Built on Facts

Archives for September, 2008

David Foster Wallace

One of my favorite writers, the extraordinary David Foster Wallace, is dead after ending his own life. He was 46. My first exposure to his work was his beautiful mathematics book Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity. He brought his extraordinary skill as a narrative fiction writer to the story of the development…

Project Earth and other stuff

Yesterday I was watching Discovery’s Project Earth, avoiding doing homework and grading. It’s an interesting show, with ideas ranging from the interesting to the preposterous. The episode I saw proposed launching little lenses into space to scatter a small fraction of the sun’s light away from earth. The tests were failures, and more damning but…

Gustav Rising

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” This is said by people all over the country, especially so in the coastal south where 90+ degree heat is made that much worse by air thick enough to swim in. But heat is usually an inconvenience. Hurricanes are another matter. It’s not the wind, it’s the water.…

Shoot the Moon

There’s a comic strip called Non Sequitur. Not one of my favorites, but occasionally there’s a pretty good one. Here’s an example. We have a kid speculating about firing a gun on the moon. He asks: If you were on the moon, which is a vacuum, and tried to shoot a gun, would it fire?…

Yet More Rape Smears

You’re probably more tired of politics than I am, but somebody has to be the voice of reason around here. I apologize to my physics-loving nonpolitical readers and urge those of you fitting that description to avoid anything I write with the politics tag. It will all be over soon. Maybe it’s because McCain now…

Lots of particles in a box

Reader nanoAl had an interesting observation about the post on applying an electric charge to the earth. We were trying to find out how much electric charge would need to be applied to the earth and the moon to cancel out their gravitational attraction. The answer was suprisingly little. Here’s what nanoAl had to say:…

A Palin Accusation Examined

If you’re here for the physics and not the politics, skip this entry. I wouldn’t blame you. It irritates me to read politics on science sites too, but with the election only about two months away it’s hard to resist the temptation. Here we go. Neurotopia links to an article criticizing Sarah Palin. Nothing unusual.…

From Earth to Moon

Ever wondered why it takes a tremendously huge rocket to launch people from the earth, but the Apollo astronauts managed to launch from the moon in a comparatively tiny lunar module? Easy, the whole thing was faked and NASA forgot to come up with a plausible explanation! Wow, it was almost physically painful to type…

Shoot Down the ISS

There’s been a lot of discussion about NASA administrator Mike Griffin’s leaked email about the future of the space station. It’s a fascinating, honest, and cogent look at where we stand now at the crossroads of the Shuttle and the eventual Ares/Orion system. He’s precisely right on the facts. He’s also too pessimistic. The failure…

Rocketklok

There’s got to be what, probably one or two Metalocalypse fans in the readership? The rest of you will probably be pretty confused, but bear with me. Quick primer: the show is about an absurdly successful but actually incompetent death metal band called Dethklok. The season finale was last night. Holy cow that was a…