That Nobel Prize in Physics

I was chatting with some friends (online) today about the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Physics. They wanted a simple explanation of the work that the prize was awarded for, so I came up with something by paraphrasing some slightly more complex explanations I found.

(A) Realism is the concept that things have definite states, even if nothing interacts with that state. (i.e. the hidden variable interpretation of quantum mechanics – an electron has a spin, even if you haven’t measured it yet.)

(B) Locality is the idea that only nearby things affect you. For distant things to affect you, they need to send something near to you: photons, gravity waves, etc.

What the Nobel laureates proved is that A and B are not both true. (But we don’t know which. A could be false, or B could be false, or both could be false.)

If A is false, then essentially it means the Copenhagen interpretation is true – quantum objects don’t have states until they are observed. If B is false, then it means that quantum entangled particles affect each other even when widely separated, without sending any sort of message between them. We (i.e. quantum physicists) have strongly suspected this for decades, but the Nobel dudes proved it. The first work on this result was way back in 1972, but the final experiment that tidied up the loose ends and cemented it was done in 2015. (I’ll also point out that I haven’t actually studied quantum physics for over 20 years, so I’m possibly missing some details with this simplified explanation.)

I’m strongly reminded that fundamentally we have no idea why the universe behaves like it does. All we can do is make models of what we observe to happen. And some of what we observe is incredibly counter-intuitive and ludicrous.

The main news today here though is the weather. It’s pouring down outside as I type this, and we’re looking at a forecast of 100 mm of rain or more overnight, with heavy seas and winds up to 90 km/h. Most of this weather has come in over western parts of New South Wales, where it’s already causing major flooding issues. It came in mid-afternoon, after a morning that was actually fine and sunny allowing me to get a 2.5k run in.

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Rain and mud

The weather wasn’t do bad today. We had a respite from the heavy rain.

I took Scully out for a drive for lunch, to go get some pies for me. We went to a place I discovered a few weeks ago, which has a nice park nearby where Scully could run around and get some exercise. Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on it being quite so muddy. I actually picked this place because it’s on top of a hill and I figured it would drain well. The edges of the grassy football field were a bit damp, but from there it looked like there was a slight rise to the centre of the pitch, so I figured that area would be drier, and set out with Scully in tow.

Big mistake. It may have been a little more elevated, but the grass wasn’t flat, but rather had a lot of bumps and hollows where water had pooled and turned the soil into mud. By the time I got halfway across the field it was clear the whole thing was just one huge bog. And now I had to get back out again without getting my shoes too wet, which was very difficult.

Scully was having fun running around though… spraying water behind her as she splashed through the mud.

When we got back to the car, I grabbed the dog towel from the boot and tried to wash her feet at a drinking station, but it was too fiddly holding the button down to operate the water flow and hold a wriggling Scully with only two hands. So I just wiped her clean as best I could, creating big muddy brown streaks on the towel, before loading her back in the car for the drive home.

At home I gave her an emergency foot and leg bath, rinsing all the mud off and drying her off before she could run around the house.

I worked on the usual comics and ethics classes today. This evening we went out for dinner, choosing to drive over to another suburb and park under cover instead of braving the walk up to the nearest shops in the rain that closed in late afternoon. We had galettes and crepes at our favourite French creperie. They had a special Black Forest dessert crepe, which I couldn’t pass up, being a big fan of Black Forest sweets.

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Rainfall record broken!

It’s been raining heavily here all day, and as of 1:10pm, Sydney officially broke therecord for wettest year in recorded history. The previous record was 2194 mm, set in 1950. The 1:10pm reading sent 2022’s total to 2199.8 mm (so the previous reading, at 1pm, would have been at least 5.8 mm less).

Here’s Scully after a 5 minute jaunt outside to do her toileting on the grass.

Scully after a walk in the rain

In other news, I did my income tax return today. (Australia files on fiscal years, so this is the for the July 2021-June 2022 year, and tax returns are due by the end of October.) My return was a bit complicated this year, because of income from various non-traditional-employment sources including Outschool teaching, selling print copies of my Irregular Webcomic! books, and selling photo art prints and greeting cards at market stalls and by Etsy, combined with all the various deductions for those things.

