Sunday, January 28, 2007

It's About Time

What time is it? How old are you? How long will the movie last? What is your ETA? When was the War of 1812 fought? What is the current life expectancy?

All those questions have one thing in common; they all ask about some measure of time. Time is one thing that is almost always on our minds, that we all possess but most of us have too little of, and that we can measure but have no good definition as to what it really is.

We can’t see it, feel it, touch it, taste it, or smell it. We can sense it, to some degree, but few of us can agree on how.

What is time?

Even Webster has a difficult time with that question. It is defined as the interval between two events. But look up interval and you’ll find its definition includes the word time, the time that has elapsed between two events.

Albert Einstein proved mathematically that time is a dimension and it is only one-dimensional in that it always flows forward. We call it the arrow of time. So there are three dimensions of space – length, width, and height – and one dimension of time.

We measure length, width, and height with such things as rulers, yardsticks, odometers, and micrometers. We measure time with clocks. The standard unit of time is the second.

A second is one thirty-one-million-five-hundred-seventy-seven-thousand-six-hundredth of a year. And a year is defined as the length of time it takes the earth to orbit once around the sun.

But we have discovered that the earth doesn’t really keep good time. The orbit is not perfect. It was more than sufficient enough through all of history until the twentieth century. Then we needed a little more precision.

We now define a second in terms of the oscillation rate of a certain kind of cesium atom. And it takes something called an atomic clock to keep track of those oscillations. Atomic clocks are incredibly accurate, losing or gaining less than a billionth of a second per day.

Why would anyone need to measure time that accurately? It’s not as though the boss is going to dock you’re wages for a billionth of a second.

Somewhat ironically, one of the most important reasons we need to measure time so precisely is because we need to know precise distances. And the most common example of that is the Global Positioning System, or GPS devices that many of us have in our cars or take with us on wilderness hikes.

The speed of light is a constant. No matter how the observer is moving, light is always measured as traveling at exactly the same speed. And radio waves are basically just light waves that are too large to be seen.

So when at least three of the GPS satellites, all of which have atomic clocks, send a radio cue to your GPS unit, the unit deciphers the difference in arrival time of each signal and calculates the distance to each. Its software then identifies that calculated location on a map and displays it on the screen. It is accurate to within just a few feet.

Atomic clocks have also allowed us to prove beyond doubt what a guy named Alfred Wegener inferred in 1914, that the continents we live on are moving. North America is moving away from Europe at the breakneck speed of about two inches every year.

Even though we can measure it precisely, and use it in everyday conversations with ease, time is still an enigma. It continues to elude an easy description. And we may never master it.

But at least we can use it to organize our lives. We keep schedules, mark calendars, and meet deadlines. Speaking of which, mine draws near, so it’s time to send this one to my editor.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's Official; I Now Hate Winter Weather

Well it finally snowed. You know it hasn’t been a very severe winter when there hasn’t been any measurable snow on the ground or no temperatures below zero until the third week in January.

We had about a week of cold weather in early December. And this week has been fairly winter-like. But most of the season has been rather balmy.

The big news about all this to people who have known me all my life is that I’m not complaining about the warm weather and lack of snow. It’s true that as a kid, I lived for wintertime and snow and was sorely disappointed when we had a mild winter.

And even into adulthood, I loved the snow. I spent several years living in northern Indiana, where it usually snows a lot more than here. I had some serious disappointments every time the weatherman forecast heavy snow and then it didn’t happen.

I can remember in the 1980s when we had a record-breaking cold snap in late December. The maximum temperature on Christmas Eve was about 10 below zero. I was thrilled. I was enjoying every minute of it, especially since there was snow on the ground.

We had a blizzard in 1979 while I was living in Indianapolis. School was closed for a week as the city and much of the state was buried under more than a foot of snow. There was snow on the ground continuously most of the winter and even into the spring. I remember it as a very good winter.

People change as they get older, but when it comes to weather preference, I don’t know of anyone who has changed as much as I. Nowadays, the only two days of the year that snow is ok by me is on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Instead of rooting for the snow to be bigger and heavier than forecast I now root for it to do what it always seemed to do when I was younger, dissipate before it arrives.

This year, thanks to El Nino and possibly some help from global warming, I haven’t been disappointed, at least not until this week. Although I still think snow is very pretty, I hate being out in it. I hate the cold even more.

When I was younger, I used to imagine where I would like to live if not in Indiana. I always thought north. I like Canada, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I never thought about ever moving south. I couldn’t imagine myself living in a warm climate. I hated hot weather.

Well, I still do hate hot weather, but not as much as I hate the cold now. If I moved anywhere else, it would definitely be toward the south.

So what happened to make me do a 180-degree turn of opinion toward winter weather? The answer is, I haven’t a clue. I don’t really even remember when it happened exactly. I think it was sometime around 2000 or 2001. I remember still loving snow in the mid-1990s.

I seem to recall thinking one night when it was very cold and I was out checking a tire that had gone flat on my car that this is not at all very comfortable. It had been a cold, snowy winter, one that I would have really loved only a few years earlier. But I was over it. I no longer liked winter weather, but I didn’t really admit it to myself. At the time, I just didn’t like the situation.

