Links I liked, August 16-22 (Gigantic jets, Martin Luther, WEIRD people)

1. Sprites Lightning

Out of China, the most remarkable photos of the “gigantic jets” phenomenon I’ve ever seen.

2. The Day Martin Luther’s Father Died

Via a biography I’m reading, a very touching letter from Luther on the death of his father.

Today Hans Reinecke wrote me that my very dear father, Hans Luther the Elder, departed from this life on Exaudi Sunday at one o’clock. This death has certainly thrown me into sadness, thinking not only [of the bonds] of nature, but also of the very kind love [my father had for me]; for through him my Creator has given me all that I am and have.

3. The Most Important Book I’ve Read This Year

Human beings, Haidt argues, use six different foundations for moral reasoning – the six “taste-buds” of the righteous mind – but some of us use more of them than others. For WEIRD people (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic), like most readers of his book and this blog, the most obvious bases for morality are (1) care vs harm, and (2) fairness vs cheating, to the point that many WEIRD people will not be able to fathom why anyone would regard something as wrong if it wasn’t (1) clearly harmful to someone or (2) demonstrably unfair. Yet Haidt’s studies in psychology, especially in the non-WEIRD world, presented him with a range of other foundations: (3) loyalty vs betrayal, (4) authority vs subversion, (5) sanctity vs degradation, and (6) liberty vs oppression. The profusion of case studies here, again, is fascinating, and indicates that even within the US and the UK, where foundations (3), (4) and (5) seem not to exist at all, there are certain extreme scenarios (consensual cannibalism is one particularly gruesome example) that indicate they still do.

4. Episcopal Pulpits will Lose 2000 Priests in next Six Years

45% of parishes in the Episcopal Church are currently without a full-time priest, and priests are retiring faster than they can be replaced.  See also the comments section for some interesting and sometimes sad comments from former Episcopalians.

5. Why can’t we see that we’re living in a golden age?

285,000 more people have gained access to safe water every day for the past 25 years.  I think that number includes births – still, remarkable.

6. Keeping Faith Without Hurting LGBT Students

The concept of a “thick diversity” as compared with “thin diversity” should probably get more of a hearing.

To put this in context, recall that Barack Obama first publicly supported same-sex marriage as president four years ago. As of 2008, he unequivocally opposed it. In that short period, the American “community conscience” shifted from enthusiastic support for a Democratic president who opposed same-sex marriage to serious legislative efforts to punish schools in California that do not provide housing for same-sex married couples. Relying on public opinion to determine whether Title IX religious exemptions are just puts religious communities with deeply held, historic beliefs at the mercy of rapidly evolving social norms. Unlike the Bob Jones case, which concerned a fringe view among Christian colleges, a great many religious schools remain committed to traditional teachings on marriage and gender.

7. This Clever, Three-Word-Address System Is Coming To Middle Eastern Shoppers

Dividing the whole world into a 3m x 3m grid, and assigning each space a three word name like “gold.river.tree”, to give everyone a not-easily-confused-with-another address.  Especially to improve deliveries in countries with low quality postal systems.

8. The End of the Liberal Tradition?

Call me a pessimist, but I tend to think most people would happily live under a monarch, even an oppressive monarch, as long as the people he was oppressing were people not like them.  Which is to say – I find these statistics easy to believe.

This week brought to you by pretty birds at Preuss’ Pets:


Links I liked, August 9-15 (Astrophotography, Brave New World, Biblical Anthropology)

1. An astrophotography timelapse from our East Lansing balcony

You can be in a city and still see a surprising number of stars.  Lasts about 2.5 hours (then our camera battery died), five minutes between frames, note Polaris barely moving down at the bottom middle!  (And, for a brief moment, a Perseid.)

2. “The division between politics and religion, I dare say, is an ideological ploy.”

I am reading this book.

3. The City That Unpoisoned Its Pipes

A happy story about how our beloved (yet often dysfunctional, shh) Lansing has quietly replaced nearly all of its lead water pipes.

