Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Whats Fun About being a Foreigner

Long story short.

I just got back from the beach. Its beautiful outside. I was happy.

The phone rang only moments after I stepped back inside.

The phone call went like this:

Me: Hello.

Annoying Telemarketer: Hi. I'm (at this stage it all sounds the same to me)...I'm blah, blah, blah, selling, blah, blah, blah...

Me: No. Your calling California.

Annoying Telemarketer: Oh! Your kidding!???

Me: No. This is California.

Annoying Telemarketer: OH! I didn't dial international...

Me: Maybe your phone has a tweak in it.

Annoying Telemarketer: Oh dear. I'm so sorry. Goodbye.

Me: I'm laughing my ass off.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Enevelope is Too Small; I Refuse to Buy a Bigger One

It all started when I bought a couple of Australia Post Envelopes to ship a couple DVDs that I sold on eBay. They were the perfect size for the DVDS...until I got home. The sneaky Australian Post swindlers make the envelopes just big enough to make it look like a DVD will fit into them, but they won't. So, naturally, you have to upgrade to the bigger envelope (and accept the loss). Whatever. I was on a mission.

Yep. That's the culprit.

Anyway, how to turn a negative into a positive, fun, and enjoyable experience.

I needed something like bubble wrap to help protect the DVD while it is being shipped. Hmmm...I have some extra plastic bags laying around! How ghetto is that? This is where it started to get fun. Time for the creative process to kick in.

I'm looking back at this, and laughing pretty hard at this point. Could you imagine getting something in the mail from an eBay seller that looked like this? I have bought quite a few things online from eBay, and other places, and never got anything like this!

Like it was a bag that eBay provided; it said "Thank you for shopping @ eBay". With the mandatory smiley face; of course.

I have tons of stuff shipped to me, so I knew I had something to mail this stuff in. Aha! There it is. I found it. My mail-delivery saviour. An old crumbled up piece of brown shipping paper. Perfect!

Next, I gotta wrap this baby up like it was Christmas time.

There aren't any drugs in there...I swear!

Looks good hunh? Don't worry, it gets better.

A couple more rolls, a fold here, a fold there, some good ole scotch tape.

Almost there...

Yeah. There it is. Perfect! Take that eBay power sellers! My packaging has character.


One Down. One to Go.

Shhh...Don't tell anybody...its a Secret! By the way, have you seen this movie/documentary/infomercial? Its not that bad. It really works! Seriously.

Do you love the Fred Meyer bag? Whats funny about it is they don't even have Fred Meyer in Australia! Could you imagine what the person must be thinking when they see this?

I was out of all white, blank bags. Oh well. Its novelty. It has my eBay name on there. Thanks from eBay & kc_cal. If you look closely there is a top secret URL on there too!

Back to wrapping...

...and more wrapping......

What? Did you forget already? SHHH!!! Its a SECRET!

And. VOILA! All Done. These packaged are now all ready to be shipped via the great men and woman that run the Australian Post.

And thanks for making those desceptive envelopes a hair too small! If they were the proper size, I wouldn't of had such a good time, and would have missed out on some laughs!




See you on eBay.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Incredible -- Must Read

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.


1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played Solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don’t have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )

12 You’re reading this and nodding and laughing.

13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn’t#9 on this list


Go on, forward this to your friends. You know you want to.


could it happen here?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 1997 08:01:27 +1000
Subject: could it happen here?

The following is a *true* story. It amused the hell out of me while it was
happening. I hope it isn't one of those "had to be there" things.

On my way home from the second job I've taken for the extra holiday ca$h I
need, I stopped at Taco Bell for a quick bite to eat. In my billfold is a
$50 bill and a $2 bill. That is all of the cash I have on my person. I
figure that with a $2 bill, I can get something to eat and not have to
worry about people getting pissed at me.

ME: "Hi, I'd like one seven layer burrito please, to go."
IT: "Is that it?"
ME: "Yep."
IT: "That'll be $1.04, eat here?"
ME: "No, it's *to* *go*." [I hate effort duplication.]

At his point I open my billfold and hand him the $2 bill. He looks at it
kind of funny and

IT: "Uh, hang on a sec, I'll be right back."

He goes to talk to his manager, who is still within earshot. The following
conversation occurs between the two of them.

IT: "Hey, you ever see a $2 bill?"
MG: "No. A what?"
IT: "A $2 bill. This guy just gave it to me."
MG: "Ask for something else, THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A $2 BILL."
IT: "Yeah, thought so."

