On a whim, I picked up a copy of Discover Presents: Einstein, an 88-page magazine dedicated to the world’s most famous theoretical physicist. My taste in ‘entertainment’ is eclectic: most of the time it is one variety or another of pure fantasy, but frequently it slides across the spectrum to simple reality. Today, it is reality.
Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
Posted by Doug on May 1, 2009
Posted by Doug on March 22, 2009
I did not know that the Cosmos miniseries—in which the late, great Carl Sagan explains a number of scientific subjects ranging from astrophysics to cellular biology—had a samurai battle in it.
“Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.” —Carl Sagan, Cosmos
In junior high, the school library had a hardcover edition of the book version of Cosmos, which was intended to accompany the TV miniseries. I must have checked that book out over nine th a hundred times. I had always been interested in sciency stuff like this, but rather than have my appetite sated in the many science classes I took, I was cursed with an endless succession of lousy teachers, who believed that “science” meant “answers to questions they will give you on that standardized test at the end of the year that you have to do good on so we keep get a raise” (and I actually recall one of my teachers stating that rather bluntly one day, dattebayo).
Posted by Doug on March 14, 2009
Yay! It’s Pi Day!
I missed the optimal 1:59:26 AM posting time (of course, back in 1592, the optimal time was 6:53:58 AM, but that’s neither here nor there), but like I’ve always said kill it with fire everything’s better with catgirls the only good human is a dead human better late than never! Here goes, the digits of pi up to the Feynmann Point, courtesy of Pi Day:
14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510 58209 74944 59230 78164 06286 20899 86280 34825 34211 70679 82148 08651 32823 06647 09384 46095 50582 23172 53594 08128 48111 74502 84102 70193 85211 05559 64462 29489 54930 38196 44288 10975 66593 34461 28475 64823 37867 83165 27120 19091 45648 56692 34603 48610 45432 66482 13393 60726 02491 41273 72458 70066 06315 58817 48815 20920 96282 92540 91715 36436 78925 90360 01133 05305 48820 46652 13841 46951 94151 16094 33057 27036 57595 91953 09218 61173 81932 61179 31051 18548 07446 23799 62749 56735 18857 52724 89122 79381 83011 94912 98336 73362 44065 66430 86021 39494 63952 24737 19070 21798 60943 70277 05392 17176 29317 67523 84674 81846 76694 05132 00056 81271 45263 56082 77857 71342 75778 96091 73637 17872 14684 40901 22495 34301 46549 58537 10507 92279 68925 89235 42019 95611 21290 21960 86403 44181 59813 62977 47713 09960 51870 72113 49999 99 and so on…
P.S. I don’t even want to hear from any Euler’s number fanboys (or fangirls) because everybody knows that π > e.
Posted by Doug on February 10, 2009
So I was trawling through the official Dungeons & Dragons forums, and came across one thread where a DM claimed that he had a player who had rolled a 20 on a twenty-sided die a total of twenty-three times in a row. Of course, given that the odds of this occuring are 838,860,800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1, the consensus of the community seems to be that either the “lucky” player is cheating, or that the DM is full of it.
Of course, the player may not be consciously cheating, and the DM may not be deliberately lying, but just consider: assume that the odds of a player cheating (consciously or not) are 1 in 1000 (generous) and the odds of a poster in a forum repeating nonfactual information (consciously or not) are also 1 in 1000 (veeeeeerrrrrry generous). This means that either a cheating player or a nontruthful poster are 838,860,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more likely than a non-cheating player actually rolling twenty-three 20s in a row.
The other forum-goers who decided to chime in brought up loaded dice (a possibility that the DM vehemently rejected), and this got me to thinking about my own dice: were they fair? Does, for example, my green-and-white Chessex d20 have exactly the same chance of landing on any one of its twenty faces?
Posted by Doug on December 11, 2008
I like to think of myself as a writer, but one of the problems I keep running into is that the characters in my stories tend to know a lot more about certain topics than I do. Take, for example, Hijū from the Mecha Monogatari. She is an avid motorcyclist, and rides like a demon, but I’ve never rode a motorcycle before. Why, it’s been well over a decade and a half since I was on a bicycle. How to you ride a motorcycle? More importantly, how do you accelerate and brake, change gears, and use that clutch thing? The Internet, though not truly omniscient (like Al Gore had originally intended), is almost omniscient, and it did not take long to find a sufficiently detailed explanation of the processes involved.
Of course, I guess I could have actually, oh, I don’t know, actually went out and learned how to actually ride a motorcycle, but I’m terribly lazy, and consulting the Great Sage Google was much easier, and much less likely to end with a funeral.
Other questions exceed even the vast and infinite ‘net, largely by being very, very specific. For example, if you were writing about a character who was an amateur astronomer, they could reasonably be expected to know the constellations and identify with reasonable accuracy a large number of celestial bodies. To demonstrate said character’s knowledge, you could have them out at night, pointing out Venus and Aldebaran and…I don’t know, other stars and stuff. I could just make up a skyful of planets and stars and constellations and whatall for my fictional character to be seeing in the fictional world of my fictional story, but I have this nagging fear that some real astronomy buff will come along and say something like, “Hey, moron. Just for the record, Polaris and the Southern Cross can not both be seen except on the Equator. Get off my Internet. —AG.”
