Mar 31, 2018

Zero Carb - Month 3

I don't have much to add at this point. I'm not sure I see any new changes. I still feel good. I have another month to go at this point.

Feb 28, 2018

Zero Carb - Month 2

So I am at the end of month 2 of Zero Carb. My diet hasn't change much. I continue to be very strict about my intake. My only transgressions are coffee (plant-based), the infrequent Diet Coke (?-based), and some olive oil (plant-based) in the sardines I eat. I still mainly eat steaks and ground beef but I try to pepper my diet weekly with liver, oysters, sardines and other odd things. I didn't mention last time that I also supplement with a few things. Electrolytes (magnesium, calcium, potassium & sodium via salt) as well as cod liver oil (omega 3 source), Vitamins D3 and K2, as well as a multi-vitamin concoction I make consisting of thiamine, folic acid, L-arginine, L-carnitine, L-citrulline, co-enzyme Q10, vitamin C. And I use a collagen powder as well. This is, I am sure borderline overkill, but whatever. It's cheap and easy and you can't OD on this stuff.

So what happened this month?
  • I didn't lose much more weight. I hover around 178 compared to my high school goal of 172. I notice on low-carb diets, weight loss tends to stagnate at times. I'm not worried or interested in it to be honest. It's not a primary goal for me.
  • I got my hair cut and my barber said my hair had grown significantly and that it was thicker. I personally don't notice this, because I don't really pay much attention to my hair. But I thought it was interesting she noted it. I'm curious if my grays will disappear as others have seen, but that doesn't seem to have changed. I don't really care about grays, but it would be an interesting thing to happen.
  • My dandruff is entirely gone. Possibly the most interesting result of this experiment. I've had dandruff since my hair started thinning. Maybe starting around age 22 or so (so almost 30 years). It had gotten progressively worse over the years from being an annoyance to something I needed to actively deal with. Remedies included boar brushes and yogurt scalps rubs which kept it in check. But now the dandruff is just gone. Period. I don't see any way to explain this other than the elimination of plant foods.
  • Energy levels remain stable and high. I'm solid all day.
  • I think I'm sleeping better. I tend to get 7-8 hours more frequently now, and I don't feel tired when waking up. Jury is out on this one, but it feels different.
  • I started working out and I feel significantly stronger, recover faster post-workout, and feel less debilitated by workouts. First, I just feel strong. Really strong. Something is different, but it's hard to quantify or describe. Second, I'm ready to work out the next day. I don't actually do this. I feel breaks are important. But I feel I could. Normally I need a 2-3 day break to really feel back to normal. Third, I have very little soreness the next day. Normally after a new muscle is worked out it gets very sore for me. Almost to the point of pain. I worked out hard my first workout and the soreness the next day was maybe 25%-50% of what I'd normally expect. It was gone by day 2 which is normally when it peaks.
  • My GI system has settled down. I don't have any issues anymore except if I eat yogurt. Yogurt causes trauma-inducing constipation. It never did before. It's awful. I have to completely avoid that stuff.
  • Cravings are still minimal EXCEPT a daily craving for steak. I crave a grilled steak like my life depends on it. I consume them now. Everything I can chew. Only the bone and tough gristle go in the garbage. Sugar doesn't cross my mind. Bread doesn't cross my mind. I haven't thought of pasta in a month. I can look at them and agree they would taste wonderful, but I have to mentally focus on them to think that. That thought doesn't pop up on it's own anymore.
  • I tend to run warmer now. My wife is constantly cold whereas I never feel it except when I wake up. 
  • My skin is less dry and less oily. Depending on the time of day I can have both. My skin just seems more stable and normal.
  • Headaches seem nonexistent. I'm not sure how much I can state this. I don't get a lot of headaches and they aren't intense. But I do get them. And I suspect they may be related to nut intake. Anyway not 1 small headache since eliminating plant food.
  • I still get stiff joints in the morning. I was hoping this would disappear completely. It's now and again. It does seem less but it hasn't vanished. 
I still believe I'll probably stick with this diet after the 4 month mark. I imagine I'll cheat here and there (Xmas) but overall I find this actually easier than Keto/LCHF/Paleo. Why a more restrictive diet would be easier is not obvious, but it really relates to the lack of cravings. I'm fine eating meat 24x7. I would like to incorporate more variety. Especially liver/pate. I enjoy it and maybe should make my own. I'd also like to start grinding meats because then I can incorporate liver and other things very easily.

