Monday, November 28, 2011

The Timbuktu stops here

It figures that I write about time and then I run out of it. This is particularly ironic considering the infinite nature of time and space. But it doesn't seem to be so infinite when you are trying to cook a turkey and explain to a five year old what happened to its head and feathers. It's kind of one of those Soylent Green moments.

But I digress.

When I was a kid, the time around the holidays ticked away at a painfully slow pace, especially during that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now I blink and a week passes. I suppose it is because all I had to do as a kid was wait and all I seem to do as an adult is try to keep up.

Before we had kids, I used to plan trips around the holidays to avoid some of the madness. I got engaged to my wife on Christmas morning on a cruise ship docked near St. Thomas. A video of a fireplace crackled on the stateroom television. Now that was a Christmas.

Christmas now means perching myself on a ladder trying to stretch icicle lights along the gutter and praying they all light when I plug them in. I have resisted buying one of those inflatable Santa's for the front lawn. There is only so much stuff you compromise on before you have to admit you've become white trash. Besides, I find the sight of the inflatable things depressing when you see them deflated like road kill during the day.

But I digress yet again.

I'm not sure why you race through time faster as you age, glancing frantically over your shoulder to see what you missed. It's probably because you've crested a hill in the spacetime continuum and are headed down the slope with worn brake pads.

I'm also not sure what would happen if you just stopped. Or maybe I do know what would happen if you just stop to avoid the inevitable destination of Timbuktu. But perhaps it won't be Timbuktu at the bottom of the hill. Most likely it's just another hill.

Life is funny like that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time traveler


There was no football game on when I was working out the other day so I was forced to watch PBS. Fortunately it was one of their rare non-fund raiser days and they had a program on that wasn't about cheese making or men sitting around in a circle beating drums trying to find their inner children. It was Nova -- The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time.

 I have to admit, I am a sucker for theories on time. So as I climbed/jogged to nowhere on the elliptical machine, I was engrossed in the program that attempted to explain in semi-layperson's language what time was (not what time it is, because does anyone really know what time it is).

The most fascinating thing about the program was that it debunked our standard perception of what time is. We always describe time as passing or as Steve Miller sang, "slipping, slipping, slipping into the future." But according to Einstein, time is more like space. It flows in all directions at once.

The other thing the program pointed out was that time and space co-exist in something known as the spacetime continuum. So where we are in space affects where we are in time. The program described the concept of "now" as being a single slice of the spacetime continuum. But no one's slice of spacetime is the same, so everyone's experience of now is different. Apparently an alien living in another galaxy experiences a "now" that is 200 years ago in my time.

And the speed at which we move also impacts time. When something isn't in motion (i.e. slumped in front of the television) time clicks away at a normal speed. Scientists confirmed this by taking two Atomic clocks synced to the exact same time, placing one on a jetliner and leaving the other one on the ground. The lucky clock was flown around the world on the jet. When it returned it was no longer synced to the clock that had stayed still. It was a few microseconds behind.

Physicists also believe that, in theory, going backward and forward in time is possible. To travel to the future, all you have to do is hop in a space ship and fly near a black hole and hang out for a few minutes. When you return to earth, 50 years will have passed and you will have only aged 5 minutes.

Travelling to the past is a bit more complicated. First you need to find a worm hole (an hole in a slice of the spacetime continuum that connects to another slice in the spacetime continuum). Then you jump into the hole kind of like Alice chasing the white rabbit and bam, you are in a slice of the past. Unfortunately you are at the mercy of the worm hole and don't have much control on where or when in the past you end up. My luck, I'd wind up back in the 70s again.

Physicists are skeptical about whether or not you could really travel to the past. They base this on the lack of visitors from the future milling about taking photos of your backyard and the dilemma of people travelling into the past and meeting themselves and advising against eating that marked down Sushi from the supermarket. I kind of pooh pooh these things as proof that time travelers don't exist. For one, if you are travelling around in time I don't think you'd broadcast it. I'm sure there are plenty of people in mental institutions that made this mistake. As for creating a paradox by meeting yourself and altering time, I think the many worlds theory of quantum physics could counter that one.

The Nova program indicated that scientists grapple with the question of how time flows when it is actually just one massive component of the spacetime continuum that makes up our universe. My guess would be that time doesn't flow, we do. Just living our lives makes us time travelers. We are passing through the slices of time, not riding in a river of it.

I would also conjecture that what people think are ghosts or spirits could simply be layers of the same slice of time overlapping giving us snippets of other times and time travelers. This wasn't discussed on the PBS program. It was just something I thought of in my own unscientific way without a mathematical formula to back it up.

Regardless, I think it is time to go.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Here in my car

I have never been one to be obsessed by cars. They have always been a basic source of transportation for me and that is all. I work in public transportation for heck's sake. But on a recent trip to Boise to visit my aged mother I encountered my perfect car.

I always rent a car when I go to Boise because it is not a public transportation friendly environment for visitors. But it is car friendly and having grown up there, it is easy for me to navigate. And Boise's airport is one of the simplest places to fly in and out of. I think it is because people rarely escape Boise if they grow up there so they don't travel much.

So basically when you step off the plane in Boise you claim your bags right next to the car rental counters and then step out the door and there are the car rental lots. I checked in at Hertz expecting to get my compact Nissan. The clerk did try to get me to upgrade for $10 more a day to an SUV, but I didn't have any plans to go 4-wheeling, so I declined. She had me sign the usual waivers and then handed me a key fob and rental packet and I was off.

It wasn't until I walked up to the assigned stall that I realized I had been given a full-sized car. It was a Dodge Charger. I didn't know much about a Dodge Charger other than they are considered muscle cars. This one was had a nice metallic gray finish and had the words "Hemi" emblazoned on it. I have no idea what a Hemi is, but I know it is man talk for "big engine."

I looked at the key fob I'd been given and sure enough it confirmed I had been given a Dodge Charger for the price of an economy car. I looked at the trunk and there was no key hole. Then I looked at the key fob and punched a button that showed a trunk opening and sure enough the trunk popped obediently open. I threw in my luggage and then went to the door and stepped into a leather interior that screamed "you are entering Nirvana."

I looked to put the key into the ignition and was startled to discover there was no key and no ignition. Then I saw the video screen flash, "Step on brake and push start button." I did so and another touch video screen lit up with various icons (map, radio, temperature, etc.). I felt around under the seat and found buttons that raised, lowered and moved the seat forward and back.

I punched on the radio and looked at the channel selection on the video screen. I selected Satellite and then scanned through various genre's of music. Then I put the car in reverse and watched a view of the space behind the car appear on the video screen. I backed up and listened to the Hemi hum.

Various sensors lit up on the side mirrors if a car approached in my blindside. And a digital read out of my speed appeared above the leather steering wheel. I punched in navigation and a map appeared showing where I was. I could also type in an address and the GPS would map a route for me.

I spent my three days in Boise never wanting to leave my Dodge Charger. The rental car attendant had to pry the key fob out of my hand and offer me a tissue to dab at my eyes when I dropped it off.

I never knew such cars existed.