August 31, 2007


Now that I actually live off Hope Street, this poster has new meaning for me. I do live off hope!

[Mad Peck]

August 17, 2007

Nightmare of the Week: Particle Physics Sudoku

To solve this puzzle, all you need to do is make sure that each row, column, and 4x4 sub-grid contains each of the 16 observed particles usually listed as the components of the Standard Model. Those are the six quarks: u, d, s, c, t, b; the six leptons: e, μ, τ, νe, νμ, ντ; and the four force carriers: γ, g, W, Z. There is only one solution to this puzzle, but be warned: Don’t expect to solve this in five minutes. And don’t let those pesky neutrinos confuse you!
Sudoku, as everyone knows, is a fun little game where you arrange the numbers 1-9 along rows and columns and in 3x3 boxes so that none repeat. But last month, looking to improve upon the dull tyranny of integers, Symmetry Magazine tried replacing them with the sixteen known elementary particles. Of course, in addition to upping the confusion with new symbols, the grid is now horrifyingly large. It looks like a nice distraction for when you get bored with your QCD calculations and need to work on something a little harder.

I'd like this watch please

This absurdly expensive watch shows the part of the globe illuminated by sunlight at all times. It also shows the relative position (and therefore phase) of the moon. It has the sunrise and sunset marked with their times. And surrounding all this is an extremely slow-rotating calendar hand. I accept donations.

August 8, 2007

Do Not Walk


Well actually, the people in this newspaper article don't want you to do either. Apparently, they've studied the energy efficiency of food production and shown that there is more carbon emitted in creating the food your body needs to walk down the block than there is when you drive there. From what I've already heard about it, this seems right, especially when it comes to meat. I think that there is something like a 10 to 1 ratio of energy in to energy out when you are talking about beef. Plus there are all sorts of extras like shipping and refrigeration. So according to these folks, the best thing to do for the environment is simply to eat little and do nothing.

Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.

The sums were done by Chris Goodall, campaigning author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, based on the greenhouse gases created by intensive beef production. “Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles [4.8km] adds about 0.9 kg [2lb] of CO2 to the atmosphere,” he said, a calculation based on the Government’s official fuel emission figures. “If you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories. You’d need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving.

“The troubling fact is that taking a lot of exercise and then eating a bit more food is not good for the global atmosphere. Eating less and driving to save energy would be better.”

This is stupid for several reasons. First of all, it assumes that people eat based on how much energy they are planning on using up in that day. Clearly this is not so. Most people eat too much as is, and getting slightly more exercise would not immediately alter how much they have for lunch that day.

Secondly, and more importantly, although food production is a huge carbon emitter, there is nothing significant that individuals can do about it. Changes of the magnitude required to have any impact have to come from the top down, not the bottom up. Getting everyone in your commune to use their NPR tote bags at the co-op won't do a thing. And unless there is some type of omnipresent emergency, people will not be inspired to miraculously start behaving in a better, but more inconvenient fashion.

But even if you did set out to personally reduce worldwide carbon emissions by a billionth of a fraction of one percent through lifestyle changes, you wouldn't accomplish anything by not consuming food that has already been made. It's like vegetarians -- it is fine if you just don't like meat or don't want to be personally involved in devouring animals, but if you think that the reduction in demand that you yourself create will save a single pig, you're wrong. The doritos are already on the shelf. At least, when it comes to gas, you can control how much carbon gets released over a certain period of time. After all, there is an amount of CO2 that may be reabsorbed every year. You can ration your own gasoline burning, but you can't stop supermarkets from cooking up those delicious space chickens. In short, you can't make a difference. If you want a clean conscience you can certainly follow all the wildly impractical suggestions in that article about avoiding supermarkets and only eating cereal, but don't expect it to matter, and don't expect other people to suddenly start subsisting entirely on beans and lentils that they grow in their backyard.

August 7, 2007

Innovative Signage

Dear Unfortunately Advertised Sign Company,

When you think about it, at the very least you've got to manufacture one decent sign -- to put on you own building. After that, you can probably get away with some lousy broken ones. That will be all.

