Monday, October 5, 2009

Heisenberg's Alarm Clock

The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known.

These simple words, written by Werner Heisenberg in a paper in 1927, have had a far reaching impact for physicists, who actually understand their implications. Dolts like me use them as the basis for really good graffiti, such as "Heisenberg may have slept here."

The so-called uncertainty principle came to mind this morning as I tried to get my new alarm clock to work. I bought this clock at Costco to replace the last one I bought at Costco, each purchased so that I could awaken to songs on my iPod, which I bought at Costco. If there is any certainty to be found in this life, it will be sold at Costco, in a three-pack.

It took me a while to get my clock set up because the power cord was wrapped in a separate carton, resulting in my losing it in the pile of uncertainty called our dining room table which is currently located precisely in the living room.

I got the alarm clock to work after only 15 or 20 minutes of effort, set it to play pleasing music at 4:50 AM, and went to sleep. Sally and I were subsequently awakened at that precise moment by a faint beeping sound, indicating that the iPod alarm wasn't working. I turned it off and went back to bed, uncertain as to why my new purchase wasn't operating properly. After we got up, I divided my attention between preparing breakfast and trying to get the alarm to work, obtaining again and again the same faint beeping sound. I finally gave up and focussed on the oatmeal, at which time my iPod began playing. How did that happen? Heisenberg knows.

In the hope that early morning music will get me up and going, I'm setting the alarm to go off again tomorrow. I'm not sure of how much momentum I'll derive from all of this, though I do know that the clock is located precisely on my dresser.

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