Archive for August, 2012

Seven of Diamonds: My Real Super Power

I’ve joked about getting superpowers from hair gel or physics labs, but there is a superpower I actually have. Maybe you have it too.

Scantily-clad model touching her huge glassesI hope the image isn’t too large; back in the day, people used to say an entire web page should be 30KB, and my screen was much smaller and less colourful than this image.

This is another one I’ve had in mind for a while, though I couldn’t find my notes about it so I may have missed some of the things I’d thought of. Perhaps they’ll be in a future episode. I think I planned to do some kind of CSI meme tie-in. I decided to do it this week because the model on this seven of diamonds clearly doesn’t really need those glasses. I forgot to give Myopic Person underwear over their clothes, just as the model on the seven of diamonds forgot to wear clothes over her underwear. I also forgot to draw the cape in the last panel, so I did it later with different software, as you can probably see now that I’ve pointed it out.

I was in a print shop as it was closing just before I went to a café to work on this, and I briefly considered buying an iPad stylus there to try it out on this comic, but I decided against it. I think maybe I should have bought it, just to make the handwriting neater and easier.

When in disguise, Myopic Person probably wears Paul and Storm’s ‘glasses are great‘ T-shirt. I don’t have one though.

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Six of Diamonds: Emotion (xkcd remixes)

A while ago, xkcd published this comic:

I’ve been wanting to make my own versions for a while, and since this week’s element can be used to treat cancer, I figured it was time to make these:

But of course, it all depends on what you mean by cause:

The amounts are almost certainly wrong. I just skimmed these documents.

But, although it may be in poor taste, when I think about that comic I can’t help thinking of this song by The Arrogant Worms (note that the lyrics on their website seem to have been transcribed by an automatic speech-to-text program or non-native English speakers on Mechanical Turk. Listen to the song if you want to know what it says.)

Six of Diamonds featuring LutetiumAs The Most Hardcore Wormfan of All pointed out in a comment, this should really say ‘Things Mike McCormick talks about, by year:’

This was another week when I didn’t even deal out all of the cards, and started working on something on Saturday that I’d been thinking about for a while. The card which I figured gave me an excuse to do it was Lutetium, which is used in cancer fighting.

Do you know what else is used in cancer fighting? Protons and carbon ions, accelerated to high energies. I work on control systems for an accelerator that will do that. Here you can find slides and video of a CERN summer student lecture about that from 2011. There’s a more recent one from this year, but it looks like there’s only a video from part 2 and not part 1.

The font is Humor Sans (not Comic Sans! I never worked for the ATLAS experiment) and the harsh straight lines in my first remix were a bad idea.

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Five of Diamonds: Immortal

Astronaut Bruce McCandless floating in space without a tether. At least this guy has a spacesuit and a planet.

The first few hundred years were okay. I had a lot of thrilling death-defying adventures. I lived the dream.

I got used to my loved ones dying, and got better at meeting new ones, and better at being by myself. Not a problem; before the accident, I’d stayed eight years at a lab full of one- and two-year contractors and students. I stayed there for a while afterwards too, but it seemed silly to chip away at the minutiae when I’d seen how huge and incomprehensible the whole thing was. Even with the amount of time I had, I knew I could never get my head around it.

In any case, the universe would stick around for a while. I wanted to study the things that wouldn’t. I don’t think I realised back then just how little time I had to do that. I always felt like there were so many more people to meet, so much more alone time to savour, so much more to learn, so many more ideas to realise than I had time to, but somewhere in the back of my mind I assumed I could get back to them later. Oh, if only I could.

I travelled the world while there were still means to do so, tried the foods when I could pay for them, smelled the flowers when I found any, learnt the languages, met the people while there still were some. Had a few wives. A few husbands. A few children. Thirty-three thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three known descendants, before I lost count. They all died, of course. I had my alone time to savour.