Topography of Ignorance, Ironic Photo Division

Stupid Bumper Sticker of the Day

"Abortion is the Ultimate Terrorism"

The thing that's so great about about this is the indescriminant use of the word 'terrorism.' Clearly people have been getting a little sloppy about the terror part. You know, where you scare the public through random violence to achieve a political objective? Who are you trying to scare with abortions? Gametes? "If you two even think about combining, we'll forceps you so hard you'll wish you hadn't!!"

Where I've been

The people who read this blog (both of them) may have noticed my criminal lack of posting in the recent past. Since the winter, without really trying, I managed to average about one post a day...until July, when I started never being at home. To prove it, I made a map of my travels. Since the end of colloquia, I haven't really had any good excuses to continue my award-winning series, so I'll let this be a meager substitute for the time-being.

Ramirez: HR 43, RBI 130, INT 1

And now, for no reason at all, this:

The Retrosheet description of this game can't do the play justice. The shortness of the clip takes something away from it as well (there was a longer version online a while ago but it got taken off YouTube by MLB thugs). Yet there is something quintessentially Mannyesque about the Great Unexpected Cutoff of 2004. As you can see, Damon in centerfield picks up a wall-ball and tries to fire it to 3rd when Ramirez dives improbably into its path from off-screen, allowing the runner to score. It was officially recorded an inside-the-park-HR, but we all know what it really should have been labeled: an interception.

August 6, 2007

Nations of the National Pastime

[click for larger]

Strange Maps continues to demonstrate cartographical excellence with this post on an MLB fanship map. The writer is British I believe, and therefore doesn't seem to know much about baseball in the US. As one would predict there is extensive argument in the comment thread about the validity of what it shows in various places, though I would say that it is basically right and fun to see mapped out despite some clear flaws. Jumping out at me immediately would have to be the Chicago region, New Jersey, Texas, and Connecticut, and I am sure that there is something going on with Virginia too, but I don't know enough about it to say what it ought to look like over there.
As I mentioned a while ago, the NY Times had an article about Connecticut's bid to officially leave New England treasonous Yankee-supporting activity with a delineation of the border territory. It is also hard to guess what is going on in the extreme northeast, but I happen to know that the Red Sox extend up decisively into Quebec and the Maritime provinces of Canada, where they have nothing to do other than fish and watch NESN. The Rangers territory looks wrong to me as well, since the Astros seem to be considered the "state" team of Texas. Similarly how can it be that all of Colorado doesn't consider itself Rockies fans? And I know that western Ontario is Tigers owned and I can't imagine how the Pirates claim part of Virgina. I think there are two things that are actually causing problems with this map:
  1. They didn't draw it transparently. In reality there is quite a bit of overlap in many of these areas. Take the LA area for instance: there are Angels fans there, but they don't own the lower part of the metropolitan area (as far as I know), rather they are right on top of the Dodgers. The same goes for Chicago, although the White Sox have a definite south-side advantage. And isn't SF basically all Giants? I think they don't want to make the Mets look bad, but in reality, they can really only claim Long Island, even if they have some stragglers in other parts of the Tri-State area. New Jersey and the rest of NYC is overwhelmingly Yankee dominated.
  2. There is a difference between what these areas should be and what they actually are. This is especially true in Connecticut and some of those southwestern places. Conn is supposedly part of New England, but since they are all backstabbing traitors, the western part of the state has gone over to the dark side. And Nebraska and Kansas should be Royals fans, but since they are so terrible, and the people from that part of the country are so weak-minded, many of them latch onto random teams of their choice. If you are going to do that, being from the plains you should chose the Cubs, or at least the Cardinals, who are sort of the "midwestern" teams. Plus, picking the Cubs doesn't exactly impart an easy rooting assignment, so people can't really question your motives if you just want to find a team with some history. Unfortunately, both of the people I've met from there are the worst kind of Yankee fans: fair-weather ones who "like them because they win" and even admit this fact. Terrible job.
Overall I give it a B. Good effort, but a nearly impossible task to do well.

