Now is the time, but how much have I got?

I may have read too much Isaac Asimov, Stanislav Lem, Fred Hoyle and other great Sci-Fi writers, or done too much time-travelling with that new movie “Interstellar” (which really was too noisy for my ears) and of course with the inimitable Doctor Who:

IMG_3079 Dr Who

The old style Sci-Fi of Arthur Clark and others tried to be as accurate as possible with their science, but today’s Sci-Fi seems to be free to bend or break all the rules, and at any time!  So given that new freedom, here are some thoughts on now, with assistance from a few other sources.

Despite reading many delightful books detailing creation mythologies and cosmology origin ideas, I find no certainty on where I, or we, came from in the distant past, or worse yet, where did that distant past come from?  Likewise I am equally uncertain about where the future might be, or if I will ever get there because it constantly seems to recede from my grasp?

I started wondering if there is anything else but the here and now?

The December 2014 special issue of Scientific American, “A Matter of Time”, seems to say that I’m agreeing with conventional wisdom:

Past Present Future

The Past is gone forever. The Future never comes. We only live in an ever-present now.  But a moment later that now slips into the past as we slide forward into a new now and then another, and so ad infinitum.  We have fading memories, and the written histories, in paper, wood and stone, and in fossils, rocks and galaxies, and even in the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) radiation left over from the Big Bang, of an ever-expanding past. (Image from Fall 2014, Scientific American):

All History

All this comprises a record of our past, but the actual living reality of that ‘past’ is long gone.  Any hard physical evidence only exists ‘now’.  It seems to me that now is our only reality.

Friend, and fellow tennis thinker, Skip found an interesting Hebrew mystic who is in total contradiction to the suggestion that there is only now.  The mystic says that as the Hebrew language, “…the Lord’s language…” has no present tense form of the verb to be: “…there is effectively no such thing as the present”.  That same mystic says: “…the present is the activity (they) are currently engaged in during every instant, with the purpose of turning the infinitely malleable future into a better past”. (It really is amazing how dogmatic those mystics can be about things that nobody else can ever know for certain)

Well, we can’t all be correct –

So if there is no present, what is ‘now’?  Is it not just the simple interface between past and future?  An expanding spherical surface that started way back at the moment of the Big Bang.

If we accept Einstein’s description of time as just another dimension, we can then think of this interface between past and future as a 2 dimensional expanding surface simply separating all the past from all the future.  The image below is from Neil Turok’s excellent book “The Universe Within”:

Turok surface

An old satire on the flatness of 1884 life, dominated by the Church of England, written by Edwin Abbot, described Mr. Square and others who lived in a 2D “Flatland”. They had interesting, if limited, lives. They could move around, and jump over each other, but like atomic particles, more than one could not occupy the same spot at the same time.  This implied, to me at least, that the Flatlanders had a very thin but finite thickness.  (I wanted to see that book rewritten with those 2D creatures having absolutely no thickness and able to pass through each other like shadows on a screen. But it would have made interactions between them very difficult and surely greatly altered the good plot line.)

It would be sad for us to contemplate that our lives are only two dimensional, and are lived out in the infinitely thin now interface between past and future.  Fortunately, and perhaps a little like the Flatlanders, we are rescued from this dilemma by the truly famous, and non-fictional, physicist Max Planck.  He is credited with the eponymous measure of an absolute minimum possible dimension: It is the length below which there is no meaning to our typical concepts of time and space, because quantum fluctuations would become dominant if you were to go shorter than this.
This Planck Dimension is only 1.62 x 10-35 meters long.
Henceforward I’ll only use scientific notation but just to show how difficult it would be without Scientific or Exponential notation:
1.62 x 10-35 meters is  0.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,638 inches
That’s not very much, but it should not be dismissed as being meaningless.  For comparison, on a logarithmic scale, the size of a Hydrogen atom is about half way between the size of the universe and the size of the Planck dimension.

Spare a moment of sympathy for the ancient Greeks who were smart enough to conceive the idea of an extremely small elemental atom. But how would they ever have measured it with what we now call “Roman Numerals”?  The Roman system did have another symbol of M with a bar over it for 1 million, but multiplication and division was nasty, and I don’t know how they ever measured anything less than 1.  Fortunately we have our exponential numbers to make the following math extremely easy.

