Saturday, May 31, 2008

High Speed Video Clips Page 1.0

In my continued study of (or, erm... playing with) the Casio EX-F1, I sometimes catch a video clip worth keeping. And sharing! Instead of posting them to YouTube (not that there's anything wrong with that), I'm posting them to my dotMac web space. You can access them via

High Speed Video Clips.

The clips are all in QuickTime format, so get the free player if you don't already have it.

And be patient for the downloads. There are probably ways to optimize the files for rapid download and quick starts. I hope to learn and apply those tricks someday. For now, I was interested in creating the page and linking the files.

Thanks to commenter Marc "Zeke" Kossover for the suggestion of using a colorless soda on the Mentos geyser. For artistic effect, I also shot that clip into the sun (backlit).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sixty questions from Paul Hewitt

As final exam season rolls around, you may have multiple choice questions on your mind. Some people think such questions are inherently ineffective or downright evil. I disagree. Similar to my assessment of PowerPoint presentations, it's really a matter of quality.

When PowerPoint was an emerging educational technology, I thought such presentations were ineffective and evil. Ineffective because I had never seen one that I thought was effective. Evil because it was a Microsoft product. Then Apple came out with Keynote and people starting thinking about how presentations should be made, and I've since found a place for presentations in my curriculum.

We see so many lousy multiple choice questions over our careers that we can be forgiven if we deem them useless by nature. But effective multiple choice exam questions do exist.

Despite some listserv discussions devoted to the contrary opinion, I think some of the questions used on the STAR Test in Physics (CST) are pretty good.

I think Paul Hewitt's Basic Physics Content questions are pretty good, too. The author of Conceptual Physics offers his favorite multiple choice questions at Read his preface and download the folder. The folder contains the questions in Word format, questions and answers in Word format, and questions with answers in ExamView format.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tuning forks at 1200 fps

More fun with the Casio EX-F1. This time we're slowing down a tuning fork. It's a 125-Hz tuning fork, and the camera was set to capture at 1200 frames per second.

Click the images to access the QuickTime clips. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Wizard exposed and fired from Florida schools

Hats off to the principal of Rushe Middle School in the doomed state of Florida. A practioner of the Black Arts was given access to schoolchildren, disguised as a substitute teacher.

The wizard conjured the aid of the spirits by performing the "disappearing toothpick" trick in front of the innocents!

The principal caught wind of this Dark Magic and had the wizard fired.

Sleep soundly, Floridians. Your middle school principals are on the job, exposing and firing wizards, and I presume warlocks and witches working in the schools. Your children are safe.


Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for blogcasting this news gem.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spring showers of new music

My iTunes overfloweth. It starts with new music from Asia (yes, that "Heat of the Moment" Asia). Phoenix is just the third album from the four original members. And it's a nice update to their 1982 form. Much better than I thought it would be.

It continues with My Someday, the long-awaited full-length album from Blondfire (formerly Astaire). The Brazillian-midwestern, brother-sister duo got under my skin three years when I saw them open for Ivy at Slim's in San Francisco. Only after buying their EP at the show did I learn they were from my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And there are new albums from my ancestral homeland of Scotland. The Proclaimers (yes, those "I Would Walk 500 Miles" Proclaimers) have crafted a new set of winning tracks replete with catchy hooks and brotherly harmonies. Life With You is their best work since 2001's Persevere. And celtic supergroup, Capercaillie has delivered a well-produced, groove-intensive disc: Roses and Tears. Karen Matheson's voice never gets old.

But the flood continues with the overdue release of The Weepies' Hideaway. This folk-duo's voices were made to go together, and their guitar work is dreamy. Despite their band name, the new album debuted at #31 on Billboard and was #4 in digital downloads.

Then that NPR scoundrel, Scott Simon, has to go interview one MariƩ Digby on the release of her debut, Unfold. Apparently she's some sort of "controversial" phenomenon on YouTube. Whatever. But her music was captivating. I went to her corner of the iTunes Music Store and couldn't keep my ears off her.

Tonight I'll see the Cowboy Junkies up in Chico. Monday it's Asia in San Francisco. The week after next it's The Proclaimers and Crowded House in San Francisco. Talk about trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup!