4. Brave New World, 85 Years Later

In a post-Fordist economy and a digital age of personalized devices, mass society is no longer as straightforward as it once seemed. Far from being perceived as a threat, for instance, individuality is now deeply assimilated into our economic system, as we’re encouraged to differentiate, identify, and align ourselves through our chosen forms of consumption. The fact we’re all caught up in the same system is less obvious when we all wear bespoke chains we’ve chosen for ourselves.

5. How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen

Seemed like everyone passed around this article last week, but if you haven’t seen it…

But there was a fundamental problem with the decision that you can see rippling now throughout the West. Ms. Merkel had put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections. Ms. Merkel, her cabinet and government, the media and cultural apparatus that lauded her decision were not in the least affected by it and likely never would be.

6. Reclaiming ‘Redneck” Urbanism: What Urban Planners Can Learn from Trailer Parks

Any discussion of trailer parks should start with the fact that most forms of low-income housing have been criminalized in nearly every major US city.

7. Biblical Anthropology

A lecture Kevin DeYoung gave in South Carolina last week.  Of especial interest to me, he talked about how his kids attend our public schools, and the message they receive at school that he feels he most often has to correct is actually the stuff they hear related to the environment. And the problem is that a model is adopted that portrays humans never as producers, but just as polluters, the Earth as a good functioning system on which humans are basically cancer cells that can only make things worse. The Christian position would be rather – in fact, humans are God’s highest creation, and meant to be creators like him on Earth. We should recycle and be careful how we live and all that – but we aren’t a cancer on the planet. Indeed the planet is a better place today, than it was 4000 years ago, because of our creative works.

8. Randy Travis – Forever and Ever, Amen

You cannot dislike this song.

This week brought to you by good times at the Great Lakes Folk Festival this past Saturday.



Links I liked, August 2-8 (I Am N, Star Trek fan films, Krugman and Trump)

1. I reviewed “I Am N”

A good book to read for any American Christians tempted to think the goal of life is to be comfortable… which is probably just about all of us. This is not a very complicated book, the chapters tend to be 3-5 pages each, and even the names are often changed in these short stories of the lives of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. And for the most part these are not the stories that make the news, the threats and violence and legal punishments, however terrible, are too personal and too much “just the daily risk you take being a public Christian in these parts of the world” – all the more reason to read them. These are the stories of people who share the good news they know no matter the risk, because they’re longing for a better country.

2. ReasonTV talks about Star Trek fan films

Prelude to Axanar might be the best fan-produced short film I’ve ever seen… which is probably why CBS got all concerned.

3. Tim Keller Releases New ‘Sweatin’ To the Hymnal’ Line of Workout Videos

Babylon Bee is a treasure.

4. Self-driving Cars Will Kill Transit-Oriented Development

Will this happen?  Are transit agencies thinking about this happening?

5. How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible

Dishonesty always comes back to bite you in the end.

His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad.

He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president.

I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney.

6. No, Eric Metaxas is not a Proto-Nazi

Just sharing to say, the world could probably use more “my friend is wrong about this but don’t you dare slander him” pieces.

7. Key Figure in Fight for Religious Freedom in Egypt Freed, Declares Return to Islam

Hegazy apologized to family members, who had threatened to kill him after he became a Christian.

8. Aquatic Mushrooms Timelapse

From our aquarium, photos taken every five minutes from around noon until around 8 PM.  Huh.

9. I had no idea Kevin DeYoung’s new children’s book was being made into a short film

Look at dat.  (He is the senior pastor of our church.)

This week brought to you by a rainbowfish in our freshwater aquarium.



Links I liked, July 26-August 1 (Australia moving up, Gary Johnson libertarian?, Jerry Doyle passes away)

1. Australia moving up in the world… literally

Oh the problems you have (with modern satellite navigation systems) when your country drifts north by 7 cm per year.  Australia updating the coordinates of its maps to make them match modern reality – they haven’t been updated since 1994, which is quite a drift, actually.

2. Is Johnson-Weld a Libertarian Ticket?

The one presidential election season when a whole lot of people would love a good third-party candidate…

In other words, Johnson doesn’t just come off as anti-religion, but completely misses the distinction between public (meaning government) and private action that is at the heart of (classical) liberal or libertarian legal theory. That’s a shame: it makes him no different than progressives in that regard – or social conservatives, who miss the distinction in the other direction, restricting individual rights in addition to government powers.

