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 ...

My neighbor, a Chinese cuckoo (Cuculus sparverioides)

My neighbor, a Chinese cuckoo (<em>Cuculus sparverioides</em>)
JISHOU, HUNAN — Now that spring has arrived, it’s time for my other avian neighbor — a cuckoo-bird 布谷鸟 bùgǔ-niǎo — to serenade me at night. Boring, but more melodic than the overactive rooster constantly crowing all day. Here he is: [audio:http://www.computernewbie.info/wheatdogg/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/cuckoo.mp3] (I recorded him from my bathroom window with my Nokia E63, then used Audacity to amplify and convert to mp3. The fainter sounds are from the student dormitory just below mine.) He generally calls all night, but after four years I’ve learned to tune him out. I’m sure he roosts in the big tree outside my bathroom window, but I’ve never seen him. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until Friday night that I actually remembered to ask someone what bird makes that call. I happened to be at a friend’s house when I heard another cuckoo calling outside their window. I’m not a birder. Since it doesn’t sound like the familiar cuckoo call of clock fame, I had no idea what it was. There are several species of cuckoos all over the world, and each species has a distinctive call. The call of the male common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is the one imitated by cuckoo clocks, and ...

Sen. Inhofe, the Bible and Global Warming

JISHOU, HUNAN — I visit Dispatches from the Culture Wars almost every day, and today commented on a report about Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is convinced that not only is global warming a lot of hooey, but that God has everything under control, so we humans needn’t worry at all. In an interview with Voice of Christian Youth America, Inhofe repeated his claim that anthropic global warming is all a hoax. He gave as his reason: Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous. At Dispatches, there was a lot of commentary about how knuckleheaded this reasoning is, and I added to the discussion with a rejoinder that I think is so good I am repeating it here. If you read Genesis carefully (and not human chauvinistically), it’s important to note that God created humans last, and told them to be ...

Scientists (or is it Brits?) and their love of understatement

JISHOU — The BBC has a story about a robot “cheetah” that can run up to 18 mph. It’s part of a defense project to develop a military war-bot for use in the field. Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield said the latest achievement was very impressive. “With faster than human speed, this is a step in the development of a high speed killer that could negotiate a battlefield quickly to hunt and kill,” he said. “The biggest concern about this is that no artificial intelligence system can distinguish between civilians and enemy combatants, and so if this was operating on its own it would fall foul of the laws of war.” But if we had Skynet, everything would be just fine. Right?

Another eclipse picture 2

Another eclipse picture
JISHOU, HUNAN — I had to Photoshop this one a bit to clean it up. I mistakenly had the Tamron’s vibration control on, and the resulting movement smeared the Moon’s image, but left the star images intact. This is a 10-second exposure with the lens zoomed to 230 mm, taken near the end of totality around 11:00 pm local time. Everything else is the same: Nikon D60 on tripod, Tamron 70-300 zoom lens, f5.6, ASA 200. The stars surrounding the Moon are fainter members of Taurus: from top left going clockwise, 13 Tau/HIP23900A, iota Tau/HIP23497, HIP23589, 15 Tau/HIP23883 (closest apparently to Moon here), and L Tau/HIP 23871. Iota Tau is a member of the Hyades star cluster, whose V-shape outlines the horns of the bull. The stars of the Hyades are about 150-160 light-years away from Earth. How do I know which star is which? It’s not an encyclopedic memory or fancy astronomy equipment. I used Stellarium, a free planetarium application for your computer. Here’s a screen shot of Stellarium showing the same view on my desktop. Stellarium will give you details about any object you click on. Interestingly enough, 15 Tau, which in this photo appears closest to the ...

Lunar eclipse, December 10, 2011

Lunar eclipse, December 10, 2011
JISHOU, HUNAN — I caught the total lunar eclipse about halfway through totality. I didn’t do all the good stuff, like wait for the equipment to cool to ambient temperature (0°C here), because I almost forgot to go out. So, out of 25 shots I got three halfway decent ones. The focus seems to be a bit off, I fear. The three images here are of the Moon toward the end of totality. You can just barely see it brighten on the lower right edge as it leaves the Earth’s shadow. The star to the left is Alnath (β Tauri), the second brightest star in Taurus. Alnath is a bluish-white B-class star, about 700 times brighter than the Sun, 4.5 times heavier and 5 times bigger. It’s 131 light-years away. I used a tripod-mounted Nikon D60 with a 70-300 Tamron zoom lens at 70 mm, f5.6, ASA 200. The three exposures are 1.0 sec (above), 1.6 sec and 2.5 sec (below). Totality ended around 11:00 pm here.

