Surprise Party

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    Tyrone adjusted the anode plate a little and scanned the sky for the fourth time.  If there was even a hint of rain, he was out'a here.  The adjustment was habit, but it distracted his embarrassment.  His sister was crazy, and she was making him crazy, but he didn't have a choice; doctoral candidates often needed sponsors, and his sister fed and housed him.

    He'd waited until the last minute to set up his equipment at her boyfriend's front door, hoping to avoid the surprise party guests, but he'd still had to address the bemused queries of last minute stragglers.  "It's a little joke Kaila's playing on Jim," he'd explain, shrugging his shoulders to let them know it sure as hell wasn't his idea.

    Five minutes later Jim pulled into the driveway, staring suspiciously at Tyrone and his odd collection of lab equipment.  He got out of the car and turned to Dave, Kaila's co-worker, who climbed out the passenger side.  "Ta-da!" Dave exclaimed triumphantly.  "My birthday present!"

    "What is it?" Jim asked, seeming not at all happy that Dave was even giving him a present.  Dave was flamboyant -- "the artistic type," according to Kaila -- while Jim was more the beer and football type.  Tyrone suspected that the whole thing was Dave's idea.  Even more embarrassing for Tyrone was the fact that Dave had effusively convinced Kaila -- Tyrone's own sister -- that this ludicrous charade actually worked. 

    "Tyrone has been good enough to lend us some quantum magic for your special day," Dave explained.  "He's made a very exciting discovery -- a Quantum teleporter!"

    "Entanglement," Tyrone corrected.  "And I didn't discover it.  It's a phenomena that allows the properties of entangled particles to be linked over any distance.  Given a side-band communications channel, a particle could theoretically be replicated in a different location.  It could be viewed as a type of teleportation."

    His equipment actually measured subtle fluctuations of electric fields, a mere tangent to the actual quantum investigations, but nobody here would know the difference, nor that entanglement was only relevant on individual particles on a scale a trillion times smaller than football-Jim.

    "Indeed!" Dave crowed.  "Just close your eyes and visualize the person you most want to be with, and . . . well, we'll just see what happens."

    Jim gave Tyrone an annoyed glare, and he just lifted one shoulder in response, trying to communicate that it WASN'T HIS IDEA.

    With a tired sigh, Jim placed his hand under the fake "thought receptacle," of the fake "quantum materializer," and closed his eyes for about one second.  "Now what?" he asked unenthusiastically.

    Kaila's friend grabbed the doorknob and announced loudly enough for the guests inside to hear, "Who does Jim most want to be with?" and then after a dramatic pause, flung the door open.  Inside, Kaila stood in her mini red cocktail dress, arms outstretched in welcome.

    Rather than feeling joy at finding the person he most wanted to be with, the thought materializer seemed downright annoyed.  "Ho-ho," he droned with exaggerated faux enthusiasm, "a surprise party.  Gee, what a . . . gosh, surprise!"

    "Jim!" Kaila reprimanded with a pout, "Aren't you happy to find me?"

    "Overjoyed," Jim replied.  "Ecstatic."

    If Jim could have squeezed any more life from those words, they would have drifted slowly to ground as empty husks, mere word mummies.

    "Jim!  What's going on?"

    It was a young woman dressed in men's pajamas standing at the top of the stairs.  Her hair was bent at odd, uncombed angles, and press-wrinkles lined her face.  She'd obviously just crawled out of bed.

    "Uh, oh," someone muttered.

    "Jackie?" Kaila squeaked in confusion.  Rage exploded on a short-timed fuse.  "You bastard!" she cried, slapping Jim across the face.  "How long has this been going on?"

    "No!" Jim parried, "it's . . . it's not what you think!  I don't know how she got here!"

    Tyrone knew a survival lie when he heard one, but Kaila was in love.  She wrinkled her brow a moment, and her face softened.  "It was her you thought of, wasn't it?"

    Jim studied her, trying to understand the escape he was being offered.  "Er . . ."

    "When you went through Tyrone's quantum machine."

    "The machine.  Er . . ."

    Kaila's pout returned.  "Why wasn't it me that you thought of?"

    Understanding blossomed on Jim's face.  "I . . . I did think of you!" he defended.  "But . . ."

    "The unbridled subconscious."

    It was Dave.  "It wants to let go, and it believes that his will bring closure."

    "By materializing Jim's old girlfriend?" Kaila questioned, wanting to be convinced.

    "Haven't you ever dreamed that you were back in class without your homework?"

    "I always dreamt I'd forgotten to put on my makeup."

    "Same thing; your subconscious exploring the mistakes of the past to make sure it doesn't repeat them."

    Kaila looked at Jim and tilted her head.

    "Yeah," he agreed.  "That's it.  My stupid subconscious.  But I think it's satisfied now."

    Jackie sprinted past them, fully awake and half-clothed, obviously finally aware of her most prominent and unwelcomed role.

    Kaila watched her vanquished nemesis run away.  "Do you want to try it again?" she asked Jim.  

    "The machine?"

    "Of course."

    Dave looked quickly at Tyrone.  He got it.  "Uh, sorry.  The, er, capacitive leptons need to be recharged."

    He winced.  He wasn't good under pressure.

    Kaila sighed.  "Well, let's get the party games started," she chirped and walked away.

    Jim took a deep breath.

    "You owe me," Dave said quietly into his ear.

    The birthday boy nodded a serious understanding.

    "The only babe your subconscious is going to invite over for the night is Kaila."

    "Yeah, I got it."

    "Damn right, you do.  Otherwise Tyrone's coming after you with his quantum de-materializer." 

    Jim threw Tyrone a fearful glance.

    His sister was nuts, but she was his sister.  He nodded.  "It's true," he lied. 

                         # # # #

About the Author: 
Blaine C. Readler is an electronics engineer, inventor of the FakeTV, a Beverly Hills Book Award-winner, three-time San Diego Book Awards-winner, and an IPPY Bronze Medalist.

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Quantum Theories

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.