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Tag: physics

by cloudier

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by cloudier

Nuclear Engineer:

Nuclear energy is one of, if not, the safest sources of energy available.

As such, I hate the yellow media that essentially makes up stories to get more ratings, and misinforms the general populace.

Every time I meet someone, I have to spend at least 30 mins explaining that the knowledge I gained in five years of university study, far out weighs the intern who misquoted an official and filled the rest of the article with factless speculation

You know what would happen if we just took our waste from nuclear reactors and dumped it, unprotected, into the ocean in deep water? The answer is absolutely nothing because salt water is very good at disapating radiation. The ocean water and sea floor surrounding the Bikini Atoll 1 year following the underwater and above ground nuclear tests were completely clear of radiation. Now the Atoll itself was horribly contaminated and what did they do about that, they bulldozed the contaminated top soil into the ocean, again the radiation disapated very quickly and caused no damage.

The biggest risk in nuclear material storage comes from keeping. It on land. If we were smart we would put it in solid containers and drop it into the marianas and forget about it forever, absolutely no worry about damage, especially considering the very small amount of waste produced by breeder and TRISO reactors, which both reuse waste material and produce a tiny amount of unusable waste.

A person’s food preferences, like his or her personality, are formed during the first few years of life, through a process of socialization. Babies innately prefer sweet tastes and reject bitter ones; toddlers can learn to enjoy hot and spicy food, bland health food, or fast food, depending on what the people around them eat.
When I suggested that IFF’s policy of secrecy and discretion was out of step with our mass-marketing, brand-conscious, self-promoting age, and that the company should put its own logo on the countless products that bear its flavors, instead of allowing other companies to enjoy the consumer loyalty and affection inspired by those flavors, Grainger politely disagreed, assuring me that such a thing would never be done. In the absence of public credit or acclaim, the small and secretive fraternity of flavor chemists praise one another’s work. By analyzing the flavor formula of a product, Grainger can often tell which of his counterparts at a rival firm devised it. Whenever he walks down a supermarket aisle, he takes a quiet pleasure in seeing the well-known foods that contain his flavors.

From the perspective of a computer scientist:

Even the tiniest things you do on a computer, the tiniest nudge of a mouse or a single key-press have so much computation involved (whether directly or indirectly) that it will make your head explode if you try to narrow it all down. As such, whenever I see coworkers at the office fanatically shake their mice and mash their keyboard when their outlook isn’t opening “fast enough” it makes me palmface. To give you an idea of what may be involved:

  • You move the mouse a tiny bit
  • The mouse senses movement via the laser/ball and sends the information to the USB port on your computer
  • The USB controller processes the signal and sends a signal to the CPU to stop what it’s doing and process the USB data that just came in
  • The computer saves all the things (ie. register data) it was currently doing in the CPU to return to after it has processed the data from the mouse
  • The OS has to go through various levels of abstraction from generic USB drivers to specific drivers for your crazy 20-button world of warcraft gaming mouse to actually even know that the cursor on the screen is supposed to move at all
  • The OS moves the cursor and then processes what should happen upon reaching its new position (i.e. have you hovered over a new window? should an action be taken?)
  • etc. etc. etc. etc.

Note that this list is incredibly simplified and each of those steps involves quite an assload of computation in itself. Computers certainly don’t run on magic, but it is amazing how much processing they do and a lot of people take it for granted.

More like, just because you got your PhD doesn’t mean you’re particularly clever or knowledgeable in any area that’s slightly outside your area of expertise. It’s an endurance thing, not a talent thing. I had an advisor whose dissertation was essentially based on drunk people having lowered inhibitions. Very “duh” stuff. Also, the BPA thing is very much like the asbestos scare or DDT scare—it becomes politically powerful and the real science falls by the wayside. DDT killed birds, but it saved and continues to save human lives by reducing mosquito populations. Asbestos is safe in certain applications, and when using certain types of asbestos it’s no more dangerous than fiberglass (which is more dangerous than people think, but still legal). If the World Trade Center towers had been finished before the asbestos scare, they’d still be upright and 100s of thousands of people might still be alive. Aluminum doesn’t cause alzheimers, but people still say it does. Lactic acid doesn’t cause a muscle to be sore, but people still say it does. Etc. Scientists are still people.
One thing physics has taught me is that unless you have a heat pump or something all electric heating is the same efficiency: virtually all the electrical energy is converted directly to heat. This is true whether you’re talking a space heater or a computer or a guitar amplifier. It’s funny, someone was asking online about “efficient” space heaters – they don’t exist.

