Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Helicopter Waterskiing!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and user Jonathunder
It appears a man in Australia was towing his 15 year old son around on waterskis.  The funny part, instead of a boat, he chose to use his helicopter!  Read the story here: http://www.ntnews.com.au/article/2011/03/29/220831_ntnews.html

Basically, some aviation authority in Australia is trying to get a hold of the video footage to see if they want to charge him with some sort of crime.

But helicopter skiing?  That is so full of win.  It really is outrageous.  And they let people do stupid things all the time on waterskis.  Why not let the kid ski behind a helicopter?

What other types of crazy things could be done behind a helicopter?  

Helicopter skateboarding?

I think the extreme nature of skateboarding would call for a more extreme form of propulsion.  How about airplane skateboarding?

Any other insane combinations of sports and machinery? 

Catapult soccer... for the more martially inclined.  Sure, every "player" has a catapult.  Sounds fun.

Rocket sledding for our northern friends?  Rocket sleds have already been thought of I see, with excellently horrific consequences.

If rocket sleds exist, there must of other really excellent ideas out there that crazy people have attempted.  Anyone know of other good stories?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

12 year old Physics Genius has Asperger's syndrome

When Jacob Barnett was 3 years old his parent brought him to visit Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University.  When the speaker at the planetarium asked the audience why the moons around Mars were potatoe shaped, not round.

Jacob raised his hand and asked "What are the masses of the moons?"

After the researcher explained the masses, Jacob answered the question, that the gravity of the moon was insufficient compared to the gravity of Mars to pull the moon into a spherical configuration.


And do you want to know the real head shaker is?  At age 3 Jacob was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder.  Later is his early life, he was struggling in school, withdrawing and basically having a very tough time.  His parents took him for his third psychological evaluation 2 years ago.

The psychologist recommended a radical change in his schooling.  Instead of making him stay in public school, bored to tears and frustrated, the psychologist recommended that Jacob should receive instruction at the proper level of his knowledge.  He needed to take PhD level classes in math, physics and astrophysics. 

Truly amazing.

Now Jacob is set to start doing research on cosmology and astrophysics.  He has his own questions.  He actually questions the big bang.  He claims to have done a calculation, using big bang nucleosynthesis, of how long it would take to create 2 percent of the universe's carbon.  He finds a value on the order of nanoseconds to microseconds. Much too fast.

I read that he has a youtube video explaining some things about the big bang and some of his own original ideas, but I was unable to find it.

While this is a truly great human interest story, what I find compelling is the Asperger's syndrome portion of the tale.  Let me be clear, he is not a savant.  He has Asperger's syndrome, a well defined medical syndrome. 

It may be well defined, but the whole autism spectrum is so poorly understood.  Many people have many misconceptions about autism in general.  Not every kid with Asperger's or autism is good at math or art or anything really.  Some of them will function very well in society.  Some of them may not ever get to live on their own.  Their brains are fundamentally different than a normal brain for some reason.  I am not even close to an expert on autism or Asperger's.  But I do hold the hope that we can come to better understand the autistic brain through science and medicine.  I really think if we can come to understand how the Autistic brain develops it will lead to great insight into normal brain function and cognitive neuroscience.

This post based on the article by Dan McFeely published in the IndyStar on March 20, 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Radiation Doses in Context

There is a lot of misinformation in the news about radiation, radiation dose, the biological effects of radiation and whether the American public should be worried.

So, over at the awesome webcomic, xkcd, Randall Munroe has posted an excellent graphic to help the world put the radiation doses quoted in the news in perspective called the Radiation Dose Chart.

Overall, Randall does an excellent job of conveying information in a simple, but accurate graphic.  Very useful!

So, Japan has you thinking about American nuclear?

Good, I say!  Personally, I think it is impossible for the US to consider increasing it's energy independence without nuclear power plants (fission, that is).  But, current nuclear will not solve our problems.  We need fusion and we need it in the next 30 years or so.  That is just my opinion.

At least the Japan disaster has raised some interesting issues and dialog about the future of American nuclear plants and safety.  Granted, the popular news agencies have been quite idiotic about it all, but I really think the American people take anything showing up on TV with a huge grain of salt these days.  Well, at least the younger generation does (40 and under... ugh, did I just call 40 year olds young...).

I have found another great article on Japan's nuclear disaster, but geared more toward the implications on American nuclear policy.  It is an interview with Rush Holt, a PhD in nuclear physics, a long time member of Congress and one of the few people to beat Watson at Jeopardy!  ZapperZ, over at Physics and Physicists, posted this and I thought it was a great article.

So, here it is: Rush Holt on Japan's Nuclear Crisis.

Please, let me know your comments, thoughts or questions.  Cheers!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan's Nuclear Power Plants - update

This is an update to my previous post concerning Japan's Nuclear Power Plants.  Hence the name, geez, I sure am clever!