Now I can admit it. I no longer like wintertime or snow, except at Christmas. I know that global warming is happening and it could lead to grave consequences in the near future. But for now, one good side effect might be milder winters with lower heating bills. And that’s fine by me.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

After All these Years Indy Needs a Winner

I’m sitting here in the Abbey coffee shop on a Sunday morning, just finishing up my breakfast of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and cream cheese, still feeling good about the Colts playoff victory on Saturday.

Now, I’m not a big sports fan. I typically don’t watch football on Sunday afternoons, except for Colts games. I can’t stand baseball except for the occasional Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field. And I haven’t even watched a Pacers game this year, since I lost all respect for the players after the late-night strip club antics of several of them during the preseason.

I never played sports when I was in school. I wouldn’t have been any good anyway. I did enjoy the mechanics of the game, especially football. It intrigued me. Just after I graduated high school, I officiated a few Bantam League games. And in college, I was one of the officials for their intramural football and basketball games. Unfortunately, I really stank up the proceedings.

I was quick on the whistle and often didn’t see what officials are supposed to see. But I still liked doing it.

In my teens and early 20s, my favorite sport was football and my favorite teams were the Bears, Cowboys, and Packers. That was long before Indianapolis got a team. It was still very much a minor league city, with the Indians and the ABA Pacers.

I liked only professional football, not college. And I didn’t like the AFC. So when the AFC Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 I was a little ambivalent. I was really pleased the city now had an NFL team, but I would have been happier if it had been from the NFC. I also would have much rather the team be renamed. I firmly believe that team names should remain with the city.

Still, I suddenly became a Colts fan. Indianapolis now had two major league professional sports franchises, the NBA Pacers and the AFC Colts. But simply having the teams didn’t garner instant respect from the nation.

We almost lost the Pacers in 1977. If it hadn’t been for a major season ticket drive and even a telethon hosted by then Channel 8 sports anchor Chet Coppack the Pacers would have been history.

The team struggled throughout much of its history following the NBA-ABA merger. Attendance was so low at Market Square Arena that Pacers management had to bribe the fans into attending by putting on rock music shows following the games.

Finally, though, the Pacers started getting noticed. In the late ‘90s and throughout much of this decade the Pacers have been a contender. The Colts, too, whose name used to stand for “Count On Losing This Sunday” started to gain national respectability. With Peyton Manning at the helm, they have almost become America’s Team, replacing the Cowboys. At least that was the perception last season and the year before.

But, alas, a Super Bowl appearance has remained elusive. They almost got in once, but the Hale Mary pass to the end zone as time ran out fell to the ground.

Well, despite a less-than-spectacular end to this season and a defense that ranked dead last during the regular season, the Colts are poised for another Super Bowl bid. All they have to do is win one more game. It won’t be easy, but it will be possible. And if the team has proven anything during the playoffs, it is that they are now driven.

After 23 years of ups and downs, mainly downs, the Indianapolis Colts might actually be Super Bowl bound. Hopefully, this will be their year to go.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My 2007 Wish List

Schools are all back in session and everyone has gone back to work after the holidays. Most of those who made New Year resolutions have already broken them by now; after all, it’s been almost two weeks.

Most people think nothing of the fact that we begin a new year in the dead of winter. The ancient Babylonians started their new year in March, when spring arrives and everything is beginning to come back to life. That makes more sense.

But thanks to the second-century Roman Senate, new years begin at the most ludicrous time of year to start one, January 1.

I don’t make New Years resolutions because I know I probably wouldn’t keep them anyway. But I do sometimes make a list of what I would like for those in power to accomplish during the upcoming year.

So here are a few things I would like to see happen during 2007 at the local, state, national, and global levels.

Starting locally, I would love to see the population of Edinburgh and Blue River Township start to grow as fast as the rest of Johnson County. According to the latest census, every town and city in the county grew rapidly except Edinburgh, which actually lost population.

A new subdivision in Blue River Township would help. And, like I’ve said for the last 15 years, if people won’t come to Edinburgh, take Edinburgh to the people. Annex more land where people already live, like Talberton Addition and Pleasant View. Population growth, however it is accomplished, helps municipalities garner more federal dollars and helps put them on the map.

At the state level, I would love for the Indiana General Assembly to do what more and more counties and cities are already doing. They should pass a state-wide law banning all smoking in any building where the public congregates. That should include bars and bowling alleys.

It also should be illegal to smoke cigarettes in any enclosed space where children are present, including private homes and vehicles. It’s a form of child abuse.

Nationally, I hope the new democratic congress will quickly overturn Pres. Bush’s ban on funding for embryonic stem cell research. We are years behind where we could be in that area.

Almost 80 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research. Last year Congress passed legislation approving federal funding for it, but our knucklehead-in-chief vetoed it. He’ll veto it again, but hopefully, the vote this year will be veto-proof.

It would also be on my New Year’s wish for Congress to realize the error of its ways and repeal the No Child Left behind Act. It is a travesty for American education that schools have to spend so much time, effort, and money trying to educate those students who are incorrigible or incapable that we have virtually forgotten about the ones who need most of the attention, those in the middle.

And, globally, it would be nice if scientists and governments on a world-wide basis would come together to make a firm commitment to develop alternative fuels. The continued burning of fossil fuels will eventually kill civilization as we know it. We don’t really have a choice if society is to survive. If it’s not already too late, now is the time to set a firm timeline and put a real plan in place to switch our global fuel consumption to something other than crude oil.