He comes back to me and says

IT: "We don't take these. Do you have anything else?"
ME: "Just this fifty. You don't take $2 bills? Why?"
IT: "I don't know."
ME: "See here where it says legal tender?"
IT: "Yeah."
ME: "So, shouldn't you take it?"
IT: "Well, hang on a sec."

He goes back to his manager who is watching me like I'm going to shoplift,

IT: "He says I have to take it."
MG: "Doesn't he have anything else?"
IT: "Yeah, a fifty. I'll get it and you can open the safe and get change."
IT: "What should I do?"
MG: "Tell him to come back later when he has REAL money."
IT: "I can't tell him that, you tell him."
MG: "Just tell him."
IT: "No way, this is weird, I'm going in back."

The manager approaches me and says

MG: "Sorry, we don't take big bills this time of night." [it was 8pm
and this particular Taco Bell is in a well lighted indoor mall
with 100 other stores.]
ME: "Well, here's a two."
MG: "We don't take *those* either."
ME: "Why the hell not?"
MG: "I think you *know* why."
ME: "No really, tell me, why?"
MG: "Please leave before I call mall security."
ME: "Excuse me?"
MG: "Please leave before I call mall security."
ME: "What the hell for?"
MG: "Please, sir."
ME: "Uh, go ahead, call them."
MG: "Would you please just leave?"
ME: "No."
MG: "Fine, have it your way then."
ME: "No, that's Burger King, isn't it?"

At this point he BACKS away from me and calls mall security on the phone
around the corner. I have two people STARING at me from the dining area,
and I begin laughing out loud, just for effect. A few minutes later this
45 year oldish guy comes in and says [at the other end of counter, in a

SG: "Yeah, Mike, what's up?"
MG: "This guy is trying to give me some [pause] funny money."
SG: "Really? What?"
MG: "Get this, a *two* dollar bill."
SG: "Why would a guy fake a $2 bill?" [incredulous]
MG: "I don't know? He's kinda weird. Says the only other thing he has is a
SG: "So, the fifty's fake?"
MG: "NO, the $2 is."
SG: "Why would he fake a $2 bill?"
MG: "I don't know. Can you talk to him, and get him out of here?"
SG: "Yeah..."

Security guard walks over to me and says

SG: "Mike here tells me you have some fake bills you're trying to use."
ME: "Uh, no."
SG: "Lemme see 'em."
ME: "Why?"
SG: "Do you want me to get the cops in here?"

At this point I was ready to say, "SURE, PLEASE," but I wanted to eat, so
I said

ME: "I'm just trying to buy a burrito and pay for it with this $2 bill."

I put the bill up near his face, and he flinches like I was taking a swing
at him. He takes the bill, turns it over a few times in his hands, and

SG: "Mike, what's wrong with this bill?"
MG: "It's fake."
SG: "It doesn't look fake to me."
MG: "But it's a **$2** bill."
SG: "Yeah?"
MG: "Well, there's no such thing, is there?"

The security guard and I both looked at him like he was an idiot, and it
dawned on the guy that he had no clue.

My burrito was free and he threw in a small drink and those cinnamon
things, too. Makes me want to get a whole stack of $2 bills just to see
what happens when I try to buy stuff. If I got the right group of people,
I could probably end up in jail. At least you get free food.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Before the Big Bang, There Was . . . What?
By Dennis Overbye
New York Times
May 22, 2001

What was God doing before he created the world? The philosopher and writer (and later saint) Augustine posed the question in his "Confessions" in the fourth century, and then came up with a strikingly modern answer: before God created the world there was no time and thus no "before." To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was no "then" then.

Until recently no one could attend a lecture on astronomy and ask the modern version of Augustine's question - what happened before the Big Bang? - without receiving the same frustrating answer, courtesy of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how matter and energy bend space and time.

If we imagine the universe shrinking backward, like a film in reverse, the density of matter and energy rises toward infinity as we approach the moment of origin. Smoke pours from the computer, and space and time themselves dissolve into a quantum "foam." "Our rulers and our clocks break," explained Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford University. "To ask what is before this moment is a self-contradiction."

But lately, emboldened by progress in new theories that seek to unite Einstein's lordly realm with the unruly quantum rules that govern subatomic physics - so-called quantum gravity - Dr. Linde and his colleagues have begun to edge their speculations closer and closer to the ultimate moment and, in some cases, beyond it.

Some theorists suggest that the Big Bang was not so much a birth as a transition, a "quantum leap" from some formless era of imaginary time, or from nothing at all. Still others are exploring models in which cosmic history begins with a collision with a universe from another dimension.