So it would help if I knew what was in the sky. A star chart would be nice. Given that my stories tend to take place in locales far from the United States, and in times quite a bit into the future and/or past, it would be even better if I could program in a location and a date, and see exactly what was up in the sky. It would be perfectly awesome if I didn’t have to pay outrageous sums for said star chart, too (I’m a cheapskate. Sue me).
KStars 1.2.9 to the rescue. It was free, it downloaded and installed quite easily through Ubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager, and I managed to figure out the basics of how to use it without even having to reference the manual. It even has a little tool showing the planets in relation to each other from a top-down point of view. Perfect!
Set your location either from a list of major cities worldwide or by inputting the longitude and latitude, adjust the ‘current’ date and time as much as you want, and voilà! You have a nice map of the sky, showing the planets, stars, galaxies, the works.
So now I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that if I were in to Tokyo at midnight on October 11, 2016, and looked straight up I could see the Triangulum and Andromeda constellations (assuming I could see anything past the light pollution of the Tokyo megalopolis). KStars is a terribly useful little tool, not just for astronomy buffs but also for writers who might feel compelled to write about what’s up in the sky.
Given that I’m both, I am loving KStars.
Posted by Yamane Ishi on November 6, 2008
Answers a lot of questions.
Posted by Doug on October 20, 2008
I guess Death from the Skies would have impressed me more if I wasn’t already familiar with the concepts Phil Plait wrote about. Asteroid impacts, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, the Big Rip—between the Bad Astronomy and Universe Today blogs and the Astronomy Cast podcast, I already had a pretty good idea about the various ways in which the Universe was going to eliminate our existences.
Still, a tale well told is worth hearing twice, and Phil does do a great job of introducing and explaining these end-of-the-world scenarios, and there is some new-to-me information, such as the idea that it was possible to slowly increase the Earth’s distance from the sun by using asteroids to steal orbital energy from one of the outer planets, like Jupiter, for example, and then give that energy to the Earth. Give your asteroid the right orbit, and for every time around, Jupiter moves a little closer to the Sun, and the Earth moves a lot father away from the Sun—a useful strategy, if you’re trying to keep your planet away from its bloating-into-a-red-giant parent star.
Another small nitpick: I am fairly familiar with Phil Plait’s voice. I’ve heard him speak (well, recordings of him speaking) on a number of occasions, and when I read, for example, his blog, I can readily “hear” his voice in my mind. But while reading Death from the Skies, it just didn’t “sound” like Phil, except for a few sections, primarily the footnotes. A strange complaint, and one that really doesn’t detract from the book, I know.
Still, I would have to give this book an A−: good, interesting material about the end of the world (indeed, the end of everything) as we know it, explained well, but just lacking that little extra zing that would make it great.
Phil has an excerpt up over at his Bad Astronomy blog, for those who want to take a look.
Posted by Doug on October 16, 2008
Yes! I got my copy of Phil Plait’s new book, Death from the Skies: These are the Ways the World Will End, in today. Phil is the author of the Bad Astronomy website and blog and in August was named the newest president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He also wrote a book that came out in 2002, Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax”, which…I haven’t bought…yet.
But I’ve been a fan of Phil (is it weird that I call him Phil?) for a while now. His enthusiasm and sense of humor turn a subject that too often is made to be boring into something truly fascinating.
You know, I just ran by the Bad Astronomy blog to fetch the URL and I noticed he has a timer with a countdown until Death from the Skies is released. As I write this, the timer has 3 days 23 hours 40 minutes 21 seconds remaining…
What exactly is Death from the Skies about? Quoting from the jacket, “...Philip Plait presents some of the most fearsome end-of-the-world calamities, demystifies the scientific principles behind them, and gives us the odds that any of them will step out of the realm of sci-fi to disrupt our quiet corner of the cosmos.”
I have only read the first couple pages so far, but once I get out of the introduction and through some more of the astronomical death and destruction, I’ll write a more thorough review. It might be a couple of days, though.
Posted by Doug on October 9, 2008
Foldit is an online game where you engage in protein-folding simulations. It is believed that humans’ intuitive puzzle-solving capabilities might be able to solve exceedingly complex biology problems of this sort faster and cheaper than, say, a supercomputer crunching through the possibilities brute-force style could.
The game is free to play and easy enough to learn—drag with your mouse to pull the protein segments around, click the middle button to lock a piece in place, use the Shake and Wiggle tools to automate certain basic functions. There are a lot of other bells and whistles that I haven’t had time to mess with yet.
It’s an interesting idea—turn a problem that defies modern science into a video game some twelve-year-old in Burkina Faso can play.
The Internet: it’s not just for porn anymore.