Archive for March, 2009

ZapperZ points to this outreach question from the APS:

How long would you have to yell to heat a cup of coffee?

It’s a neat question. The idea is that sound transfers energy. That energy will hit the coffee and dissipate as heat, so by yelling at a cup of coffee you could heat it up. Except of course that you can’t. The coffee will be losing heat as you yell at it, and will cool from hot to room-temperature in a couple hours. And yet, the APS site gives this answer:

In other words to heat up a quarter liter of coffee 50 C it would take: 1 year, 7 months, 26 days, 20 hours, 26 minutes and 40 seconds

How did they get that? The answer, of course, is that they used a spherical cow.


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A real stand-up scientist

I talked about how Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a performance that was close to a stand-up act. That isn’t quite what he was doing; he gave a very funny lecture about his experience with the Pluto controversy. There are, however, a few people around who do a science-fueled stand-up act.

Brian Malow is a San Francisco based comic who does “Full spectrum, high-energy comedy”. Here’s his best-of video:

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Having people vote on the names of missions seems to be the thing to do at NASA outreach.

There was the vote to name the next module on the International Space Sation, predictably bombed by Stephen Colbert. (Althought NASA may have given themselves a way out. I’d be more upset if I wasn’t so happy that Serenity was leading.)

Now there’s a vote to name the next Mars rover (via. PhysioProf). The names are a bit… flat. Vision. Pursuit. Journey. Yeah, yeah, they were sent in by schoolkids, but the final 9 were selected by NASA themselves; there must have been some good suggestions. Ask thousands of second through twelfth grades for suggesions; you’re going to get something better than “Vision”.

The best suggestion, though, was “Amelia”. Because there’s nothing at all problematic about naming a Mars mission after someone who vanished without a trace.

(Actually, you can see why they need thsee votes for names by looking at the NASA Mission Madness, where you vote for your favorite missions like X-43 and NB-52. Sigh.)

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Unintended consequences

Have you ever wanted to be reminded of exactly how old you are every week or so? Then sign up for the Light Cone RSS feed. It tells you every time a star enters your personal light-cone — the sphere enclosing every part of the universe you could potentially have influenced — making sure to give your age to the first decimal place.

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neiltysonoriginsa-fullsizeCheers, laughs, heckling — drunken heckling. That’s right, it’s a science lecture.

Deep in The Bell House, near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, the Secret Science Club meets. By “secret” and “club” they mean that several hundred people paid the cover and packed the converted warehouse to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Pluto neĆ© The Ninth Planet, now first among equals in the Kuiper Belt.

With so many scientists and technophiles in the audience it was entirely predictable that the computer and projector wouldn’t talk to each other for the first few minutes. It was also a given that during the Q&A people would ask for validation of crackpot theories of cosmology, or if the world will end in 2012. Everything else was unlike anything I’ve seen before.


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I just noticed that The Atom Smashers is available for instant play on Netflix, so if you have an account there you can watch it now. Independent Lens (the PBS series that picked them up) also has several episodes available on Hulu, but not that one. I’m not sure if there’s a mechanism to bug them to include this one, but if there is, please do.

People are also starting to upload clips of the U.N. panel on Battlestar Galactica. Here’s the best so far, with Edward James Olmos taking method acting to a new level, and saying something very good in the process.

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My review of The Atom Smashers has been reposted at Talking Science. They blog about a variety of science topics; well worth checking out.

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