Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You might be a physicist's child if...

Hat tip: Ray Hall.

Oh, this turns out to by my 500th post. And it looks like I'm about to hit 6 figures on the page views count. Who will be viewer 100,000? Oh, the suspense!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Study Debunks Myths About Gender and Math Performance

ScienceDaily (Dec. 12, 2011) — A major study of recent international data on school mathematics performance casts doubt on some common assumptions about gender and math achievement -- in particular, the idea that girls and women have less ability due to a difference in biology.

Don't look for widespread coverage of this study in the mainstream media. The MSM prefers stories wherein hard-nosed science finds that there are important biological brain differences between the genders. The narrative is then, "Why look, the old adage about 'snips and snails' vs. 'sugar and spice' turns out to be true, after all. Science proves it!"

The linked article above includes sidebar links to great stories related to this ongoing debate. The widely accepted stereotypes that boys are better at math while girls are better at language have no basis in biology.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Iceland observations - independence and isolation

Ski week is a dangerous time for me. I rarely do much traveling, and that leaves me idle to search out summer travel opportunities. This year I found a photographer trip to Iceland offered by Andy Long of First Light Tours.

Iceland is known as a wonderland to landscape and nature photographers. It had been on my list for some time. I wanted to go, but I wanted to go with photographers. The First Light trip was a match, so I proceeded to book it.

Andy Long is a Colorado-based nature photographer who runs a variety of destination workshops every year. He partnered with Michael Kissane of f-Stop Tours in Iceland. Kissane was born and raised in St. Louis, but has lived in Iceland for several years. He's even fluent in Icelandic, and that's no mean feat.

The photo tour was June 24-July 2. I scheduled two additional nights in Reykjavik to extend my stay.

The forecast for Iceland was for temperatures in the 45°F–55°F, overcast with rain. I geared up and packed appropriately. David duChemin's observations in Iceland: A Monograph (iPad app) compelled me to upgrade my tripod. I did a bit of preparatory studying with Insight Guides' Iceland and Profilm's Iceland's Favorite Places.

The journey to Iceland was eventful due to less than professional performance by Delta Airlines. An FAA-imposed weather delay somehow resulted in a loss of my booked seat on the NY to Reykjavik leg of the trip. I'm sure I was supposed to count my lucky stars that I was able to score a bulkhead middle seat in place of the window seat I booked months earlier.

Upon arrival in Iceland, the group (6 photographers and 2 guides) was assembled and whisked off to Gardskaga, our initial shooting location. We got some bird shots, a couple of landscapes and a trip to the Seltún geothermal site in before dinner and rest in Reykjavik. This time of year the sun goes down at midnight and rises at 3am in Iceland. The sky goes somewhat dim, but never dark.

On Day 2, we journeyed north to Hraunfoss (Lava Falls) and Barnafoss (Children's Falls) (yeah, there's an unhappy story that goes with that name). before bedding down in Borgarnes.

On Day 3 day we hopped a ferry to Flatey (Flat Island) out in the Breiðafjörður Fjord. We spent our time on the island shooting birds and a bit of architecture. We returned and made our way to Arnarstapi for terns, fulmars, and a stone cold giant.

On Day 4 we headed for Þingvellir, a site of Icelandic historical significance and where you can straddle two continental plates (North American and Eurasian). From there, it was off to Geysir to take a shot at Strokkur geyser's pre-eruption hot water dome. Yellowstone has a better concentration of wild geothermal features, but I've never seen a geyser erupt like this one. Next was the thunder and mist Gullfoss (Gold Falls). We also took in a curious red-rock crater lake.

On Day 5 we spent some time in chilly solitude at the nicely appointed Flói Nature Reserve before stopping at Selfoss for lunch supplies and Sirius Konsum chocolate. Then it was off to Seljalandsfoss, an delicate, isolated, but popular waterfall. A slick, rocky, muddy, wet trail led around to the back side of the falls. Keeping gear dry and legs underneath were challenges, but image potential was great. Then to Skogafoss, a broader, louder, more popular falls. Then to Vík and Black Beach.

On Day 6 we got some morning puffin shots, then it was in to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon. This was a treasure of great wonder; it was like a dynamic Bryce Canyon. More blue than red, but also in motion. We toured the lagoon in an open-air amphibious waterbus. Later we had a hay-wagon ride six kilometers across a tidal flat to Ingólfshöfði, a reserve that is home to great skua, razorbills, and puffins.

On Day 7 we went to Skaftafell National Park. We were able to hike out to the toe of Skaftafellsjökull. It was a nice trail through moss-covered rocky terrain. We missed Svartifoss somehow. I don't remember why.

On Day 8 we headed back to Reykjavik, retracing our route along the southern segment of Iceland's Ring Road and stopping here and there for pictures, lunch, and chocolate.

On Day 9 the photographer tour was over, but I stayed behind to wander the streets of the city. I got some nice architecture and graffiti shots.

On Day 10, I toured Þórsmörk with an small group and a local guide with a SuperJeep. It was nice to work up into the interior a bit. More of a nature tour than a treasure-trove of photo-ops.

Day 11 it was back to the US, California, and Sacramento. I saw a lot of Iceland and was lucky to have knowledgable guides. But I often felt a bit rushed (because I am, by nature, slow and deliberate). I'm sure the others considered me an impossible slow-poke daudler forever holding up the program.

I'd love to get back to Iceland; I feel like I missed more than I saw. I missed the Bare Landscapes fine art photography gallery exhibition by a few days.

My Iceland finalists photo album is on Flickr.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Richard Wiseman's 30 quirky holiday party tricks

Holiday parties are right around the corner. So start practicing your quirky party tricks now!




The quirkiness never ends at Richard Wiseman's blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

UC Davis physics faculty call for Chancellor to resign

From Cosmic Variance:

Chancellor Linda Katehi
November 22, 2011
UC Davis

Dear Chancellor Katehi:
With a heavy heart and substantial deliberation, we the undersigned faculty of the UC Davis physics department send you this letter expressing our lack of confidence in your leadership and calling for your prompt resignation in the wake of the outrageous, unnecessary, and brutal pepper spraying episode on campus Friday, Nov. 18.

The reasons for this are as follows.

• The demonstrations were nonviolent, and the student encampments posed no threat to the university community. The outcomes of sending in police in Oakland, Berkeley, New York City, Portland, and Seattle should have led you to exhaust all other options before resorting to police action.

• Authorizing force after a single day of encampments constitutes a gross violation of the UC Davis principles of community, especially the commitment to civility: “We affirm the right of freedom of expression within our community and affirm our commitment to the highest standards of civility and decency towards all.”

• Your response in the aftermath of these incidents has failed to restore trust in your leadership in the university community.

