Friday, November 6, 2009

Power to the People (FPOTW)

Incandescent light bulbs are very inefficient. Use a google search engine to find out just how inefficient.
Compact florescent bulbs are much more efficient in the percentage of watts producing visible light.
This information is also on google. "how to use google" is a good place to start. =)

---- Start Fermi Problem ----

Estimate how many incandescent 100 Watt light bulbs there are in the United States.

Estimate how much power is used to power the light bulbs.

Estimate how much power is saved by switching all the light bulbs to equivalent lumen compact florescent.

Assume that the old light bulbs are thrown away. How much landfill space is taken up if the bulbs are not broken?

How about if the bulbs are broken?

What is the mass of the broken bulbs?

Some Physics: What is the weight of the broken bulbs compared to the weight of the unbroken bulbs? Remember, I said "weight" here.

---- End Fermi Problem ----

Estimate how many Poles it takes to screw in all those light bulbs. (old POLEitically incorrect ethnic joke here)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Project Tuva, Feynman Lectures online!

On nearly every physicists bookshelf you will find three particular books. These books may be in hard cover, or they may be in soft cover. Sometimes they are published with an additional book in order to sell the set to a new generation of physicists. This set of books are collectively known as the red books, the physics bible, or The Books.

They are The Feynman Lectures on Physics.

It is not all that uncommon to hear students quote from the Feynman Lectures in biblical fashon, quoting book and verse:

"Oh, you want to know how I did that least action problem? Check out Feynman, Book 2, 19-5."

Students use the red books to study for qualifiers, or for their GRE's (and perhaps that is a mistake).
Other physicists make a once a decade pilgrimage to spend a significant portion of their free time reviewing the red books cover to cover.

Why this devotion? Because the Feynman Lectures on Physics is perhaps one of the greatest collection of books on general physics that exists!

The classes the lectures were based on were by all accounts a nightmare for most of the regularly admitted students. The courses were an experiment, and a work in progress. However, the classroom where the lectures were given was always full, as in standing room only. Most of those in the class were grad students or other professors auditing the lectures. You see, the lectures are best appreciated after one has already made it through the gauntlet of an undergraduate physics curricula. The books are not good for learning physics for the first time, but are wonderful to come back to and font of wonderful insight and nuggets of wisdom.

Ahh the internet! What a wonderful resource! The generation before widespread use of the web were lucky indeed if they ever had a chance to view a Feynman lecture. It was a special treat when someone would bring a reel to reel or a VHS of a Feynman lecture. I heard tales from my teachers of the beer parties where someone would produce a beat up and well played VHS or Beta of a Feynman Lecture.

Now days, it is rather easy to "bittorrent" a copy of almost all of Feynman's works, be it written or in Audio or Video.
The ease of getting these gems on the net in no way detracts from their power. Feynman had a powerful way of presenting ideas, and in presenting physics. Perhaps only Carl Sagan rivaled Feynman in clarity and insight. But Feynman was first, and as much as I like Sagan, in my opinion was the better at "explaining things."

Bill Gates recently announced his Project Tuva. He rhapsodizes on his goal of bringing science and physics to the masses by making Feynman's Messenger Lectures freely available to the masses.

These lectures have long been available through sharing sites, or torrents, but it is nice to be able to view a legit copy, with captions!

I highly recommend everyone to watch these lectures. They explain the place of science and physics in the world. Feynman goes into detail on what science cannot explain, and what it excels at explaining. And how scientists think about problems.
They are a template for critical thinking. They are scientific literacy embodied.


Some Google Fu will tell you why the website is named Project Tuva. For a more interesting explanation, read Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I see dumb people # 1. The physics of Homeopathy

Sometimes I come across (or someone sends me) an example of stupidity so mind-shattering,  I am left speechless.

For your enjoyment I present to you the Physics of Homeopathy.