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Posts Tagged ‘light

“The ‘paradox’ is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ‘ought to be’”*…

One of the most bizarre aspects of quantum physics is that the fundamental entities that make up the Universe, what we know as the indivisible quanta of reality, behave as both a wave and a particle. We can do certain experiments, like firing photons at a sheet of metal, where they act like particles, interacting with the electrons and kicking them off only if they individually have enough energy. Other experiments, like firing photons at small thin objects — whether slits, hairs, holes, spheres, or even DVDs — give patterned results that show exclusively wave-like behavior. What we observe appears to depend on which observations we make, which is frustrating, to say the least. Is there some way to tell, fundamentally, what the nature of a quanta is, and whether it’s wave-like or particle-like at its core?

That’s what Sandra Marin wants to know, asking:

“I wonder if you could help me to understand John Wheeler – the delayed choice experiment and write an article about this.”

John Wheeler was one of the most brilliant minds in physics in the 20th century, responsible for enormous advances in quantum field theory, General Relativity, black holes, and even quantum computing. Yet the idea about the delayed choice experiment hearkens all the way back to perhaps our first experience with the wave-particle duality of quantum physics: the double-slit experiment…

Although Einstein definitively wanted us to have a completely comprehensible reality, where everything that occurred obeyed our notions of cause-and-effect without any retrocausality, it was his great rival Bohr who turned out to be correct on this point. In Bohr’s own words:

“…it…can make no difference, as regards observable effects obtainable by a definite experimental arrangement, whether our plans for constructing or handling the instruments are fixed beforehand or whether we prefer to postpone the completion of our planning until a later moment when the particle is already on its way from one instrument to another.”

As far as we can tell, there is no one true objective, deterministic reality that exists independently of observers or interactions. In this Universe, you really to have to observe in order to find out what you get.

The history and the results of John Wheeler‘s famous “delayed choice” experiments: “Is Light Fundamentally A Wave Or A Particle?

* Richard Feynman


As we reconsider categories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1404 that King Henry IV signed the “Act Against Multipliers,” stipulating that “None from hereafter shall use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication; and if any the same do, they incur the pain of felony.” Great alarm was felt at that time lest any alchemist should succeed in “transmutation” (the conversion of a base metal into gold or silver), thus undermining the sanctity of the Royal currency and/or possibly financing rebellious uprisings. Alchemy, which had flourished since the time of Bacon, effectively became illegal.

The Act was repealed in 1689, when Robert Boyle, the father of modern chemistry, and other members of the vanguard of the scientific revolution lobbied for its repeal.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that”*…


light switch


The inventor of the light switch, John Henry Holmes, was a Quaker, member of a doctrine generally united by a fundamental belief in the ability of each person to access “the light within”. The light switch, of course, enables each person to access the light without, and has been doing so, solidly, since 1884.

At least until the emergence of the voice- or presence-activated smart home version of lights, brave solution to an unspecified problem. Unlike contemporary design patterns, Holmes’s switch is a simple design that has lasted for centuries. Still, entering an old house, we brush our fingertips over the wall in the gloom, tracing spatial memories, caressing plaster or brick or wood before your hand brushes against an early plastic, or even Bakelite. The switch itself still tends to be firm, the ever-so-slight sensation of rolling as it moves to form a circuit, one of the most pleasingly robust ‘actions’ that an industrial designer could imagine.

It means the resilient light switch, like the door handle, reveals the accumulated touch of all those gone before, a patina of presence. Juhani Pallasmaa said that the doorhandle is the handshake of the building; is the light switch the equivalent for the room? It is the most universal of everyday objects…

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others…

From dark living rooms to dark ecology– a meditation on the humble, but crucial light switch: “Let there be light switches.”

* Dr. Martin Luther King


As we shine on, we might recall that on this date in 1824 Beethoven’s Ninth (and final) Symphony, Chorale, premiered in Vienna, with “lyrics” by Frederich Schiller (part of his “Ode to Joy”); Beethoven’s chorus concludes:

Be embraced, ye millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods!

Facsimile of Beethoven’s manuscript for “The Ode to Joy”


Written by LW

May 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”*…


A New Orleans levee, lit from above [source]

400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals discovered fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day…

* Martin Luther King, Jr.


