Category Archives: Cramer’s Other Writings

Believe it or not, I don’t spend all of my waking hours thinking about Zero Calvin. And it is evident by the 10 year gap (and counting) that I don’t spend all of my waking hours writing the sequel. This is a collection of my other ideas, writings, and instructive articles.

Short Story: My Seat

With Halloween fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to post this creepy short story:

My Seat

by Brian Cramer

Today was Dan’s first day of high school. The very thought of it put knots in his stomach.  To make matters worse, his family had just moved to this little country town from the city, which meant that he also had to deal with being a strange, new kid in a tight-knit farming community.

As he walked into his homeroom for the first time, Dan could feel the heat on the back of his neck from the other student’s intent stares while he searched for an empty seat. He found one by the window in the second-to-last row. It was a choice seat, so he wondered why no one had claimed it.

He assumed the reason must be that the seats were going to be assigned later on, so for now the students had simply sat down at random. Even still, Dan could not shake the feeling that it had been a mistake to sit in that particular seat. This feeling was reinforced when he noticed that the other students kept glancing at him and whispering to each other as if he had done something wrong. It was very unnerving.

While he was thinking this, a girl walked past him and sat in the seat behind his. As if reading his thoughts, the girl said, “You are in Sally’s seat; that’s why they are looking at you.”
Dan turned around. There was a pale-skinned girl sitting behind him with blonde hair that had been braided into twin pony tails. She was looking hard at him, studying him like an entomologist might study a newly discovered species of beetle.

Dan stammered, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’ll move.” He stood up and looked around, but the previously empty seats had already been filled.

The other students in the class were still looking at him, although he was too preoccupied at that moment to pay much attention to them. One of the students whispered to another, “It’s starting.”

The girl behind Dan motioned for him to sit back down and said, “Well, it’s not as if she is going to use it – she’s dead after all – so you might as well have a seat.”

Dan stared at the seat before hesitantly sitting down, as if half expecting to see a girl’s ghost sitting there. He then rotated sideways on the chair so that he could more easily talk to the strange girl behind him. He had several prudent questions queuing up in his mind, which he skillfully condensed into one word: “What?”

The girl gave him a reassuring smile and waved her hand dismissively. She said, “It’s just an urban legend, I’m sure. My older sister told me about it. Supposedly, last year, there was a girl named Sally who sat in that very same seat on her first day of school. She was a little weird, apparently. My sister said that she would sometimes talk to herself during class. And then, as the days went by, she started looking more and more exhausted and disheveled.

“One day, one of her classmates eventually worked up the courage to ask her why she always looked so tired. Sally stared back at him with dead eyes and said, ‘I can’t sleep. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know what to do. I can’t take it anymore.’ And then that very same night she killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.”

Dan rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, OK, very funny, but that sounds like the kind of story you make up to scare the new guy. Very clever. I’m not falling for it, though. Nice try anyway. I’m sure it will work on someone else.” Dan gave her a smile and added, “I’m Dan, by the way.”

Before the girl could reply, the teacher called from the front of the room, “You, in the back.”

Dan turned forward again. The teacher was looking at him. He glanced around and saw that the whole class was also looking at him. He wondered what he had done wrong. He looked back at the teacher and said, “Yes?”

The teacher tilted her head slightly and asked, “Do you mind explaining what the heck you are doing?”

Great, thought Dan, my very first day of school and already I got off on the wrong foot. Wonderful. What the heck did I do wrong? Did class start already? I must have missed the bell while talking to the weirdo ghost story girl. Oh well, I’ll just fess up.

“I’m sorry. I was just talking to my new classmate. I didn’t hear the bell. Sorry.” He gave an embarrassed half shrug to drive home the point.

The teacher now looked a little worried and said, “Dan, there’s nobody behind you.”

Dan quickly looked behind him. The desk was empty. He looked back at the teacher and then glanced around at all the other students. No one was cracking the slightest smile. Dan said with some panic in his voice, “You’re all messing with me, right?”

The teacher frowned and replied, “Actually, I was just thinking that you were messing with us.”

Dan shook his head. “No, um, sorry. No. I um, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. I was probably just… daydreaming. Um. It won’t happen again. Sorry.”

The teacher seemed mollified for the time being and began to take attendance. Eventually the other students also let him be and focused on other things. When Dan was sure that no one was watching, he glanced behind him once again. The seat was still empty. How weird, he thought, and turned back around.

He then felt hot breath on his ear and a voice whispered into it, “You’re in my seat.”

Dan whipped around, but nobody was there. Completely annoyed, he ran out of the classroom.

This was bull, and he wasn’t going to put up with it. He didn’t care if he got in trouble or not. He would be damned if he was going to be the class fool. Forget that.

When he was halfway down the hall, he began to weigh his options. He could go to the nurse’s office and sit out homeroom, or he could just go home and leave all this nonsense behind. It was certainly tempting for him to go home and forget about this stupid school, but something told him that he needed to ride out the day, so he went to the nurse’s office instead.

When he finally found the nurse’s office, he was happy that the attending nurse was a friendly sort and did not pressure him with questions. She had been at the school a number of years and was used to seeing students like Dan with the first-day jitters.

After the bell, Dan thanked the nurse and went to first period. Mercifully, things went smoothly in this class and there had been no mysteriously vanishing girl with tales of suicide. In fact, the rest of the day also went well. He had even made a few tentative friends in his classes, and it seemed like most of his teachers were not all that bad.

After school, Dan went home, watched some TV, ate dinner with his parents, did some reading, and went to bed.

As he lay there in bed, Dan wondered about the strange girl from homeroom. He had not seen her the rest of the day despite looking out for her. Maybe she had a wig on? Or maybe she let out her braids. Would I recognize her if I saw her again with a different hairstyle? Probably not. Still, how had they done it? It was obvious that the whole class had been in on it. I guess it could have been mirrors or something. If the whole class was in on it, then that was possible. I really shouldn’t have run away like that, though. Now it is going to be twice as hard to face them tomorrow. Oh well, I’ll manage somehow. For now, I really need to get to sleep.

But just before sleep came, a voice in his ear whispered, “Hey.”

Dan opened his eyes and looked around alertly, although there was no point since the room was pitch black. He struggled to control his breathing and sat bone still while straining his hearing for any other noises, but he could hear nothing except the pounding of his own heart. All was quiet.

Eventually he calmed down and dismissed it as a dream. He started to fall back asleep when again came the whisper.

“You took my seat.”

Exactly one year later, Kate was starting her first day of school. She entered homeroom and chose one of the few remaining seats. The other students started to nudge each other and whisper. They were all looking at her. Kate wondered what was going on. Did she have toothpaste in her hair or something?

As if reading her thoughts, a boy sitting behind her said, “You are in Dan’s seat; that’s why they are looking at you.”

Copyright © 2015 Brian Cramer

All rights reserved. Violators will be haunted for all eternity. “You stole my story.”


If you enjoyed this story, you may also be interested in another short story of mine, Mr. Stompy, which is available as a Kindle e-book.

3D-Printed DJI Inspire Clone: Build Pictures and Instructions

NOTE: This guide is based on V1.3 by “Fragmaster”. The original version by RC Hobbys UK and Fragmaster’s new V1.5 will go together a little bit differently. The main differences from V1.3 to V1.5 are swept-back boom tubes, bearingless arm joints, and a canopy that does not slope down to allow for bigger batteries.

The original files for this project can be bought here:

They were designed by RC Hobbys UK to be a 3D-printable version of the DJI Inspire One. They did a fair bit of work to create the files, so I urge anyone who wants to build this to buy the files.