We have appreciated your leadership during these difficult times on working to maintain and enhance excellence at UC Davis. However, this incident and the inadequacy of your response to it has already irreparably damaged the image of UC Davis and caused the faculty, students, parents, and alumni of UC Davis to lose confidence in your leadership. At this point we feel that the best thing that you can do for this university is to take full responsibility and resign immediately. Our campus community deserves a fresh start.

Andreas Albrecht (chair)
Marusa Bradac
Steve Carlip
Hsin-Chia Cheng
Maxwell Chertok
John Conway
Daniel Cox
James P. Crutchfield
Glen Erickson
Chris Fassnacht
Daniel Ferenc
Ching Fong
Giulia Galli
Nemanja Kaloper
Joe Kiskis
Lloyd Knox
Dick Lander
Lori Lubin
Markus Luty
Michael Mulhearn
David Pellett
Wendell Potter
Sergey Savrasov
Richard Scalettar
Robert Svoboda
John Terning
Mani Tripathi
David Webb
David Wittman
Dong Yu
Gergely Zimanyi

Power Balance-type products continue to THRIVE

Power Balance hit a rough patch yesterday. Nice to see that the Sacramento Kings, who are owed $100,000 from Power Balance, still believe in the snake-oil merchant. Kings owners, the Maloofs, have been accused of many things. Over-education or staggering intelligence haven't been any of them.

But it's not as if "magical apparel accessories" have fallen by the wayside. Here are a few bogus products on offer for gullible folks with money to spent.

Some of these charlatans avoid making claims in the text of their websites. But who reads websites? The wild claims are made (with amusing animations) in their slickly produced videos. See for yourself.

Phiten (Click the link to go to Phiten's lawyer-approved technology page.)

Powered by "aqueous titanium." Phiten assures us that titanium doesn't want to be aqueous. Phiten has developed a method for aquifying titanium and infusing it into wristbands and necklaces. Therefore, Phiten products must improve athletic performance. Wait, what?

There's this from eHow. (Now I know that nothing on eHow is to be believed.)
"The magnetized titanium bracelets are also believed to hold a positive charge. In alternative medicine, pain is said to have a negative charge. If you will remember back to middle school science class, you will know that a positive charge and a negative charge cancel out one another. Thus, the titanium bracelet relieves pain by neutralizing it."

The juxtaposing of alternative medicine belief (woo) with middle school science (reality) is typical of homeopathetics. It turns out that neither pain nor titanium are charged. And titanium isn't even magnetic (ferromagnetic). But that's just piling on.

Trion:Z (Click the link to go to their mind-boggling "technology" page.)

Powered by magnets and Mineon fibers (which produce abundant amounts of negative ions). I don't know what kind of material can be counted on to release an endless stream of ions. Except for radioactive sources. Remember, radioactive objects were once marketed as health-enhancers.

Chances are that no ions are given off by Trion:Z products.

Sadly, you can get a Trion:Z necklace bearing the University of Michigan's licensed block M logo. Other money-grubbing "institutions of higher learning" have signed on to this hollow profiteering enterprise, too. But the block M just hurts.

8ight: Keys to Health (Click the link to see 8ight's mind-numbing science page.)

No bogus claims in that video ad!

Powered by holograms, just like Power Balance. There are people with the title of "Dr." who support 8ight. The Southeastern Conference is well represented in 8ight's offerings.

There are more where they came from. And they'll thrive as long as people are prepared to surrender cash for these products. Power Balance is on its way out, but there is no shortage of copy-cats. If anything, they're probably rubbing hands together with glee at the prospect of the "market leader" going down in flames. Let's hope the fire spreads.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Casual pepper spraying cop meme

Posted without comment.

Power Balance settlement bankruptcy media dump

Look for stories that document the fact that the bracelets don't do what they claim to do. Actually, don't. You won't find them here. These articles simply document the legal and business aspects of the news.

The Sacramento Bee - City Beat

The Sacramento Press

Business Insider

International Business News

KCRA - NBC - Channel 3: Text - Video: ?

KXTV - ABC - Channel 10: Text - Video: ?

KOVR - CBS - Channel 13: Text and Video - Video: via Yahoo!

KTXL - Fox - Channel 40: Text and Video (Leave it to Fox to give Power Balance a pass!)
Power Balance Naming Rights to be Vacated?

KFBK - AM1530 - Text - Audio (Another generous report from a right-wing media outlet.)

KYMX - Mix96 - Text

Huffington Post

Associated Press

Yahoo's The Post Game

CSU Sacramento's The State Hornet
"I wear one because I believe they help to balance electromagnetic energy," says Dr. Kristofer Chaffin, Sacramento Kings chiropractor, of the "hologram-powered" Power Balance bracelets. Tells you everything you need to know about chiropractic.

What did I miss?

TMZ reports Power Balance to crash and burn

UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee's got the story! Huzzah!

Forced to Pay $57 Million,
Expected to Close Shop

The Blog of Phyz is not really about breaking news or linking to the Thirty Mile Zone . But desperate times and desperate measures, you know.

Hope it pans out. And kudos to those who slayed this dragon. Thanks to Sacramento Area Skeptics' Shane Trimmer and What's The Harm's Tim Farley for the heads up.

Hey Phiten! You're next.

Nailed! And Nailed: With Numbers

Physics: Cinema Classics is a treasure trove of physics video clips depicting demos, animations, and representations of physics phenomena. Our school purchased the LaserDisc in the early 1990s and the DVD set a few years ago. I'd love to give P:CC an enthusiastic thumb's up, but he mechanics of the DVD operation leave much to be desired. Navigating through demos is a nightmare; I'd prefer to have each demo as a QuickTime (or equivalent) file.

In any case, one vignette from the P:CC's Disc 5: Conservation Laws is a 1968 Project Physics gem called called "Nails into Wood." It's the kind of simple but clever demo I can really sink my pedagogical teeth into.

After developing qualitative and quantitative video demo sheets to accompany the clips, I built expanded Keynote representations of the demo. We travel to the Moon and Jupiter, and use mathematical analysis and estimation along the way. I tinkered and fussed with the presos over the past couple of days and decided they were ready for prime time. So I froze them into interactive QuickTimes and posted them to The Book of Phyz on the Energy page.

Nailed! - Student Sheet PDF
Nailed! - Presentation iQT
Nailed: With Numbers - Student Sheet PDF
Nailed: With Numbers - Presentation iQT

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dark Side of the Earth - The Mini-Lesson

Who are we without our quirks? My quirks are many. Some I treasure; some I loathe.

But anyway...

I was so taken by the grooviness of the ISS time lapse video (one post down), that I had to turn it into curriculum material somehow. That's a quirk I have. When I see something that strikes me as stunningly groovy, I have to turn it into a lesson of some kind.

