Archive for ‘Science’

January 12, 2021

Cosmic Latte

Glazebrook

Cosmic latte is the average color of the universe, found by a team of astronomers from Johns Hopkins University. In 2001, Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry determined that the average color of the universe was a greenish white, but they soon corrected their analysis in a 2002 paper in which they reported that their survey of the light from over 200,000 galaxies averaged to a slightly beigeish white. The hex triplet value for cosmic latte is #FFF8E7.

As light from distant galaxies reaches the Earth, the average ‘color of the universe’ (as seen from Earth) tends towards pure white, due to the light coming from the stars when they were much younger and bluer.

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December 28, 2020

Squaring the Circle

Straightedge and compass construction

Squaring the circle is a problem proposed by ancient geometers. It is the challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge. The difficulty of the problem raised the question of whether specified axioms of Euclidean geometry concerning the existence of lines and circles implied the existence of such a square.

It had been known for decades that the construction would be impossible if π were transcendental (not an algebraic irrational number or the root of any polynomial with rational coefficients), which was first proved in 1882 by Lindemann–Weierstrass theorem. The expression ‘squaring the circle’ is sometimes used as a metaphor for trying to do the impossible.

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December 8, 2020

All Models Are Wrong

Ideal gas law

All models are wrong‘ is a common aphorism in statistics; it is often expanded as ‘All models are wrong, but some are useful.’ It is usually considered to be applicable to not only statistical models, but to scientific models generally. The aphorism recognizes that statistical or scientific models always fall short of the complexities of reality but can still be of use.

The aphorism is generally attributed to the statistician George Box, although the underlying concept predates Box’s writings. He offered the ‘ideal gas law’ as an example: ‘PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an ‘ideal’ gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.’

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November 30, 2020

Physics Envy

Mathematicism

The term physics envy is a phrase used to criticize modern writing and research of academics working in areas such as ‘softer sciences,’ liberal arts, business studies, and humanities. The term argues that writing and working practices in these disciplines have overused, confusing jargon and complicated mathematics to seem more ‘rigorous’ and more like mathematics-based subjects like physics.

The success of physics in ‘mathematicizing’ itself, particularly since Isaac Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica,’ is generally considered remarkable and often disproportionate compared to other areas of inquiry. ‘Physics envy’ refers to the envy (perceived or real) of scholars in other disciplines for the mathematical precision of fundamental concepts obtained by physicists.

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November 10, 2020

Hyperion

Hyperion

Hyperion [hahy-peer-ee-uhn] is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in California that was measured at 380.1 ft, which ranks it as the world’s tallest known living tree. Hyperion was discovered August 25, 2006, by naturalists Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor.

The tree was found in a remote area of Redwood National and State Parks purchased in 1978. The Park also houses the second tallest tree Helios, and the third tallest Icarus. Sillett estimates Hyperion to be 600 years old while others report it to be roughly 700–800 years old. The exact location of Hyperion is kept secret to protect the tree from damage. Researchers stated that woodpecker damage at the top may have prevented the tree from growing taller.

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October 10, 2020

Sharpiegate

Dorian

The Hurricane Dorian–Alabama controversy, also referred to as Sharpiegate, arose from a comment made by President Donald Trump on September 1, 2019, as Hurricane Dorian approached the U.S. mainland. Mentioning states that would likely be impacted by the storm, he incorrectly included Alabama, which by then was known not to be under threat from the storm.

After many residents of Alabama called the local weather bureau to ask about it, the bureau issued a reassurance that Alabama was not expected to be hit by the storm. Over the following week, Trump repeatedly insisted his comment had been correct. On September 4, he showed reporters a weather map which had been altered with a Sharpie marker to show the hurricane’s track threatening Alabama.

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September 27, 2020

Mariko Aoki Phenomenon

Bathroom reading

The Mariko Aoki phenomenon is a Japanese expression referring to an urge to defecate that is suddenly felt after entering bookstores. The phenomenon’s name derives from the name of the woman who mentioned the phenomenon in a magazine article in 1985.

According to Japanese social psychologist Shozo Shibuya, the specific causes that trigger a defecation urge in bookstores are not yet clearly understood, and it is sometimes discussed as one type of urban myth or a mild form of mass psychogenic illness.

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September 11, 2020

Mnemonic

Elaborative encoding

mnemonic [ni-mon-ik] (the first ‘m’ is not pronounced) device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory.

Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding (connecting concepts you want to remember to preexisting knowledge visually, spatially, semantically or acoustically) and other retrieval cues as tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval. Mnemonics aid original information in becoming associated with something more accessible or meaningful—which, in turn, provides better retention of the information.

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September 1, 2020

Windshield Phenomenon

Decline in insect populations

The windshield phenomenon is a recent observation that fewer dead insects accumulate on the windshields of people’s cars. It has been attributed to a global decline in insect populations caused by human activity.

As early as the 2000s, it became a commonplace observation among drivers that windscreens after a long drive no longer had to be cleaned of a myriad of insects. In 2016, Canadian naturalist John Acorn noted that the phenomenon had recently become a meme but questioned whether it is ‘reasonable to assume that windshields can tell us something about the overall numbers of insects’ and also that ‘humans are notoriously bad at detecting trends.’

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August 2, 2020

Dead Birds

Dani

Dead Birds is a 1963 American documentary film by American anthropologist Robert Gardner (1925-2014) about the ritual warfare cycle of the Dugum Dani tribe in New Guinea. The film presents footage of battles between the Willihiman-Wallalua clan and the Wittaia clan with scenes of the funeral of a small boy killed by a raiding party, the women’s work that goes on while battles continue, and the wait for enemy to appear.

The film’s theme is the encounter that all people must have with death, as told in a Dugum Dani myth of the origins of death that bookends the film. The film uses a nonlinear narrative structure of parallel or braided narrative that traces three individuals through a season of three deaths and one near-death as relayed by an expository voiceover that describes scenes and the thoughts of the film’s protagonists.

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June 9, 2020

Guano

Guano Islands Act

Guano [gwah-noh] is the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats. As a manure, guano is a highly effective fertilizer due to its exceptionally high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium: key nutrients essential for plant growth. Guano was also, to a lesser extent, sought for the production of gunpowder and other explosive materials.

The 19th-century guano trade played a pivotal role in the development of modern input-intensive farming, but its demand began to decline after the discovery of the Haber–Bosch process of nitrogen fixing led to the production of synthetic fertilizers. The demand for guano spurred the human colonization of remote bird islands in many parts of the world, resulting in some of the first examples of U.S. colonialism and the expansion of the British Empire.

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May 29, 2020

South Atlantic Anomaly

Van Allen radiation belt

The South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) is an area where the Earth’s inner Van Allen radiation belt (a protective zone of energetic charged particles originating from the solar wind that are captured by Earth’s magnetic field) comes closest to the Earth’s surface, dipping down to an altitude of 120 miles. This leads to an increased flux of energetic particles in this region and exposes orbiting satellites to higher-than-usual levels of radiation.

The effect is caused by the non-concentricity of the Earth and its magnetic dipole. The SAA is the near-Earth region where the Earth’s magnetic field is weakest relative to an idealized Earth-centered dipole field.

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