Jan 31, 2018

Zero Carb - Month 1

I haven't blogged in a while. Life seems to get busier the older I get. But I do have a new topic I'd like to record.

Zero Carb.

It's a shitty name for a relatively poorly marketed idea. The idea is pretty simple. To optimize health we should only eat from the animal kingdom. Anything goes. Beef, lamb, fish, pork. But also organ meats, skin, insects, etc. I would say there are two types of practitioners of ZC. The first tends to just eat traditional muscle meats. The second tends to incorporate lots of non-muscle meat with a focus on liver.

Both camps tend to view plant foods as potentially problematic from both an inflammatory perspective and from a low nutrition perspective. I would say almost everyone I've read used to be a vegetarian or vegan. And many of these people had chronic health problems. ZC was their attempt at finding a solution.

There are two intriguing things about this diet.
  1. Everyone seems to find the ZC diet fixes their issues.
  2. No one I know that does ZC goes back to a more normal diet. 
This is all the more amazing because the diet is seemingly very restrictive. The ailments I'm seeing vary from depression to skin diseases/issues to chronic and worrying GI tract issues. In some cases these ailments have had significant and deep impacts on their lives. And ZC was tried almost out of exasperation in many cases. But it's telling that it has worked for these people. And others have gone on to suggest it gets rid of their grey hair and their skin improves and so forth. It's intriguing right?

So what does the science say? It says nothing. This is such a wacky diet that no one really bothers to do research on it. And in some cases it does seem that some people need to be exceptionally strict for the positive results to show themselves. Any amount of vegetable matter throws them back into the recurring ailment loop.

So what are the reasons this might work? There are a few that I've heard.
  1. Caveman Grok did not idly find broccoli and wheat and cabbage and carrots around and was unlikely to have eaten them in bulk. Some anthropologists also contend that we weren't good hunters and probably we tended to feast on picked over carcasses which means we used our brains to open up skulls and bones instead of eating muscle meat. As humans we are likely omnivores but our energy expensive brains require more than foraging. We need fat. Cows eat all day for a reason. Grass has low energy value but they don't have big hungry brains so it works. Supporting a large brain likely moved us up the food chain to denser energy packs (e.g., animals). We also have quite a different GI tract than our nearest ancestors the simians. Like cows, apes have anatomical structures (go read about cecum) to facilitate bacterial consumption of plant life. These bacteria generally convert plant life into fats that these animals' bodies absorb. We don't really have that infrastructure anymore. We don't seem designed to be purely vegetarian or even mildly vegetarian.
  2. If you were starting from scratch and you had to build a human in a laboratory would you gather up plants or other mammals. In other words why do we think humans would benefit from human phytochemicals and chlorophyll and other things in plants? The raw materials for building mammals is the same.  The bioavailability of those chemicals in animals is enormous compared to plants. The energy density is much higher. In fact it's clear from a micronutrient perspective animal foods are much better for us.
  3. All of the research suggesting meat is bad for you is wrong. I truly believe this. It is all epidemiological and plain wrong. 
  4. Most of the plants in the world are poisonous to us. We can't eat most tomatoes or potatoes or mushrooms. They will kill us. They employ alkaloids, cyanogenic glycosides, terpenoids, phenolics. You wouldn't go outside and start eating most plants. In fact 99% of the plants in the vicinity of where you leave would kill you or make you sick. Plants don't want to be eaten but they have no mobility so they generally create toxicity and poisons as a way of stopping things from eating them. Animals also don't want to be eaten but they use other methods such as mobility, intelligence, and breeding to maintain their gene pool. Why do we think plants are good? We believe they are natural and clean and healthy. But we don't really have any good fundamental research to prove it. Again people are using epidemiological studies to show they are healthy. I would argue these experiments are all confounded. There is one study that was done attempting to show vegetables and green tea reduced oxidative stress but actually proved the opposite. Removal of fruits and vegetables REDUCED oxidative stress. This makes complete sense to me because you are removing a chemically inflammatory food.
  5. Fiber probably isn't necessary or even good for us. Fiber is ironically clearly tied to inflammatory bowel diseases. Isn't fiber necessary for your gut bacteria? Possibly if you are eating fiber but if you don't eat fiber there's actually no need for it. In fact mice with bacteria free guts live longer and have healthier metabolisms.
  6. Many cultures were effectively ZC including Inuits, Plains Indians, Masai, Mongolians, and South American gauchos.
So now what? Well I think like all things in health we just don't know. There's only one way to find something out, and that is to do self-experiments and to be honest and objective about the results.