3. Jerry Doyle passes away at age 60

I still haven’t seen anything beyond “natural causes”.  I enjoyed his character on Babylon 5 and listened to his radio program (conservative political talk!) from time to time back in the day.  From the Babylon 5 creator:

When it came to politics, Jerry Doyle and I disagreed on, well, pretty much everything. Politically, Jerry was just to the right of Attila the Hun. There is a line in Babylon 5 where his character, Michael Garibaldi, suggests that the way to deal with crime is to go from electric chairs to electric bleachers. That line is quintessential Jerry Doyle. I say this with confidence because I overheard him saying it at lunch then stole it for the show.

4. Tim Kaine “I’m Conservative” ad 2005 – “I’m against same sex marriage and for sanctity of life”

Oh how quickly what is considered acceptable in the Democratic Party has changed.  See also Hillary Clinton, 2004, talking about marriage as a “sacred bond between a man and a woman”.

5. Unprecendented $70M donation to cut Kalamazoo property taxes by a third

I have actually never heard of anything like this happening before – anonymous philanthropists donate money to the city of Kalamazoo to help them get their budget under control, cut taxes, and make investments for the future.

6. Venezuela’s new decree: Forced farm work for citizens

This from CNN Money – is the mainstream media paying much attention to the ridiculous, and very sad, collapse of Venezuela?  I pay so little attention to it these days it’s hard for me to know.  Really is sad.

7. ASMSU and COGS: MSU wasn’t transparent in decision to remove Women’s Lounge

A local story and yet also not a local story here – a University of Michigan – Flint professor filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights towards Michigan State University because they had a study lounge designated for women only, but not one for men only.  He suggested such discrimination (it is discrimination, whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing is another matter) might violate Title IX and Michigan civil rights laws.  MSU is now closing the lounge.

8. Monuments to Idiocy

Like all government monopolies, the TSA blames its failures on lack of funding. But it’s already spending way too much, as demonstrated in a congressional study comparing TSA screeners in Los Angeles with non-TSA screeners in San Francisco, one of the few airports allowed to run its own system, contracting with a private company. If LAX switched to the San Francisco model, the study concluded, it could cut its screening costs by more than 40 percent.

The San Francisco private company’s screeners received the same salary and benefits as TSA screeners, but they were so much better trained and deployed that each one processed 65 percent more passengers than a TSA screener in Los Angeles. They apparently enjoyed better working conditions, too, because they were much less likely to quit their jobs. And in tests by federal investigators, they were three times better at detecting contraband.

9. I reviewed “Bad Religion” on Goodreads

This week brought to you by dinner tonight at Lansing’s favorite food truck:

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Some photos from a construction tour of FRIB (the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams)

This is basically just the blogification of some social media posts I’ve written, since it occurred to me some web-searchers might find these photos also interesting! Caption accuracy is not guaranteed, click the photos to make them larger. If you don’t know FRIB, it is basically a $730 million bump-out of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) here in East Lansing, Michigan, that will enable them to run experiments much faster… it is also a linear accelerator rather than a cyclotron. The facility is a little over half-done. And now, some photos.

Here we are about to go on the tour.


Most of the folks with us were cyclotron operators – that is, they run the show at the NSCL. It was fun overhearing their conversations (especially about how they were going to fix stuff that breaks in the new setup!).


Place started to feel like a bunker once you headed underground, I know where I’m going once the zombies come.


Here is the main beamline tunnel, 35 feet below grade and about 500 feet long, which the beamline will travel through in a sort of paperclip pattern. It was nice and cool down there. The facility electrical connection is for 25 MW, more than Michigan State University’s powerplant can provide, with a 4 MW backup for cryo systems. The walls down here are 3 feet thick, the floor 4.5 feet, the ceiling 3.5 feet.


Just another photo of the tunnel, the long pipe running down the middle will carry cryo fluids.


This is where they’re going to lower the Stargate into the tunnel to travel to other planets. They’ll never admit it, of course. (Oh… you’re all Stargate fans.)


Near the target areas there was a special high-density concrete, cost $1600 per cubic yard, so high in iron it would attract a magnet (as our tour guide demonstrated).


