Schrödinger’s parliament – update

Previously, we discussed the indeterminate result of Australia’s federal election and how that left us in a very rare state of macroscopic quantum superposition. Well, I discussed it, and if you did too then you’re probably wondering how far the analogy can be pushed in light of this week’s Oakeshott-Windsor led resolution.

The answer is: just a bit further. Instead of a normal election result, where the quantum system collapses into a classical state either one way or the other, we have a more fragile equilibrium that still has a chance of fluctuating, even if only on individual pieces of legislation. This close-as-you-can-get-to-classical-while-still-being-a-bit-fuzzy-around-the-edges situation is, I declare, a coherent state.

To save me having to go into the details, please read the linked Wikipedia article if you want to find out more. I usually find Wikipedia to be quite good on matters of quantum physics, and this article is no exception. One of its gems is to point out that a coherent state is not the same thing as a Fock state, which is a state with a definite quantum number of particles.

But then again, some would say we really are in a totally focked state.

(Thank you, thank you. It took two blog posts and two weeks of hung parliament to build up the gag, but I think you’ll agree the punchline was worth it.)


Bad scientist

Lex Luthor is clearly a bad scientist. If for no other reason, then the simple mathematical formula of ‘bad guy + mad scientist’. (What? That’s how maths works.)

But he does go to some good sources for his science news. In Action Comics #890, where Action Comics is famously the title that Superman first appeared in, but which Lex Luthor has recently taken over in what could be considered a metatextual response to his failure to conquer either Superman or the Earth, we have the following scene:

Splash page from Action Comics 890

Here, Luthor has plugged himself into his Lexcorp Intelligent Listening Engine, a phenomenally over-engineered virtual reality system that allows him to search for the mention of certain key words on the internet (most of us would just use Google, but then we’re not mad geniuses). He’s seeking news on certain black lantern rings, which appeared in DC Comics’ Blackest Night storyline (don’t bother asking, just read Wikipedia). And yes, he’s wearing bike shorts.

But the important bit is in the lower left of the page, where we see the following caption:

- some new influence on the subatomic world - @benjamingoldacre

That would Dr Benjamin Goldacre, writer of the Guardian column, blog and book, all called Bad Science and all well worth reading. And although his actual Twitter username is @bengoldacre, and his interests are typically more around medical research than subatomic physics, it’s a nice tribute. Where better to go for your sciencey internet needs?

And after all, comic book science is some of the best bad science you’ll find.

Bonus feature: If you want to know what happens in the rest of the comic, check out the live reading from CONvergence 2010. I had no idea they did that sort of thing, but I found it in an internet search. Without, I might add, the aid of any fully-immersive 3D display, and without having to strip down to my underwear. Take that, Lex Luthor.

Elders of the Internet

How do I miss these things? It seems that seven people hold the keys to the internet – chosen to restart it if something breaks the domain name system and, I don’t know, stops phishing phraudsters pretending to be your bank account.

Apparently a restart requires five of the seven key holders to bring their smartcards to a secret location in the US, from their home countries of Britain, the US, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, China, the Czech Republic and… Burkina Faso. (For those who don’t know, Burkina Faso is a landlocked African country; it used to be called Upper Volta, its capital city is Ougadougou and its main industry is lint.)

This is a fantastic opportunity for any lonely nerds out there. Despite the fact that some key holders have come forward, no one really knows who they all are. So all you need to do is mock up your own fake smartcard, and you finally have the key to attention and respect.

“Yeah baby, it’s true, I’m one of the seven secret lords of the internet. Me and Al Gore. But don’t tell anybody: it’s a secret.” (To be read in a Burkina Faso accent.)

But of course, this is old news. The truth about the hidden elders was revealed two years ago, in that excellent documentary series, The IT Crowd:

Schrödinger’s parliament

In a massive victory for science, Australia is in the midst of its first quantum election in over 70 years. Just as Schrödinger’s cat was famously caught in a state of being neither alive nor dead but somehow both, the Australian government is now in a superposition of Labor and Liberal, with somehow no one in charge.

Some might say this is Tony Abbott’s fault. When he was repeatedly asked about his views on climate change ABC TV’s Q & A, he exasperatedly said “let the scientists argue about that”. Well Tony, the scientists have had a talk, and they’ve voted for quantum mechanics. But the real question is, what do we do now?

Well, if you believe in The Secret, or What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?, or any other twisted, moronic, New Agey misinterpretation of quantum physics, then all we have to do is wish really, really hard and we can make our preferred party win. But of course, you don’t actually believe that utter bull#$*! (their term, not mine).

Instead, maybe you prefer the many-worlds interpretation, which would mean that we now have two parallel Australias. Just like in the US, there are the irreconcilable worlds of the “red states”, run by a feisty ranga, and the “blue states”, run by a man in budgie smugglers going for an ocean swim in the middle of winter.

Or perhaps we just sit back and wait for the postal votes to sort things out. This is what Einstein would have called “spooky action at a distance”. Or more precisely, “spukhafte Fernwirkung”.

But no, I say we enjoy this historic moment. Physicists have been trying for decades to create macroscopic quantum entanglements this size, so let’s not ruin it now.

