Harvest mice and quasiparticles

Plus, a look at the John Grimshaw collection

The enviable digs of harvest mice: This seems good for everyone involved, especially the photograph peruser.

Quasiparticles for bananaheads. The blurb for a fascinating science article posted in Reddit reads like this:

“Researchers have gained control of the elusive “particle” of sound, the phonon, the smallest units of the vibrational energy that makes up sound waves. Using phonons, instead of photons, to store information in quantum computers may have advantages in achieving unprecedented processing power.”

It sounded awesome, but when I dug in to the challenging Scientific American article it links, I fumbled to extract much out of it other than the headline. When I turned to the Reddit comments, there were a few things that seemed important (“photons are real particles, but phonons are theoretical constructs used for calculation”) that I had trouble grasping beyond the surface meaning.

A ways down the Reddit thread, a grad student with the username Wiz_Kalita jumped in with a beautiful and compact explanation of one of the key concepts. It gave me a much-needed foothold in really heady stuff, and it saved my ass from closing the tab in frustration.

In layman's terms, particles are things. Quasiparticles aren't things, but rather phenomena that follow the same mathematics as particles. For example, a wave on the sea isn't a particle, there isn't a mass of water that is drifting on top of all the other water. It's just collisions that move along, very much like a phonon. The wave could be said to be a quasiparticle, if it were on the quantum scale. You could also look at cars in rush traffic. One car moves and there is a gap between it and the car behind. The next car moves to fill the gap, and a gap appears behind it. If you look from a distance, you can see the gap moving along the road. But the gap isn't a real thing, it's just the absence of cars. The gap is analogous to another quasiparticle called a hole, which is when there isn't an electron.”


He built this a while back and it remains a little spectacular. I don’t have the right words to describe everything that unfolds in this Twitter thread. Jeannette Ng, the original poster, gives us a tour of this collection of amazing stuff her uncle is amassing in his 25+ sheds. I haven’t unearthed too much of his backstory except that his name is John Grimshaw and he also shows some of his stuff off on Pinterest.

(From this tweet, with “He built this a while back and it remains a little spectacular.”)

Just click in to the below Tweet and start scrolling for an amazing visual adventure.

Bonus banana: A super fun stop-motion animation of a non-binary office bat, with every frame done in real embroidery.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. I have some news from elsewhere in the Extraface universe as well. Check out this week’s Wednesday (Barbed Wire) and Thursday (Monosodium Glutamate, MSG) episodes of the podcast Stuff You Should Know, in which the hosts give me a kind and thoughtful shoutout in the introductions. If you’re not already a listener, you have over a decade of podcast goodness to dig in to from those guys.

Also, a special shoutout to everyone at the XOXO festival this year, which kicked off today. I’m envious of the good times I know you will have. Please report back!

You can hit “reply” and the email will go only to me. Thank you.