Category Archives: thoughts

Pelicans Glide Alongside The Pacific Coast Highway

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Some time ago I was cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in California, enjoying the curves as asphalt followed the coastline, when I realized I wasn’t alone. A flock of about 8 Brown Pelicans were gliding parallel to the motorcycle, about 25 meters away over the waters. I sent someone an email about it:

A great moment about a week ago, while cruising at about 90 km/h along the twisting Pacific Coast Highway halfway down California, was having a flock of huge pelicans keep me company as they also followed the coast. They were hunting the surf, but in a V-formation flock and at 90-100 km/h and no more than 50 feet away from the bike! I had no idea they could cruise at that speed with so little effort, let alone hunt effectively.

Not able to contain the Narcissist within, I immediately related to these presently majestic creatures, ignoring the bustle of the highway, hunting at fantastic speeds, and not caring about much else. They were focused yet relaxed. As they were unperturbed by the noisy presence of the motorcycle, I adjusted my speed to keep pace with the flock for as long as possible, slowing to between 80-95 km/h. Ignoring the bustle of the cars piling up behind me, I hunted with the flock.

Riding alone the coast, I have realized that one can have a focused and relaxed mind while not thinking about anything in particular. A subject is not required for trained thoughts.

The Desert, Tron And The Universe

Pointing my motorcycle east, a promised bed on my mind, the sun sets behind me as I fall into an evermore contemplative mood.

You ever have that moment when you’re ripping through the desert on your purring machine in the pitch black of night, gazing up at the eerily bright Milky Way and trying to watch the road at the same time, when you’re having trouble not thinking about Tron as the yellow and white dots streak past, reflecting on the windscreen and face shield, and all you want to do is ponder the wonders of the universe? Nah, me either.

There is a gorgeous stretch of interstate cutting through the desert near the Mexican border. Regularly spaced reflectors dot the side and centre lines, their mirror-like surfaces glinting with uncomfortable brightness. At the edge of blackness I can make out a fenced border, keeping the natural and civilized worlds separate. A mutually appreciated apartheid, though both sides of the fence would prefer it wasn’t necessary. As the sun gasps its dieing breaths, the unnatural demarcation seems to guard travelers from the void itself. Not even shadow exists beyond the tall aluminium posts and taut aircraft cable lines.

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Reality shrinks with the senses, leaving only a motorcycle, a rider, and an expanding sphere of darkness. My Kawasaki companion is comforting. It’s warm, shaped to my body, and powerful. I lean forward, resting my chest on the packed tank bag and tucking my head behind the tiny windscreen, listening and feeling. The rough drone of the tuned exhaust and slapping valves, high pressure knobby tires skimming asphalt, lightly tensioned chain smacking the guards every once in a while to remind them of their function. Cool winds scream by the fairings, complaining as they’re mashed through the radiator and spat out the other side. The useless end of a tie-down strap flaps in the wind behind me. An adult’s stuffed animal, all metal and plastic and gasoline. I hug the tank and wrap myself around the frame, still crouched behind the miniature windscreen. Warmth from the engine permeates my boots and shins while fresh air slips through vents in my helmet and jacket. As the outside world disappears into the night, the inside world is revealed detail by detail, begging for personification.

I pass a lone semi truck and watch his headlights blend in and then fade away with the sun.

Velocity has little meaning without a frame of reference. Acceleration is comforting. It reminds you that there is potential for more, should you need it; should you want it. The reflectors blended into milky streams of white and orange. The scene in front was no different from that left behind. The stars did not move.

The skin of the bubble of comfort and warmth wrapped around the speeding Kawasaki continued to expand and dissolve. Soon it included everything. The stars provided warmth and comfort despite their distance, and local time slowed to a crawl despite the obvious indicators of speed. Why is our local perception so different from that of the universe as a whole? As consciousness expands, reality slows.

I was tired, and looking up at the Milky Way while zipping down the highway was dangerous, so I revved it up and screamed down the road towards Tuscon and a place to sleep.

Moonwatching

[latexpage]
An idea coming from the below xkcd, Depth Perception, and a few working examples[1,2], I wondered what it would take to get the parallax to look at the Moon or even the Sun in 3D as if they were the size of a bungalow as seen from the sidewalk.

xkcd 941, Depth Perception

Let’s take this bungalow to be about 5 m tall ($d_2$), 40 ft from the sidewalk, and the space between our eyes to be 7 cm ($d_1$). That’s right, I can mix units haphazardly. The angle to a point 40 ft away will differ by a small amount as viewed from each eye — I’ll call this difference $beta_0$. It looks familiar, and probably has a standard name and definition in optics.

[
beta_0 = dfrac{d_2-d_1} {d_2+d_1}
= dfrac{5 m – 7 cm}{5 m + 7 cm}
approx 0.972386588
]

The relation between object size and image size becomes this:

[
d_1 = d_2 dfrac{1-beta_0}{1+beta_0}
approx d_2 times 0.014
]

The Moon would require images 48 km apart; the Sun, 19’488 km (3x radius of Earth) apart. The Earth orbits the Sun at about 30 km/s, so those 19’488 km would conveniently go by in under 11 minutes. If there weren’t any clouds, you could have a setup that films the Sun and displays two output streams: one delayed 11 minutes behind the other. Any surface details that had changed during that time would be lost or at least blurry. As for the Moon, it would take a bit of planning with a friend that lives 50 km away and similar cameras with identical settings.

Something tells me that this only works for objects far away, as that distance isn’t in the calculations.

What’s that? I’m supposed to be doing homework? Oops.