flash flood on Hurley Avenue
Wednesday, July 18 2012
Yesterday was hot and today promised to possibly be even hotter. This afternoon after a grazing blow by a thunderstorm, Gretchen and I drove with the dogs to the Secret Spot on the Esopus. Judging from all the water on the road starting a mile from our house (on lower Dug Hill Road), the thunderstorm had passed just to our southeast.
In Esopus Creek, I noticed there lots of fist-sized chunks of pure grey clay mixed in with gravel on the creek bottom. I'd never seen such clay before at the Secret Spot and I had no good theory for how it had gotten there; there certainly haven't been any recent flooding events since I'd last visited. Over near the northeast bank, I found a very large lump of clay and used it as an age-defying therapeutic mask for my face. Ramona, who tends to be the most freaked out about such things, didn't manifest any reaction one way or the other. Before we left, I saw that Sally (who had been wandering the beach in clockwise circles near where it gives way to bushes and other vegetation) had started eating something. Upon going to retrive her, I saw that the something was human shit. Well, it was a formless lump of brown fecal material lying next to a piece of toilet paper (or perhaps it was a diaper sized for newborns). Presumably the same party had also been responsible for a chunk of watermelon and some cigarette butts left closer to the water.
Back at the house, I hung the second of the four window panes from Connecticut. I hung this one so that it would swing open in a mirror-image action of the first window, perhaps allowing me to combine their 23-inch widths to produce a 50-some-inch aperture when fully-open.
This evening Gretchen went off with Paul and Ingrid to see a Superman movie in Imax 3D up in Albany. I stayed behind because I couldn't imagine being in a vehicle for two hours (the length of an Albany round trip) after all the recent traveling in the Pacific Northwest. Soon after Gretchen departed, a ferocious downpour arrived. It wasn't associated with any wind or all that much electrical activity. It was mostly about the water. This effectively ended the unusual (though by no means unprecedented) drought conditions.
This evening I drove into Uptown mostly to get groceries and alcohol (I would have also gotten some greenhouse hardware, but Herzogs had closed). As I approached Washington Avenue on Hurley Avenue on the way into town, a vehicle in the oncoming lane flashed his lights at me to indicate some sort of trouble. It turned out that there was a flash flood happening across the road (41.937028N, 74.028625W) and one car had actually died trying to cross. A couple kids on bicycles had been drawn to the rare spectacle and were riding around in the margins of the water. Since I was in the Subaru and was feeling lucky, I charged through. The water was maybe a foot deep and I had no problem fording, but it sure made a dramatic swooshing noise. When I returned on my way back home maybe a half hour later, that part of the road was once again dry.
This evening I found myself watching an episode of Nova about "the Fabric of the Cosmos." My problem with Nova isn't just that it's funded by David H. Koch (most of whose work is about defunding institutions like public television), it's also that every episode is written for someone who has received no science education. Thus every show about Albert Einstein must present the same train/bicycle/automobile thought experiment that every other Nova show about Albert Einstein has presented. This is understandable; Nova is designed to get people interested in science and provide entertainment to those who already are. The problem is that there is no Nova for people who already know all the basics and don't need to see actors once more playing a young Einstein on a train. Sadly, there never will be; there just aren't enough of them to justify producing a show for them.
This evening as I was watching "the Fabric of the Cosmos," I vaguely remembered something from Thomas Kuhn's the Structure of Scientific Revolutions about how scientific history is retroactively cleaned up to avoid the messiness and complexity of how it really unfolded, and how this can occasionally interfere with scientific understanding. In "the Fabric of the Cosmos," the host said something that, perhaps for the first time, vaguely hinted that Einstein, before he had formulated his Special Theory of Relativity, already knew that the speed of light was always constant no matter the speed of the observer or the producer of the light. Up until I heard that, I'd always been given to understand that Einstein had predicted (or assumed) this about light, that it had somehow jumped miraculously into his brain from nowhere (or perhaps God). So then I did some research and found that not only was the Michelson–Morley experiment (which demonstrated that light behaves this way) done in 1887 (eighteen years before Einstein's theory), but Einstein almost certainly knew about it. Knowing that history unfolded this way provides a much better understanding not only of how the scientific process works, but also of how Relativity works. And yet that history is traditionally glossed over in the telling of the story. It does a disservice to both history and to science (while doing no real favor to Einstein) not to tell us what exactly Einstein was working with when he produced his first work of genius.
I mostly watch Nova in hopes of learning something new that has been discovered since I was a kid getting myself up to the level of scientific education that Nova imparts. Nova was, for example, how I learned about the mapping of the microwave background radiation from the Big Bang. This evening on "the Fabric of the Cosmos," I learned for the first time about a theory that states that objects falling into a black hole leave a hologram of all their information on the surface of that black hole. This jives with something that I already knew about black holes, that objects falling into them are accelerated to the speed of light at their event horizons. But since objects traveling at the speed of light do not experience time, the image of that object as seen by someone outside the black hole would be frozen for eternity after having been ripped apart and smooshed flat by tidal forces. This sounds a lot like the conversion of a three dimensional object into a two dimensional one.
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