One of the fun projects microbiology students do is to swab and culture a common surface (desk, counter, doorknob, etc) and find all the fun growies that are around us all the time, and that we rub our hands on.

So your hands are teeming with random diseases from god knows where. Then you go to the bathroom and put these hands near your urethra (open mucus membrane) and anus.

Washing your hands after you go really is to protect other people from your germs. Washing your hands before you go protects you from other people’s germs.

American culture is organized primarily around three edicts. The first is, roughly, “Let me do it myself.” This sets Americans apart from the many European countries I’ve experienced in which people are generally quite happy to let the government take care of things. The French, for example, see the government as the rough embodiment of the collective French brain – of course it would know best, as its the Frenchest thing around.

Americans, in stark contrast, are far more likely to see the government as the enemy, infringing upon their autonomy. This leads to a great deal of misunderstanding, particularly from people who are used to seeing solutions flowing from a centralized authority. Americans, rather, would prefer to leave matters such as charitable giving in the hands of the individual. [1] In 1995 (the most recent year for which data are available), Americans gave, per capita, three and a half times as much to causes and charities as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians. Similarly, in 1998, Americans were 15 percent more likely to volunteer their time than the Dutch, 21 percent more likely than the Swiss, and 32 percent more likely than the Germans.. This alone, of course, does not mean that any one side of culture is more “compassionate” than the other – rather, that such compassion is filtered through different culture attitudes.

Another good example of that contrast occurred when Bill Gates and Warren Buffet received a remarkably chilly reception when they exhorted German ultra-wealthy to give more of their money away. The reaction, with some justification, was primarily one of “why should I give more money to do things that the state, funded by high tax rates, is expected to take care of?” You can come down on this one of two ways – one is that it’s more efficient to leave such things to an organized central body, another is that such a system distances and de-humanizes people in needy situations, and that more efficient solutions are arrived at through direct, hands-on involvement by a multitude of private citizens. Again, my intent is not so much to pick one side as to explain the rather more poorly understood American approach.

Re: apply to all

by cloudier

This is a reply to Jeff’s post on how science is based on a belief system. I thought it would be too long to properly explain everything in a comment (in my typically long-winded manner at least) so I decided to write a blogpost.

Science is a human construct: it is a extensive framework of explanations (or hypotheses) of natural phenomena. This natural phenomena includes things like the fact that things fall when they are lifted into the air, the fact that if you burn certain materials in a flame they’ll emit coloured light. These things can occur without science or humans existing but science cannot exist without it. As you probably know after 4 years of junior high school science, these explanations are constructed through experimentation and analysis of the results of experimentation. If subsequent experiments prove these explanations wrong, new ones are formed or current explanations are modified. It’s alright if the current ones don’t explain everything! We can make a new or modified explanation that does. (That’s why scientists still get paid. You’re taught these so that maybe you can figure out what the better explanation is.)

(Personally I think the evidence-based nature of science puts it above religious beliefs, which are often based on the inaccurately translated words of random people from thousands of years ago and are subject to much more subjectivity.)

Basically the purpose of science is to use an explanation which is as simple as possible to explain everything.

This leads to Occam’s razor. (The following information is basically pulled from Wikipedia.) Occam’s razor is merely a principle or heuristic, although it is sometimes misleadingly called the ‘law of parsimony’, etc.. Scientists use Occam’s razor when picking between different hypotheses while they are planning an experiment: you should pick the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions between hypotheses of equal explaining power. If one theory is more complex but explains more, Occam’s razor recommends picking this theory over another theory that is simpler but explains less. You can’t use Occam’s razor to say the atomic theory doesn’t explain something properly therefore it is wrong forever. You can, however, say that the atomic theory is very incomplete because it doesn’t adequately explain several things. Again, this is fine; scientists paid to figure out why there are holes in our understanding of the universe.

And the “laws” of physics are rather arrogant. How can we possibly prove that the laws of physics apply in outer space? Most (if not all) the experiments regarding mechanics have been conducted on Earth. And I know for sure all mechanics experiments have been conducted within our solar system. Just because it APPEARS to work for the greater universe (ie bending of light due to gravity and what not), we can’t be sure it’s true, simply because we can’t test it.
The rest of the universe could have massively messed up physics, and gravity doesn’t exist, etc etc. How could we tell?

