Global Warming: A New Perspective

August 29, 2008

This posting is a follow up to “The Law of Conservation of Mass: A New Perspective”.

Today at lunch, I got to tell the story conveyed in that earlier post about the incredibly intelligent student who had a hard time understanding the idea of mass. It received the anticipated laughter, but was soon to be topped by one of our chemistry teachers.

She told the story of her first job, teaching an accelerated chemistry class in a school in Naperville. The experiment required students to heat something, and thus a thermometer was required. As my colleague related: this experiment took place in April.

After about 15 minutes, she discovered that one student seemed confused. She approached the student who said that the anticipated temperature change was not forthcoming on the thermometer.

My colleague first suspected that the alcohol column in the thermometer may have been broken (a common problem in alcohol thermometers). Sure enough, the top was cracked.

As my colleague noted this, she also noticed the lack of graduation (the little lines that are used to measure the temperature). That’s when she noticed that the student was using a broken stirring rod to try to measure the temperature.

Which, of course, would not do the job.


Another reason to hate the Yankees

August 28, 2008

http://wcbstv.com/local/yankees.bathroom.ejection.2.804859.html

The New York Yankees are the most loved, and hated team in baseball. Loved, because the metro of New York is the biggest in the United States. Hated …… well ….. there are a lot of reasons to hate the Yankees. Here is another one, though it depends on the version.

Ever since September 11, 2001, the Yankees have played “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. Some other teams do this to varying degrees (the White Sox do it at Sunday home games). Its their new tradition, and given that baseball has a historic tie to patriotic songs (there are a lot of historians that will say that our current national anthem got adopted because it became popularized through singing at baseball games), so be it. Given the abhorrence that New Yorkers were forced to witness that day, it is perhaps a good song to lift the spirits … remind people that in tough times they are not alone.

However, at a recent game, a fan got up to go to the bathroom as the song was starting up. A NY police officer asked him to return to his seat until the song was over. The fan refused. Two officers than pinned his arms behind has back and escorted him from the stadium. The fan thought that maybe it was a pair of overzealous cops, but found out later that in fact this is New York Yankees policy: during the singing of “God Bless America” fans are to be instructed to stay in their seats until the song is over.

The police version is that the fan in question was standing on his seat, shouting obscenities. So far there are no witnesses to this happening, but a few supporting the fan’s perspective.

To say the least, the ACLU is no involved. I’m no fan of the ACLU, but this is definitely unwarranted restraint of an individual against their will, especially since there was no real notification to fans that this policy is in existence (claims the ejected fan).

I am no patriot. Perhaps I am lucky that it never became necessary to wear the uniform and serve on foreign soil. My father did, and I have always been grateful for those who have worn the uniform and put off their lives, their family’s lives, and in some cases gave the ultimate sacrifice to defend the nation. When I coached the academic team, I learned of a school alum serving in Afghanistan who wanted donations for the local children, and I organized the team to get money and supplies together. I am all for helping children, but I was also motivated by the fact that this aid would help him and his men do their job. In a small way, we got to directly aid our soldiers on the ground. I was thrilled! I have always considered my role as an educator to be a form of public service to the nation …. in some small way.

However, enforced patriotism ….. that’s something we see somewhere else: like China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea. We used to see it in the USSR and Nazi Germany, and other places where the government was far from being “of the people”. That is no path for this nation to take, period! To see this form of forced patriotism, I don’t care what their excuse is, come from a baseball club, the proclaimed “American Pastime” is a hurtful embarrassment. The New York Yankees owe not only this fan, but the whole of baseball fandom an apology for this unAmerican abomination of a policy. I can only hope that Major League Baseball itself will step in and do something if the Yankees bridle at changing.

When I think of men and women dying for their country, do they die for a country where citizens are forced to sing a patriotic song, forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or do they die for a nation that extends that rite of participation to all, without the gun to their head? I would hope the answer today is the same it has been since time immemorial.


