SiS (Super!) Quickie: Happy Birthday, Erwin Schrödinger!

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who is best known (in popular culture, at least) for his cat-based thought experiment.

The cover of one of my favorite college textbooks paid homage to this experiment: the front cover featured a drawing of a living cat, while the back cover featured a drawing of the same cat after it…let’s pretend it just fell asleep.

Who says physicists don’t have a sense of humor?


SiS Quickie: Aged to Perfection

A “perfect” number is one whose factors (other than itself) add up itself. (Remember that the factors of a number are the numbers that it is divisible by.) Six is perfect: its factors are one, two, and three, which add up to six.

The next perfect number after six is 28.

Numbers can be perfect. People can’t be, but some definitely come closer than others.

So I’d like to wish a happy 28th birthday to the SigFig.

SiS Quickie: In space, no one can hear you scream…

…and in an empty house, no one can hear you sing.

Since I work from home, I have the house to myself a lot. Between living with my folks, in a dorm, with roommates/upstairs and downstairs neighbors, and then with my folks again for a little while, this is really the first time in my life that this has been the case. What do I do with my newfound solitude?

I sing. Loudly and frequently.

I love singing and I HATE silence, which means I would hate being in outer space, where it’s impossible for sound waves to travel. (There’s also the part where I wouldn’t be able to breathe and my head would explode.)

Sound waves are mechanical waves. When a mechanical wave travels, particles have to move: the molecules in a rope move when you wave it back and forth, the water molecules in a pond move when you drop a stone and send ripples through it, and the molecules in air move when you make sounds. No medium to travel through = no molecules to move = no mechanical wave.

There are no such restrictions on light and heat, which are electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves consist of moving electric and magnetic fields- no molecules required, no medium required. (Remember the ether that doesn’t actually exist?)

Light and heat from the sun can reach us through the vacuum of space because they are electromagnetic waves. Any scifi movie that depicts loud battles in space is scientifically inaccurate; there’s no medium for the sound waves to travel through. (Though if you expect scientific accuracy from your scifi movies, I pity you.)

Physics teacher protip: There is some variant of “Could we hear the moon explode? Explain.” on EVERY SINGLE introductory waves test. Be prepared.

SiS Quickie: Repeatability is Delicious…

…and soggy French toast is not.

Like fried rice, French toast is a dish that the SigFig and I both enjoy. We had a lot of eggs that we needed to use up, so I told him I’d make a batch. He asked me if I knew how. I made French toast once or twice back in college.

So of course I said yes.

The result was an unmitigated disaster.

The lesson to be learned here is that good food, like good science, must be repeatable. You can’t run an experiment once, get the results you want, and say that you’re done. You also can’t run an experiment several times, get drastically different results every time, and cherry-pick which data you draw your conclusions from. A scientific experiment has to be run several times, producing consistent results, in order for those results to be valid. The fact that I’ve made successful French toast once or twice does not, in fact, mean that I “know” how to make it. I’ll have to try again a few times- and succeed in all of those attempts- before I can reasonably make that claim.

All that being said, I’d still like to think that the results had less to do with my (lack of) culinary ability and more to do with the fact that the bread wasn’t thick enough.

SiS (Super!) Quickie: Happy Birthday, Darwin!

Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species, was born 204 years ago today.

Darwin accomplished great things and helped pave the way for much of modern biology, but whenever I think about him I always think about the fact that he tried to ride a tortoise. I think there’s no better way to pay tribute to him than to follow in his footsteps.

SiS Quickie: There are so many ways to play Dominion

As you may recall from this post, I like figuring out how many options I have. This comes up a lot in one of my primary interests besides science: tabletop gaming.

The significant figure in my life (hereafter referred to as the SigFig) and I played a round of Dominion tonight. Each game of Dominion is played with 10 types of kingdom card, and the base set has 25 types to choose from. Let’s do our calculation.

25!/((25-10)!*10!) = 3,268,760

If the SigFig and I played 10 games a day, we’d have to play every day for over 895 and a half years to try every possible combination.
And that’s just the base game. Don’t even get me started on the expansions.

SiS Quickie: I “Less Than Three” Science

Part of my website job involves screening funny Facebook posts that have been submitted by users. One of these posts featured a girl who declared that “my boyfriend <<<<<<<< your boyfriend!!!!!!”; a resulting comment asked her why she thought so little of her boyfriend.

Remember, kids, “<” means “less than” and “>” means “greater than”: the alligator eats the bigger number first. Even after years of math education, I still haven’t come up with a better way to remember which means which.