Why isn’t the bending of light due to gravity etc. enough evidence? How else would you explain it? Is it probable that the laws of physics are wildly different to those in the solar system? How would you explain this? Additionally, /invokes Occam’s razor/ would these explanations be more complex than the current explanations while explaining the same amount of results? Right now, there’s no reason to assume that the laws of physics don’t apply in outer space (and further complicate our models – Occam’s razor again!) since we can explain our observations of outer space using current models.

Nevertheless, I think that eventually people will shoot things into space that can test this stuff more accurately.

Conventional current. Do I have to say any more? I mean everyone knows that it’s the electrons from the “negative” terminal flowing towards the positive, as you can clearly see in a CRO. Yet plenty of calculations involve seeing it as electricity flowing from positive to negative. Including freaking voltage. And the force on a wire due to electromagnetic interactions. Everything’s so counterintuitive, and you need to think twice before going “so current flows THIS way in this question…”

Yeah I agree; it’s stupid to use these historical conventions.

And in the event of aliens approaching Earth, are we going to classify them as “alive”? What if they’re not made of cells, but are capable of moving and intelligent thought? Do we just call that super-slime and refuse to give them the title of being “alive”?
Though I guess apart from cells defining life, biology seems very Earth-based, and everything is relative to our own Earth. Not like we can go classifying organisms from anywhere else anyway :L

Lots of definitions in biology are nebulous. That doesn’t mean ‘cell’ is not a useful term though – saying cells is shorthand for an idea: some kind of membrane-bound bit of cytoplasm. The study of organisms using these badly defined words gave us things that we could use, like penicillin, Strepsils and vaccines. Using ill-defined terms also won’t prevent biologists from studying aliens that don’t fit into the definition of ‘life’, so I don’t think it should matter. (Personally I like the entropy definition of life: a system which decreases its own entropy at the expense of the entropy of its surroundings. Plus it sounds and looks cool! 8D)

I realise that I am repeating a lot of what Anonymous said, (by the way, I am not that person,) but I hope that clears up some stuff. (:

Edit: ‘Bending of light’ is evidence; ‘gravity’ is a hypothesis.


by cloudier

What if your brain knew something but couldn’t tell you? New research suggests that this is exactly what may be behind two rather curious conditions.

Most of us are familiar with people who are tune deaf – these are the people who not only cannot sing in tune but are also unaware of that fact. Individuals with severe forms of this condition, known as amusia, are unable to detect whether particular notes within a melody are out of tune or out of key. Many are also unable to recognise melodies without lyrics or to hold a tune in their heads, even if they have just heard it. These difficulties arise despite normal hearing and also a fairly normal ability to hear the difference between isolated tones. The defect lies in connecting this sensory input with some implicit knowledge of musical structure and contours. Amusia thus falls into a class of conditions known as agnosias, which are characterised by the lack of knowledge of some, often very specific, category of object.

Another, equally curious, example of this class of condition is prosopagnosia – the lack of knowledge of faces. People with severe prosopagnosia may be completely unable to recognise the faces of famous people, friends, loved ones, even their own faces. As with amusia, this reflects a high-level deficit – people with prosopagnosia have normal vision and the ability to distinguish specific facial features, gender, even facial emotions. Both conditions thus seem to reflect the inability to link incoming sensory information (a person’s face or a specific note) with stored, implicit knowledge about that category (the person’s identity or a specific melody or general rules of melodic stucture).

At least, that is how the defects manifest at a behavioural level. It had been predicted that this defect would also be apparent in the normally highly selective responses of brain areas that are specialised for processing music or faces. Yet recent experiments suggest that the underlying defect lies not in the responses of these specialised areas, which are still highly selective, but in how these responses are communicated to higher brain centres.

These companies commonly claim that skin absorbs their products when, in fact, collagen molecules are far too big for this to happen. Instead, they sit on the face’s surface until they’re rubbed off or washed away.

Not only are scientists saying these claims are codswallop, they’ve also voted them their biggest pet hate, in a survey by charity Sense About Science.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you are aboard a spaceship equipped with a magical engine capable of accelerating you to any arbitrarily high velocity. This is absolutely and utterly impossible, but it turns out it’ll be okay, for reasons you’ll see in a second.

Because you know your engine can push you faster than the speed of light, you have no fear of black holes. In the interest of scientific curiosity, you allow yourself to fall through the event horizon of one. And not just any black hole, but rather a carefully chosen one, one sufficiently massive that its event horizon lies quite far from its center. This is so you’ll have plenty of time between crossing the event horizon and approaching the region of insane gravitational gradient near the center to make your observations and escape again.

