Equations of Everyday Life#3: Media Attention Span (Part One: The Media–illogical Constant)

“It was my biggest blunder.”–Albert Einstein on his cosmological constant concept.

You have to love ‘ol Albert.  It’s not that he admitted he was wrong.  It’s that he turned out to be wrong about being wrong. In other words, the cosmological constant turned out not to be such a big blunder after all.  He thought that there must be a force in the universe that counteracts gravity and prevents a static universe from contracting on itself.  In 1917 he dubbed it the cosmological constant.  Then came Hubble’s discovery in the 1920’s that the universe is expanding, which was closely followed by the big bang theory (the actual theory, not the TV show), and out the window went Einstein’s constant.   But then, in 1998, it was discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and–bingo!–the cosmological constant, now referred to as dark energy, was reborn.

So what the hell does this have to do with the current equation?  It’s also a constant, and it might turn out that it is as slippery and elusive as dark energy.  The difference though, is that this one describes contraction, not expansion; more specifically, the contraction of media attention over time as pertains to inane celebrity behavior.  I call it:

The Media-illogical Constant

If you’ve had any physics education, you’ve certainly heard of the inverse square law.  It applies to any number of physical properties, gravity, light, radio waves, sound or the attention level of undergraduates to a lecture in a large hall.  Simply stated, as one travels away from the source, the intensity of the force or signal decreases by the inverse of the distance squared.  A similar equation can describe the rate at which our tabloid-minded western media lose interest in stupid celebrity hijinks.  The equation is the same as the inverse square law with one modification:  just substitute time for distance.    Quite simply, it looks like this: 
inverse squareIn plain English:  the intensity of the media attention is proportionate to the inverse of the time since the story’s emergence to national (or international) attention, squared.  So when Lindsay Lohan gets arrested–yet again–the media attention four days after the story will be 1/16th of what it was when the story broke.  [Are you are wondering why this equation just doesn’t use an equal sign instead of a proportional to sign? It beats me.  But one immutable rule of these posts is to always use the coolest looking symbol possible.]
There are, of course, caveats–aren’t there always?  This theoretical pronouncement exactly works, if, and only if, there is no significant obstruction or interference from other media events, whether or not they involve inane celebrities.  This is the same as applies to physical properties measured with the inverse square law.    Place a brick wall between the light source and your measuring device and all bets are off.  Likewise,  a bigger story may come along and completely drown out whatever Lady Gaga has been up to lately.   I have a name for this phenomenon and resulting calculations–pretty cheeky of me since I haven’t even invented it yet.  I call it The Big Bust Theory.   Depending on the stories involved, this may or may not be a double entendre.  Either way, part two of this post will deal with that equation.  It’s coming soon to a blogoshere near you.

Cosmic Quote #11

“If people think nature is their friend, then they don’t need an enemy.”–Kurt Vonnegut

Image credit: Used by permission

Clearly, anyone who took the brunt of Sandy can identify with that quote.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis.  Nature packs plenty of punches.  Wait, you mean it’s organic foods and natural remedies you embrace? OK, I’ll counter with hemlock, radon, arsenic, curare. Good grief, there are easily as many natural ways on this earth to kill us as their are to enhance us.  And most of the rest of the universe would kill us in an instant.  Sure, there is plenty of beauty and benefit in nature.  But anyone who hasn’t grasped the implications of the second law of thermodynamics hasn’t a clue what nature really is–or how amazing it can be.


Quantum Weirdness 105, Review: How to teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

        “I have a very good nose. I can sniff into extra dimensions. They’re full of evil squirrels. With goatees.”–

Chad Orzel’s dog, in How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog.

Chad Orzel is my kind of guy.  If it wasn’t for the fact that How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog was copyrighted in 2010, I would have sworn he had read my Law of Canine Chaos before writing the following.

Sound waves are pressure in the air.  When a dog barks, she forces air out through her mouth and sets up a vibrations that travel through the air in all directions.  When it reaches another dog, that sound wave cause vibrations in the second dog’s eardrums, which are turned into signals in the brain that are processed as sound, causing the second dog to bark,  producing more waves, until nearby humans get annoyed.  [emphasis mine]

Amen, brother.