After that, go here and read through this whole thread:

Then, forgot all about the files you bought and piece together something from the random upgrades that people on the forum have contributed. Personally, I went with a collection of files that have been assembled and cleaned up by “Fragmaster”, what he is calling V1.3. I also made a few tweaks of my own, and used a few other parts from the forum. The thread for V1.3 can be found here: (EDIT: This has become the V1.5 post)

OK, on to the build pictures. Since this was my first time building this as well, I took some steps out of order and had to backtrack. As a result, the pictures that I post may have additions shown that have yet to be added according to these instructions. I’ll alert you when this is the case.

First, of course, you need to print the parts. I used PET because it does not warp nearly as much as ABS and it won’t get all soft and gooey in the sun like PLA. The downside is that PET is on the heavy side and is twice as expensive as the above mentioned plastics.

I printed all of my structural parts with 2mm skins (top and bottom layers) and 2mm shells. I used .2mm layer height for everything. It is important to use a thick shell setting so that you will be able to drill the holes larger to accommodate the brass inserts without getting into your infill. Plus it will make the parts more rigid.

The brass inserts that I used can be found here: (McMaster #94180A333)

To install them, drill the hole out with a 3/16″ drill bit. Then insert a very long m3 screw into the insert until it is flush with the bottom. Plug the insert into the hole, then heat the top of the brass insert with a soldering iron. You can press down a little on the screw as the insert melts its way down into the part. Once the top of the insert is flush (or slightly below) the part, remove the iron and hold the screw so that it is sticking straight up from the part until the plastic cools. Then unscrew the screw and continue with another insert.


Frame Bottom Short and Frame Receiver Shelf were both printed with 20% infill. I only used 1mm skins for the shelf. Screw them together.

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I used this distribution board and mounted it underneath the receiver shelf. This is one of those things I did not do until later, but should have done now. Note that I am using the variable voltage output of the board to power the lift servo. You’ll want to set a suitable voltage now.


I also created a cover for the board to prevent shorts. STL here.

IMG_1414 IMG_1415

My Frame Bottom Plate was printed with 20% infill and 1mm skins. Screw it to the bottom of the frame. In the normal version, you would use four 3mm screws to secure it – two along the back side, and two in the diagonal holes. I use two 6-32 screws for the diagonal holes because I’m using a modified version of the wormdrive that uses two aluminum standoffs (1/4″ O.D., 1.5″ length) for added stability. I don’t actually recommend this mod, but if you want to try it, here is the STL for the wormdrive.

IMG_1416 IMG_1417

Add the two little Frame 38mm Struts. I printed mine solid.

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Install your limit switches and whatever captured nut you want to use into the Wormdrive (printed at 20% infill). My version uses a weld nut for an 8mm rod. Other options can be found in the forum linked above. Also, here is the wiring for the limit switches. This is for the version that does not use an Arduino to control the arms. I did not come up with this design. More info about it can be found scattered around the forum.

The basic idea of this method is that the limit switches are in series with each other and the servo motor so that if either of them trips, it will stop the servo. The diodes are installed parallel to each of the switches and allow current to flow through them when you flip the switch to move the mechanism in the other direction. Otherwise, once a switch had been activated, the mechanism would never move again.

IMG_1419 IMG_1420

Run your threaded rod through the wormdrive. Check that your bottom switch activates against the bottom of the frame. I used a nylon rod for smooth action against the steel nut and to save some weight. Most people are using metal because they do nut have the aluminum rods to help keep the wormdrive from flopping around left-to-right. As you can see from the first picture, I used a lathe to turn down a small portion of the rod at the bottom so that it fits nicely inside the hole at the bottom of the frame. Others are using bearings and such. I did this because any force that pushes the arms down is going to be trying to push the rod out the bottom of the frame, which could rip the rod from the servo if it was left unsupported. Notice, also, that I notched the top of the rod to fit the notch in the servo horn adapter that I’m using.

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Cut your 16mm tubes to length. Get them close to size and use sandpaper or a sanding belt to get them exact. Epoxy these boom tubes into the Frame Arm Joints and Frame Outer Arms. PRINT THESE PARTS SOLID. Don’t bother mucking around with the screws that go through the tubes to secure them. Believe me, It’s a stupid way to attach these and it will ultimately loosen up and/or break. Have you ever had a snow shovel that was put together like that? You broke it, didn’t you? See. It’s OK if you just dry fit them now if you are a wimp. Otherwise, glue them in place. Make sure the two T’s are completely level with each other. You can place them both down on a level surface to do this. Also, You’ll have to drill or grind out the excess tube that will partially block the exit holes for the motor wires.


If you want to epoxy your rod linkages now, it might be a good idea since you already have some epoxy mixed up. The distance between the center of each mounting hole of the control rod should be exactly the same as the distance between the center of the two T joints. If you measure your tube and rod lengths perfectly, then it should all work out fine. Some people have used adjustable-length linkages here to fine tune things. If the lengths are off then the motors will not stay parallel when lifting and lowering.

IMG_1429 IMG_1431

Prep your booms by installing the 8mm aluminum or carbon fiber pivot tubes, and either 608zz bearings or nylon bushings (STL here.) I had to upscale the bushings slightly to get a good, snug fit inside the holders. You want a slop-free fit here. NOTE: If you are building V1.5, you will be using the printable bushings included in the STL package. They don’t have to be printed in nylon.

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Attach the Frame Bearing Holder Rear. (The rear bearing holder is the one with the mounting points for the control rods.) Slide the boom assemblies in place. Slide the Frame Bearing Holder Front into place. I printed my bearing holders with 30% infill.

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Prep your servo according to the diagram linked to earlier. (Note: do not use the servo in the pictures – it is too weak.) Also print out and attach your server-horn-to-rod adapter. You can find a link to it in the following post, which also shows a little more about modifying the server and putting together the lift mechanism:

Install the servo and servo horn / rod adapter. I printed the Frame Main Body Top at 20% infill. Please note that I ran the screws the wrong way to mount the servo. You should install four brass inserts and run the screws from the top. Because I did this, I had to use lock nuts on the top side, and I had to countersink the two back holes to keep the screw heads from interfering with later assembly.


Attach the frame top to the two bearing holders.

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You can tentatively install the Boom Lift Linkages (printed solid) to test the arm motion. You will have to remove the screws that run through the linkages and the arm joints later on to run the motor wires, so for now maybe just thread in a small screw through just the front pair of linkages. I used the electronics from my Discovery to actuate the server for testing.

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If you want to start installing your gear, now is as good a time as any. I mounted my NAZA in the center of the bottom shelf as far forward as I could get it. I mounted the power unit for it to the left of it. I also got really ambitious and stacked the four ESCs to the right of it (not shown). My receiver and voltage monitor are on the receiver shelf.


It was a tight squeeze to fit the four ESCs on the bottom shelf. I made a slot in the bottom shelf/plate and ran a Velcro strap around them all to hold them in place, along with some double-sided foam. Hey, it works.

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You can install the Frame Strengthener and Canopy Tail now, which I think should be called the Frame Tail, but whatever. Note that in this picture I ran my servo wires through the frame strengthener. I later re-routed them to skirt around the left side of it because my battery was hitting these wires and connectors.

