Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The God Delusion Debate

May 12, 2010

I promise I’m working on a comic, but right now I’m totally engrossed by this:

http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/video/35-full-length/164-the-dawkins-lennox-debate;

Clearly, neither side had as much time as they would have liked, even though the debate was over an hour and a half.  If you have an opinion, you can comment below.

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Biodegradable Blog, Part 0

March 22, 2010

I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist, but I have a sneaking suspicion that all these biodegradable corn-plastic foodware items are a scam.  I don’t necessarily think the claims they make are false — I think, given the right conditions, bioplastics will eventually return to the soil.  But replacing recyclable plastics with biodegradable ones is pernicious because most people won’t give these things the conditions they need to decompose effectively.  Throwing something in the landfill is not the same as composting it, and I’m afraid that’s where the large majority of bioplastic products will end up — in landfills, where entombed newspapers are still readable after 30 years.

Biodegradable plastic cup from Ecoproducts

If you were a worm, would you eat this?

Also, looking at this supposedly biodegradable cup, I’m bewildered as to what organism could break it down.  I certainly can’t eat it.  I could potentially eat paper, or leaves (not that I’d derive any nutritional value from them).  I could eat most of the stuff that goes into compost.  But not this.

So, in order to investigate what really happens when bioplastics get thrown away, I’m keeping one of these cups under semioptimal decomposition conditions – in a shallow grave in my backyard, where it will get exposure to moisture, oxygen, and all sorts of organisms.  We will see how long it takes.

Science Thursday

September 10, 2009
You are running along the top of a train travelling at lightspeed.  Relative to the track, how fast are you going?

Is your mind sufficiently blown?

Answer: You are going at 0 m/s, because the air resistance has long since burned the flesh from your bones.  But seriously, if anyone with more knowledge of relativity can answer this question, I’d love to hear about it!

Hypothesis: the length of the train appears to be zero from the point of view of an observer on the ground, so you are still traveling at lightspeed relative to the track.

Or, how about this: relativistic time dilation means you don’t perceive time at all if you’re moving at the speed of light, so you actually can’t move relative to the train because you have no time to move in!

Man, I should really learn some actual science about relativity before attempting posts like this.

Ftarrh

August 14, 2009
Bartholemew: "Attention, everyone! I have invented a word.  The word is "ftarrh". It means the part of a duck that is under the water"  Hal: "That's ridiculous!  How could you even use it?" [[Diagram showing duck floating on water, observer below the water, critical angle shown]]  Problem 11.4: You are swimming 1 meter below the surface of a lake.  A duck is floating on the surface, a distance x from the point directly above you.  Given that nH20 is 1.33 and nAir = 1, what is the minimum x for which you can only see the duck's ftarrh?  Bartholemew: "It is plausible!"

Okay, everyone. Start using this in context now. Okay?

YAY my physics (light and heat) final is over. If you don’t understand the physics problem in this comic, it’s about the critical angle of refraction between two substances. Basically the idea is that light bends when it transitions from moving through air to moving through water, and there’s some angle at which it bends enough that it doesn’t actually reach your eye. When that happens, you can only see the ftarrh.

You can try this with a coin and a glass of water. Set the glass on top of the coin, and you should be able to see the coin through the side of the glass. Then fill the glass with water, and suddenly the coin vanishes. woooo science

Global Warming: Uh-oh.

August 14, 2009

I just had a terrifying thought.

We’ve been assuming all along that global warming is due to CO2 emissions, since CO2 levels correlate with global temperatures. And it’s probably true that yes, CO2 in the atmosphere does create a greenhouse effect. But the assumption is that by fixing our methods of energy production, changing them to less carbon-intensive sources, we can halt global warming. I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.

The fact is, whether the energy you capture is from oil, the wind, the water, or the sun, energy production is really energy conversion – you’re taking chemical, electromagnetic, or mechanical energy and converting it into useful work. But no matter what purpose you turn it to, that energy always ends up as heat. It seems that energy use would always heat up the planet, regardless of how “green” the source is. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to limit CO2 emissions, since they are certainly responsible for some of the global warming crisis, and since producing and burning fossil fuels has other negative impacts as well. But if a green-energy revolution enabled us to cheaply provide clean power to everyone on Earth, I think we’d quickly realize that sustainable production does not imply sustainable consumption.

The good news is that even if this does happen, if we manage to avert a CO2 crisis first, global temperatures won’t continue rising out of control. They’ll simply be a bit higher until people decide to stop running their air conditioners.

Sci Fi

August 5, 2009
In the year 2012, invisible aliens visit the earth. "I don't see anything unusual!"  They replace certain people with robot replicas.  The robots behave just like real people.  Indistinguishable from those around them, they infiltrate society. "Wassup" "Hey man" Anyway, no one notices, and eventually the robots die very realistic natural deaths. Leeroy: "Worst movie ever." Bartholemew: "Agree."

They didn't even do autopsies.

Oh look, a comic!  What a surprise!

I blame Dysaniak for at least some of the delay.  He gave me a sci-fi story to read, see.

The book is called The First Immortal, by James L. Halperin, and it is available free online for you unscrupulous sorts.  It’s quite an ambitious book, covering a span of 200 years; about 100 into the past and 100 into the future.  The focus is on the technology of cryonics, which, in its current manifestation, allows us to freeze the recently deceased at liquid nitrogen temperature in the hope of reviving them later once medical science becomes sufficiently advanced.  The book delves deeply into the technological, societal, and ethical implications of cryonics and certain other oft-hypothesized future techs like nanotechnology, cloning, and commercially-available immersive virtual reality.  It’s a great introduction to the kind of technology that may become feasible in the relatively near future, and I recommend it solely for that reason.  As a work of fiction, it’s actually pretty lacking.  The characters are shallowly drawn, and whenever some sort of interpersonal issue actually arises, you wish they would just stop whining about it (a good example is the implausible resentment between the main character, Ben, and his son, Gary, which drags on ad nauseum.)

It’s also quite amazing how many of the world’s problems just get swept aside as soon as future hypothesizing starts, presumably to make room for Halperin’s darling cryonic technology.  He completely ignores the unrest in the Middle East, the global warming crisis, the widespread famine and poverty all over the world, and the not-quite-dead struggle between capitalism and socialism, especially in China.  Rather than work these issues into a compellingly detailed vision of the future, Halperin cursorily sketches a single world government (created without conflict!  what a trick!) that secures perpetual peace and is scarcely mentioned again.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to.