I want to say this was a cooling control room, but note especially the renderings on the wall – our tour guide mentioned that 300 draftsmen worked on the project.


Lots of 3000 pound, lead-lined doors about.


I can’t remember what this room was for, but here is Bec looking professional.


The squares will eventually be leaded-glass windows looking into the target areas.


Final photo – and this photo doesn’t really do justice to the scale of the space. The wall on the left is 7.5 feet thick (“because we have neighbors on that side”). The facility bottoms-out about 60 feet below grade with some water storage tanks, above that is the beam dump (the last place the beam goes), and above that are the targets themselves.


Good tour.

Links I liked, July 19-25 (Bicycle Physics, Hungry Cleaner Shrimps, Family Bikes)

1. The Bicycle Problem that Nearly Broke Mathematics

Terrible headline here, but pretty cool story that goes to show that just because a device is very common, doesn’t mean it is well understood.  A couple snips:

In April 1970, chemist and popular-science writer David Jones demolished this theory in an article for Physics Today in which he described riding a series of theoretically unrideable bikes. One bike that Jones built had a counter-rotating wheel on its front end that would effectively cancel out the gyroscopic effect. But he had little problem riding it hands-free.

This discovery meant that there was no simple rule-of-thumb that could guarantee that a bike is easy to ride. Trail could be useful. Gyroscopic effects could be useful. Centre of mass could be useful. For Papadopoulos, this was revelatory. The earliest frame builders had simply stumbled on a design that felt OK, and had been riding around in circles in that nook of the bicycle universe. There were untested geometries out there that could transform bike design.

2. Trump: Tribune of Poor White People

Everyone was passing around this piece of political/cultural analysis last week – give it a read if you haven’t seen it, any excerpt can’t do it justice.  But I’ll drop one anyway:

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

3. What Happened With the Library Millages

This is a local story but… I bet this sort of thing happens all the time.  City passes millage specifically for library that should increase their “intake” by about $2,000,000 – but actual intake only increases by about $250,000 because the city decreases the amount of money given the library from the general fund.  There is an obvious incentive here to pass specific millages for popular programs (like the library), to free up more general fund money for less popular stuff.  Be aware…

4. A Brief Word to J.I. Packer on His 90th Birthday

Thomas Aquinas died at age 49.  John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards died at 54.  Charles Spurgeon at 57.  Martin Luther at 62.

5. Facebook Messenger Hits 1 Billion Users

There is nothing deep and complicated about this article just… whew.

More than 10% of voice over IP (VoIP) calls occur on Messenger, and 17 billion photos are sent on the app each month. And interactions with businesses have risen sharply. People now exchange 1 billion messages with businesses every month, a figure that has more than doubled in the past year.

6. Heavy Boots

To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question: 1

1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it
a) float away,
b) float where it is,
or c) fall to the ground?

About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:

2. You’ve seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall off?

About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing heavy boots.”

7. Cleaner shrimp stuffing his face at feeder ring

OK personal video here – I don’t know how common this is, but our cleaner shrimp has learned that me opening the top of our saltwater aquarium means food is coming, and he’ll now run up and over to the feeder ring and start grabbing food!  On the plus side his actions help the sinking food sink, which I suppose the other fish appreciate.


8. This man rescued a bear from the jaws of a cheese puff bucket

Man sees bear with cheese puff bucket on head.  Man lassos bear.  Man and bear roll around on the group together for a couple minutes (but bear cannot bite man because cheese puff bucket).  Bear gives up and climbs tree, man ties rope to tree, calls authorities to come help bear.

9. Taga 2.0: The Ultimate Most Affordable Family Bike

At the risk of totally getting sucked in by advertisement… this seems like a pretty awesome idea.

10. As More People Get High in Colorado, More Kids Head to the Hospital

By itself, not an argument against legalization perhaps, but legalization proponents like to pretend there is no downside, and that needs to be pushed against.

Although cannabis poisonings in children are not common, the incidents have definitely increased following Colorado’s legalization of recreational use in 2012. The rate of increase in hospital visits is considerable—it doubled between 2009 and 2015—but the overall numbers remain small: 1 child per 100,000 people before legalization and 2 children per 100,000 people after legalization. Numbers of poison control center calls, though still small overall, increased by more than five times.