IMG_1465 IMG_1469

At this point I temporarily mounted my arm tubes and played around. With the battery in place and all the electronics (save the motors), I found the center of gravity, which for me was near the back of the rear bearing holder. I positioned my tubes to be centered with the center of gravity, which for me was 35mm back from the center of the boom tube. Please note that I am using 13″ props and they do not hit the boom tubes, but anything larger might. If you nose around the forum, some people have designed angled T junctions to angle the boom tubes backward to solve this problem (like the new V1.5). I decided to keep things simple and just shift the arm tubes back a bit. To each his own. I do feel it is important to try to keep your center of gravity in the center of the motors so that some of the motors are not working harder than others to keep the craft level.

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Mount your motors on the motor mounts (printed with 30% infill). Before you run the wires down inside the mounts,  you may want to dry fit this assembly and verify that when the props are installed and the arms are mounted in a position for the best center of gravity, that the props do not hit the boom tubes in either up or down position. Then, disassemble and grind an opening in your arm tubes at the location you identified to give you an even center of gravity. I used a small grinder wheel in a drill in the orientation shown in the picture below.


Run your motor wires through the motor mounts. I’m using a modified version of the mount that I found on the forum that has an access hole behind the motor. This gave me a bit more length on my wires, and even still I had to extend the wires from one of the motors.

Note, some people are mounting their ESCs below the motor mounts. You can find a few variations of these ESC boxes in the forum.

Slide two nylon bushings onto each rod if you are using them. NOTE: These bushings are not required for V1.5, and optional for the original and V1.3.

I say again, SLIDE ON THE NYLON BUSHINGS. You don’t want to forget these, especially if you glue your motor mounts in place.

OK, now run the wires down the tube and out the hole. The hole should be large enough (or long enough) so that as the arm rotates when the boom raises up and down, the wires do not get pinched in the joint. There are scientific ways of going about this. I eyeballed it. You should now cover your wires where they exit the tube with something to protect them, be it heatshrink, rubber tubing, tape, or whatever. Just in case, you know.

Make sure that you have the hole orientated how you want it and then glue the motor mounts in place. Forget what you see in the pictures. The damn bolts are nothing but trouble. Remember that broken snow shovel! As of this writing, a few of us are tinkering with a version of the motor mounts that are split so that as one tightens down the bolts, the plastic will grip the tubes better. V1.5 includes this type of mount and some are reporting success with it. I say damn it all and just glue them in place! Again, make sure the two motor mounts are together on a level surface and the hole in the tube is aligned properly.

If you are thick-headed and use the bolts, make sure to poke something through the holes first to verify that you are not about to screw through your motor wires. See – another reason to just glue them on!


Run the wires through the boom tubes and bolt together the outer arm T joint thingies. Tighten all the bolts a little at a time until the arm tube is held firmly but can still rotate relatively easily. You probably don’t want to tighten these all the way down, especially if you added the nylon bushings. Be careful when handling the craft not to allow the arms to rotate too much and stress your motor wires. Also, it might make sense to tape or mark one of the groups of motor wires so that you can tell them apart later, although if you shifted the mounting location like I did, then one set of motor wires will be shorter than the other. Also, you will most likely have to remove the bolts that attach the boom lift linkages to the frame arm joints to allow the motor wires to pass unobstructed through the boom tubes. When reinstalling the bolts, first push something through the holes (like your socket driver) to check that the wires are not in the way.


Attach the Boom Stop Ring, Boom Support Linkage, and the control rod (all parts printed 100%). Before attaching the boom support linkage, I advise you to sand the shine down on the surface of the arm tube where it will mount. I would also draw horizontal lines with CA (super glue) and let them dry. You want to add extra friction so that the support linkage can really grip the tube well. I also urge you to install a second one (as shown in the second picture).

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Assemble and attach your feet. Note that the tube sticks out a little bit and will insert into the motor mount. Sand it down as needed.


So far, things should look something like this. Actuate the arms up and down to ensure that the operation is relatively smooth and the motors stay level. If they do not, then either your control rods are not quite the right size, or you have too much slop. I found that the bushings that I had installed to replace the 608 bearings were a little too loose in the holders, and that actually introduced slop in the arm rotation, causing the motors to not be level when I lifted the arms. Replacing the bushings with better fitting ones actually solved this issue.

Well, you are pretty much home and dry now.

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Install your Canopy Nose and Canopy Top. You can print these as flimsy as you dare. I only did 10% fill. They are massively heavy even still. You’ll want to install one or two Velcro straps on the canopy (actually frame) tail before installing the canopy top so you will have something to hold the battery in place. You will probably also want to install Velcro under the frame tail and on your batteries. Personally, I made a clip instead:

IMAG0713 Battery Clip 3300

Now you’ll want to wire everything up. Good luck. Things will be quite tight if you installed the speed controls on the main frame like I did. I also ended up adding a GPS antenna mount, which you can find here:

Now fly it!

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I hope this guide helped you. I’m sure I missed some things, but you will figure it out as you print and handle the parts. No worries. Happy building, and happy flying!


The Age of Disposable Words

Way back in the dark ages (before the Internet), words were precious things. We would gather them up like jewels, fussing over each and every one of them to get just the perfect arrangement. We would show them to several people, get opinions and feedback, check for errors, and then ink them carefully onto paper protected by a thick leather cover.

LOL now we just write whatever we want and most people dont even know how to spell punctuation let alone use it im guilty of this myself :-p

I fear that speech is now too free. By that I mean that it is now too easy for a person to broadcast every small, inconsequential, and unfiltered thought instantly around the world. It started with web pages, became easier with blogs, easier still with MySpace and Facebook, and now thanks to Twitter the world knows instantly what every celebrity had for breakfast. Enough is enough.

And yes, I see the irony that I am writing about this on my blog, and posting it to Facebook. In fact, as a writer, the age of disposable words has been both a blessing and a curse for me. Thanks to advancements such as the Internet, self-publishing, and e-books, the barriers to becoming a writer have all but been eliminated. The down side to this, of course, is that talented writers and worthy books are now drowning in a sea of mediocrity. It seems that suddenly everyone thinks they are all bright and shiny stars, filled with witticisms and insights, who owe it to the world to share the funny thing their cat did with a tissue box.

So what is my point, you might be asking. I don’t know, to be honest. Perhaps I am just an aging man who is grumbling about the good old days when men were men and words had value. Or perhaps I am trying to sound a wake up call to the Nintendo generation, urging them to cherish their linguistic freedom and respect it by putting some thought and effort behind their writing. Or perhaps I am simply… lol look at that! My cat just got its head stuck in a tissue box! ROTFLMAO

The Origins of Ecchi

Foreign words are great. Sometimes we use them to soften or obscure the meaning of a traditionally vulgar or taboo word or subject. Other times they are used to add a certain flare to a subject, or to form a slightly different connotation than that of its literal interpretation. It seems that both the Japanese and the Americans, or at least a small otaku (nerd / anime and manga super enthusiast) subculture thereof, have been doing this with each others’ words and in some cases the words gets passed back and forth.

I recently ran into the word “ecchi” (pronounced like eh-chy with a slight pause in between) a few times on English-speaking sites, which I found really amusing because I know it’s a word that’s been tossed back and forth across the world a few times. Here is the gist of its lineage to the best of my knowledge:

It starts with the word hentai (pronounced like hen-tie) which is composed of two kanji characters, “hen” meaning “change, strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric, etc.” and “tai” meaning “state or appearance”. They come together to form the word hentai which means either “transformation / metamorphosis” or “abnormality / pervert”. In the many Japanese movies, shows, and cartoons that I’ve seen, this word is always used the same way we would use pervert. It usually applies to someone that is overtly sexual or somewhat sexually deviant. In anime (Japanese cartoons and animated shows), there is inevitably a scene where a girl enters a boys room for the first time and accidentally discovers his porno collection. She will then flip out and call him a hentai. It is not a nice word to call someone, of course, but it is a lot nicer than chikan (chee-kahn) which might also be translated as pervert but has more of the connotation of being a molester. If you have an odd porn collection or you like to sniff panties then you would be called a hentai. If you are trying to “accidentally” grope girls on a crowded subway car then you have crossed the line into chikan land.

