Category Archives: History

How to Measure the Height of a Building

Empire State BuildingSir Ernest Rutherford, President of the Royal Academy, and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, related the following story: “Some time ago I received a call from a colleague. He was about to give a student a zero for his answer to a physics question, while the student claimed a perfect score. The instructor and the student agreed to an impartial arbiter, and I was selected.

I read the examination question: “Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.” The student had answered: “Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.”

The student really had a strong case for full credit since he had really answered the question completely and correctly! On the other hand, if full credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade in his physics course and certify competence in physics, but the answer did not confirm this. I suggested that the student have another try. I gave the
student six minutes to answer the question with the warning that the answer should show some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he hadn’t written anything. I asked if he wished to give up, but he said he had many answers to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one. I excused myself for interrupting him and asked him to please go on. In the next minute, he dashed off his answer which read: “Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula x=0.5*a*t^2, calculate the height of the building.”

At this point, I asked my colleague if he would give up. He conceded, and gave the student almost full credit. While leaving my colleague’s office, I recalled that the student had said that he had other answers to the problem, so I asked him what they were.

“Well,” said the student, “there are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the
building.”

“Fine,” I said, “and others?”

“Yes,” said the student, “there is a very basic measurement method you will like. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and his will give you the height of the building in barometer units.” “A very direct method.”

“Of course. If you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of g [gravity] at the street level and at the top of the building. From the difference between the two values of g, the height of the building, in principle, can be calculated.”

“On this same tack, you could take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, and then swing it as a pendulum. You could then calculate the height of the building by the period of the precession”.

“Finally,” he concluded, “there are many other ways of solving the problem.”

“Probably the best,” he said, “is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent’s door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows: ‘Mr. Superintendent, here is a fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of the building, I will give you this barometer.”

At this point, I asked the student if he really did not know the conventional answer to this question. He admitted that he did, but said that he was fed up with high school and college instructors trying to teach him how to think.

The name of the student was Niels Bohr.”

Kokain – a Blast From the Past

This is how Youtube works…

I was reminded of of the song “Spiel nicht mit den Schmuddelkindern” which I had taught myself to sing and play on the guitar many moons ago back in the old country. I wondered if I would find it on the Youtubes – sure enough, there it was.

But what then caught my eye was Kokain by Hannes Wader, another song that I could play and sing, with all the lyrics memorized. And this was a rendition of a much older Hannes Wader, so, obviously, I had to watch it and got sucked into another few Hannes Wader songs.

But Kokain was the best for me – that’s why I share it here…

Oops – sharing not enabled, so here’s just the link on the Tubes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biAC_lYURwM

And so you can all sing along, here are the lyrics:

Ich kam von Frankfurt nach Berlin
Drei Koffer voll mit Kokain
Cocaine, all around my brain
Hallo Taxi, schnell zum Ku’damm, Ecke Tauentzien
Meine Frau und meine Kinder schrei’n nach Kokain
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Meine Frau heisst Evelyn
Ich weiss nicht, liebt sie mich oder mehr mein Kokain
Cocaine, all around my brain
„Liebster“, sagt sie, „Rate mal, was kitzelt so schön
In der Nase, schmeckt nach Scheisse, wirkt wie Arsen?“
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Mein Sohn ist zwölf und ewig angetörnt
Ich verbiet’ es ihm, damit er endlich laufen lernt
Cocaine, all around my brain
Seit gestern weiss er endlich, wer ich bin
Wenn er mich sieht, dann ruft er: „Pappa, hattu Kokain?“
Cocaine, all around my brain
Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Meine kleine Tochter ist jetzt grad’
Auf ‘nem Trip, den sie letztes Jahr schon eingepfiffen hat
Cocaine, all around my brain
Sie sieht aus, als wär’ sie dreissig
Und sie macht auf zwanzig, dabei ist sie acht
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Meine Tante dealt seit einem Jahr
Seitdem geht sie über Leichen, fährt ‘nen Jaguar
Cocaine, all around my brain
Immer wenn sie kommt, bringt sie ein Stückchen Shit
In der Radkappe für die Kinder mit
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Mein Onkel kam vom Alkohol zum Kokain
Jetzt will er sich das Kokain mit Schnaps entzieh’n
Cocaine, all around my brain
Seit gestern liegt er im Delirium
Ab morgen steigt er wieder auf die Droge um
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hm, hm, hm, hey!
Oh Mama, komm schnell her
Halt mich fest, ich kann nicht mehr
Cocaine, all around my brain

