…wherein el Ducko climbs up on the soapbox to utter some…
Shrewd Sensitivity From The University Of Northern South Texas
Actually, Folks, I don’t mean to portray our beloved Moderator in a negative light. He is a shrewd businessman, an intelligent judge of character, a gentleman with a heart of gold (Hmmm… cold-hearted?), who has plated many a great meal both real and imagined, always with amazing results. (Some have, no doubt, made medical history.) On most of these cattle drives of the imagination, he has watched over his flock, as well as his herd, with the vigilance of a… um…
Wait! Did I say gold-plated? …shrew?
It’s all in fun, Folks. Well, most of it. …except for that part about the mustache.
Naw, we won’t go there. Instead, let’s all hail the man who works so hard on our behalf, bringing you a wealth of knowledge of the the voluminous yet barely-seen world of microbiology. (Hailstones ready? On my signal, throw!) Next time you’re ready to gnaw the hash off your hash tag, think of the wonderful recipes that have been posted and moderated, that originated in (or were plagiarized by?) his fertile brain. Yup, back there behind the hippocampus and the hippopotamus, lies an amazing wealth of… Well, the way I figure it, it’s kinda like a peat bog- – gonna make some fine Scotch whiskey, one of these days, but for now, it’s fuel for the imagination.
That’s my explanation, and I’m sticking to it.
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Living FTL Drive
We interrupt the feudin’, fussin’, and fightin’ usually found in this thread to bring you one more in a series of Plenary Lectures offered periodically at The University of Northern South Texas at Swinney Switch. This one hasn’ t happened yet, but surely will in the near future.
Campus Newspaper Review:
Plenary Lecture on the recently invented Faster Than Light Drive
Dateline Swinney Switch, TX (AP): The audience began applauding, then got to its feet, as the old man tottered on-stage. Like many a scientist who has been recognized for his achievements, he walked the halls of the University with a post-doc or two on each arm, sometimes talking in his soft way, other times glaring at some off-hand remark, but thinking about it in context. The science of faster-than-light travel is still developing in rapid and unexpected directions, and his pioneering insight is still one of the keenest.
His handlers planted him at the podium, or rather, at the lectern. He insisted on that distinction- – a lectern stands on other supports, whereas a podium stands by itself and, inclined for better viewing, allowing gravity to control any and all items placed on it. His achievement, of course, was a triumph over gravity, and he preferred to read occasionally from notes placed flat on the table and use a few of his “toys” to demonstrate various items to the freshmen and other as-yet-unenlightened members of his audiences.
…but not today. This was a plenary lecture, one which was more symbolic than instructive. It was in recognition of yet another honor bestowed on the man who freed humanity of the bonds of light speed. The cartoons showing Einstein in police uniform astride a motorcycle, being left in the dust, and the sign with the posting “186,300 miles per second – It’s the Law!” covered with a graffiti symbol, a spray-painted red circle with a slash through it. Humanity had at last circumvented that old limit “by devious means,” as the old man was fond of saying. Most said that he was modest. Some said that it was his way of avoiding giving (or taking) credit by one or more of the undeserving. …for businesses still, as always, paid lip service to the “team effort” required to succeed, the persistence-versus-perseverance approach advocated by Thomas Edison, without realizing that a lucky break, backed by a solid understanding of chemical physics, and an aversion to the knife-in-the-back approach advocated by the business consultants, propelled the likes of Enrico Fermi, George Westinghouse and so on to greatness.
He smiled at the crowd, waited patiently, and the noise gradually subsided. An announcer, some dignitary or other, stepped from behind the curtains with microphone in hand, delivered some short words of praise and introduction, gave the microphone to the old man, and retreated backward, applauding.
He grinned devilishly at the crowd, looked at the microphone with obvious disgust, cracked a smile, and tossed the thing aside. It hit the floor before the sound crew could react, the public address system howled and nearly leapt off its mountings, and as people hastily plugged ears with fingers, he chuckled. Some poor, unknown gaffer dove on the thing and switched it off. There was a momentary deafening silence. He beamed. “…pitifully slow means of wave propagation,” he said. “Ignore it.”
About half the audience reacted with laughter, those who knew the old man’s field of study. Others didn’t get the joke, and let it pass. All settled back, though, to listen. You could never tell what the old man might say- – some of it sage, some of it light-hearted, all of it sometimes mostly interesting.
I say mostly because the fields of quantum gravity and quantum mechanics collided “on his watch” and he was sage enough to recognize it where others had ignored or dismissed the physical evidence. Nearly everyone else’s eyes glazed over when the word “quantum” was used. Of those who didn’t, who were interested in such things, nearly all were looking the other way, guided by the work of Planck, which predicted effects so small over such small distances that any quantum interaction between quantum gravity and quantum mechanics that they would be undetectable by human means for the foreseeable future. Not even the Swiss and French, that quiche-eating, white-wine sipping, fondue slurping crowd that ran the Large Hadron Collider, paid attention.
