Built on Facts

Archives for March, 2009

Earth Hour

I have a Fermi problem for you. By the very nature of a Fermi problem, a precise answer is impossible, we’re merely looking for a justified order-of-magnitude estimate. Here goes: During last week’s Earth Hour event, what amount of CO2 was not released that otherwise would have been? What is that number in terms of…

The Pleiades

Before we figured out that the universe was a very large open space with lots of stuff scattered about, the ancients had some interesting ideas on how the sky worked. Roughly speaking, celestial phenomena came in three kinds. There are the stars, which remain a constant, fixed background. There are the planets, which move about…

Sunday Function

The quadratic formula. With the exception of the Pythagorean Theorem, it’s probably the single most common mathematical formula people carry from high school. It’s not a function as such, it’s something that solves a function. Let me give an example: Pick a number x, square it, add twice x to that, subtract 3 from that.…

Free Speech

Saturdays I tend to use for soapboxing on things which may or may not be related to physics. Today I think it will be free speech. There’s a Supreme Court case involving Hillary: The Movie in the context of McCain-Fiengold campaign finance law. Suffice it to say that free speech is non-negotiable in my opinion,…

Falling Down… Almost

Apologies for the light posting. Busy week, and it’s going to be a busy weekend too in physics land. Well, that’s what I signed up for. This caught my eye though. Via Swans on Tea though, I see a great demonstration of physics as art. There’s a story of Feynman and several other physics lecturers…

Kal-El, native of the planet Krypton, came to Earth and was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Being a Kryptonian, he found that he had superhuman powers and used them for good as Superman[1]. We all know the story. But what do we know about Krypton? Any information would be a dramatic coup for astronomers…

The Road

Cormac McCarthy is with good reason widely considered to be among the finest living American writers. The literary scene has appreciated his work for some time; the general public (including myself, though I do a lot of reading) was first exposed to his work in the uncommonly faithful film adaptation of No Country for Old…

Lasers and Battlefields

Missiles are a problem if you’re fighting a modern war. You can get out of the way or you can hide behind something, but that’s about it. Now anti-missile technology has had some success dealing with mid-range missiles. The Patriot system whose success was limited during the Gulf War has since been improved into a…

Spring Break

Thursday and Friday of this week are the staff and faculty equivalent of spring break here at Texas A&M. I’m going to be spending them on the road, visiting family and friends. As such Built on Facts is going to be on break for a few days. We’ll be back Monday – possibly sooner. Until…

On AIG and executive bonuses

It’s not all that often I agree with Mike Dunford politically, but in writing about the AIG bonuses he’s right. The bonuses ought to stay with the executives who were paid them. Neither congress nor the president ought to try to tax these bonuses back. Now obviously no executive at a failing bank deserves a…