All this theorizing has received a further boost of sorts from recent reports of ripples in a diffuse radio glow in the sky, thought to be the remains of the Big Bang fireball itself. These ripples are consistent with a popular theory, known as inflation, that the universe briefly speeded its expansion under the influence of a violent antigravitational force, when it was only a fraction of a fraction of a nanosecond old. Those ripples thus provide a useful check on theorists' imaginations. Any theory of cosmic origins that does not explain this phenomenon, cosmologists agree, stands little chance of being right.

Fortunately or unfortunately, that still leaves room for a lot of possibilities.

"If inflation is the dynamite behind the Big Bang, we're still looking for the match," said Dr. Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago. The only thing that all the experts agree on is that no idea works - yet. Dr. Turner likened cosmologists to jazz musicians collecting themes that sound good for a work in progress: "You hear something and you say, oh yeah, we want that in the final piece."

One answer to the question of what happened before the Big Bang is that it does not matter because it does not affect the state of our universe today. According to a theory known as eternal inflation, put forward by Dr. Linde in 1986, what we know as the Big Bang was only one out of many in a chain reaction of big bangs by which the universe endlessly reproduces and reinvents itself. "Any particular part of the universe may die, and probably will die," Dr. Linde said, "but the universe as a whole is immortal."

Dr. Linde's theory is a modification of the inflation theory that was proposed in 1980 by Dr. Alan Guth, a physicist. He considered what would happen if, as the universe was cooling during its first violently hot moments, an energy field known as the Higgs field, which interacts with particles to give them their masses, was somehow, briefly, unable to release its energy.

Space, he concluded, would be suffused with a sort of latent energy that would violently push the universe apart. In an eyeblink the universe would double some 60 times over, until the Higgs field released its energy and filled the outrushing universe with hot particles. Cosmic history would then ensue.

Cosmologists like inflation because such a huge outrush would have smoothed any gross irregularities from the primordial cosmos, leaving it homogeneous and geometrically flat. Moreover, it allows the whole cosmos to grow from next to nothing, which caused Dr. Guth to dub the universe "the ultimate free lunch."

Subsequent calculations ruled out the Higgs field as the inflating agent, but there are other inflation candidates that would have the same effect. More important, from the pre- Big-Bang perspective, Dr. Linde concluded, one inflationary bubble would sprout another, which in turn would sprout even more. In effect each bubble would be a new big bang, a new universe with different characteristics and perhaps even different dimensions. Our universe would merely be one of them.

"If it starts, this process can keep happening forever," Dr. Linde explained. "It can happen now, in some part of the universe."

The greater universe envisioned by eternal inflation is so unimaginably large, chaotic and diverse that the question of a beginning to the whole shebang becomes almost irrelevant. For cosmologists like Dr. Guth and Dr. Linde, that is in fact the theory's lure.

"Chaotic inflation allows us to explain our world without making such assumptions as the simultaneous creation of the whole universe from nothing," Dr. Linde said in an e-mail message.

Questions for Eternity
Trying to Imagine the Nothingness

Nevertheless, most cosmologists, including Dr. Guth and Dr. Linde, agree that the universe ultimately must come from somewhere, and that nothing is the leading candidate.

As a result, another tune that cosmologists like to hum is quantum theory. According to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, one of the pillars of this paradoxical world, empty space can never be considered really empty; subatomic particles can flit in and out of existence on energy borrowed from energy fields. Crazy as it sounds, the effects of these quantum fluctuations have been observed in atoms, and similar fluctuations during the inflation are thought to have produced the seeds around which today's galaxies were formed.

Could the whole universe likewise be the result of a quantum fluctuation in some sort of primordial or eternal nothingness? Perhaps, as Dr. Turner put it, "Nothing is unstable."

The philosophical problems that plague ordinary quantum mechanics are amplified in so-called quantum cosmology. For example, as Dr. Linde points out, there is a chicken- and-egg problem. Which came first: the universe, or the law governing it? Or, as he asks, "If there was no law, how did the universe appear?"

One of the earliest attempts to imagine the nothingness that is the source of everything came in 1965 when Dr. John Wheeler and Dr. Bryce DeWitt, now at the University of Texas, wrote down an equation that combined general relativity and quantum theory. Physicists have been arguing about it ever since.

The Wheeler-DeWitt equation seems to live in what physicists have dubbed "superspace," a sort of mathematical ensemble of all possible universes, ones that live only five minutes before collapsing into black holes and ones full of red stars that live forever, ones full of life and ones that are empty deserts, ones in which the constants of nature and perhaps even the number of dimensions are different from our own.

