Well, that was embarrassing …

Ohio and North Carolina compete to claim the honor of inventing the airplane. While the Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur were from Ohio, their first flight took place in North Carolina in 1903. In support of their state’s claim, the state of Ohio issued a license plate showing their plane carrying a banner that said “Ohio Birthplace of Aviation”.

Unfortunately for them, their image had the plane backwards so that it seemed to be actually pushing the banner. That really would be a first.
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Atheists, agnostics, and Catholics are the most supportive of vaccines

Although the anti-vaccine and anti-mask protestors get a lot of media coverage, a new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of the American public (by a margin of 62% to 37%) see the health benefits if the Covid-19 restrictions as worth the costs, even though the restrictions have “hurt businesses and economic activity and keep people from living their lives the way they want”. But many also fear that the worst is yet to come.

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This xkcd strip needs an extra panel

Via PZ’s blog Pharyngula I saw this xkcd strip.

I am a physicist and a physics teacher and so of course am well aware of this popular lecture demonstration where a bowling ball or some other heavy object is hung from the ceiling of a lecture hall. A person then stands some distance away from the lowest point at which the ball is resting and brings the ball up to their nose with the rope kept taut. The ball is then released and it swings away from the person and returns, just like a pendulum. The point is whether the person will flinch when they see the ball come back towards their face. The law of conservation of energy predicts the ball will not rise higher than the initial release point and so will never hit the face, and the panel looks at how different scientists might respond to being in that situation.
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Psychopaths and sociopaths

Although I had not really looked into the formal definitions of the words, I used to distinguish between sociopaths and psychopaths by thinking of the former as people lacking in conscience and in empathy, who pursue their own interests without thinking of the needs or feelings of other people. One can think of Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos but pretty much any oligarch would seem to fit into this category. I saw psychopaths as going even beyond that and being willing to even physically harm people who stood in their way. Serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer would be psychopaths.

But somewhere along the way, I read that there really was no difference between the two terms and started using them interchangeably. Now comes along an article in Discover magazine by Benjamin Plackett that says that using the two terms interchangeably is not correct and that a useful distinction can be made using brain science between the two terms.
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Average body temperature is dropping

A few days ago, I started feeling a little lousy, ‘under the weather’ as they say in the UK, and decided to take my temperature and sure enough I had a low fever of about 100.6F. In these pandemic days, even though I am vaccinated and take precautions, wear masks in public places and as much as possible only associate with vaccinated people, there is always the chance of breakthrough infections so even though I had none of the other symptoms of covid such as loss of taste and smell, I decided to take a home test to see if I had contracted covid. The test came beck negative, which was a relief, but these rapid tests are not that reliable so one can never be sure, so I decided to self-isolate until my fever went back to normal.
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Galilean relativity rules! (At speeds much less than the speed of light)

The Mythbusters team looked at what happens when you fire a soccer ball at 50 mph backwards out of the back of a truck that is moving forward at 50 mph. The result would have come as no surprise to Galileo.

But if instead of a soccer ball, you fired a beam of light out of the back, it would still travel at the speed of light, however fast the truck was moving. (The truck can never travel at the speed of light, of course.) You would have to use the Lorentz transformations, not the Galilean ones, when you have objects traveling at close to or at the speed of light. You could use the Lorentz transformations for the soccer ball case also (since the GT are an approximation to the LT).

The ultimate gated community – in space

Now that we have people going to space just for the hell of it and if they can afford it, there are some plans to open a space hotel in the year 2027 in the form of a rotating wheel (a la 2001) to simulate gravity to about one-sixth of the Earth’s.

As the first of its kind, Voyager Station is slated to be a luxury resort designed to accommodate 280 guests and 112 crew members, complete with a restaurant, a bar, a concert hall, a gym and even a cinema.

After blasting off from Earth, guests will arrive at a central, zero-gravity docking hub. From there, elevator shafts will carry them outward to a chain of “habitation modules” arranged around the circumference of the circular station. It’s only there, at the edge of the wheel, that the centrifugal force will be strong enough to keep guests and their surroundings firmly grounded.

Wandering the 24 modules, which come in at 125,000 square feet total, they’ll find all the aforementioned amenities of this resort in the sky.

On its website, the company urges potential clients to get in on the action: “Be one of the first humans to vacation on a luxury space station. Make history as one of the first humans in history to own real estate in orbit.” As if it were promoting any old property in Aspen or Palm Beach, the site advertises short- and long-term leases for “luxury villas, commercial, retail and industrial space” — pun perhaps intended. They’re already in negotiations with booking agents, Alatorre says.

Yes, finally the very wealthy will be really, really free of the presence of the hoi polloi, their ultimate dream.

If you want more information, you can check out the website.

While I can see this maybe becoming reality at some point, 2027 seems highly unlikely.

The dark matter problem

According to our current theories of physics, all the matter-energy in the universe consists of about 68.5% dark energy, 26.5% dark matter, and about 5% regular matter. The dark matter is believed to be around galaxies in a halo while dark energy is everywhere. The problem is that we have not so far been able to directly detect any dark matter particles despite strenuous and expensive efforts. After each failure to detect a signal, the debate is always whether to give up the search and declare that dark matter does not exist or to build a bigger, more sensitive detector with other materials in the hope that it will work. As I discuss in my book The Great Paradox of Science, this is a recurring situation in the history science. At any given time, in addition to the dominant paradigm, there are always other competing paradigms seeking to dethrone the champion. The fortunes of the competitors depend upon he fortunes of the dominant one and in the case of dark matter, competitors see an opening in the failure to detect it.
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Somber milestone

Yesterday saw the tally of global deaths from covid-19 pass the five million mark. This is a staggering number. The number of people who have been infected is close to 250 million, which is over 3% of the world’s population.

These are likely to be undercounts since they depend upon accurate diagnosis and reporting. We may have to wait for a more accurate count of deaths when they calculate the excess mortality. By comparing the number of deaths during the period of the pandemic and subtracting from it the number of people who died during a similar period before the pandemic, that will give us a different, and hopefully more accurate, estimate.

The difficulty of becoming sober in an alcohol-drenched society

I am someone who does not drink alcohol and never have, except for the very, very rare wine or beer or champagne on some special occasion. The taste just does not appeal to me and it has been very easy to rebuff the attempts of many people who have tried to persuade me that I should drink because they think I am missing something pleasurable or because it is the socially acceptable thing to do.

While I do not miss drinking, I am well aware that there is a whole world out there that I am not a part of and that is bar life. I experience that only vicariously because it is a staple of films. Going by films, it seems to be common for people to spend a lot of time in bars and clubs where drinking throughout the evening is the norm. For people for whom that is a major part of their world, quitting drinking can be difficult because it is not just the alcoholic buzz that they miss but the particular form of social life that goes with it.
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