Friday, February 5, 2010

The Printed Word (FPOTW)

Newspapers have been the mass media for a few hundred years. In this day and age of instant CNN coverage, web pages and blogs, people have predicted the end of the newspaper.
However, the printed word still has great power. Power to change things for the better, or to act as fuel for destruction and death.
Lets examine the Fermi of the newspaper.

---- Start Fermi Problem ----

How many newspapers are printed each day in the United States?

Estimate how many trees are used to make the paper, per day.

Estimate how much ink is used in printing these papers each day.

Make the same estimates for the world each day, each year.

A few years back, 12 (I believe) caricatures of Mohammad were printed in various newspapers around the world.

Einstein != Mohammad of course, and I do not risk a Fatwa for posting a caricature of Einstein that is for sure.

Estimate how much ink was used to print these caricatures.

How many people died as a result of the protest riots? (Time to practice your google-fu)

Compare the volume of blood of the dead to the volume of ink used to print the caricatures.

---- End Fermi Problem ----

I guess the power of caricature is greater than that of the printed word.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fun back of the envelope!

Sometimes I run across a blog that just makes me smile!

Rhett Allain over at Science Blogs posted on his blog, Dot Physics, a back of the envelope solution on the power source of a light-saber.

I love this type of back of the envelope problem, as readers of my blog know well.

More... MORE! =)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Earning a grade?

I am constantly astounded by the contortions some students will go through in an attempt to improve their grades. These contortions are usually more strenuous and less likely to work than simply studying harder.


For instance, and most recently, a friend of mine who is a Teaching Assistant was lamenting the fact that a student was constantly emailing him about a grade given him last semester.

"Man, this guy keeps emailing me about grades. And this is from a class that he took last semester!" My friend states one day over coffee.

"Really? What did he get?" I reply.
"A C+. He really did not deserve even that, and I gave him and the class a bit of slack."

"And he is still bitching? What does he want?"

"He says he would like to meet me and discuss his grade, and that he needs at least a B+ to keep his GPA up."

"Oh..." I smirk, "let me guess... he is either a Bio-Chem major, or pre-med?"

"I am not sure, let me check... yes! How did you know?"

I just laugh. It seems that the worst offenders of the "I deserve to get a good grade in your class even though I did not study" type students are the pre-med or bio-chem (read pre-med here as well) majors.
All of these students are required to take undergraduate physics, and many feel it is a waste of their time.

Many of the complainers are shameless in their whining for higher grades. They do not even bother with claiming the death of their grandmothers... no... they come right out with statements like: "I need an A- in your class or I will not get into medical school. What can you do to get me a higher grade?"
They nit pick on missing one point in a 15 point quiz, when the net effect of that one point is negligible on their grade.

They do not seem to respond well to replies such as: "I cannot do anything for you except give you a list of good books to study, and the name of a good tutor."

The usual response to this is more whining and threats, such as how they pay my salary and that they have better things to do than waste time with a stupid subject such as physics.
They seem to think that insulting a subject I love, and a vocation I have chosen will make me more sympathetic?
They threaten to go over my head to the instructor. This is funny because the instructors, after years of dealing with students likes this, are even less sympathetic than the TA's.

I once told one very persistent and whiny student I could help her with her grade if she promised to give me 30% of her future gross earnings after (if) she graduated medical school.

"That's unethical!" she complains.
"And asking me to give you a grade you do not deserve is ethical?" I reply.

She goes storming off to the instructor to tattle on me. The instructors prompt reply? "The going rate from professors is 45%, so you should have taken him up on the offer."

I defend my acerbic remarks on whining students by asking a simple question.
Do you, as a possible future patient of one of these students, really want a dishonest cheating person treating you for an illness? If they do not work hard enough, or are not smart enough to get the grades they need for medical school, is it in the public best interest to graduate them in the first place?

Well, as for contortions, perhaps they should be careful, for this is the "end" result.