January 31, 2008

Periodic Prints

Check out this awesome periodic table of the elements. Each element is a different print. Some even correspond to the element depicted.

Never Forget

Reinventing the wheel Tea Kettle

Sax notes lead to off-beat boiler

The device looks oddly like a bent desk lamp, with a metallic ball at the end instead of a lightbulb. When plugged into the power supply, and the ball is lowered into water, it boils the liquid within seconds -- even as little as a tablespoonful.

He said he first came up with the concept 50 years ago and it took him half of those years to figure out how to make the device.

"The principle is beautiful. I have cashed in on a natural phenomenon and it's all about music," he said.
Davey noticed as he played the saxophone at home that everything resonated at a different frequency.

"The glasses will tinkle on one note. Knives and forks in the drawer will tinkle on another note and I realised that everything has its point of vibration," he said. "In the same way, a component in the ball is tuned to a certain frequency."
Boiled water? Count me in!

Constructing construction of the LHC

Symmetry magazine has some good articles in their most recent issue. Which is another way of saying "there are some parts that aren't about the LHC." First, an article by Dennis Overbye about the wretched "God Particle" terminology. I think he arrives at the wrong conclusion (he says it's ok), but I admire the effort.

Physicists groan when they hear it referred to as the “God particle” in newspapers and elsewhere (and the temptation to repeat it, given science reporters’ desperate need for colorful phrases in an abstract and daunting field, is irresistible). Even when these physicists approve of what you have written about their craft, they grumble that the media are engaging in sensationalism, or worse.

Seriously dude. There is enough God in other places, lets keep science a nice pristine, hypoallergenic, god-free zone. Through stake-burnings and heavy sack beatings if necessary. This god particle business is really dragging down our atheist world conspiracy.

Secondly, is this weird blip about some lady studying the "anthropology of physicists." I kid you not. Anthropology, it seems to me, ran its course about 50 years ago. Once they finished off the idea of cultural, um, whatever we called the concept that it Europeans should take over third world nations and make them wear pants. And yet, despite our now-complete picture of human behavior, anthropologists continue to exist. Camping out in banana republics, publishing papers on how the introduction of plastic bags has impacted indigenous communities, and using the word "construct" in an incorrect social-sciences sense that annoys those of us with a grasp on the English language. After a term of anthropology as an undergrad we had heard so many accounts of trips to Papua New Guinea that we began to assume the constant influx of anthropologists there to observe its many diverse and isolated cultures was propping up the local economy. At one point I asked the professor whether any anthropologists had studied the culture of anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea -- the answer was yes. Why the field of did not self-destruct at that moment has eluded me.

But enough diversion. The woman observing particle physicists is about one step away from that.
“I’m interested in how social convention or custom enter the objective world of physics,” Roy says. For example, the use of “right-handed” and “lefthanded” to describe the parity of particles can be seen as a link from concrete, observed reality to the abstract workings of the mind...Roy also examines the assumptions made by particle physicists and the effects of those assumptions on their results. She is interested, for instance, in the criteria that the ATLAS Trigger Data Acquisition group use for deciding which particle collisions are interesting enough to record, and which to throw out.

There might be something to the first question, but the second is a technical one. Now if only we can find someone to tail the anthropologist, we could better understand her culture...

January 30, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Bottles

I don't know how I forgot about this. A few months ago, casting around for something worthwhile to do in Philadelphia, my girlfriend and I headed over to the "museum" area, and settled on the "science" museum. Which, like everything else in that city, has been named after Benjamin Franklin. (Primary scientific accomplishment: inventing the sign convention that makes current a "flow" of positive charge, the opposite of the direction that the negative elections, which are actually the ones flowing, are flowing.) It was not an impressive place. Parts were fun, but kind of sad. Such as the giant heart that you can walk inside. It looks sort of cool and fanciful from the exterior, but once inside is really just a series of dark tunnels. They had a whole electromagnetism section that was nothing more than a collection of poorly functioning freshman physics demonstrations. Like the gold leaf/pith ball thing which most people couldn't figure out how to use and barely worked at all, conveying only the concept that a confusing series of steps could cause tiny pieces of foil to quiver and separate by a tenth of a centimeter.

