Archive for June, 2010

The Lumen is Looming

Coming in 2011: New Labels for Light Bulb Packaging

Under direction from Congress to re-examine the current labels, the FTC is announcing a final rule that will require the new labels on light bulb packages. For the first time, the label on the front of the package will emphasize the bulbs’ brightness as measured in lumens, rather than a measurement of watts. The new front-of-package labels also will include the estimated yearly energy cost for the particular type of bulb.

This will allow one to make an easier comparison of bulb’s brightness, but it should be noted that lumen is the unit of luminous flux, which is the brightness as perceived by the human eye. The eye’s efficiency peaks at about 550 nm, and tapers off at the red and blue ends of the spectrum, and the lumen compensates for this. In other words, it’s not the actual amount of visible light energy given off, it’s how bright it looks. This is a trick used in the past by laser pointer manufacturers, when they started coming out with shorter-wavelength (i.e. redder or non-red) devices. Because the eye was more sensitive, they appeared brighter, even though the power was actually smaller. 1 mW of green can be as bright as ~5 mW of red, depending on the exact wavelengths involved.

The Good Intentions Paving Company

Aka the Schmozart effect. And this happens a lot.

‘Mozart Effect’ Was Just What We Wanted To Hear

[E]ven if listening to Beethoven won’t make us smarter, the history of how the Mozart Effect ultimately became fashionable does have something to teach us. It’s a story about careful science, less careful journalism, and of course, death threats.


I found another site that has a slightly more complete answer for how the “fridge of the future” is supposed to work. Nano bio robots upconvert IR into visible light, and send it out of the system. (No, it doesn’t. We call this magic, when we’re in a charitable mood. At other times what we call it involves the biology of used food, sometimes incorporating a male bovine)

But I’ve already said all of that.

The other thing that bothers me about this is that it’s part of Electrolux’s Design Lab competition, and I think they should be embarrassed to have included it. Design is not just aesthetics. If something serves no other function than to evoke a response based on how it looks, it’s art. We like art because it’s pleasing to the eye, or it arouses a certain emotional reaction, or make you think (or some combination thereof). But this wasn’t an art competition. It was a design competition, ostensibly meaning you want the best design. Design brings with it an additional requirement: it has to work.

Design incorporates a lot of things, and it’s not like experimental physicists are routinely mistaken a great designers. We tend to swing to the other end of the spectrum; if it works, who cares what it looks like? We’re the only ones who are going to use it, so why make the controls intuitive? Our experiments typically involve duct tape, parts held together with bits of wire and cables everywhere, and few labels. If you want design, you need to talk to an engineer — s/he will make it work, and do so in a more efficient fashion, put it in a box and make it (somewhat) easier to use. We than measure the quality of design by the attractiveness of the package and the level of user-friendliness, and great design is hard because you are trying to optimize for multiple variables, with often conflicting constraints — one demand might be that it’s small, but another requirement needs it to be big, etc. It’s hard to do all that. But the unspoken part of all of this is that the box has to do what it’s supposed to do — if it doesn’t meet spec, we tend to get mad and demand it be fixed, or give us our money back.

So an item that can’t possibly work can’t be an example of good design. It shouldn’t even get in the door.

Rubber Tree Plant? Pshaw!

Ants Use Their Own Velcro to Catch Supersized Prey

They’ve got really high hopes.

A. andreae colonies live in trees, and individual ants line the underside edges of leaves, jaws open and outstretched. When an insect lands, the ants seize its legs, holding it down until other ants dismember the pinioned prey.

In the new study, the researchers held weighted threads in front of the ants. Instinctively, the ants bit and held. Without losing its grip, the average worker could hold on to 8 grams, or some 5,700 times its body weight. In proportional terms, that’s like a house cat holding on to a humpback whale. Passing insects don’t have a chance.

Something about the numbers don’t add up for me, though. This puts an ant’s mass at a milligram or two, and that seems very small.

No Cross-Dressers They

Do bosons ever masquerade as fermions?

Bosons can pile on top of one another without limit, all occupying the same quantum state. At low temperatures, this causes such strange phenomena as superconductivity, superfluidity and Bose-Einstein condensation. It also allows photons of the same frequency to form coherent laser beams. Fermions, on the other hand, avoid one another. Electrons around a nucleus stack into shells instead of collapsing into a condensed cloud, giving rise to atoms with a great range of chemical properties.

“If just one pair of photons out of 10 billion had taken the bait and behaved like fermions, we would have seen it,” English said. “Photons are bosons, at least within our experimental sensitivity.”

I'll Bet They've Got SCMODS

The Physics of the Blues Brothers

At the time the movie was released, it had more car crashes than any movie in history and was only surpassed by the sequel. They bought 60 police cruisers to repeatedly destroy and kept a 24hr body shop to repair them. They went through 13 “Bluesmobiles,” to do all the stunts. Some were retrofitted with tiny one gallon gas tanks for jumping, others modified for speed and one took a mechanic several months to rig just so it would fall to pieces in the final scene. While they might not seem so impressive in our age of rampant CGI, all the stunts in the movie were real.

Don't Make Them Feel Self-Conscious

Weird Antimatter Particles Discovered Deep Underground

Don’t call them weird — they aren’t. They violate parity, but that makes them special. As far as I can tell (and it isn’t easy, because the press releases and web pages do a kinda crappy job of this), the so-called geoneutrinos are electron neutrinos, given off in decay chains of heavy elements in the earth’s interior. More specifically, they would be antineutrinos, since the decay chains typically involve alpha and beta-minus decays, and the latter give off electron antineutrinos.

In other words, the particle is not new. The name distinguishes them from solar neutrinos, but I think it also adds confusion to the mix, especially when the distinction isn’t made clear. Unnecessary jargon isn’t a good thing.

What is interesting is that the scientists are trying to use this as a diagnostic for learning about the earth’s interior.

The researchers hope that by studying geoneutrinos, they can learn more about how decaying elements add to the heat beneath Earth’s surface and affect processes like convection in the mantle. Whether radioactive decay dominates the heating in this layer, or merely adds to the heat from other sources, is an open question.

Messin’ With Your Mind

It’s just an illusion

Remain Calm

The WordPress upgrade prompted me to look at the themes available to me, and have been experimenting with them Unfortunately, the “preview” option doesn’t seem to work, so I have to do it live. Ergo, things will look different from time to time. There were a few things I didn’t like about the Daleri Dark theme, so I’ll probably end up with a new look.

The upgrade killed the stats widget, and the upgrade to that reset everything, so I can’t tell who is really my 18th customer, and thus entitled to a free oven mitt. (Though I was somewhere over 150,000 in my aggregate daily visitor count. I haven’t advertised milestones because they don’t matter to me. Really. OK, they do, but I don’t like to advertise them unless they show I’m crushing everyone else)

Totally Made Up Fact of the Day

The seed of the idea for the Pauli exclusion principle was planted when Wolfgang Pauli and his identical twin were not allowed on the football (soccer) pitch at the same time, until the club could afford jerseys with numbers thus allowing the officiating crew to distinguish the two.

Also not well known was that their very devout sister left the church to begin a brewery.

Next Page »