In ordinary quantum mechanics, an electron can be thought of as spread out over all of space until it is measured and observed to be at some specific location. Likewise, our own universe is similarly spread out over all of superspace until it is somehow observed to have a particular set of qualities and laws. That raises another of the big questions. Since nobody can step outside the universe, who is doing the observing?

Dr. Wheeler has suggested that one answer to that question may be simply us, acting through quantum- mechanical acts of observation, a process he calls "genesis by observership."

"The past is theory," he once wrote. "It has no existence except in the records of the present. We are participators, at the microscopic level, in making that past, as well as the present and the future." In effect, Dr. Wheeler's answer to Augustine is that we are collectively God and that we are always creating the universe.

Another option, favored by many cosmologists, is the so-called many worlds interpretation, which says that all of these possible universes actually do exist. We just happen to inhabit one whose attributes are friendly to our existence.

The End of Time
Just Another Card in the Big Deck

Yet another puzzle about the Wheeler-DeWitt equation is that it makes no mention of time. In superspace everything happens at once and forever, leading some physicists to question the role of time in the fundamental laws of nature. In his book "The End of Time," published to coincide with the millennium, Dr. Julian Barbour, an independent physicist and Einstein scholar in England, argues that the universe consists of a stack of moments, like the cards in a deck, that can be shuffled and reshuffled arbitrarily to give the illusion of time and history.

The Big Bang is just another card in this deck, along with every other moment, forever part of the universe. "Immortality is here," he writes in his book. "Our task is to recognize it."

Dr. Carlo Rovelli, a quantum gravity theorist at the University of Pittsburgh, pointed out that the Wheeler- DeWitt equation doesn't mention space either, suggesting that both space and time might turn out to be artifacts of something deeper. "If we take general relativity seriously," he said, "we have to learn to do physics without time, without space, in the fundamental theory."

While admitting that they cannot answer these philosophical questions, some theorists have committed pen to paper in attempts to imagine quantum creation mathematical rigor.

Dr. Alexander Vilenkin, a physicist at Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., has likened the universe to a bubble in a pot of boiling water. As in water, only bubbles of a certain size will survive and expand, smaller ones collapse. So, in being created, the universe must leap from no size at all - zero radius, "no space and no time" - to a radius large enough for inflation to take over without passing through the in-between sizes, a quantum-mechanical process called "tunneling."

Dr. Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University cosmologist and best-selling author, would eliminate this quantum leap altogether. For the last 20 years he and a series of collaborators have been working on what he calls a "no boundary proposal." The boundary of the universe is that it has no boundary, Dr. Hawking likes to say.

One of the keys to Dr. Hawking's approach is to replace time in his equations with a mathematical conceit called imaginary time; this technique is commonly used in calculations regarding black holes and in certain fields of particle physics, but its application to cosmology is controversial.

The universe, up to and including its origin, is then represented by a single conical-shaped mathematical object, known as an instanton, that has four spatial dimensions (shaped roughly like a squashed sphere) at the Big Bang end and then shifts into real time and proceeds to inflate. "Actually it sort of bursts and makes an infinite universe," said Dr. Neil Turok, also from Cambridge University. "Everything for all future time is determined, everything is implicit in the instanton."

Unfortunately the physical meaning of imaginary time is not clear. Beyond that, the approach produces a universe that is far less dense than the real one.

The Faith of Strings
Theorists Bring on the 'Brane' Worlds

But any real progress in discerning the details of the leap from eternity into time, cosmologists say, must wait for the formulation of a unified theory of quantum gravity that succeeds in marrying Einstein's general relativity to quantum mechanics - two views of the world, one describing a continuous curved space-time, the other a discontinuous random one - that have been philosophically and mathematically at war for almost a century. Such a theory would be able to deal with the universe during the cauldron of the Big Bang itself, when even space and time, theorists say, have to pay their dues to the uncertainty principle and become fuzzy and discontinuous.

In the last few years, many physicists have pinned their hopes for quantum gravity on string theory, an ongoing mathematically labyrinthean effort to portray nature as comprising tiny wiggly strings or membranes vibrating in 10 or 11 dimensions.

In principle, string theory can explain all the known (and unknown) forces of nature. In practice, string theorists admit that even their equations are still only approximations, and physicists outside the fold complain that the effects of "stringy physics" happen at such high energies that there is no hope of testing them in today's particle accelerators. So theorists have been venturing into cosmology, partly in the hopes of discovering some effect that can be observed.

