Built on Facts

Archives for June, 2009

Shrinking Quarters

Tom at Swans on Tea (You do read Swans on Tea, right? You’re missing out if you don’t.) points out one of the more impressive physics demos out there. It’s quarter shrinking, in slow motion. You take a $0.25 coin, stick it in the middle of a coil of wire, and dump an tremendous amount…

Bacon in the Asteroid Belt

A reader in the thread on Snow Crash came up with an interesting exercise. In the book, Hiro Protagonist has a pretty awesome car. He’d better – he uses it for time-critical deliveries for the Mafia. The Deliverator’s car has enough potential energy packed into its batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the…

Miracle Diet Through Physics!

I was doing some swimming today, and when I got out of the pool and dried off the first thing I did was to get some ice water to cool down a bit. Good stuff, there’s not much that’s as satisfying as cold water to a thirsty person on a hot day. Ice water is…

The NAS and Geoengineering

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler notes that the NAS is starting to look into the possibility of geoengineering to roll back human changes in the climate. For those of you who haven’t heard, geoengineering is the process of deliberately changing the climate to compensate for the effects of greenhouse gases. There’s no shortage…

Sunday Function

Saw “Up” yesterday. How Pixar manages to be so consistent in their astonishing quality is entirely beyond me. In a bit of a tribute, this Sunday Function is not about any dramatically important special function, but instead it’s about filling a balloon. Air or water, as your preference. You’ll have noticed that when you start…

Snowy Decibels

There’s a list of books a cultured person is supposed to have read. Its size and composition vary depending on who you ask, but roughly speaking there exists a Western canon containing works by authors with names like Shakespeare and Dostoevsky and Milton and Sophocles. There’s something of a Nerd Canon too. The names of…

Interservice Rivalry

You might remember an older xkcd comic ranking various sceinces in terms of their purity. Psychology is just applied biology, biology is just applied, chemistry, chemistry is just applied physics… etc. Math is at the top. (Philosophers would like to think they’re the top level, one rank above mathematicians.) It’s all in good fun, and…

Powers of Ten (Dollars)

There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers. -Richard Feynman Not so long ago I wrote a snarky post about economics wherein I…

In Defense of Inaccuracy

Ethan at Starts With a Bang busts two Galileo myths. 1) That Galileo actually dropped weights off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He almost certainly didn’t. Like the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, it’s an instructive parable not at variance with the character of the man – but not an event that…

Sunday Function

Just 24 light-hours away it’s still Sunday, right? Oh well. On to the math! If you ask a mathematician to define a circle, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of “A circle is the set of points in a plane equidistant from a given center point. The name of the distance from the center…