The T-Shirt from the Future: A Short Short Story

Time travel cube

Someone nudged my shoulder, stirring me from deep sleep. “Wake up, grandpa,” said an unfamiliar voice. Grandpa? Who’s that? I opened my eyes to see a young woman, dressed in black, looking back at me. Her face was brown, and her eyes looked like deep pools of water.

She smiled. Nothing in twenty-plus years of teaching could have prepared me for this, I thought. I looked around, trying to find my cell phone, without success. Nothing here was like anything I’d seen before. Small lights, like fireflies, circled us in the darkness.

“I know it’s confusing to be called ‘grandpa,'” she said, answering a question I had not yet had the chance to ask. “This is, well, complicated.” Her voice sounded excited, even though she was speaking softly. She reminded me of teachers new to the profession, positively bursting with new ideas, and looking forward, enthusiastically, to the new school year ahead. 

“It would have to be complicated,” I mumbled. Sleep was fading as I rubbed my eyes, trying to see where I was. A light came on, but it was unclear where the lightbulbs were. We were alone, inside a blue and white cube. The cube slowly moved, but its direction kept changing. “What am I doing here? Where’s my wife? Where am I, and who are you?”

“So many questions! I expected that, though. I will explain what I can.”

“That’s good, because . . . .”

“Please don’t interrupt,” she said. I stopped talking, but did not stop thinking. It appeared to be time to listen, not talk. “Thank you,” my alleged granddaughter continued. “In order, here are the answers to your questions. First, you are here for an important conversation. Second, your wife is peacefully sleeping. Third and fourth, you’re in my time-travel cube, and my name is Xiahong Al-Nasr. Technically, you’re my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, but . . . .” I raised my hand to ask a question, as if I were in class myself. She shook her head, and continued, “. . . I’ve always thought of you as, simply, ‘grandpa.’ It’s a time-saver. May I continue explaining why we are here, or can your question wait?”

I thought fast. What should I say next? There was only one logical response. “I’ll listen,” I replied, and put my hand back down.

“You’re about to go back to school,” she said, “and you’re the teacher. It’s important that you understand why you are doing what you do, this year, above all others.” This reminded me of advice I’d heard before, but this time I was listening as if I were hearing for the first time.

This woman’s name, Xiaohong Al-Nasr, combined a Chinese given name with an Arabic surname. I hoped she would explain how that had happened.

“You’re wondering about my name,” she said. I swallowed, and nodded. My mouth was too dry to speak. “I’m from the 23rd Century,” she continued. “Nearly everyone where I work and learn, including me, has DNA from every continent on Earth. I’ve also got a little from off-world colonies, but I’m 100% human, just as you are. I was given my name by all of my parents.” She paused. Her gaze was locked to my own. “I’ve been authorized to tell you that much, but I have to be careful about revealing more, to prevent altering the timestream. Do you believe me?”

“If you know anything about me, you know that I teach science, as well as other subjects.” It was a relief to finally have my turn to speak. My alleged descendant, Xiaohong, was listening to me now. Finally! “You’ve either studied me, somehow, or you’re reading my mind, or it’s something else even more complicated, but you seem to know what I know. You must know, then, that scientists are trained to be skeptical. Everything has to have evidence to support it. In science, there is no higher authority than experiment.”

“I understand that, grandpa. We knew you would need evidence, so I do have a gift for you. It’s a t-shirt. You like t-shirts, after all.” Xiaohong smiled, and removed a small capsule from her pocket, no larger than a quarter. She opened it, and — somehow — pulled a full-size t-shirt from that impossibly small place.

t-shirt

I took the t-shirt from my descendant. Touching it was, well, real! I turned it over. It said “Go Bears!” on the back. Even if I believed her, though, I knew I would need more than just a t-shirt to convince anyone else. After all, time travel to the past was considered impossible by every scientist I had studied. Quickly, I did the arithmetic, using the year on the shirt. “That’s the year I would turn 300 years old, if I could live that long!” I was now catching Xiaohong’s excitement. “Clearly, Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws apply here, as does the Sagan Standard, Feynman’s First Principle, the grandfather paradox, and — and — and — the entire scientific method!”

“You’re absolutely correct, and it will be important for your students to understand all those things as well.” She was right; these are all things I talked about in science class, every year. This year, though, I can try to explain them differently, or perhaps have my students research them, and then have the students explain them to my class. Correction: my classes. My students. All of them.

Something fell into place in my mind at that moment, and I finally understood what was going on. It wasn’t my own accomplishments that had brought my descendant back in time to visit me, but the unknown creations of a student of mine — from the school year about to begin. Xiaohong smiled.