John Freshwater: the gift that keeps on giving 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — Back when I was a science teacher, I started blogged about an Ohio public school science teacher who got in hot water for (1) allegedly using a Tesla coil on his students, (2) teaching evolution was false and (3) going overboard with his religious proselytizing in the classroom. Without going into a lot of details, let’s just say that teacher, John Freshwater of Mount Vernon, was removed from classroom teaching pending an administrative hearing about insubordination. After a two-year-long administrative hearing process, Freshwater lost his job earlier this year. He and the Mount Vernon school system were also named in a federal discrimination complaint brought by a student’s family; the school district settled out of court and Freshwater, following an unsuccessful appeal, also had to pay damages to the family. Meanwhile, he filed, and later dropped, his own discrimination complaint in federal court against the school system. So, after all these proceedings which suggest that Freshwater was to some degree culpable, I learn that he has the nerve to play the victim card on David Barton and Rick Green’s WallBuilders Live radio program. Here’s a partial transcript, courtesy of Right Wing Watch. Freshwater: When the 2007/2008 school ...

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.

Complementarity and ‘America the Beautiful’

It’s a physics joke. If you don’t get it, look up wave-particle duality and the Uncertainty Principle, which only exists as a Wikipedia entry when you are looking at it. Quiz on Monday.

Next step, actual flames …

Next step, actual flames ...
  SANGZHI, HUNAN — OK, so I’m not really Johnny Storm, but it’s a cool photo, anyway. My friend snapped it as we were leaving Jiutian Cave here. After a long climb out of the cool, humid cave into the warm, drier surface air, I was sweating and my head was literally steaming. The cave trip Thursday was my last excursion for the week-long National Holiday. Earlier in the week, I accompanied two friends (a young married couple) to a wedding in Huarong, a small city near Yueyang, Hunan. Then they drove me to Yueyang, where I met another friend and visited that city for two days. When I came back to Jishou on Wednesday, I literally turned right around and headed out again to Sangzhi with another friend, her cousin, aunt and uncle. We also visited the reconstructed home of He Long, a revolutionary leader who was later purged during the Cultural Revolution. He was thrown into prison (where he died at age 74), his original home was razed, and his siblings were prevented from attending university. He didn’t get a formal state burial until 40 years after his death. On our way back to Jishou, we stopped at ...

Gorgeous amateur astrophotography images at the BBC website 1

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich and Sky at Night magazine sponsor an astrophotography contest each year. The 2011 winners are highlighted in a slide show at the BBC website. This is the overall winner, a mosaic of Jupiter with two of its moons, Io (left) and Ganymede. The details on all three images in this composite are amazing, and that’s what impressed the judges, too. Damien Peach used a Celestron 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a Point Grey Flea3 CCD camera to capture these images. I want to highlight this one at left, too, because it shows a feature of our solar system not commonly seen. It was the winner in the Newcomer category, and shows the zodiacal light from a farm in Texas. You have to have exceptionally clear, dark skies to capture the zodiacal light, which is the very faint reflection of sunlight from the gas and dust within our own solar system. Harley Grady took this image with a Canon EOS 5D Mk II DSLR camera with a 16-35mm lens, which shows what you can do with fairly simple equipment. All you need is a good tripod, or some other sturdy support, clear skies and some patience. Long ...

Bachmann wants schools to teach religion in science class

JISHOU, HUNAN — CNN reports the not-very-surprising news that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) favors teaching Intelligent Design (religion made science-y) in schools, right alongside evolution (actual science). It’s not surprising, because Bachmann (and most of the other candidates for the GOP presidential nomination), are stubbornly in the Science (and History) Ignoramus class. Global warming? Liberal nonsense! Evolution? Atheist nonsense! Separation of Church and State? It was never there! Intelligent Design is religious belief, Creationism with a different label, and the federal courts — most recently in 2005 — have ruled it cannot be taught in public schools, especially in science class. Period. Yet, Bachmann and others stubbornly insist ID must be taught in public schools. Don’t they read the newspapers? Here’s what she told CNN. “I support intelligent design,” Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans following her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference. “What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.” WRONG!! There is no “reasonable doubt” about evolution, at least among sensible people and ...
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