Just like the cat, if we keep all the politicians locked in a little box, then they can stay in their magic superposition forever. All we have to do is to agree to never look in on them again…


Not related to gastroenteritis…

…although you may change your mind after reading this. You see, last weekend, I attended one of those increasingly popular surprise housewarming parties. My contribution to the festivities? Lolly cake.

Lolly cake, close up

Every nation has its proud culinary traditions. But then there are those tastes that are acquired through the sort of forgiving ignorance that forms the basis of traditional family relationships. Such is lolly cake, New Zealand’s unique amalgam of fruity lollies, malt biscuits and half a tin of condensed milk.

For more information, and a picture of New Zealand’s the world’s longest lolly cake, see Isaac Freeman’s natural history thereof.

There you will also find a link to Star Wars/lolly cake fan-fiction. The internet: truly, the happiest kingdom on Earth.

Too, too Tango

So, you couldn’t make it to Boston either (see the last post)? Where else can you see my work, preferably in the comfort of your own home?

Well, a story I wrote and drew appears in the recently released 9th edition of Tango, Bernard Caleo’s awesomely enormous Australian comics anthology. Each issue has a romance-based theme, this time being “love and war”; which goes together like… well… rama lama lama ke ding a de ding a dong, but with explosions.

This is the first time I’ve submitted anything to Tango, so you won’t find me in The Tango Collection, a retrospective of the best of the first 8 issues. But it was so much fun I’m definitely going to do it again, so look out for the next collected edition – in oh, 2021 or thereabouts.

However, to keep you interested here’s a little teaser, the first page of my 4 page epic, Love and War and Icypoles:

Page 1 of Love and War and Icypoles

If you want to see the rest, you’ll just have to buy it online, or keep an eye out in selected quality bookshops.

And the added bonus of being in Tango? I finally have my name in Wikipedia.

Destination Boston

Long-time readers – those hypothetical, long-time readers – may remember Destination Day, my short film about a man who travels back in time to change his past, only to run into the woman who made him want to change his past in the first place.

(And no, it’s not possible to talk about time travel plots without tying sentences in knots or giving yourself a headache.)

Well, Destination Day recently screened at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. And although I couldn’t be there to see it myself, some people who were there have been kind enough to post reviews. Here, in the tradition of Hollywood-style quote mining, are the slightly edited critical reactions:

“This is another Australian entry… The ending of this one pretty much makes it too.”
Film Forager

“* * ¾ (out of four)… The opening hook…is neat… It finishes on a visual gag that’s clever.”
Jay’s Movie Blog

“Tim (Richard Pappas) travels back in time… references Perth’s Destination Day … No one … in the future … Have no interest… Rating (4.9)” (out of 10, I think)
Soresport Movies

“No one in the future have no interest.” That one’s going on the poster!

Now, go read the originals and see if you can come up with your own interpretation.

Tell me

Is this meant to be ironic:

Adidas 3 tongue sneaker

Spotted being worn by a hip young Twilight actor at the recent Armageddon nerdfest in Melbourne. Yes, there were lots of people in costumes from Batman, Stargate, Yu-Gi-Yoh, whatever, but these shoes are what really amazed me.

I honestly can’t tell whether they’re serious. Or how you’d operate them. And the Adidas website is about as helpful as a fox.

Kids today…

Getting somewhere

Apparently, a good thing to do with blogs is rant about things that annoy you. And I’m all in favour of doing good things with blogs…

By the way, today’s theme is – vaguely – science.

  1. The other night NASA smashed a space probe into the Moon. Liking both astronomy and large explosions, I naturally looked it up in the newspaper the next day. What category do you think it turned up in? World news. I think they’ve missed the point.
  2. Kirk Cameron, renowned creationist and growing pain, likes to use bananas as an example of intelligent design. How they’re perfectly designed for us to eat, etc., etc. But what about those annoying stringy bits down the side? Which are clearly an anti-eating defense mechanism caught in mid-evolution. Explain that!
  3. Zeno’s paradox, dating back to ancient Greece, the notion that before you can move a distance you have to cover half the distance, but before that a quarter of the distance, and so on. You therefore have to cover an infinite number of distances, so motion is impossible. No offence to the ancient Greeks, but that’s clearly ridiculous.

As demonstrated by my effort today in attempting and completing a half marathon. Thank you, thank you. It was difficult, but made easier by weeks of carb-loading, hydrating and whinging.

And I did it as part of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre’s Run for Refugees team.

You should acknowledge my heroic, ancient Greek confounding effort by donating lots of money to this worthy cause. Please donate online at

Don’t make me smash a space probe into your crater.

Mobile phones are no good for poetry

Or at least so claimed the graffiti I saw on the way to work this morning.

But is that really true? My first guess would be “of course not!” But I’m having trouble thinking of txtspk that rhymes better than “C U L8TR L E G8TR”.

Can anyone suggest a better one? A mobile limerick, perhaps? Or maybe we should just change the rules, so that instead of 160 characters, each SMS has to be 17 syllables?

As the kids say*, that would be totally Obama.

* At least so the Sunday Age assures me. But really I’d rather go with the bloke outside the pub last night, who claimed the band inside was “totally off the hook”. Right on.