Schrödinger’s Actual Cat, Simplified

tl;dr

Most laymen tend to completely misunderstand “Schrödinger’s Cat”, believing it to mean the opposite of what he intended. 🤦

The most common misinterpretation of Schrödinger’s Cat is that until you look in the box to see whether the cat is alive or not, it is both alive and dead, and sometimes also that things don’t exist unless observed. Obviously that’s absurd, and that absurdity is the whole point.

Erwin Schrödinger was a physicist at a turning point, just at the cusp of quantum physics. At the time, the Copenhagen interpretation was making waves (pun intended) in the physics community with various new ideas that were hard to come to terms with for physicists that were used to classical Newtonian physics.

Schrödinger thought the concept of quantum superposition, in which a particle/photon can exist in multiple states at the same time until it is observed or measured, was absurd. (In this context, observed and measured simply means to interact with it, such as to bounce light off of it to see it, or to use magnetic fields to measure it.) To demonstrate the absurdity, he contrived his cat thought-experiment.

In the thought-experiment, you place a piece of radioactive material in a box along with a detector, a vial of poison, and a cat. The radioactive material emits particles randomly, so at any given moment, there is a chance of it emitting a particle or not. If it does emit a particle, the detector will trigger a hammer to break the vial, which in turn, will kill the cat.

His argument is that because the radioactive material may or may not have emitted a particle, the cat may or may not be alive; it is in a superposition of states, which you cannot know until you open the box to look.

Obviously the cat is either alive or dead regardless of whether you look. There are countless examples of events happening with or without being observed, even events that don’t include any sort of life-form.

This was exactly Schrödinger’s point. He was using reductio-ad-absurdum to demonstrate that because the end-result is absurd, its starting point (the presupposition of superposition) must also be incorrect. Einstein agreed (in fact, Einstein also thought quantum entanglement was crazy and made no sense as well; quantum physics was quite the thorn in his side).

tl;dr:

In short, Schrödinger’s cat is not saying that the cat is alive and dead until it’s looked at, it’s saying that quantum superposition doesn’t make sense because it’s absurd for the cat to be alive and dead at the same time.

Next time the concept can come up, you can say the correct interpretation and impress your friends (or annoy them if they’re ignorant and lame).

Stores have to scan items of the same price separately

If you go to a grocery or bulk-foods store and get several similar items that have the same price such as different flavors of the same brand of chips, different styles of the same brand of canned-soup, etc. you may have wondered why the cashier has to scan each one separately instead of just scanning one and multiplying by the number, or for bulk-foods, keying in one item and weighing them all together. There are actually a couple of good reasons for this.

  • Inventory
    By scanning each item with a unique barcode separately, they can keep track of inventory without having to manually check the shelves. This makes it easier for them, which means less work, which means lower prices (or at least in theory). If they scan one UPC for multiple different items, then their inventory will be incorrect and they will order too much of something they already have and not enough of something they need.
  • Accuracy
    Just because items are similar doesn’t mean they’re identical. It’s entirely possible for one flavor of soda to be more expensive than the others or one kind of socks to be on sale, and so on. If they scan one item multiple times for all of them together, then they could end up over- or under-charging you.

It’s necessary for cashiers to scan each item separately, but it’s only necessary for each unique item; if you get more than one of the same item (e.g., same item-code/UPC), then they can scan one multiple times.

Easy fix for most mouse-button problems

A new computer mouse will usually function just fine, but over time, it will usually start having some problems with the buttons. One common problem is for it to keep releasing prematurely as if you let go of the button even though you didn’t, you may have simply decreased the pressure on it. Another problem is for clicks to not register at all. Assuming there is no physical damage (e.g., dropping the mouse on a hard surface), both of these problems are usually caused by the same thing, a layer of patina growing on the metal contacts inside the switch under the button. This is normal; oxides regularly accumulate on metals which make them less conductive. This is usually fixed by simply cleaning the metal. Unfortunately, the micro-switches used in computer-mice are too small and to inaccessible to open and clean. Fortunately there’s a pretty easy solution with just a bit of vinegar:

  1. Disconnected the mouse and/or remove the batteries
  2. Open the mouse (there are typically only a couple of screws)
  3. Locate the micro-switches; they’ll usually look like the Omron switches below
  4. Dip a cotton-swab (Q-tip) into white-vinegar
  5. Dab the switch several times to wet it
  6. Press the switch a bunch of times to allow the vinegar to soak in and coat the metal
  7. (You can leave a blob of vinegar on the switch for a couple of minutes)
  8. Use a paper towel to soak up excess vinegar and dry button
  9. Repeat with some water (distilled if possible) to remove the vinegar
  10. You can dry it more thoroughly by blowing hard on it to eject any remaining liquid
  11. Close it

The patina should be removed and the metal contacts should be properly conductive and last a few more years before giving problems again.

Important: Make sure to not leave the vinegar or water on for too long. Otherwise, they will corrode the metal and make the copper grow a green patina which, while pretty, makes things worse, requiring you to open the switch and try to clean it directly which has a good chance of totally ruining the switch and requiring you to completely replace the whole switch (which depending on the mouse—like some very expensive gaming mice—might be worth the effort of putting in a fresh new switch).