The Law of Conservation of Mass: A New Perspective

August 28, 2008

Experienced teachers learn that all students are prone to making mistakes, and that sometimes the most ridiculously simple are made by the most intelligent.

I stopped in to see one of our AP Physics classes today. Today’s topic was center of mass The first part of the activity is to determine the center of mass of a meter stick when various masses are placed at different positions. One of the things that students had to do was measure the mass of their meter stick on a digital balance.

The instructor was supervising, and noted that, early in the year as sometimes happens, students forget to use the metric side of the meter stick. A young lady had just lifted her meter stick off of the balance to go back to her station, when the instructor bellowed to the class:

Make sure that you are using the metric side of the meter stick!

The young lady’s eyed rolled back in a “how stupid of me” moment. She turned around, flipped her meter stick over so that the metric side was up, and took the mass of the meter stick again.

We were both dumbfounded! I was tempted to ask if she felt her new mass was more correct. I kept my mouth shut. Truly, a non-accelerated student would almost never have made that mistake. You need to be pretty smart to make a mistake like that.


another tool off the peg board in the workshop of the Cub

August 26, 2008

Jay Mariotti, the biggest tool in Chicago sports media, who I swear must have been receiving part of his paycheck from 1060 W. Addison, has left the Chicago Sun-Times.

I call this a classic example of addition by subtraction. I can finally go back to reading the Sun-Times again. He’s lucky the White Sox are in Baltimore, because you can bet that there would have been a party at the ballpark in honor of that! White Sox township has been waiting for this bum to leave town for a long time!

Jake: How are you gonna get the band back together, Mr. Hot Rodder? Those cops have your name, your address…
Elwood: They don’t have my address. I falsified my renewal. I put down 1060 West Addison.
Jake: 1060 West Addison? That’s Wrigley Field.

The Blues Brothers (1980)


An Olympic recap and possible analysis (the sports)

August 25, 2008

Let’s look at this sport by sport:

Archery: South Korea won five overall medals (in four events), and was the only nation to win more than one gold medal. Nothing this year for the U.S.

Badminton: China netted 8 medals of the total (in five events), and their three golds made it the only nation with multiple golds. Nothing for the U.S.

Baseball: South Korea was a mild surprise over Cuba and Japan, but the Koreans claim what will certainly be the final gold medal in the Olympics. I think the U.S. bronze was good …. finishing ahead of Japan after losing to them earlier in the tournament. Topping Cuba is never an easy proposition in baseball. South Korea’s win may have been unexpected, but they certainly outplayed everyone, and deserved to strike gold.

Basketball: USA! USA! USA! No doubts here, the men redeemed themselves and the women came through like an express train. Mission accomplished!

Beach Volleyball: USA saw a parallel of basketball: the men won a close, yet convincing finale, while the women pummeled their opponents into utter submission before going to work on them. Despite tough Brazilian opposition, the U.S. swept the two golds.

Boxing: Cuba led the way with four medals (in 11 weight classes). They won no gold, but no other nation picked up more than one. It was a disaster for the U.S: their worst showing since 1948: only one bronze. This sport is almost certain to expand as the women should be able to compete in London, 2012.

Canoe/Kayak: Germany took 8 medals (in 16 events), and tied for the gold lead with Slovakia with three. The U.S. took nothing. Though not followed in the U.S, one of the memorable pictures of the games is bound to be Spanish silver medlaist, David Cal, butt turrned to the audience, and vomiting on the medal stand while gold medalist Maxim Opalev laughs a hearty Russian laugh. A feel good story was Togo claiming a bronze medal for its first ever Olympic medal (even though the medalist had only once ever visited there).

Cycling: Great Britain p’owned the world taking 14 medals (in 18 races), and 8 golds, with no other nation taking more than 2. The U.S. took five, good for the third largest medal haul, with three coming in the new BMX discipline. Bet your bottom shilling that tickets to cycling events in 2012 will be tough to come by.