“You’ve figured it out, haven’t you?” She was asking a question, and, this time, I had the answer.

“Yes. You came back through time to refocus my attention to my own true purpose in the classroom. My job is to help my students learn to do great things. It’s not about me. It’s about them!” Xiaohong’s smile grew larger. I continued. “This school year is critical. This is true of all school years, in fact. Each year is both important, and urgent. In every school, and for every student, we must always do our best to learn — together.”

Xiaohong extended her hand, and received a firm handshake from me. “Now that you know the truth, grandpa, our work here is finished. You’ll wake up in the morning, in bed with your sleeping wife, and after that, you’ll find your t-shirt, in the dryer, at home. I have to go, though; I’m needed back in the 23rd Century. After all, I have my own classes to teach, quite soon, at our Time Travel Academy, where I got your t-shirt. Goodbye, and have a great school year! I know I will, as I continue my training to become a teacher myself.”

“I will do that,” I replied. “Thank you so much! As for this evidence you’ve given me, I know how I’ll handle that. I will let the students evaluate it, with help from me, on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

“Exactly,” Xiaohong said, and then she spoke to the ceiling of her time travel cube. “Send us both back to where we were — now.” A humming sound started, then became louder. The lights began to dim. After a few minutes, everything faded to darkness, and silence, once more.

When I awoke, home again, I checked the dryer, and found it — my t-shirt from the future — waiting for me. This school year will be amazing!

One of the Funniest “Star Trek” Moments I Remember from Childhood

a_piece_of_the_action

I did not take the Star Trek screenshots; I merely assembled the .gif at http://www.makeagif.com.

Have you noticed what silver’s been doing lately? The price of silver is literally on fire!

silver is literally on fire

Because of the price of silver being literally on fire, they will not be buying and selling troy ounces of metallic silver when the markets open in New York tomorrow morning. Instead, they will be selling “oxide ounces” of silver oxide, in sealed-plastic capsules of this black powder, with an oxide ounce of silver oxide being defined as that amount of silver oxide which contains one troy ounce of silver.

silver oxide capsule

A troy ounce of silver is 31.1 grams of that element, which has a molar mass of 107.868 g/mole. Therefore, a troy ounce of silver contains (31.1 g)(1 mol/107.868 g) = 0.288 moles of silver. An oxide ounce of silver oxide would also contain oxygen, of course, and the formula on the front side of a silver oxide capsule (shown above; information on the back of the capsule gives the number of oxide ounces, which can vary from one capsule to another) is all that is needed to know that the number of moles of oxygen atoms (not molecules) is half the number of moles of silver, or (0.288 mol)/2 = 0.144 moles of oxygen atoms. Oxygen’s non-molecular molar mass is 15.9994 g, so this is (0.144 mol)(15.9994 g/mol) = 2.30 g of oxygen. Add that to the 31.1 g of silver in an oxide ounce of silver oxide, and you have 31.1 g + 2.30 g = 33.4 grams of silver oxide in an oxide ounce of that compound.

In practice, however, silver oxide (a black powder) is much less human-friendly than metallic silver bars, coins, or rounds. As you can easily verify for yourself using Google, silver oxide powder can, and has, caused health problems in humans, especially when inhaled. This is the reason for encapsulation in plastic, and the plastic, for health reasons, must be far more substantial than a mere plastic bag. For encapsulated silver oxide, the new industry standard will be to use exactly 6.6 g of hard plastic per oxide ounce of silver oxide, and this standard will be maintained when they begin manufacturing bars, rounds, and coins of silver oxide powder enclosed in hard plastic. This has created a new unit of measure — the “encapsulated ounce” — which is the total mass of one oxide ounce of silver oxide, plus the hard plastic surrounding it on all sides, for a total of 33.4 g + 6.6 g = 40.0 grams, which will certainly be a convenient number to use, compared to its predecessor-units.  

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[This is not from The Onion. We promise. It is, rather, a production of the Committee to Give Up on Getting People to Ever Understand the Meaning of the Word “Literally,” or CGUGPEUMWL, which is fun to try to pronounce.]

 

 

When We Build Our Dyson Sphere, Let’s Not Use Enneagonal Antiprisms

Before an undertaking as great as building a Dyson Sphere, it’s a good idea to plan ahead first. This rotating image shows what my plan for an enneagonal-antiprism-based Dyson Sphere looked like, at the hemisphere stage. At this point, the best I could hope for is was three-fold dihedral symmetry.