It was all like this. And I don't think it is just because I have grown up from an easily entertained child into a cynical physics grad student man-child. I've been to the AMNH in New York, and I have a solid recollection of Boston's science museum of my youth as being a great deal more fun. In the words of Michael Scott, "You don't go to the Science museum and get handed a pamphlet about electricity. You put your hand on a metal ball, and you hair stands up. And then you know science." It was like that. They had a show where a guy in a Faraday cage created huge arcs of lightning between Van De Graaf generators. That is how you demonstrate E&M, through fear! Philadelphia, on the other hand had...a giant replica train that moves several feet. There is so much we can learn about the 1840s...

Anyhow, I think I pinpointed the very best moment of our trip. This exhibit, demonstrating the effects of air on plastic bottles:

Behold the majesty of Physics!

January 28, 2008

Roundup 1/28/08

The Hulk-out list. A compilation of the events that caused David Banner to get angry and Hulk-out.

38. Placed in a small room with a ravenous black panther

44. Kicking over a beehive and then being surprised when the bees are mad at

47. Being stuck in a cab in New York rush hour traffic - "You don't understand, I
have to be there by 4:00!" - "Hey, mac, it's rush hour, we ain't gettin' there til five,
so relax." - "BUT I HAVE TO BE THERE BY FOUR!!!"

84. Being placed in a room that is filled with carbon monoxide gas

Oddly, after writing about former Sen. Chaffee yesterday, I saw an environmental talk today by the guy who beat him, Sheldon Whitehouse. He seemed very direct. At one point someone asked him a hopeful question that most people would probably try to give a fuzzy, indirect answer to. Whitehouse just said, "No, I don't know anything about that" and moved on. So that was cool. Not as cool was his saying that he doesn't support nuclear power (though he admitted he might be mistaken). If climate change is the global catastrophe it is supposed to be, windmills and florescent lightbulbs aren't going to do it. Making cars as efficient as they already are in most other western nations by "2025" or whatever isn't going to do it either. And people aren't going to change their lifestyles. Wind, wave, hydroelectric, and solar, even at maximum capacity will not be enough. That calculation you do in intro modern physics about how much power you get out a pound of uranium (~4.7 gazillion volts, if I remember correctly) must be designed to brainwash young scientists into liking nuclear energy.

New Material Pushes the Limits of Blackness.
Made from tiny tubes of carbon standing on end, this material is almost 30 times darker than a carbon substance used by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology as the current benchmark of blackness.
What we need to do here, is take this material, slap in on the outside of some animal-human hybrids, and have them terrorize ordinary, hardworking Americans. People don't want to fund science unless they are panicked.

Update: As Jere pointed out in the comments, Bill Lee beat me to the punch on the carbon nanotube story, as he usually does.

January 27, 2008

Chafee: I wouldn't have voted for me either

Linc Chafee was one of the few Senators with the foresight and balls to vote against the Iraq War, and always struck me as the type of thoughtful politician who is fairly uncommon. Rhode Islanders thought so too, though he was, technically, a Republican. He lost re-election in 2006 in what was essentially a calculation on the part of voters here that his mere existence would allow the GOP to control the Senate. Since the margin in the Senate ended up being one vote, our decision to oust a guy we liked and agreed with to stop him from enabling the party we don't, proved pretty crafty. He is now essentially saying that our decision to not re-elect him was smart. The odd thing is that he didn't like the Republican leadership anymore than we did, but with the R's funding his campaign he couldn't just jump overboard. (Or as he says was afraid the prez taking revenge on RI). He's an independent now.

Of his new book, the Projo says:

The most startling revelation: Chafee must be the only senator in U.S. political history who says his defeat was the result of voters acting logically.

“The system works best when power remains in the hands of the voters,” writes Chafee. “I was a casualty of the system working in 2006, and while defeat is never easy, I give the voters credit: They made the connection between electing even popular Republicans at the cost of leaving the Senate in the hands of a leadership they had learned to mistrust.”
Exit polls done on Election Day showed that Chafee had a 63-percent job-approval rating, high enough, in most election cycles, to guarantee victory.
“I find it surprising now, in 2008, how many Democrats are running for president after shirking their constitutional duty to check and balance this president,” writes Chafee. “Being wrong about sending Americans to kill and be killed, maim and be maimed, is not like making a punctuation mistake in a highway bill.

