Category Archives: Science

Sideband #62: Quaternions

Folded into the mixed baklava of my 2018, was a special mathematical bit of honey. With the help of some excellent YouTube videos, the light bulb finally went on for me, and I could see quaternions. Judging by online comments I’ve read, I wasn’t alone in the dark.

There does seem a conceptual stumbling block (I tripped, anyway), but once that’s cleared up, quaternions turn out to be pretty easy to use. Which is cool, because they are very useful if you want to rotate some points in 3D space (a need I’m sure many of have experienced over the years).

The stumbling block has to do with quaternions having not one, not two, but three distinct “imaginary” numbers.

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2018: Hawaii Gets Bigger!

The Goddess Pele, by Arthur Johnsen

The Goddess Pele
by Arthur Johnsen

The previous year was an interesting one for me. Last July marked five years of retirement, which has been great, but part of me misses the high information content and challenges work threw at me daily. I’ve tried to keep busy with my own pursuits, one of which was a temporary obsession with the Kīlauea volcano on the Big Island, Hawai‘i.

I wrote about this back in August, just after the (unprecedented) activity subsided. At the time, no one knew if the volcano was just taking a breath, or if the lava flow was really over. At this point we know it was over; there has been no activity since.

For two-and-a-half months, though, it was an impressive display of the undeniable power of Mother Earth and, in particular, her fiery daughter Pele.

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Ultima Thule!

Congrats to NASA and the New Horizons team! Their brave space robot reached (the planet) Pluto, delivered awesome goods, and went on to explore a much more distant Kuiper belt object: 2014 MU69 (fondly nicknamed Ultima Thule).

It made the journey safely and sped past its destination (at 14 kilometers per second!) on New Year’s Day. We’ve gotten the first close pictures back of the most distant object ever seen by us denizens of the third big rock out.

It looks like a snowman. A red snowman.

Or maybe a fossilized Star Wars robot, MU-69.

In any event, it’s darling and awesome! What a nice little present to start off the new year.  It’ll only get better as more data rolls in (over the next two years).

Just consider that this is what we had a day ago:

Shout out to Emily Lakdawalla and her great blog at Planetary Society. In addition to NASA itself, if you’re at all interested in this stuff, she’s one to follow for sure!


Got Time?

For the last week or so, on a physics blog I follow, I’ve been part of a debate about the nature of time. It’s been interesting and fun, but the conversation has reached that point where folks are mainly maintaining their positions, and it seems that the matter has stalled.

Some of the on-going assertions bemused me so much, that I was about to tender one more rebuttal comment… When I remembered what a wiser person, “back in the day” (before the web), said about online debates: State your view. Support it further if you need to address points raised. But once you’ve covered it well enough, just stop. After that, you’re just wasting your time; it’s rare that anyone changes their mind on the internet. Including yours.

Fair enough. I can natter on about it to myself on my own blog, though…

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Kilauea, Hawaii, USA: Wow!

Infamous Fissure #8!

I’ve been semi-obsessed the last few weeks by the Kīlauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Back in early May there was a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in the volcanic system, and then things got interesting (in the curse sense). By late May a fissure in the east rift zone was emitting lava at a rate (100 cubic meters per second) not recorded in our history of recording things like that.

All that lava came from a reservoir — the magma chamber — in the volcano, so Kīlauea began experiencing “collapse events” as the summit subsided into the space left by the departed magma. These collapse events resulted in magnitude 5.3 (or so) earthquakes roughly every 32 hours (plus or minus a lot).

And a bunch of us interested parties were online chatting, watching, and waiting for the next collapse event!

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The Fermi Paradox

Where are all the aliens?

I’ve mentioned the Fermi Paradox here quite a number of times, but I’ve never made it the main topic of a post. Lately I’m becoming more and more convinced our world is facing a Great Filter, and that we may very well be seeing one answer to Mr. Fermi’s interesting paradox.

Which is a response to the Drake Equation, which I have made the topic of a post.

Essentially, the Drake Equation attempts to estimate the number of intelligent space-faring species in a galaxy and, by most accounts, comes up with a number noticeably larger than one. The Fermi Paradox says: Okay Mr. Drake… if so… where are all the aliens?

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Five-Second Rule

deplorable

Well that didn’t take long!

Multiple news sources have reported on a two-year microbiology study out of Rutgers University (Is the five-second rule real?). The upshot is: Yes, of course it’s not real.

What strikes me is that anyone actually thought it was real. We (meaning pretty much everyone I ever associated with) always understood it as a bit of obvious irony, a self-serving excuse for eating fallen food. If asked, I would have said one would have to be a real idiot to think it was real.

Well,… can’t say I’m surprised.

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Improbable

xkcd-1732-fragmentOn the one hand, global climate change is likely to make things very — strictly in the curse sense — “interesting” for the human race as this millennium progresses. The effects already are obvious, visual, striking, and — one would think — undeniable.

Randall Munroe, of xkcd, has created another of his brilliant graphics, this one showing the history of climate change. It’s well-worth checking out (do it now). It makes the point in a visually striking, and — one would think — undeniable way.

On the other hand, it’s very — in the usual sense — “interesting” that we’re here at all.

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Hunting Tesseracti

tesseract-00If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time wondering what is the deal with tesseracts? Just exactly what the heck is a “four-dimension cube” anyway? No doubt you’ve stared curiously at one of those 2D images (like the one here) that fakes a 3D image of an attempt to render a 4D tesseract.

Recently I spent a bunch of wetware CPU cycles, and made lots of diagrams, trying to wrap my mind around the idea of a tesseract. I think I made some progress. It was an interesting diversion, and at least I think I understand that image now!

FWIW, here’s a post about what I came up with…

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Physics: Big Strike Out!

diphoton bumpTo the dismay of physics geeks everywhere, theoretical particle physics struck out at the plate this year. Three swings, three misses. (Well, maybe one wasn’t really a swing. More a taken ball the umpire called a strike.) It was a crushing disappointment for those of us hoping for a rule-change to the game.

On the other hand, cosmology geeks got three recent home runs, so there was victory (with more coming!) for those who peer at the big and distant. On the other other hand, none of those were game-changers either. (They were just, you know, awesome.)

Since I follow both physics and cosmology, win some, lose some.

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