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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Friday, September 19, 2003

Great Moments in Art History

Offered without comment (because, really, what could you possibly add?):

An undated handout photograph shows an Italian Maiolica plate, provided by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on Thursday. A leading museum has paid 240,000 pounds for a plate which shows a portrait of a man whose head is made up entirely of penises. It is thought to have been made by Italian Renaissance ceramicist Francesco Urbini in the 16th century. The head is framed by a garland carrying the inscription: Ogni homo me guarda come fosse una testa de cazi (Every man looks at me as if I were a dickhead).

Posted at 11:44 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Ask Dr. Principles

Steven Wu asks a question that touches on the intersection of physics and law enforcement:

Ok, now let's suppose that we actually develop near-light-speed space travel, and let's suppose that Party A stays on Earth and Party B goes traveling on a super-fast space ship. Here's my question: given that there is a cause of action between Party A and Party B, should the statute of limitations run according to Party A's clock, or Party B's clock?

Coincidentally, I'm teaching Relativity again this term (check out this post for an explanation of the theory, and look here to test yourself), so this is a question of some interest to me.

From the standpoint of a physicist, of course, the only appropriate time to use is the time measured by Party B's clock. It's the one unique time in the problem, and the shortest time anybody will measure between the two events in question (namely, the wronging of Party A and the filing of charges). The time measured by Party B (in this problem) is even called the "proper time"-- how much clearer an answer could you want?

Of course, when Kate pointed this out to me last night, she had a different suggestion. Her considered legal opinion was that the only frame of reference that matters is the court's.

To a physicist, this is aesthetically unappealing, as it messes up our nice, clean, two-body problem by introducing a third frame of reference to worry about. Physicists hate problems involving three or more bodies (which may explain the distressing lack of physics orgies, but I digress...).

On the other hand, it does suggest the very science-fictional idea that justice (in some sense) might be best served by returning to the original meaning of "circuit court," and having the judges make very large circuits indeed, at extremely high speeds (thus giving them very slow-moving clocks). Which would be Very Cool Indeed, if mathematically inelegant.

Posted at 10:07 AM | link | follow-ups | 10 comments

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise...

As noted on Unqualified Offerings, I'll be in the DC area this weekend, for a conference on teaching introductory physics. Provided, of course, that the entire area doesn't get washed away in a hurricaine. Current projections have it hitting DC a few hours before my plane lands Friday.


Posted at 12:50 PM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Losing Later Will Hurt More

I once heard a Boston sports writer describe the attitude of Red Sox fans toward their team as one of eternal pessimism, characterized by the belief that "if they win today, it's only because losing tomorrow will hurt more." It occurred to me early this morning, after watching the my Giants honk a game to the Cowboys, that a slight paraphrase of that statement applies well to the Giants: If they're not sucking right now, it's only because sucking later will hurt more.

Last night, with the game clock ticking on toward the fourth quarter, the regular clock pushing past midnight, and the Giants shuffling around the field like they'd suited up the cast of Playmakers by mistake, I began to ponder the idea of shutting the game off, and going to bed. Then, suddenly, signs of life from the New York Football Giants. The offensive line actually blocked a few people. The receivers caught a few balls. The defense actually got some pressure on Quincy Carter. And they started to come back.

A touchdown. An extra point. Another touchdown. A two-point conversion. Suddenly, the game was tied. Another drive led to a field goal with eleven seconds remaining, and, unbelievably, they were in the lead. And I wasn't quite so annoyed to still be up watching the game.

Then, the Playmakers returned. The kickoff dribbled out of bounds, untouched, on the one-foot line, giving Dallas the ball on the 40. The "prevent defense" lived up to its name, allowing a long completion to put the Cowboys in field goal range, and one long kick later, we're headed to overtime. Where, midnight being long past, the offensive linemen turned into pumpkins, and the defensive squad into mice, and Dallas pounded the ball down the field for a chip-shot field goal. Game over, at one o'clock in the frickin' morning.

God, I hate football.

Unlike Madden and Michaels, I have a hard time really pinning things on the kicker, even though the ball did go out of bounds. After all, when you pull the squib kick with eleven seconds remaining, you kind of think that somebody on the other team might, you know, pick the ball up and attempt to run with it. Instead, it bounces within six inches of eight different Dallas players, all of whom stand there and watch it. That's not really the kicker's fault.

The fault really lies with the defense, or, rather, whoever calls the plays for the defense. Throughout the Fassel era, the Giants have been the single worst team in the league, by a very large margin, when it comes to actually stopping anyone in the late-game lots-of-DB's defensive set. Even before the snap, you know what's coming-- when they get into that signature rush-three-drop-eight alignment, it's like seeing "Big Play Coming Up" in eight-foot letters of fire across the stadium wall.

Any play at all would be better than that. Rush four guys. Send a linebacker in. Put the goddamn punter in the game, and let him rush the quarterback. Anything. Instead, we get defensive backs galore, and a game-tying field goal, followed by the inevitable overtime loss.

And the worst part of it is that they played well-- for just long enough to convince me to stay up an extra hour to watch the end of the game.

Posted at 11:40 AM | link | follow-ups | 8 comments

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