As you fall toward the black hole, you notice some things which strike you as highly unusual, but because you know your general relativity they do not shock or frighten you. First, the stars behind you — that is, in the direction that points away from the black hole — grow much brighter. The light from those stars, falling in toward the black hole, is being blue-shifted by the gravitation; light that was formerly too dim to see, in the deep infrared, is boosted to the point of visibility.

Simultaneously, the black patch of sky that is the event horizon seems to grow strangely. You know from basic geometry that, at this distance, the black hole should subtend about a half a degree of your view — it should, in other words, be about the same size as the full moon as seen from the surface of the Earth. Except it isn’t. In fact, it fills half your view. Half of the sky, from notional horizon to notional horizon, is pure, empty blackness. And all the other stars, nearly the whole sky full of stars, are crowded into the hemisphere that lies behind you.

As you continue to fall, the event horizon opens up beneath you, so you feel as if you’re descending into a featureless black bowl. Meanwhile, the stars become more and more crowded into a circular region of sky centered on the point immediately aft. The event horizon does not obscure the stars; you can watch a star just at the edge of the event horizon for as long as you like and you’ll never see it slip behind the black hole. Rather, the field of view through which you see the rest of the universe gets smaller and smaller, as if you’re experiencing tunnel-vision.

Finally, just before you’re about to cross the event horizon, you see the entire rest of the observable universe contract to a single, brilliant point immediately behind you. If you train your telescope on that point, you’ll see not only the light from all the stars and galaxies, but also a curious dim red glow. This is the cosmic microwave background, boosted to visibility by the intense gravitation of the black hole.

And then the point goes out. All at once, as if God turned off the switch.

You have crossed the event horizon of the black hole.

Focusing on the task at hand, knowing that you have limited time before you must fire up your magical spaceship engine and escape the black hole, you turn to your observations. Except you don’t see anything. No light is falling on any of your telescopes. The view out your windows is blacker than mere black; you are looking at non-existence. There is nothing to see, nothing to observe.

You know that somewhere ahead of you lies the singularity … or at least, whatever the universe deems fit to exist at the point where our mathematics fails. But you have no way of observing it. Your mission is a failure.

Disappointed, you decide to end your adventure. You attempt to turn your ship around, such that your magical engine is pointing toward the singularity and so you can thrust yourself away at whatever arbitrarily high velocity is necessary to escape the black hole’s hellish gravitation. But you are thwarted.

Your spaceship has sensitive instruments that are designed to detect the gradient of gravitation, so you can orient yourself. These instruments should point straight toward the singularity, allowing you to point your ship in the right direction to escape. Except the instruments are going haywire. They seem to indicate that the singularity lies all around you. In every direction, the gradient of gravitation increases. If you are to believe your instruments, you are at the point of lowest gravitation inside the event horizon, and every direction points “downhill” toward the center of the black hole. So any direction you thrust your spaceship will push you closer to the singularity and your death.

This is clearly nonsense. You cannot believe what your instruments are telling you. It must be a malfunction.

But it isn’t. It’s the absolute, literal truth. Inside the event horizon of a black hole, there is no way out. There are no directions of space that point away from the singularity. Due to the Lovecraftian curvature of spacetime within the event horizon, all the trajectories that would carry you away from the black hole now point into the past.

In fact, this is the definition of the event horizon. It’s the boundary separating points in space where there aretrajectories that point away from the black hole from points in space where there are none.

Your magical infinitely-accelerating engine is of no use to you … because you cannot find a direction in which to point it. The singularity is all around you, in every direction you look.

And it is getting closer.


by cloudier

It’s a common misconception that the microwaves in a microwave oven excite a natural resonance in water. The frequency of a microwave oven is well below any natural resonance in an isolated water molecule, and in liquid water those resonances are so smeared out that they’re barely noticeable anyway. It’s kind of like playing a violin under water—the strings won’t emit well-defined tones in water because the water impedes their vibrations. Similarly, water molecules don’t emit (or absorb) well-defined tones in liquid water because their clinging neighbors impede their vibrations.

“This is going to be a piece of cake,” Dellelo recalls thinking when the door closed behind him. Whereas many American supermax prisoners—and most P.O.W.s and hostages—have no idea when they might get out, he knew exactly how long he was going to be there. He drew a calendar on his pad of paper to start counting down the days. He would get a radio and a TV. He could read. No one was going to bother him. And, as his elaborate escape plan showed, he could be patient. “This is their sophisticated security?” he said to himself. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”

After a few months without regular social contact, however, his experience proved no different from that of the P.O.W.s or hostages, or the majority of isolated prisoners whom researchers have studied: he started to lose his mind. He talked to himself. He paced back and forth compulsively, shuffling along the same six-foot path for hours on end. Soon, he was having panic attacks, screaming for help. He hallucinated that the colors on the walls were changing. He became enraged by routine noises—the sound of doors opening as the guards made their hourly checks, the sounds of inmates in nearby cells. After a year or so, he was hearing voices on the television talking directly to him. He put the television under his bed, and rarely took it out again.