To that end I started a ZC diet on 1/1/2018. It's been almost exactly one month. I mainly eat ribeyes and ground beef. I tend to salt and pepper and butter it. I do eat pate for the liver component. I drink coffee (plant based) and Diet Coke and water. I also eat eggs, cheese, and sardines (which contains olive oil). So not perfectly ZC but close. What have I noticed?
  1. I don't notice much of a change health wise. I don't notice changes in skin or joints or hair or anything at this point. I'll keep monitoring it but so far nothing.
  2. I have lost some weight as you'd expect. But I get that eating plants too as long as I'm low-carb.
  3. I have better energy levels as you'd expect. Again low-carb does this.
  4. My GI system went haywire for literally 1 month. It has only just settled down. You might think this is related to no fiber and it probably is in a weird way. I'm guessing a lot of my gut biome died. Given today's headline that might be considered bad but I'm not so sure. I think it may be tautological that since we have fiber gut bacteria we need to keep feeding them.
  5. I believe, although it's hard to tell, that my body odor has decreased significantly. If I don't shower for 2 days for example I don't notice an intense gaminess that used to be present in that time frame.
  6. Life is easier on ZC. That may be surprising but it's easier to shop, cook, and I eat a lot less. And perhaps most surprisingly I think it's actually cheaper. I tend to waste zero food. I eat a lot of muscle meat and I don't trim and I eat all the fat. Nothing really goes in the garbage. If I buy too much then I tend to eat it all and not eat much the next day. All told, and with a good eye for deals nowadays, I spend about $10 per day on food.
  7. I don't crave anything anymore. I don't even think about bread items or sugar. Not at all. If you surrounded me in carbs I wouldn't be tempted in the least.
My plans are to keep trying this for 4 months. Some people claim you need to do it for 6 months to see real changes but I think 4 should be plenty.  Tomorrow I'm going to remove dairy and start an exercise regime. I think in March I'll quit coffee which by definition is plant based. I'll make another post at the end of February.

More information? I like Amber O'Hearn because she's measured and reasonably fact-based. A lot of people in the ZC community are not surprisingly over-the-top and frankly don't understand science. They just know it works but that doesn't help me get educated.



Oct 13, 2017

Bladerunner 2049



The original Bladerunner came out in 1982. I was 14 years old at the time. It was a world where Star Wars had blown away expectations for box office receipts a few years back. Alien had been a big success. And E.T. was the current darling.

And then Bladerunner was released. I was too young to get into the R-rated movie. My mom bought tickets for me and a friend. Maplewood Mall Cinemas. It doesn't exist anymore. I don't recall having any preconceptions about what the movie was about. I knew Harrison Ford was in it and it was science fiction. Good enough for a 14-year old nerdy kid.

I can recall sitting down to watch the film. It opened with some text to describe replicants and bladerunners and 'retirement'. And then that iconic opening happened and for the first time in my life I was really somewhere else. I was no longer in that movie theater. I was in Los Angeles in 2019. What unfolded before me was an utter spectacle. The movie closed with the cheesy alternate ending (Deckard and Rachel driving through a forest which was footage filmed by Kubrick for The Shining).  And I was sold. This was the most remarkable film I'd ever seen. An amazing combination of music, special effects, story, philosophy, camera work, editing, special effects, acting, casting, costume design, set design, set location, etc. It all worked towards a cohesive whole.

I had my mom buy tickets the next weekend for just myself. And the following week as well. She looked at me oddly the third time. "You sure you don't want to invite a friend?" I didn't. I didn't want to be interrupted.