And this is where chance enters. Just as superconductivity occurs near certain extreme conditions of cold under fields among atoms, and once it was observed could be extended to ever-increasing temperatures as long as pressures and fields could be manipulated, quantum gravity and quantum mechanics were found to be extended to more observable conditions.
Like all great discoveries, this one was made by accident. There was a recipe for summer sausage, a fermented, semi-dried, cooked sausage, which the old man and his family enjoyed. Among other hobby interests, he was an amateur sausage maker, feeling his way through the minefields of good and bad bacteria, fermentation, and the like. He happened to get lucky.
The sausages were made, the usual cure and sugars and fermentation-friendly conditions were set up, and the mince was stuffed into traditional large-diameter “beef middles” casing. Four of these stuffed casings, clamped at one end by a metallic clip and tied with string at the other, were suspended from a horizontal wooden stick, fastened beneath a cabinet facing, above a counter top. There, they were to dry and ferment for forty eight hours.
And here’s where serendipity entered to play its part. His wife plugged her cell phone into a radio/charger near the sausages, so it could recharge. The next morning, they noticed that the sausages were all oscillating, a bit like there was air movement present, but more like they were coming and going in and out of existence. The edges would appear fuzzy and the bodies transparent, then they would solidify in a slightly different position, then repeat, over and over. In attempting to touch one, all would solidify, but the faintest attraction and feeling of some sort of field presence were there. The four sausages were of different length, but all seemed to oscillate in and out of existence together. …for this was literally the case, as was proven later. The sausages were moving in space-time.
Let’s jump to some basics, now- – electrical field theory, what shape a magnetic field assumes when a current is passed through a straight length of wire, what happens to the field when the current is alternating, what things look like in the annular space when all of the above are surrounded by a concentric conductor, what effect using a fractal antenna to generate the field produces, the interesting effects that placing multiple sausages on heated rollers in, say, a gas station, yield, and on and on.
By now, if you dive into the mathematics, you are up to an understanding level approximating that of a sophomore engineering student. There, unfortunately, nearly everyone specializes in something ELSE, dropping the subject. A few take a course in magneto hydrodynamics, and there they are offered clues, but again, traditional thinking gets in the way. Subverted by plasmas, most MHD students head in the wrong direction.
“But wait!” says the old man, holding up a finger in frail imitation of a broadcast huckster. “There’s more! Operators at the Nobel Prize Committee were standing by, if people would only so much as call now, but none did. Much of the hard work had been ignored or swept under the carpet. It’s just that nobody happened to look under that part of the carpet.”
A slide flashed onto a screen behind the old man. “Let’s have a look,” he said, and turned painfully to look. …then looked back at the audience. “Cool. …also, useless.” He waved his hand and another, much simpler slide appeared. “And in this corner…” he said, another of his infamous imitations, this time of a wrestling announcer, “we have the real answer.”
Again he turned, and again, his hand motioned dismissal. “…isn’t real obvious, is it? See that large gray area there? How the hell would ANYbody see it?” He placed his hands on the lectern, and leaned toward the audience. “That’s because,” and he glared accusingly, “you’re all too literal, and you want so desperately to believe in cause and effect.”
He waited for a moment, the old showman, before straightening and continuing. “So, fast forward. I spent a career in chemical engineering and I picked up a few tricks. I retired, but I still had my bag-o-tricks with me. I got into, of all things, the fascinating hobby of sausage making. I made a few friends. I moved from fresh sausages to smoked sausages, to fermented/semi-dried/smoked sausages. With each addition, I refined my equipment, added instrumentation, expanded my recordkeeping. Atmospheric conditions, conditions inside the gas station roller-dog cooker, inside-the-smoker, inside-the-sausage… nothing escaped. Electrical potential, laser stimulation, electrical conditions, different types of heat generation, probe placement, probe size and shape and type, on-line mass measurement, differential thermal analysis…
“And in time, I noticed some things that didn’t add up. For one thing, the sausages always became lighter than expected while being processed, but that miniscule difference disappeared once certain fields were no longer applied. I was stumped.”
He motioned, and the slide changed to a familiar one- – one in which the energy required to move a given amount of mass is plotted against velocity, increases exponentially as velocity approaches the speed of sound in air, then drops off before continuing its exponential increase and goes rapidly toward infinity as speed approaches the speed of light in a vacuum. Then, which prior to the old man’s discovery was unknown territory, there is another drop-off in energy which continues to increase to another peak, et cetera. Rather than reach an absolute speed limit, the curve is more of a wave function.
“But how do you get past the speed of light, let alone continue faster, you ask? …sounds like the thinking that people had, back when the speed of sound was called ‘the sound barrier.’ Let’s switch back to our earlier scatter diagram, then do some coordinate transforms. We’ll start by picking the right variables, this time,” he said, and winked. “This, as you can imagine, helps a bunch. …but how the hell do you know what to plot?