I think the biggest shock to me was realizing that my entire worldview had been wrong FOR DECADES. That was the most shocking. That the shitty treatment other people whined about was indeed true, and that just because I didn’t experience it firsthand did not mean it wasn’t a reality. I would think to myself, “Well, if they would just project a more positive attitude, people would respond with positive attention.” I was very naive about the depth of the beauty privilege until I experienced both sides. All those bullshit things I believed simply weren’t true. No matter how well put together I was, how well groomed, how charming and funny I tried to be, I could not overcome it.

It wasn’t losing my attractiveness that was the biggest mindfuck, being ignored or even being treated badly. It was the idea that I really didn’t understand how the world worked for so long. It was the idea that I believed you could overcome this enormous force around you everywhere you went — all day, every day — by simply being more cheerful and charming.

I am currently trying a new trick to estimate how much my perception of others and my behaviour are skewed by their looks.
The first part is easy: if the person is good-looking, try to picture him/her as very ugly in your head, and vice-versa. The results are usually quite surprising: you realize you would not even be talking to a person if she weren’t ‘hot’, let alone laugh at their jokes. Conversely, you discover how awesome a plain friend really is.
The second trick is a bit weird but works wonders: try to reverse the gender of the person. Think about that very hot girl you know, now she’s a boy. Bet you realized “But…that guy is a dick ! “. Yes, yes she would be if she were a boy. She only gets away with it because she’s super hot.
Well here you go, that’s what I do when I am bored. I also sometimes imagine all of my friends are celebrities, or have an amazing talent, and listen to what they have to say in that mindset. You pay so much more attention.
After all, the are the very best in the world at being themselves. I can spend an incredible night if I contemplate the chance I have, to be with them, and how unlikely it is in the grand scheme of things.

Tl;dr: For some people, especially people who introverted, socializing and getting with women, whether dating them or sleeping with them or whatever, is an acquired skill that does not come naturally. You’d be surprised how many men this is true of. When a woman rejects a guy’s, particularly an introvert’s, romantic advances, he stops giving a shit about her because he is wasting his energy trying to maintain a relationship that will not be satisfying to him. He was using his social skills to engage in a certain kind of relationship which is no longer possible.

tl;dr: tl;dr: Socialize not easy for all. Already have friends. Don’t want more. Not DTF? Seeya.

When you are trolled, you are given an extremely propagandized argument that very often contains a logical fallacy, or you’re given a premise which is founded on false grounds. In some way, basically, the argument is wrong. But unless you’ve tackled the argument before, you only have a fuzzy idea of what’s wrong with it. If you ignore it, you don’t really have to sit down and take the time to figure out what’s wrong with it. If you tackle it though, your mind constructs a line of reasoning to refute a certain type of bad argument. From then on, arguments which follow a similar structure are easily refuted.

Think about how this works in politics. We often dismiss people we don’t like by saying “well, they’re trolling.” Yeah, that works to make yourself feel better. But for every troll, there is a person who can believe that troll. There is a person out there who will read a troll and say “hey, this person makes a lot of sense.” You are not going to be able to make those people think the trolls are wrong simply by applying the “troll” label — one, it’s brute forcing your ethos, and two, it doesn’t say why the person is wrong. When you say “that guy’s a troll” you’re not addressing their inner question of “and I should believe you because?”, you’re just saying “that guy’s a troll, trust me, I know.” Except they have no reason to trust you, and they have no reason to believe you know.

But when you take the time to figure out what exactly is wrong with a troll’s proposition, you’ve prepared yourself. You have crystallized a particular line of reasoning. If you don’t think you do this already, you’re kidding yourself. Everyone does this in politics to some extent — there are reliable kinds of arguments we fall back on. They exist in metaphysical debates too, and if you don’t believe me witness how many people fall back on Dawkins’s arguments from The God Delusion. The strength of an argument is often independent of the person who makes it, and while it certainly makes you more persuasive to be an authority, in the arena of Being Right the best argument wins. When you crystallize arguments like this and crystallize them often you are expanding your armory of reliable arguments. In short, by doing this you develop cognitive shortcuts; heuristics, essentially.