Monthly Archives: February 2006

Continuous or Discrete?

Recently on my mind is this question: Is the universe is ultimately continuous or discrete?

I will freely admit that I lack the knowledge and tools to have the answer, but I’m still curious about it. Here is what I’ve been considering, based on the Physics I’ve studied:

Matter was once thought of as continuous… Cut your gold into smaller and smaller pieces and it’s still gold. But then we learned about atoms, and found out that matter is comprised of individual, indivisible sub-elements. Any further divisions and it’s no longer gold. That’s discrete.

Consider electricity. You can talk about a current flowing through a wire as a continuous function in units of Amperes, but at the end of the day it’s really made up of an exact number of individual electrons moving around. That’s also discrete.

But then what about light and other electromagnetic waves? They’re one of those creepy things that apparently exhibits both discrete and continuous properties (particle and wave)… By my understanding, light is made up of photons, discrete mass-less particles produced by energy being released from electrons as they fall between discrete, calculable energy levels around an atom. So that seems to be discrete. But then I’ve also read about experiments where researchers will cut two slits in a piece of paper, and send photons through one-by-one. The photons create a diffraction (?) pattern on the wall behind the slits, as if they interacted with more photons passing through the other slit. This shouldn’t happen though, since the photons were actually released one-by-one and had nothing to interact with. Besides being creepy, that seems to be more like a continous thing.

Then how about ideas like time and distance? It seems to me that even if the particles in the universe are discrete, shouldn’t they still be moving through space that can be measured infinitely more precisely? That is, continuously? What is to say that I can’t measure 1/4 the length of a photon, or 1/10,000 the length of that?

And I don’t have the faintest clue what’s going on at the quantum scale… anybody know if that kind of stuff is continuous or discrete? After listening to Dr. Brian Greene’s presentation on String Theory a while back, it seems like quantum-sized strings might in fact be continuous again, seeing as they are little tiny waves. So if they are continuous, then are electrons and photons and other such “discrete” particles actually continuous in nature?

I don’t know if any of you have the answer for me, but by all means let me know if you do. I’m very curious.

Fly like a photon…

Some Seal song came to mind when I read this headline on Slashdot tonight: “Near Light Speed Travel Possible After All?” Wouldn’t that be awesome? Only thing is, I didn’t think “near light speed” was ever impossible, only faster-than-light is impossible. Someone correct me if I’m wrong on that. Cool stuff nonetheless, and great comments:
Anonymous Coward: Can

Wake me up when someone actually accomplishes something.
Ruff_ilb: Actually, I believe that they’re hoping the controversy will oscillate so quickly that never-before seen particles will emanate from the physicists in question.

πŸ™‚ Physics jokes = Awesome.

So today was one of the most productive Saturdays I’ve had since maybe back in the High School tech crew days. I got up at 7:40 (well… 7:50, kindof took a while), and did my laundry, a wildly exciting two-hour extravaganza. Then after some breakfast I headed down to ECB to meet Enlight at 11 to work on the C++ Fountain Server. Got some code written for that, which is always good, and then my parents arrived to take me shopping.

The primary objective was a suit. Working on the whole job search idea lately made me decide that it was time I finally got some decent formal attire. <sarcasm>Lucky for us that was a nice quick process. </sarcasm> It actually wasn’t that bad; it was kindof fun trying out all the different stuff, but it did take a long time. By the time we were done (7pm), we had been to Boston Store and JC Pennys at least twice each, to buy a suit/dress shirts/ties/belt, then off for a pair of shoes and blue “business casual” slacks, then back to find a suitable shirt to accompany said slacks. Afterward we went to Smokey Bones for ribs (I love spending time with my parents. Free food!), after discarding the Outback when the hostess told us the waiting time was “100 minutes.” A) who says it like that? and B) 100 minutes!? You could feed the whole restaraunt twice over in an hour:40. Or at least once-and-a-half over. There’s no way that many people were waiting in the entry way there.

So overall the day was really good, and I got to spend some time with my parents for the first time since I came back down here after Christmas break, which was awesome. The only downside to it all is that I got back to my room too late to catch Jeni’s invitation to a fiesta. πŸ™ Sorry about that Jeni.

I didn't lose!

For the first Friday in a long time, I’m happy to report that I did not lose to Mason in racquetball. Diregarding the fact that he’s back in GB for the weekend, I feel pretty good about that.

I’m pretty excited about Enlight’s fountain coding project, unfortunately probably more so than I am about learning algorithms for the ICPC contest. I need to remember to prioritize.

Nothing particularly spectacular has happened this week, but I had some pretty good snow peapods with my supper tonight, so that’s good. Tomorrow my parents are coming down from Green Bay to take me suit shopping. We decided it was time for me to get some decent formal attire. Tomorrow we’re also going to be coding on the fountain server for a while. I’m hoping to get all the utility type stuff done tomorrow, and maybe start designing the logic for each of the threads. I’m realizing that this entire server is probably going to amount to only a few hundred lines of code… it’s getting those lines in the right order to create functionally perfect, robust operation that’s going to be the challenge. I’m looking forward to it.