So I created a Word document, reprinted the credits listed with the film on Vimeo, then decided on an angle to take.

The video is a visual feast. No narration. No subtitles. No sweeping principles; no factoids. Just imagery. And, of course, all the grooviness.

So my angle was "treasure hunt." Identify the timecode when X appears in the film. When can you see the Moon reflected in the water of the Earth? When is the aurora so strong that red and green bands can be seen? And so on for several scene descriptions.

And I give the answer to the biggest, grooviest puzzler I saw in the video: The illuminated border between India and Pakistan. Thanks to commenter Adrienne at Bad Astronomy for sussing that one out! Watch the video looking for it and see if a "whoa!" doesn't involuntarily slip out of your mouth when it passes underneath.

Word and PDF versions of my question sheet can be found in the folder/link below.


I'll give it to my students as an optional assignment over Thanksgiving Break. I'd hate to leave them with nothing to do!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dark Side of the Earth

Wow! HD. Full screen. Wow!

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Shooting locations in order of appearance:

1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at Night

PhyzSketches: Energy Transformations

I've updated, upgraded, and posted the latest and greatest versions of my PhyzSketches lessons involving energy transfers and transformations. One lesson focuses on a pole vaulter, the other on shooting a toy dart.

PhyzSketches: Energy Transformations (Student worksheet)
PhyzSketches: Energy Transformations (Instructor's key)
PhyzSketches: Pole Vault Preso (Interactive QuickTime HD)
PhyzSketches: Dart Gun Preso (Interactive QuickTime HD)

As is always the case, I post interactive QuickTime files that anyone can play on any modern computer.

I use Apple's Mac-only Keynote to produce presentations and I use fonts that you don't likely have. So the source file would have limited value.

I've been up-rezzing my QuickTime files to 1650x1080, so they look pretty good in terms of resolution.

Statewide pacing guide—where you should be by now

There are 60 questions on the California Standards Test (CST) in Physics. There are 180 days in the school year. A simple and informative exercise is to apply the CST content breakdown to the school year.

For example, 12 of the 60 questions relate to the reporting cluster/standard set of "Motion and Forces." That means 12/60 or 20% of the test is on motion and forces. Twenty percent of the 180-day school year is 36 days. But the math is actually simpler than that: multiply the number of CST questions on a standard set by 3 to get the number of days you might spend on it, if you felt a need to be aligned with the CST Blueprint.

Heat and Thermodynamics gets 9 questions, which means it deserves 27 days of class time. A complete table is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Standard sets/reporting clusters and the Physics CST composition.

Applying these values to my 2011-2012 school year calendar produces the result shown in Figure 2. The color legend is shown in Figure 1 (Motion and Forces is pink, etc.). The dark cells with white type show when STAR testing is administered.

Figure 2. CST Blueprint Calendar.

While this schedule might seem aggressive, it's actually not aggressive enough. Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) descends on my school after 29 weeks of instruction. Not 36; 29. If you hope to cover all tested material prior to the administration of the test, you'll need to follow the schedule shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Pure CST prep calendar, ready by test time.

What do I do? I match the state guidelines on Motion and Forces and Energy and Momentum. I shortchange Heat and Thermodynamics. And I give Electricity and Magnetism about 50 days of classroom instruction, where only 30 days are called for. That's 167% of the recommended dosage of E&M. See Figure 4.

Figure 4. Physics as scheduled at Rio Americano.


Some physics teachers devote a disproportionate amount of time to mechanics. Physics students are known to have stubborn misconceptions in this area, as illustrated by Force Concept Inventory (FCI) results. So some teachers shortchange Electricity & Magnetism in pursuit of weeding out misconceptions in mechanics.

But I would argue that while students may well harbor misconceptions in mechanics, they harbor NO conceptions in electricity and magnetism. Physics CST results bear this out, with Electricity and Magnetism underperforming all other reporting clusters/standard sets.

I cover Wave Phenomena in accordance to the recommended dosage. But we're just starting Waves when STAR tests commence. So I throw Waves under the bus more than any other standard set, in terms of pre-STAR classroom instruction time.

My schedule results in fairly even performance across the standard sets. E&M is still likely to come in last place, but not precipitously so (as was the case years ago). The details of the last 5 years can be seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Baird CST reporting clusters, 2007-2011.
As physics teachers, we are unaccustomed to anyone anywhere telling us what to cover, what not to cover, or how fast to move through the course. We all have the best program in the state. And if you're not sure, just ask us!

If you're inclined to disregard California Standards in 9-12 Physics and the CST Blueprint, I apologize for wasting your time with this note. If you're interested in improving your students' CST performance, knowing about these calendars might help with your pacing decisions.

(I hope to update this note with links to CDE resources, but their site isn't responding just now.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The end of global warming denialism?

Heck no! There's still "debate" about the fact and theory of evolution.

But here are two long-form video presentations that add perspective to the overwhelming chorus of scientific findings confirming the reality of global warming.

Richard Muller: A Reexamination of the Global Warming
Muller is an independent-minded iconoclast who became a darling of the global warming deniers when he criticized Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and expressed doubt about surface temperature data. Muller is smart, and he's not without an ego (not that there's anything wrong with that). His Koch-brothers'-funded research group was named Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature so that everyone would know that his findings were the BEST results.

Still though, Muller is a scientist, and his fidelity to the methods of science take precedence over his hunches or biases. He assembled a top-notch group and they did thorough work on surface temperature data. Their results confirmed the existing surface temperature data. But Muller's presentation is informative and entertaining, nevertheless.

Barry Bickmore: How to Avoid the Truth About Global Warming
"Barry Bickmore is Associate Professor of Geological Sciences at Brigham Young University. His research specialties are low-temperature geochemistry and geoscience education. In this presentation, he discusses how he moved from being a climate change "skeptic" to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science. He then discusses how it is that people like him can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change." (Hat tip: NCSE.)

The reality is that there will be no end to global warming denialism. Deniers' denial isn't motivated by scientific evidence, so scientific evidence won't change their minds. Nothing will. There are people who remain convinced the Earth is the center of the universe.

Denial stands in the way of responsible public policy, to be sure. But science moves on, with or without the company of deniers.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mythbusters live on stage

Mythbusters Tour Video from MAGICSPACE Entertainment on Vimeo.

"The all-new, live stage show “MythBusters Behind the Myths,” starring Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, co-hosts of the Emmy-nominated Discovery series MythBusters,” promises to be an unexpected evening of on-stage experiments, audience participation, rocking video and behind-the-scenes stories. For the first time ever, fans will join Jamie and Adam on stage and assist in their mind-twisting and not always orthodox approach to science.

"MythBusters Behind the Myths" brings you face to face with the curious world of Jamie and Adam as the duo matches wits on stage with each other and members of the audience."

More info.

