Sunday, April 29, 2012

Car horns on a bicycle

This is what I have been up to, installing two car horns on my bicycle (high and low pitched).

I think it sounds like a truck because the relay took a little more power than I expected due to the long copper cable.

More details to come later

Thursday, April 26, 2012

This is not science literacy

I really think that more people should be science literate. So, when I saw someone link to a "Science Literacy Quiz" I decided to check it out.

It starts off strong with a question about the most common gas in the atmosphere. Then a question about science history. It then continued on with questions of variable Googlability or Wolfram|Alphability. But then, question 7:

7. In physics, what letter is used to represent the speed of light in a vacuum?
  • a
  • b
  • c
  • d
Um, whichever letter you want, as long as you say something like, "where a represents the speed of light in vacuum." While there is some convention, the choice of letter hardly qualifies as science literacy. A better question might have been:
7. Which quantity is fastest?
  • The speed of light in water
  • The speed of light in vacuum
  • The speed of sound in water
  • The speed of sound in air 
This question is followed by various science history, or vaguely sciency questions, (and a really stupid one about Newton's First Law) and then, question 16:

16. The lowercase of what letter of the Greek alphabet is used to denote diverse phenomena such as the photon, the third angle in a triangle, the heat capacity ratio in thermodynamics, a type of high frequency electromagnetic radiation?
  • alpha
  • beta
  • gamma
  • delta
This is even stupider than number 7! "denote diverse phenomena"?!? That phrase is totally meaningless! It can be a variable that may or may not have a unit associated with it, it can be a descriptive label, it can be a placeholder for a larger, more annoying expression. It's just a letter, a label. I can label any angle in a triangle with any letter, or symbol, or hieroglyph I want! The heat capacity ratio -- there's no single convention! Hell, just look at the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on it. It could be γ, κ, k, or a drawing of a pickle.

Feel free to check out that quiz, but it sure ain't a test of science literacy.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Media and Science

Back in September 2011, the OPERA experiment said that it had potentially measured neutrinos going faster than the speed of light
"with the stated intent of promoting further inquiry and debate. " [wiki]
And there was a hurried flurry of sensationalized media attention about this with crazy headlines like "Was Einstein wrong?"
I came across a nice quote about this from experimentalists aren't idiots:
"In a lot of ways, the OPERA fast-neutrino business has been less a story about science than a story about the perils of the new media landscape."
This couldn't have been more true. A little later, the team reported two flaws in their equipment set-up that had caused errors far outside of their original confidence interval [wiki].

Last week there were a few cows frozen in a cabin up in the Colorado mountains. The headlines read like:
"Frozen cattle stuck in Colorado cabin may be blown up"
I heard an NPR interview with a ranger where they asked "how unusual is this?" to which he responded:
"Not unusual at all, stuff like this happens every year, but only this time has the news been interested ... why? well you have cows in a cabin with potential explosions..." [paraphrased]
I thought it was great that the way he essentially called the news out for what they are - entertainment.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Some old exams

When going through some old papers recently, I came across some AP calculus exams:
There was a reason I was concerned about majoring in physics in college... and then I found out that AP Calc is not math, and it got better.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The meaning of Scrum

I found it humorous how different the two most common meanings of "scrum" are, as evidenced by this google image search
Just in case you scrolled down to read my description of these images: they show a bunch of nerdy loop diagrams and a bunch of manly men smashing their heads together!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Crazy squirrel

The other day I saw a rather insane squirrel climbing around my kitchen window:
I don't think I had any acorns in my sink. Not sure why it wanted to get in. Here it is in action:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

How to get a smaller glass unstuck from of a larger glass

It may be hard to tell, but there is a smaller glass stuck inside of a larger glass. Our solution: Fill the inner glass with ice and stick the larger glass in hot water.
After a few minutes, it worked!