Built on Facts

Archives for December, 2009

Around ScienceBlogs recently there’s been some discussion about the following eyebrow-raising Toys-R-Us advertisement: The ad has caused rumblings of discontent because it’s pretty obvious the pink microscope and telescope are supposed to be “girl” editions, and in both cases the pink one is the smallest, dinkiest, and lowest powered. The bare fact of pinkness in…

Cross-Eyed Stars

Still working my way through Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, and I’m now about half way through it (and thus about 1/6 of the way through the whole Baroque Cycle). The book is about the intrigues and adventures of Daniel Waterhouse and Jack Shaftoe, but it’s actually about the birth of the modern world through the twin…

Ok, back from Christmas hiatus which I, uh, forgot to announce. But I am pleased that I survived a full 96+ hours with exactly zero internet access. Didn’t even miss it. Much. Over that break, I happened to be in a bookstore in exurban Atlanta. Gravitating as I tend to do toward the science section,…

Breaking the Bank

In the study of probability there’s a concept called expected value. If you’re measuring some random process, the expected value is the average over a very large number of trials. For instance, if you roll one dice you can expect to come up with a value of 3.5. Now obviously no individual roll can give…

Sunday Function

Before her career took an unfortunate wrong turn, a young and talented Lindsay Lohan gave us a charming and popular comedy called Mean Girls. Time has been good to the careers of some of the others involved, Tiny Fey and Rachel McAdams perhaps most notably. But the film did something that very other movies have…

WIMPy Physics.

Some of you may have heard in the news recently about a possible detection of the particles that may make up dark matter: Detectors in the mine, part of the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment, were tripped recently by what might be weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. WIMPs are among the most popular candidates…

Measuring Gravity, Baroque Style

I’ve finally buckled down and started reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. Though the author is probably my favorite living fiction writer, the three-volume, ~3000 page monstrosity is just something that’s hard for a busy grad student to tackle. I’m only maybe 1/5th through the first volume, but so far so good. Plenty of interesting science…

Radium and Forgeries

This is a painting called The Supper at Emmaus. Its subject is the story in the 24th chapter of Luke’s gospel, and the story of the painting is itself quite a tale. It was discovered from obscurity in 1937 by the Dutch painter Hans van Meegeren, and it was acclaimed by experts as a heretofore…

You probably haven’t been able to avoid seeing the televised bombs AT&T and Verizon have been throwing at each other over the maps of their coverage. Both sets of commercials (to differing degrees) fail to make it especially clear just what their maps mean to the consumer. For instance: Verizon’s commercial brags of overwhelming coverage…

Sunday Function

Here’s a very simple function: You give it a positive real number, it gives you the square root. It maps 81 to 9, 100 to 10, 2 to 1.414…, and so on and so forth. It’s pretty much the only one-argument function that’s built into most pocket calculators, which says something about its utility and…