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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Einstein on The Planet of the Apes - It's About Time

Thought I’d pound in another entry while listening to BBC World Service (Whilst listening, as they would say).

It’s been rainy ‘round here, so we’ve been spending our time indoors. I have been working on playing a new soprano recorder that came in the mail last week. I feel like I am catching up pretty fast, however I will never enjoy the very high vocal range of that instrument. We’re talking piccolo range here. Soprano recorders are tuned in C, while alto recorders like mine are tuned in G. If you want to be respected by other recorder players, you need to be able to read music and play in both tunings. I started all this because my group which normally rehearses on Fridays is taking two weeks off.

What about Planet of the Apes, you may ask. I read an interesting article about the Theory of Relativity and Euclidian Geometry in the Science Column of The Magazine of fantasy & Science Fiction. The article is here: . The point of the article is that you can use a pretty cool thought experiment and the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the relative passing of time from an astronaut’s versus earthbound perspective. The explanation is clear and the math is pretty easy to follow (you need nothing more than H S Algebra 1 and the Pythagorean Theorem, and some serious thinking time to set things up).

After about a week of messing around with diagrams of time and space viewed from two alternate frames of reference (me in Sacramento, and a fast spaceship with a light bulb within), I finally set it up so I could work out the time dilation factor from first principals.

I finally got it right during one of my High School Geometry tutoring sessions. A couple of the kids got a kick out of this, which is a good thing. Geometry is much more interesting when you can use the Pythagorean Theorem to figure out how fast the astronauts in “The Planet of the Apes” needed to go to make any sense out of an otherwise goofy movie. The formula reads: K=1/(1-V^2/C^2)^(1/2). K is the dilation factor, which represents how many years I’ll age here in Sacramento while the astronaut ages one year. V is the astronaut’s velocity, relative to my frame of reference in Sacramento, and C is our old friend, the speed of life, equal to the square root of energy divided by mass for reasons I do not comprehend.

What is interesting is that even at 90% of the speed of life, the astronauts only age about 2 years and 4 months while I age one year. The “Planet of the Apes” ship must have been traveling close to the speed of light. As write this, Pythagoras is probably turning circles in his grave.

Ender and Valentine Wiggins must have been traveling at about to have experienced their aging effects, they would have needed to travel at many time the speed of light (between 10 and 50 C, I am too lazy to research the novels) to reach other star systems, so they lie outside of the range of values for which this formula, as well as anything else I know about physics is relevant. It’s good not to let the science constrain the fiction.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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