Archive for September, 2011
This morning I read this NY Times news that European physicists measured neutrinos at 0.0025 percent above the speed of light. If so, it may be only a matter of time before you can send yourself a telegram to not do whatever you did that you’ve always regretted and, by the way, to please invest a thousand dollars in Microsoft, Facebook or the like (depending on the timing).
Years ago I visited Mount Wilson Observatory in California with my son Hank. See me pictured by their two domes that house 60 and 100 inch telescopes; respectively. This was the center for landmark experiments on the speed of light as detailed in this Wikipedia article. Obviously measurement error made this a very difficult.
Being a skeptic, and seeing that a similar experiment* found neutrinos whizzing about at the speed of light, but not beyond that, I was going to advise caution. However, Hank gave me the heads up to today’s xkcd cartoon (click the image to make it bigger and more readable). I think this guy has got a better idea.
*Done with a group at the Soudan Underground Laboratory here in Minnesota. They first did physics experiments there, in an abandoned iron mine, in 1980. I featured this in a retro young-adult techno/adventure/mystery/thriller called The Secret of the Wolf Ring (Amazon, Kindle Edition).
Check out this intriguing YouTube video by Khan Academy proving the Pythagorean Theorem:
Now imagine grade schoolers being lectured like this at home and then spending their time in class following up one-on-one or in small group sessions with the teacher. See this report from a 7th grade math teacher in California who takes advantage of this “blended learning” approach. As face-to-face time with educators becomes ever-more expensive, expect more-and-more use of asynchronous web-based training like this. That’s what I foresee. Don’t you?
Being only about a week from this year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day this Atlantic Monthly article (read belatedly from a backlog of magazines) about Gunpowder on the Rocks caught my eye. I like the idea of setting a drink on fire and then drinking it, as Blackbeard did to impress his pirate crew.
It turns out that this is a practical test of rum to ensure it hasn’t been watered down by a ne’er-do-well hornswoggler, as you can see in this video by experimental archaeologist Jeff Lindow. After watching this, I decided not to try this at home as it would no doubt shiver my timbers. However, if it gets cold enough this winter, I might consider a swig of this gunpowder-infused Man O’War rum. Yo ho ho!
I once analyzed data from a designed experiment that quantified consumer distaste for flaws in chocolate-covered cherries. This was a very rewarding project – lots of free candy! It also produced a counter-intuitive result: People preferred boxes with a few upside-down morsels. I figure this is akin to a beauty mark adding to the enticement of a model or actor. This article on “When Blemishing Leads to Blossoming”, published online by the Journal of Consumer Research confirms that under specific circumstances, a flaw makes a product more attractive. For example, in one experiment (highlighted in the July 16 issue of Wall Street Journal) the researchers (Danit Ein-Gar, Baba Shiv, Zakary L. Tormala) offered either perfect or slightly flawed chocolate bars to several hundred relaxed (stolling around) or stressed (rushing to exams) college students. I searched out the results and reproduced them in this interaction graph from Design-Expert® software. It seems to me that this surprising effect, presuming it’s real, provides yet another devious opportunity for marketing mavens to make us buy stuff. One thing I might advise is that you never buy anything when you are in a hurry.