Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Real Science

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan

Note: A rerun from the other blog, but what the heck.  It's funny.
The following is excerpted from the JPL Cassini project newsletter of September 20, 2005, exactly as it originally appeared:
A meeting was held today to determine if Orbit Trim Maneuver (OTM) #32 could be cancelled. It turned out that this maneuver would provide a maximum pointing improvement of only ~8 microradians, or, according to a member of the Spacecraft Operations Office, "It's teeny." Science representatives at the meeting agreed.

Well, thank goodness. I, for one, think it’s high time that science recognized the validity of “teeny”. One of the reasons people are put off by science concerns the weird units for measurement. There are ergs, dynes, kilopascals, furlongs per fortnight, and so on. Who can keep track of such things? But, teeny, now everyone can understand that. Thanks to the gang at the Cassini project, we now have the true scientific value of this commonly used measure. I hope someone has notified the weights and measures boys over at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Things, er, Technology) so that they can create an 8 microradian piece of platinum to put in a vacuum chamber in the Smithsonian.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a series of breakthroughs in the world of measurement. If the “teeny” has been conquered, can the “smidgen” be far behind? Or, having delved the small, will science move to the big, creating a standard for “humongous”? Or will they move on to measures of force? For example, a lack of precision of the “whack” has led to the demise of many delicate pieces of machinery, electronics, and femurs. There is so much to be done.

Notice that it was “a member of the Spacecraft Operations Office” that made this breakthrough, not one of the “science representatives”. A mere office worker has gone where the theoreticians feared to tread.

Bringing science to the people has always been important to me. The dry methods of teaching science have discouraged many a potential Newton or Heisenberg from physics, sending them to the far more exciting world of actuarial statistics or the like. Take Newton’s Laws of Motion. Please. <ba-dump-bump>

While fundamental to an understanding of the physical world, they are not obvious in their implications. The Laws, in their dry and scientific form, are:

  1. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

  2. Force=mass times acceleration (F=ma).

  3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When I was a physics major (briefly) in college (not that many years removed from being able to meet Isaac Newton in person), my fellow inmates -- erm, students and I, fortified, as I recall, with moderate amounts of fermented hops, restated the laws in a form more suitable for general understanding:

  1. It’s moving, unless it’s not.

  2. The bigger it is, the harder it falls.

  3. You can’t push a rope.
Now that’s elegant. But as the years have passed, I’ve come to realize that even these can be simplified further. After all, why have three laws when one will do? After all, physicists are always trying to create grand unified theories. So, after considerable thought (and the assistance of fermented grape products; with age comes sofishtication), I am proud to present the simple but beautiful Gog’s Grand Unified Theory of Motion:

Don’t stand in front of a moving truck.

When do I get my Nobel?