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 K├Ânig 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.