Things seem to be turning for the worse.  Japan's Prime Minister has publicly stated things are "Very grave."  The severity of the crisis has been escalated from a 4 to a 5 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This means a "release of large quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure."  It is serious.  But let me be clear, there is absolutely no reason for American citizens to be worried for their own health from the disaster. 

I have a new resource everyone should read to stay on top of the whole disaster.  An excellent blog came to my attention from colleagues of mine from the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville [1].

Just like the previous post I made, everyone should read this: Plain English Nuclear.

It is exceptionally well documented and well written (albeit maybe a little long).

[1] note - I am not a nuclear engineer.  I do not have a stake in the nuclear power game.  I do interface with some nuclear engineering researchers, since my own research is in nuclear physics.  I just wanted to be clear about that, lest the few readers I have actually worry that I am not being as honest as possible.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Great Irish Physicists and Scientists

In honor of St. Patrick's Day (my favorite holiday), I thought I would compile a list of great Irish physicists and scientists.  I will focus on physicists but will include a few other scientists for good measure.  Greatness and therefore inclusion in this list will be measured by me simply by my opinion.  How's is that for scientific!
George FitzGerald

His claim to fame is the FitzGerald-Lorentz length contraction - the decrease of the length of an objection (along the direction of motion) with non-zero velocity relative to an observer.  This is an important result of Einstein's special theory of relativity.  Born in Dublin, he was a professor at Trinity College.

Stoney, from County Offaly, is the man who introduced both the concept and the word "electron" for the fundamental unit of electricity.  Also a professor at Trinity College.
Ernest Walton
Walton is credited to be the first person to (artificially) split an atom and therefore ushered in the nuclear age.  He was a student of Rutherford at the Cavendish lab at Cambridge. Went on to a professorship also at Trinity college.  He won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Sir John Douglas Cockcroft "for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles."  Currently the only Irishman to have won a Nobel Prize in science.

Frederick Trouton 
Trouton is most famous for Trouton's rule, which states that for various liquids, the entropy of vaporization is same: approximately 88 J/(K mol).  Trouton's rule is typically used to estimate the entropy of vaporization for liquids due to its simple form.  Trouton, born in Dublin, studied physics at Trinity College, where he also received his first academic appointment upon graduation.  He went on to a professorship at Imperial College London.

Sir George Stokes
James Hamilton
Hamilton, born in Sligo, was an early contributor to S-matrix theory.  He went on to make significant contribution to the understanding of the strong nuclear force, specifically in the area of meson-nucleon and meson-meson interactions.  Hamilton held appointments at Cambridge, University College London and the Neils Bohr Institute.

Sir George Stokes
Yes, he is that Stokes - from Navier-Stokes equations (fluid dynamics) and Stokes' Theorem (differential geometry).  Born in Sligo, Stokes was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge.  A contemporary of Lord Kelvin and James Maxwell, Stokes made significant contributions to a variety of fields, including mathematics, fluid dynamics, optics, spectroscopy and chemistry.

Thomson, born in Belfast, was knighted by Queen Victoria was later elevated to Baron Kelvin of Lorgs and is best known as Lord Kelvin. He made major contributions to astrophysics, fluid dynamics, naval engineering, but he is most known for his contributions to thermodynamics, specifically that there is a lower bound to temperature.  The kelvin scale of temperature is named after Thomson.
Aha!  And you thought he was Austrian.  Well he was, but he was also a naturalized citizen of Ireland.  Schrödinger, famous for his contributions to quantum mechanics (hence the Schrödinger equation) and is in fact considered one of the "fathers" of quantum mechanics.  Schrödinger became a naturalized citizen of Ireland during his 17 years in Dublin, during which he helped to establish the Institute for Advanced Studies and was the Director of the School of Theoretical Physics.

Yes, the father of modern chemistry was indeed Irish.  Boyle was born in Waterford County.  He is most famous for Boyle's Law, which says that for a closed system at constant temperature, the pressure is inversely proportional to the volume.  This is something that every high school kid taking chemistry is well aware of.

I am sure there are plenty of others.  Sorry to anyone I have missed!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan's Nuclear Power Plants

I truly cannot believe the amount of horrible information being, fiction and lies being spewed all over the news these days about Japan's nuclear power plants and what is happening there.
Location of Japanese Nuclear Power Plants

First, before you do anything else, please go read this article by Keith Yost in the The Tech (an MIT newspaper).

Ok, now you have the basics of what is actually going on. No need for ill-informed journalists with editors who don't know the difference between nutrients and neutrons.  No need for random idiots to show up on fluff news shows, like the Today Show, and tell the public that we all need to have potassium iodide tablets on hand.

So, the reactors survived the earthquake quite well.  But the tsunami and flooding is what really caused the trouble.  The flooding knocked out the generators which were pumping water to cool the reactor (and moderate the neutrons, if my reactor design understanding is correct).  No water, no cooling.  That is a problem.