“They argue that the president duped them into war, but getting duped does not exactly recommend their leadership. Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”
The book has some through-the-looking-glass scenes; one in particular reads like Hunter S. Thompson sans drugs. As Mr. Bush pressed insistently for war, Chafee requested a meeting with CIA brass to examine the evidence against Saddam Hussein’s regime. “Sooner or later, I have to vote on this war, show me everything you have,” Chafee requests of the CIA.

“What they had, I discovered as the meeting stretched into an hour, was next to nothing,” recalls Chafee. “They showed me what they had with little comment and no enthusiasm. Someone handed me one of the infamous aluminum tubes, the kind we were told Saddam was using to enrich weapons-grade uranium while plotting mushroom clouds over America, the ‘smoking gun’ that Condoleezza Rice warned about.

“I looked at the aluminum tube, looked at the analysts and thought, I can go buy one of these at Adler’s Hardware,” the Providence hardware emporium, writes Chafee.

Adler's? Oh, snap!

January 26, 2008

Bubble Disaster

Collapse of the False Vacuum is finally getting the credit it deserves from people contemplating the end of the world. Meaning Dartmouth grad student and simulation-maker extraordinaire, Joel Thorarinson's simulations are getting credit from the internet.

End of the World: 10 Disasters That Could End It All At Any Given Second

5. Bubble Nucleation

According to the leading cosmological model the universe began as a false vacuum of empty space filled with energy. This incredibly unstable, high-energy state went through the process of bubble nucleation to reach a more stable, lower-energy state. This huge release of energy caused the expansion of the universe. We would like to think that the world we now live in is a stable true vacuum but it is possible that although the universe is at a lower energy level now than it was before, we are living in another false vacuum which could collapse at any moment. If a low energy bubble nucleates in our false vacuum it would expand at the speed of light, once again changing the universe.

The list includes "divine intervention" as well, but is otherwise alright. Not that there is any way to judge how good this list is until humanity is finally wiped out. The important thing here is that Joel is getting some respect for his amazing simulations of bubble nucleation, viewable here.

January 24, 2008

East Coast Relativity keeps it real

I learned today that the widely used metric signatures in general relativity are referred to as East coast and West coast. Somehow, I have been through 2 GR courses and a ton of cosmology without ever seeing this. A spacetime interval dS2 = -c2 dt2 + dx2 + dy2 + dz2, is Eastern while (+---) on the right side would be Western.

So in keeping with my general ambivalence towards other parts of the country, I am happy to find out that my choice of coast also suits my choice of metric convention. Still, it's no wonder physicists are always shooting each other.

January 23, 2008

And a side of Dolphin Rings

Dolphin Play Bubble Rings

According to the quote reproduced on the Projo's Subterranean News:

A physicist would marvel at some of the play behavior observed in young dolphins at the Project Delphis laboratory. They blow underwater bubble rings by injecting air into water vortices, about the thickness of a straw and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. The rings don't rise to the surface! The babies play with these underwater toys by moving them around with their rostrum, or biting them. They even bounce the rings off the wall, and elongate them with a flick of their dorsal fins into 15 foot corkscrews.

Well I don't know if any of this is interesting physics-wise, but physicists certainly would marvel at it, since it is amazing.

Mike Lowell: Probably not a murderer IRL

-Courtesy my good friend Matt, the information that Stephen Colbert appeared in a Law & Order Criminal Intent episode (imdb). Probably, you can watch it somehow with your iTunes or what have you, but I don't have an iTunes (it conflicts with my policy against paying for things), so I can't and I can't find a great version of it on the tubes other than this rather long climatic scene (which doesn't make a lot of sense out of context)

-Speaking of murderers, I have had two separate and very different dreams where Mike Lowell, 3rd baseman of the World Champion Boston Red Sox is trying to kill me. In the first one he wiped out a backyard full of children with an automatic rifle and then stalked me, knowing that I had witnessed the crime. I somehow managed to throw him off a jetty. In the second, he went from room to room of some vaguely-defined dormitory stabbing people.

