Posted by: Bruce Allen | January 30, 2008

Dear Sleepless in Seattle–

Red Snowflake

1968 snowflake

Please examine the two images above.  The one on the left is a digital scan of a color print I made using a Kodak Brownie camera in 1969.  It shows a snowflake I found on the deck of my home in Kensington, Maryland.  The photo on the right is a digital image I took last week while shoveling my driveway in central Indiana.  I highlighted it in PhotoShop to distinguish it from the one on the left.  All I can say is that it seemed to look somewhat familiar, for some reason.

Dear Mr. BruAl–

I’ve been told all my life that one would never find two identical snowflakes.  Did you know that, according to The Onion, 84.6% of published statistics are fabricated?  Should I let this worry me even more than Iraq, my upcoming ARM, Mitt Romney, my former IRA, $5.00 gas, vanishing glaciers, current fashion and Daniel Snyder already do?

                                                                                        Sleepless in Seattle

Dear Sleepless–

So there was a guy on TV the other night, some scientist on, like, History Channel, who rather matter-of-factly proclaimed that the theoretical number of different snowflake design combinations was “far greater than the number of atoms in the universe.”  Like it was dirt simple to calculate, and people didn’t have to take his word for it, they could just do the math. On either side of the equation, one supposes.

Similar to the older brother who said, in The Godfather, this guy better come outta the can with more than his (reputation) in his hand.  Our scientist found himself becoming an expert in snowflakeology at the university level.  I, on the other hand, found the theory provocative at an early age, and began noticing and, in some cases, actually photographing snowflakes in grade school.

The number of atoms in the universe!  Who, please, has performed this rather mundane calculation, on an immeasurably large collection of immeasurably large spinning objects moving away from the center at practically unimaginable speeds for, what, 4 billion years?  I’m sorry, but my HP only goes up to exponents of a gazillion.  Above that it starts talking to me, telling me I’m pretty much full of it.  I think it was manufactured in New Jersey.

The nerve of this guy.  Now, I’m not saying that these two snowflakes are absolutely identical in their atomic weights, exact number of molecules, or whatever.  I’m just saying that for most people’s purposes, these two snowflakes are identical.  Take the two images, scan them to equal sizes, superimpose them one upon the other, they’re pretty much dead on.  So, Mr. Bigshot Astrophysicist, I GOT YOUR “number of atoms in the universe” RIGHT HERE!  Nonchalant THIS!  Put your 5 years of post-doc YOU KNOW WHERE!  Go count the grains of sand on the face of the earth, or cipher the number of angels you can fit on the head of a pin, you fop.  Contribute something to the GDP, for crying out loud.  But I don’t even want to know how you calculated the number of atoms in the universe.

BruAl 

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