Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beards and Pulsars

The bearded half of
A few weeks ago I was on a bus going through Scranton and I read a super-awesome fun fact regarding the Hulse-Taylor binary pulsar in Black Holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars.  Sadly, I have since forgotten it and left the book a few thousand miles away.  So, let's just make up our own!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Paradigm Shifts 2: Paradigm ShiftER

Last time, I presented reasons why it would be economically infeasible for the US to switch to the metric system. This time, I'd like to talk about a change that could relatively easily be brought about soon. A change that would barely cost a thing, but could improve efficiency dramatically in many jobs and in every day life for many people.

A change of this type would be very handy. Puns aside though, what I'm talking about is this:

(again lots from Wikipedia)

Breaking Intuition

When I walked into my first day of physics class in high school, I carried with me a set of ideas which I learned from simply observing and interacting with the world. In fact everyone builds up what they believe to be intuitive concepts, whether it be in science, math, or any other field. Without any scientific training whatsoever, we begin to build intuition.

If you let go of a ball in the air, what will happen?
If you try to run on the ice of a frozen lake, will it be easier than running on the sidewalk?
If you stand in the sun and on the ground you see a strange dark misshapen copy of yourself imitating your every move... who is following you?

Unfortunately we run into an issue when our intuition disagrees with experimental results or someone else’s intuition. At that point, it is essential to break down and analyze our intuition to find where any problems in our logic may exist. This process of continually breaking down and analyzing intuition is key to progressing in science.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Visualizing Quantum Mechanics

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the computer.

[Note: There's a neat video below the fold. ]

A Confession

I was recently rereading the Feynman Lectures on Physics. If you haven't read them lately, I highly recommend them. Feynman is always a pleasure to read. As usual, I was surprised. This time the surprise came in lecture 9, which the way the course was laid out meant that this was something like the last lecture in the third week that these students had ever received of university level physics.

The lecture is on Newton's laws of dynamics. The start is of course Newton's first (second) law,
\[ F = \frac{d }{dt } (mv ) \]
which, provided the mass is constant takes the more familiar form
\[ F = ma \]

After discussing the meaning of the equation and how in general it can give you a set of equations to solve, he naturally uses an example to illustrate the kinds of problems you can solve.

What system does he choose to use as the first illustration of a dynamical system?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Microseconds and Miles

The following is an unfinished manuscript found under heaps of rubble and pizza boxes here at Virtuosi headquarters.  It appears to be some sort of screen play, though one would be hard-pressed to figure this out solely from the script.  The true giveaway was the 100 page addendum (not published) full of potential titles and acceptance speeches.  I dare not bore you with these vanity pages in their entirety, but just for completeness and posterity I include some samples.

For possible titles we have: "Dr. Dre, OR: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Metric," "How to Teach Physics to your Dee Oh Double G (West Coast Edition)," "Bring Da Ruckus: ODEs by ODB" and "Flavor Flav's Flavor Physics...boooyeeeee!" among other even worse and less relevant titles.

Among the acceptance speeches we have one that starts: "I would like to thank the Academy, Scott Bakula and Chuck D.  You know what you did.  Here's a song I wrote...", etc.  It is all very painful.

There is almost no value to this document whatsoever, but it does present a nice fun fact about GPS.  The legible parts of the script are thus presented below.  The illegible parts appear to have been obscured by some caustic mixture of Mountain Dew, pizza sauce and tears.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quantum Chess!

Ever find out when you're playing chess that the Queen you reached for is actually a pawn? Probably not. But most chess games aren't affected by the weirdness of the quantum world. This one is:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Paradigm Shifts 1

Hi everybody, I'm Sam, and this will be my first contribution to the blog! (cue applause) It will not be a physical modeling exercise; instead I will be writing a little bit about about paradigm shifts in a series of a few posts. I hope it will provoke some interesting discussion.

"But Sam," you ask, "Isn't 'paradigm shift' just a buzzword that people use to sound important?" Well, maybe, but it's also useful phrase used to describe a substantial change in the way something is done. Consider, for example,


(many details from Wikipedia)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Remembering two things

One of my professors, Yuval Grossman, was talking about the zoology of particle physics in class the other day. Trying to get us to remember such trivia as the mass of the B meson, he noted that it's easier to remember two things than it is to remember one - and as it happens, the mass of the B meson is about 5280 MeV, which is also the length of a mile in feet (an equally obscure piece of trivia, if you ask me).

This reminded of one of my first calculus classes back home where another professor (Mikhail Sodin) chided us for not knowing the value of e, 2.71828. This is easy to remember, he said because 1828 is the year Lev Tolstoy was born.

Then again, when I came to write this post, I could neither remember e, nor Tolstoy's year of birth - or even that it was Tolstoy, rather than Dostoevsky or some other Russian author. So perhaps two things are not easier to remember than one after all.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Caught In The Rain

There's an age old question that mankind has pondered.  I'm sure that noble heads such as Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein have pondered it. I myself have raised it a few times.  The question is: do you get more wet running or walking through the rain?  Now, I know that this question was mythbusted a while back.  So this is one of those situations where I know the result I want to get to with my calculation: according to mythbusters running is better.  Still, I think formulating the question mathematically will be fun, plus if I fail to agree with experiment everyone can mock me mercilessly.