"Honda Cog" in the classroom

I've found that one  good place to drop the classic "Honda Cog" ad into the physics curriculum is amid our lessons on energy transfers/transformations.

Those lessons begin with step-by-step analyses of a pole-vault and the firing of a toy dart gun (I'm a big fan of old-style dart guns).

Then we look at the Honda Cog ad.

First we watch it without interruption. Then we watch it with analysis. The video is paused, we discuss, then move on to the next pause-worthy event. There are openings to discuss energy transformations, equilibrium, Newton's third law, balanced torques, and more.

The one segment that students reject is the wheels rolling uphill (0:25-0:30 in the clip). They know that's fake.

So it's a good idea to have a Sargent-Welch Variable Inertia Kit (WL0707D) handy.

The intended use for these discs is to adjust the inner mass balls so that one disc has high rotational inertia and the other has low rotational inertia. The you race them down an incline. If students are unaware of the interior configuration, you've run a nice discrepant event.

But our purpose here is different. We need just one disc. Load the mass balls as shown so that the disc will behave like a Weeble.

Put the disc back together and set it in unstable equilibrium on an inclined plane. A slight disturbance will set it in motion—up the hill!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

NCNAAPT UCB Conference recap

NCNAAPT Section Secretary Bree Barnett Dreyfuss has once again done a stellar job of recording and posting wall-to-wall coverage of our semi-annual conference. She snapped a nice group shot:

Check the links to her coverage of the...
Show & Tell
Keynote Speaker: Richard Muller
Roundtable Resources

And, of course, a gallery of photos.

Mark your calendars for the NCNAAPT Spring Conference: April 20-21, 2012 at Tahoe Community College in Lake Tahoe.


Frank Cascarano of Foothills College showed and told us about Coffee Joulies at the NCNAAPT Fall Conference at UCB.

Nutshell: Stainless steel capsules contain a substance whose melting point is 140°F. Pour some 200°F+ coffee onto some Joulies, and the capsules absorb energy so as to melt the substance. This cools the coffee and liquifies the substance in the Joulies.

Once the coffee cools below 140°F, the substance in the Joulies "freezes," giving heat back to the surrounding coffee.

The point is bend the temperature vs. time graph of the cooling coffee to maximize the time during which the coffee is at optimal drinking.

Joulies are officially groovy!

Coffee Joulies from Coffee Joulies on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, was underwhelmed with the real-world performance of Joulies.

Shown & Told @ NCNAAPT UCB 11.05.11

Scientist Valentines
Blog of Phyz posts on SciVals can be found here. At the Berkeley Show & Tell, I passed out "quarter-sheet" prints of the Scientist Valentines (printed 4 per letter-size sheet of paper).

Here's the source PDF for those.

Back Masking
Richard Wiseman demonstrated this phenomenon to us at The Amaz!ng Meeting 4 (2006). The context: including skepticism/critical thinking lessons into the physics curriculum is time well spent. One theme worthy of exploration is the fallibility of our cognitive processes, including our ability to create patterns where none exist; pareidolia. This exercise in back masking is audio pareidolia.

Jeff Milner has created and maintained a great page of back masking examples with appropriate user controls. Note: some clips are more compelling than others.

Here's an interactive Quicktime of the presentation, which featured Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Led Zeppelin.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scarier than Halloween!

Smashing pumpkins at 1000 fps

Submitted for your Halloween approval. Complete with creepy soundtrack.

Hat tip to Huffington Post.

Silent upgrades: The SVGA to WXSGA+ edition

When I began authoring Keynote presentations in the early 2000's, I went with the slide resolution/size of 800x600 pixels. VGA was 640x480, and who would ever need more resolution than could be shown on a TV screen? I figured I was future-proofing by dialing the resolution up a notch to SVGA, knowing full well that the resulting documents would have larger file sizes.

As fortune would have it, things change. I noticed that the interactive QuickTime files I created from my Keynote presos looked a little chunky when projected digitally. Keynote uprezzes presos to match the projector's capabilities pretty well, but QuickTime isn't as clever. (Neither was I for not knowing that.)

Last year, I began transforming my 800x600 presos to 1680x1050 (WXSGA+). The new aspect is a better match to the MacBook Pro's own display (no black bars). Keynote does its best to scale everything up. But with animations and grouped objects, it doesn't always work out. So tweaking has to be done. Sometimes, the tweaking is nontrivial.

I launched a raft of updates into the momentum unit. And into the UCM/gravity unit before that, and into the Newton's laws and motion units, too. I tag the links with an "HD" when I remember to. If you've been using the old presos, feel free to grab the new versions. The files are bigger, but the added resolution is worth the wait!

Fall NCNAAPT Conference @ UCB this Friday and Saturday!

Complete details can be found at the NCNAAPT website.

Some quick highlights:
· UC Berkeley Physics demo show Friday night.
· Noted "climate skeptic," Richard Muller, speaks Saturday morning on his course/book, "Physics For Future Presidents."

Check out the rest of the program on this PDF, and schedule your travel plans accordingly.

Quadruple rainbow observed and shot

I am late to this post, but within the calendar month of the news. I'm slow! But many of these items I post so I can easily find them later.

In any event, here's the fairly undramatic photo:

MSNBC's story at the end of this link explains why the photo doesn't knock your socks off. The BBC's take is here.

One thing to notice, the camera is aimed sunward.

I give a fairly robust lesson in the physics and geometry of rainbows. You should be able to find the materials at these links:
1. "Understanding Rainbows" Springboard (student worksheet)
2. "Understanding Rainbows" Springboard (answers)
3. "Understanding Rainbows" Presentation (interactive QuickTime)

Among the things we learn: the primary rainbow shows up at about 40°-42° around the anti-solar direction, and the secondary is out at 51°-53°. We look away from the sun to see such rainbows.

The geometry of the tertiary rainbow places it 38°-43° from the solar direction. The quaternary rainbow is similarly sunward.

Images of the tertiary and quaternary rainbows are reminiscent of the discovery of the outermost planets. Photographers aim their cameras to where the faint rainbows should be, Without seeing the rainbows with their own eyes, they shoot the images nonetheless. They then post-process the hell out of the images, beefing up contrast and saturation. And voila! Third/fourth order rainbows are revealed.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I'm done with Motion and Forces

And I'm already behind.

California's Standard Set 1 is "Motion and Forces." It covers basic kinematics, Newton's laws, circular motion, and gravity. And it constitutes 20% of the California Standards Test. A case could be made that Motion and Forces should therefore occupy 20% of one's year-long physics schedule. If the school year is 180 days, Motion and Forces should be the topic for 36 days.

We hit 36 days of instruction this week. And we finished our unit on UCM & Gravity this week. It would appear that I'm right on schedule.

But I'm not. I'm behind.

