Saturday, May 6, 2017

Why does it take so long to board an airplane?

This weekend I flew to Atlanta for a conference focusing on the state of textile production and the extreme harm it does to the environment, along with the exploitation of human life that is occurring to ensure you can only pay $19 for an article of clothing. The conference gave me a lot to think about and exposed me to some facts I had never known. I also got to meet some great people from around the world. But what occupied my thoughts after the conference was something that’s been bothering me for a while: why is inefficiency maximized when we board airplanes?

As anyone can see when boarding an airplane, the front is filled first and there is a tendency to fill the aisles before the window seats. The people way in the back are generally the last to board. I’ve wondered about this and I spent the time waiting to board the plane discussing it with a co-worker, who has more experience flying than me and corroborated my observations with his decades of time spent on planes. We both agreed that the inefficiency of boarding is maximized and it makes a lot more sense to fill the window seats and back of the plane first. It also makes sense to board First Class last, since everyone has to brush past them, which is probably annoying. Furthermore, if you are paying $6,000+ for an airline ticket, wouldn’t you prefer to board the plane and then take off right away? Why make First Class sit there the longest before takeoff?

While waiting in line, we both agreed that the executives and other rule makers in the airline industry know this, so there is probably some reason why the inefficiency is maximized. I offered the idea that perhaps loading takes longer than necessary so that it gives the airline workers more time to prepare the plane for flight. But…this idea falls flat, due to the ease with which boarding times could be adjusted. Just change the boarding time to compensate for the pre-flight preparations and people will change what time they leave home for the airport. No problem. So something else is happening.

I didn’t get the answer while standing in line or while on the flight home. It was after I got home and took a long nap that the answer appeared in my mind. It turns out that there is a reason for maximizing the inefficiency of boarding an airplane. It’s related to what the airline industry is concerned about the most: the safety of its passengers. I’m not saying this is correct and the actual reason why it takes so long to board an airplane, but stay with me…

If you board a plane nose first, then you are MAXIMIZING the amount of time that the passengers are being monitored – by each other. The airline industry uses the TSA and its own employees as filters, but why stop there? The more you filter, the more you can catch. The people that board a plane first are able to see everyone that enters the plane, and the people that board last are able to see everyone that is already on the plane. Additionally, by seating people in aisles before windows acts as a means of more observation, since the people in aisles have to stand up, which allows them to be scrutinized by the other passengers.

So there you have it. There actually is an explanation for why the boarding of airplanes occurs in a manner that is maximally inefficient with respect to time: it provides for an additional layer of security that the airline industry doesn’t have to pay for (they also care about money).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Born In A Factory

Born In A Factory

by Bryan Singleton

Whilst most are born in a biological womb
I was born in a metal room
amidst the grinding of gears
'tis where I shed my first tears

My friends were lever, pulley and switch
and within our metallic niche
we were mechanically inclined
to get in all the trouble we could find

The older robots disciplined us sternly
as we jumped and bounced rather unconcernedly
past the circuits and under the reactor
we got away and erupted with laughter

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What is Real?

                 Below is a letter I submitted to Scientific American. It was not printed.

