Tag Archives: mouse

Things 96: Rocket Path-Dependency, Lipstick Animals, 3D Doesn’t Work

Link
When speculating on the subject of extraterrestrial space-faring life, it’s all too easy to forget the many development factors that are likely to be local to us, and to assume that too much of what we have done will generalise to other life forms out there. This article puts forward a compelling argument that our rocket-based space-faring only arose because of certain very specific and not particularly likely events.

Quote
While I don’t think it could be objectively assessed, I rather like Arthur Koestler’s observation on originality:

The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.

Picture
This is one of the things that makes me think of that Arthur Koestler quote: lipstick animals.

Lots more here.

Question
Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.”
Roger Ebert quotes Walter Merch, as a Man Who Knows What He’s Talking About, who presents several arguments as to why 3D cinema can never work.

I’ve heard a lot of bad arguments on both sides of this debate, so it’s nice to see someone with a deep understanding of the medium draw out their arguments clearly. My question is, is he right?

Previous Puzzle
Last time I asked how a mouse could fall any distance and survive.

As Phil pointed out, the statement is strictly false: “a mouse certainly can’t fall further than the size of the universe, for example.” So instead we restrict ourselves to consider mice falling off things that are attached to the earth, and no higher than the point at which the atmosphere becomes too thin for a mouse to breathe, and that the survivability criterion is assessed upon landing, and that the landing area itself is not deadly to mice.

First we must address the idea some people recall from school that all objects fall at the same speed, as per Galileo’s thought experiment and his apocryphal dropping-objects-from-the-tower-of-Pisa experiment. This is clearly false as a feather falls more slowly than a hammer, and the confounding factor is air resistance. Rather excellently, the hammer-feather experiment was conducted on the moon to show that in the absence of significant air resistance, they will actually fall at the same speed:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE81zGhnb0w

When air resistance is introduced the shape and particularly the downward-facing area dimensions of the falling objects matter, and although it’s hard to have a good intuitive feel for this when comparing such random objects as animals, I find it’s much easier to imagine a kind-of equivalent parachute with a weight attached.

A small parachute with a big bag of hammers attached will be pulled down more quickly than the same parachute with a feather attached. Alternatively, if two parachutes have equal weights attached, but one parachute is much bigger than the other, it’s easy to imagine that the bigger parachute has greater air resistance and so will fall slower.

Now if we imagine a parachute the size of a mouse, with a weight attached that is the same weight as a mouse, we can imagine it will fall pretty slowly, particularly compared to a parachute the size of an elephant with a weight attached the same weight as an elephant. So we can intuitively understand that the mouse survives.

Or perhaps we can’t? I realise that wasn’t very scientific, but I tend to prefer thought experiments of this kind as they seem to help most people grok ideas better than formulae.

This article over at Everything2 also has some concise words to say on the subject of falling animals.

Things 95: Modern Movies, How to be Happy, Mouse Mystery

Video
A beautiful demonstration of physics (or perhaps chemistry):
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGjwe-BCfms

Quote
Scott Rudin, quoted in this GQ article about why movies are all rubbish these days:

Studios are hardwired not to bet on execution, and the terrible thing is, they’re right. Because in terms of execution, most movies disappoint.

Incidentally, while there’s clearly a huge argument to be had about the relevance of the data to the argument, let’s just contextualise the “things are terrible now” discussion by looking at the breakdown of what proportion of pre-2010 films in the IMDb top 250 come from each decade:

We see a broad trend that is the opposite of the “films used to be better” argument, apart from a post-war spike.

As I said, this is a starting point for huge arguments, and if I was going to start one I would begin with one of the following:
-Any popularity poll will tend to bias more recent candidates
-Demographic bias of IMDb voters and the scoring calculation used for the IMDb Top 250 will skew the result away from the “Objective Truth” (ha ha ha) of the matter
-This data does not speak to the more important issue of ‘typical’ film quality by decade

This week’s question
A mouse can fall any distance and survive. How is this possible?

Picture
I’ve had this obvious-but-actually-important thought myself, and this is a pretty great way of expressing it:

Answer to the previous question
In Things 94, I asked why ovens didn’t come with a built-in thermomenter.

Uncharacteristically, the Things community was unable to answer – or perhaps you weren’t interested. So I asked the internet using my secret research alter-ego* on Yahoo Answers, and also on Quora just to try that out.

You can see the range of responses I received on Yahoo answers, some of which are quite useful. The question on Quora has yet to draw a response, so I’m guessing the community there is still too niche to cover this kind of thing.