If you want to keep up to speed on the actual facts of what is going on in Japan regarding their nuclear power plants, the best site I have seen which is updated a few times a day, is Information on the Japanese Earthquake and Reactors in that Region by the Nuclear Energy Institute.

So, stay informed.  Ask questions of people who know, not from people who are only concerned about ratings.  And remember, the nuclear reactors survived the earthquake.  A catastrophic earthquake.  A 9.0 earthquake. That is quite amazing in my opinion. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Walk Together, Rock Together

If we can walk together, why can't we rock together?

Stolen without remorse, but with credit, from Eric @ frominbetween.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Growing up and growing old

"What do you mean it's time, time for me to grow up? I don't want any part." -New Direction by Gorilla Biscuits

I have been reflecting a lot lately on what it means to grow up.  Asking myself the question of what it really means to grow up and what does my initial reluctance to even consider the question really say about me.  My life has changed a lot in the past 10 years - as one would expect.

A little background may be of interest.  10 years ago this past Valentines Day I met my wife.  At the time, I was singing in a punk band, playing shows, working 3 jobs, going to college, and living in the worst dump of a house.  We called it "The Tenement."  I could afford food and beer.  So what if we had to keep the house at 60 degrees in the winter.  Just go to the bar.

I hope that paints the picture.  I was more than a little rough around the edges.  I hung out with the best friends a guy could have, but most average people did not view us as the most welcoming of groups. 

Fast forward 10 years.  (why does that simultaneously seem like an extremely long time and only a blink of an eye...)

I am married with 2 kids. Have a PhD in physics.  Do research funded by the federal government.  If I am feeling incredibly crazy, I have 2 beers on a weekend evening.  Wow, pretty hardcore.  I typically, during the week, fall asleep on the couch reading by 11 pm. 

Oh how the mighty have fallen. 

I don't feel different.  I still boisterously sing along to all my favorite songs.  My kids look at me and wonder, but I figure they will be doing that for a long time, so I don't mind. 

But things are much different.  10 years ago, the biggest question was how much money could I spend that week on beer and CDs.  Did I have a test coming up?  Band practice tonight?  What time do I work tomorrow?

Now, Dad is in charge of dropping and picking kids up from daycare everyday.  Talking to my kids' teachers. Making dinner for the kids 5 days a week.  Does Sweet Little Hellion have enough diapers?  Does Little Berserker Spawn have his homework?  (BERSERKER RAGE!!!! He is 3 why does he have HOMEWORK!)  "No LBS, you cannot bring all your cars to school today.  Just like yesterday, the day before and every day since.  You cannot bring your cars to school" is the broken record that plays in my house every morning.

So, do I miss the old days?  Yeah, sure.  I miss the freedom.  I miss the fun, the friends, camaraderie. I miss the live music.  I miss shooting pool.  I miss meeting all the great people that make up the punk rock scene.  I miss singing on stage.  I miss writing music with my friends.

But I don't miss working 3 jobs to make ends meet on top of going to school.  I don't miss wondering if some idiot is going to start a fight tonight at the show.  I don't miss freezing my butt off in the cold of winter because we really cannot afford another month of a surprise $400 heating bill. 

But some things haven't changed all that much.  I still have my Beautiful Wife by my side (she wasn't my wife back then, but she is now!!!).  I still have my great family.  I still have the crazy, weird thoughts running through my brain.  I still have the same uncompromising intensity, drive and passion for music, doing things MY way, and making people think.  I just do it differently now.  I channel that drive and passion into science.  I have a job I actually like.  Instead of being goofy and funny with my buddies, I get to be goofy and funny for 2 kids who think I am the greatest thing in the whole world (unless it is Beautiful Wife's turn to be the greatest thing in the whole world).  Instead of singing lyrics, I just write them down. 

That's OK.  Things change.  Change is good.  I love being a Dad and if maybe I lose some freedom, I think that is a small price to pay for getting to hang out with two ultra-cute, mind-spinning kids every day of my life. 

"New stage, new ideas. You don't have to make excuses for us." -New Direction by Gorilla Biscuits

Fatherhood blogs? Part 2

Previously I had written about the lack blogs about fatherhood that I was following.  Well, it turns out that I must suck at the google or something.  Which is odd, because I find all sorts of fascinating and obscure things on the internet most days.  But I guess I am just too new to this whole blog thing.  So, I thought an update was due.

Here are some other great Dad blogs which I have been reading lately:

Dadcentric: A great blog with a lot of contributors, that I think has a great voice for the modern dad. 
Chopper Papa: A single dad who is into motorcycles and raising his kids right.  A blog about fatherhood, divorce, relationships, and other intellectual roadkill. Great blog.
Hopeless Cases: confessions of a [former stay-at-home] punk rock dad and all things in between. How can you argue with that?  Plus, he is an editor at a beer magazine.  Lets see... Punk rock - check, Beer - check, kids - check...  Well seems like the perfect match for me.

Again, if anyone has any blogs they would like to share, please feel free to let me know.  I would love to check them out.
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