Diving: China came one gold away from a clean sweep, taking seven of the possible 8 golds, and 11 medals overall (in only 8 events). Remember when the U.S. used to lead the way? The U.S. got completely shut out for the second consecutive Olympics. Unlike boxing, hopes were not teribly high with a dominant Chinese team jumping into the home pool, though the hopes for 2012 are significantly higher.

Equestrian German horses (and their riders) claimed five total medals (in 6 events), and with three golds was the only nation to claim more than one. The United States did better than usual, claiming one of each for the second highest medal haul, besting the usually better teams from northern Europe.

Fencing: Italy parried their way to seven medals (in 10 events), and tied with France and Germany with two golds. The U.S. only had one gold, but claimed six medals for the second largest haul in the sport, one of the United States’ best showings in decades!

Field Hockey: Germany claimed gold for the men, and no one had more than one medal between the mens and womens competitions that was missing India and Pakistan. I give Germany the edge over the Dutch (who won the womens gold) because the German women finished fourth. The U.S. women finished 8th which is better than the mens team that did not qualify for the games.

Football: Brazil’s consolation is that they were the only dual medlaist, though the nation that has done eveything there is in soccer, and eats, sleeps, and breathes soccer, STILL has never won gold in the Olympics, taking silver in the women’s tournament (losing to the U.S, a nation that doesn’t even call the sport by its rightful name), and bronze after dropping a tough semi to their neighbors from Argentina. The U.S. ladies won their gold after being upset by Norway in their first match. The men … well … you know … America … soccer….

Gymnastics: China definitely led the way, with the men assuring the dominance. 18 total medals (there were 18 events) and a whopping 11 gold. The U.S. vaulted to ten medals for second place, and tied with Russia with two for second place in the gold vault. The American women came out pretty good with a couple of 1-2 finishes, and the men, missing key players, performed better than expected Remember when Romania and Russia used to own this event: one gold and one bronze for Romania, and two gold and two bronze for Russia.

Handball: France (men) and Norway (women) scored golds. Maybe a slight edge to France given that the women made the medal round. South Korea also got both teams to the medal round, with the ladies netting the bronze.

Judo: Japan chopped its way to seven medals (there were 14 events), and led the way with four golds. The U.S, never a power in this sport, managed a bronze to avoid being shut out.

Modern Pentahlon: Lithuania won the silver and bronze on the mens side, and no one else had more than one, though we will shout out to Germany (womens) and Russia (mens) for taking the gold.

Rowing: Great Britain took six medals (14 events), and tied with Austraila for two golds. The U.S. tied with Aussies and the Kiwis with three medals, claiming one of each. More than respectable in a sport that saw 20 nations claim a medal.

Sailing: Great Britain claimed 6 medals (in 11 races) and claimed four golds in the one sport that did not have anything nice to say about China (between winds breaking masts, races cancelled due to lack of wind, and a nice layer of green muck covering the bay). The U.S. claimed two medals (gold and silver) in a sport that was wide open this year: 18 nations medaled in 11 races!

Shooting: China claimed 8 medals (in 15 events) and five golds. The U.S. was second with six medals (two of each), with the Czech Republic and Ukraine also taking a pair of golds. Nineteen nations medaled, notably India which claimed its first ever individual medal in the Olympics.

Softball: Japan took the shocking gold medal in what will be the last softball tournament for a while (it has a much better chance of making a comeback than baseball). This was most definitely one of the “shocks” of the games as the U.S. women did their impression of “taekwando in jackboots” to the rest of the field …. even beating Japan twice to run their winning streak to 22!! Japan’s pitcher Yukiko Ueno had pitched 21 innings the day before in what was sure to be a laugher. Even the Japanese weren’t laughing at this result that must have had even some die hard America haters tearing up a bit.