What was most surprising about this time though was the overall reaction to the movie. I watched Siskel and Ebert utterly rip the movie apart. Another review described it as Blade Crawler due to its slow pace. People complained about too many special effects. And most remarkably one critic complained about it's lack of story development in 'human terms'. I read an article where Bono criticized the music for being to electronic. I saw an Academy Awards ceremony hand the best special effects to E.T.

What?

Did I not see the same movie that anyone else saw? The movie shut down after a few weeks. I was bewildered by the lack of appreciation for the film. And at that time there was no internet. There was no way to find others who like the film. To my knowledge I was the only person who liked this movie. It wasn't until the early 90s in grade school that through Usenet I as able to find a small but dedicated group of people who had a deep pervasive fascination for the movie.

35 years later....

Bladerunner 2049 hits theaters. October 3, 2017 with a broader release October 6, 2017

I had steeled myself for this release. First of all why the fuck were they making a sequel. There was no need for it. It was going to sully the original as all sequels do.

And then I heard Ryan Gosling would star. Harrison Ford would star. Okay. Denis Villeneuve would direct. Okay. Fancher would be back to write it. Hmm. Okay that's good. Johan Johannsen would do the music (ultimately Zimmer and Wallfisch did the score). Okay. Okay I can work with that. Roger Deakins would run the cameras.

Okay. There isn't much more you could do to make this movie a success. Frankly. I mean this is the line up you want.

Still. I did not watch the 3 shorts that served as backstory. I did not watch a single trailer. I didn't want to have thoughts about what this movie was before going in.

I had one desire.

And that was that the movie would do the same thing that Bladerunner did. Transport me away and put a hook into my brain that I couldn't get out.

And so this last Sunday I finally saw it.

After it was over and I walked out I had a different feeling compared to the first one. And a similar feeling.

The different feeling is that Bladerunner 2049 is a harsh movie. It's the equivalent of brutalist architecture. It is an exhausting movie. Emotionally exhausting. Perplexing. Dizzying. Confusing. Disorienting. You don't feel good after BR2049. It's not the feel good hit of the summer. You feel lonely and cold and beaten down.

But there is also a similar feeling. A feeling of 'what on earth did I just see'. It's new and unique and unlike anything I've seen before. It doesn't really even have much of the original movie in it. Characters and themes and history. But this really is its own unique entity. And again it has unified all the aspects of the movie into a cohesive whole. And like the original it bears multiple viewings and it has deep deep secrets that only someone willing to dig will find. Just the name of the lead protagonist has upwards of 6 theories about what his name means. All of which could be true.

And just like 35 years ago. The movie is falling flat. It's done okay at the box office but it has disappointed many. And some vehemently dislike the movie.

But I can assure you this movie will be talked about 35 year from now just like the original.


Sep 8, 2016

phone home

One of the best ways to learn something about someone is to look at their bookshelf. This doesn't work as often anymore. People have moved from real books to digital books. And a lot of interaction with people is done digitally.

I'd argue the new bookshelf is the phone home screen. This is my partners screen below. You can actually tell a lot about someone from this I realize because I know him well.

It also seems somewhat nosy to look at someone's home screen. I feel a little bit like that's something you don't stare at and should ask permission to see. And so with that thought let's look at his, lol.



  • Leaning towards technical illiteracy - The Yahoo! Mail is a dead giveaway here. He redeems himself with the use of Gmail. But even that is telling because while gmail is the de facto email service, most technically literate people would use Mail or use a hipper email client like Spark
  • News junkie with a conservative / Republican bent - Wall Street Journal and the New York Post are so fitting. Both couldn't be more conservative and the Post is such a gossipy rag and he is definitely gossipy.
  • Old-school Wall Streeter - HP-12C is the dead giveaway. This is the app that replicates the old Hewlett-Packard 12C financial calculator. To me it means nothing. Since I was in science the 15C is my baby. He has been on Wall Street since Day 1.
  • NYer - To have Uber that prominent in his list tells you he is in a major city.
  • Music lover - 3 apps and all prominently high on his list.
  • Book lover - 3 apps and all prominently high on his list.
  • Single - 3 food delivery apps and all prominently high on his list
  • Option-Open - I'm not sure what you call this type of person. My wife is like him. 93 email messages unread. 61 text messages unread. 101 slack messages unread. My wife takes this to new limits. I believe one of her email clients has over 1,000 unread emails. There's definitely a personality type that operates in this way and I believe it has to do with leaving things open as to provide additional options. But I'm not sure.
Conversely here is mine:


  • Doesn't like to mess around with things - I'm not a customizer. For the most part I tend to leave the home screen as is. Most of my apps are on the second page in folders for music, books, work, travel, finance, entertainment, etc.
  • News junkie - New Yorker, Apple News, Twitter, Breaking News, NY Times are all grouped under newsstand. Even my social bucket is largely a news feed with the Reddit app
  • Los Angelean - Waze installed prominently in my list of apps
  • Electronic pay lover - Wallet is high up and I use it. Apple Pay, rewards cards, Starbucks, etc. I use it every chance I can over cards and cash
  • Organized - Calendar, contacts the most prominent. I use these a lot
  • Media consumed electronically - The App Store and iTunes Store are pretty prominent and I use them. I also have the AppleTV app upfront. And Music is prominent in my lower tray. I buy everything electronic when I can and I consume it on a device




Jul 20, 2016

i'm pucked

Puck Fair, one of the few places outside of England that could serve a proper English breakfast, closed. Technically it was an Irish breakfast. God damn it. This used to be a quiet spot for me to enjoy rashers and black and white pudding and I have fond memories of the place. I'd also meet close friends there for drinks or breakfast. An 80,000 square foot retail / office building is going up. Good thing too. There aren't enough of those in Soho.

Mar 25, 2016

apollo 17

If you're as much of an Apollo nut as I am you're going to be wowed by this.

Apollo 17 in real-time.

This is both an incredibly well-designed site and incredibly comprehensive. I'm working my way through the entire sequence while skipping some spots (like crew sleep times). Watching the launches and splashdowns is interesting but I'm far more fascinated by the stuff in between. Things like the 3 staged burns, trans-lunar injection, LM extraction and reconnect, etc. It's all here. The entire mission. With recorded tapes of the communications, photos and, when possible, videos.

This is literally the greatest site I've ever visited. Hopefully this will be preserved somehow. It's a treasure trove of information.

This site has the background on the development of it.

Feb 19, 2016

waves

There was a lot of news last week regarding the detection of gravitational waves. And as usual most of it wasn't particularly straightforward or clear. Nor did it really focus on what was a big deal and what wasn't. Here's the short version that remedies that.

Gravitational Waves
Gravitational waves are frankly not that amazing. Einstein predicted gravitational waves in some sense with his theory of relativity. But frankly gravitational waves in some ways exist even under Newton's gravitational theory. Under both theories if a mass is moving around we 'feel' that gravity change. If the Sun moved closer and farther in relation to the Earth repeatedly we would feel this oscillation of gravitational intensity; even under Newton's incorrect (but useful) theory.

What makes Einstein's gravitation waves different Newton's is two additional items.

First, the time it takes for the effect mentioned above is instantaneous in Newton's world. With Einstein this effect travels at the speed of light (i.e., ~300,000 km/s). If the sun disappeared we'd feel the effect immediately under Newton's incorrect theory. In reality it would take the effect 8 minutes to reach us and cause Earth to take a trajectory out of our solar system (sans Sun) in a linear path along with all the other objects in it.

Second, under Einstein's theory we know that gravity is a distortion of space-time rather than a discrete force. I rarely come across a decent explanation of this. It's confusing to explain the theory using only words. The equations are relatively clear but translating these into words creates all sorts of problems. The usual approaches (e.g., stretched sheets with ball bearings distorting them) all have inherent problems. In particular this explanation is tautological because the 'experiment' still involves and relies on gravity. See the video below. It doesn't work without gravity.



