Monday, December 14, 2015

News Briefs 12.14.15

Have Yourself a Merry Little Blitzed-mas

I like living in New York because, as a person who approaches most social situations with all the ease and confidence of a newborn deer, I can appreciate New York’s unique brand of generalized apathy. Nobody really cares to look twice at you, no matter what you’re doing or how you’re dressed. This is why we have to have a conversation about mobs of drunk people dressed like Santa Claus taking over neighborhoods for bar crawls.

Full disclosure: I don’t drink and I don’t get the appeal, so maybe it’s my problem that I don’t “get” SantaCon. I had to do quite a bit of research into this, but all my research merely validated my first impression of the event. A bunch of adults dress up in Christmas-themed outfits and drink a lot, and some people find them annoying. Shocking, huh? The organizers insist SantaCon is a positive experience, that most of their participants are upstanding citizens asserting their creativity, and that their event is simply one way to get into the holiday spirit. Or maybe just the holiday spirits.

This interview with an anonymous organizer basically boils down to “haters to the left” and is also hilarious: 

We see a lot of behavior from people who—which granted, could be anybody, any time, at any weekend—but when you put everybody in a uniform like that, and then you see them puking on street corners and having sex outside of Duane Reade…

Inside, actually. And it wasn’t sex, it was a handjob.

I’ve been to a few office parties in my day, but I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone a handjob in a Duane Reade.

You might not have.

Yeah. This dude literally just suggested that most holiday parties include routine handjobs. Hilarious.

I hate to be “that guy” here, but I’m gonna be. As much as SantaCon organizers insist they’re just spreading holiday cheer, and as much as Christmas has been commercialized and turned into a secular pageant, to some people, Christmas is still a legitimate religious holiday. I go to church on Christmas. At my house we’ve been lighting our Advent candles and reading from the Old Testament before dinner all month. To claim an event dedicated to getting drunk in public, especially when there’s a recorded history of bad behavior, is just innocent holiday fun is misguided at best, and insulting at worst. 

The event is proceeding as planned for now, with a loose estimate of the route of the bar crawl provided for public viewing. Some bars have declared they won’t be serving Santas, while others stand in solidarity. I won’t be participating – I’ll be doing all in my power to avoid crossing paths with drunk Santas, in all honesty – and I just hope everything proceeds without incident. Or handjobs outside Duane Reade.
The best outcome here is that the SantaCon crowd has a fight to the death with competing SantanaCon, because at least that would be funny.

No, Chante, SantanaCon is not about Naya Rivera. Unfortunately.


Google's Quantum Computer is Pretty Cool

Recently Google, in collaboration with NASA, revealed that they have a commercial quantum computer and it's actually pretty awesome. Now, you may be asking, "what's a quantum computer? Why's it so awesome?" Well to put it simply, a quantum computer uses quantum mechanics to store memory and functions, meaning that instead of using the digital bits of normal computers these computers are dealing with quantum bits (aka qubits). Qubits, as opposed to bits who are either on or off, can be in one of three different states: on, off, or suspended in a state of both (think Schrodinger's cat), and when I say on or off, I'm talking about the binary 1 or 0. This extra state allows Google's quantum computer, the D-Wave 2X to complete calculations 100 million times faster than any of today's machines.

In perspective, this doesn't mean too much for the average computer user. How much faster do you need to open up Microsoft Word? I mean your computer already executes a couple billion instructions every second, you don't need more to write that paper. Quantum computers can be used to calculate the trajectory of a spaceship in future missions further out into space, or to crack codes by brute force for the military, or optimize air traffic. They allow for more variables to be taken to account and make problems that would take a digital computer 10,000 years to calculate only take seconds.

Optimization seems to be the big word here, and finding the best possible way to do things is very important, but very soon it seems that we'll have more important questions to answer and will already have the tools to answer them.



                                             The Geminids and the Rose Planetarium

A group of meteors called the Geminids reached their peak viewing conditions this weekend from Thursday to Sunday morning. The source of the comets wasn't a comet but an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, and this is what makes the meteor shower so unique. The asteroid was captured by a satellite in 1983, and now its residue is making its way through the sky in a show of color visible from Canada from Dec. 10th.

Geminids are meteors fall through the constellation Gemini. I didn't get to see the shower this year, but here is an image of a similar phenomenon from 2013:

A compilation of the 2013 Geminids. Image credit UKMON

It seems that each year the Geminids increase in amount by hourly rate: 253 in 2014, 134 in 2013, 109 in 2012. But I wonder if this is a matter of how many we are able to see, due to our sharpening technology and exponential advances. The Geminid meteor stream is also a very new one; or, perhaps simply newly observed. Sometimes, a whooshing sound can be heard as they fall, as they can set up an electrophonic feedback loop reflected off of poles and  buildings.

Why is this so fascinating to me? Like many disenchanted New Yorkers who visit the Rose Center for Earth and Space, I was unassumingly smitten with the planetarium and the revelation (spoilers!!) that the span of human history and art only spans about a hair's width relative to the gigantic vortex of stellar evolution. After entering the planetarium you are led over billions of years from the big bang to the present day, and leave not without the sensation of a very breathtaking and relieving smallness. I think I have found my new favorite place: an atrium in the center of the city secretly full of peace and silence.

At the center of the planetarium, at the top of the spiral and at the starting point of the Big Bang, instead of looking up at the sky you look down at the glowing outline of the city as it would be visible from an airplane, and this is one of the most calming sights to me.

- Anna

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