My Dad The Nerd

My dad the nerd

My mother never understood the wave-particle duality of electromagnetic phenomena. She had no interest in the fact that objects traveling near the speed of light shortened in their direction of motion. And she never grasped how an airplane managed to stay up in the air at all, even though her husband flew planes for a living. Continue reading

Great Podcasts: Studio 360

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I chanced on this great website while looking for, as usual, all things scientific. Besides great podcasts (the one that led me here was about parallel universes…a subject near and dear to a sci-fi writer’s heart), studio 360 has articles, videos and blogs about current music, books, movies, and other pop culture happenings with a good dose of comedy thrown in (another subject near and dear to my heart as a comedy writer). It’s kind of like an alter-ego to another podcast favorite, Radiolab. Best of all: it has a separate page for science and technology, containing for example, videos of Darth Trump, artists at CERN, and what dark matter would look like if you could draw it.

Enjoy.

Hey Dude, Your Use of Bernoulli’s Equation and Euler’s Equation for Streamline Curvature Effect is Really Rad

truly lost in the cosmos kite hydrofoil board

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Human ingenuity will never cease to amaze me. And neither will the way that science makes its way into nearly every facet of our daily lives.

Especially when it comes to extreme sports. In fact, from wingsuit base jumping to ice climbing, these unbelievable sports wouldn’t exist without making use of scientific principles.

Take what I’ve been seeing more and more off the coast of California in the last year.

Kite surfing is nothing new. You combine a huge inflatable, curved kite and a short surfboard and you go sailing across the top of the water.

At some point, someone must have said to themselves: “This is really great, but I want to go faster. And I want to take advantage of really windy days, but not put up with the choppy surf that high winds create.

Someone, somewhere, must have seen—or ridden—on a hydrofoil boat and noticed that it provides a smooth ride even on choppy seas, it cruises much faster, and turns quicker.

Some smart person attached a hydrofoil to a surfboard and a new sport was born. It makes you do a double take, watching a person sailing three or four feet above the water.

Amazing.

So what’s next?

Once we humans make traveling into space an everyday thing, it wouldn’t be out of the question  to see someone whizzing by at a million miles an hour on solar wind sail.

And after that? It’s anyone’s guess. Black hole base jumping? Pulsar catapults?

(If you’re really interesting in the principle of using foils to lift a boat, here’s what MIT says about it: hydrofoils

Screw You Edwin Hubble

Truly lost in the cosmos screw you edwin hubble daves stukasA few weekends ago, I made a trip to the Mount Wilson observatory high above Pasadena, California. It’s where some of the greatest discoveries of 20th century astronomy took place.

It’s also where we humans got taken down a peg or two from our lofty, self-awarded importance in the cosmos. Not that Copernicus didn’t give us a well-deserved kick in the ass by putting the sun at the center of our solar system. But it’s at Mount Wilson where we really got a good booting up the rear.

You see, up until the 1920s, most astronomers believed there was only one galaxy in the universe: ours.

The universe was all about us.

Along comes upstart Edwin Hubble working on the newly installed 100-inch telescope and he turns astronomy on its head by discovering that the fuzzy patches in the sky that everyone else had called “spiral nebulae,” weren’t gaseous clouds inside our Milky Way. They were separate galaxies* millions of light years away. And there were billions of them.

Humans had just learned that the universe was a very big place. Far larger than anyone had ever imagined.

Astronomers and cosmologists were thrilled. The human race, however, was beginning to feel a tad unimportant.

As if this finding wasn’t bad enough, Hubble added insult to injury in a paper published in 1929, announcing an even more shocking finding: the universe was expanding.** The idea that the cosmos was eternal, unchanging and reassuringly dull, was dead wrong.

Not only was our conception of the universe wrong, but it threw out another unsettling idea: it seemed to be flying apart. Most galaxies were moving away from each other, and those at the furthest reaches of the known universe were moving away at even higher velocities.

The universe was careening out of control.

There it was in a horrible, little nutshell: the universe was not all about us. In fact, it had nothing whatsoever to do with us. In less than a decade, we had gone from our smug, safe and comfy position in a galaxy that was the center of the universe to nothing more than tiny, insignificant life forms living on a laughably small planet that was no more than a speck of dust, helplessly hurtling through an incomprehensibly large universe that would either rip itself to shreds in the far future, eventually contract back on itself and end in a fiery explosion—or worse—just expand forever until it became a soul-annihilating frozen deadness in lonely, cold blackness.

The human psyche has never been the same since.

It’s probably a good thing that most humans are blissfully unaware of recent theories that say there may be billions of universes. Perhaps an infinite number.

Let’s just keep it our little secret for now.

 

*Even though he proved their existence, Hubble refused to call his discovery galaxies. This was due to the fact that he linked the term to a rival astronomer Harlow Shapley, who also worked atop Mt. Wilson and was kind of a dick to Hubble and his theory of separate galaxies outside ours. Shapley’s taunts may have been sour grapes caused by the fact that he had to work with the 60-inch telescope while Hubble got the sexy 100-inch.

**I know, I know. Georges Lemaître had come to the same conclusion, some say, two years earlier.

Einstein Was a Loser

truly lost in the cosmos dave stukas einstein was a loserThose aren’t my words about the great theoretical physicist. They’re his.

Unable to find work after graduating from the Zürich Polytechnic with a teaching diploma, he wrote to his sister and said that it would have been better had he never been born.

Can you imagine?

The job he eventually got as a lowly clerk at the patent office in Bern gave him what he really needed besides a paycheck: time to think. He put his time there to good use, indulging in his thought experiments, and writing the three papers that changed how we understand the universe. Even after these papers were published, they weren’t universally accepted. It took time. Many years, in fact.

The key thing was, he never gave up.

For those of you still waiting tables or tending bar or working retail, hang in there. If you have talent, the only other thing you need is a belief in yourself. And a little patience.

Bury Me on Pluto

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Interesting fact as the New Horizons probe approaches Pluto, it carries a payload I never would have guessed: some of the ashes of the man who discovered it: Clyde W. Tombaugh. Well done, Clyde. Much better than having your ashes spread over actor George Clooney, as I am planning with mine.