Built on Facts

Archives for November, 2008

Thankfulness

Ok, ok, I admit there’s post-1900 classical that I really like. Copland and Gershwin in particular were mentioned by a number of people, and both are great. I made my first acquaintance with Copland when I was a little kid watching a NASA documentary, and in the background of some dramatic launch was his Fanfare…

The 1927 Solvay Conference

I’m on the road today and so can’t write up an extensive post. So for today, I leave you with a picture from physics history: the 1927 Solvay conference. It proved that there’s no critical mass for genius. If there were, this gathering would have exploded. A large fraction of my “Greatest Physicists” are all…

Classical vs. Modern Physics

Classical is how you look at it. To most people, classical music is whatever happens to be written before about 1900 that you hear played in orchestra halls and NPR. To classical fans, there’s more nuance involved. More ambiguity, too. “Classical music” is generally divided into about four eras, one of which is itself confusingly…

Sunday Function

This function is a two-dimensional one. It’s radially symmetric however, so we can specify it with only one coordinate – the distance from the origin r. It’s the two-dimensional Gaussian function, and it looks like this: As r increases, -r^2 very quickly becomes a large negative number. The exponential function falls off rapidly toward zero…

News and More

Take a look at the opening paragraph of this great AFP article: It’s taken more than a century, but Einstein’s celebrated formula e=mc2 has finally been corroborated, thanks to a heroic computational effort by French, German and Hungarian physicists. I’m sorry, did I say great? I meant awful. That particular equation of Einstein’s was demonstrated…

Going Back

Another former astronaut, one of the few in the extremely exclusive club of men who’ve walked the lunar surface, is advocating a human return. There’s not many people who’d like to see such a thing more than me. Officially it’s NASA policy to get us back to the moon by… lessee, 2020 I believe is…

Mechanics of Heat

One of the last things we cover in Physics 201 is heat. You all know what heat is: the atoms in a substance jiggle around or fly around freely if the substance happens to be a gas. Like all moving massive objects, these atoms have a certain kinetic energy. Now the problem is that they’re…

#3 – James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell is my favorite physicist. This site takes its name from a wise thing he once said: “In every branch of knowledge the progress is proportional to the amount of facts on which to build, and therefore to the facility of obtaining data.” For all the volumes written…

Testing 1,2,3

A question before the physics: I hear Hillary Clinton is being considered for a position as Secretary of State. Let’s say this is true. Why would a senator want to take that job? It’s a temporary position. Eight years max, not much longer than a single term in the senate. Four years if the president…

Elliptical Arguments

Here, straight from the Wikipedia article, is a lovely picture of a basketball in a free-flight trajectory. You probably expect a parabolic trajectory, and we do get pretty close. There are some deviations. The resistance of the atmosphere is the largest, and the rotation of the ball will itself result in aerodynamic effects that distort…