To leave you with a humorous thought for the day:

“I don’t know what happened. He just ran up, said β€˜d00dz, Windoze sux0rz,’ and then collapsed.”


So at the Enlight meeting tonight, we were momentarily elated to read on Slashdot (the final word on everything that’s right and true in the world) that you can cook an egg with a pair of cell phones. Had it been April Fool’s day, we might have been more skeptical, but as it was, Jeni and Erin went back to their apartment and grabbed a couple eggs and a bowl.

The end result: Colin, Jon and (possibly) Tim get pwned. (I don’t remember whether Tim bought it or not)

Play by play:

* Somebody reads the article on Slashdot
* Erin and Jeni go home and get two eggs and a bowl
* Craig and Erin’s cell phones are selected for the attempt
* No signal in the conference room, so they and Jeni moved out into ECB somewhere to try.
* Several minutes go by
* Erin comes back in for the other egg
* Several more minutes go by
* The trio comes back with their two eggs, and insists on cracking them open just to see, despite the fact that we had meanwhile been reading how there’s barely enough energy to pull it off even if you were to short the battery out through the raw egg.
* The first egg is opened, and comes out partially whitened (cooked).
* Colin and Jon are amazed, and maybe Tim, who I didn’t really look at.
* The second (un-cellphone-zapped) egg is cracked open for comparison. Indeed the first one has been cooked.
* Completely missing the warning signs of the first egg being rather warm, Erin laughing uncontrollably, and Jeni looking at her like “shut up you’re ruining it”, Colin takes a picture of the “cellphone-cooked” egg next to its uncooked counterpart. (Reference Exhibit A).
* I realize we’ve been had, and the truth comes out.

Nice one guys.

Oh, and we also found out tonight that Jeni has a better (lower) Slashdot user ID than me, by like 13,000. And people call me a nerd. πŸ˜‰

Exhibit A


Wow. So I haven’t posted anything in nearly two weeks. To anyone who actually attempts to read this, I apologize.

So what’s been up with me in the interim?

Well, I can barely even remember. I’m frankly rather shocked that it’s already Friday night again… last Friday seems like just a couple minutes ago, a couple days at most.

To start at the beginning, I posted last the Sunday last Sunday succeeded (If you work through that carefully, I think it actually makes sense. I hope). During that week my time magically disappeared into the Engineering Career Services Career Fair, as well as some homework assignments that I routinely forgot about until right before they were due. The career fair was a bit of a short-notice engagement that I didn’t really start preparing for until the day before. (Don’t ever do that.) Nonetheless, I think that it went pretty well. I’m definitely glad to have gone, for the experience even if nothing else comes of it for this summer. Since the fair, I’ve been learning just how involved a job search is, what with contacting prospective employers, arranging interviews, having interviews, retyping my resume more times than I can count, in more ways than I care to contemplate, etc. For details on what options might come out of said job search, drop me an email or IM sometime; I’m not sure that this is the appropriate forum for any sort of enumeration.

Other than the career fair, we had our first ECE 351 lab in the middle of not last week, but the week before, [which reminds me that I need to do the prelab for the next lab by the end of the weekend. Oops.] The lab was not precisely thrilling (measuring voltage transfer characteristics and propagation delays of inverters, anyone?), but it was good to be working with real circuits again, instead of just talking about them in class. Hopefully it will motivate me to take up my infrared decoder project for controlling my speaker system once I get time to breathe again.

Last Sunday my ACM ICPC team began our practices for the World Finals. We’ll be meeting every Sunday until the event, holding mock-contests from noon to 5pm. It was good to get back into coding for that as well, even though we’ll definitely be needing some work. We’re also meeting Tuesdays at 6 with our coaches to talk about strategy, problem-solving techniques, algorithms, etc.

Last weekend was also Khanna’s birthday on Thursday(?) with a delayed celebration, and Jeni’s birthday on Monday. I think it was Saturday night I ended up between Lathrop and the other side of the capitol with Jeni and Erin, which was an extremely welcome diversion from cleaning a desk that I seem to have a mental block against. (Needless to say, it still basks in unrepentant disorder.)

Since that point, it seems like I’ve had little for free time, between Enlight, an ece 353 tutorial, (and an HKN officers’ meeting I couldn’t go to because of those two), my ICPC team meeting (and an HKN-sponsored speaker and a TBP general meeting I couldn’t go to because of that), more job searching/email writing/stuff scheduling, a MKT social with Jared, and then all of a sudden it was today, two weeks later.

Of course, being Friday, I got my weekly ass-kicking in Racquetball delivered, as is the norm, by one Jared Mason, Jr. I think this time I lost roughly 15-9, 15-8, 15-13, or thereabouts… Sorry if those weren’t actually the numbers, Mason. I also got a cool-looking bright red temporary tattoo on the back of my hand, where I hit it so hard with a racquet that the capillaries popped, creating the image of the racquet strings. After that we stopped by Ians for supper and watched a seriously screwed up movie called Audition. Lesson of the night: Japanese movies are messed up.

I think that’s about all that’s happened in the last two weeks… it’s all that I have time to remember, at any rate.

And now I need to sleep.