Built on Facts

Archives for January, 2010

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, a quick look at a funny exchange in the oral arguments of Briscoe v. Virginia: MR. FRIEDMAN: I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here because the Commonwealth is acknowledging – CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I’m sorry. Entirely what? MR. FRIEDMAN: Orthogonal. Right angle. Unrelated. Irrelevant. CHIEF JUSTICE…

The Difficulty of Teaching Magnets

Rhett over at Dot Physics is not quite happy about the way magnets are being taught to his young niece: The other question came from my niece – who is an extremely bright girl (not sure exactly what grade – maybe 5th). She was at home and didn’t have her science textbook, so she asked…

Sunday Function

There’s an interesting contrast between the laws of nature and the laws which constitute our legal system. The laws of nature are compact and precise; written in standard notation without accompanying explanation, the fundamental laws fit on a few pages. The laws of the legal system span thousands of volumes and are frequently ambiguous and…

Raising the Burj Khalifa

I’ve got to admit, this is a beautiful skyscraper: I was never very enamored of the Petronias Towers or the Taipei 101, both of which lacked the architectural panache that supertall structures ought to have. The Burj Khalifa has it. Burj Dubai is a more elegant name, but long story short Dubai really got nuked…

Owl City and the Slow Earth

I’d like to make myself believe That planet Earth turns slowly… – Owl City, Fireflies If you’re had any exposure to pop radio over the last few months, you’ve heard this plaintive rumination about the earth’s rotation. The first time I heard it I thought it must be the Postal Service getting back together, but…

Sunday Function

We’ve spent more than a few Sunday Function features discussing the properties of the prime numbers. They’re just so important and interesting in number theory that they’re an irresistible target. Let’s set some scenery before getting to the actual function this week. There are an infinite number of prime numbers. Whatever gargantuan prime number you…

Ringing in Kepler’s Year

Happy new year! While we’re thinking about years, why don’t we think about one of the first guys to explore the physical reason behind the year? This nattily dressed gentleman is Johannes Kepler, who worked out three basic mathematical laws of planetary motion around the year 1605. He did so from scratch, purely based on…