Andy Fraknoi to speak on "Fiction Science" May 16

Thanks to Dan Burns for this heads-up!

The Center for Inquiry, San Francisco presents:

"The White House Astrologer, the Roswell UFO, the "Face" on Mars, and a Young Universe: A Skeptical Look at Fiction Science"

a nontechnical talk by astronomer Andrew Fraknoi

Friday 16 May 2008

World Affairs Council Auditorium
312 Sutter St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco

Doors open at 6:00 pm; Presentation starts at 6:30 pm

Thanks to the popular media, an enormous amount of attention has been given to some pretty amazing claims on the fringes of astronomy. These include the idea that your life path and romantic destiny are determined by the position of objects in the sky at the moment of your birth; that extraterrestrial space-craft have regularly landed on our planet (and kidnapped innocent citizens without being noticed); that an ancient race left us a message on the planet Mars in the shape of a human face; and that the entire cosmos is less than 10,000 years old.

In this illustrated talk, astronomer and popular lecturer Andrew Fraknoi will discuss the most famous "fiction science" claims related to astronomy, and provide the background and analysis needed to appreciate them properly. He will unveil some recent detective work about these cases, and show how there is often a lot LESS to them than initially meets the eye. And he will demonstrate how a few skeptical questions and a bit of careful investigation can often help bring these extra-ordinary cosmic claims down to Earth.

Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College and Senior Educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He served as the Society's Executive Director for 14 years, and has organized over 20 national workshops on teaching astronomy. Fraknoi is the lead author of "Voyages Through the Universe," which has become one of the leading astronomy textbooks in the country and recently wrote a book for children, "Disney's Wonderful World of Space." He appears regularly on local and national radio explaining scientific developments in everyday language. In 2007, he was selected as the California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education and won the Gemant Prize of the American Institute of Physics for a lifetime of contributions to combining physics and culture. The International Astronomical Union has named asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi in recognition of his contributions to the public understanding of astronomy.

$10 General Admission

Free to 'Friends of the Center for Inquiry'

For more information, contact: Michael D Adkisson, Coordinator, Center For Inquiry | San Francisco

2215R Market St #418
San Francisco CA 94114

ON (old news): The new Nismo

There was a dearth of posts in March (and most of April). I'll try to catch up with some ON posts.

In late February, I replaced my trusty PhyzVan (1999 Toyota Sienna) with a truck. The Sienna had served me well over the years. And meticulously maintained for its first 150,000 miles, it had a very full life in front of it. I felt bad about trading it in so young.

But my needs changed over the years. My interest in landscape photography takes me to areas where the roads aren't fit for passenger vehicles. On recurring visits to the desert southwest, I could only look longingly at roads that stabbed deep into the red rock canyons.

I intended to get a 4x4 Toyota Tacoma with the requisite off-road package. But I felt an obligation to check out the other top-rated truck in this class: the Nissan Frontier. Thorough research and test-drives led me to decide in favor of the Nissan. The Tacoma is built for people smaller than me. And most people are smaller than me, so no worries for their business plan. The Frontier was more comfortable and was more tech-friendly.

The Frontier's 4x4 off-road package is called "Nismo." I suppose I could replace my "Phyz" plate with a "Phyzmo" plate at some point in the future.

The purchasing process left something to be desired, but at least it cured my of any desire to do business with Folsom Lake Nissan. Other than taking a $500 deposit and failing to come up with the promised vehicle (and stalling for days) and losing the key I gave them to test drive the Sienna, they were great. In fairness, they did give me the best deal: lowest price on the Nismo and highest value on the trade-in. I guess the dealer's way out of a deal that goes too well for the customer is to not deliver the car and walk away from the deal. They did offer to charge me an additional $100 to sell me the truck in a color I didn't want.

Hard to imagine why I didn't close the deal with them.

More importantly, I did get the vehicle (in the color of my choice) elsewhere. In time to roll it around town for a few weeks before motoring off for a 3000mi road trip in Utah with my buddy, Rick. The Nismo performed flawlessly on that trip. But that's a topic for another ON post. In the meantime, there's my Nismo posing near Utah's Fisher Towers.