If the size of our 2 D spherical ‘now’ surface has been expanding at the speed of light (300,000 m/s) since time began
13.8 billion years ago, (or 13.8 x 109 x 364 x 24 x 60 x 60 = 434 x 1015 seconds),
then we are living on a spherical skin of size:
300,000 m/s (the speed of light) x 434 x 1015 seconds = 130 x 1021 meters radius (r).
If that surface is not simply 2 dimensional, but does actually have a small Planck dimension thickness, then we live in a volume of:
4 x π x r2 x 1.62 x 10-35 = 4 x π x (130 x 1021)2 x 1.62 x 10-35 = 3.4 x 1012 cubic meters.
This is equivalent to living a cube with one side of 15.1 km (about 9 miles) long.

You might think that a cube of 15.1 km on each side should be big enough, but what size do we actually need for all our stuff?

Friend Ben and other cosmologists say that information is a key component of the universe, and like energy, cannot be destroyed – it can only be transformed.  So we do need room for our ‘stuff’ which is all the information about everything i.e. the position of every atom, at every instant of time.  Fortunately Planck comes to our rescue with his concept of a Planck time unit, smaller than which there is no meaning for us, thanks again to quantum effects.  So we have the size of ‘an instant of time’.  The Planck time unit is the time it takes for light to cross the Planck dimension or:
1.62 x 10-35 / 3 x 105 = 5.4 x 10-41 seconds.
There therefore have been 434 x 1015/ 5.4 x 10-41 =  8 x 1057 Planck time units since the big bang.

The universe, according to Wikipedia, contains about 1080 atoms (we’re not counting Dark Matter because nobody has yet been able to directly find it, despite considerable effort).  So the amount of data, including all my ‘stuff’ in basement and attic, to be accommodated is:
8 x 1057 x 1080 = 8 x 10138 bits of data.
Now an  ideal data storage unit (yet to be put into production) would hold one bit of data in each smallest possible space i.e. one cubic Planck Dimension.  Thus our storage unit needs to be:
8 x 10138 x (1.62 x 10-35)3 = 34 x 1033 cubic meters,
or a cube with each side of 324 million km length!  Sadly that cube won’t fit in our 15.1 km long cubic ‘now’ space!  There might be an error in the calculations, or else we just have too much stuff.  I suspect the latter.  ….

But the universe is still expanding, and presumably the number of atoms in it is not changing much, so could the future provide the needed space?  After another year we’ll need more room to store all the new positions of those same old 1080 atoms. That is going take up another:
1080 x (1.62 x 10-35)3 x 364 x 24 x 60 x 60 / 5.4 x 10-41 = 247.6 x 1021 cubic meters,
or a cube of 6,279 km on each side.  By the end of next year the universe will be:
434 x 1015 + 364 x 24 x 60 x 60 = 434.000000031 x 1015 seconds old.
So the volume of our now space will have grown by:
(4 x π x ( (434.000000031 x 1015 x 3 x 105)2  –  (434 x 1015 3 x 105 )2) x 1.62 x 10-35  = 468 cubic meters, or a cube of only 8 m on a side – Not enough for that extra information we accumulated during the same time.  Conclusion: It might be time to buy stock in a good, forward thinking, storage unit business.

I think I’m starting to prefer Woody Allen’s quote:
“Time is simply Nature’s way of preventing everything from happening all at once”.

But who cares? Last week time stood still for me when my daughter Olivia, and John, produced my first granddaughter Kiera and now she is yawning, feeding, pooping and smiling with her eyes wide open.


Kiera and John  Kiera and Olivia

Now, isn’t that all one could ever ask for?

Kiera, welcome to our world.  May your enjoyment of now be fascinating, happy and forever.