Opa hat den Gilb, wartet auf den Tod
Freut sich auf Jimi Hendrix und den lieben Gott
Cocaine, all around my brain
Oma geht es augenblicklich auch nicht gut
Seit ihrem letzten Flash spuckt sie nur noch Blut
Cocaine, all around my brain

Ich merke schon, dass ich jetzt aufhör’n muss
Oh Mama, Mama, Mama, komm mach mir ‘nen Schuss
Mit Morphium und Heroin
Opium und Rosimon
Oder gib mir Lysergsäurediäthylamid
Mescalin und Nepalshit
La, la, la …

Oh, You Scientists!

This interesting piece from the BBC came across my desktop the other day…

and I feel compelled to comment.

One interesting science-historical fact is from the days before the discovery of atomic forces, before we ‘knew’ that the energy produced by the sun is based on nuclear fusion where two heavy hydrogen atoms are fused into one helium atom. The energy contained in the one helium is less than that of the two hydrogen and the energy difference makes our days bright and life possible on earth.

But it is not, that before the discovery of these processes, scientists just sat there and agreed to wait for the discovery of nuclear fusion – no – they used what they knew then to explain the sun. Lacking nuclear fusion to generate heat they turned to coal, which they knew well to generate heat. So they came up with the idea that the sun is a big ball of pure coal – and it burned. They already had a good idea how big the sun was so, commandeering all the scientific methods at their disposal, they calculated how long we could depend on the sun to give is light and life. I don’t recall what the number was they came up with, but it was considerably lower that the now estimated ten billion. It did  not matter too much, as other branches of science also did  not know too much about the time it took for the current state to develop to what they could observe. And the creation of the world in five days was still a well accepted possibility.

We might smile just how cute – and wrong – science was then. But I can not help imagine scientists in a century or two who unearth this BBC video and have a good laugh.

I wonder where the humility of science has been lost so that it can now tell us with utter conviction “How the Solar System Formed.”

My Old TRS-80

TRS-80 top modelOne of my first ‘investments’ I made after college, when I started making a boat-load of money (that’s how it felt, at least) with my new job, was a TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack.

Today I ran into an article on Mashable about that Trash-80 that brought back memories of sitting on that machine for long nights, the ash tray overflowing, discovering all the things you could do with BASIC.

Despite my feeling of being totally rich, my pay check of nearly 2000 Deutsch Marks would not allow me to buy anything but the entry model of this computer. At that time the US Dollar was around 4 Marks which brought the price of that computer to an amazing DM 3000 – one and a half month’s pay. This made me think about what that top model Tandy computer would cost in today’s Dollars – – – turns out to be over 26 thousand Dollars!

And looking at the exchange rate from the other side – I made only $1500 in today’s Dollars and I thought I was rich? Now I wonder if the exchange rate of DM to US$ really reflected the relationship of cost of living. A quick Google search reveals that in 1980 a bread in the US cost about 50 cents, while a bread in Germany cost DM 2.50 – so the exchange rate is at least in the ballpark.

Maybe I should have moved to the US right after college – I might have been able to afford one of those fancy floppy drives from Radio Shack…

In case the TRS-80 catalog on Mashable ever goes away, here’s a copy…

Water Time – Film Review

Somehow the film Water Time by Allan Weisbecker made it onto my hard disk and it was well worth watching albeit frustrating.