                After reading the article “What is Real?” from the August 2013 Scientific American, I have decided that an important question regarding the nature of reality is “What is a Boundary?” The article posits that particles and fields aren’t accurate representations of reality, so if they are not, then something else is. The article further proposes that relations between things or simply properties, such as mass and charge, are the constituents of reality.
                I would like to say that, fundamentally, a proton is little different from a star. A proton has a definite and indefinite boundary, much like our Sun. Consider the similarities: a proton and a star have radii (which implies a circular or spherical shape, as well as a boundary), they are affected by forces, they can be observed and they are both deadly and friendly to life. But there is an inconsistency, and that inconsistency is related to boundary in the form of the radii, which paradoxically help to define the boundary. This is interesting: the very fact that boundaries can be measured does nothing to define them. As an example, the influence of the Sun extends far beyond its surface (a boundary), so what is the true boundary of the Sun? Is it the surface or the magnetosphere? The solar wind or the gravitational pull? How can a boundary for the Sun be defined in such a way that agreement will be unanimous?
                When I think of the term boundary, I am referring to a definite end of an object in question, but not necessarily the start of a new object. For example, nothing new starts (that I know of) at any conceivable boundary of the Sun. There is a gap between the Sun and Mercury, a gap between Mercury and Venus, and so on. But…Mercury is contained within the influence of the Sun despite the fact there is an observable gap, which further implies there is no gap between the Sun and Mercury. So we have a situation where Mercury is both beyond and not beyond the Sun, since the true boundary of the Sun is not formally defined.
                If something as big and as easy to see as the Sun does not have a formally defined boundary, then how can the poor little proton ever hope to have one? A proton exudes a positive charge, which implies its boundary extends beyond its equivalent of a surface, much like that of a star. Also, a proton has an interior (which, again, implies a boundary). Is perhaps the interior of the proton, the quarks and gluons, the actual “event” that defines a proton and everything else just consequences? As an example, one could formally define a star as just the portion that undergoes the “event” of thermonuclear fusion and everything else a consequence. This leads to a reality made of events and consequences, which is simple, very simple. But this simplicity leads to infinite regression, since each “event” is really just a consequence. The big bang itself may not have been an “event”, for example, but a consequence of some earlier event, which itself may have been a consequence of an even earlier event, and so on.

                Bryan Singleton

Monday, March 21, 2016

Internet Love

     I wrote a short poem in 2011 about online dating....

The cold keyboard lures the hand
Our eyes revel in a digital land
Night and day, day and night
We scope each other with our limited sight

But does this cause a fright?
To see each other by the monitor's light?
Are we all sick?
We live in a way that is robotic

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Smell

Who knows what I was thinking....wrote this at least 15 years ago.


I found it in my basement and it did not smell good.

"I be the smell."

"My, you are a smelly one."

"Don't talk like dat to me, boy. I funna whip yo ass wit my maulikewls."

"How about if I open a window? You will shortly dissipate, and die. Better yet, I could build a fire and smother you."

"Aye, ye could. But I could drop ye dead before ye gots time to cover ye nose."

"If you kill me, you will cease to exist. No one will smell you, therefore, you must let me live."

"Don't be a playin' games with me head, mo fo. I goin suffocate yo ass slowly and persist a wee bit longer in this here yooneeverse."

I pinched my nose and stared daggers at the little bastard. The smell slowly crept into a corner and hid there, defeated. I spanked its ass hard and it knew it.

What a relief.


by Bryan Singleton (written in 1996)