CSTs are not administered following 180 days of instruction. They are given after about 140 days of instruction. For us, that's mid- to late-April.

So only 28 days should have been devoted to Motion and Forces. I should already be deep into Standard Set 2: Conservation of Energy and Momentum.

As it is, I teach California's 9-12 Physics Standards across a 180-day schedule rather than the artificially-imposed 140-day schedule.

Even at my relatively slow pace, I get the sense that I'm out in front of many physics teachers. We tend to be big fans of Motion and Forces. Many choose to plumb Motion and Forces to depths far beyond what the state of California asks for.

I'm willing to let the state provide guidance on which topics to teach. I am employed by the state to teach physics, so I teach the physics the state asks me to teach.

But I can't bring myself to squeeze all that content into 140 days of a 180-day school year. The STAR testing schedule forces testing to be done in April for the convenience of the Department of Education and their testing contractor. The timetable is artificial and pedagogically meaningless, so I don't adhere to it.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Web Video for the Classroom page updated

One of the many consequences of my undiagnosed OCD is a need to keep a web page holding links to the many videos I like to use in class at just the right moment. As more videos come online, I update the page.

I'm not sure I provided a space for all the treasures I found since last October, but it seems I have a distinct need to update the page following PTSOS1 each year. Since PTSOS1 was yesterday, today I offer the updated web video page!

The oldies are all there for your convenience. "New ones" found since last year have been added and tagged appropriately, I hope. Each entry has a thumbnail embedded video. The subsequent title is linked to the source page. (Yes, I'm hot-sourcing, so links may go dead. I recommend you download copies onto your own storage device.) There is also a link to the corresponding Blog of Phyz entry and/or curriculum materials where available.

If you find yourself with time to kill, check these out.

Web Video for the Classroom

There's also more video fun at my page for

Skepticism in the Classroom.

1. Enjoy and
2. Send me links of groovy videos I should have included!
3. Feel free to remind me what videos I posted to the blog but haven't archived on this page.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Faster-than-light neutrinos

The big science news of the week has been the report of neutrinos traveling faster than light.

The mainstream media has framed the story as the downfall of "Einstein's most trusted theories," a violation of a "cardinal rule of physics" and the like. I suspect some outlets have trained cameras on the 13th floor of science buildings, waiting to capture images of scientists throwing themselves to their deaths over the news.

Physicist had it wrong all this time. How could they lie to us like that? Is ∑F=ma true, or just another lie coming from Big Physics?

It's mostly nonsense, of course. But apparently it's the only way you can run a story about physics research in the mainstream media.

One might reasonably wonder who's behind this physics-shattering research. Is it those pesky chemists with their "central science" braggadocio? Or wore yet: reality-denying economists? Of course not. It's physicists. And they're doing science. And if the science they do leads to a model better than the one we use now, then... well, that's how science works. Just as it did when evolutionists destroyed Piltdown Man. (Creationists could never have destroyed Piltdown Man because they are unfamiliar with the methods of science.)

There are no cardinal rules in science. No immutable laws etched into the stone permanence. There is a process for tentative acceptance or rejection: the process of science. (Not the "scientific method" cleanly described the first chapter of pre-college science textbooks, mind you. That's an unrealistic and simplified distillation not actually practiced by scientists.)

May people think there are laws in science. Permanent, perfect, and absolute truths that explain a whole set of observations. I was recently scolded for this notion by a commenter on a right-wing blog who educated me on the fact that Newtonian Gravity had achieved "law" status, by someone who was clearly not familiar with General Relativity.

We do a disservice to the essence of science when we invoke the term "law." No principle in science is safe from attack, dismemberment, and replacement. And we like it that way. We work to produce the best model we can. But nothing is considered permanent.

If Special Relativity must be discarded into the dustbin of science, it can keep company with the luminiferous aether, phlogiston, and so on. And science will rejoice and be happy in it.

Then again. and I hate to even mention this while the big media ballyhoo still lingers in the air, it might be there was an error somewhere in the faster-than-light neutrino study. If that turns out to be the case, don't look for article in the mainstream media detailing where the research went wrong. There's no sexy there. No collapsing pillars of science imagery to evoke. And how many column-inches is anyone going to devote to "oops" or "never mind"?

As ever, xkcd sums it up nicely (click to embiggen):

Hat tip to Bernard Cleyet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You know school is in full swing when...

To some, it may be the first day of school. For others, it's Back to School Night. What annual milestone is your indication that summer is over and the school year is on "for reals"?

First progress grade reports are due? (When I started teaching, this was at the end of October. They were referred to as "Quarter Grades." This year, it's September 27. You could call them "Eighthly Grades," or "Monthly Grades," or "How did we go from 4 grading interims to 8 grading interims and how much smarter are students as a result?")

The end of the first 20 days of class leveling? (And a slowing of the revolving door.) This is the time of year when teachers announce their newest "adds" in the faculty room like old fighters showing off scars. The real problem lies in the expectation that, four weeks into the year, a teacher has some magical technique that will bring a new student from zero to completely-caught-up in short order and without pain. And without any negative consequence on that first round of eighthly grades.

First parent conference? Haven't had one (yet), but we all know that can't last.

First JB-Weld repair job? This year mine was on a Pasco Visual Accelerometer. I'm not sure how the interior thumbscrew anchor post got fractured, but it did.

In related news, I noticed the milk I bought today will not expire until after paycheck breakfast. Huzzah!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Der tischdeckentrick - episches ausfallen

Michel and Sven! Will they never learn?

After my classes howled with laughter at this "epic fail," we discussed the clues to the disingenuous nature of the clip. And a good time was had by all.

We'll all remember Michel with great fondness. A student told me the two are young actors in a troupe of some sort; this was a well-choreographed skit. You'll find lesser Michel and Sven tablecloth trick "fails" on YouTube as well. Mostly they dump things onto the floor by pulling the tablecloth too slowly.

Hat tip to Richard Wiseman.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Physics 1: Introduction to Motion (newly revised)

I've more or less finalized my new first unit in Physics 1. It blends the old first unit ("Preliminaries") with the first half of the old second unit ("Motion & Inertia").

It spans the beginning of the year to all the motion as we need to cover. That is, it goes from the introduction all the way to the end of motion: Introduction to Motion.

Unit 1.01 Introduction to Motion Schedule

The Book of Phyz - Unit 1.01 Introduction to Motion

Some Unit 1 lessons "bleed" over into Unit 2 (Newton's Laws). They serve as homework when there is otherwise no homework for students to do, such as a night following a lab day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

No pretense of wisdom

I woke up on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 as I did any other work day: to NPR's Morning Edition. The program includes news updates at regular intervals among long-form stories and features. News of a plane striking the World Trade Center entered the update loop. Not fully awake and alert, I envisioned a low-altitude Cessna somehow lost in morning clouds.