Everything I've heard about the real Mike Lowell leads me to believe that he is the sort of chap who helps old ladies cross the street, but what you do in other people's dreams says a lot about you. If he kills again, I am going to the authorities.

-When you finally are murdered by Mike Lowell, you will be pleased to know that you can be forever interred in a casket or urn bearing his team's logo from "Eternal Image - Brand name funerary products that celebrate the passions of life." Brand name! Only $5,000! Need I say more?

January 19, 2008

Mercury: Not Actually Made of Mercury

Except in the sense that people call dirt "Earth" sometimes. I suppose if you were on Venus you would call the soil "Venus." Anyway, this is all just an excuse for me to show some gratuitous Mercury shots. The MESSENGER Mission just got to Mercury and photographed it's barren, hostile, sunburnt surface in great detail. This is the first mission to the (now) littlist planet since the Mariner 10 mission in the seventies. I spent a lot of time pouring over glossy picture books about the planets when I was younger and I think I got the impression that Mercury was yellowish, even though I knew that it wasn't. Futurama got that idea too. And, amazingly, the NASA art staff got it too!

So for Mercury-huggers this mission is a bonanza. Surface composition, magnetic field, the core (which is liquid now apparently),
and these "dazzling" photos, which are probably just doctored pictures of the moon.

The photo below was taken near the closest approach and shows a section of Mercury 500km across where smallest craters are only 1km or so. Seriously though, this is just the moon.

[Official Messenger Site, Photo 1, Photo 2, and the Planetary Society has an excellent article]


When I was growing up, the movie theater in Seekonk Mass was mysteriously split up across a street. On one side, they had 10 screens, and on the other, they had 2 more. The smaller side always got the second-runs or generally weaker movies and the theater itself had the feeling of a gradual slide into despair. Whenever I saw a movie there it was always nearly totally empty, even on summer weekends, and you could tell the (usually singular) employee was passing the time by thinking about all the action they were missing across the street.

Anyhow, since there was one theater complex in Seekonk, but it was split in two, the two halves were referred to as Seekonk 1-10, and Seekonk 11-12. When you looked up a movie in the paper, it would have a number next to it, and that would tell you which theater it was in. Eventually, a few miles away, but still in "the 'Konk," a souped-up multiplex (also a Showcase) was erected and at long last, mercifully, the 11-12 was euthanized*. However, the 1-10 continued to exist. Since there are now two Showcases, to to tell the difference one is referred to as "Seekonk Route 6" and the other as "Seekonk 1-10." I only recently realized how absurd this is. It might as well be the Seekonk 4-14, the numbers don't refer to anything other than as a point of reference for a theater that no longer exists. More importantly, and this is very important in my opinion, the Seekonk 1-10 shows 12 movies at a time. It still has 10 screens, but the reason for calling it "The 1-10" is because there were ten movies which each have a number -- the 10 refers to the movies not the screens. So both parts of the current name make no sense. I just thought I should explain this to you, in case you ever find yourselves on the mean streets of the 'Konk.

*It was turned into something called the "Fireplace Showcase" to utilize pre-existing signage. I found this photo through google image search, but I don't know how to credit it.

January 17, 2008


This is an albino penguin: a crime committed by nature, against nature.

Evidently, this is known as a "leucistic" penguin, but I think naming it only attempts to justify the ignominy. Penguins wear tuxedos, like my cat, or this guy. I don't like things that are different.

[h/t grrl scientist also, some more weirdo pengs]

January 14, 2008

In Which I Brag About a Christmas Present

It may be 3 weeks after x-mas, but bragging about astronomically-themed gifts is still in season. There is nothing quite like a 150-year-old engraving to help you enjoy antiquated notions of clusters, nebulae, and comets. Thanks girlfriend!

Update: I forgot the best panel. Here it is, I think it speaks for itself.

January 6, 2008

Eat your Vegatables

...by the milliliter.