As we remove our sunglasses, we might spare a thought for Roger Bacon; he died on this date in 1292.  A philosopher and Franciscan friar, Bacon was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science.  Working in mathematics, astronomy, physics, alchemy, and languages, he was particularly impactful in optics: he elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun.  And he was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

He began his career at Oxford, then lectured for a time at Paris, where his skills as a pedagogue earned him the title Doctor Mirabilis, or “wonderful teacher.”  He stopped teaching when he became a Franciscan.  But his scientific work continued, despite his Order’s restrictions on activity and publication, as Bacon enjoyed the protection and patronage of Pope Clement…  until, on Clement’s death, he was placed under house arrest in Oxford, where he continued his studies, but was unable to publish and communicate with fellow investigators.

Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum





Written by LW

June 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Let there be light”*…


From oil lamps to LEDs– the price of light… a larger, interactive version here.

From Max Roser‘s always-illuminating Our World in Data.  The underlying research (and methodology) here (pdf).

* Genesis 1:3


As we switch it on, we might spare a thought for Edward Hibberd Johnson; he died on this date in 1917.  Best remembered as a business associate of Thomas Edison (Johnson was president of Edison Electric Illuminating Co., the forerunner of Con Ed, and helped found General Electric), he was an inventor in his own right.  Johnson patented a number of lighting devices, especially streetlights, but is surely best remembered as the inventor/creator of the first electric Christmas tree lights– 80 walnut-sized red, white, and blue bulbs strung together–  which he displayed in the front window of his New York City home in 1882.



Written by LW

September 9, 2016 at 1:01 am

“You cannot NOT have a user experience”*…


Q: I’ve heard people use UI and UX interchangeably. I thought I knew the difference, but now I’m confused. Can you please clarify this once and for all? 

Of course I can. And I can do it using the Presto Hot Dogger. Obviously.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I talked my mom into buying us a hot dog cooking machine. Don’t laugh. This was the 70s, when instant coffee was considered a miracle. The way the Hot Dogger worked was simple. There was a tray with two rows of spikes on either side that slid into a heating element. You impaled the hot dog into the corresponding spike on each side, completing the electrical circuit, and this “cooked” the hot dog. Cooking is a strong word here, as the hot dogs were actually being electrocuted. (Hot dogs contain an insane amount of metal, by the way.) We were thrilled to make our hot dogs this way.

So, what I just described — the spikes, the heating element, the electrocuting — that’s the user interface. Or UI, for short. And I’m sure that the good folks at Presto tested that user interface many times over until they had it just right. I’m sure they tested the proper width of the tray to fit the majority of hot dogs and wieners being made in the USA at the time. I’m sure they tested the force needed to close the tray, maybe even with a robot arm! They probably even tested the visibility of the smoky transparent plastic that allowed you to see your hot dogs being electrocuted, and how much of it you’d want to see.

Now here’s the thing. When you give three boys an appliance that electrocutes meat in an era before their boredom could be diffused with video games and cable, it immediately becomes the most interesting thing in the house. And they start wanting to have experiences. The hunger to electrocute things far outlasted the hunger for hot dogs. And it wasn’t long before we started looking for other things that fit in the Hot Dogger™.

Here’s an incomplete list of items we tried:

  • bananas (not enough metal)
  • chicken drumsticks (worked, albeit slowly)
  • Steak-umm (turned to liquid)
  • forks (sparks, small fire)
  • a condom we found on the street (the smell lasted for weeks)
  • aluminum foil (yep. Aluminum bridges solved our Steak-umm problem. )

We were having user experiences…

Learn more (including why trash bins are exactly 25 feet from hot dog stands at Disneyland) from Mike Monteiro, Design Director at Mule Design, in “How 70s appliances can explain the difference between UX and UI.”

* Lou Carbone


As we put our appliances through their paces, we might spare a thought for an inventor and designer of an earlier period, Garrett Morgan; he died on this date in 1963.  He patented a traffic signal (which he sold to GE for commercial exploitation).  He also developed (among many other inventions) the gas mask, which he used to rescue miners who were trapped underground in a noxious mine in 1914– though soon after, he was asked to produce gas masks for the US Army.  It was based in part on his 1912 creation, a safety hood and smoke protector for firefighters.



Written by LW

August 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

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