One by one, then ten by ten, species went extinct. We got used to it. People are good enough at ignoring things as long as they’re still comfortable. Eventually things were stretched too far to be comfortable. After the human race died out, when there was not much left bigger than bacteria, I went through a moody phase. For a millennium I’d be content just wandering around admiring the landscape, watching erosion create interesting patterns. Then I’d occupy myself by carving my own intricately-shaped rivers by hand and swimming back and forth along them. I learnt to shape them in such a way that oxbow lakes would form naturally to complete my designs. Next thing I knew, I’d be in a ten-thousand-year blue period, craving someone to hold, barely noticing as the mountains grew. Those lifelong romances seemed so short.

Sometimes the despair would give way to industriousness. I tried to work out a chemistry that would allow complex life to thrive in the changed environment. I tried to evolve something from lichen using as sole selection criterion ‘something I can talk to.’ Later I changed the goal to something I could enjoy eating. This was rather more successful, maybe because millennia of hunger had made me less picky. Every so often, I’d find little niches where life had figured out how to adapt in ways more ingenious than I’d come up with. I’d sit and watch them for generations upon generations, but nothing complex enough to be worth watching was ever as successful as before.

Time always seems so much shorter when it’s behind you, but in my case, things really did happen more quickly back then. Two-year contracts, 80-year relationships, ten-thousand-year bad moods, million-year species. When finally something interesting happened, it seemed sudden even though by mortal standards it took a long time. I still remember watching the sun expand and redden like it was yesterday, and I suppose it was yesterday, for I wouldn’t define days by that pitiful white dwarf I ended up with.

Boy was it hot when the Sun expanded to near Earth’s orbit. I’d been injured plenty of times, many times enough to kill anyone else, and it hurt a lot. If I was having a bad aeon, there were times when I jumped off cliffs or into volcanoes every day in the hope of dying. But the first time I felt the corona of a red giant, I really thought that was the end. A nanosecond of it was worse than all the pain I’d experienced until then. I did not know why my nerves could even feel pain at such magnitude. I just closed my eyes and waited for death to come. I waited what could have been thousands of years, not like the thousands of therapeutically-dull years of river carving, but thousands of slow, slow years in which I felt every moment.

And then… then it was over, but it still felt like a long time looking back. It took me a while to recover emotionally, and the blood-freezing cold didn’t help. The Earth wasn’t engulfed by the Sun, but just continued orbiting the cool, withdrawn white dwarf. The atmosphere and liquids were lost to space. I didn’t miss breathing as much as I missed eating and speaking; the urge to breathe comes more from the buildup of carbon dioxide than from the lack of oxygen, and I had none of that. There wasn’t any life I could see, but from what I’d already seen, I was sure some had survived somewhere under the surface. Sometimes I’d dig down and have imagined conversations with bacteria I couldn’t detect.

The next life-changing event came when the Earth was knocked out of its orbit. A few chunks came off it, and I had less gravity and some fragments to look at in the sky for a while. I took to jumping around the world, pretending to fly. A couple of destructive meteorites later and I accidentally reached escape velocity. Goodbye, cool world.

There was no such thing as a year for me after that, but it may as well have been ten billion years ago. I haven’t come close to any planets since. I’ve passed through a few stars, and I can tell you it doesn’t get any easier. Spent some time squished inside a black hole waiting for the Hawking radiation to free me. I took little comfort in knowing it was quicker for me than for anything on the outside.

Between stars, with no air or plasma rushing past my skin, no sound, almost no light to prove my fantasies wrong, I could construct worlds in my head that felt more real than anything else. I’d forget I was lost in outer space with nothing to look forward to but that moment of beautiful views and relief from cold that preceded an epoch of burning inside a star.

A frequent dream is that of finding the genie again, the god, that creature I had conversed with through that little tear we’d made in spacetime. Back in the old days, even before feeling the hellfire of a red giant Sun, I used to wish I’d asked to be impervious to pain as well as immortal, but now my only wish is mortality. And once again, I feel like time’s running out. The universe is expanding away from me. If I don’t find a way to summon the genie before the last matter retreats over the de Sitter horizon, I will be stuck with nothing but the taste of my mouth and the feeling of my cold, hungry body, for infinitely more time than I had anything else.

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