In an animated video, a student explains, “Why did I study physics?”

In an animated video, a student explains,
Linky: The Atlantic

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, ...

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.

As t –> ∞, teaching physics –> teaching math

But only as a first approximation …

Hey, hey, Hefei 3

HEFEI, ANHUI — I have spent nearly a week in Hefei 合肥, where a friend of mine from JiDa now lives with her husband. They married in June, but because of exams I and her other university friends couldn’t come then. This was in some ways a make-up trip, though I had already posted a wedding gift. MeiMei is fully bilingual in Chinese and Russian, thanks to several years living in Minsk as a student. Her English (and maybe her Chinese, though I cannot tell) has a Russian accent. In addition, she’s an excellent pianist. Her job at JiDa was as translator/interpreter for the exchange students and music teachers from Ukraine, but midway through last school year, there was less call for her linguistic abilities. Meanwhile, still unmarried at the age of 30, MeiMei was facing the Chinese cultural pressure to find a husband before she got “too old.” So, she decided to quit her university job, and go back home to Hefei to find a mate, while living with her parents and supporting herself teaching piano and Russian. About two weeks ago, she and I were chatting on QQ, and she asked about my plans for the future. MeiMei ...

Bowling balls work very well

A little push at the beginning makes it more interesting.

Always wear protection …

Especially air-breathing apparatus and/or a good pressure suit … “Ideal conditions” are not so ideal for living organisms.

Bizarro world “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”

CHANGSHA, HUNAN — While I wait for my lunch companions to show up, I will try to dash off a quick movie review. Of course, it’s not very current. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra opened in the USA weeks ago, but I saw it for the first time here just last week. In Chinese. With Chinese subtitles. I didn’t miss a thing. Some B-movies have redeeming virtues, despite poor acting, bad direction, cheesy scripts, or lousy camera work. Really bad movies (grade Z’s), though, combine all four to make a US Grade A turkey. And being a science-fictiony kind of film, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, brought really bad to a whole new level with really awful science concepts. Here’s a few glaring mistakes. The Bad Guy (TBG) has a huge underwater lair that puts Stargate Atlantis’ digs to shame. Yet, this underwater metropolis is supposedly a secret. How? Its heat signature alone would be as bright as lighthouse beacon to a spy satellite in orbit. For argument’s sake, let’s suppose the US government knew about The Bad Guy’s secret underwater lair. Wouldn’t the Defense Department be just a teensy bit interested in why TBG has all of ...

Physics quiz: What is Stephen Hawking’s nationality?

(a) United States (b) United Kingdom (c) Manchester United (d) United Arab Emirates You have 2 minutes. {Cue Jeopardy thinking jingle} The answer is B! Author and theoretical physicist Hawking was born in Oxford, England, 67 years ago and is currently the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, which at last report was still located where it has been for the last 800 years, in England. Reading comprehension quiz: Now read this excerpt from a recent (fubar) editorial from the Investor’s Business Daily, and identify the logical fallacy. You have 5 minutes. The U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) basically figures out who deserves treatment by using a cost-utility analysis based on the "quality adjusted life year." One year in perfect health gets you one point. Deductions are taken for blindness, for being in a wheelchair and so on. The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care. People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless. ...

For its physics, Fly Me to the Moon is not a complete waste 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — It’s nice to see a movie for kids that for once doesn’t play games with scientific accuracy. While it may be a fantasy (according to Buzz Aldrin), Fly Me to the Moon keeps its physics pretty darn close to the real thing. Granted, it’s not on a par with Pixar’s or Disney’s animated features, but this cute little kiddie movie about three young adventure-seeking houseflies is not a complete waste of time. It recreates one of the most exciting moments in US history for a new young audience, while giving them a glimpse of what moving in space is really like. The plot is pretty simple. Three nerdy flies, Scooter (fat kid), IQ (bespectacled brainiac) and Nat (the ringleader), live in a junkyard near Cape Canaveral within sight of the Apollo 11 launchpad. They all want to have an adventure, like Nat’s grandpa did 37 years ago, but all they can do is dream. Nat’s grandpa tells him once again his story of how he saved a sleepy Amelia Earhart from splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean by flying up her nose. Nat then decides to hitch a ride on Apollo 11, due to launch the next ...

Princeton physicist John A. Wheeler dies at age 96

Once upon a time, I was an erstwhile physics major at Princeton University, but in the two years I spent lurking around Palmer Lab* and Jadwin Hall I never ran into John Wheeler. I regret that now. Wheeler by all accounts was not only brilliant, but supremely likeable (like most of the profs in that department, by the way). Wheeler coined the term “black hole” in 1967 for the corpse of a massive star after it went supernova: hole because its mass punched a hole in space-time, black because it sucked in all available light. Wheeler also gave a name to a central theorem about black holes — that we can only observe their mass, angular momentum and electric charge — by quipping, “Black holes have no hair.” Wheeler was an accomplished theoretical physicist, who participated in the development of the hydrogen bomb, our current understanding of astrophysics and many other topics. A member of the Princeton faculty from 1938-1976 (I switched majors during his last year), Wheeler taught for awhile at the University of Texas before returning to Princeton as professor emeritus. There are plenty of stories in the ‘Net about Wheeler, but to get a flavor of the ...
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