29
Apr
2013

Jordan by Lipofsky 16577“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan. This is one of my all time favourite quotes. If you are not familiar with basketball, I should say that Michael Jordan is one of the best basketball players of all time. In a competitive sport like basketball this is quite a feat. He had more success than all but a few sportsmen in history. I caught some of his games on TV when I was postdocing in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. – at the time he was towards the end of his career but was still playing, and still winning games almost on his own.

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electricity meter

As I am wont to do, I listened to the 6:30pm Radio 4 comedy program this evening.  It was an enjoyable, and mostly erudite program called The Manifesto.  It featured a comedian asking audience members to come up with ideas of what they would suggest for a political manifesto if they were standing for election.  Mostly they were a bit silly, and I don’t want to spoil any punchlines, so take a listen on the BBC website if you are reading this post within a week of when it was posted.

What I thought I’d mention, though, is a scientific inaccuracy that popped up in the program. One of the audience members suggested making it a law that power companies, when advertising, should only be able to say “look, our tariff is such-and-such” and nothing else.  The host, comedian Mark Thomas, picked this up and said (and I paraphrase) “right, so they’d have to say what the kilowatt-per-hour cost is, and nothing else?”
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Probably not. Part of the research I do is on how crystals start to form, and this an example of what is called in the trade a “rare event”. So I have an interest in the statistics of rare, or extreme or freakish things. I googled “rare events” to see what others are up to, and one of the hits was a sports betting blog post by a guy called Zach Slaton, who analyses sports statistics. His basic conclusion was that the data suggest that Lionel Messi is a bit of a freak event. I am not sure I agree.

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BogenscheibeIn scientific research, you do the research, then you publish the research. It is published in what are called peer-reviewed journals. These are journals where when an article is submitted, it is sent out to one or two other scientists to review it. These reviewers are usually anonymous, i.e., you don’t know their names. If they like it, the article is published, if they don’t, it isn’t.

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A view of clouds and sky5Seriously, why is it blue, not green or orange? This is one of the classic science questions. Simple enough that a five-year old can ask it, but containing a lot of science – the answer tells us a lot about how the universe works. I was reminded of it on Monday. I was at a biological physics one-day meeting, and a guy called Tim Hunt was giving a talk. It was an entertaining and interesting talk, I really enjoyed him sharing not only interesting science but his child-like delight in discovering stuff out. Not bad for a 70-year old, but Prof Sir Tim Hunt FRS (2001 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine) shows you can get every award going, and still be a big kid asking the simple questions. 

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2pigsMy algorithm for selecting a butter/margarine-type-thing when shopping is simple, and not very scientific. I avoid butter, partly because I think it is bad for you, but mostly because it is a pain to spread straight from the fridge. I am not organised enough to take it out of the fridge early.

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Over Easter I have been reading a short fun book on statistics by Uri Bram, called Thinking Statistically. This trots through some of the obvious pitfalls in reasoning that statistical reasoning can help you avoid, including the absolute classic: selection bias. I have also been listening to news and phone-in radio programs about the benefit changes that have come in today. This debate contains some truly egregious examples of selection bias (egregious is my big word for today, it means outstandingly bad).

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I am teaching part of an electromag course this semester but I am doing the maths bit of the course, so I’m not doing much electromag, apart from doing stuff like getting the students to calculate the electrostatic potential inside a spherical cavity. This is a bit of a shame as this means I don’t get to show this to the students:

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Crack (2136639056)On 16th January 1943 in Portland, Oregon, USA, the air was split by a crack so loud that it could be heard over a mile away. It was the sound of the tanker SS Schenectady breaking in two. The Wikipedia page with a rather impressive picture of the snapped-in-two tanker is here. It is believed that the hull just fractured – it was unusually cold that day and low temperatures can make metal brittle. The hull was found to be made of poor quality steel.

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International Womens Day was on 8th March, and I was involved in two outreach events aimed to promote women in science.

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