Speaking of Science

The Scienticity Blog

Archive for March, 2010


See a Scientist Being Scientific

Posted by jns on March 27, 2010

Today in my email I got a link to a video* with this startling title:

NASA Oceanographer Uses Science to Study the Sea

Right there, in a video under two minutes in length, we were being offered the chance to see an actual scientist using science! Not only that, it was an oceanographer using science to study the ocean, if you can imagine such a thing!

But now that I’ve mocked the title–but hardly more than it deserved for being so state-the-obvious ridiculous–we should perhaps look at the video.

Said video is a rather nice, short biography of one Callie Hall, who works at the Stennis Space Center (near the south coast of Mississippi; map). NASA posted it as part of their observation of National Women’s History Month.

[YouTube link for those who don't see the embedded player.]

p.s. I don’t want to be tetchy, but why is she using that reasonably precise analytical balance to weigh that off-the-shelf bottle of whatever?
* From a NASA mailing list this time rather than from some nefarious spammer.


Perpetually Park

Posted by jns on March 5, 2010

Bob Park, in his “What’s New” this week (5 March 2010) had two items on perpetual-motion machines, an idea, like creationism, that seems not to go away but just to get repackaged on a regular basis, said new packaging bagging lots of new, credulous believers–rather like creationism.

I particularly enjoyed ‘it’s not a perpetual motion machine, but it’s “so efficient that it keeps on producing power when it’s unhooked from an outside power source.”‘ Wow.

As for the case law on perpetual motion machines, you’d think that the second law of thermodynamics might be enough but apparently reality is not a form of legal truth.

The town of Odessa, MO, population 4,818, located somewhere east of Kansas City, needs jobs. So when a company, Manna of Utah, said it wanted to build a plant there employing 3000 people, folks cheered. All the town had to do was provide $90 million in revenue bonds and a site. The company even flew local officials to Florida for a demonstration of the “world-changing” technology that would be built there. It’s a home generator developed by Maglev Energy in Largo, Florida, which is leasing the technology to Manna of Utah. State Representative Mike McGhee (R-Odessa) said the product would be the “equivalent of the light bulb.” Steve Everly of the Kansas City Star thought it might be a good idea to check with scientists and engineers, including Bob Park. The mayor of Odessa, Tony Bamvakais, who went on the trip to Florida, says it’s not a perpetual motion machine, but it’s “so efficient that it keeps on producing power when it’s unhooked from an outside power source.”

When Joseph Newman was refused a patent for his Energy Machine he sued the US patent office. Legendary US District Court Judge Robert Penfield Jackson ordered Newman to turn his machine over to the National Bureau of Standards for testing. It was found to be a motor/generator of a design vastly inferior to those on the market. The case, Newman v. Quigg (Quigg was the patent Commissioner) is cited as case-law giving the patent office authority to reject perpetual-motion claims out of hand. The only effect is that they are no longer called “perpetual motion machines.” They are called over-unity devices, or zero-point-energy machines. Coverage of the Joe Newman case in Wikipedia is terrible. It’s a remarkably useful encyclopedia, but you need to verify.


95 – 21 = ?

Posted by jns on March 3, 2010

This is a fine development in UK news for people LGBTness, but my interest in this excerpt is in the second sentence/paragraph:

The House of Lords voted to lift the ban on civil partnership ceremonies in churches and other religious premises last night.

Peers voted by 95 to 21 – a majority of 74 – to lift the ban which previously prevented gays and lesbians from getting “married” in such places.

[from Mary Bowers, "Peers vote for church civil partnership ceremonies", TimesOnline [UK], 3 March 2010.]

Is it just me or is it odd to have the newspaper doing subtraction for us?

Maybe it’s my internal physicist, maybe it’s because I like numbers, or maybe it’s just my personality as a secret stair-counter, but whenever I read or hear an assertion with numbers, some sort of calculation usually happens in my head. I don’t think I’m alone on this.

“Hmm,” I think, “95 to 21, that’s a majority of 74 out of 116 peers, close to a 75% majority.” This usually gets one more refinement — 74% if it were a 100, but it’s 16% more than 100 so subtract about 15% of 74 from 74 gives about 63 — so let’s say about 63%. Not a bad majority.

Did I learn somewhere along the way always to calculate percentages or fractions when I’m given two numbers as input?

Okay, so I realize that quite a few people feel uncomfortable around fractions and percentages, although I’d like them not to. But isn’t addition and subtraction pretty much within the comfort level of most readers of that newspaper article?

So that leaves me trying to understand why the author (or, perhaps, editors), felt it necessary to subtract 21 from 95 in print.