Omron micro-switch
Typical mouse-button Omron micro-switch

Fix Linux MotD Weather

This past summer, I updated the MotD of my Orange Pi to include the current weather whenever I log in. It worked great… until recently. For the past week or so, I noticed it wasn’t showing the weather when I logged in.

It turned out to be a simple error and easy fix. The command works by downloading the current weather from the Internet, then using SED to scrape the current temperature and status from the resulting page using a regex.

The problem is that it does not account for negative temperatures, which is what the temperatures are now in the winter (at least in Celsius), so when the temperature is below zero, it does not find the information because the pattern does not match. The fix is simply adding an optional negative sign (-\?) to the regex (optional in the regex sense; it’s required to make this work correctly):

root:/> more /etc/update-motd.d/32-weather
#!/bin/bash
curl -s "http://rss.accuweather.com/rss/liveweather_rss.asp?metric=1&locCode=NAM|CA|ON|LONDON|" |\
sed -n '/Currently:/ s/.*: \(.*\): \(-\?[0-9]*\)\([CF]\).*/\2°\3, \1/p'

“The Navigator” in The White Chamber

The game The White Chamber is pretty amusing, but the anime style doesn’t really mesh with its horror-survival theme. That said, it’s still a pretty solid (and free) game with a decent story. It’s not too long and you can play through it to get the eight different endings in just an hour or two. One thing to look out for is the alphanumeric codes. Half of the endings display a three-letter code at the top of the screen which when taken together spell out a message, which oddly enough, there do not seem to be any references of on the Internet; apparently nobody has noticed it. 😕

EndingCode
Space
Electrocution
Venemous [sic]
Decaying
RedemptionROT
DamnedAGI
TormentedVAN
ComedyEHT

If you read the codes from right to left, it reads “THE NAVIGATOR”. Ostensibly, this refers to the protagonist Sarah (or maybe the Artefact 🤔).

Wolf4knowledge has a video with all of the endings:


ROT AGI VAN EHT
“THE NAVIGATOR”

Wasting Tax-Dollars on Intersection Buttons

At most intersections, you can usually find a pair of buttons for pedestrians to push to tell the traffic-control system that they are there and want to cross. There are usually separate buttons for each direction (one for crossing north-south and another for crossing east-west). This results in up to eight buttons at each intersection. However, this is wasteful over-engineering. In fact, with proper software design, only a single button is ever necessary at each corner of a standard 4-way intersection. Can you figure out the logic to prove this?

Show solution… ▼

Intersection button design options
Intersections can have either one or two crossing buttons at each corner

The return trip feels shorter because of freedom, not familiarity


That explanation that psychologists came up with back in the 1950’s is incredibly specious because it’s not the same on the return trip because everything is backwards. The roads are different (and might require a different route due to one-way streets), and all of the sights are different because you are seeing everything from the other side. It is a completely different experience. Also, unless this is the first time you’ve been to that location, then the novel-there-familiar-back explanation makes no sense.

A better explanation is that the trip there is likely under a deadline while the return trip is more free. The pressure of trying to stick to a schedule puts added stress on the brain and makes time feel lengthened like most stressful or unpleasant situations have a tendency to do. The freedom of making it back at your own pace (melting ice-cream notwithstanding), relieves you of that burden and so the trip feels shorter.

Cool, and easy runnings

When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I learned how to correctly run. We were in gym class and had to do laps around the entire playground, and I noticed that we were all being easily lapped by Ninar Kabuti (Neenar Kabutee?). It may be a cliché, but it should probably not come as a surprise that an African kid (he was quite stereotypical; dark-skinned, tall, skinny, etc.) would be more athletic than the rest of us. I watched him running from the other side of the playground (before he made it around and lapped us again), and noticed that he ran differently from the rest of us. Instead of rapidly pounding the ground with his feet like were were, he was practically bouncing like on springs. He was bounding across the playground like a gazelle with long strides. Ever since then, whenever I have to run, I take long, bouncing strides because it covers a longer distance with less energy, and it works for long-distance running, but also helps with short sprints.

Goo Gone Secret Recipe Fail

Years ago, my mother bought a baking sheet that was “non-stick”, except that the label on it stuck all too well to it. She peeled the sticker off, but it left behind a bunch of adhesive which couldn’t scrape it off since that would have ruined the non-stick coating. She asked someone at Home Depot for advice and they sold her a bottle of Goo Gone. She brought it home and told me to read the instructions and use it to get the adhesive off of the baking sheet.

I looked at the bottle and noted that the label boasted its “Citrus Power”. I also noted that the liquid in it was orange. I put the bottle down and opened the fridge. I pulled out an orange and peeled it. I squeezed the rind a little to make it exude a little orange-oil and rubbed it on the baking sheet and the adhesive came right off.

My mother laughed heartily. Then she returned the Goo Gone.

Thank you Goo Gone for letting us know that we don’t need your product.

Goo Gone bottle with "citrus power" logo on label
Goo Gone gave away its secret right on the label