Now we go back to The States where hentai takes on the meaning of x-rated. English speakers usually use it to refer to either pornographic Japanese manga (comics / graphic novels) or pornographic Japanese anime. As this genre progressed, hentai was shortened down to the prefix “H”, giving us H-manga, H-anime, and H-games (pornographic video games).

Somehow this “H” prefix made its way back to Japan where it was transliterated as ecchi, which is as close to “H” as their phonetic system can get. Here its meaning has softened to mean sexy, erotic, naughty, or simply to have sex or “mess around”. It is a playful word and I’m assuming it is used most often by children who would be embarrassed to use stronger language.

Now once again we come back to The States where ecchi gets used as a softer version of hentai and is applied once again to Japanese manga, anime, and video games to mean soft-core or slightly sexual. In other words, tits and ass only.

I wonder if this will ever end? I wonder if we will start to see the terms E-anime and E-games being thrown around? And if so, just how will the Japanese use “E”? Now that I think about it, I suspect that it will end at ecchi. I don’t see “E” becoming popular because people are pervs and will always favor “H”. Even if “E” became a thing here, it would be transliterated in Japanese as “ii” which already means “good”.

So now you know way too much about the word ecchi. Congratulations, you are well on your way to becoming an authentic otaku.

I hope you enjoyed this little cultural exchange lesson. I will keep my eye out for any other bizarro cross-nation repetitive language mutations.


The Toilets are Real!

Bio Bidet Electonic Toilet Seat

The toilets in Zero Calvin really do exist!

As most of you know, Zero Calvin was released in 2003. in it, I wrote about high tech toilets that wash and dry your bum for you. Here is some of what I wrote:




The toilet appeared to Calvin to be machined from one solid piece of aluminum. It had elegant carvings, or rather, it had elegant castings of vines, leaves, and flowers covering all available surfaces except the seat. The seat was smooth and contoured to fit the shape of a human’s bottom. The seat did not lift up, presumably to prevent conflicts over its recommended position while not in use. It was very elegant for a toilet, if not a little clinical.

Calvin sat down on the toilet and looked about the bathroom for a newspaper or magazine to read; there was none. He exhaled dejectedly and merely pretended to read a newspaper. After a few minutes, his business was complete. He looked about the small room for the toilet paper; there was none. He exhaled dejectedly and decided he was damned if he was only going to pretend to wipe.

He started to get up to search the room. The second his weight was off the top of the seat, two nozzles nestled deep inside the toilet shot his bottom with a mixture of precisely warmed water, gentle solvents, and light scents. This, needless to say, came as a shock to Calvin. He jumped forward with surprise. With his body still bent forward to facilitate getting off the seat, he nearly hit his head against the sink, which was watching all the action from the opposite side of the small room. The sink was very glad that Calvin did not hit his head against it — as was Calvin.

Calvin was recovering from the shock when a number of logical dots began connecting in his head. Hmm, he thought. No magazine, he thought. No newspaper, he thought. No toilet paper, he thought. No paper at all, he thought. The toilet is also a bidet, he thought. Yuck, he thought.

He took a number of deep breaths while working up his courage. He closed his eyes tightly and backed his way slowly toward the toilet again. With immense bravery, he sat back down on the offensive toilet seat. Milliseconds before his bottom connected with the seat, the nozzles took aim and fired again. At first, Calvin was embarrassed by the water being shot at his bottom. Then, he was even more embarrassed by the fact that it actually felt good to him.

Approximately ten seconds went by and the nozzles switched to the drying cycle, which produced a similar surprise in Calvin as the initial attack had done. He recovered and sat back down. Ten more seconds of warm air and his first intimate encounter with 216 K.B. technology was finished.

He stood up and began to pull up his pants. As he did so, the toilet began its cleaning cycle. Two more nozzles ejected from a point approximately six inches above the toilet seat while two long rubber blades appeared from a compartment just above the toilet seat.

Calvin laughed hysterically as the windshield wiper apparatus scrubbed the seat clean. He continued to laugh for over two minutes. As he did so, the nozzles and blades neatly hid themselves again and the toilet politely flushed itself. Calvin eventually had to stop laughing because his ribs were starting to hurt.

I swear that I had no idea that these things actually existed in the real world. At that point in my life, I was only vaguely aware of the classic English-style bidet. So imagine my shock when I encountered one in a Japanese hotel room in 2007! OK, they don’t have windshield wipers attached to them, but they do everything else and more. Here is video of me mucking around with one in Tokyo:

In fact, I was so “moved” by these things that I actually own one. The one I have is by a company called Bio Bidet ( and it has made my life so much more civilized. Seriously, if you are still smearing poo around your backside with pieces of tree, you are so in the stone ages. OK, they tend to be pricey – around $500 USD – but you can’t put a pricetag on quality of life. Here are some of the features:

  • Heated toilet seat (This is worth the money alone. So very nice in the winter time.)
  • Bidet (It washes your bum for you!)
  • Heated Dryer (Isn’t as useful as one may think, and I still end up wiping to dry myself.)
  • Exhaust fan (This is truly marvelous and the best feature of all, even better than the heated seat. Let’s face it, when we are young our “shit don’t stink”, but as we age, well, it can get a little nasty sometimes. The exhaust fan is excellent and works for me every time. I’ve had friends that have still managed to overwhelm it, though. I think they need to change their diets, personally. But I digress.)
  • Remote Control (Really, it has one. Mainly so that you can put the controls wherever you want. But it is also loads of fun when company comes over for the first time.)

So yes, you can actually have a Zero Calvin toilet seat and, in fact, I highly recommend it.


Cramer’s Guide to Visiting Japan

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Japan twice so far – once in 2007 and then again in 2008, both times with my friend Ryan. The following are my closing thoughts on our second trip as well as a few tips to anyone who wants to try visiting Japan for themselves. These are based on my experiences mainly in Tokyo and not necessarily Japan as a whole, so it is akin to judging all of America based on a visit to New York City. Still, I think my impression of Japan would be similar regardless of where I had gone.

Hmm, where to start? I guess by thanking the people of Japan for tolerating us two Americans who are largely ignorant of Japanese language, culture, and etiquette. Everyone we came across in Japan, save possibly one waitress, treated us with respect and politeness. One almost expects store clerks and hotel staff to be polite, which they were to the 10th degree, but I was amazed at how courteous and thoughtful even the general population was. I think this is largely the result of their traditional upbringing, which teaches them that to lose your temper or to be discourteous to others takes away from your honor, in other words you lose face. This idea of status and honor is exemplified by the Japanese language which has different levels of politeness that are used in different circumstances depending on how familiar you are with someone and your relative social status versus theirs. Status is usually determined by position in a company, education level, and age. I tend to call these politeness levels casual, polite, groveling, and ass-kissing. As a foreigner, it is highly recommended to stick with polite Japanese. There are circumstances where the other levels are more appropriate, but as long as you aren’t visiting on business you should be safe. Unfortunately, more polite equals more words or longer words. Most language courses and phrase books are going to teach you phrases based on this level of politeness.

