2011: The Top 10, in Base 14

Greatest posts/year-in-review lists seem to be all the rage, so why not?


The top traffic posts that are not simply one of my many links, i.e. there is significant commentary or it’s an original piece. Not always about physics or technology.

MiniMe, You Retweet Me

Blogging: You’re Doing it Wrong! (Part 1) (and others in the series)

Here Be Dragons

Time for a New Article on Time

Have You Checked the Woodworking Lately?

Thou Shalt Not Dilate Thy Time


Other physicis-y post highlights for the year

There Must Be Room for Debate

Poolside Optics

The Butler’s Name is Emissivity

Today is Fara Day

Photography and Physics Tutorial: Filtering and Polarized Light

You Can’t Even Hope to Contain Him

The Nose Knows Physics


And one non-physics highlight:

If I Did It

Is it Time for the Hanke-Henry?

Is It Time to Overhaul the Calendar?

Their proposed calendar overhaul — largely unprecedented in the 430 years since Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian calendar we still use today — would divvy out months and weeks so that every calendar date would always fall on the same day of the week. Christmas, for example, would forever come on a Sunday.

“The calendar I’m advocating isn’t nearly as accurate” as the Gregorian calendar, said Richard Henry, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins who has been pushing for calendar reform for years. “But it’s far more convenient.”

In keeping with Betteridge’s law, I think the answer is “no”. The objections noted at the end are enough, but inertia is probably enough. The US can’t even get the metric system in place, and there’s a strong passive-aggressive streak of opposing changes that the government tries to instigate. This is also something that a majority of the world would have to adopt, in order to force everyone to do so. I think you need more than streamlining calendar printing/software.

Invisible Numbers

I’ve posted before on how liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors emit polarized light (and can be birefringent), and some of the fun you can have with this, and everyone is probably familiar with other uses as well.

LCD’s don’t emit light by themselves; they rely on backlighting or on reflecting ambient light, which passes through a polarizer behind the display. In this short video we can see what happens with a calculator display when you take the top polarizer off:

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We see nothing at all. The effect of the display is not visible to us, because we are not (very) sensitive to polarized light. When we put the polarizing screen in place, then we can see what’s happening — the display has a “zero” energized, which has a different polarization than the rest of the display and blocks the light that has passed through the display and been reflected and polarized. When we rotate the screen, the light is blocked from the rest of the display, and the light from the zero passes through. At an angle, light of each polarization makes it through, so you can’t see the digit at about 45º.

Violating Betteridge's Law

Does a Magnet Gun Conserve Momentum?

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no'”. But this is a physics topic, and conservation of momentum is a pretty well-established law if there is no net external force on the system. So we expect the answer to be “yes”. Thus you can tell Rhett is not a headline-writer looking to stir up controversy, else he would have written something like Does a Magnet Gun Violate Conservation of Momentum?

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Looks like a fun toy, and I’m a sucker for fun toys. To the bat cave lab!

Burning for You

Christmas with Faraday: The Chemical History of a Candle

Faraday gave a series of famous Christmas lectures each year at the Royal Institution — a tradition that continues today. One of the earliest, on the chemistry and physics of flames, became a popular book: The Chemical History of a Candle.

These lectures were a gift that Faraday gave year after year to those who showed up to receive it: the gift of wonder at the natural world that continues to surprise us, even today, with its mysterious workings.