“Enter the technique of ‘partial least squares’ or, as it has become known, ‘projection to latent structures’ or ‘PLS.’ This uses statistical analysis techniques to quantify the variability in each variable, compute eigenvectors through the data matrix, then uses these linear combinations of variables as new variables. After the first one, everything else, which is called residual variance, is used to compute a second eigenvector, and so on. As it turns out, the first two or three eigenvectors typically explain 95 percent of the variability. You can then examine the variables which figure in the most, refine the data, and improve the model.”
The audience’s eyes were beginning to glaze over, he could tell, so he went back to the light and gentle. “Suffice it to say that you can make delicious sausages this way. Not only that, though, but if you put in certain extra measurements which normally are not taken in the kitchen or back yard, you learn some interesting items. We’ll skip the usual force balance calculations and field equations, especially since they descend into tensor notation rather quickly.
The audience groaned, then chuckled. Tensor notation is… well, you don’t want to know. But, lots of times, you can skip forward, which is what the old man did.
“Suffice it to say that the early sausage time and levitation trials led to a propulsion design that spun off several fields of study not pursued previously. Suddenly, materials research turned from metals to living organics. Suddenly, fabrication turned from machine shops and molten materials to growth and genetic manipulation. There was a fork in the road, if you will, where one led into food modification and the other led to consumer modification, and as wise old philosopher Yogi Berra once said, we took it.”
Another slide came up, this time a collection of objects. “Remember the early chemical rocket designs, the toy rockets festooned with tubes and bulbous gadgets and whatnot? There’s the old German V-2 design, and later European Space Agency, United States, and Soviet designs. These chemical rockets got us out of our atmosphere, but not to the stars.”
Next slide. . “Various means of propulsion beside chemical energy were tried, but the ion engines and such still had the same limitation, the need to fling mass rearward as fast as possible in order to move your center of gravity forward. Not just Mister Einstein, but Mister Newton, too, held us back. We were trapped in hardware.”
…another grin. “But wait! Suppose we latched onto the gravitational field itself and flung IT back? It’s pervasive, and like photons, gravitons involve all the matter and energy in the universe, including… Here’s the catch! …dark energy and dark matter. What’s the best way to fling matter and energy away from you? Well… why not generate space between you and the matter or energy? After all, that’s what good ol’ Mother Nature does. The universe is expanding.”
The slide switched again, to a now familiar shot of a sausage-shaped object hovering in mid-air. This one had been used in the original press release. “Properly enclose a space, condition that space, and you have it. Once you measure the right variables, the tricks practically fall out of the empirical statistical model by themselves. Today, as you know, irregular shapes can also be manipulated, although the slightly-bent sausage shape is still the most efficient. …and we now know that it was a biological approach, not a mechanical one, that enabled it. Yes, biology interacts with chemistry and physics, in spite of what your high school teachers drilled into you to the contrary. Therein lies the secret- – a dark corner into which I and a few others have peered. It was not only the potentials and fields and whatnot that were important- – it was also the biology that tied into them.”
The slide switched to an image of a recent ship design. “It took some bio-engineering, some food science, some charcuterie, some chemical and mechanical engineering, some physical chemistry and packing plant skills, but today we have the ship of tomorrow.” [new slide] “…just back from a round trip to Alpha Centauri system in three weeks, most of which was spent in a parking orbit that by necessity takes it out of the plane of the ecliptic in order to minimize the computational difficulties brought on by having nearby mass and energy. This is the famous recent picture of our experimental ship.” …another slide. “…and here are some images which were returned by the equipment on board.”
– – – – – + + + – – – – –
They eased him offstage after a half hour of being bombarded with questions. The old man was gratified, but was visibly drained by the ordeal. While two assistants put up a Japanese screen for privacy, a couple of post-docs covered him with a hospital gown and eased him into a tilting chair. Others shooed the usual gaggle of admirers and reporters out of the room. Another wheeled a low cart covered with cloth over to him.
Once the coast was clear, one of the post-docs reached over and pulled back the cloth, revealing the table’s contents. An assistant handed over a limb as he ran a fingernail around first one hip joint, then the other. Both legs came away, and were replaced by the limbs from the table. Likewise, his shoulders and arms were replaced, as were portions of his chest, groin, and body trunk internals.
“Ready…?” There was a nod. Two post docs gave his head a twist worthy of a chiropractor’s best, pressed a spot on his neck, and lifted the head away. An assistant removed the new head from a vessel on the cart, and in seconds it clicked into place and was attached.
“…comfortable?” an assistant asked.
“I’ll need some clothing now,” came the reply. Two assistants stepped forward and helped, then pulled away the hospital gown.
“Thanks, all of you. Let’s go get something to eat. I suggest sausage pizza.”
– – – – – + + + – – – – –
It was remarkable how far reconstructive limb and organ replacement had come since the genetic engineering techniques that the old man had pioneered had come to fruition. At a spry two hundred some odd years, he claimed that he was just getting going. There was so much yet to learn, and as long as he didn’t run out of spare parts… or sausage recipes… …or hog casing…