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steve
I have a particle physics background and live happily with my wife Sukie and our five ferrets.
Interests: ferrets, physics, astronomy, atmospheric optics, os x, numerous technologies, large and dangerous electrical devices, simple hacks, social computing, history, history of science and technology, music, digital music, photography, image manipulation, and story telling
Recent Activity
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About a month after Apollo 8 circled the moon my Dad and I traveled the two miles to Malmstrom Air Force Base for a tour of the SAGE installation. A number of these Semiautomatic Ground Environments were scattered around the country to detect and coordinate a response to bomber attacks... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2019 at omenti
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(a) Without resorting to equations, why light slows down when it travels from air to sheet of glass and why it speeds up when it exists? (b) Again without equations, why does light refract? For the past decade and a half a friend in the engineering department of a very... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2019 at omenti
Last week I read Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. David writes well I've recommended The Sports Gene as another excellent read. In Range he talks about real world messy problems that often poorly defined and open-ended. The really interesting ones usually require a range... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2019 at omenti
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"No - we took all of that out years ago. It's just not relevant anymore." Fifteen or so years ago I visited the local high school to see if they had an adult education program that would let me use the student shop. We don't have enough space or cash... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2019 at omenti
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You've probably seen this excellent summary of issues associated with the Boeing 737 Max. The core message seems to be this: They described a compartmentalized approach, each of them focusing on a small part of the plane. The process left them without a complete view of a critical and ultimately... Continue reading
Posted Jun 3, 2019 at omenti
The other day I saw something that a few of you might want to consider for a kid or even yourself - the Turing Tumble Mechanical Computer. It turns out digital computers are mostly switches. A lot of switches these days - perhaps a trillion in your smartphone. As a... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2019 at omenti
Imagine that you're from another world and happen upon Earth for the first time. You have the ability to sense not only the visual, but beyond it. Soon you discover an arc of sound traveling East to West along the Earth's surface as the planet revolves. Sweeping along it lights... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2019 at omenti
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Physics is, by far, the simplest science. I probably have said it too much and it can raise eyebrows. It may not seem that way as we have a reasonably deep understanding and the required knowledge can seem esoteric, but that complexity isn't central and misses the point. What is... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2019 at omenti
I'm certainly not a futurist. Oh - there are some things I can predict with reasonable accuracy: that one of my ferrets will beg for a banana next week and next year, when an eclipse will happen somewhere, roughly when the Sun goes into its red giant stage... The easy... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2019 at omenti
Last week a friend and I were talking about finding Nature. Is a city a wasteland for a nature-lover? That's a complicated question that triggered a series of thoughts. Ultimately it depends on the person, but a few thoughts. In 1981 interview Richard Feynman talks about how he can appreciate... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2019 at omenti
E = mc2 Perhaps the most recognizable equation in the world. It says something with mass is equivalent to an enormous amount of energy. A kilogram of mass has 9 x 1016 Joules of energy. A quick back of the envelope says anything with the mass of three gallons of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2019 at omenti
The funny thing is I thought I was a good teacher. First year graduate students are required to spend part of their time teaching. I drew a two of lab sections of Physics 103/104 - Physics for the Biological Sciences or, more popularly, physics for pre-meds. Each lab section had... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2019 at omenti
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The professor drew a box around the words and added "do not erase" at the bottom. That marked the opening of a two semester course in General Relativity. He never commented directly, but its presence was anything but subtle . The circumstances under which Karl Schwarzchild wrote three significant papers... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2019 at omenti
The ripped and stained vinyl covered seat of some lost color puffed a cloud of tobacco smoke when I sat down. It wasn't the worst seat in the room. One wall of the windowless basement room was a painted green chalk board. Over forty years had gone by and it... Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2019 at omenti
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My Grandmother King gave me my first camera for my eighth birthday - a Kodak Brownie. My parents had a camera, but I wasn't allowed to use it. This was my camera. I also received two rolls of black and white film and a voucher for developin. Of course I... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2019 at omenti
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The 1970s were marked by two dramatic energy disruptions that shook the world. Petroleum became much more expensive and a geopolitical weapon. Small cars suddenly became popular and American drivers began to look to countries that made them. In the US large sums flowed into energy R&D. Much of it... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2019 at omenti
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The photo shows Katie at a seminar yesterday afternoon. A question came up and in answering it, she's doing some hell-for-leather astrophysics. Usually scientists in cartoons, television or movies are depicted as working at a whiteboard filled with either gibberish or something out of a textbook. Sometimes science advisors bring... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2019 at omenti
Measles turns out to be wickedly contagious and an outbreak is currently underway in the Northwest US. It's the result of too few people being vaccinated. It turns out there's a simple way think about herd immunity. Ro (r-nought) is the basic reproduction number: the average number of people an... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2019 at omenti
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Yesterday a friend asked for comments on a piece about the recent movement of the magnetic north pole. The article referred to an update to officially published information about the Earth's magnetic field. Unfortunately it was both confusing and inaccurate so I typed out a reply on my iPhone. He... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2019 at omenti
Some of you live in areas prone to earthquakes. The USGS map is a great resource for checking out what's been shaking in the past day. It goes down to magnitude 2.5 - close to the smallest you'd notice if you were in the vicinity. You'll notice that smaller quakes... Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2019 at omenti
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When I was a kid we had to walk miles through snow drifts up to our necks and below zero weather.. Yeah, you say, cutting me off and there's that part about running from the dinosaurs too.. Part of it turns out to be true. Winters in Montana were much... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2019 at omenti
eta Greek letters are used to symbolize so many things that they are almost Rorschach tests. For me it represents a term in a few very different equations and a type of particle... anyone else is likely to see it differently. You need some context to sort out what it... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2019 at omenti
The other day I was in a Manhattan library wearing the t-shirt of my undergrad school. As luck would have it someone noticed it. She was from the same school - her Ph.D. was in mechanical engineering - and a most interesting conversation followed. It turns out she happens to... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2019 at omenti
On those clear and moonless nights stars would suddenly rise from the edge of the butte marking its shape and size. Besides the stars the only other lights were a distant aircraft beacon and a flashlight modified to give off a faint red light to protect your night vision and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2018 at omenti
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Canals saw explosive growth in England during the first few decades of the Industrial Revolution allowing raw materials like iron and coal to fall in price by as much as eighty percent. Improving canals became a major industry - they became straighter with locks and aqueducts coming into wide-spread use... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2018 at omenti