Augmented 9- Antiprism

I didn’t get what I was hoping for, but only ended up with plain old three-fold polar symmetry, once my Dyson Sphere plan got at far as it could go without the unit enneagonal antiprisms running into each other. Polyhedra-obsessives tend to also be symmetry-obsessives, and this just isn’t good enough for me.

Augmented 9- Antiprism complete

If we filled in the gaps by creating the convex hull of the above complex of enneagonal antiprisms, in order to capture all the sun’s energy (and make our Dyson Sphere harder to see from outside it), here’s what this would look like, in false color (the real thing would be black) — and the convex hull of this Dyson Sphere design, in my opinion, especially when colored by number of sides per face, really reveals how bad an idea it would be to build our Dyson sphere in this way.

Dyson Sphere Convex hull

We could find ourselves laughed out of the Galactic Alliance if we built such a low-order-of-symmetry Dyson Sphere — so, please, don’t do it. On the other hand, please also stay away from geodesic spheres or their duals, the polyhedra which resemble fullerenes, for we certainly don’t want our Dyson Sphere looking like all the rest of them. We need to find something better, before construction begins. Perhaps a snub dodecahedron? But, if we use a chiral polyhedron, how do we decide which enantiomer to use?

[All three images of my not-good-enough Dyson Sphere plan were created using Stella 4d, which you can get for yourself at this website.]

A Logic Problem Involving Marvel Super-Heroes

Movies_Spider_man_Spider_man_DareDevil_Iron_Man_Captain_America_Wolverine_Black_43340_detail_thumb

Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine each have a favorite food, a favorite beverage, own one pet, and have a single hobby. Based on the clues which follow, find out these things:

  • Which hero’s favorite food is (A) pizza, (B) green eggs and ham, (C) apple pie, (D) Chinese take-out, and (E) caviar?
  • Which hero’s favorite beverage is (A) beer, (B) vodka, (C) Coca-Cola, (D) water, and (E) chocolate milkshakes?
  • Which hero owns (A) a black cat, (B) a porcupine, (C) a robot dog, (D) an iguana, and (E) a real dog?
  • Which hero’s hobby is (A) coin collecting, (B) stamp collecting, (C) collecting comic books, (D) collecting seashells, and (E) collecting rocks?

Here are the clues. Answers will be revealed in the comments, but only after someone solves the puzzle (to avoid spoiling anyone’s fun).

  1. Wolverine drinks beer.
  2. Daredevil is blind. The other four heroes can all see.
  3. Spider-Man eats pizza.
  4. Wolverine has a mutant healing factor that allows him to rapidly heal from injuries.
  5. Iron Man is the only one of these five heroes who wears a suit of armor.
  6. The hero whose favorite food is apple pie always eats it with his favorite drink, Coca-Cola.
  7. Iron Man drinks vodka.
  8. All of the heroes who can see refuse to eat green eggs and ham.
  9. Of these five heroes, no one without either a mutant healing factor or a suit of armor would be dumb enough to keep a porcupine as a pet.
  10. Iron Man, an accomplished inventor, refuses to own a pet which he did not build himself.
  11. The hero who eats apple pie doesn’t like chocolate, nor chocolate-flavored anything.
  12. Iron Man has more money than all the other heroes combined.
  13. The hero whose favorite food is pizza does not own a dog.
  14. The seashell-collector is blind.
  15. The owner of a real dog also collects stamps. 
  16. The porcupine-owner doesn’t like apple pie.
  17. Spider-Man likes the black cat, but has to visit the cat’s owner in order to see her.
  18. The richest hero eats caviar.
  19. The coin collector doesn’t like pizza, nor porcupines.
  20. The comic-book collector hates drinking water. He also doesn’t like milkshakes of any kind.
  21. The owner of the black cat is lactose-intolerant, and, for this reason, doesn’t drink milkshakes.

The first person to leave the solutions in the comments wins bragging rights.

[Source of image: http://www.hdwallpaperpc.com/show-wallpaper/Spider_man_DareDevil_Iron_Man_Captain_America_Wolverine_Black_43340.html].

An Absurd “Explanation” for Creativity in Humans (a short short story)

orbiting-dual-planet

[Note: I’m currently taking a class focusing on creativity, and this was first written as an assignment for that class.]

