Built on Facts

Archives for October, 2008

Walk the Line

See these guys? They’re racewalking. It’s like running in that you do it as fast as possible, but you’re not allowed to have both feet off the ground at any time. One foot has to be planted on the track at all times. The guy to the far right is slightly cheating – both his…

E Pluribus Unum, Particle Style

So Seed magazine has endorsed Obama. Quelle surprise! I suppose I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me, but of course I’m on record as supporting the “anyone else” ticket. I am under no illusion that it will be anything but a lost cause. One of the things that leads me to believe this is…

#4 – Michael Faraday One day sir, you may tax it. – Michael Faraday, asked by the British Minister of Finance about the practical value of electricity With Michael Faraday we begin to reach the most rarified heights of physics achievement. Faraday worked largely in the first half of the 19th century when the lines…

Children, Guns, and Pools

In the United States, there are about 4 million 8-year-old children. To the extent that statistical averages hold true, around 640 of them will die this year. The largest single cause is motor vehicle accidents, killing a quarter. Cancer will kill another sixth, heart disease around fifteen percent, drowning will kill four percent, fires will…

Are you feeling lucky, punk?

Let’s say we want to know how big the earth would be if it were compressed down so far that it became a black hole. We don’t really know much about black holes, but we do know something about escape velocity. Stand on the surface of the earth (which had radius r) and fire a…

Brought to you by the ketter K

Hey, sorry for having no Sunday Function yesterday. Life and travel conspired in such a way as to prevent it. Well, there’s always next week! But hey, at we have a post for today. In physics, as in all mathematical disciplines, we have a lot of need for equations. Those equations contain letters which represent…

The Starry Weekend

This weekend finds me on the road again, and driving a few hundred miles across rural Texas and Louisiana puts one in the mind to contemplate the expanse above. You’re only about an hour’s drive from space right now, if you can find a car that will go straight up. But for now we have…

Space Shuttle: Electric Boogaloo

A space shuttle launch is pretty expensive. Exactly how expensive depends on who you ask, but if you divide the yearly cost of the program by the number of launches you get something in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars. That’s actually pretty trivial by federal budget standards, but it’s still not chump change.…

#5 – Richard Feynman I’m probably going to take some flack for this one. Feynman was and is so popular as a scientific writer, raconteur, and honest-to-goodness celebrity that his staggering scientific accomplishments are sometimes lost in the shadow of his own popular legend. But if we want to try to make a more-or-less honest…

Cliff’s Notes on NCIS.

You know what irritates me? NCIS. Not the Navy’s law enforcement agency, the TV show about that organization. I’m generally a fan of Law and Order style police procedurals, but that one just rubs me the wrong way. Why? The fetishize law breaking. Not the law breaking of the criminals they investigate, they themselves go…