Let me try to explain this is a slightly different way. We talk about space-time as a single thing because in Einstein's theory they are linked. One way to think about this is that everything travels through space-time and everything travels at the speed of light. We don't inherently sense this but it is true. The reason we don't sense this is because speed to us is something that is accomplished in space. We don't think of ourselves as traveling through time the same way we travel through space. As I sit here typing this I don't seem to be traveling at the speed of light. But I am. I'm traveling through the dimension of time at the speed of light. If I'm sitting perfectly still then I am traveling through time at the speed of light. If I start moving in space then part of my speed is now traveling through space. Which means that some of my speed through time has been reduced. If I travel through space at the speed of light then all of my speed through time has been eliminated. What does this mean exactly? It means that if I travel through space at the speed of light there is no speed left to travel through time and my clock stops. We (meaning objects with mass) can't actually do this. For photons (massless) this is the situation they are stuck in. They travel through space at the speed of light (clearly) and so their clock doesn't tick. They are as old as when they were born.

Next, objects that exist in space-time influence space-time. Namely things with mass. What mass does is distort this space-time. This is where people invoke the "fabric" in the video above. But what do we mean by distort? For one, spatial dimensions become distorted like the video. What was straight in the absence of the mass seems bent now. Space with mass has straight lines that are actually bent to an external observer. This is why light can be "bent" by black holes or any mass really. Light has no mass and thus isn't attracted to other objects with mass. Rather, it's still traveling in a straight line, but that line is bent to an external observer. Space is not rectilinear in the presence of mass. By using the word "distortion" we are implying that lengths get stretched and shrunk and bent. A ruler in this region of space will get longer or shorter (and bent) depending on the location of the mass and orientation of the ruler.

But it also has another effect, one that affects space-time. The presence of mass forces objects with mass to shift some of their speed in the time dimension to the space dimensions. In other words the presence of mass or gravity forces things to move. The bigger the mass the more it forces objects to travel through space by forcing it from moving through time at the speed of light. Still confusing I know. :) But more accurate.

So what are gravitational waves? The movement of any object that contains mass creates gravitational waves. These objects, at all times, create distortions in space and space-time. All masses do this. Not just black holes. The reason we're talking about black holes is they make big distortions. You and I don't make big distortions. So if you want to detect those distortions you are better off detecting something that makes a big effect. Gravity is inherently a weak force (I won't get into this but it's clear that a giant planet like Earth doesn't pull us down that strongly since we can stand and walk). If we move the masses back and forth (jiggle them or have two objects spinning around each other in an orbit) we get an oscillation of their positions and therefore an oscillation in the distortions the objects make. The "WAVE" in "gravitational wave" implies something's position is changing over time. And in this case it's the location of the objects by being jiggled or spinning around.

So the situation that was measured last week was the orbit of 2 black holes around each other. One about 29 times the size of the Sun and one 36 times the size of the Sun. The orbit over time decayed such that the objects became closer and closer. As they did they spun around each other faster and faster until eventually they coalesced into a single black hole. As this happened a great amount of energy was released. The energy that was released was from some of the matter that made up the previous 2 black holes. Upon coalescence this matter was converted to energy (E=MC^2). Specifically, 3 Sun's worth of matter was converted. So the resulting black hole was 29 Suns black hole + 36 Suns black hole - 3 Suns of expelled energy = 62 Suns black hole.

So where did that energy go? Normally we see matter converting to energy in the electromagnetic realm (e.g., light, x-rays, gamma rays, etc.). There was certainly some of this kind of conversion. But in this case most of the energy was released in the form of a gravitational wave; an intense distortion of space-time. Note I said wave not waves. That final whoosh from the collisions created one big space-time distortion. But there were also smaller less energetic waves emanating as the black holes spiraled towards each other. As they got closer they create more gravitational distortion and spiraled more quickly. Here's what the theory says this will look like.


Note the gravitational waves are always there. Even before time = 0 in this graph. These black holes were making gravitational waves since their existence. Just as we ourselves make gravitational distortions and waves as we move about. But as they get closer the distortion becomes greater (noted by the amplitude of the graph) and the inspiraling orbit gets shorter (note how the frequency of the graph gets shorter and shorter as it approaches time of 0.1) 

This waveform if converted into a sound wave is why scientists referred to it as a "chirp" - rising frequency and rising amplitude. In order to really hear it you need to slow it down.

