Spinning Box experiment

For my monthly repost, I thought I’d reach way back to bring you this post from 2008.  I was a physics undergrad back then!

Here’s a physics experiment that you can try yourself right now. It’s fun, I promise.

First, you have to find a small rectangularly-shaped object. Nothing valuable or breakable. A box works fine. A book works too, but you may have to tape the book shut for best results. It is important that there are no square sides on the object. All sides must be rectangles!

The box is about the dimensions of a novel, with one axis going from cover to cover, one from spine to page-edge, and one from top to bottom.

Here’s my 3-d model of the box (created with Mathematica). Your own box might differ slightly in its shape, but it should be more or less the same. What are those sticks, you ask? They’re just imaginary lines I drew to mark the three principal axes. If you have an object like a cube or a sphere, one axis is as good as another. But for an object shaped like above, there are three special axes of rotation, called the principal axes.

Now, take the box and toss it up into the air. Give it some spin as you toss it. First, make it spin around the blue line, then the green line, and then the red line.* Observe any differences between the three. I will wait.

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Fractals from Newton’s Method

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2008, over ten years ago!  This is the one that explains where my avatar comes from.

Today, I will explain how I created this:

Three-colored fractal

This is a fractal. A fractal is a pattern that contains smaller versions of itself. But it’s not just any fractal. It’s a fractal I created from something called Newton’s method.

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A season for giving

This is a repost of a short essay I wrote earlier this year, and published on Tumblr.  This is the last of the articles I wanted to import from Tumblr, so now Tumblr can burn down for all I care.

My mother is a hoarder, and her large house is approximately 90% filled with junk. I have, on multiple occasions, given her origami models, either as gifts, or because a lot of it’s just sitting in a storage box in my apartment anyways. I later see these scattered around the house.

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Paper: On the Racialization of Asexuality

Every month I repost an article from my archives.  Since this week is Ace Week, I thought it might be appropriate to repost one of my articles about asexuality.  This is a fairly recent article, from 2018, summarizing an academic paper from 2014.

I borrowed a copy of Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, which is an anthology of scholarly articles published in 2014.  Sennkestra wanted to write summaries of each chapter, but ran out of time, so now I’m doing that.  For the first chapter, I selected “On the Racialization of Asexuality“, by Ianna Hawkins Owen.  You might remember the author from our interview with her several years ago.

In the introduction, Owen says,

Many authors have claimed, in one way or another, that “little or no” scholarly attention has been directed to asexuality in humans prior to the twenty-first century.  In response to such observations, I offer that asexuality as a concept has long been invoked in the study of race.

So what you can expect from this article, is the reinterpretation of historical images and ideas as “asexual”.  Now, this is something that ace activists commonly complain about in  academic approaches to asexuality: using overly broad definitions of asexuality in order to include historical examples that at best are irrelevant to the modern day, and at worst are basically stereotypes.

But this is different!  Owen writes about historical stereotypes and misunderstandings of asexuality, and explicitly describes them as such.  Then she shows evidence that these misunderstandings still influence reactions to asexuality today.

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Retrospective on Hobby Lobby

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014, on the (then recent) Burwell v Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, which ruled that owners of for-profit corporations could withhold certain healthcare benefits (i.e. contraceptives) if their owners had religious objections.  I was reminded of this one because of Trump’s recent rule allowing federal contractors to discriminate based on religious views.  While only tangential to the present issue, I thought it was a good explanation of the rationale behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and how one might argue around religious exemptions.

As I may or may not have mentioned before, my boyfriend has a law degree.  So I get to hear a lot of lawyerly opinions on the recent Burwell vs Hobby Lobby decision, both from him and his friends.  And they seem to contrast with the opinions I get from atheist blogs, where there’s lots of panicking about the consequences, but very little explanation of the mechanical details of the decision.

The Hobby Lobby decision was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law from the 90s.  The RFRA says,

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

Laws specifically targeted against religions are already unconstitutional, but the RFRA adds religious protection from neutral laws.  For example, if a company bans hats among employees, that is a neutral rule that disproportionately affects certain minority religions which mandate wearing hats.
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The physics of Dominion

For this month’s repost, I’m publishing up an article I wrote in explanation of a programming project in 2018.  In theory you could find it on Github, but to maintain a layer of pseudonymity I’m not linking it directly.  A few minor revisions have been made to adapt to the audience.

Introduction

The goal of this project is to create Markov Chain simulations showing that the card game Dominion contains phase transitions, much like the physical phase transition between liquid and solid.

Dominion is a popular card game created in 2008. In Dominion, each player has their own deck, and they add/remove cards from their deck over the course of the game. Each game has a unique set of cards available to be added to players’ decks, making the optimal strategy in each game different. However, there are two archetypical strategies, based on two fundamentally different decks. The “Big Money” deck makes the best of the 5 cards drawn each turn. The “Engine” deck includes cards that draw more cards, and tries to draw itself in its entirety each turn.

Because of my background in physics, I recognized that the line between “Big Money” and “Engine” strategies is a phase transition. More specifically, it’s a one-dimensional percolative transition. That explains why there is such a strong dichotomy between the two strategies over a wide range of conditions.

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