Archive for February, 2014

Putting Some Spin on the Olympics

How do figure skaters exploit Newtonian physics when they spin?

A Little Bit of Lunacy

Lunar Ranging Provides A Science Explanation Of Full Moons And Curses

It’s a beautiful idea because it generates a thing scientists probably love most: a testable prediction. If the poor [reflection] performance on full moon nights resulted from heating of the surface of the cubes, turning off the light should boost the signal as soon as the surface cools so that the temperature throughout the cubes is uniform.

All you’d have to do is turn off the Sun. Or wait for the Earth to pass between the Sun and moon, as it does during a lunar eclipse.

Spoiler alert: science works.

It's Not the Total Perspective Vortex, but it's a Start

Scale model of space and time

Oh We Love the Old One

The oldest star discovery tells much about the early universe

The star – designated SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 – lies within our Milky Way galaxy and a mere (relatively) 6,000 light years away but is the oldest known star discovered so far

Researchers identify one of the earliest stars in the universe

[It] contains a level of iron whose upper limit is so low that it suggests that the star is a second-generation star, having arisen from the gas cloud enriched by one of the very first stars in the universe. But because there is so little iron in the star, the researchers say the star’s progenitor must not have been very energetic, as it may have failed to expel all the heavy elements made in its own core.

One Way to Avoid a Cat-astrophe

How *do* cats land on their feet when falling, anyway?

So what intrigued and, quite frankly, baffled physicists for so long? The surprising observation is that cats can still turn over in free-fall even when they are released at rest, i.e. with no initial rotation! Ironically, this probably freaks out physicists far more than non-physicists, because at first glance it appears to be a violation of the conservation of angular momentum.

Baby Light My Fire

Lighter at 7000 Frames per Second

Wide Right

Coriolis Force on a Kicked Football

An analysis inspired by a tweet from Neal deGrasse Tyson.

However, this showed up in my RSS feed with the tagline

You may know the Coriolis force from the direction the water in your flushing toilet swirls, but the same force affects a field-goal kick in football. Here’s how.

Ugh. (No, it does not manifest itself in a noticeable way in toilets or sinks) I hope Rhett has a conversation with the individual who wrote that.

Is There Anything the Government Can't Do?

Atlanta Storm Was a Government Conspiracy? Snow Way!

Here is where it gets weird. Some people went outside and made snowballs. Then—and I have no clue who would think to do this in the first place, but there you go—they held a lighter to the snowball. What they claimed then is that the snow didn’t melt and drip away as you’d expect. That’s odd enough, but then they saw scorch marks on the snowball! Ice can’t burn, so why were there black streaks on the snowballs?

Naturally, if nature doesn’t conform to your preconceived notions, nature must have been compromised somehow.

The stupid, it burns.

If Life Gives You Straw, Build Straw Men

Obama vs. Art History

I saw this in a tweet, with the tag line “Obama becomes latest politician to criticize a liberal arts discipline”

I am sympathetic with with those on the side of the colleges and universities when they are defensive about criticism that they are not preparing students for the workforce — that’s not their primary function, and I am very aware of the irony that many who are complaining also have a phobia about socialism — and yet they want someone else to shoulder the expense of training their potential employees, and don’t want to pay taxes to make this happen.

But I think this article fails to counter what the president said (especially in context of the speech) and also that the author doth protest too much.

There are all sorts of ironies about the president selecting art history as a discipline to question. He is a graduate of Columbia University, whose undergraduate college is rare in American higher education (outside of art schools) in requiring study of art history.

There are none that I can see, because criticizing the possession of an art history degree (regardless of the validity of the criticism) is not the same thing as criticizing taking an art history class. Recognition and avoidance of straw man arguments is one of the things one would hope people learn with a liberal arts education. The President didn’t say people shouldn’t take art history classes. He didn’t even say you shouldn’t major in art history.

Really this is no different from those of us who think that people in general should take a few more science classes so that they are scientifically literate, only to have it countered with the argument that no, this shouldn’t happen, because we don’t need more scientists in the workforce. Again, it’s the difference between taking a class or two and thus being exposed to a subject, and majoring in that subject. They aren’t the same thing.

The article then goes on to try and rebut the notion that these degree recipients have a tough time finding jobs, but don’t use art history majors but arts majors in general (so the author is moving the goal posts). One link points out that arts majors have an unemployment rate of 8%

A large majority of respondents (92 percent) who want to work say they are currently working.

which is right around the overall unemployment rate, or perhaps slightly better, since there would be a lag between the poll and the article, but ignores the fact that a college degree generally shaves a percentage point or two off of the unemployment rate. So arts majors (not art history majors) are doing slightly worse than other college graduates.

The next provided link implies there are successes in liberal arts degrees, going even further away from the President’s comments, but if you read the paragraph carefully, you’ll notice that the author makes no actual claim that a degree in the liberal arts leads to a high salary. If one clicks through, one finds out why that is so.

Among graduates with a baccalaureate degree only, those with humanities and social sciences degrees consistently earn less than anyone else, peaking at about $58,000 a year.

Of course, that brings to mind a separate argument, that career success is only measured by one’s salary, and I don’t agree with that, either, and just in case anyone takes exception, I think you should do what you love, or at least like. As long as you can make a living doing that, who cares what anyone else thinks? I also think liberal arts education is important, because a broad base of understanding and critical thinking skills are valuable things.

But that’s not the subject of the article. An article which never actually knocks down any of the straw men that it built.

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