Scientific Pet Peeves #2: To paraphrase Dr. Seuss…

…a fraction’s a fraction, no matter how small. It’s mildly irritating that many people seem unaware of this.

To fill the silent void of an empty house during this stint of unemployment, I’ve been rotating through the options that YouTube, NetFlix, Hulu, and various network sites have to offer. Nothing too heavy; it’s generally just background noise as I work on job applications, knit, write this blog, etc. You may recall that I’m a huge fan of game shows and cooking shows, and Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen fills both of those niches nicely.

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, four contestants each have $25,000 to bid on opportunities to sabotage their opponents. After each round of cooking, one contestant is eliminated until the last chef standing wins the amount of money he/she has remaining. To add a bit of dramatic flair (and likely a bit of a psychological element), the contestants are issued their auction money in the form of 250 hundred-dollar bills.

Naturally, many of the contestants are giddy at the opportunity to hold that amount of cash: “I’ve never held this much money before, not even a fraction of it!”

Um, yes, you have. Have you held a one dollar bill? Then you have held a fraction of 25,000 dollars: 1/25,000. A fraction is just any portion of a whole, regardless of how small. (It can even be more than the whole, if you’re willing to get into improper fractions.)

A child holding his or her first penny still has a fraction of 25,000 dollars, even if it’s a little trickier to convey. A penny is generally expressed as .01 of a dollar, so we could write the fraction as .01/25,000. However, fractions are more intuitive when there are no decimals within them; .5/2 is equivalent to 1/4, but the latter is much easier to picture. To get rid of the decimal in that case, we multiplied the top and the bottom by 2. (Recall that 2/2, 3/3, 42/42, etc., are all equal to one, so multiplying by them does not change the value of the fraction.) Since .01 x 100 = 1, we can multiply the top and bottom of .01/25,000 by 100 to get 1/2,500,000. It’s a small fraction, but a fraction nonetheless.

American Ninja Warrior returns, bringing Science in Suburbia with it

Unlike my previous extended absences (outlined here and here), this past one isn’t just due to work. (Partially, yes; exclusively, no.) It’s been rough going for several months now, and when I don’t feel like myself, I don’t see the science in everything. No science = no posts. Bit by bit I’ve been trying to get my proverbial ducks back in a row, but I haven’t been sure how to dip back into the blogosphere.

Enter this week’s season premiere of American Ninja Warrior, the inspiration for past posts and one of my favorite summer shows. Continue reading

NPH, scotch, and seventh-grade science…

…also, Science in Suburbia is not responsible if you start burning things after reading this post.

I don’t always watch television, but when I do, it’s usually a game show, a cooking show, Mythbusters, or anything with Neil Patrick Harris in it. So imagine my elation when I learned that Neil Patrick Harris and his better half, David Burtka, were judges on the latest Iron Chef. I’ve been known to enjoy a cocktail or two in my time (though that consumption has dropped precipitously as I’ve reached my later twenties), so I was only further excited to see that the secret ingredient was scotch. Continue reading

I am a Physics Ninja, Part Two

Many of the contestants on the American spinoff of Ninja Warrior are avid participants in parkour. To these traceurs (and  yes, I did need Google to learn that word), the whole world is an obstacle course. To nerds, the whole world is a science demonstration. This is the second in a series of posts that shows what happens when these two worlds collide.

2) Newton’s Second Law: The acceleration of an object is inversely proportional to the mass of the object and directly proportional to the net force applied to the object. Mathematically, this is expressed as Force=mass x acceleration. The less mass an object has, the easier it is to get it to speed up. If you push harder, you’ll speed the object up more.

This is probably the most intuitive of Newton’s Laws, and commentators have referred to it (if not by name) on both Wipeout and Ninja Warrior. Continue reading

I am a Physics Ninja, Part One

I’ve always loved TV shows that feature obstacle courses. As a child I watched Fun House, Finders Keepers, and several incarnations of Double Dare. (Even if I hadn’t mentioned my twenty-seventh birthday, this information would place my date of birth squarely in the mid-eighties.) In recent years I’ve gotten into Wipeout and Ninja Warrior. The former makes me laugh, the latter makes me get off my butt and do push-ups during commercials, and both, naturally, make me think about physics- especially Newton’s Laws of Motion.

1) Newton’s First Law: Objects at rest tend to stay at rest; objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

That’s the version you’ve always heard. A more specific version would go like this: Continue reading