March 22, 2008

Stranger Maps of Space (and other things)

Strange Maps recently put up some interesting astronomically themed maps. The one above is "A Better Sky." Well, not actually better, but at least more current. Someone took a constellation map and replaced the star groupings by fable, with star grouping by recent world leaders. Does this make more sense? My verdict: sort of. It doesn't involve pretending that Aries somehow resembles a ram...or anything else. Plus people like Einstein, Darwin and Roosevelt get stars named after them. On the other hand, Mussolini has his own star too, in the "Tyrants" constellation (with Hitler, Robespierre and other fun friends!). At least the sunspots would run on time. Wait a second, there is a Quebec star? Nein!

Next up, the "Unnamed Methane sea on Titan."

Hmm. This is pretty much what it sounds like. There may be a bunch of liquid methane on Saturn's moon, and, basically, um, scientifically speaking, there is a "sea" of it. And it doesn't have a name. May I propose dubbing it the Sea of William Carlos Williams? He got left off the constellation map somehow...

In actuality though, we don't know whether there is liquid methane there, this map was just made by looking at "dark spots" on some radar maps of the surface. Nonetheless, Titan is pretty fascinating. When you crash into it, it looks like this: a probe. (The video is Huygens' decent in 2005, time-compressed from four hours.)

I have to say though, as cool as these maps are, they have nothing on Area Codes in which Ludacris Claims to have Hoes:

“In this song, Ludacris brags about the area codes where he knows women, whom he refers to as ‘hoes’,” says Ms Gray, who plotted out all the area codes mentioned in this song on a map of the United States. She arrived at some interesting conclusions as to the locations of this rapper’s preferred female companionship:

  • “Ludacris heavily favors the East Coast to the West, save for Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Las Vegas.”
  • “Ludacris travels frequently along the Boswash corridor.”
  • “There is a ‘ho belt‘ phenomenon nearly synonymous with the ‘Bible Belt’.”
  • “Ludacris has hoes in the entire state of Maryland.”
  • “Ludacris has a disproportionate ho-zone in rural Nebraska. He might favor white women as much as he does black women, or perhaps, girls who farm.”
  • “Ludacris’s ideal ‘ho-highway’ would be I-95.”
  • “Ludacris has hoes in the Midway and Wake Islands. Only scientists are allowed to inhabit the Midway Islands, and only military personnel may inhabit the Wake Islands. Draw your own conclusion.”

March 21, 2008

Physics Ball

The past few times I've filled out one of those bracket thingies, I've been pretty lucky through no fault of my own. Typically, I just go by the team records and guess, without any overriding methodology or interest. The method Chad Orzel employs to create the "Worst NCAA Pool Bracket Ever" is pretty admirable though: NCAA picks by physics graduate program ranking:

Winners determined by the rankings of the physics graduate programs of the competing schools. (If only one of the schools offers a Ph.D. program in physics, that school wins; if neither school has a graduate program, the higher seed wins.)
It is hard to see in the above picture, but basically it has Cornell over Wisconsin, with UNC and UCLA rounding out the final four. The last two aren't far fetched, but Cornell is wonderfully bonkers (update: they are already out! oh well, there is always next year Ivy League.) In fact the rest of the, um, 'elite eight' are actually not so weird either: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Duke, but I mean, come on. [Full pdf in original post.]

It is worth noticing that the schools begin seeded as they are in the actual tournament, by basketball, not Physics. If there were organized by Physics to begin with (get on this NCAA!) you wouldn't have Stanford vs. Cornell in the first round. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But then again, neither does polluting academic institutions with recruited athletes.

[Uncertain Principles]

March 19, 2008

Equal nox

Tomorrow is that vaguely astronomical holiday, where bearded men get out their sextants and declare with authority that it is now seasonally acceptable to mix lemonade with ice tea. It is cold and rainy here, so I may wait a few weeks to do that, but I will not have to wait another minute to balance my egg.

As the myth goes, of course, at the precise moment of equinoxity it is possible, albeit briefly, to balance an egg on its end, an otherwise impossible task. How this idea began is truly baffling. As is the thought that anyone who has pondered the mechanics of this idea for more than 30 seconds would continue to believe in it. (For more background, Snopes wins the quality name contest with "Infernal Egguinox"). I suspect that the only reason this notion continues to exist in the popular imagination is that equinoxes are the only day in the year anyone ever actually tries balancing eggs. Anyway, whatever the link between eggs and 12 hours of daylight is, I have long heard that one can balance an egg on any day of the year. But, the world has breathlessly wondered, how?

Well, at long last, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy demonstrates:

March 12, 2008

Prepare to be Blown Away relativistic asteroids.

Someone has taken the already ultra-realistic classic arcade video game Asteroids and added the one element it was sorely lacking, relativity. Of course, Asteroids already featured 2D warped spacetime, but now, there are Lorentz contractions too! If they could only manage to factor in the quantum hall effect, it could outsell Halo.

[via Uncertain Principles]

March 9, 2008

Go Team Physics

OK, maybe just one more thing about politics, but only because it involves yesterday's election of a physicist to Congress.

Bill Foster, formerly a particle experimentalist at Fermilab, just won the seat formerly held by Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, in what was supposedly a solidly GOP region.

Mr. Foster defeated James D. Oberweis, a dairy company owner, in a contest for the 14th Congressional district, a long swath that runs from the far western suburbs of Chicago nearly to the state’s Iowa border. He will fill the remaining months of Mr. Hastert’s term.

Mr. Foster won with 53 percent of the vote, while Mr. Oberweis had 47 percent, The Associated Press reported.