11. 7-Eleven Delivered a Slurpee via Drone Without Dropping the Scoop Straw

Title says it all.

This week brought to you by blue jays in our backyard.


Links I liked, July 11-18 (Alzheimer’s proteins, Pokemon in a rationalist world, “Uniformed Lives Matter”)

After a long hiatus, maybe I’ll start this up again.  There has just been too much good stuff to read of late.

1. Physicists discover how proteins in the brain build-up rapidly in Alzheimer’s

Obvious good news here as far as perhaps a path toward treating the disease by limiting the fibril replication.  Stargate fans might feel a chill at the ending.  :)

Dr Saric also argues that the findings could be of great interest in the field of nanotechnology. “One of the unfilled goals in nanotechnology is achieving efficient self-replication in manufacturing of nanomaterials. This is exactly what we’ve observed happening with these – if we’re able to learn the design rules from this process, we may be able to achieve this goal.”

2. Life on the line in Venezuela as economic crisis worsens

Sad to see this country collapsing, especially now knowing some people from it.  And I feel like that collapse is being underreported though I pay so little attention to mainstream media sources now it’s hard for me to tell for sure.  Life itself becoming of less value.  What an intro:

The robbers demanded a cellphone from a 25-year-old in black shorts. Instead of handing it over, Junior Perez took off toward the entrance to the pharmacy. Eight shots rang out, and he fell face down.

The dozens of shoppers in line were unmoved. They held their places as the gunmen went through Perez’s pockets. They watched as thick ribbons of blood ran from the young man’s head into the grooves of the tiled walkway. And when their turns came, each bought the two tubes of rationed toothpaste they were allowed.

3. Why Companies Have To Be People, Constitutional Amendment Or No

Disagreements don’t bother me (at least not very much).  Slogans that short-circuit thought bother me a lot – “corporations aren’t people!” is one such slogan.

In the jargon we’ve got two types of people. We have natural persons. That’s you and me and all the other humans wandering around. Then we also have legal persons. That’s corporations, partnerships (in certain cases), sports clubs, unions and on and on and on.

The really crucial point here is that the law, the responsibilities of the law, only apply to “people”. So, if we want unions, clubs, corporations, to be able to use the law then they must be people. Sure, they’re not natural people, they’re not humans, but they must be some form of a person in order to be a legal person who can then use the law. If you cannot use the law then you cannot sign a contract. Perhaps more importantly you cannot be sued. And perhaps even more importantly you cannot be taxed if you are not a person, natural or legal.

4. Michigan senator to introduce ‘Uniformed Lives Matter’ bill

This article is over a week old, but I bring it up because the governor of Texas today said he would like to sign a similar bill there, making attacks on police officers a hate crime.  I’m against the idea inasmuch as I’m against the existence of the category of “hate crimes” period – I have yet to hear of the murder motivated by love.  Is it worse to engage in violence again someone because you hate them because of their race, than because you hate them because of their profession, or because you just hate Bob Smith?  I’d say no, and we would do well to drop that distinction, which muddles our thoughts and public discourse in many other ways as well.  If we’re not going to drop that distinction, of course the number of groups covered by such laws is only going to go up, and up, and up.

5. Chicago on the Brink: A retreat from proactive policing has unleashed mayhem in the city.

Good long read about the crime-boom, and why it has boomed, in Chicago.

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated the national airwaves and political discourse, from the White House on down. In response, cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities around the country are backing off pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the resulting vacuum.

Officers who try to intervene in this disorder face a virulent street situation, thanks to the current anti-cop ideology. “People are a hundred times more likely to resist arrest,” an officer who has worked a decade and a half on the South Side informs me. “People want to fight you; they swear at you. ‘Fuck the police, we don’t have to listen,’ they say. I haven’t seen this kind of hatred toward the police in my career.”

6. Pokemon Go in a fractured and flattened world

At the risk of making something fun and silly into something serious… probably actually some truth to this.