     "Ha, ha! I dun got a mo foing bastard shot on you sucker! Whuch you goan do bout dat?", bellowed Mohimba. Jurgensjacker didn't offer Mohimba the satisfaction of a reply to his aggravating taunt. A damned bastard shot, thought Jurgensjacker. He gets one godfursaken bastard shot and he's King Almighty Of All The God-Blasted Ping Pong Players. Humph, I goan show dat fool what I got hiding up my mo foing sleeve. Das right Mohimba-whutevar-da-hell-you-are. I goan show yoar stupid ass some right smart shit. Mohimba taunted again. "Come on fuul! You shoulda already had dat sumbitch picked up by now and dun served dat sumbitch!" Saying nothing, Jurgensjacker served a Mighty Fine Shot To The Left Corner. Mohimba grunted and returned the ball ever so lightly, causing Jurgensjacker to extend his arm across the Grand Canyon to return it. Mohimba promptly slammed the ball down on Jurgensjacker's side as it seemingly floated to him. "Das right, toilet water! I dun showed you how to play dis game!", roared Mohimba as Jurgensjacker was plotting against him already.
     Last summer, Jurgensjacker was walking to and fro in the Glades of Glandibula. He was seeking out the old man with the potions. He recalled the words of Old Granpappy: "Now when yewz goz walking down in dem Glades, young pipboy, yewz best be a watchin out for dem ga dam Skullclampers! Dem dings doan never let go when they be a bitin' on yoar little head! So here'z what yew gots ta do: Yew wrap yo ga dam head wit a towel that dun been soaked in ol cow piss. Dem Skullclampers are right smart re-pulsed by dat der smell." So here he is now, in the Glades of Glandibula, with a cow piss soaked towel wrapped around his head, seeking the old man. He never saw a Skullclamper on his way to the old man's abode, but he cast a weary eye past every tree. When he got there, the old man wasn't no man at all. He was a pile of bones. But no matter, he found what he was looking for.
     "Now for Mohimba to get what he's got a coming to his ol crusty ass." Jurgensjacker served the ball too hard and it sailed
past Mohimba's head. "What in all hell of Fat Man Jackson's Underwear is you a trying to do, you dum sumbitch? You damn there
near put a hole in my head, you fool!"
   "Don't worry bout dat der ball dat went past yo shit for a head on yo neck, I gots anoder ball in my pocket." Jurgensjacker reached in his pocket and pulled out The Cursed Ping-Pong Ball From Hell. He served the cursed ball and Mohimba put some wicked spin on it, but Jurgensjacker knew it would never reach his side. The ball stopped over the net and spun faster and faster until it let out a piercing noise that was painful. Smoke was coming out of the ball and it stank of rotting flesh. The ball shrank and enlarged, creating a hypnotic pulsing motion that seized the attention of Mohimba. Too bad Mohimba didn't know that a small amount of spin is all it takes for the ball to unleash a portion of Hell on whomever did so. Too late. Too bad. So sad.
   Jurgensjacker was enraptured with a deep, throaty laughter that impressed The Cursed Ping-Pong Ball From Hell. Mohimba was gazing into nothingness, yet a little bit of Hell was gazing at him. Once the cursed ball was satisfied that Mohimba was hypnotized, it cracked open and ushered forth a globlet of putrid, feckless, throbbing flesh. The flesh started creeping toward Mohimba. When it reached the end of the table, it fell with a squishing noise that could make tough men lose their dinner. The flesh reached Mohimba's foot and started consuming it. The searing pain snapped Mohimba out of hypnosis and his screams shattered the air. It consumed his foot quickly; effiency was the business of this globlet of flesh. Mohimba fell to the ground and grasped the stump that used to yield a foot, as if that would somehow stop the pain. The piece of flesh was now shaped like Mohimba's foot. It leapt into the air and kicked Mohimba in the face, knocking him flat on his back. Mohimba tried to get up, but the flesh had him pinned down. The flesh jumped in the air and slammed down on Mohimba's ribs, cracking several of them. On the next blow, it lodged itself in one of Mohimba's lungs and ate the lung. Through labored breathing, Mohimba let out a scream of terror and pain that would make a demon happy. The flesh dug deeper in Mohimba's body and ate the soft internal organs one at a time.
    Satisfied that Mohimba was dead, Jurgensjacker left and began to seek out a new ping-pong partner.