Frustrating because it confirmed my own experience with my fellow human’s acceptance of new facts that violate their ready-made conceptions – namely none, zero, nada, zilch.

But I never heard such honest statements as “No, I don’t change my mind – whatever the evidence might be!” What I personally get most of the time is rejection or attempts to question the validity of evidence or fact.

Over the last years it has become quite evident to me that the root of all evil is government. For the simple fact that they claim for themselves to be above and beyond any morality. We teach our kids that taking things away from other kids is stealing and we should not do that. Yet when the tax collector calls it tax and does the same thing – it somehow is something other than stealing – but it’s not!

This is such an obvious truth but try to explain this to somebody who has paid taxes for all of his life and could not admit that this is morally wrong – simply because he would have to admit that he was wrong for all of his life.

It appears that to admit being mistaken is very difficult for many and it is easier to insist to have been right all along.

WaterTimeDVDFinal

The Lensman Series by E. E. Doc Smith

First LensmanMany years ago that I read the Lensman series by Doc E. E. Smith, the precursor to all modern space opera that came after it. Even at the time I read it the technology was dated as these books were written in the 40s and 50s (and even I had no read them when they were first published), but that all did not matter to me at all. These were just great stories.

My first read was in a German translation and I am rather certain that I read at least a few of the books in English after I came to the US of A. For a long time now I wanted to read them again but these books are hard to come by – most of them were out of print and I believe still are – you can’t really find them on Amazon in form of inexpensive paperbacks, maybe as bound collectors items but not for an amount that I was willing to spend.

So I had given up for a while to find a complete set, but recently discovered the first, Triplanetary, as an ebook and am about to finish it on my tablet (apparently the only useful application for a tablet.)

As I was approaching the last few pages I needed the next one – First Lensman. Quite a bit of googling later I finally hit the mother-lode at Arthur’s Bookshelp. He had them all and as I was at it, I also got the Skylark series for the time when I’m done with the Lensmen.  That could be a few years at the slow pace I am going.

Just in case you need the sequence of the book, because it is sometimes hard to figure it out the chronology:

  1. Triplanetary
  2. First Lensman
  3. Galactic Patrol
  4. Gray Lensman
  5. Second Stage Lensman
  6. Children of the Lens

And here – as we are at it, the sequence of the Skylark series:

  1. The Skylark of Space
  2. Skylark Three
  3. Skylark of Valeron
  4. Skylark DuQuesne

 

Patrolling Space In the Spaceship Orion

I have mentioned the spaceship Orion previously in my post about Living Under Water. The German science fiction TV series Space Patrol (Raumpatrouille) follows the crew of the space ship Orion on their adventures through the galaxy.

Orion landed on a desert planetI remember waiting very excitedly for the première of the series and then every next week’s show. It came out at about the same time in 1966 as the original Star Trek, but it was much later that I finally watched my first Star Trek episode and it confirmed the German arrogance that we (the Germans) are better at creating things but it also confirmed the other stereotype that America is much better in marketing. Orion lasted seven episodes with a remastered movie version in the early 2000s, while Star Trek is still going strong after nearly half a century. Sets and special effects were so much more creative than the original Star Trek even though some people dared to make fun of some of the props, like the electric iron used to do some mysterious tuning task on the navigation console. In my mind then, those people just didn’t get it.

I do have the whole series on DVD and it is about time to watch it again, but today I enjoyed running into another fan of the series who took his admiration for the show a bit further than just buying the DVDs – he created stunning illustrations of the adventures of the star cruiser Orion.

I discovered Crossvalley Smith through a post on Facebook that featured one of his illustrations from the Perry Rhodan universe, another sweet memory of mine, a science fiction series published as weekly pulp novellas.

A scene from a landing of the Orion on a desert planet has for now replaced an anime illustration as my computer wall paper – go check out Crossvalley’s site, maybe you find something you enjoy.