Putting together the suggestions from YA and my own thoughts, this is my conclusion:

1) It’s difficult (and therefore expensive) to make an oven thermometer that will remain accurate for the device’s lifetime. If it wasn’t, I suspect ovens would be thermostat-based, and we wouldn’t have the problem to begin with. (As I said, baking books insist there is a problem, and anecdotally I can report my gas oven is almost two gas marks cooler than it should be, and adjusting for this significantly improved my baking results).

2) It also must be difficult (and therefore expensive) to design and calibrate an oven such that it accurately produces the intended temperatures throughout its lifetime, because (once again) if this wasn’t true the problem wouldn’t arise.

3) The solution to the problem is to have a separate thermometer and use it from time to time to calibrate your oven. That thermometer then doesn’t need to maintain integrity for every use of your oven, and even if it does break it’s much easier to replace than an integrated one would be.

4) Admitting there is even a problem looks bad, so any oven manufacturer supplying such a thermometer unit with its devices would be perceived as worse than those that pretend there isn’t a problem.

5) Even if a manufacturer did include a built-in thermometer, people unaware of the oven temperature problem would again presume the oven must be sub-standard to need one, and people that know enough to worry would realise an integral thermometer couldn’t be trusted for long.

I suspect similar principles apply to protective cases and screen protectors for mobile devices.

*A long time ago I thought it might be prudent to separate my question-asking online identity from my confident-and-opinionated online identity. This doesn’t seem quite as important any more, and now that Things is a blog it’s very easy for someone to connect the two anyway, so now I don’t worry about linking from one to the other. But I’ll still use it anyway.

Things Christmas Special 2008

(Originally sent… okay, you can probably guess)

It’s Christmas and Things has been running for over a year. I’m taking that as an excuse to break with the usual format, and also to highlight what I (and some others) consider to be the best of the year’s Things.

Urgent matters first
I bought 10 tubs of Celebrations chocolates, discovered the average distribution of the different types, then created tubs of each kind and put them on eBay for charity to determine their value. I wrote up the initial results in my new blog:

http://toweroftheoctopus.com/2008/12/the-celebrations-experiment/

The auctions end AT LUNCHTIME TODAY!

Check out how they are doing, or bid if you are so inclined, here:

http://www.tinyurl.com/TimEbay

[It’s long over now, read the final results here – T.M. 22/1/11]

Videos
Here are some videos that I like.

1) Tim ‘Speed’ Levitch is an extraordinary fellow that speaks in paragraphs that would take most other people hours to come up with. In the following video he holds forth on the New York grid plan and builds to a brilliant conclusion.

To sell you his style just a bit more, here’s his spontaneous introduction to a comment on a homeless person he passes while walking down the street: “[that person], under the white comforter, cuddled up with 34th street and Broadway, existing on the concrete of this city, hungry and dishevelled, struggling to crawl their way onto this island, with all of their machinated rages and hellishness and self-orchestrated purgatories…”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9awJCyjt550

2) Somebody put a few frames of an anime featuring a woman spinning a leek around to a brilliantly loopy sample from an obscure band. A massive internet meme was born. Here’s where it all started (reposted).

Wikipedia article on the phenomenon.

3) This is my favourite tune and music video right now, and the intro guy is awesome too:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGDlCViI6k8

Pictures
This guy makes armour for cats and mice. Or perhaps more accurately, scale sculptures that resemble such things:

Best of Things 2008

Link:
Worst translated menu in the world

Quote
XKCD on dreams and possibilities.

Video
Acoustic Resonance – rice is used to illustrate standing acoustic waves on what I presume is a metal plate:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zkox6niJ1Wc

Picture
Analemma (click for big):

If you don’t know what an Analemma is, try to work it out from the photo.

Puzzle
The rainbow paradox, remains one of my favourite and (as far as I am concerned) unresolved puzzles:

Soundwaves can vary in frequency across a vast range, part of which we can hear. The lowest part we perceive as a deep bass, the highest as a high squeak.

Similarly, the electromagnetic spectrum consists of a vast range of frequencies, a small range of which we are able to see. The lowest frequency we can see is what we call red, and the highest frequency is what we call violet.

However, while we perceive the ends of the audible sound spectrum to be very different, the ends of the visible light spectrum, red and violet, seem very close to one another, and we even have a colour we call purple that is a mix of the two yet does not actually appear anywhere in the spectrum between them. In fact, we can draw a circle of the colours we perceive and it is not at all clear where the ‘ends’ are.

Why is this?

That’s it for Things until 2009.

Happy Thingking!

Tim