Now I will be able to understand R2-D2!

This is one of those do-it-on-yourself experiments that makes you realize your brain is doing all sorts of processing you have no awareness of. First, listen to this audio clip: Sine Wave Speech. Listen to it until you either make out what is being said or conclude that you will not be able to. Now, go listen to this audio clip: Clear Speech. After you listen to it once, go back and listen to the first clip…. Think that it only worked because you heard the “decoded” audio? Go listen to this second piece of Sine Wave Speech… You can … Continue reading Now I will be able to understand R2-D2!

No Boom Yet

I had a few students express relief yesterday that the world did not end. Being the kill joy that I always am, I pointed out something that the media coverage did not seem to focus on – the risk of the world ending was only supposed to come when they started colliding particles at near-light speeds, which isn’t scheduled to happen for a few weeks still. So, if you are inclined that way, keep your panic hats on… For those interested in knowing a little more about the collider without jumping headfirst into the CERN documentation, I’d recommend checking out … Continue reading No Boom Yet

I’d like my change in swimsuits, saffron, and flour…

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has an entertaining and informative exploration of the monetary density of things, striving to answer the question of what, if anything, is worth its weight in gold. Starting by comparing the value per pound of basic US currency (where we learn that carrying nickles is about as weight-inefficient as carrying pennies) to comparing a variety of non-currency materials. The information is mostly presented in a number of cool graphs, but the source data is provided if you’re a data geek. Currency-wise, gold falls between $20 and $50 bills in terms of monetary density. My favorite graph … Continue reading I’d like my change in swimsuits, saffron, and flour…

Double Slit Mystery

Via A, this is a really good and entertaining video illustrating the Double Slit Experiment. It’s an animated segment of a larger film on quantum physics and discusses both the role of the double slit experiment in establishing wave-particle duality and introduces the impact of the act of observation on what is being observed. Recommended for either physics fans for the entertainment factor or for anyone who wants a low-impact way to learn a little bit about quantum physics.

Happy Anniversary, Again!

Today marks the third anniversary of the Mars rover Spirit landing safely, with Opportunity’s anniversary coming up in just a couple of weeks, and the accomplishments of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission in that time are astonishing. Not only have they kept two robots running on the surface of a distant planet years longer than planned, but they’ve continued to use them to collect valuable data. The rovers have recently had their programming updated again to allow new functionality, including new recognition algorithms based on what we’ve been able to learn about the surface of Mars so far and what … Continue reading Happy Anniversary, Again!

Math – yet again hard…

I always enjoy Brian Hayes’ Computing Science feature in American Scientist, but his thoughts on the real-world applicability of mathematical proof were both interestinig and laugh-out-loud funny, if you’re the sort of person to laugh out loud at angle trisection jokes and spoofs of Socratic dialog. The article also discusses the controversy over the imfamous computer-aided proof of the four-color theorem and the recent Hales proof of the Kepler conjecture. Hayes comes down on the side of computer assistance as a valid and valuable aid, not least as a tool for providing empirical data and aiding intuition. This is supported … Continue reading Math – yet again hard…

What’s in a Name?

There have been many, many stories about the demotion of Pluto, but I was interested in this story because it;s about a counter-vote by elementary school students to keep Pluto a planet. Which is very sweet, but it’s hard to tell from the story if the students really understood that this wasn’t just a decision about Pluto, with the vote slogans being things like “Pluto makes the world go round!” and “Boo Pluto!”. The vote was not pro- or anti-Pluto. Pluto is still there, after all. The question, after all, is what we mean when we say the word “planet”. … Continue reading What’s in a Name?

Convolutions in Informal Math

A mathematics instructor makes an attempt to explain why 0.999… = 1 in their blog, and tackles some of the classic explanations as well as many arguments in the comments [via Clicked]. What interested me most was that the writer was frustrated that people can’t accept the arguments, buit buries the real proof of this fact at the end. Instead of laying out from the start the question of what does it mean to say that a repeating decimal is equal to an integer, point out that it has to do with computing a limit, and going from there, the … Continue reading Convolutions in Informal Math

Soccer Spin

In a bit of timeliness, I share Why Goalies Hate the New World Cup Soccer Ball [via Clicked]. I have to admit that the physics behind how a ball spins is one of those things that has just never made intuitive sense to me, and it surprises me that people are able to actually think out the correct degree and speed of spin for a particular situation on the fly, when I struggle to do so with a pencil and paper. At least in hockey there is only one axis of rotation to worry about!