mahogany: (Default)
Posting this primarily for my own benefit, so I can find it again, but it's definitely worth a read.

Sir 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*t2, 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 this 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." (1885-1962) Danish
Physicist; Nobel Prize 1922; best known for proposing the first
'model' of the atom with protons & neutrons, and various energy
state of the surrounding electrons -- the familiar icon of the small
nucleus circled by three elliptical orbits ... but more
significantly, an innovator in Quantum Theory.



Book rant

Mar. 3rd, 2008 03:06 pm
mahogany: (Default)
When did crap become associated with fun, in our society? We were at the library on the weekend, and unbeknowst to me, my dh selected a couple of books for the kids and added them to the pile. These are books with no merit - literary or otherwise. I spoke to my kids about these books when I found out, and said that they could read them this time, but we would not be taking out more of the same. To which my son, and later dh said, "Well, it's okay to have fun, sometimes." In my opinion, this is the most bogus, most ridiculous argument ever. We're talking about children that love reading. My kids derive immense pleasure from books, and I reminded them of this, and they agreed, and they dropped the subject. My dh on the other hand persisted, so I asked him, "Why is it necessary to introduce books that are the equivalent of CocaCola for the brain into our home? Our children love reading good books. What exactly is the point in introducing books that aren't going to nourish their minds?" He didn't really have an answer.

The thing is, that I don't believe that my dh is unique in this. There seems to be a societal belief that in order for something to be fun, it should be frivolous or silly, or bad for our health, or reckless etc. Where did this belief come from? It's so messed up, and yet, I see it everywhere.

Nosy, nosy

Dec. 29th, 2007 01:44 pm
mahogany: (Default)
This particular poll has some pretty personal questions. So, feel free to answer anonymously if you want, or omit some of the questions if you want.


[Poll #1112923]
mahogany: (Default)
Another two thumbs way up book recommendation for kids is Chato’s Kitchen

and

The Sign of the Seahorse: A Tale of Greed and High Adventure in Two Acts . I love Graeme Base, but this one is truly outstanding. It’s quite a long story, and the kids are mesmerized for the entire thing.

and in the WTF category: The Viewer. To be fair, this was actually an interesting book, for an ADULT. It’s super creepy, and to be honest I don’t quite know what to make of it; it definitely captured my interest, and the illustrations are amazing. However, I’m very grateful that I looked it over before tossing it in our book bag. Had I allowed him to read it, my son would have had nightmares for months - I’m sure of it. Here is a more detailed review of the book. It has a “Tell Tale Heart” kind of an eeriness to it. I wonder why we don’t have a picture book section for adults? I mean really - just because it’s short, and it’s illustrated doesn’t mean that it’s meant for kids.

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