I had no idea.

The other tower was hit. These were passenger jets. And the skies over New York were clear. I eventually turned on my television. (My television is rarely on and is never on in the morning.) Horror from Washington DC was added to horror from NYC. A terrorist attack was underway, and there was no knowing what—if anything—was next.

But school was to start at its regular time, so that's where I needed to be. My colleague, Lucy Jeffries, had a small (5"-screen small) TV in her classroom. I asked her for an update before the start of first period. My recollection is that by then, a plane had also gone down in the farmlands of Pennsylvania. And one tower had fallen. I had known that from the radio coverage, but it was good to make contact with a colleague.

A national tragedy was in the midst of unfolding. It was bad, but little was known. And the first period tardy bell rang on schedule.

What to do? There was no reason to think that there would be any modifications to the school day schedule (and there were none). There were no directives from the school's administration, and none could reasonably have been expected. There you are, classroom physics teacher: a terrorist attack under way on the other side of the country, 30 students in class, and the bell has rung.

I could have sat on a table and rapped with the students, letting them express their feelings and theories about the attack while offering sagely comfort that everything was going to be alright. Would they then repeat this exercise in periods 2 through 6? Would that be a wise way to spend the day? I didn't think so.

I could have tuned into CNN for live coverage and kept the TV going all day, watching the horror unfold on live TV. Towers collapsing, fires burning, bodies falling, and the most horrific images being replayed over and over. My aversion to TV would not have allowed me to do that. As it was, my TV monitor had neither a functional cable connection nor an operational antenna. So live viewing was not an option for me. It was an option in some classrooms, and there were teachers who elected this option.

What did I do? I proceeded with the day's scheduled lesson on motion. Toned down and gentle. But physics. That's what we did.

My head was not in the sand. I did acknowledge the news of the day. I told the students that they would never forget the date or the events of the day. A student asked, "Why 9/11?" I told him that—most likely—that was the day the terrorists were ready to implement their attack. Nothing poetic or symbolic. Just logistical.

By the end of the day, a memo was cobbled together by the school's administration and copied for distribution to all 6th period students. They were to take the memo home to their parents. The memo assured parents that, among other things, none of the classrooms were watching live coverage of the attacks or the aftermath. By then it was clear that watching victims jump to their deaths was inappropriate viewing material for students.

The memo was true for my classroom. I have reason to suspect it was not true of all the classrooms at the school. Prior to that reassuring memo, there had been no administrative directive against watching live coverage. To the best of my knowledge, administrators had not been out in any classrooms that day. So they had no direct knowledge of what was going on in classrooms. And so I saw the memo as an unintentional misrepresentation intended to provide comfort rather than an intentional breech of trust.

I thought about a bright-eyed, optimistic, spirited, joyful student named Gillian who had just begun classes at NYU. She was a key member of PhyzGang 2000, a group of friends who seemed to be having a party that coincided with my 6th period physics class of 1999-2000 and AP Physics 2000-2001. The attacks damaged us all, and real human tragedies occurred on 9/11. But I hated to think of her being in the shadows of the towers as they fell, for what that might do to her.

It was an awful day, and its black cloud was slow to dissipate. As a school, our attempts to mourn the events were heartfelt but at times awkward. I believe it was at the one week anniversary that students were assembled during class time for a remembrance: When a student leader was given the microphone he led the public school student body in prayer. Anyone offended by the notion of public school students being led in prayer during school time was expected to bite his or her tongue out of respect.

It wasn't clear whether or not student-led prayer was to become a regular feature of the mandatory memorials, so prior to the next one (the one month anniversary?) I prepared a simple sign that assured anyone who saw it that "It's OK not to pray." Producing and posting such a thing put a bull's eye on me as being a jerk, but I am such a big fan of church-state separation.

I had occasion to take a commercial flight a few weeks after 9/11. Airport parking had been reconfigured, enhanced security checks, and the uniformed military personnel armed with M16s served as a reminder that the world was now a different place.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Advice for parents of students

I've mentioned before that I've got it pretty good where I teach. Parents are involved in their children's educations and in the school. Highly involved parents are a great thing 99% of the time.

But there is that other 1%. And with student loads of 165, a teacher is likely to encounter a bad experience or two.

Teacher extraordinaire, Ron Clark, penned a note that puts a voice to frustrations teachers have with parents, The behaviors he lists are trending upward.

The article is short, but here are a few highlights.

"If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future."

"If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions."

"If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+."

"I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children."

I know there are some awful teachers out there. Education is not valued highly enough to keep them out of the profession. But while legislation is passed to hold teachers accountable for this, that, and the other, none is so much as proposed to hold parents accountable for much of anything.

When a school works, it does so because the community works together. Parents parent, teachers teach, administrators administrate. And students learn.

Friday, September 09, 2011

I am done with motion

If you want to call me crazy, the line forms to the rear.

But we had our first unit test today in Rio's Physics 1 course, so as of 2:50pm on Friday, September 9, we are done with motion. On Monday, we move on to Newton's laws and physics!

Kinematics can be many kinds of fun. But for my taste, it's not worth one month while the curriculum clock is ticking. It's applied math, for heaven's sake! And no, it's not the foundation upon which the entirety of introductory physics rests.

Is acceleration a difficult concept for first-year physics students to learn? Absolutely. I rank it as the most difficult concept students will confront in intro physics. So you can spend a month teaching it while mastery continues to elude many students.

But why would you?

Which part of the sky will collapse behind your students not mastering the subtle intricacies of the second derivative of the position function? None of it!

Universal mastery of acceleration is not required before you can pull out of the harbor of kinematics and set sail in the ocean of physics. So don't sacrifice one tenth of your school year chasing such mastery while engaging topics in actual physics get pushed off the table at the other end of the year.

You've got 180 days and a full palette of robust physics topics to get to. Pre-newtonian applied math does not merit an expenditure of 18 of those days. Tempus fugit! Is mastery of kinematics so important that any talk of rainbows, mirages, or the blue sky should be banished from the intro course? Or is it electricity and magnetism that should be left behind? Shall we presume that All Things Heat & Thermo are covered in chemistry, so it's OK to skip any/all such material in physics?

Something must be thrown under the bus if kinematics mastery is to be achieved. What should it be?

Whatever it is, I've got a nickel that says it's a more "legitimate" physics topic than acceleration. So my advice is to ditch the ticker-tape and (I'll say it) robust video motion analysis of projectile trajectories. That stuff might be all manner of groovy, but it's overkill in the introductory course. Few high school students need to master kinematics to secure their future career. Those who do will have more chances in college to lock such things in. In the meantime, the clock is ticking on your 180 days.

Don't keep physics waiting!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Are you ready for some PHYSICS?