In a secular age, it is common for people to conceive of the world in terms of scientific cause and effect. We are less likely to be stunned by the magnificence of this world, and more likely to feel as if we are only cogs in a naturalistic machine. The secular mind, due to its rationalist foundation, must create meaning rather than discover it.

But suddenly, a game based on Japanese mythology invades the naturalistic machinery of the modern age. Pokémon envisions the world as if it were filled with kami that resemble the Greek gods of old. The creatures inhabit trees, rivers, and rocks, similar to the ancient Norse or Celtic myths that described a world teeming with fairies and elves. When you take the ancient myths that gave us fantastic animals such as centaurs and unicorns and place them within the animistic worldview of Shintoism, you start to see why the Eastern world of Pokémon feels both strange and familiar.

7. Can Michigan spend tax dollars on private schools? We’ve already said no.

My only comment is that inasmuch as the reason people are upset here is the thought that public funds might go to promote religious instruction – sorry, but the public schools themselves offer plenty of religious instruction these days. (Actually they always did, but it has become more evident as America has become more divided.)  There is no such thing as a worldview independent education – it matters a lot more in some fields than others, to be sure, but the public schools teach them all.  (Alas, I don’t think the governor is making his appeal on those grounds.)

This week’s picture from today’s lunch in downtown Lansing:


Notes from Spring, 2016, MIAAPT Meeting

Below find my notes from the Spring 2016 MIAAPT meeting, held at Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  As always my notes are just my notes – accuracy is not guaranteed, and they reflect what I found interesting, not necessarily a good representation of what was actually said.


Modeling Mechanics with Google Sheets, Don Pata

Talked about creating spreadsheets in Google Sheets to model (usually) kinematics behavior.  Two things that struck me in particular – when creating a graph that shows velocity as a function of time *with air resistance*, if the initial speed is greater than terminal velocity you see the object slow down as it falls, which students find intriguing.  Second, similar to LCC’s PHYS251 “Energy Conservation” lab they make an plot with experimental data showing a mass oscillating on a vertical spring, kinetic energy, potential energy, and total energy all plotted together as a function of time, total energy is just a flat line, looks beautiful.

Counterintuitive Results from Collisions Involving Rotations, Michael Faleski

He wrote a nifty app: , that allows you to collide a sticky object with a rod in space, with or without the pivot point of the rod fixed.  Results that surprised him – for certain arrangements of the pivot point and object, the center of mass of the system actually moves backwards after collision.  Second, if you want to maximize the angular velocity of the system after collision, you do NOT want the object to hit right on the end of the rod.  There is a give and take between the increased torque, and the increased moment of inertia, that makes the best collision point just a little closer to the pivot point.

Creating a Mental Model of a Radian, James DeHaan

When he asks his students to define a radian, their answers generally amount to either, “there are two pi of them in a circle” or “it is about 57 degrees”.  Talked about how a radian is really a non-arbitrary (unlike degrees) angle measure, the ratio of an arc length to a radius.

The Natural Human Electricity and its use to Operate Touchscreens, Wathiq Abdul-Razzaq

Said students think Physics labs are boring, there are no chickens hatching, we need to give them more exciting titles, like the title of his talk.  Said that when a human finger touches a touchscreen that amounts to a capacitance of about 100 pF.  Talked about a nifty demo where he physically wedges a battery between two (large) capacitor plates hooked to a voltmeter, then removes the battery, voltmeter reading does not change.  Talked about charging those plates from the static electricity of his students.

Experimenting with Impacts, Michael LoPresto

Talked about a simple lab they do in which they drop steel balls, of different masses and from different heights, into a tub of sand.  Students then measure the rim diameter of the ejected material.  They then plot the rim diameter on the y-axis, initial potential energy on the x-axis.  He cited a paper which showed that if most of the energy goes into ejecting the material the graph goes like E^1/4, whereas if most of the energy goes into digging the hole the graph goes like E^something_I_forget.  In any case students get something close to E^1/4.  A questioner mentioned that Purdue has an “Impact Earth” app that does similar theoretical calculations.

