Some thoughts on Hiroshima, the city of peace

Some thoughts on Hiroshima, the city of peace
HONG KONG — Even before Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) won the election, I had planned to visit Hiroshima during my Japan tour. Now that he’s president, visiting this city is especially poignant. During the campaign, both Trump and his rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), spoke casually of using nuclear weapons on ISIS and our other enemies, as if dropping them would solve all our problems. [See notes below for details.] Their comments made me cringe, as neither man seems to comprehend the horrors of nuclear weapons. If they did, they would never suggest using them in such an off-the-cuff manner. I wanted to visit Hiroshima to see how the city has rebounded from its utter destruction in 1945. Now, you would hardly know the city was once a pile of rubble. Ground zero is now occupied by a peace park, which is surrounded by high rise buildings. Hiroshima is a vibrant testimony to the strength of the human spirit. Rather than be depressed by my brief visit, I was uplifted. Hiroshima has moved on, choosing to stand for peace and reconciliation, not hate and retribution, despite the horrors the A-bomb brought on.. Everyone should read John Hersey’s Hiroshima. ...

Astronomy topic: Why are days so long on the Moon? 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s lunar probes, Chang’E and YuTu (Jade Rabbit), are preparing for Lunar day 3 of their mission, but they’ve been on the Moon since Dec. 15. Are they lazy, or what? Considering a day on the Moon is almost two Earth weeks long, I’d say not. Time for a quick astronomy lesson. You know, I hope, that the Moon takes about 28 days to go around the Earth. This is where we get the English word “month” from (as in, “moonth,” the way they said it long ago). Like the Earth, the Moon also rotates around its axis, but much more slowly. Earth takes about 24 hours for one complete spin, the Moon, about 28 Earth days from sunrise to sunrise. Chang’E and YuTu use solar panels for power during the long lunar day. But during the lunar night, they hunker down, relying on small radioactive “batteries” to keep critical electronics warm and functioning. Since there is only one lunar day each Earth month, the two probes have only been on the Moon for three lunar days. Each work shift is about 14 Earth days long, and they “sleep” for 14 days between shifts. It is no ...

Slow-motion video reveals the fascinating process of a match igniting at 4000 fps 1

Textbook publisher Wiley & Sons loses Supreme Court copyright case

JISHOU, HUNAN — Selling textbooks printed abroad in the USA does not infringe the copyright of the books’ publisher, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 6-3 decision. The decision means a Thai entrepreneur can legally resell textbooks in the States. The adversaries in this case were John Wiley & Sons, which publishes the text I used for AP Physics for many years, among others, and Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai student who found a clever way to make money. He bought Wiley’s texts legally in Thailand, where the prices are lower than in the States, and then resold them (legally) in the USA for a tidy profit, while still undercutting Wiley’s American retail prices. (Which is not hard, considering how high those prices are, especially for science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — texts. One book alone might cost $150 or more.) As you can imagine, Wiley was not pleased, and took Kirtsaeng to court, contending that he was violating its copyright by reselling books intended for Thai consumers in the USA. Two lower courts found in Wiley’s favor, but the Supreme Court overturned those decisions, finding no clear provisions in existing copyright law that would make Kirtsaeng’s enterprise ...

Transit of Venus 2012

JISHOU, HUNAN — The planet Venus passed in front of the Sun today, but clouds here kept us from seeing it. This event happens only twice every century; the last was in 2004, and the next will be in another 105 years. Guess I’ll need to live to be 161 years old. This photo was taken in Hong Kong, using a camera with a special filter. (Source: Wikipedia) Astronomers of the 18th century used the 1769 transit to measure the distance of the Earth to the Sun, which enabled them to calculate the distances to the other planets known at the time. In the 1600s, a young British astronomer, Jeremiah Horrocks, calculated when future transits would happen and was the first astronomer (at the age of 21) to predict the 1639 transit. Interestingly, Horrocks was born just two years after Johannes Kepler published his revolutionary model of the solar system. Kepler himself, relying on inaccurate observation tables of Venus, had predicted a near-miss transit of Venus. Horrocks also determined that the Moon orbits in an ellipse around the Earth, as Kepler’s laws would predict.

Fisking Conservapedia: A paragon of lazy scholarship

JISHOU, HUNAN — For the last few posts, I have been critiquing just one entry in the bizarro-world online encyclopedia called Conservapedia, where relativity is liberal claptrap and physical science is just politics with a different name. Now, I want to address an even deeper issue: Con-pedia’s sloppy scholarship. No self-respecting teacher accepts even Wikipedia as a primary source in a term paper, but Wikipedia’s scholarship shines compared to Con-pedia’s reliance on proof by assertion and shaky, non-scholarly reference materials. I will use the present entry under examination, E=mc2, as a prime example. In the first four paragraphs previously fisked, there have been four notes. The first was to a strange footnote about how E=mc2 only works when metric units are used. No outside reference is mentioned. The second is to a likewise odd statement that “Many leading scientists (including Lord Rutherford and Princeton Physics Professor Robert Dicke) rejected the Theory of Relativity,” which to some extent was true in, say, 1905, but not so much now. This note has links to Con-pedia articles about Dicke and relativity. Note three follows the weird statement that the equation is “liberal claptrap,” and offers no basis in fact for the allegation. It ...