The season-opening PTSOS Physics Teacher Workshop will be held Saturday, September 17, at Los Gatos High School. That's Dan Burns' high school. (Paul Robinson has retired, so PTSOS workshops will no longer be held at San Mateo High School.)

Sacramento's "home-opener" will be Saturday, October 1, at Rio Americano High School. Dean Baird and Steve Keith are your hosts for the workshop.

The theme for Workshop 1 is mechanics and the beginning of the school year. Motion, forces, energy, momentum, gravity, and rotation, as well as ideas on how to start the year right and communicate to parents at Back-to-School Night. The themes are set, but the workshop paths wander in different directions every year. We specialize in tangents!

If you haven't yet registered, get on over to for more info, and send a note to Stephanie Finander to sign up. Registration is free, but we order serious goodies for participants.

In the meantime, here are some photos from workshops held last year.

PTSOS San Mateo 2010-11
PTSOS Sacramento 2010-11

Friday, September 02, 2011

Goodwin Liu's big day

I don't presume to know if Thursday ranked as high as fourth in the greatest days of Goodwin Liu's life. But is was a big day. And fourth is as high as it could reasonably be expected to rank, since he is married with two children.

Goodwin Liu was sworn in as a Justice of the California Supreme Court by Governor Brown at a private ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday. My Rio Americano colleague, English teacher June Gatewood, and I attended as invited guests of our former student. Our pride in Goodwin could be eclipsed only by that of his parents, Yang-Ching and Wen-Pen. I love this photo from the confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Thursday's swearing-in ceremony marked the first time I had ever been inside the Capitol. Mrs. Gatewood and I were honored to have been invited by Professor Liu. If I told you I wasn't completely giddy, I'd be telling you a lie.

We were seated directly behind other Supreme Court Justices and in among important dignitaries such as Attorney General Kamala Harris. If I were more "in the know," I'm sure I would have recognized the other high-power officials that surrounded us.

The ceremony was brief: introductory comments from Governor Jerry Brown, an enthusiastic welcoming statement from Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, an address from Professor Liu, and the swearing in. Goodwin's wife, Ann O'Leary—an accomplished professional in her own right—smoothly kept the couple's young daughter, Violet, and toddler, Emmett, suitably entertained during the ceremony. I sat rapt by the whole affair, beaming with pride, joy, and delight. Little Emmett, however, expressed concern that the ceremony ran a bit long.

Two Rio Mirada student journalists obtained press credentials and documented the ceremony for the school newspaper.

A reception was held in the governor's office following the ceremony. Mrs. Gatewood and I enjoyed some snacks. She eventually left, but I stayed. I got a chance to greet the Governor and thank him for making an excellent selection.

After the crowd thinned somewhat, I sat with Goodwin's parents and thanked them for raising two outstanding boys. Goodwin's brother, Kingsway, is a respected surgeon at Kaiser Permanente's Fremont Medical Center. He graduated from Rio just before I arrived. Mrs. Liu deflected the praise and insisted her boys did it all, themselves. She is sweet and charming, but I wasn't buying her argument. Mr. Liu was as aglow with pride as I've ever seen any father. If the smile ever left his face, I didn't see it.

The throng of well-wishers eventually slowed, and Mrs. Liu summoned Goodwin's attention. Decorum aside, I shook the Justice's hand and pulled him into Hug Harbor! We caught up for a bit; and it struck me how little he's changed. He's almost completely the Goodwin Liu I remember from 25 years ago!  Mrs. Liu kindly snapped a photo so I could have my very own groupie shot!

I know, I know; I should have set the fill-in flash! If you knew how delirious with joy I was, you'd forgive my inattention to photographic details. I'll remain buzzed with the joy of this event for some time. I am proud of Goodwin and delighted for the great state of California. I hope life for the Lius quiets down a bit now and they get some rest and relaxation. I know I'll sleep better knowing that Goodwin Liu will be weighing in on the state's most important legal matters.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rearranging the deck chairs

The end of the school year seems to be getting increasingly crunched. I don't know if I'm moving too slowly or testing schedules are mucking up the works or what.

I remember a story on NPR where a noted skyscraper architect said that when trying to design a taller building, you must think not in terms of adding another level to the top, but adding another level to the bottom.

And so I decided that I needed to get to something physics-y sooner than I was. I had a "prelims" unit up first in Physics 1 to accommodate the revolving door of added and dropped students whose count rate is highest the first week and drops with a reasonable half-life until the first 20 days is up. The thought was to forestall the physics until student schedules settled down.

No more. While we still don't get to our first lab until the second week, I compressed the prelims stuff and combined it with my non-month-long unit on motion. That's right: I don't spend a month on motion. More like a week. Motion analysis is applied math. Good fun, and math we do in physics class. But not really physics. The kicker? The entire sky remains aloft; none of it falls!

Anyway, the result is some upheaval in my first and second units of Physics 1 (units 1.01 and 1.02). There will be some pain at while the deck chairs get rearranged and appropriately modified. Let me know which links are broken and I will try to fix them. Such a rearrangement is not a trivial matter when there are so many moving parts.

Thank you for your patience!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Extra Credit Opportunities for Rio Physics Students!

Congratulations for checking this note! Here are the opportunities:

1. Biggie:
When: Friday 8/19/11 - 2:00pm-4:00pm
Where: Room B-8 (Baird/Physics)
What: Readying the classroom for class on Monday
Extra Credit Rate 36 pts/hr (Triple the normal rate). Definitely worth skipping the afternoon soaps for.
To sign up for this opportunity, simply show up and be ready to work!

2. Smalls
When: Monday during the Link-Crew Training Block
Where: Football Field Air-Rocket Launching
What: Helping to supervise the launching of air-powered rockets
Extra Credit Rate: 12 pts/hr. Earning extra credit during school time? Sweet!
To sign up for this opportunity, send a note with your info to

Forward the link. Tweet it up! Post it to your FB Wall.

Monday, August 15, 2011

STAR 2011 scores are up!

Results of the Spring 2011 STAR administration were posted today. To see yours, start at the "STAR" page. And navigate to the 2011 Test Results page.

Once there, select your county, district, and school. Leave the test, group, and subgroup alone. Click the on-screen "View Report" button.

Physics results are at or near the bottom of the resulting report.

For additional amusement, start at the beginning and don't select a county. That will show you statewide results. Or pick a county but no district to see how things stand in your county.

You'll be able to access more meaningful results via Data Director, but I forget the steps. I recall only that there are too many, and few are intuitive.

To simplify matters, I usually refer to my score as "P% of N," where P is the sum of the school's advanced and proficient performance while N is the number of test-takers.

The school's physics enrollment was down last year, but those in the class performed at an admirable level.