Swimming: I’ll take a gamble: USA! If Michael Phelps were a nation, he would have finished third in the medals, and FIRST in golds! The United States panned for 31 medals (out of 33 events), twelve of which were gold. The Aussies picked up 20 medals, six of which were gold. No one else had more than six medals and/or 2 golds. Did NBC overhype Michael Phelps? Yes, however, think of this: how many times does an athlete (or anyone) get attached to the chance of pulling off something really, really big, and then come through.

Synchronized Swimming: Russia took both of the golds. Spain took both silvers. The United States did not place. The world goes on.

Table Tennis: China salivated for this moment for oh so long. They won 8 of the twelve medals, and all four golds. This further included sweeps of the mens and womens singles events. Only the team events (they could only enter one team) stopped them from winning every medal in the sport. The U.S. got a woman to the quarterfinals for the best American finish ever.

Tennis: Russia picked up one of each to lead the world, while Spain picked up a gold and silver. The U.S. picked up the bronze in mens doubles (compliments of the Bryan Brothers), while the Sisters Williams struck gold in womens doubles.

Taekwando: South Korea picked up four golds (in eight events; four per gender), and led with those four medals. The brothers and sister Lopez won all three U.S. medals, second in the medal count, though Mexico’s two golds was the second largest gold haul. Steven Lopez’ match ended in a protest, though that was nothing compared to Angel Matos of Cuba, whose kick to the face of the Swedish referee after being disqualified will be the saddest picture of the games. Afghanistan’s bronze, the first ever for the nation, was among the feel-good stories.

Track & Field: The USA led all nations with 23 medals, and seven golds. Russia had 18 medals, and with Jamaica had six gold medals …. yet somehow the media claimed this was an utter disaster for the U.S. On the one hand, U.S. sprinting got shut down by Jamaica, and had a pair of gaffes in the 4×100 m relay! The real stories were with the Jamaican sprinters and Ethiopian distance runners (who pulled in four golds and seven medals). Kenya was third in the medal haul with 14 medals, five of which were gold, including their first ever gold in the marathon. Despite a couple of sweeps, a historic gold in the womens discus, an all but forgotten gold in the decathlon (how did this not get played up in the media!!!???) and the rest, this will not be an overall memorable win for the US, as the main stories were in the Carribean and East Africa! On the other hand, given the U.S. predilection for doing well in the sprints, and the fact that they did not really produce, it shows something of America’s dominance in this sort that they still led the medal haul. No matter what the media says, the U.S. did OK, even if the high profile athletes that the media embraced in the easy-to-televise sprints didn’t come through.

Triathlon: Australia took gold and bronze in the womens triathlon; the only multimedal nation. The U.S. finished quite respectably: Hunter Kemper was seventh, Sarah Haskins was eleventh, and despite being the first out of the water, Laura Bennett fell back, and finished fourth.

Volleyball: Brazil and the United States each claimed gold and silver over each other. I give a slight edge to the United States. The U.S. women won the only set of the games from Brazil, while the men had to overcome a huge emotional roller coaster, and had to defeat the top four teams in the world to win. Think about it: in four gold medal matches in indoor and beach volleyball, ALL of them came down to a U.S. vs. Brazil matchup … and the U.S. took three! Successful Olympics for USA Volleyball? You bet!

Water Polo: The United States??? Yep … the only nation to grab two medals. Swimming caps off to the U.S. who had to fight through tough competition to get the two silvers. Kudos to the Hungarian men and Dutch women for taking gold.

Weightlifting: China dominated with nine medals, eight of which were gold (in 15 divisions). The competition was marred by the exclusion of Bulgaria and Greece. Russia took seven medals, four silver and three bronze.

Wrestling: Russia finally could look to something that turned out as planned: 11 medals (in 18 weight classes) and six gold dominated the competition. Japan and Georgia were the only other nations with two golds, with Japan’s six medals following Russia. The U.S. scored three medals, including one gold. While far from bad, it was not up to expectations as weight and fitness were an issue. The first major incident of the games were when Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian, upset over getting screwed in the semi final, received his bronze medal, shook hte hand of hte gold medalist, stepped off the podium, and dropped his medal in the middle of the mat before walking away. He was ejected from the games, though the court of arbitration in sport later admitted that he had been screwed; the consequences could not be undone.

