Tor.com has been running Better Zombies Through Physics for the last few weeks, and Sean Bieri and I aren’t finished yet. So please head on over — there’s a new installment up right now, and still plenty of time for you to get caught up before the end. And as you’d expect from them, Tor offers some great materials on their site in addition to comics about Schrödinger’s equation!
Can you ever get enough of watching Ed White float in and out of the camera’s eye in 1965 during the first Gemini spacewalk? (I qualify it that way since Alexei Leonov performed the first walk ever a few months prior to this. His is also a great story, which I got to tell in the upcoming T-Minus.) No. White’s joy comes through the grainy video, clipped sound, and deadpan framing by the NASA official.
What the video doesn’t include is what he says as he gets back in the spacecraft (after what sounds a lot like very determined coaxing by mission control and Jim McDivitt): “It’s the saddest moment my life.”
I’ve never run a half-marathon before, and in doing the Detroit/Windsor today I learned some things:
Train. OK, so the notion that my natural level of fitness was sufficient to allow me to finish a half-marathon without specifically training for it proved true. That didn’t make the last couple of miles fun, which they were not. If you saw the 2008 Olympics and watched Sanya Richards basically hit a wall about 75 meters before the finish, then you know what I mean. I saw her face, and her shoulders, and said “Ooh” for the full length of an exhaled breath. The friends I was watching with, none of whom were runners, asked why. I told them she was done, and at about mile 11 in this race I was too. Richards is tough, and even with a cramped hamstring still managed a bronze medal — all I managed was to not stop running.
Eat. I did, but not enough, and after doing some reading on the phenomenon of slogging through rapidly setting concrete I’m pretty sure that happened because I ran out of fuel. Glycogen in the muscles, glucose in the brain. Because of a minor illness, I had only about 500 (liquid) calories total on Thursday and didn’t eat normal amounts on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday. Bad timing — for the last mile I was actively hungry, and in discomfort from it. Since I’m usually not hungry for an hour or more after a run, and certainly not during, this was probably bad. The technical term endurance athletes have for what happened to me is “bonking” (a.k.a. “hitting the wall”). If you’ve never experienced it, here’s a standardized test X is to Y as Z is to ?? solved for you: Bonking is to getting tired and wishing the run was over as a paper cut is to slamming your hand in the door of an armored HumVee. Hard.
Pace. My friend Dave and I went out fast. (For us. Rest assured, the elite runners weren’t worried.) It felt great, and was great for the first 10 miles. Then Dave dropped back, and I kept on, still feeling fine. And about 1.5 miles later (see above) Dave had found the right pace and I hadn’t and he passed me and I said see you at the finish line and that was that. I still surpassed my fairly modest time goal, but if I’d run a little smarter I could have shaved at least a couple more minutes off.
Enjoy. Sunrise on the Ambassador Bridge was beautiful. Running through the pre-dawn streets of Detroit was fun. A tour of Windsor’s waterfront was a treat. Running a mile underwater (we took the tunnel back into the U.S.) was cool and weird, even though it took us away from the beautiful weather and friendly spectators. It’s a great course, and I look forward to trying it again. After I train and eat and find a smarter pace.
A misleading title. But this is about Xian, and this is about a movie.
In 1986 I spent the summer in the People’s Republic of China, about which I have written (depending on when you read this) and will write (almost certainly) more. After spending most of the summer in and around Nanjing, studying Chinese and working in a machine shop, the group I was with did some traveling as well. And one night, in the city of the Terra Cotta soldiers, my friend Keith and I did some pool hustling and saw a movie, both outdoors as I recall. What I don’t recall is the title of the movie, so if the collective wisdom out there can help me out I’d be grateful.
What I wrote down is Disciples of the Shaolin Temple, but when I rented a movie with that name it was clearly not the one I remembered. It’s possible that we saw Hong quan xiao zi (1975) aka Disciples of Shaolin/The Invincible One or Shao Lin gu di zi (1983), for which IMDB gives the same translated titles.
I have no idea, and all I remember of the movie is that we loved it, and it ended with the heroes in a river (or a pond?) being splashed by some lovely women.
Does this sound at all familiar to anyone?
Calculus. Most people who end up like me — nuclear engineer
turned librarian turned comics writer — took it in high school. I didn’t,
though not by choice. I don’t remember it being offered, for one thing, and I wouldn’t have been ready for it if it had been available to me, but entering college behind
the curve turned out great
I didn’t think so at the time. Every other first
year engineering student was ahead of me and doing well and having a social life while I was struggling
to wrap my mind around limits and integrals, and doing so while additionally being
bored by the classical physics we all had to suffer through. Let me at the cool
quantum stuff so I can finally lick this teleportation thing once and for all!
In the end, I actually looked forward to the homework.
Learning stuff is fun; who knew? High school hadn’t prepared me well for that, either. But by the time finals crashed the party I
still didn’t know whether I understood enough to make the cut. And when I sat
down to the physics exam I was sure I was done for. In later classes you got to
bring in a sheet of notes, on the (justified) premise that having them wouldn’t
do you much good. But not so for that first, basic class. I showed up with my
brain, a pencil, and a calculator that could do square roots(!) and trig
functions(!) and delivered the answer in glowing red LEDs.
And I also showed up with an urge to cower, made more acute
when I promptly forgot all the equations of motion and how to calculate energy
and momentum. Completely blanked. All I could dredge up from memory were force
= mass x acceleration and distance = rate x time. Cutting edge stuff…if you’re
Isaac Newton in 1687.
But, it turns out, I could also dredge up calculus. Also
cutting edge Newtonian tech, but if you know the force and distance equations
and you know calculus you can derive everything else you need for a first
course in classical physics. Especially if you vaguely remember enough of what
the results look like to recognize the formulae when you’re done. And on the
fly, under pressure, I derived ’em.
Even if I’d flunked out then and there I think this
experience alone would have made college worthwhile. It’s certainly one of the
few moments I remember from a whole lot more higher education than I like to
Oh yeah, comics.
can’t replicate that revelatory physics experience any more, at least in
context — those mathematical tools have long since rusted away in the damp
back corners of my brain. But I can replicate the panic: I still get
it every time I sit down to make a new book, because I arrive at each project
with my brain, pencil and paper (or rather, their modern analogue, a keyboard
and a blinking cursor), and no clue as to how to solve the problem of writing a
comics script. But what I can always dredge up is that fundamental image or idea that
got me excited about doing the book in the first place, and that eventually becomes words and
those words describe dialogue and panels and pages and spreads and scenes. And
all of a sudden (well, actually many months later, and thanks to heavy lifting
by an artist) there it is, a new world, fresh for me to marvel at and enjoy as
if I were discovering how gravity works, a
la Isaac Newton.
Who I really ought to write a comic on, someday. But the next physicist you’ll see me write about is Richard Feynman. First Second (for whom I wrote the first verson of this, my first ever blog post) has me doing Richard Feynman’s cool quantum stuff first, though. And they’re letting me bring my notes.