“Back in the laboratory, this is what we’d say was a pretty successful experiment,” Mr. Foster, a soft-spoken man who makes regular references to his science background, told a crowd of supporters at a banquet hall in Aurora. “You sent a clear message to everyone in Washington. You demanded change, and you are demanding it now.”

Since this was only a replacement election he'll have to run again in November, but it still sends a "clear message to everyone in Washington:" physicists get things done.

March 8, 2008

Terrible Job, RI

I thought Clinton would win here, but 58-40? Awful, just awful. At least my East Bay was the closest. I blame Warwick...not to mention the voters who live in Swan Point for this one.

I'm also going to blame the media for coming up with the idea that a net loss of 5 delegates in Texas equals a win for Clinton. Or the idea that gaining ~6 delegates when trailing by roughly 160 is some kind of dramatic, race-altering victory. This was probably the worst possible outcome for Democrats, the primary is simply going grind on forever with Hillary getting more and more desperate and vengeful. As many have pointed out there is absolutely no chance that Obama will be overtaken in delegates, meaning that if Sen. Clinton wants to contest the nomination she'll have to go against the will of actual voters with some type of tortured logic about how even if she got less votes she won all the votes that "mattered" in retard states like Ohio. (In her speech Tuesday night she said that Ohio knows how to "pick a president." Definitely. Thanks for re-electing Bush, morons!) In any case, the only way she can become the nominee is by overriding the will of actual voters, a concept that does not seem to bother anyone in her campaign. Instead of admitting that the only way to win is a party-rending reversal of popular intension, it seems that she'll soldier on, using Republican-style arguments against her opponent, trying to get the delegates from Florida and Michigan (where she coasted through on name-recognition, and being the only candidate on the ballot, respectively) added to her total, and generally dividing the 'crats.

After Super Tuesday when it seemed likely that the primary would stretch on forever I contemplated the idea that Puerto Rico would end up being relevant. I was sort of kidding to myself, but now I am actually annoyed. Territories that are barely part of the US should not get to have twice as much clout as certain states that, though small, belonged the original 13 colonies. Speak American, Puerto Rico! Or else get back in line with the other soon-to-be-but-not-yet-states like Quebec and Lithuania.

Alright, enough of this politics stuff. I'll get back to being irreverent shortly. It's just that this is the first time I've bothered to vote and I think I've learned an important lesson: one vote never makes a difference.

March 3, 2008

Battle of Rhode Island

Despite our near total lack of delegates, Presidential-types have been campaigning in our little state. Last week, it was here that Clinton gave her sarcastic "the skies will open" remarks. Saturday Obama came here to mock her mocking him. McCain and Huckabee even came to visit both of the Republicans who live here. There have been radio and TV ads on non-stop. It is quite a thing to see anyone campaigning for president here. I certainly can't remember the last time anyone actually cared how we voted. So starved for attention are we that when Kennedy gave a speech downtown in 1960, we named the plaza after him.

Judging by that, I wouldn't be so surprised if we renamed Rhode Island College "Obama Island College." I went to see him there last weekend and I must say, it lived up to the hype surrounding his rallies in every way. There were so many people that it took at least 2 hours to get inside. The line coiled through 2 parking lots when we arrived and was soon snaking down a hill and out of sight.
It is estimated 10,000 people showed up, but only half were able to get in. Because of the high-number of umbrella-related assaults every year, people were forced to abandon them outside the doors. When we finally did, it was packed shoulder to shoulder and despite the fact that everyone there had been on their feet for about 3 hours already, the crowd was so enraptured that they would have strangled every Clinton voter in the state, with their bare hands, if asked. At least I would have. It is predicted that Sen. Clinton will carry RI tomorrow, and if I had to, I would probably bet on it, but after seeing the excitement surrounding Barack's only visit I would be surprised if it isn't close. With such a small electorate, the movement of a few thousand voters translates into a fairly large percentage.

The RI Attorney General gave a good speech in which he referred to Barack as "President Obama" at least twice, probably not by accident, and implored the crowd to "suck it up and get it done" like a tough-but-fair JV hockey coach. Then, in what was probably the most comical moment of the day, Rep. Patrick "Patches" Kennedy came out and delivered 5 minutes of screechy, overheated oratory by way of introduction. It was funny because of how incongruous it was -- instead of working his way up to a frenzied pitch, he just strode out, turned his volume all the way up, and hit us like a wall. He sounded a lot like an exasperated Gene Wilder, come to think of it. Since he and Obama addressed the people stranded outside beforehand, he may have already been worked up, but it still just sounded as though he had spent the morning shouting at the top of his lungs for practice. Ironically, he was talking about the importance of inspirational verbal skills in the political process.

Rhetoric-wise it was pretty much the standard stump speech of the past few months, for those familiar with it. Probably my favorite moment was his shout-out to our former-Republican, former-Senator, permanent-bad-ass Lincoln Chafee (who was about 20 people in front of me in the line to get in).

Real change isn't voting for George Bush's war in Iraq and then telling the American people it was actually a vote for more diplomacy when you start running for president. The title of the bill was `A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq.' I knew what it was, Lincoln Chafee knew what it was! [Crowd erupts] It was a vote for war. Linc Chafee knew the score!

The only thing missing was some actual references to Rhode Island. In fact, he mentioned Texas twice, presumably due to exhaustion (which it is hard to blame him for). I was disappointed though that in his 10 minute soliloquy about "hope" he didn't make the connection to our state's motto. The crowd, at least the native RI-fraction of it, was waiting for this, and it just never happened. It was actually possible to hear individual people shouting "Hope is our state motto!" and "Look at the flag!" during quiet moments, so frustrated were they by the absence of this obvious observation.

Still though, it was a barnburner. If he is elected, people will surely remember events like these for many years.

Projo, RIFuture, ProvidenceDailyDose