2011: 70% of 84
2010: 66% of 135
2009: 61% of 107
2008: 57% of 124
2007: 51% of 167

Our "pass rate" is up while our physics enrollment is uneven and generally decreasing. I understand that our incoming Freshman class is unusually large, so there is hope for the future.

But what of the state? Physics continues to lead among the tested sciences.

76,144 students took the 2011 Physics CST
22% performed at the Advanced level
30% were Proficient
31% were Basic
9% were Below Basic
7% were Far Below Basic

The percent of Advanced and Proficient scores stands at 52%, up from last year's pack-leading 49%. The number of physics students earning Advanced or Proficient status has increased by 23% since 2003. No other subject-area test has seen anything close that kind of performance gain. Here's an obligatory Excel graph to show the story of the stats.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


This nifty vid keeps popping up in my Facebook feed, and I'm deep in lab book manuscript prep mode, so here you go. If you are either of the two people who haven't seen it, take a look. It's one of Lichtman's best, and it is worthy its "groovy" tag. NPR's Science Friday does it again!

The fact that I've got a big nerdcrush on Flora Lichtman is entirely beside the point. Still though, she is pretty dreamy!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Goodwin Liu nominated to California Supreme Court

Between TAM9 and AAPTSM11, I've been remiss in reporting this great news.

Rio Americano High School graduate, Goodwin Liu, will serve on the California Supreme Court. He was named by Governor Jerry Brown to replace retiring Associate Justice Carlos Moreno.

In 2010, Liu was appointed to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals. But Republicans (who loudly decried the use of filibusters against judicial appointments) used a filibuster to prevent a vote on Liu's nomination.

The Federal Court's loss is the California Supreme Court's gain. If any Rio grad has attained a more prestigious position, I am unaware of it. I am proud of Goodwin beyond words.

You can see my previous posts regarding Goodwin's Judicial Journey here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jennifer Ouellette on "low-temperature physics"

We prefer to imagine that gender issues in the physics community are a thing of the past.

They are not.

TAM9 From Outer Space... and into my camera

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011: TAM9 From Outer Space. It was too big and there's too much to say for me to even attempt a summary post. I'm still tingly from all the skeptical goodness of the conference and the conferees.

The speakers are always wonderful and the attendees? You want to meet more of them than the space-time continuum allows.

One highlight was running into a former student who said he was there because of the skepticism lessons I sprinkled throughout the school year. Wow! As if I wasn't buzzed enough from the "teacher crack" that the story of Jessica Scheimer provided. It may be quite a while before I come down.

One thing I like to imagine I can do better than most at TAM is getting photos of the presenters in action. The photographic conditions are less than ideal, and I don't use flash. Anyway, I'll use this post to link to my Flickr TAM9 photo albums as I finish the post-processing on them. I tried using my "big-boy" gear for the first time at TAM this year: Canon 60D, 24-105mm lens, 100-400mm lens, ballhead and tripod. My trusty 32 GB SD card had enough capacity for each day's shoot. The camera battery didn't fail, but I always switched to the backup in the afternoon at a convenient moment to avoid an inopportune outage.

Active links are completed albums. Inactive links are "in progress."

TAM9 Thursday, July 14 Workshops I Attended

TAM9 Friday, July 15 Morning Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Friday, July 15 Afternoon Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Saturday, July 16 Morning Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Saturday, July 16 Afternoon Speakers and Panels

TAM9 Sunday, July 17 Presenters

Monday, July 11, 2011

PTSOSers show their mettle on Iron Science Teacher

NorCal physics teachers Bree Barnett and Ty Fredriks recently performed on the Exploratorium's Iron Science Teacher. What is Iron Science Teacher?

"Cheer on the competitors in this zany science cook-off, where teachers compete before a live audience at the Exploratorium for the sought-after title, "Iron Science Teacher." Parodying the cult Japanese TV program, "Iron Chef," the Exploratorium's Iron Science Teacher competition showcases science teachers as they devise classrom activities using a particular ingredient—an everyday item such as a plastic bag, a milk carton, or a nail."

Bree's "secret ingredient" was eggs. Take a look at Bree's Eggsalent Adventure.

Ty's "secret ingredient" was magnets. Take a look at "Tesla Ty" in action (at a distance).

Our colleagues did a great job; they demonstrated grace under pressure in addition to some great science. Well done, Bree and Ty!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Apple investigating "physics metaphors" for iOS interfacing

As multitouch gesturing matures on smartphones and tablets (well, iPhones and iPads anyway), computer manufacturers are running out of simple options. Click, drag, tap, double-tap, two-finger drag, expand, pinch, rotate... the low-hanging fruit is fairly well picked.

Apple is filing patents on gestures like flicking and pouring--gestures based on physics metaphors--as multitouch devices move forward.

Full details and diagrams at AppleInsider.

Magnet boy attracts skepticism

A new "magnet boy" is entertaining Brazilians. Previous "magnet boys" seem to have been concentrated in Serbia and Croatia. The story line rarely varies from a simple formula. The boy is preteen, obese, and things appear to stick to him. Staged video of things sticking to him is provided. Once the demonstrations are made, stories are added telling of radio reception issues and/or healing powers.

I'll include some video links here, but simply Google "magnet boy" for the latest or most popular variants. And don't worry, the narrative won't vary from the formula described above.

Show the videos in class, then move in with some inquiry.

1. The claim is that the boy is magnetic. What evidence was provided to support the claim.
2. In what ways--if any--was the evidence not compelling?
3. Is there an alternate explanation of this phenomenon?
4. How would you test the claim if the "magnet boy" were here in the classroom?

The TV-news items are always wholly credulous. Skepticism and critical thinking don't sell ad slots or keep viewers glued to screens.

Magnets rightly hold a level of fascination among everyone. They act at a distance. You can feel an invisible repulsion force when playing with magnets that you likely don't understand. Magic! Part of the common misunderstanding of magnets is that anything metal is magnetic. People are surprised to find out you can't pick up pennies (or any other US coins) with a magnet.

Many "magnet boy" stories do themselves in (from a purely scientific perspective) when they show copper, nickel, or other nonmagnetic alloy coins sticking to the boy. When plastics and ceramics stick to him, we are invited to question our understanding of what magnetism really is.

And though actual magnetism is little diminished through a thin layer of clothing, "magnet boy" magnetism requires direct contact with skin. A non-vertical surface of skin helps, too.

One might ponder the exploitative nature of such spectacles, or wonder about the health/diet of the obese boys. And given the nature of the demonstrations, it's easy to see why an outbreak of "magnet girl" media darlings is unlikely.

Media fluff like this can and should be mined for as deeply as possible for lessons in skepticism throughout the school year. When students see such fluff in the future, we'll have reason to hope they'll laugh out loud at the offending TV screen.

Hat tip to SkepChick, Rebecca Watson, for the lead.