The reason some people are creative, while others are not, is simple: we’re hybrids of pure human DNA, plus that of extraterrestrials of two types, who visited earth and interbred with the natives between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago. The first type of alien came from a planet called Itaumiped, and their hybrid descendants inherited the creative abilities of the Itaumipedeans. The other type, for similar reasons, carries DNA from the inhabitants of the nearby world Almausoped — and those from Almausoped tend be be rather bright, but also very imitatitve. For example, the creation of the comic book character Spider-Man was clearly the work of an Itaumipedean/human hybrid, but the work of grinding out numerous Spider-Man derivatives in comic books (The Scarlet Spider, Spider-Girl, That Spider-Man from an alternate universe with six arms, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, Spider-Ham, etc.) was performed by imitative Almausopedean/human hybrids.

Evidence for the creativity of the residents of Itaumiped comes from the name of the planet itself: a rather clever anagram of the letters in the sentence “I made it up.” Evidence that those from Almausoped are imitative, rather than creative, may be found in the fact that their planet’s name is an anagram for “Also made up,” something clearly borrowed, then slightly altered, from Itaumiped and its creative residents. This raises another question, though: how could the names of planets given to them by ancient civilizations come from anagrams of modern English sentences?

The search for evidence is now ongoing for the obvious explanation: what really happened clearly involved not just space travel, but time travel as well.

 

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[Note: This double planet/polyhedra image of Itaumiped and Almausoped first appeared here, and was created using Stella 4d, software you can try for free at this website.]

Bicycles Don’t Need Telepathy: A Short Short Story

bicycle

Since I hate being told what to do, and people kept telling me I had to learn to drive, and get a driver’s license, and so on, I refused, getting around by foot or bicycle, instead . . . or even hitchhiking . . . until age 20. It wasn’t unusual, therefore, as a teenager, for me to bounce out of the house, ready to jump on my blue ten-speed, and take off for my high-school weekend-job. What was unusual was to find, in mid-bounce, a different ten-speed, this one red, just where I had left my blue ten-speed the night before.

“What the #@&%? Did someone sneak into the carport and PAINT my bicycle?”

No, fool. I’m your bike now. Your old bike’s gone, man.

Clearly, it seemed, some all-too-human prankster was at work. I circled the house. I looked on the roof. I checked the storage building, and under the house. I found no one. Apparently, what seemed to be a bicycle talking to me was, well, exactly that.

You’re gonna be late for work, dummy. I told you, your bike got stolen — by my old, ungrateful human. He left me here. Let’s go!

“Why?”

Because you’re going to be late, dumb&%#! Are you trying to get fired?

Annoyed that this replacement-bicycle had a point, I jumped on the seat and took off, dodging the numerous potholes which have been considered as unofficial Arkansas State Monuments, and which I got to see more clearly than all those (ugh) car drivers out there.

Hey, jerk, my best friend is a car!

“A telepathic bicycle? You’re actually reading my mind? Someone had access to a telepathic bicycle, and abandoned that kind of power for my crappy old ten-speed? You’ve gotta be kidding!”

We were passing a female jogger at that moment. My mind was on keeping control of the bicycle, in order to stay out of traffic, while carefully not hitting her. My new “telebike,” however, had a different agenda, and “mind-shouted” at the jogger — with me able to hear it.

Hey! WOO! Great #@#! When I come back, ya wanna get together and $#@%#& the old %$#%@ &*%$#@$?

The understandably-irate jogger thought that was me, not the bike, threw an ink pen at me, and hit me in the head. “Drop dead, &%$#$#@!”

Clearly, having a telepathic bicycle just wasn’t worth the trouble involved.

After a turn (to get out of direct view of the offended jogger), I knew this street would go over a short bridge over a very deep drainage ditch, not far from here — one lined with large boulders, placed there by the city. By the time I got there, I was heading for the drainage ditch at top speed, and jumped off into some soft grass just before this crazy red ten-speed went airborne, screaming in my mind until crunching into the boulders at the bottom of the ditch, at which point “psycho-bike” fell silent. I, however, had a bit more to say, so I dusted myself off, and walked to the short bridge.

Looking over, into the drainage ditch, I surveyed the bicycle-wreckage, and said, “I’m gonna be out $100 or so to replace my old bike with another bike that doesn’t talk, and I’ll be late for work today, too . . . but at least I’ve gotten rid of my primary problem today, and that’s YOU!”

With that said, I walked to work. I was late, but did not get fired, and I never saw either the red, nor the blue, bicycle again.

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[Note: the central event here — a bike being stolen, and replaced by the thief with another one — actually happened to me. So is the fact, and the reasons given, that I did not start driving until age twenty. Most of the rest of this is pure fiction. This was written as an assignment for a class I am taking which focuses on creativity, with the writing prompt being to “carry on a conversation with [my] childhood bicycle,” and I decided to post it here, as well.]