There are certain principles that I have found underpin an astonishing number of our modern systems, and gaining a thorough understanding of a principle like that can enable you to understand or surmise how so many different things work. One of those, which is what we will be discussing today, is the photoelectric effect. It seems like at least once a week I come across some new piece of technology that leverages the photoelectric effect in a completely new or different way, and increasingly I marvel at how such a relatively simple principle underpins so much of our modern world. So let's talk about the photoelectric effect.
As a society this days, I think we're a bit conceited. Surrounded by and immersed in this matrix we have created, we are distanced from the systems with which we regularly interact, and inured or ignorant of the complexity beyond so many of the things that we take for granted. This is not only applicable to physical things and technologies - it applies equally well to social structures, institutions, governments, administrative systems, and so forth - but it is easiest to understand and perceive in the context of technologies. I definitely suffer from this conceit, wherein I start to think that I understand enough about so many different things that I should be able to reverse engineer or recreate just about any system I might encounter, at least on a theoretical level. Whenever I start to think that way, I give myself what I've taken to calling "The Pen Conceit Lecture."
Well, I did it again. When I consulted my reading list to pick a new book to read after finishing Meditations With Cows, instead of picking a new or well-known or at least commonly approachable book that people actually would search for and by extension perhaps find my site, I picked another ancient text that only a few people have heard of and fewer decide to read. Let it never be said that I am a slave to the search engine algorithms. That being said, it does continue my tour of historic pieces of world literature (we recently reviewed The Bhagavad Gita, and The Story of Burnt Njal, checking off (roughly) India and Iceland, plus the Middle East with the Babur-Nama), and I have legitimately been interested in reading this for awhile, it being one of the few historical autobiographies from that region of the world. In truth, doing a sort of world-tour of ancient literature is proving a very fascinating exercise, and one that I would wholly recommend (as long as you have some patience).
Don't worry: this isn't a post in which I rant about the good ol' days, and how the whole world's just about falling apart in this dilapidated modern age (although maybe I should write one, if I can pop off phrases like "dilapidated modern age"). No, this post is about education, and specifically memorization. I don't know about you, but I hated rote memorization in school, and I still do. Give me papers to read on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle or ask me to be able to explain how a Hall Effect Thruster works and I'll happily dive right in, but ask me to memorize the technical parameters of an aircraft that I'll always be able to simply look up if I need them and there will ensue great wailing and gnashing of teeth. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but the point is that I am not, and never have been, fond of rote memorization.
When I first started trying to write speculative fiction, way back when I was in the fifth grade, I spent a lot of time struggling with names. There were a whole lot of aspects of writing that I was terrible at during that time, but naming is what I was aware of needing improvement. My only ideas of how naming ought to be done came from the books that I read, and so my names in some ways read like classic fantasy names, except that I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t too close to any “real” fantasy name, so my names were even less pronounceable.
Criticism is a vital part of literature, and for that matter most fields. Active, reasoned critiques help identify weaknesses and strengths, provide multiple interpretations and perspectives on disparate matters, and foster improvement, perhaps more than anything else. They are just as essential to individuals; critical feedback is immensely helpful to improving oneself in any number of aspects, whether that's a specific ability, or more generally. It is something that we are encouraged to actively seek out in order to understand how our work and how we are perceived and received by others. Unfortunately, it is also something that I struggle with receiving.
A while back now we posted about 5G technology as part of our efforts to develop educational content here on the site. This post about quantum computing technology and some of the ways in which we can anticipate it being implemented is in the same vein; quantum computing has been increasingly touted as another sort of “miracle” technology about which we hear a great deal of hype, but without a lot of insight into the details. This post will hopefully rectify that a little.
The point at which I'm driving is this: most depictions of people walking from place to place in fantasy books are terribly unrealistic. For a start, very rarely do they carry any gear with them, though they often are described as preparing gear, or having gear. But how are they carrying it? Where are the sore shoulders and sweaty backs and the sense of being about the float away when you finally take off your pack at the end of the day? Then they proceed to cover thirty miles in a day, and are promptly ready to get up and do it again the following day.
I remember having several English teachers, especially early in my schooling, who spent a great deal of time talking about how important a good opening line is. As they likely did for many of you, they called this opening line a “hook,” and explained how the entire fate of the universe, or at least my essay, rests on having a “hook,” a first line that will draw readers in and make them desperately excited to learn more about what I have to say on such fascinating topics as Lyme’s disease, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home, or the intelligence of dolphins.
Over the past few months, I've been slowly making my way through the extensive historical archives of the Peanuts comic strip, starting all the way back at its inception in 1950. I don't usually get a lot out of comics, graphic novels, and other, similar forms - my patience and interpretive abilities for these visual media are only somewhat higher than my abilities to create in such media - but Peanuts was enough a part of my childhood that I am enjoying reading through them all from beginning to end. This rather esoteric project began from a random curiosity about how the strip originated, and while I continued with it in part because I was enjoying them, and out of curiosity, it also became something of a writing exercise.