But the point is, he explains and summarizes beautifully–and expands upon lucidly–all the points in my first four Quantum Weirdness posts.  He does so in a manner clear enough that, if you can’t understand it, at least your dog will.  Maybe the pooch can then explain it to you. Either way,  I recommend it highly.  Unfortunately, though,it seems to be out of print in the US.   It is available, mostly from the UK, from various resellers on ebay and  Orzel has also written How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog and How to Teach Physics to Your Dog.  Before you know it, those clever mutts will be running the LHC at CERN.  I doubt they will be looking for the Higgs Boson, though.

Copyright 1984, Chronicle Features


Millennium Conjecture #3: The Future (Part Two)

I Conjecture:  Every Possible Future Exists

Part Two: Quantum Mechanics and The Future

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”–Alan Kay

Note: In case you had not surmised it, the most literal title for this conjecture would be “Every Physically Possible Future of Our Universe Exists.”   There is probably not a future in our universe where the laws of physics will change to allow Harry Potter to cast a patronus spell on demontors.

Inventing the quantum future at NASA

Alan Kay’s proposition suggests a philosophical viewpoint that emerges from this conjecture.  But for a better quote to describing its why and wherefore, I harken back to the E.B. White words from Conjecture #2Everything that is not forbidden is mandatory.  It all boils down to Quantum Mechanics.   Many physicists have latched on to this notion;  given enough time, every physically possible combination of matter and energy is bound to occur.  It’s all just a matter of probability.  That said, there are clearly at least two distinct ways of looking at it, depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics you ascribe to:  Copenhagen or Many Worlds.  Although there are other interpretations, these two have garnered the lions share of advocates in the scientific community, and the notion that every possible future exists can emerge from either one of them.  (See Quantum Weirdness 102 and 103 in this blog for an explanation of both ideas.)

The difference between the two as pertains to the future can easily be stated as virtual vs. actual.  The Many Worlds interpretation asserts that every physical possibility will become an actual reality in an infinitely expanding sea of parallel universes.  Every possible future is, or at least becomes, physically real.  On the other hand, Copenhagen implies that there is no absolute physical reality until the quantum wave function breaks down, that there is only probability on the sub-atomic level until we observe it. From this we can infer that every possible future exists only as a statistical  probability, and only the one we ultimately experience will actually exist.

So what’s the difference?  There isn’t any.  It makes no difference, from the practical experience of entities conscious in a single one of them, whether the futures are real or virtual; we can’t tell the difference.  Every one of those physical realities is still a real possibility.  The good news?   There most certainly is a future out there where you win the lottery!  The bad news?  The only sure way to “invent” that future is to buy every possible number combination.  I don’t recommend quitting your day job.  😦

Up next: The Conjecture of Composite Consciousness.  (Warning: the next couple of conjectures will be quite a bit more radical and original than the those already stated herein.  Actually, I’m warning myself.  Anybody know where I can get some flame retardant garb?)


Cosmic Quote #10

“Do you realize that if it wasn’t for Edison we’d all be watching TV by candlelight?”–Al Boliska

Image Credit: Doug Savage. Click for link.

If Sandy wasn’t enough, no sooner did our power come back then, in succession over the next few days, one  of my two office desktop PCs died, followed by the monitor for the other one, followed by my cable modem.  Then the icing on the cake was my business phone land line going dead.  If it wasn’t for broken technology, I’d have no technology at all.   At the rate this is going, I will soon be sending emails via pony express.


Photo Op#2: Storm Damage

 “It is only in sorrow that bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it.”–Amelia Barr

There will be no poetry; there will certainly be no wise-cracks.  I will even refrain from New Jersey jokes.

We had no power for six days, but on balance we were extremely lucky.  How is the following for an equation of everyday life?

325 +7 = 0. 

For my readers on the metric system I will put it this way.


Translation? 325 feet (~100m) above sea level and 7 miles (~11km) inland equals no flooding damage.  But as the pictures herein demonstrate, we had plenty of tree damage and some fence damage to go with it.  Nothing came near the house. My thoughts and best wishes go out to those in NY and NJ who were not so spared (and there was plenty of damage here in CT, fortunately we did not get the worst of it).

These uprooted trees lean away from our driveway, but directly over the neighbor’s fence and storage shed.

Most of our downed trees were in the woods. This is the most impressive one.

Minor fence damage.

Equines present and accounted for. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

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