January 3, 2008

Roundup 1/3/08

  • I think there is some kind of internet rule that if you write about science ever at any time, and perhaps even if you don't, you have to link to the Edge World Question of 2008. Which seeks out 'those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are' to ask: "What have you changed your mind about? Why?" Well they didn't ask me, despite the fact that I obviously fit that description, so I'm not going to. Suck it, Edge World Question Center.
  • There is some kind of popularity contest happening today. What state better than Iowa to represent the mainstream of popular opinion? Actually, I tend to think that mainstream popular opinion is not always a great way of picking standard-bearers, but Iowans may have discovered an even worse method. I usually have predictions about how stuff like that is going to turn out, but this time, I seriously have no idea who either party is going to nominate. I think I could pick who would beat who in a general election, but these primaries are difficult to figure out. The Democrats because they seem to like all the candidates, except for the half that doesn't like H-bomb Clinton, and the other half who does but doesn't quite know why. The Republicans are even worse, since they seem to dislike all of their candidates equally, but for different reasons. Hopefully, neither party will get someone with a majority, and we can get candidates chosen in smoky back rooms at open conventions.
  • This is a from a few weeks ago, but Slate has a nice roundup of time-wasting web-based games. There's one where you're a poor family in Haiti that has to survive and not die of cholera. I think they made it completely impossible to emulate relate grim reality. If there is something that flash gaming was missing, it was guilt over 3rd world poverty.

January 2, 2008

The Patriots are going to eat your children

The 2007 Patriots are the best team ever. They completed their undefeated season last Saturday proving once and for all that they, and by extension me, and everyone I know who roots for them are the best football team/people in history. Some people who aren't so awesome are the NFL Network, who decided that it would be really cool if tried to alienate a humongous fraction of their fan base by barring most of the country from watching games such as that one. The NFL has been the insufferable national pastime for the last decade, I guess they are hoping to fade into irrelevance by putting their broadcasts behind a paywall. This weekly "Thursday game on NFL Network" thing is a slippery slope to a world where the only football on weekend TV is the local team, and you have nothing to talk about with your friends because you don't care or make enough money to buy the $400 football channel that all the other games are on. In any case, I consider it the travesty of the past month or so that it was not going to be possible to watch the New England Patriot's bid to go unbeaten for the 2nd time in NFL history everywhere in NEW ENGLAND. Only Boston would have been allowed to see the game, the "secondary" markets of Providence, and whatever those other parts of the region are (Maine or something) were in blackout, unless they picked up the tab for this retarded channel that shows 24/7 coverage of a sport that is played roughly once a week for less than half the year. Not to mention the Giants fans living in Albany, or wherever else they live (hanging upside-down in caves?).

At the last minute the network, facing a whirlwind of bad publicity, decided to allow it to be shown on NBC and CBS and the WB or something and people everywhere stepped back off their ledges. Nonetheless, this whole debacle is a harrowing vision of things to come, and we surely haven't heard the last of these money-grubbing bastards. They only relented after a massive angry blowback (including petitions by people as august as RI's Congressional delegation), but they're probably just planning on weathering those for the next few years until we get used to this odious network and accept its existence.

So in summary, the following people deserve to be strapped to a chair and forced to watch Greg Gumble and Chris Collinsworth discuss the St. Louis Rams for the entire month of April:

  1. The greedy NFL execs, who have already recouped every expense and made millions a month before the opening day kickoff, for deciding that anyone living outside a team's primary metropolitan area should have to pay them money to watch a game, when advertising has always been more than enough in the past.
  2. Anyone who blamed cable providers for not carrying the NFL Network in the first place, instead of the NFL itself for making this idiotic decision.
  3. Anyone who thought it was somehow generous of the NFL to relent and air a game they never should have taken off fan's TV's in the first place.
  4. The people who made those manipulative commercials aired during the game attempting to capitalize on the league's PR blunder by making the point that cable has all sorts of stupid channels anyway, what is one more that you force people to pay for in addition to those?
  5. Greg Gumble and Chris Collinsworth.

Chuck Norris is such a dick that when someone writes a book about him he sues them

In my efforts to brag about this as much as possible, one of the students I had in intro physics lab last semester is the guy who invented Chuck Norris Facts. And in answer to your next two questions-- 'yes,' and 'seriously.' Now it seems that Norris is suing for "unauthorized use of his name, image, or likeness" one of the people most responsible for his resurgence in the popular imagination. Wacked out columns on worldnetdaily are not the way back to the top my friend-- stick with letting people say of you "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live." That is a theory intelligent design that I could get behind! At least if he wasn't being such a jerk and right-wing nutjob.