Wrap Around

by Bryan Singleton


                I feel content about the choice I have made. My new body is comfortable and I have earned a Ph.D. in xenobiology in my abundant spare time. This is not to imply that I am a xenobiologist. No, not by any means. It will simply make my life easier in the immediate future. Several decades previously, I lived on the Earth. I was born in the country of Benthicos, which is on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Although my people, the Benthicans, live on the ocean floor, we still consider ourselves to live on the surface of the planet.  I have never visited dry land and briefly saw it for the first time as I left for Upsilon Andromedae, which is a binary star system with four gas giants, many moons and myriad dwarf planets that is 44 light years from Earth. Upsilon Andromedae A is the primary star and Upsilon Andromedae B is a red dwarf that orbits at more than 750 AU from the planets and their satellites.
                One of my hobbies is to study the past. Five hundred years ago, individuals had automated vehicles that could negotiate water, land and air. Water vehicles typically floated on the surface of the water and the benthic regions were difficult to explore, due to the lack of femtotechnology. The land vehicles required that much of the land be destroyed and paved over with a hard surface that reduced albedo and increased surface runoff, which exacerbated droughts. Land vehicles also had the extreme disadvantage of being forced along those environmentally unhealthy predetermined paths. I, and all of my friends, was completely shocked by the air vehicles, though. I will never forget when I first learned that people manually controlled them. It is interesting to think in blocks of 500 years when comparing methods of travel. 1000 years ago, people were primarily peripatetic and occasionally used animals for making long trips. Even people with high status and power did not have access to automatic vehicles, but relied upon their own efforts or that of animals. Today, even individuals with a low income can easily afford interplanetary and interstellar spacecraft. Lifespan is especially interesting to contemplate. 1000 years ago, most people were lucky to live to age 40. 500 years ago, it was common for people to live to 100. Today, no one experiences true death and the loss of a body is a minor inconvenience. During my 44 light year trip I have learned much of my planet’s history.
                I’m currently on my first 1000 year vacation and my first stop is a moon of the third planet in the Upsilon Andromedae system, which is called Cnidaria. I’ve chosen an artificial body with radial symmetry, like that of a jellyfish, but with one major difference: the eye wraps around. It fully encircles the top portion of my body, like a latitudinal cloud band on Saturn, and the image formed in my mind is uncomfortable. There are two reasons why I chose this body. Firstly, it is a reasonably close simulacrum of the possibly intelligent life on Cnidaria. Secondly, I can accelerate at high multiples of g, which reduces the time needed to reach 99.99% the speed of light and likewise reduces the time needed for deceleration. Therefore, I can reap the benefits due to time dilation and see more of the galaxy with my 1000 years, since the time is measured subjectively by my employer, rather than objectively.
                There are many unanswered questions about the Cnidarians. How and why did they evolve 360° vision? Do they have any concept of forward, backward, left, or right? When choosing a direction in which to move, does the same part of their body always point in the direction of movement? Since they have radially symmetric bodies, which part do they use to identify one another? While I am simulating the body of a Cnidarian, my directional bias plays a major factor in my understanding of orientation. I am always conscious of whether I am facing forward, even when I can see behind me at all times. An organism never having been exposed to forward only vision would not have a directional bias. It is frustrating that I may never be able to fully appreciate 360° vision due to not having been born that way.  
                Since there are millions of planets and moons with life, it is easy for ordinary people to make discoveries or contributions. Some of my vacation time will be spent making contributions to science and although I have a doctorate in xenobiology, I am still just a Benthican. No one labels themselves with job titles these days because we live for millions of years. I could decide to join in the recreation of the Incan Empire or study the core of Pluto, if I wanted. But I do have an employer and my job is simply to analyze the languages of arsenic based life, which is kind of frustrating, due to the safety precautions.
                Why did I choose Cnidaria? It is largely neglected; most people flock to star systems which contain aliens that are morphologically similar to humans and have nonviolent cultures. The Cnidarians are also the only life ever discovered with 360° vision and I believe there’s a good reason for it. I can’t imagine the frustration the original designers of the probe dealt with, since they had to wait more than 90 years to see if it worked or not. Nowadays, probes are automatically sent to every star system and data are being transmitted to Earth continuously from millions of different sources.
                Although I’ve made many interplanetary jaunts in the solar system, this is my first interstellar one. It seems to me rather traitorous to know I’ll be spending so much time under the light of different stars, since I have never felt sunlight on my home planet. Normally, initial probes to foreign planets install SPS, to aide any intrepid explorers. Cnidaria, however, was neglected. During my first five days in orbit I have been custom inserting GPS satellites, arovacams (automatic roving cameras) and steadily monitoring the electromagnetic spectrum for any transmissions. Cnidaria, unfortunately, is technologically silent.
                The Cnidarians themselves seem to have a language, although it may just be my imagination. The arovacams have detected voltage spikes in the water that differ in intensity and duration when multiple Cnidarians are present. It’s possible that they have organs of electroreception, like those in sharks, and organs of electric discharge, like those in electric eels. It will be difficult, and possibly impossible, for me to know if they are merely animals or sentient organisms discussing the weather (I hope they talk about more than the weather). There are protocols that must be followed when trying to understand the biology of newly discovered aliens. Firstly, I have to determine whether they are intelligent or not, and, if so, learn their language. By learning their language, I at least have a chance of understanding their culture and gaining the ability to ask permission to install femtoprobes in some of their living. Femtoprobes make up an invasive anatomical map-making system, made up of quintillions of individual probes 8 billion times smaller than red blood cells, which allows them to negotiate the body undetected (not alerting any known immune system or causing damage to DNA). In comparison, a hydrogen atom is only about 130,000 times smaller than a red blood cell. The femtoprobes are small enough to hide inside the nucleons (protons and neutrons) of an organism’s atoms, identify them, track their movement, and reconstruct the organism, atom by atom in a computer simulation. This is possible because the nucleons of atoms are 99% empty space. Many ethicists are against this practice, because the simulation is perfect. Just like scientists of the past were trained to kill lab rats, scientists of today are trained to “kill” artificial intelligence in computer simulations. In the event that the aliens show no signs of intelligence or culture, then it is legal to install femtoprobes without permission.
                I am thrilled by the possibility that the Cnidarians might have a language. Very reasonably, I have guessed they will not have any words that correspond to “left” or “right”, because of their radial symmetry. Certain human languages, like Korean, lack convenient words, such as personal pronouns. Since Koreans don’t have corresponding words for “him” or “her”, they just say “that person”. The Cnidarians might lack certain words for anatomy, such as “posterior”, “anterior”, “ventral” and “dorsal”, and make up for it by saying “that spot” or “that part”. However, if they have a language, then it could take years, or decades, to get permission to map their bodies. My simulated body only approximates their exteriors; their interiors are unknown.