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

Coleridge’s mariner was damned for needlessly shooting an albatross. Toledo however, is bringing on its own destruction by inaction, despite warnings months ago from the Federal EPA. In the small hours of the night, ten days ago, an automated emergency phone call woke us to tell us not to drink the tap water. The annual algae bloom in Lake Erie this year had become too strong, right at the water intake pipe for Toledo’s (and Perrysburg’s) municipal water systems. This satellite view shows the western end of Lake Erie seriously compromised.  Toledo and the Maumee river are at the bottom left corner:
Lake Erie Blook_2144
For three days we were forbidden to drink the water, wash dishes (unless rinsed in afterwards in ‘clean’ water) or even to spray municipal water on leafy vegetables in the gardens.
The algae is an interesting bright green living slime. Its growth in the lake is accelerated by summer warmth and the excess nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) from fertilizer runoff from farms and riverside gardens. Heavy rainstorms can also overflow the waste water pipe system, dumping untreated sewage into rivers and lakes which add food to the algae.
The algae produces a harmful non-living, long lasting, stable toxin called microcystin. It cannot be destroyed by boiling and is too small to physically filter out, other than by Carbon filter absorption. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but is harmful because it accumulates in one’s liver, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) (it sounds incredible enough to be a story from the famous BBC TV sci-fi Doctor of the same name) in concentrations greater than 1 ppb (part per billion).
Microcystin is incredibly old. It evolved, with cyanobacterial algae blooms about 3 billion years ago, perhaps as a protective agent for the algae, but protecting against what we do not know – back then there were no animals in existence to eat the algae. The toxin might have been protecting it from solar UV according to today’s (2014/8/12) NYT Science section. The blooms themselves were vital to us then as they were the early creators of Earth’s Oxygen.
Our numerically challenged news reporters erroneously had it measured as “1 or 2 ppm” (parts per million) instead of ppb (parts per billion) for a while. But, understandably, it is hard to appreciate that a substance naturally produced in our lovely lake could be seriously harmful in concentrations above one drop per tanker rail-car full (300,000 gallons). But watch out for the numbers: while a limit of 1 (ppb) (parts per billion) could sound reasonable, would you accept the same level as safe if it was just as honestly, but more scarily, called 1000 ppt (parts per trillion)? No matter how you quantify it, it is truly wonderful that we can detect and measure such miniscule amounts. Such skills can save us, if only we can properly interpret the values and apply them appropriately.
Back in Perrysburg we had the interesting situation of water seemingly everywhere, yet unusable:
1. A live river full of slightly muddy water: the Golden Maumee.

River Kayak_3941
2. Clear, tasteless, odorless water in the taps, and a few recent gallons in spare storage in jugs in the basement, but who knew how far back the ban applied?
3. And my three 40 gallon full rain barrels (for plant watering) collected from clear and pure (well perhaps a little acid rain, moss spores, bird bits, etc.?) rain water from the roof.
Rain Barrel_2221
I was unable to interest any of the house residents (other than the quasi-dumb animals) in that toxin-free roof water, even when I offered to boil it.
Sold out signs appeared within hours, for a radius of at least 20 miles, in stores selling any type of bottled water. But friends visiting from out of state all brought gallons in plastic jugs and bottles.

The water is back on for now, and we have a stock of ‘plastic’ water to be drunk within the next 12 months as the bottles have “Use by…” dates of 2015.
Water bottles_2289
What happens, over time, to water in a plastic bottle?  I’m sure I could happily live on honey, beer and coffee made with skim milk, but dry cleaning one’s teeth is difficult.

Nobody said it would be easy but we do need to look after our planet. At least now we can measure the invisible toxins before they do too much harm. But sometimes even the very visible seems to be too hard to fix. For years Toledo and Perrysburg have been trying to prevent sewage overflows in heavy rains. Yet yesterday, 8/11, we had about 3 inches (75 mm) of rain which resulted once again in the following overflow damage to Water Street and hence, the river and the lake:

Electric Toys for Boys (& Girls)

You know the sexist saying: “The difference between the men and the boys is the price of their toys”? Well here are six of my recent favorites, ranging in cost from tens to tens of thousands of dollars:

