Day 93: Flatland Uni

Today my Muse and I are laying low, working on ID cards for a secret project of hers, and taking in some Olympics action.

We also took a walk, and found this sign.

Poor little lost ball. I hope they didn’t lose it on one of these hills.

So in 93 days of posts, you haven’t had to put up with my crazy ramblings about things that don’t make sense. No really, you haven’t.

Usually my muse has to put up with those nuggets of questionable reasoning. Today it’s you.
She says to say “Thanks, I owe you one.”

Crazy Rambling #1: Sea Urchin Intelligence

So you might not remember this, but I do. When I stepped down on a sea urchin (45 days ago in St. Croix), I collected about ten small-to-medium spines in my foot, as well as two big thick ones. One of those, right in the middle of the heel, is still there.


I can still see it (I’ll spare you the photo), and some days while walking with my muse I have to stop and say “Hang on a sec love, my urchin’s hurting,” and she understands, and I love her.

This isn’t a complaint; it’s some background info for something that would otherwise sound too random. Specifically, this:

It’s talking to me.

No, not the spine. That would be silly.
The urchin.

It’s not speech really, more of a thought-directing thing, but it’s got me realizing some things about urchins I hadn’t considered before.

As you can see here, urchins are complex and beautiful. They’re also all about sex and food, with no brain to speak of. So we understand each other pretty well.

…so now for the physics part. Oh shush.

We’ll borrow some well-known ideas from Flatland (by Edwin A. Abbott in 1884) and from Richard Feynman (Gravitation lecture, “smart bugs on a hot plate”).

Imagine a two-dimensional guy in a two-dimensional world. Flat-guy isn’t just very flat, but perfectly flat. He can’t see outside the 2D world, can’t leave it, and can’t even picture what a third dimension would be like.


He lives in a flat. He enjoys flat coffee, rides a flat bus, and uses a flat ATM to get flat money.

Now imagine his flat world happens to intersect a three-dimensional sea urchin. He can’t imagine a 3D urchin at all, but in the places where the spines pierce his happy flat-world, our flat-guy sees a bunch of round spiky purple critters.

Or if he doesn’t see them, he might step on them by accident. Oh, what a dumb little flat-guy.

He’s seeing a 2D projection of a 3D creature, and what he sees still isn’t too far from what we see.

BUT, what looks to him like a whole bunch of urchins is really just some very small parts of a single urchin. If he dissects them, he won’t find a brain, because it’s not there. He’ll conclude that they’re not intelligent. So sad.

SO… back in the three-dimensional world, where does that leave us? Anywhere we find a sea urchin, you’ll usually find a whole bunch of them.

Maybe we’re just seeing a 3D projection of a 4D (or 6D) creature. Maybe they’re all parts of the same creature, and maybe the most important parts are beyond our view.

SO… if sea urchins are intelligent multidimensional critters, then could a guy with a large painful sea urchin spike in his foot (just anyone, really) learn to cross over into other dimensions? I’ll try.

If it works, I have promised my muse I won’t wear the Captain Goldfish hat while traveling interdimensionally.


I think her reply was “Whew.”

Random assertion: Sea urchins may be the second-most intelligent creatures on Earth, just below aspen trees. Still, they’re tasty.

Steganographic data: 1822/1.8

Published in: on August 20, 2008 at 11:52 am  Comments (8)  
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Days 46-52: Island Mêlée

The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is a set of 10 huge radio telescopes, distributed around the western hemisphere. Their combined effective resolution makes this array the most powerful telescope in existence. My muse has an assignment which takes us to the eastern-most telescope in this array.

You can see the telescope in this photo. Too bad it’s in the Caribbean. Yep.

We’re posing as a married couple on vacation (tough assignment), and we’ve got tickets and passports to support it. Swimsuits, sunscreen, the works.

Day 46: San Francisco->Miami->Puerto Rico->St. Croix

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Less than an hour after landing on St. Croix, we’re at the beach.

Less than 10 minutes after we get in the water, I step down on a sea urchin, sliding long purple spikes deep into my foot. Cool.

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No luck getting the spikes out, so we call a local doc. He says “We don’ pull them out, no. If you come into here, we jus’ give you a patch and some tape and say sucks for you today. Don’ worry, have a beer, they dissolve in a few days.” It turns out he’s right. The beer’s excellent, and by the next day, it’s easy to pretend it didn’t happen.

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We’re guests at a house where the tropical breeze feels perfect. Thank you Dr. Fox!

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We’ve got excellent hosts, Susan and Ed, showing us around the island. This island has changed ownership so many times that its history is a mishmash of fun stories.

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Walking around town is fun, but sacking out on the beach is more fun.

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There’s nothing hiding in this uninteresting little patch of sand.
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There’s no urchin on the menu, but dinner by the water is a good way to relax.

On our fourth day, it’s time to get down to business. The telescope is just a mile or so from Point Udall, the Eastern-most point in the United States.

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She doesn’t offer any details, and I don’t ask, but in a few hours it’s all done and time to disappear to a completely empty beach.


Completely. Empty.
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When we’re sure no one’s followed, we head back into civilization, taking in some some sailing and fireworks.

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The next few days are full of golf, snorkeling, more sailing, more empty beaches, and some casual acrobatics.

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And then… suddenly… MANGO MÊLÉE!


It turns out that in this case “mêlée” refers to a wild chaotic party, not actual combat. We figured that out just in time. It’s still a lot of fun, though.

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Alexandra is awesome. She’s been up since 3am cooking the best goat stew on the island. She sets us up with more fantastic food than we can finish, and makes our last dinner here a brilliant home-cooked meal.

Day 52: St. Croix->Puerto Rico->Los Angeles->San Francisco …and we’re home.

Random assertion: It’s possible to go a whole week without even seeing a keyboard. I recommend it.

Steganographic data: 1892/12.6

Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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