Overall, hats off to China ….. since 1996, when China won 50 medals, they have doubled that number in the space of 12 years (three olympiads). While the U.S. had ten more overall medals, the 15 more golds by China I find to be an overall greater accomplishment. Kudos to the hosts for giving the home crowd a lot to shout about.

Aside from the Chinese gold rush, there were other points of interest: More nations than ever took part in the medal haul; with 88 nations taking home at least one medal. The diversity of those nations was also apparent: African nations won a combined 40 medals; an all time record for the continent.

Big winners (besides the U.S. and China): Britain had its all time greatest showing in the games, and certainly will be looking to improve on that in 2012. The Jamaican sprinters were flat out awesome, out running the U.S. and everyone else at every turn. And while Jamaicans were partying, Rastafarians everywhere had to be pleased that Ras Tafari’s home nation of Ethiopia brought home seven medals, four of which were golds. South Korea has come a long way to establish itself as an Olympic power. They have consistently been finishing in the top ten for some time, displacing some of the communist powers of Eastern Europe that used to be taking more regular trips to the medal stand.

Who didn’t come out smelling like roses: Some nations just really underperformed: Where was South Africa: 1 bronze! Venezuela should have had a warm welcome among fellow socialists, but they got one bronze too. Greece had won 13 total medals (four golds) when they were the home team in 2000, and 16 total (6 golds) in Sydney. In Beijing, mired in a doping scandal that kept 11 weightlifters home, Greece managed four medals (two silver, two bronze). Sweden picked up five medals, and after fifty years of nearly always being near the top of the medal haul, managed no gold medals. In 1988, Bulgaria topped France, Italy, and China with 35 total medals (10 golds), but managed five total medals (1 gold) in Beijing. The same can be said for Romania (1988: 24 total (7 gold); 2008: 8 total (4 gold)). Cuba has seen a steady drop off after their 1988 boycot: 9 gold in Atlanta; 11 gold in Sydney; 9 gold in Athens; but only 2 gold in Beijing.

The United States has been remarkably consistent over recent Olympics:
Seoul, 1988: 94 total, 36 gold (third to USSR and East Germany in total medals)
Barcelona, 1992: 108 total, 37 gold (second to Unified Team in total medals)
Atlanta, 1996: 101 total, 44 gold
Sydney, 2000: 91 total, 36 gold
Athens, 2004: 102 total, 36 gold
Beijing, 2008: 110 total, 36 gold

So, on some levels, this is the best American showing since the 1984 Los Angeles games, which saw a skewed result with a boycott underway. It seems that the recent Chinese focus on preparation for the Olympics, and the decline in medals to the former communist nations of Eastern Europe, has not had a marked effect on the United States. Toss in Michael Phelps being the unquestioned “athlete of the games”, and the U.S. can call this Olympic outing a great success.

As I stated in an earlier post, the question people are asking now: China invested $40 billion in these games, and several million more in their so-called “Project 119”, which was designed to train athletes in medal rich sports in order to get their medal count up. While it was successful (they didn’t win 119 medals, but still, from 50 to 100 in 12 years is amazing!), now that they are not going to be on the home turf showcasing their socialist-capitalist utopia to the world, will this continue? Certainly, with the shape of China’s economy as it is today, the answer is definitely: “They can”, but economic prosperity is not necessarily something that will last forever …..


An age old question of Olympic proportions …

August 22, 2008

The stories of the 2008 Olympic Games of Beijing will certainly be:

1. Michael Phelps and his record breaking swims.

2. Usaine Bolt and the sprinting sweep by the Jamaicans on the track.

3. The rise of China as a sporting power.

4. The age of China’s Olympic gymnasts.

Now, those first three are pretty much noted as factual, despite there being a little subjectivity. The last one is going to be debated for some time.