My guess is that some of this politeness has to do with the fact than many Japanese are Buddhists, but most religions teach people to treat others the way that one wants to be treated, so I think that religion is a variable we can probably eliminate. I think it is more a matter is upbringing. It may also, to some degree, have to do with law; many of which are courtesy laws such as not smoking when walking down the street or not talking on your phone and shutting off the ringer when on the subway.

Speaking of laws, the people of Japan seem to be very law abiding even when it comes to “silly” things such as “Cross / Don’t Cross” lights at street crossings. I’ve witnessed many Japanese people waiting patiently to cross even small side roads that clearly had no traffic on them. I’ve even watched someone plainly in a hurry running down the sidewalk, only to wait for a light at a small side road. The light is the law, and they obey it. Not much jaywalking there. In fact, if you jaywalk you can seriously hurt people because they don’t expect anyone to do it, so when they see you crossing they will sometimes follow you under the assumption that it is safe, and then promptly get hit by a car. It may seem silly, but they must have their reasons so when you go to Japan, don’t be the ugly American – just wait for the light. Besides, traffic directions are reversed there so you may screw up and get hit by a car yourself by not expecting a car to come at you from the right as you step off the curb.

This pride, this honor, and perhaps law abidingness was also shown in the way the Japanese treat their environment. In all our travels through the mega-city of Tokyo, we very rarely saw any graffiti. I don’t think I ever saw litter. Whenever there was construction going on, the work site was surrounded by a white plastic wall for safety, and I never saw any graffiti on those walls. One time, I even saw pockets built into the wall which contained potted plants to make it look nicer. They also seem very keen on recycling, even more so than here in the States. If you eat at a fast-food joint like McDonalds or whatever, you will consistently see (a) a place to dump your unfinished drink and/or left over ice (b) a place to put your straw and the lid to your drink (c) a place for the rest of your (paper) trash. So the general protocol is take your lid off with the straw, put it in the plastic side, dump out your drink, put the cup and all other trash in the paper side, leave the tray on top. The hotels also have many signs and suggestion on conserving water, sorting garbage from recyclables, etc. Also, on the rare times that you see a garbage can in public, it will be accompanied by glass, can, and plastic recycling bins. Here is a tip, when you see the word PET on a trash can, it is not a place to store your dog or cat – It’s for plastics. As another side note, I think the reason for the lack of public trashcans is because public eating (while walking down the street) is considered rude or discourteous. There are, however, always trash cans or recycling bins wherever garbage can be generated, like next to a vending machine for instance. We even saw a place to put “indecent flyers” when we went to a crappy part of Roppongi. You will, however, find yourself carrying some trash from time to time. Man it up and don’t litter.

Eating in Japan is fun and daunting. It’s fun because you get to try new foods, but daunting because you are usually completely surprised but what you get because, of course, the menus are usually in Japanese. However, some (10%) of restaurants will give you an English menu. Most (90%) will have plastic renditions of the food they serve on display in front of the restaurant, or pictures of the food on the menus. This will do you some good but you are still usually guessing wildly at the ingredients. Also, portions are almost always smaller than American meals, so you will find yourself eating a lot more frequently. Ryan and I usually ate four meals a day with snacks in between because of the small portions and the amount of exercise we got from walking everywhere. In a pinch, there are some fast-food joints and the food is not half bad. You will be doing so much eating in Japan that I highly recommend that you focus your vocabulary and reading lessons on Japanese food. We didn’t, so it was often McDonalds, Wendy’s, or Burger King for us out of hunger and frustration. We also seemed to eat a lot of Italian-style food because it was easiest to figure out by pictures. It is easy to pass judgment and say one should take a chance at something new, but when you find yourself starving and needing quick relief, you may change your tune. Still, we proved that you can keep yourself fed in Japan just by pointing at pictures.

Speaking of eating, if you are going to learn any of the Japanese language, learn Katakana. This is a phonetic symbology that is usually used to spell out words borrowed from other languages, and is surprising prevalent and handy to know. For one, you can read fast-food menus. Even at other restaurants, some of the foods are written in Katakana. Also, many store/company names and some signs are written partially in Katakana. Since Katakana is phonetic and many words are from English, you can derive their meanings.

The trains, subways, and taxis in Tokyo are awesome. Trains and Subways work about the same. There will be machines to buy a ticket just before the entrance to the line that you are going. Over the machines there is always a big map showing all the lines of the station along with the stops that they make and the associated price to go to each stop. These are usually all in Japanese, so it is vitally important to bring an English subway map with you so that you can count the stops on the English map, and then count them off on the Japanese map to get the price. You then feed the money into the machine and push the button (or screen choice) for that price and it will spit out the ticket. Most machines will handle the reverse, i.e., pick your price first and then pay. The ticket consists of a machine readable magnetic side and a printed side for (Japanese) humans. You feed this into the gate as you walk up to it and keep walking. By time you make it to the end of the gate your ticket will be waiting for you further down (on top of) the gate. Take it! When you exit the subway, you will have to stick it in a gate again to get out. If you lost your ticket or didn’t pay enough, back up and take the ticket over to the guard that will be sitting at a both on one side of the gate or the other. He’ll look at the ticket and figure out what to charge you. If you lost your ticket, he’ll just ask you where you are coming from – it’s on the honor system for you to give him the correct answer. A couple of tips on buying tickets: Don’t pay twice as much and hope to use it for the return trip as the exit gate will always take the ticket and keep it. Also, don’t buy two tickets from the same station in hopes of using the second one for the return trip. The tickets are keyed to the starting station. The funny thing is, the system will let you in with the wrong ticket but it won’t let you out, and the guard guy will be very confused when you hand him a ticket originating from the station you are currently trying to exit – I know this from experience. Taxis are interesting. You will usually see them lined up in front of a hotel, along a popular street, or in front of a subway/train station (especially at closing time – most lines are closed from midnight to 5:00 AM) Always go to the taxi at the front of the line or you will be told to do so by whatever cab you pick – they have some sort of gentleman’s agreement to take turns. Also, the doors are usually automated, so watch your hands after you get in! Oh, and one last tip on taxis: Carry a book of matches or stationary with you from the hotel in which you are staying so you have something to show the taxi guy when you are drunk out of your skull from drinking too much at a “snack shop”.

This leads me to nightlife. Ryan has probably been more observant than I on this front, but I will give you my impressions. At some point you may find yourself in search of tits and beer, i.e. a strip club. Unfortunately, most of the strip clubs will not let a gaijin (other person, foreigner) into their establishments. Some will let you in if you can speak Japanese well. When you are turned down, be polite and leave without a fuss. It is just the way things are. As you walk in a frustrated funk down the seedier parts of Tokyo, you will be inundated with inquiries as to whether you would like to see tits and get some free beer. When you inevitably say yes, they will take you to a “snack.” These places are not just tourist traps, but many Japanese will go to them voluntarily. They are places where pretty woman stroke your ego, and maybe rub a few other parts over your clothes. Essentially, you are paying for a flirty date. You don’t actually pay the girls, though. And your drinks are free. But, the girls will ask you to buy them drinks, and being the gentleman (sucker) that you are, you will buy them one or two or five. You may even buy some champagne for the table, since you are Mr. Big Shot. Believe me, the woman are trained to make you feel like a high roller and then drain you dry. Egos can be expensive. Broke and frustrated, you will leave and be asked either directly (Do you want sex?) or indirectly (Do you want to come to my massage parlor?) if you want some, uh, release. We never went down that path, but I’m sure you could get some at a price. In fact, it might be cheaper just to start down that path to begin with. If you are feeling frugal, Ryan recommends Gaspanic, a famous bar with locations scattered around Tokyo in which the occupants must actively drink to stay in the bar, so morals get drowned rather quickly. You can probably hook up with someone for free there. A fun place if you can still handle hangovers with grace.

