Saturday, July 7
The Higgs boson
If you have any interest in physics and the quest to determine what it is that gives mass to the universe, the recent results of experiments conducted at the supercollider on the border of France and Switzerland should have you and the science world on the edge of ecstasy. Sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons) are accelerated to near light speed and run around miles (kilometers, actually) of a track then smashed into each other while scientists look at the debris of the collision to find what matter is made of. Finally they found the Holy Grail: The Higgs boson, the thing that gives mass to the otherwise only-electric-field-stuff of the universe. I have tried to understand all this, only to come to the conclusion that in my experience the only really fast things that most people can relate to is cars.
The first brand new car I ever bought was a Porsche. It was fast enough to get the second speeding ticket of my life when I was racing to Fresno to a surprise birthday party for a friend after I had overslept. The CHP chase car was after me for almost fifteen miles before he caught me. When I saw the red lights in my rear view mirror I pulled the parking brake handle to slow down, knowing that it wouldn’t trigger the brake lights, which would show the cop that I knew I was speeding and was guilty. After he handed me the ticket for going 70 MPH, he asked, casually, “How fast were you going?” He had only a crappy Oldsmobile and couldn’t match my speed. “I really don’t know,” I responded. “I just knew I was late for a party for a very dear friend.” I was hitting at least 120 MPH, and was proud. Flat straight road, early morning, no traffic, no problem. Probably cost me a hundred bucks.
My first speeding ticket was when I was 16 or 17 years old. I was building up speed in a 36- horsepower 1957 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia to get up a steep hill near Bass Lake. The speed limit in that space was 25 MPH, but I needed much more than that in order to get up the hill without having to shift down to second gear. The young deputy sheriff who nabbed me must have thought I was a super criminal and had me get out of the car and spread-eagle against the side while he frisked me for weapons. Fortunately, he didn’t find them and I was able to continue my crime spree, robbing a bank and a liquor store before retiring that night to my hideout.