Go here to listen to what this waveform sounds like - Link

For some god damn unexplainable reason every online version of the actual chirp has 4 chirps. There's no explanation as to what these are. I think these are just four instances of the same chirp under different processing or from each of the 4 legs of the LIGO. But I don't know. It's one chirp that occurred.

So let me end with this. Nothing about gravitational waves is surprising. We expected to see / hear them. It would have been a much bigger deal if they didn't exist. There isn't much new about all this in some sense.

So what's the big deal then?

Detecting Gravitational Waves
This is the big deal. Detecting them. When the original scientists started planning to measure them I'm sure most people thought they were insane. I'm still bewildered about the details of how they did it frankly.

Let's start with the first problem. How do you measure gravitational waves? Well since they distort space we should be able to measure that space distortion some how. But how? Can we use a ruler? No. Because the ruler distorts as much as space distorts. What they hell? Are we stuck then? No. There's one available option to us. And that is that light travels at a constant speed. If we use light by measuring how long it takes to travel a distance then we eliminate this problem. We can't use matter to measure the change in distance. Light on the other hand travels at all times at the same speed so if the distance grows it is going to take longer for light to travel that distance.

The second problem we have - and in some ways I have now idea how they overcame this - is that we are talking minute changes in distance. This is not a big effect. Near the black holes it was but as those waves and spatial distortions traveled 1.5 billion light years they thinned out. How thinned out? We're talking 1 part in 10^21. In other words over a distance of 5 kilometers we're talking about the change in distance of one one-thousandths of an atomic nuclei. Yowza. Considering this observation was done on Earth, this is amazing. Any rumble from movement around the detector, extremely tiny tectonic movements for example, are going to screw up the readings. I really don't know how they got around this. But they did.

The detector was called LIGO. Or rather Advanced LIGO after it got a substantial upgrade in equipment. And the way it worked was as follows. The detector has an L-shaped configuration. Two channels about 4 km in distance spanned out across the ground in perpendicular directions. A laser was split into two beams and then directed down both channels. At the end were mirrors that reflected the beams back and a detector was placed where they intersected. The lasers and photodetector were set up so that the two incoming beams cancelled each other out at the photodetector. Meaning the detector 'saw' no light. If one channel experienced a gravitational distortion and the other didn't then the distances would be different and the two beams wouldn't cancel each other out any more. The detector would detect something. It would detect light at the photodetector. The resulting sinusoidal wave we see in the press articles is that increase and decrease in light at the photodetector.

As gravitational waves pass through Earth, and assuming that the direction of the waves wasn't such that it stretched the channels equally (highly unlikely but possible) then the detector would detect gravitational waves when  it detected some light returning from the combination of beams in the channel.

What this means
There are a few important points to be made about this experiment that I haven't heard elsewhere.

First, LIGO detected gravitational waves a few days after it was turned on. This was either highly fortunate or, more likely, gravitational waves are ubiquitous. There are black holes colliding all the time. I mean we could have waited years or centuries before something showed up. Gravitational waves must be common. And I'm curious to see how many events LIGO picks up over the next year to verify this.

Second, This is a new way to detect and observe astronomical events. Historically we have used electromagnetic radiation for all observances. Whether that is light or X-rays or what have you. This is a fundamentally new way to observe the universe. And it has the ability to detect things we can't with radiation. For example no one simultaneously observed on any telescope the coalescence of these black holes. Telescopes couldn't see this event. As a result we can make new measurements of black hole phenomena. But also what happens inside supernovas where the mechanics of these explosions are largely unknown because of radiation shielding around the core. Also the big bang. That explosion is shielded by the cosmic background microwave radiation. But perhaps more importantly what's out in the universe that we don't know about? What things will this detect that we just don't even know exists? This is the really exciting part.

Third, we are building a much bigger and better LIGO. It's called ELISA. It will be a LIGO in outer space. And it will have "channels" that are 1 million km apart compared to LIGO's 4 km. ELISA will be able to detect much lower frequencies as a result and be free of any terrestrial disturbances. It will consist of 3 satellites using the same laser interferometry technique as LIGO. This hasn't launched yet. But a preliminary satellite (the LISA Pathfinder) has been launched Dec. 2015 to test out some of the technologies. The full system won't be up for decades. But when it is it will expand our capabilities significantly.