For those not entirely aware, because even on TV they screw it up, the rule for Olympic competition is that the competitor must turn 16 in the year of the competition. So, in fact, being 15 does not per se disqualify a gymnast ….. as long as she were to be turning 16 later this year.

At issue of course is that there are newspaper reports, even some coming from the Chinese press, that reported a couple of the gymnasts as being the wrong age. While print copies of these stories exist, and in some cases copies of the cybserspace stories exist, the webpages at the newspapers who reported this have mysteriously disappeared. A simple explanation could have been an error on the parts of the reporters, and certainly an attempt to cover up the potentially embarrassing mistake would be to get rid of the story. The IOC (and the FGI … the International Gymnastics Federation) use the competitor’s passport as their government issued proof of age.

Herein lies the problem: In China, the government is everything: the Chinese Olympic Committee is a government entity. The press is a government entity. There is no distinction. Thus (for example), if the Chinese Olympic Committee needed to get false government documents, it is more of a long distance inter-office memo request. It could be done rather easily. Of course this doesn’t mean that they would …..

Unless there were an indication that it had happened before….

http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/beijing/gymnastics/news;_ylt=AhmSoKe3mGwoa85ZrqZSccqVTZd4?slug=ap-gym-underagechinese&prov=ap&type=lgns

It seems there has. Yang Yun won two bronze medals in gymnastics for China at the Athens Olympics in 2000, and was too young when she did. That means that her passport was incorrect, leaving three options:

1. Her parents/guardians/coaches forged a Chinese passport with false information. Given that attempting to protest gets you years in prison, I am guessing not to many people in China itself would want to run the risk of whatever the punishment is for forging government documents.

2. There was a mistake made on her original passport, made at some point before she became a world class athlete, that permitted her coaches to realize that they could take advantage of the mistake. Pretty unlikely.

3. Some (likely low level) part of the Chinese government was complicit with the deception.

This is guilt by association, and is not out-and-out proof of a conspiracy. However, it doe make one wonder if lightning could strike twice.

Here is some irony: The IOC can strip medals years after the fact for drug use: Just this year … right before the Olympics started, an American relay team correctly (though sadly) had their gold medals from the 2004 Games stripped, after one member admitted to doping during the games. However, cheating by flaunting age requirements apparently do not resonate enough to generate the same response from the IOC. I suspect that until they do, there shall remain the spectre of cheating by child that will not only remain as an impasto of controversy on an athletic competition that not only gushes controversy, but the question if it even deserves to be defined as a “sport”.


Staying cool

August 18, 2008

Back in April, my electric bill got screwed up in the mail, and in May, I had to pay for two months. Thanks goodness, I am blessed with not having to worry about that too much, and I ended up paying the bill ….. however I had in fact already payed April’s bill, and had forgotten that I had. So, I had a surplus in spending with Com Ed.

It turns out that the Winter and Spring here in Chicago were pretty cold, and I ran the heat quite a bit. However, the summer has been one of the coolest in recent memory. Friends will tell you that I am uncomfortable in temperatures much above 80° F, but that when you add in the usual high humidity here, it is unbearable. Hence, air conditioning is on my short list of greatest inventions in history (with the wheel and the hippy whomping billy club). My summers are generally spent far from the beaches and woods …. and spent in any place with functioning air conditioning (that and my allergies which are rather extreme from mid-June through early July). I would rather be out and about, but I am generally so uncomfortable, that what should be a good time rapidly becomes very un-fun

BUT …. this summer turns out to be one of the coolest and least humid that I can remember in my life. So much so that I have not turned on my air conditioner at all. Fans have been more than enough to keep me comfortable.

Why note this now ….. I got my electric bill. It turns out that I owe nothing, because I am still working off my credit. My electric bill for July was $37.45! Now true, I don’t live in a home, but my condo is bigger than most. so, with energy prices as high as they are, I am glad that I have been able to save a little money by not having to expend as much electricity.