Thursday, May 18, 2006


Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation

I've always thought that "laser" was the coolest acronym. Others that are right up there are "radar" (radio detection and ranging), "scuba" (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), "flak" (from German, Fliegerabwehrkanone), and "gulag" (from Russian words that mean "Chief Directorate of Camps"). I think I like the last two because it's so unusual to have foreign-language acronyms turn into English words (we think of "gulag" as borrowed Russian word, but "flak" is fully fledged).

Having as a child been a fan of space travel, astronomy, and, especially, the associated science fiction, I also liked the science-fiction concept of the laser as a powerful ray — a death beam, a tool that could slice through the thickest slab of metal as so much jelly. Though I learned early from reading science-fact books that real lasers weren't like that, the concept, as well as the word, still fascinated me.

Of course, now, some 40 years later, lasers serve us in everyday life. Rather than being the death rays of science fiction, they help us play music and store data; they focus our cameras for us; they scan bar codes, catch speeders, fuse toner onto paper in laser printers, and add visual entertainment to the music of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. For under $20 you can buy a laser level at the hardware store, to help make sure you install your shelves straight.

And later today, lasers will slice through the corneas of my eyes. I'm going in at noon today for LASIK, itself another acronym (for laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis), a now-well-known procedure wherein they'll reshape the corneas to correct my vision, and, if all goes well, I won't need corrective lenses any more, for the first time since I first admired lasers in those science fiction films decades ago.

I'm really excited about this, and I'll post here tomorrow about the immediate results, and my comments about the whole thing. Assuming, of course, that I can see to do it.

But, damn, I've started to need reading glasses in recent years, and most likely still will. Life is full of irony.


Permadot said...

Good luck with your Lasik!

"See" you around! ;)

Julio Cesar

Jim Fenton said...

Indeed, hope it goes well.

Since you and I are of a similar age, and I need bifocals, this brings up a question a friend and I were discussing just this afternoon. How does Lasik (or should I say LASiK?) deal with presbyopia (loss of lens flexibility)? Would a person with presbyopia still need reading glasses, but be able to see well at a distance?

Barry Leiba said...

I've answered Jim's question in the next post.