If you carefully avoid the trappings of tits and beer, you can spend some time burning out your retinas by walking around Shibuya, Shinjuku, and many other major sections of Tokyo. There are so many lights, neon signs, and television screens in parts of Tokyo that if you don’t look up you will swear that it is daytime. It is awesome and exciting. After some time in the city, however, you will probably get a headache because your brain is always scanning the signs that it sees and trying in vain to decode them.

During the day in Tokyo, you can throw a rock in any direction and hit a temple or a park or a park surrounding a temple or a park surrounding some other important building. Parks in Japan are more like gardens in that they are usually pruned, preened, manicured, landscaped, and always breathtakingly beautiful. I highly recommend checking some out. There is also plenty of shopping of all kinds. If you like looking like you are bat-shit crazy, I suggest going to Harajuku and buying some stuff there. If you are a high-level geek, you will absolutely love Akihabara, where you can find shops that sell just capacitors, or just switches, or just spy-cameras. Many other stores have comic books, or porn, or both. Tons of them have computers and other electronics. The prices aren’t great, but you are guaranteed to see the newest stuff on the market. Ryan and I made several trips to Akihabara, go figure.

Before you can buy stuff, you will need money. Japan uses the Yen, and it is very roughly equivalent to 1/100 of a dollar (please check current exchange rates). Think of a Yen as one penny. Yen comes in coins and bills. The coins are 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 (equivalent to 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 50 cents, $1.00, and $5.00) Yep, a five dollar coin. You can pay for whole meals with pocket change. Bills are 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000 ($10.00, $20.00, $50.00, $100.00), although the 2000 yen note is a rare novelty like our $2.00 bill or our $1.00 coin. You can change in your dollars for yen at the airport, or you can simply use an ATM at the airport, some convenience stores, or a post office. I don’t think the associated fees for using an ATM are that bad, but I don’t have the hard numbers.

Lodging in Tokyo ranges from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku to the Capsule Inn in Akihabara (no longer there I’m afraid), and Ryan and I stayed at both during our trip. Whatever your price range, you can find a place to stay. I would suggest that you don’t plan on staying at a capsule the whole time you are in Tokyo, but one night is interesting. You can read about the Hyatt and the Capsule in posts for Day 7 and Day 8. If you have God money, or massive hotel points, I highly recommend the Park Hyatt. Ryan and I also liked the Tokyo Bay Intercontinental and the Tokyo Intercontinental ANA, both of which you can stay at with Holiday Inn points if you have them. The Holiday Inn Nobu Narita is OK, but you will probably get cancer from the radar dish of the airport across the street.

Getting lost in Tokyo is a possibility for sure, but you have several options if you plan ahead a little. Before venturing out into the great unknown, you should take a second to remember the name of your hotel and what it looks like from the outside. You should also note the tallest building in your vicinity and any other interesting landscape feature such as an overpass or a certain shop, or a park. Take a digital camera with you – one with a screen on it. If you want, take a picture of the above just to jog your memory or maybe to show someone if need be. Also, remember the nearest subway entrance to your hotel and how to get to and from it from your hotel. The staff at your hotel can give you a map of the immediate surrounding that will contain this info. Get it and keep it with you. So, you are lost; what do you do? Don’t panic. You have some options. One is to look around for the tall building that you took note of. Another is to walk around a bit until you stumble on a map of the area, which are plentiful around Tokyo. The maps will have major landmarks on them, one of which may even be your hotel. Take a picture of the map! Use it to get you back to the hotel. If you have no luck with a map, you can walk until you find a subway or train station and take that back to your hotel. You did remember the nearest station to your hotel, right? If you don’t want to do that, you may also look for a cab. Ask him to take you to your hotel. You did remember the name, right? If not, you hopefully took some matches or stationary from it. Failing all of those options, Look for a police box (Koban). There is usually one every few blocks and the policeman inside is very familiar with his area and is more than eager to help you out. They usually have maps of the area right on their desks. Not all speak English, so you will have to get resourceful sometimes, but they will work with you. Ryan and I even found a small statue of Godzilla just be reciting some stock Japanese phrases for “Where is X?” to a policeman. A phrasebook is not a bad thing to have with you too.

Well, that’s probably enough info about Japan for now. I’d highly recommend that anyone with some spare cash and free time and a sense of adventure take a trip there at least once. Definitely don’t go to Japan for the first time alone, not because you will get mugged or something but because you will go nuts from not being able to talk to anyone and also so that you will feel a little more confident and willing to try new things. It just helps to have someone there to get through the tough parts, and also to share the good parts. To that end, I’d like to thank Ryan for being silly and adventurous enough to go back there with me, and also for burning all of his hotel points on our lodging! Arigatou gozaimasu, Ryan-san.

Cramer’s Special (Education) Theory of Gravity

Albert Einstein created the General Theory of Relativity to explain and mathematically model gravity. As he was finishing it, he had an oh-shit moment and realized it wouldn’t balance out properly unless he shoved in an arbitrary number that he called the Cosmological Constant. Without this number, his theory would show that the universe was expanding instead of being static. Years later, physical evidence was obtained that the universe was, indeed, expanding. This evidence was the “red shift” – the color shift towards the red of the returning radiation from distant stars in comparison to closer stars. This shift is due to the Doppler Effect. This is the same effect that causes an ambulance’s siren to sound differently to us when it is coming at us than when it is traveling away from us. Eventually, Einstein acknowledged his mistake and removed the constant. The funny thing about this is that he was originally right, but then a simple assumption of the way the world worked did him in.

Einstein’s theory about gravity has something to do with curved spacetime and other nifty things like that. It’s odd but it is well proven experimentally and universally accepted these days. I have a different way of looking at it, one that is not mathematical but conceptual and probably quite wrong, but I am sharing it just the same. I want to stress that this is not generally excepted science and I am just pulling a theory out of my ass. Still, although it certainly has its flaws, you may find it intriguing.

At the heart of my theory is the very thing that Einstein fudged, the expansion of the universe. If you believe that the universe is expanding, that is, everything in the universe is traveling away from everything else, then you might suppose that at one time everything was all lumped together in one very tight, very dense blob and then “exploded” away from each other. This is a crude rendition of the Big Bang Theory. I’ll discuss that in another article. For now, let’s not worry about the origin, but concentrate on the here and now. If you want to visualize our expanding universe, put a few thousand dots on an un-inflated balloon. Start to blow it up and watch the magic as all the dots move away from each other.

So what is gravity? Gravity is a force brought on by acceleration. When you mash down on the gas peddle of your car, you feel a force pull you back in your seat. Gravity works the same way, but how? First, we must accept that everything exerts its own gravity, but the small items we encounter from day to day don’t exert enough for us to notice. This means that as far as gravity is concerned, fat chicks are more attractive than skinny ones, but we don’t notice either way. We certainly notice the gravity of Earth, though.

So where is all this acceleration coming from? How is the Earth accelerating in all directions at once? Wait, we just said that the universe is expanding in all directions at once. Ah, that’s how it’s doing it!

But wait, that’s crap, right? Shouldn’t we be “expanding” away from Earth just like everything else is expanding away from everything else? Not quite, and here is why: The matter in the universe is distributed unevenly. I’ll get into why I think this is so in another article, but let’s just deal with the implications for now.

