Category Archives: General Science

Physics Reminder

Alan Boyle has a little piece today about the elevators in the tallest building in the world. But this bit is misleading:

Imagine riding in a car going almost 40 mph (60.6 kilometers per hour). Not that impressive, right? But now imagine going that same 40 mph … straight up.

That gives you some idea how elevator riders must feel in the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101.

Actually, you can’t feel speed at all. There is no difference in sensation between a twenty mph elevator and a forty mph elevator, other than perhaps vibrations transmitted through the cables and contact with the shaft. Acceleration is what you feel, so the difference is how long it takes you to get up to speed (and back down from it), not what the top speed is.

Similarly, he writes:

The cars go faster on the way up than on the way down

Is There A Mycologist In The House?

One familiar with the southeastern Florida ecology?

Sorry, I’m still too discombobulated to be able to post pics, but I noticed when I went out to survey hurricane damage this morning that one of the changes overnight was a lawnful of mushrooms. There seem to be two varieties (I’m assuming that they aren’t variations on the same species). One is flat and gilled, and the other has a circular head. Both are white, and as the day progressed, they developed brown areas on top.

Anyone know what they are, and if having them for dinner would result in delicious nutrition, or a trip to the emergency ward?


Via comments on a post at Crooked Timber, an article in the Globe and Mail about a tribe in the Amazon that not only doesn’t have a numbering system, they also don’t have clearly defined words for colors. Adding weirdness to weirdness, they also change their names on a regular basis. The thrust of the article is that the lack of number names interferes with their ability to count. There’s a whole literature in linguistics about this and the larger issue of how language influences thinking, though the subject has fallen into disfavor. I suspect that the truth of the matter is that language severely constrains thought, in that it’s easier to conceptualize things for which you have a word, but does not completely limit it (or where would new words come from? – the concept has to precede the word).

Incidentally, if you’re interested in this question, check out the logical langauge group. They are developing and promoting a language based on formal logic with the explicit intention of exploring the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Dynamic lab notebook

I’ve been mulling the idea of keeping my lab notes on my Mac for a while, and I’ve started moving in that direction. The problem with keeping notes on a computer rather than on paper is that the computer is far less flexible. It’s much more powerful, but it’s quite constrained by the need for exactly the right software. The major advantage of a computer over a lab notebook is that you can put in a whole lot more data, and interlink the data in ways that you just can’t with paper.

The ideal lab notebook software would combine some of the functionality of a blog with some of the functionality of a wiki. The blog function would be to simply keep a log of all entries, with timestamps. The entries would consist of text, images, and tables of data. The wiki function would integrate the linear collection of entries from the blog to build up a coherent time-independent picture of the object under study. The wiki would include both information about the current state of the experiment and a set of tentative conclusions about the phenomenon under study, along with things like lists of references with comments.

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