The Big Bang is an obvious target. A world made of little loops has a minimum size. It cannot shrink beyond the size of the string loops themselves, Dr. Robert Brandenberger, now at Brown, and Dr. Cumrun Vafa, now at Harvard, deduced in 1989. When they used their string equations to imagine space shrinking smaller than a certain size, Dr. Brandenberger said, the universe acted instead as if it were getting larger. "It looks like it is bouncing from a collapsing phase."

In this view, the Big Bang is more like a transformation, like the melting of ice to become water, than a birth, explained Dr. Linde, calling it "an interesting idea that should be pursued." Perhaps, he mused, there could be a different form of space and time before the Big Bang. "Maybe the universe is immortal," he said. "Maybe it just changes phase. Is it nothing? Is it a phase transition? These are very close to religious questions."

Work by Dr. Brandenberger and Dr. Vafa also explains how it is that we only see 3 of the 9 or 10 spatial dimensions the theory calls for. Early in time the strings, they showed, could wrap around space and strangle most of the spatial dimensions, keeping them from growing.

In the last few years, however, string theorists have been galvanized by the discovery that their theory allows for membranes of various dimensions ("branes" in string jargon) as well as strings. Moreover they have begun to explore the possibility that at least one of the extra dimensions could be as large as a millimeter, which is gigantic in string physics. In this new cosmology, our world is a three-dimensional island, or brane floating in a five- dimensional space, like a leaf in a fish tank. Other branes might be floating nearby. Particles like quarks and electrons and forces like electromagnetism are stuck to the brane, but gravity is not, and thus the brane worlds can exert gravitational pulls on each other.

"A fraction of a millimeter from you is another universe," said Dr. Linde. "It might be there. It might be the determining factor of the universe in which you live."

Worlds in Collision
A New Possibility Is Introduced

That other universe could bring about creation itself, according to several recent theories. One of them, called branefall, was developed in 1998 by Dr. Georgi Dvali of New York University and Dr. Henry Tye, from Cornell. In it the universe emerges from its state of quantum formlessness as a tangle of strings and cold empty membranes stuck together. If, however, there is a gap between the branes at some point, the physicists said, they will begin to fall together.

Each brane, Dr. Dvali said, will experience the looming gravitational field of the other as an energy field in its own three-dimensional space and will begin to inflate rapidly, doubling its size more than a thousand times in the period it takes for the branes to fall together. "If there is at least one region where the branes are parallel, those regions will start an enormous expansion while other regions will collapse and shrink," Dr. Dvali said.

When the branes finally collide, their energy is released and the universe heats up, filling with matter and heat, as in the standard Big Bang.

This spring four physicists proposed a different kind of brane clash that they say could do away with inflation, the polestar of Big Bang theorizing for 20 years, altogether. Dr. Paul Steinhardt, one of the fathers of inflation, and his student Justin Khoury, both of Princeton, Dr. Burt Ovrut of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Turok call it the ekpyrotic universe, after the Greek word "ekpyrosis," which denotes the fiery death and rebirth of the world in Stoic philosophy.

The ekpyrotic process begins far in the indefinite past with a pair of flat empty branes sitting parallel to each other in a warped five-dimensional space - a situation they say that represents the simplest solution of Einstein's equations in an advanced version of string theory. The authors count it as a point in their favor that they have not assumed any extra effects that do not already exist in that theory. "Hence we are proposing a potentially realistic model of cosmology," they wrote in their paper.

The two branes, which form the walls of the fifth dimension, could have popped out of nothingness as a quantum fluctuation in the even more distant past and then drifted apart.

At some point, perhaps when the branes had reached a critical distance apart, the story goes, a third brane could have peeled off the other brane and begun falling toward ours. During its long journey, quantum fluctuations would ripple the drifting brane's surface, and those would imprint the seeds of future galaxies all across our own brane at the moment of collision. Dr. Steinhardt offered the theory at an astronomical conference in Baltimore in April.

In the subsequent weeks the ekpyrotic universe has been much discussed. Some cosmologists, particularly Dr. Linde, have argued that in requiring perfectly flat and parallel branes the ekpyrotic universe required too much fine-tuning.

In a critique Dr. Linde and his co- authors suggested a modification they called the "pyrotechnic universe."

Dr. Steinhardt admitted that the ekpyrotic model started from a very specific condition, but that it was a logical one. The point, he said, was to see if the universe could begin in a long-lived quasi-stable state "starkly different from inflation." The answer was yes. His co-author, Dr. Turok, pointed out, moreover, that inflation also requires fine-tuning to produce the modern universe, and physicists still don't know what field actually produces it.

"Until we have solved quantum gravity and connected string theory to particle physics none of us can claim victory," Dr. Turok said.

In the meantime, Augustine sleeps peacefully.