Overall it took me about 20 minutes to enter all the info and lodge the form online. It used to take quite a bit longer, but Australia streamlined its tax return system a few years ago. Now if you just have a regular job with a registered employer, you can basically be done in under 5 minutes.

One thing doing this reminded me about is setting up a sale on those Irregular Webcomic! books. After the Kickstarters, I had a couple of hundred extra copies printed, because they’re much cheaper in bulk, so I could sell them online. But after a couple of years the printing and distribution company (which is based in the USA) started charging me storage fees for the unsold books, so that’s been eating into my profits every year since. So I figured I should reduce the price and move them on sale. If this doesn’t reduce the stock enough, I’m going to have get them to just discard the remainder, as I don’t want to be paying fees in perpetuity for books I can’t sell (and shipping them all to me in Australia to store myself would be stupidly expensive). So… buy some books! They’ll make great gifts. 🙂

I also finished off my slides for the photography science presentation I’ll be doing for the university students. The lecturer decided it would be better if I do it on 17 October instead of 10, since the student’s first assignment is due this coming week, and they’ll probably have lots of questions and pay less attention to the lecture, whereas the week after they should be more attentive.

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More about Fun

Continuing my online classes on critically/ethically thinking about fun, there was another interesting thing that happened last night in the three classes I had. I asl this set of questions:

Is it okay to have fun playing a prank if the target person is upset by it?
Is it okay to play a prank if the target gets a laugh out of it too?
Is it okay to have fun with a prank if the target is neutral about it – they’re not upset at all, but they also don’t think it’s funny?

There seemed to be a bit of groupthink within each class, as within classes they were fairly consistent, but across the classes the answers all varied. Here’s what each group of kids said:

  • Class 1: It’s not okay to prank anyone if they are at all upset. It’s fine if they enjoy the prank. If they are neutral about it, it’s okay because at least you enjoyed it.
  • Class 2: It’s not okay to prank anyone if they are at all upset. It’s fine if they enjoy the prank. If they are neutral about it, it’s not okay because even though you enjoyed it, it was still at the expense of someone else (even if they weren’t upset by it).
  • Class 3: If the target is upset, but not too upset, it’s fine to prank them, because the total fun outweighs their small upset.

The most notable thing about today was the rain. The first day of forecast heavy rain arrived, and we have more ahead of us. I think we have a very high chance of setting a new annual rainfall record this week. Sydney’s highest ever recorded annual rainfall was 2194 mm, in 1950. Up to the end of September we’d recorded 2100.8 mm, plus another 11.2 mm in the first two days of October, taking it to 2112 mm, just 83 mm short of the record.

In the past 24 hours we’ve added another 30.2 mm, and it’s still raining solidly now. The forecast rain amounts for the next four days are: 15-20; 5-10; 30-40; 30-45. So even the low end of each day’s range will add another 80 mm, comfortably breaking the record. Watch this space.

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Thinking about Fun

I drew up a lesson plan for this week’s new online ethics topic: Fun. I think it’s a good lesson, but some of the questions are very tricky. I set up a scenario where kids are playing a board game and aliens land and ask why they’re doing that – it doesn’t seem to have any practical purpose. The kids reply that they’re doing it because it’s fun. And an alien asks what fun is.

So I have the kids in the class try to explain what fun is to an alien who has no concept of fun or enjoyment. It’s a really tricky thing to wrap your head around! Many of the kids in the first 3 classes tonight struggled with it, but with a bit of prompting we got to the idea that fun is a reaction your mind and body has that makes you want to keep doing the same thing again. It’s an interesting class, to be sure!

Other than that, I looked after Scully today and took her for a big walk at lunchtime to tire her out. And I baked some sourdough rye bread, and made fried rice for dinner. I still need to season the wok more because the eggs are still sticking to the bottom.