1. “Nissan Leaf”
We’ve now driven 7500 miles in this all-electric car without an oil change or any maintenance – there is nothing under the hood to maintain!
New Leaf
We plug in to a 110 Volt outlet at home in the evening and for about $3 worth of power, we can drive 100 miles the next day at any highway speed allowed and with the great acceleration that the high torque of an electric motor can provide.
The plug-in socket seems to be sufficiently weatherproof for outdoor connections but I don’t leave it connected in violent thunderstorms.
Plugged in in Snow
The big fun part is plugging into public outlets at pay-parking spots where the power is included:
Toledo Charging
Or even better, after hours with free parking, or at The Toledo Museum of Art and a few other noble institutions, where the power is not only totally free, but with their 240 Volt systems the charging speed is much greater.
Sometimes you get to the spot shown in your iPhone ap only to find it occupied – but if it’s by as sleek a car as this Tesla (with 195 miles charge showing on the instrument panel) in ‘our’ spot in Bowling Green last week then it’s hard to complain:
Tesla in BG_0737
Perhaps there really is a “free lunch” after all!
The Leaf is not quite as useful as my old gas-drinking Merc. for carrying my water toys but that’s a separate issue.
Merc with roof load
On Scott’s suggestion, I was surprisingly able to slip the Prodigy windsurf board, sail and two piece mast completely inside the leaf.
Prodigy in Leaf_0778

2. “WinBot”
This device improves on the horizontal running Roomba floor vacuum robot, by sucking onto a vertical flat glass surface with a slippery silicon suction cup.
High friction caterpillar tracks drive it across the glass and micro fiber pads wash and wipe it clean. It runs around from edge to edge and corner to corner on its own program, or for fun with kids they can steer it through the window with a remote controller.
Obviously much valued for difficult to reach glass.
Ladder to Windows_0746 - Copy

3. “iPhone with ōlloclip” Macro Close-up Attachment.
(OK it’s not exactly an electric toy but it does fit on my electric iPhone which still amazing works after being dropped from 4 ft. (over 1 m) into a shallow puddle!)
Olloclip on iPhone
This little clip-on device allows you to go from this close with your standard iPhone when it is set on max. zoom:
Midge in Macro
to this close:
Midge with Olloclip
Please note: no midges were harmed by the photographer in the preparation of these images! The first one simply flew away, and the second one was removed, dead, from a spider’s web – much easier than trying to actually catch one with a net. You can see the scale by appreciating that the wooden stick is the tip of a tooth pick. The midge is only about 2 mm (1/16 inch) long. I’d like to know its name if you have it?

4. “CritterCam” (or “Trophy Cam”)
CritterCam 609 - Copy
Here is the best night time photo, so far, from six months up a tree on the wild life corridor, down by the Maumee River. The camera is triggered by the Infra Red heat of a creature and takes pictures every 10 seconds until it goes away: night time roaming of the coyote – looking for stranded skiers?
Naturally, I now also have a few thousand daytime images of squirrels and geese. In Owen Sound, Ontario, my friend Brian’s CritterCam caught this porcupine:
Brians Porcupine - Copy
He is still trying to get the cougar who’s footprints he has seen in the snow.

5. “GoPro”
This amazing waterproof camera, clipped to the boom of a windsurfer, took the videos seen in previous years’ Cape Hatteras blog postings.

With a head harness,GoPro Head Cam_0862 - Copy
it will easily record cross country ski trails (see past winter blog posts) and anywhere else a head is foolish enough to venture, as in the recent May New Yorker magazine cartoon:
New Yorker GoPro

6. “The Drone”
The most awesome toy is the combination of a GoPro camera with the DJI Phantom II QuadCopter drone.
Johns Drone_0652 - Copy
The proportional controls (not simple on/off switches) are three separate joy sticks on the one flight and photo command box. Simply releasing the controls returns them all to a neutral hover mode so it is not impossibly difficult. The drone uses compass, altitude and GPS readings to control itself, and can beam live video back to an iPhone if you need!
Architectural photographer John Muggenborg cautiously allowed me to take the controls during this ‘surveillance’ flight of Manhattan from Fort Greene in Brooklyn, but I take little credit for the following video.
John’s great real work is well worth seeing at