing he found the material.

He later said that the birth of quantum physics was a Godsend, because no one understood it and therefore they didn’t recognize his hopeless meanderings within the subject.

The only thing that preserved his undue reputation as a physicist, and society as a whole, is that somehow, against the odds given his liberal arts leanings, he managed to stumble on a model that not only conveyed his message, but was reasonably close to the truth.

Close enough that other, real scientists, were able to build on and refine and correct it.

But I’ve always wondered: would we have had an atomic bomb sooner if Bohr hadn’t clouded the science back in the early 1900s? Would the Nazis have gotten the bomb first?

Maybe his protest piece saved us all from nuclear fire.

Or, even worse, having to speak German.

In that light, maybe the Texas Board of Education got it right after all.

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So bad it won a Voidy for the next THREE consecutive years (would have been FOUR, but 2012 was a leap year)

 
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Posted by on 15 August 2012 in Science!

 

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