You are expanding right now. Your body is expanding, the cells that make up your body are expanding, the atoms that make up your cells are expanding, the electrons, protons and neutrons that make up your atoms are expanding, the quarks that make up those particles are expanding, and I’m sure whatever undiscovered crappy particles that make up quarks are expanding as well. The outside of your body, however, is expanding faster than its component parts. How? To visualize this, put your hands by your side. Now push your hands out towards your sides at a constant rate. We will call that the expansion of one of your cells. Now, put your hands back down at your side and have a nerdy friend stand beside you. Hold hands. Now kiss. Sorry, just kidding. Hold hands, then both of you push your hands out towards your sides at the same constant rate that you just did alone. You’ll have to side-step away from each other as you do this. Your hands moved apart at the same rate and your friend’s hands moved apart at the same rate, but your outer hand and his/her outer hand moved apart twice as fast! If you had a hundred people doing this on rollerblades (wheels pointed to the side) and everyone shoved at two miles an hour, the guys on the end would be doing close to two hundred miles an hour away from each other. Now that’s a fun Saturday afternoon. So anyway, the hands of the dudes at the end would be the outside of your body. Get the picture?

So here we are, a small, expanding object on the surface of a much bigger object, the Earth, which is expanding much faster than we are. It is pushing us out of the way, accelerating us! And to some extent we are pushing back, but not a hell of a lot. But we notice the difference between how much one object pushes versus another. We call it weight. An object with twice as much mass weighs twice as much. This is because the heavier object has twice the number of little people pushing their hands out in all directions. Tada! Gravity.

Now consider that it is believed that the universe will eventually stop expanding and start to contract. What happens when the universe lets the air out of our balloon? What will happen then? Even though the universe would be contracting, objects like, say, the Earth and us may go flying off in different directions! We’ll probably have to start gluing stuff together and staking it all down to the ground.

I hope you enjoyed my explanation of gravity. Now please forget it because it is silly.


Cramer Explains How to Mod an XBox with Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is the study of the relationship between energy and matter. It provides us with accurate descriptions for many previously unexplained phenomena such as black body radiation and stable electron orbits.

But quantum mechanics is a desperately crazy and interesting science that contains several preposterous sounding theories that are surprisingly being proven correct day by day. I’ll touch briefly on some of these.

First, we have Planck’s constant. Planck’s constant is used to describe quantization, a phenomenon occurring in subatomic particles such as electrons and photons in which certain physical properties occur in fixed amounts rather than a continuous range of possible values. This constant shows that there is an inherent graininess to our world. I made a statement in a previous article that I thought that if there were a God, he/she/it was disguised as Plank’s constant. I believe this to be the source of all the randomness, diversity, and uncertainty in the world – but that is the subject of yet another article.

Second, we have the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is the statement that locating a particle in a small region makes the momentum of the particle uncertain, and conversely, measuring the momentum of a particle precisely makes the position uncertain. It explains that there is an inherent uncertainty, an inherent fuzziness to our world. It tells us that there are limits to the measurements that we can make of the world, not because of limits in our technology but because of limits in nature itself. The world, it seams, can only be described through probabilities and not hard numbers. Interestingly enough, the uncertainty of our observations (measured as the standard deviation of the measured value from its expected value) is always in multiples of Planck’s constant. On another side note, our buddy Einstein didn’t like this principle very much and said that he refused to believe that God rolled dice. It now appears that God has quite a gambling habit. Don’t worry big guy, we all have our vises.

Third is the observer effect. The observer effect refers to the fact that the mere observation or measurement of a phenomenon will alter it. Even stranger, if the phenomenon is simply put into a position where observing it is possible, without actual observation taking place, it will still (theoretically) alter it.

Yet another one is wave–particle duality. Wave–particle duality is the concept that all matter exhibits both wave-like and particle-like properties. All particles are supposed to also have a wave nature. This phenomenon has been verified not only for elementary particles, but also for compound particles like atoms and even molecules. In fact, according to quantum mechanics, wave–particle duality applies to all objects, even macroscopic ones but we can’t detect wave properties of macroscopic objects due to their very small wavelengths.

Here is the big one: Entanglement. Entanglement is so wacky that Albert Einstein, along with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen formulated the EPR paradox, a quantum-mechanical thought experiment with a highly counterintuitive and apparently non-local outcome to show why quantum mechanics could not be a complete/correct theory. This paper was so well thought out that it is still sited as a reference source in almost all papers written on entanglement. But like Einstein’s cosmological constant, he was wrong for all the right reasons. He assumed that quantum mechanics was bunk because it allowed for non-local effects, or “spukhafte Fernwirkung (spooky action at a distance)” as he called it. But once again the universe has proved itself to be just a little crazier than Einstein wanted to believe.

Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more particles have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual particles may be physically separated. For instance, say we have two entangled electrons with one on one side of the galaxy and one on the other. Before we observe any of their quantum states, say their spin along the Z-axis, they both exist in an indeterminate state. Each electron is said to be in a superposition of states in which it can be thought of as the sum of both possible states: spin up and spin down. We can only characterize it by probability, which in this case is a not so surprising 50/50. The interesting part happens when you observe the electron’s spin. Once you observe one electron and find it to be spin up, the other one instantly collapses out of its indeterminate state and, when observed, will always be spin down – even on the other side of the galaxy. What’s really interesting is that you can entangle more than two particles at a time.

Now for some fun with quantum mechanics. Here is an experiment that will drive home just how odd quantum mechanics can be. I have largely copied this from Wikipedia because I am tired and lazy, but I have tweaked it here and there. It’s sad – I’m an adult now but I still copy from the encyclopedia to do my homework assignments.

In the double-slit experiment, light is shone at a solid thin plate that has two slits cut into it. A photographic plate is set up to record what comes through those slits. One or the other slit may be open, or both may be open.

When only one slit is open, the pattern on the plate is a diffraction pattern, a fairly narrow central band and dimmer bands parallel to it on each side. When both slits are open, the pattern displayed becomes much more detailed and at least four times as wide. This is an interference pattern – something that only happens when waves cross paths.

Now, with both slits still open, if something is added to the experiment to allow a determination that a photon has passed through one or the other slit, then the interference pattern disappears and the experimental apparatus yields two simple patterns, one from each slit. The interference pattern disappears! Just by observation we have forced the light to exhibit its particle nature instead of its wave nature.

The most baffling part of this experiment comes when only one photon at a time is fired at the barrier with both slits open. As the pattern is recorded by the film, one photon at a time, again we see an interference pattern emerge. The clear implication is that something with a wavelike nature passes simultaneously through both slits and interferes with itself — even though there is only one photon present. (The experiment also works with electrons, atoms, and even some molecules too.)

There are other intriguing experiments and applications of quantum mechanics – many of them using entanglement. One of them is quantum teleportation, where the state of a particle can be transmitted from one place to another. Another closely related application is quantum cryptography – sending unbreakable codes by using entangled particles coupled with a “classical channel” of communication. The classical channel information is useless without the entangled particles so eavesdropping is impossible.

Another interesting application is quantum ghost imaging. In ghost imaging, entangled photons head off in opposite directions. A mask is placed in front of the path of the photons heading in one direction, with a bucket detector behind it to count when a photon makes it through the mask. If detectors are also set up in the other path, the image of the mask is surprisingly retrieved by recording the joint detection events of the entangled pairs.