Cheap Sensors Allow for Real Questions, Steve Dickie

Talked about how the Maker Movement has resulted in many cheap analog sensors.  These sensors can actually be integrated with LoggerPro – you can purchase a Vernier cable with analog LabPro connector on one side, just loose wires on the other side, and attach your maker movement sensor.  LoggerPro will just record the voltage as a function of time, but you can add a calculated column to give the quantity you actually want.  They purchased some $30 accelerometers which they embedded in football helmets they then attacked with hammers.  In summary – sensors cheaper and more capable that a lot of the stuff you buy from Vernier.

Flipping a Class Without Flipping Out, Alan Grafe

Talked about the practical aspects of flipping a class.  Uses Notability for drawings, Camtasia for recording and editing.

How Standards Based Grading Improved Student Achievement, Joanna DeMars

Talked about assigning grades based on mastery of certain standards, rather than traditional grading.  Has 5-10 standards per unit, all standards are pass/fail, requires perfection for pass.  Subsequent reassessments get harder.  Has seen her AP passing rates go up, not sure how much of that is due to grading change.

Building a Culture for Learning Physics, Bryan Battaglia

“Failure is always an option.”  “Physics is not the most important thing.  Love is.” ~Feynman

Using Science Olympiad Events to Bring Engineering and Design Into the Classroom, James Gell

Talked about using SOINC events to help meet NGSS engineering standards, and how much students love these activities.  Especially talked about a boomilever design project, boomilever must hold 15 kg out at 40 cm, students building boomilevers with a mass of only 11 g that can do this.  At national SOINC masses get down to 6 g.

Why do we Teach Physics Like It’s 1899?, Vance Nannini

Students love space stuff.  Mentioned how much they love NASA “Seven minutes of terror” video about Curiousity lansing.  Talked about gravitational assists, elastic collision, inbound and outbound velocities of spacecraft same from perspective of the planet, from sun’s perspective outbound is much larger, planet orbit radius does shrink by a tiny amount.  Gravitational assist theory was developed in the 1920s.  “Suck less every day” his motto.

Physics of clustering and invasion of living cells, Evgeniy Khain

Hard to summarize the keynote.  Studies cancer cells from a theoretical perspective, with experimental partners who study the cells in petri dishes.  The cells will migrate their own diameter in 5-10 minutes – this is just a diffusive motion because they are in a fluid, so the distance they travel goes like the square root of time.  Time for cell division is about a day.

He specifically studies brain tumors – median survival time is about 12 months.  There are sort of three cell behaviors involved.  Cells in the inside of tumors don’t do much because they haven’t the room.  Cells on the edges of tumors have a rapidly dividing phenotype.  And then sometimes cells detach from tumors and have an invasive phenotype – for reasons not well known, the division rate of these cells falls by a factor of 10.  That might seem like a good thing, but the problem is radiation and chemotherapy target dividing cells, so the invasive cells are relatively invisible to those treatments.

He then developed a stochastic model to describe division, proliferation, and adhesion, in which cells begin at random locations in a 2-dimensional gridwork, and are then permitted to diffuse, divide, and stick together according to parameters chosen by the simulation.  Clusters of cells will form, or not, based on the adhesion parameter, but the surprise was there is actually a phase transition, a certain adhesion parameter at which, suddenly, cluster formation becomes possible.  This has also been verified experimentally.  If clusters do form, the phenotype of some cells will switch to proliferative, and a recurrence of the tumor may occur.

However, even if the adhesion parameter is too low spontaneous clustering can occur if enough cells “random walk into the same room”, and hang together for long enough (about an hour) for the phenotype to change.  In a 3 mm by 3 mm system this will happen in roughly 4 days.

Business Meeting

Fall meeting, which will be at LCC, will be coordinated with MSTA.  Teachers are interested in having higher ed help show them how to implement NGSS engineering standards.  One high school teacher mentioned he would love help putting together specific labs and projects.  The thought is that some long-term partnerships might form to this end.

Alex Azima, “We’re interested in stuff”.

Taoufik Nadji was elected new 2nd VP.

EHW and Reflections in Physics Curriculum, Taoufik Nadji

Talked about the need for student reflection on what they have learned, and this email reflection homework he has his students turn in every two weeks.  They must follow specific guidelines to reflect, question, and feel.  Reflect – summary of concepts they understood, must quote something from the textbook with page number and something from lecture.  Question – summary of concepts they would still like to understand.  Feel – a transfer summary of how they felt about what they learned, perhaps applying it to the rest of their life.