                The entire surface of Cnidaria is covered with an unruly blanket of water, made so by its parent planet and companion planets which seek to torment it with undulations in the fabric of space, more commonly known as gravitational waves. Just as Earth’s Moon makes one rotation in the same amount of time as one orbit, Cnidaria does the same lockstep dance with Dystyx. Thus, like Earth’s Moon, the same side of Cnidaria is always facing Dystyx. Since Cnidaria makes one rotation in the time needed to make one orbit around Dystyx, each “day” is very long; approximately 60 days. If Dystyx had any inhabitants, their months would therefore be 60 days long. Cnidaria does not have seasons separated by hemispheres which are caused by axial tilt, like back on Earth. Rather, the orbit of Dystyx is very eccentric and during perihelion it is more than 1 AU closer to its star than during aphelion. This is truly astonishing. Earth has a nearly circular orbit which has only a 3.3% difference in distance between perihelion (closest to star) and aphelion (farthest from star). Dystyx, however, has a 52% difference! But there is more. All of the planets in my home system, with the exception of the dwarf planets, are well behaved and lie on an imaginary plane, called the ecliptic. However, in the Upsilon Andromedae system, the planet’s orbits are greatly tilted with respect to one another. It’s unfortunate the Cnidarians live underwater; they would have certainly invented some interesting religions and mythologies if they could see how crazily the objects in their skies skitter about, assuming they are intelligent, of course.
                Dystyx was discovered approximately 500 years ago (in 1999) and was originally named Upsilon Andromedae d, to distinguish it from the other planets in the system. Dystyx has roughly 10 times the mass of Jupiter, with multiple red spots that stare angrily into the depths of space. The Upsilon Andromedae system is a flip-flop solar system, since the gas giants are more proximal to the star than the rocky planets, which is the reverse of my home solar system.
                The fact that Cnidaria has no dry land does not make me feel uncomfortable, because I was raised on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a good thing there is no dry land, what with the skyscraping waves that worry the clouds. The ocean trenches are much deeper than those on Earth and pressures would easily implode an ancient military submarine. Several of the trenches reach depths of 60 kilometers and form valleys that would make a land dweller fear to visit vicariously. Surprisingly, Cnidaria does not lack mountains. If the water were removed, some of the mountains would impress even the most jaded mountain climber, with heights approaching 50 kilometers (roughly 5 times the height of Mt. Everest).


                This is a fragment of a science fiction story in which I have not yet worked out all of the details. I have taken some liberties, such as making Cnidaria complete one orbit in 60 days and even assuming that such a moon exists. I also invented the name “Dystyx” for the gas giant. However, the Upsilon Andromedae system is real and it does have 4 gas giants and a companion star that orbits at 750 AU. I love it when science fiction authors include glossaries, so I have done the same.


AU = astronomical unit. Equal to the average distance between the Earth and the Sun; about 93,000,000 miles. Used frequently in astronomy.
Benthic = deepest part of a body of water, including the seafloor.
Cnidaria = a phylum of the animal kingdom that includes jellyfish. Also the name of a moon.
Dystyx = a gas giant with 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Cnidaria is one of its moons.
femto- = unit of measurement one million times smaller than a nanometer. Used frequently in physics.