With daylight saving having started last weekend, my last class tonight doesn’t finish until almost 10pm, so I’m getting a bit of a later night tonight. Fortunately I don’t have to be up in the morning!

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Labour Day

Today was the Labour Day public holiday here in New South Wales. But I didn’t get a day off – I had three online classes to teach, winding up the topic on the Scientific Method. I also did more work on my photography presentation for the university next Monday. And some work on Darths & Droids comics.

My last class ended at 1pm and I went for a walk with my wife and Scully, intending to drop in at a nearby grocery store to get some flatbread wraps (because my pick-up order from the supermarket on Friday was supposed to have a pack of wraps in it, but that item was missing, so I now had a bag of falafels to stuff inside wraps, but now wraps to put them in) and then go by the fish & chip shop for lunch. But partway there my wife reminded me that it was a public holiday and the fish & chips shop and grocery store would be closed. So we rerouted towards the railway station, where there’s a supermarket which would be open, and some food places that would be too. I got the wraps, but most of the food places at the station were closed, including the pie shop. So instead we went to a vegetarian cafe and got a… ahem… falafel wrap for lunch.

I went for a 2.5k run this afternoon… and that’s about the highlights of the day. It was a nice day, and tomorrow should be too, but heavy rain is predicted for Wednesday onwards, into next weekend. The top end forecasts for each day total 105 mm, and we’re within 100 mm of setting a new record for highest rainfall total in a calendar year, so it’s possible that record will be broken within the week.

Oh, and in sports news, the Penrith Panthers won the 2022 National Rugby League competition Grand Final last night. This is my team – I’ve been a lifelong supporter ever since I was probably too young to even remember any more, as I was raised in an extended family where we all supported Penrith. I attended many of their home games in my childhood, and at the time they were not a great team, losing more often than winning. But this is the second year i a row they’ve won the premiership, and although I’m not going wild, I am celebrating a bit on the inside.

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Start of daylight saving

I’ll be quick today, because it’s already an hour later than it was at this time last week. Daylight saving started here this weekend, and my 7pm class moved to 8pm because I run it at the same time for students in Asia. So over the summer I finish quite late on Sundays now.

I worked mostly on more slides for my photography engineering presentation. I’m getting there… nearly done. Hopefully I can finish tomorrow. Then I’ll need to send it to the lecturer to make sure it works on a Windows machine. Especially the equations, which I know from experience in the past tend to get munged doing that moving from MacOS.

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Scully’s first puppuccino

We decided to go out today and try to find a god place to have some scones or lunch or whatever. The forecast was again gloomy, so I nixed my wife’s idea to walk into the city across the Harbour Bridge, as that’s over an hour’s walk each way and I didn’t feel like doing that in the rain.

I did some searching and found a place at a plant nursery further north, in more outer suburbs. It had a cafe which advertised as dog-friendly, and even had a doggie menu, with things like sausages, scrambled eggs, bacon, and puppuccinos. So we booked a table for an early lunch and drove out there.

We arrived early, so spent some time looking around at the plants and garden accessories, and the homewares stuff that was inside the building. We got a nice sheltered table. It was pretty much indoors, but the roof had open ventilation and the floor was exterior paving tiles, so I guess they could legally claim it was an outdoor space so they could have dogs present. There were a few other people with dogs there too, finishing up late Saturday breakfasts as we arrived at the turnover to lunch service.

I got a spicy burger with jalapeños and mustard, which was pretty decent, and a chocolate milkshake. Scully got a puppuccino – her first one ever! I guess she’s a grown-up dog now. It was basically some sort of frothed lactose-free milk, with some coloured sprinkles on top.

Scully's first puppuccino

She really liked it! But being a little dog she could only finish about half of it.

This afternoon I spent more time working on slides for my photography engineering presentation. I had to wrestle with Matlab to produce a whole bunch of diagrams, which took some time to code and debug, but I’m pleased with the results. I think I’m more than halfway done now – at least I hope so, since I’ll have too many slides otherwise!

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