Circular Motion – Lo-Tech to Hi-Tech, Daniel Lorts and Frank Norton

Demonstrated a rotating platform they use to help teach rotation consisting of a 24″ lazy-susan base supporting a larger wooden circle.  First demo, put tube of fluid on circle, showed how angle of water depends upon location and speed.  Also attached a Vernier cart by rubber band, then spring scale, to get a measure of forces.  Did some neat demos where you lightly hold a ball on the rotating surface as well, then let it go.

Principles for Smart Teaching, Samanthi Wickramarachchi

Played a fun game to show that active learning aids memory.  Showed 14ish word pairs where, in seven cases, you had to think for two seconds to complete one of the words, in the other seven cases you were just given both.  Five minutes later people remembered better the word pairs they had to think about.

A Progress Report on the Physics Lab Curriculum Changes at Lawrence Tech, Changgong Zhou

At Lawrence, lab and lecture are still strictly divided, and the lab is only one credit – what does that say about how much we value lab work?  How much attention do instructors even pay to lab reports?  How much do students care when they only get them back two weeks after they do the lab?  They are trying to make changes so students do meaningful writing and get immediate feedback upon leaving lab, and also trying to make the labs less “do this, then this, then this…”.  Results have been good so far, students who get bad feedback even wanting to repeat parts of labs to improve their score.  He mentioned students lose 25% if they blow a fuse in lab!

A Case Study: Novel Group Interactions through Introductory Computational Physics, Michael Obsniuk

Talked about attempts to incorporate computational physics into introductory physics in an MSU course called “Projects and practices in Physics”.  The course involves a mix of analytic and computational methods.  Some students have no coding experience, so they use visual Python or are given minimally working programs they modify.  One example problem is a simulation of the motion of a satellite bound to the Earth.

Notes from Fall, 2015 MIAAPT Meeting

I have been meaning to post my notes from the delightful Fall MIAAPT meeting at Interlochen Arts Academy!  Here they are.  As always, my notes are my notes – accuracy is not guaranteed.  Here also is a photo of the venue.


Links I liked, 8/10/2015 – 8/16/2015 (safe spaces, bad science, internet arguments)

Oh dear, I have been slacking on these lately.

1. The Coddling of the American Mind

OK, everybody on the internet has already linked this article – so if you haven’t read it yet, go do so. Too long to really quote, but essentially about what making colleges places of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”, where “microaggressions” are zealously hunted and punished, does to the way we think.

2. A Scientific Look at Bad Science

Another nice Atlantic essay on why an increasing amount of apparently bad science is being published.

3. There’s a sneaky trick that is allowing this biker to seemingly defy physics by driving on water

A free-body diagram! In a mainstream news article! (But is it correct?)

4. I Don’t Know if I’m Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos

As I’ve only realized lately, to be a man, and to declare yourself pro-choice, is to proclaim your neutrality. And, as I’ve only recently been willing to admit, even to myself, that’s another name for “wimping out.”

At least that’s how my wife sees it. She’s pro-life, and so she’s been tearing into me every time a new video is released. She’s not buying my argument that, as a man, I have to defer to women and trust them to make their own choices about what to do with their bodies. To her, that’s ridiculous—and cowardly.

Yes, someone unfriended me on Facebook because I shared this article, true story.

5. Whole Foods’ John Mackey: Why Intellectuals Hate Capitalism

I don’t watch a lot of video interviews. This was a good one. Made me order his book.


Lot of ideas worth pondering in this essay.

People like to talk a lot about “dehumanizing” other people, and there’s some debate over exactly what that entails. Me, I’ve always thought of it the same was as Aristotle: man is the rational animal. To dehumanize them is to say their ideas don’t count, they can’t be reasoned with, they no longer have a place at the table of rational discussion. And in a whole lot of Internet arguments, doing that to a whole group of people seems to be the explicit goal.

7. Our Southern Mountaineers (1918)

Shot almost a century ago, this 1918 newsreel footage might possibly be the earliest known moving images of Appalachia.

Lake Lansing
Lake Lansing as we flew into town this week.