At least one thing is clear: avoid the Unincorporated Territories at all costs.

Your Astronomers Need You

This is a few weeks or months old, but better late than never. The Galaxy Zoo project is now attempting to take tedious, eye-straining work away from downtrodden graduate students. Much in the same vein as SETI@home, Folding@home, or Einstein@home, which delegate computationally-expensive but simple data-sifting work to the hard drives of people willing to keep the program running in the background, Galaxy Zoo wants to run galaxy-categorization in the background of your willing brain. The aforementioned programs search for alien broadcasts, protein assembly combinations, and pulsars respectively. Galaxy Zoo uses the power of bored people on the internet to help divide up uninspected galaxies into their morphology -- a task which can not yet be done effectively with imaging software. Since there is such now such a vast amount of data from recent galaxy surveys like the SDSS, the power of the astronomy community's usual eyeball resource, grad students, is insufficient. So sign up, and zone out looking at pretty pictures.

[via CV]

Dr. Accidental Electrocution

Speaking of Tesla coils, this guy, a physics PhD, has followed a different career path than most. Dr. Megavolt appears to put his life in hilarious, ridiculous danger by standing next to enormous coils that he his special insulating Faraday cage suit. The suit kind of reminds me of Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze, but I am betting that Dr. Megavolt makes better puns (no "Ice to meet you!"). Not many people trained as physicists ever end up performing at Burning Man or make a living standing around as the grounded end of a current arc. Although it is safe of course, you've got to love the trust this fellow has in Mr. Faraday, who was a well-known coward when it came to showy high-voltage demonstrations.

[Also check out this video of a transformer exploding, even though it has nothing to do with anything.]

Further Adventures in Eponymity

I have serious doubts that 'eponymity' is a real word. 'Eponym' is, as are 'eponymous' and '-ist' and so forth. And since 'anonymity' is a word and 'eponym-' is of the same category, it follows that the quality of being eponymous ought to be describable as 'eponymity.' That fact doesn't cause many people to use it of course, but somehow, google searches for eponymity currently turn up my post of a few months ago (among some other things). Oddly, the top result is for a similar thing, a pointer toward this article about naming-afterness in science.

Robert Bunsen, whose name we associate with the burner, was a 19th-century German chemist of some renown. He worked on explosive organic arsenic compounds--leading to the loss of one eye--and, later, on gases from volcanoes, geysers and blast furnaces. With Kirchoff he contributed to our understanding of the meaning of spectra lines. (He also gained note for not bathing--one woman of polite society remarked that Bunsen was so charming that she would like to kiss him, but she would have to wash him first.) Bunsen invented many bits of laboratory apparatus: the spectroscope, the carbon-pole battery, an ice calorimeter and vapor calorimeter, the thermopile, and the filter pump--but not, as one might imagine, the gas burner that bears his name. Rather, the "Bunsen" burner was developed by Bunsen's laboratory assistant, Peter Desdega. Desdega himself likely borrowed from earlier designs by Aim� Argand and Michael Faraday. So why does Bunsen get the implicit credit? --And why do we know so little about Desdega that we cannot add much to his story?

August 5, 2007

This comic might save me some work

I am behind the times due to extensive internetless travel. If I had bothered to check Friday's xkcd I wouldn't have bothered reading about electron-neutrino scattering over the weekend. Of course, if the comic was right, my plane might have had some trouble lifting off earlier. Then again, we did sit on the runway for like, half an hour...

August 2, 2007


Statetris allows you to combine your geography skills with your tetris skills. What took so long?

Wikipedia does it better

A few months ago I wrote an award-winning post called Eponymity in Physics, where I listed as many different 'types of things' you could have named in your honor as I could think of. It appears that the wikipedia has something like this itself called "Scientific Phenomena named after People." They've got a few that I missed (but only because they're stupid), like 'index,' 'reaction,' and 'fusor.' Hmm, I don't know how I missed those.