This finally brings us to quantum computing. Using entangled particles it is possible to perform some computations like integer factorization and discrete logarithms in an exponentially faster manor than traditional computer architecture allows. These computers will also be terribly good at “brute force” computations where several guesses must be checked before a final answer can be found. With these uses alone, you can say goodbye to even the most hard-core encryption schemes that exist today.

So what about your Xbox? How can you use quantum mechanics to improve its gaming performance? That is a fantastic question. The answer is for you to put down the controller and start paying attention to the world around you. I guarantee that the universe has far better problems for you to solve than any video game. Maybe start paying a little more attention to your math and science teachers. Do a little research every night when you get home. With some work, you can figure out how to build a quantum Xbox. And when you get your award for extreme cleverness, don’t forget to thank Cramer for the inspiration.


Cramer Explains Why Metal Feels Cold

Nature is a whore. It likes to spread itself all around until it’s been everywhere. Most everything in nature seeks a balance, a point where it is evenly distributed. The greater the disequilibrium, the more it tries to even the score.

The water on the Earth is constantly seeking a common level. This causes the formation of rivers and streams to channel the water from high to low. The more water there is upstream, the more the rivers will flow. Electrons seek a common level as well. Whenever there is a pool of electrons, you can be sure that they are trying to disperse themselves and when they do, you get an electric current. The more electrons you have in one spot, the greater the electric current will be when they disperse. Heat is the same way, constantly trying to even itself out. The greater the source of heat, the quicker the heat will transfer itself to somewhere colder.

But that is only half the story. It is true that the greater the disequilibrium, the greater the drive for nature to equalize it. And it is true that this greater drive causes quicker action. But, there is another factor in the speed at which nature equalizes itself: resistance.

Some materials conduct electricity better than others, just as some conduct heat better than others. Metals happen to be good conductors of both heat and electricity. Other materials like rubber are poor conductors of both heat and electricity. We call those types of materials insulators.

Your body is in a constant state of thermal disequilibrium with its environment. Our bodies are happiest at a temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but we prefer to live in an environment of about 72 degrees (which we refer to as room temperature). Everything around your house that is at room temperature is actually cold compared to you. That is why we mammals are said to be warm-blooded. It seems strange, but we actual prefer to live in a cold environment.

The heat in your body is constantly escaping, constantly trying to reach a balance with its environment just like the rest of nature. This turns out to be a good thing because your body also makes a ton of heat, most of it from muscular expenditure. Have you ever heard of burning calories? Calories are a measure of the energy content of food. One of the ways to measure calories is to set the food on fire and measure the amount of heat it generates. In fact, calories are a measure of heat. One calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. As your body uses food for energy, heat is released as a by-product. If this heat did not dissipate into the environment, you would boil yourself to death, and no one wants that.

The human body tries very hard to maintain its internal temperature of 98.6 degrees F. If you run around and generate too much heat, you sweat. Your body opens up holes (pores) in the skin to allow some of its water to evaporate, carrying heat along with it. If your internal temperature starts to drop below 98.6, you shiver. This burns calories to generate more heat. But you won’t shiver for long because your body will send a signal to your brain as well. This signal conveys a simple message: COLD! When your brain gets this signal it will probably respond by putting on a blanket or more clothes (insulation) or by turning the heat up in the house. Both of these actions achieve the same goal of slowing down the transfer of heat from your body to the environment, but they achieve it in different ways. The blanket works by physically slowing down the transfer of heat because the cotton, wool, or plastic that the blanket is made from is not a good conductor of heat. On the flip side, turning the heat up in the house works because it lessens the temperature difference between your body and its environment and therefore lessens nature’s desire to equalize that difference.

When your body is dissipating heat at the same rate in which it is generating it, then it feels comfortable. When it is generating more heat than it is dissipating, then it feels hot. When it is dissipating more heat than it is generating, then it feels cold. This means that when you touch an object, it feels hot or cold not solely based on its temperature but also on how fast or slow it conducts heat away from your body. If you pick up a pillow at room temperature, it will feel normal because it conducts heat from your body at about the same rate as the air does, but if you pick up a metal pan at room temperature it will feel downright chilly because it is conducting the heat from your body much faster than air, triggering your body’s COLD! signal. And that, my friends, is why metal feels cold to us – because heat is a whore that really likes metal. Or something like that.


Cramer Explains Alternate Dimensions

I’m sure most of you are aware that we live in a world with three standard dimensions – length, width, and height (or X, Y, and Z if you are a mathlete.) Less of you are probably aware that there is also a fourth dimension. No, it isn’t a wormhole in your clothes dryer in which socks escape from our reality. It’s much simpler than that. The fourth dimension is time. Time is a funny one because it relentlessly progresses in one direction. Lots of scientists say you can slow it down by traveling really fast – much faster than even I drive on the highway – close to the speed of light fast. But none of them has figured out a way to make it go backwards, though. Thank Bob for that one! I’d probably end up spending most of my days going back in time and slapping myself silly for something dumb I was about to do, and that would get tiresome for all of me.

Douglas Adams, a writer of humorous science fiction, has suggested several times that the fifth dimension is probability. I’d say there is a 50/50 chance he is right. Brian Cramer, another writer of humorous science fiction, has suggested that there is a seventh dimension, and it smells like old salmon. I think he is probably wrong about that one. Several other real scientists believe that there are as many as eleven dimensions, possibly more.

What I want to know is: where are these dimensions and why can’t we perceive them? Scientists like to explain this away by saying that some are too small to be detected or they loop back on themselves. To me, they are just cheating to get the right answer. It’s like saying 6 x 9 = 42 … if you use base 13 instead of base 10 (our normal numbering system.)

So I was trying to picture what another physical dimension would be like, and of course I couldn’t. So I went backwards and tried to think of how a creature that could only perceive two dimensions would perceive our world, and what it would be missing. Here is what I came up with.

A two-dimensional viewpoint can be represented by a plane, a flat sheet. Imagine a clear sheet of something slicing through your living room, not really cutting it but simply merging with your stuff to draw your attention to just the objects it touches. Now imagine that you were a creature that could only see the part of your living room that the sheet is going through. You would see a slice of your couch, a slice of your TV, a slice of a chair or two. Inevitably though, there are objects in your living room that did not get “sliced” by the sheet. So, our creature is seeing some of what we see but in a different way, and it is also missing other things altogether.

Now, what if this creature could shift its universe over a tad along its unknown dimension? In other words, imagine the sheet slides over an inch or two. What it now sees will probably be similar to what he used to see. It will see a slice of your TV, a slice of your couch, a slice of a chair or two – but what it sees will also be subtly different – a slice of a different TV component, a different cushion of the couch, and maybe a chair leg pops into its world. If it moved its slice over a hundred feet, chances are that its world would look completely foreign.

Back in our world, if you really stretch your imagination you may be able to picture your world shifting in an unknown direction just a bit. Now, some things would be a little different; some new things would all of the sudden exist while others disappeared. If you shifted your world enough, it would probably become unrecognizable to you.

Now we can get a little supernatural with all of this. Say we live in one slice, and other people (or things) live in a slice right beside ours. Maybe once in a while there is some bleed-over. Maybe once in a while one of them somehow puts his elbow over the line, or even pops in and back out of our slice. Perhaps that is the phenomena of ghosts? Maybe ghosts are not dead souls roaming around, but simply our dimensional neighbors who sometimes like to borrow our space.

If you can draw any conclusion from this thought experiment, it’s probably this: If there really are other dimensions out there, chances are that there is a whole lot to the universe that we are missing, and therefore virtually everything we know and believe to be true is probably wrong.