Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fake Snow and the Silver Glass

It's official.  This country has well and truly lost its mind.  Yeah, I know, we've known that for some time, but this time it's really gone too far.  There have been recent snow storms in places that do not normally get snow.  As with every extreme weather phenomenon in recent times, some people are blaming it on geo-engineering.  But some are taking it one step further and saying it is not snow at all but -- well, something else.

Apparently this began when someone tried to melt it with a butane lighter (something that had never occurred to most people to do) and instead of melting, it sizzled and developed black soot.  Conclusion -- it must be fake.  Whoever came up with this idea then filmed it and put it onto You-Tube and inspired countless imitators who discovered the same thing.

So, people find an unusual physical phenomenon that goes against most people's intuition and expectation and instead of looking for a natural explanation, they assume a sinister government conspiracy.  A few centuries back, they would have assumed either witchcraft or a miracle.  Several sites have presented explanations that this is a normal phenomenon and not a sign that anything is wrong with the snow.  Fox News (once again showing it is mainstream) has been among them.

Given all the other nuttiness we have been seeing, why does this particular story get to me so much?  I suppose it goes back to a childhood memory -- well, an adolescent memory.  Around age 13 or 14, while washing some dishes, I held a glass under water upside down, with air in it, I observed an extraordinary phenomenon.  Suddenly the glass turned silver, mirror-like.  If I reached a finger inside it, it was not visible at all. But if the glass filled with water, the silver mirror vanished.  I was astonished.  I had never seen anything like that before.  Centuries ago, I would no doubt have regarded it as either a miracle or something sinister. And some people these days would probably see a government conspiracy, run by the Illuminati, the shape-shifting lizards or some other villain, at work.  In my innocence, I assumed it was a natural phenomenon at work, though I could not imagine what.  In high school physics, when we learned about the refraction of light, I asked about it and was told it was the result of light being refracted to the point of reflecting back altogether.  At the end of the year, we were all required to do a physics project, and everyone else built something, some of them quite impressive.  (A parabola to reflect light onto a single spot and melt a can of snow there is the one I remember best).  Instead of building something, I set out to calculate the angle of total internal reflection.  It seemed like a miserable, meager thing compared to the impressive things everyone else built, but the teacher nonetheless gave me an A for it, which I took to mean he was a very easy grader.  Several years later, my father met with him for some other reason, and the teacher congratulated him on my excellent project and said that, although it was less flashy than the rest, it was more scientific.

So I suppose that was why this particular story has gotten to me so much.  Because conspiracy theories have deprived people of the chance to find the scientific answer to real but surprising and counter-intuitive phenomenon.  Just like by silver glass.

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