Fisking Conservapedia: ‘Nothing of value’, for sure

JISHOU, HUNAN — After a suitable recovery period, and some time devoted to my day job, I am returning to the cognitive black hole that is Conservapedia’s explication of the equation E=mc2. My paragraph-by-paragraph fisking is, alas, necessary, since the entry is so wrong on a fractal level. The closer you look, the wrongness continues to even finer levels. The entry begins by claiming E=mc2 is meaningless, liberal claptrap, and an attempt to unify matter and light. (It isn’t, and doesn’t.) Then, the principal author, Con-pedia founder Andy Schlafly, veers into the murky realm of Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge in an attempt to show that E=mc2 is simply impossawobble. In the third paragraph, Con-pedia completely mangles the definitions of mass and energy, which any engineering graduate like Andy Schlafly should have internalized just to pass Physics 103/104 (or whatever freshman course EE majors had to take at Princeton), and shows a pretty weak understanding of even basic physics. (Advice to Con-pedia writers: one should at least brush up enough on basic physics so as not to look like a complete blithering idiot.) The fourth paragraph is the focus of this latest installment. It states, with jaw-dropping conviction: For more than a ...

Fisking Conservapedia: Failing Physics 101

JISHOU, HUNAN — This is the third installment of my critique of Conservapedia’s blatantly stupid entry on E=mc2. In the previous posts, I fisked the entry’s opening paragraph, which calls the famous equation “liberal claptrap“, and looked into the entry’s reliance on some nonsense called Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge (a Conservapedia exclusive!), which supposedly shows that E=mc2 is just plain impossible. Eppur si muove. Up to this point, it is already clear that the principal author of the entry, Andy Schlafly (the mastermind of Conservapedia), really has no idea what he is talking about. High school students could have done a better job. While few sensible people would consider Con-pedia a reliable source of anything useful, other than a chuckle or two, some naive, overly religious homeschoolers (or politicians!) might indeed be using Con-pedia as a credible resource. It is far from it. Instead of a straightforward, factual, accurate explanation of a physical law, Con-pedia instead gets the physics all wrong, falsely claims only liberal politics ensures the equation’s persistence, and conflates religious belief with scientific discovery. Multiple levels of fail. So, let’s see what else the entry gets wrong. Paragraph 3 says: Mass is a measure of an object’s inertia, ...

Fisking Conservapedia: Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge

JISHOU, HUNAN — I began my commentary on Conservapedia’s ludicrous entry on E=mc2 by fisking its opening paragraph. Beginning with the false premise that the equation “purports to relate all matter to light,” the entry then introduces the principle of “Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge” and how BSF makes it clear that any unification theory is doomed to fail. As I explained in the last post, E=mc2 does not purport to relate all matter to light — in fact, light does come from matter — but it suggests that matter and energy are essentially the same thing. The author of the Conservapedia entry, Andy Schlafly, clearly does not understand this basic fact of physics. I’m not sure he really understands Scriptural analysis, either, as we shall see. Paragraph 2 of the E=mc2 entry goes like this: Biblical Scientific Foreknowledge predicts that a unified theory of all the laws of physics is impossible, because light and matter were created at different times, in different ways, as described in the Book of Genesis. Before I analyze this statement, which incidentally is offered with no further explanation, I need to introduce some terms. Cherry picking: selecting only that evidence which apparently supports one’s argument, while ...

Fisking Conservapedia: is E=mc2 really ‘liberal claptrap?’

JISHOU, HUNAN — Nincompoop is a word little used nowadays, but it’s appropriate for the likes of an Ivy League educated engineer who calls E = mc2 “liberal claptrap.” Here is what Conservapedia’s Andy Schlafly has to say about Einstein’s famous equation, an equation which I hasten to add has been verified repeatedly in the last century. E=mc² is a meaningless, almost nonsensical, statement that purports to relate all matter to light.[1] In fact, no theory has successfully unified the laws governing mass (i.e., gravity) with the laws governing light (i.e., electromagnetism), and numerous attempts to derive E=mc² in general from first principles have failed.[2] Political pressure, however, has since made it impossible for anyone pursuing an academic career in science to even question the validity of this nonsensical equation. Simply put, E=mc² is liberal claptrap[3] . When an encyclopedia article begins with such breathtaking, mindnumbing stupidity, it’s hard to know where to start writing a critique of it. It’s fractally wrong, as the poster above says. At first, I thought I’d just let it slide, since no halfway intelligent human would bother using Conservapedia as a resource, but it’s been nagging at me for several days. So, I’m going ...

The physics of Mitt Romney

JISHOU, HUNAN — It’s not often I can read something about quantum physics and politics at the same time, so I have to share this piece in the Sunday New York Times about the puzzling phenomenon known as Mitt Romney, candidate. Of course, as is true when reading some xkcd comics, if you’re not up on the concepts, the jokes will fly right over your head, but I got a few chuckles out of David Javerbaum’s “A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney.” Romney is not only animatronic and a living Etch-a-Sketch, he’s also a metaphor for quantum physics. Two excerpts from Javerbaum’s piece will show what I mean: Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particle and a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation (Fig. 1). It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time. …snip Entanglement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an ...

Powers of Ten for the 21st century

JISHOU, HUNAN — In 1968 Ray Eames and her husband Charles Eames (of Eames chair fame) released a remarkable short film called Powers of Ten. You may have seen it in a science class, if you were lucky. It opens with a couple having a picnic, then zooms in with ever increasing detail to an atomic nucleus, then zooms out at high speed into outer space. Each step decreases or increases the magnification by a multiple of ten. You can watch at Vimeo. Now there’s a Shockwave version of the same idea, by Cary and Michael Huang. A slide control allows you to explore at your own pace. It takes a while to load, but it’s worth the wait. Nothing showy or (ahem) flashy, but neither was the Eames film.
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