Daily Archives: 27 Jan 14

From i to the u-bit, the quantum master bit

‘If you’ve ever tried counting yourself to sleep, it’s unlikely you did it using the square roots of sheep. The square root of a sheep is not something that seems to make much sense. You could, in theory, perform all sorts of arithmetical operations with them: add them, subtract them, multiply them. But it is hard to see why you would want to.

All the odder, then, that this is exactly what physicists do to make sense of reality. Except not with sheep. Their basic numerical building block is a similarly nonsensical concept: the square root of minus 1.

This is not a “real” number you can count and measure stuff with. You can’t work out whether it’s divisible by 2, or less than 10. Yet it is there, everywhere, in the mathematics of our most successful – and supremely bamboozling – theory of the world: quantum theory.

This is a problem, says respected theoretical physicist Bill Wootters of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts – a problem that might be preventing us getting to grips with quantum theory’s mysteries. And he has a solution, albeit one with a price. We can make quantum mechanics work with real numbers, but only if we propose the existence of an entity that makes even Wootters blanch: a universal “bit” of information that interacts with everything else in reality, dictating its quantum behavior.’ (New Scientist).

There’s a Science to Foot Traffic, and It Can Help Us Design Better Cities

Okay, so the entire article is interesting, but what fascinated me most was this factoid in this opening paragraph (emphasis added):

‘China has in the past 30 years become the most urbanized country that has ever existed. More than 450 million Chinese — 1 in 25 people on the planet – live in cities. At least 160 Chinese cities have more than 1 million people, compared to nine in the United States. In a decade, the Chinese government plans to resettle 250 million people into new or existing urban areas.’ (Wired).

NYCs Charming Water Towers Are Actually Bacteria-Filled Horrorshows

‘Many buildings taller than six or seven stories need their own method of supplying water pressure to the floors below. There are thus nearly 20,000 of these tanks in the city, supplying drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people.However, perhaps because of their ubiquity and permanence, it turns out the tanks have been relatively immune from safety inspections.

The New York Times took samples from water tanks in 12 buildings, and eight of them tested positive for coliform—an indicator for the presence of “pathogenic organisms of fecal origin.” Five also came back positive with E. coli. Some tanks arent actually closed to the outside, opening them up to squirrel and bird poop—anecdotes about animals and even homeless people living in the space between the water and the container top abound.

Perhaps more upsetting than that relatively small sample size is the fact that almost half of buildings randomly inspected by the health department couldnt even provide proof that they test their tanks for bacteria at all. Many justify these findings by saying the samples are taken from a thick layer of mud and sediment that rests below the intake pipes—meaning that the water that arrives at your sink isnt actually contaminated. But even a basic knowledge of biology disproves that rationale.

Then there are the chemical contaminants, like an epoxy used by tank-building companies—made from a bisphenol A-based polymer otherwise known as BPA…’ (Gizmodo)