Archive for June, 2010

Quote of the Day

Comes from a discussion of vacua; an ion gauge should provide a small amount of pumping, sufficient for a small system, but in case it doesn’t, one could place the system in (or just above) some liquid nitrogen, which prompted this gem about cryopumping:

At liquid Helium temperatures, even a cheeseburger doesn’t outgas much.

(originator unknown)

Upgrade has upgraded the blogs to WordPress 3.0, so we’ll see if this causes any problems, or any user error as I fool around with new features.

Bette Davis Eyes, Karl Malden Nose

Strange Maps: 468 – Crime Topography of San Francisco

San Francisco’s iconic topography – with grades of up to 31% – is as much a tourist attraction as its cable cars or the sea lions at Fishermans’ Wharf. But the city’s hilliness is more than just ankle-biting eye-candy. Its elevation, mainly in the city’s centre, is responsible for a 20% variance in annual rainfall throughout its eastern and western precincts, with bay-fronted neighbourhoods in the east also significantly less cold, windy and foggy than those facing the ocean.
These maps present San Franciscan peaks and troughs of a different, less savoury kind. Although the information they convey is as real as the city’s actual orography, these infographics express incidence of crime rather than elevation above sea level. By mimicking cartographic methods of height demarcation, the mapmaker has hit upon a visually very arresting method to frame raw crime statistics in a geographic context.

The Leroy Anderson Effect

Metronome Synchronization

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Putting them on the board allows them to couple, so vibrations from each can interfere and the most efficient energy transfer is when they are in phase. I’ve read that this trick was exploited by sellers of pendulum clocks, back in the day — by hanging the clocks on one wall, they would similarly tend to synchronize. This would give the customer the impression that all of the products were high quality clocks when that was not the case, though you could not tell from the pricetag — the poor clocks were being driven by a few good ones.

(Leroy Anderson was the composer of The Syncopated Clock)

The Worlds Most Expensive Thermometer

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The roadway across the Golden Gate Bridge rises and falls as much as 16 feet depending on the temperature. When the sun hits the bridge, the metal expands and the bridge cables stretch. As the fog rolls in, the cables contract and the bridge goes up.

There’s also a 2-hour delay because of the thermal mass of the bridge.

More Sports and Science

The sports reported as science bit has made its way around, and I while I was thinking of things to perhaps improve the analogies, it occurred to me that the whole part about “people don’t understand that jargon, can you dumb it down?” can be recast as “science is like a sport you’ve never seen before.”

If you’ve never seen a particular activity, and your only option was to watch (i.e. there’s nobody to explain it to you), how would you figure out the rules? You’d observe and look for patterns. You’d take note of repeated actions to see that they are consistent: player uses foot or head to hit the ball. You also may notice that some things don’t happen: hand touching the ball stops play. But then there are exceptions: doesn’t apply to the guy with the big gloves. He seems to be the only one who can handle the ball, and he wears a different colored jersey . Or, with baseball: if the ball touches the ground, the players seem to react differently than when it is hit in the air.

With repeated observation, you can guess at some of the rules. You can build a model and start to predict what would happen under certain conditions to see if your guess at the rules is correct. If it doesn’t, you have to know if there was something different about the circumstances to know if this is an exception or you were just plain wrong. Some of the more obscure rules take a lot of watching to uncover, and will look like anomalies at first. How many baseball games would you have to watch to see the infield fly rule invoked, and how many time would you have to see it before you could figure out the specific conditions under which it applies?

Observational science is just like this. At least part of astronomy, geology and paleontology, and perhaps others, rely solely on the ability to make repeated observations and figure out laws from the patterns of what does and doesn’t happen.

At the next level, you can also infer behavior that is due to strategy, which is based on the rules but not strictly part of it. There’s no rule in baseball that says the first baseman must hold a runner on, but the ability to take a lead and steal a base dictates this action. Much like the elliptical orbits plants being a derived behavior, based on the more fundamental rule of gravity being an inverse-square law. The orbits were noticed first, though, and the underlying rule was deduced later.


That’s not recursion. This is recursion.

Zoom in on a striking weather-related photograph to reveal hundreds more photos making up the original. Then zoom again at each level for an endless array of images, each submitted by users to My Shot.

I'll Huff and I'll Puff

… and I’ll push this little red button

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To be fair, the “house” of bricks is more like a wall, and without mortar. Pigs may make houses out of straw and sticks, but they follow building codes, dammit.

Puts my Airzooka to shame, though.

I Have to Issue You a Ticket

For violating the laws of physics

Violations of conservation of energy
Count #1: The ball is traveling much faster at the top of the first loop than when it rolls down the ramp just above it
Count #2: The ball comes off the green elastic faster than when it hit

Count #3: The ball come to rest just below the rubber band, and
Count #4: again on the left on the second ramp from the bottom,

yet has enough energy to launch the next ball all the way to the top

The launching device should be a cannon triggered by a pushbutton, to plausibly add energy to the system.

(updated to add #2 and renumber other violations)

… And Then a Hockey Game Broke Out

The Onion: South African Vuvuzela Philharmonic Angered By Soccer Games Breaking Out During Concerts

Spontaneous high-caliber soccer games have thus far plagued every orchestral vuvuzela performance of the season, which opened June 11 at Cape Town Stadium. As musicians took their places in the stands and began warming up for the evening’s performance of lighter pieces by post-minimalist composers, they noticed the audience was not sitting in its traditional place in the stadium’s central area.

As the Philharmonic learned later, its only spectators were the national football sides of France and Uruguay, who played to a 0-0 tie as the frustrated vuvuzela virtuosi played a full program of concerti written for the distinctive straight plastic horn.


I can’t wait for the next Austin Powers movie, with Vuvu Zela as the annoying Jar-Jar-Binksian sidekick who drones on and on in a loud abrasive monotone, not really talking.

Dr. Evil: Vuvu, what do you think of my evil plan?
Vuvu: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Weeeeeeeeeellllllllll, uuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh …

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