Archive for category Nature

Einstein to Newton: “We have to talk.”

Posted by on Wednesday, 9 September, 2015
Einstein/Newton: A Meeting of Peers

A Meeting of Peers


 Did Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton have a secret meeting?  I was asked this question (sort of) on Quora.

Since Newton lived in the 1600s it was more of a “what if”.

Even Einstein’s far ranging intellect couldn’t have dragged him back to Newton’s time but what ifs never seem to bother anyone on Quora where the questions range from “What if we could go faster than the speed of light?” to “What if atheists believed in God?”

How would a meeting between and Einstein and Newton have gone?

If the discussion was limited to a single sitting, Newton, the father of modern scientific thinking, wouldn’t have been able to catch up to all the things that his wonderful brain had set in motion. Newton was maybe the greatest scientific and mathematical genius of the millennia but Einstein’s work pushed the envelope, even for the early 1900s. The formal stuff required field equations.

Field equations were the bane of Einstein’s existence. Newton wouldn’t have known anything about field equations or about David Hilbert, the great mathematician who’s work was required by Einstein. Hilbert basically beat Einstein to the finish line with his own paper on General Relativity but graciously stepped aside to allow Einstein to get the credit he deserved for his original ideas.

Another thing.

Much of Einstein’s work was motivated by the work of the great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell . Maxwell’s name wouldn’t have meant anything to Newton either.

Nor would Newton have heard of Michael Faraday who got Maxwell started on electromagnetism.

 That’s a lot of advanced math and physics for anyone – even Isaac Newton.

Okay, for argument’s sake, let’s say that Isaac Newton would have gone along with meeting this Jewish guy for a discussion about “natural philosophy”. He would have been intrigued, right? The “thought experiments” would have had to have kept him awake that night.

If he could accept premises for which he had no basis.

 My feeling? It is unlikely that Newton could have accepted Einstein’s conclusions without years of additional thought and study.

Let me add something.

Isaac Newton is such a deservedly beloved figure that several people on Quora felt compelled to defend him against any implications that he might have avoided a “Jew philosopher”.

There’s nothing that suggests that he had any problem with Jews. His private papers suggest he may have been fascinated by Judaism (though may have never met a Jewish person).

Great minds are a lot less prone to interpersonal stupidity than the rest of us, and yet, anti semitism was so pervasive in his time  that, even if Newton personally had no problem with a Jewish philosopher meeting him in his chambers, his peers might have been scandalized.

Newton’s views on Jews (whatever they may have been) shouldn’t distract us from his incredible contributions. Let’s not overreact to the mere mention of pervasive anti-semitism among his peers. I’m not trying to make anybody uncomfortable nor am I trying to sanitize history.

It is was what it was. I suggest you get over it.

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Illustration? That’s mine based on some available images.

Nice weather for dying of thirst

Posted by on Saturday, 25 April, 2015
Climate: Not All Bad



Scientists in Zurich and in California and in North Carolina have been working to understand what the future holds for us. You’ll be glad to hear it isn’t all bad.

That business about storms getting worse and worse?

It seems  to be wrong. Scientists at ETH Zurich and the California Institute of Technology say their work shows the opposite. As things get hotter, they get more boring and less extreme. The future should have less in the way of  crazy weather variations.

That’s good right?

But Dr.  Anthony Parolari (Duke University) says sales of dehydrated water will be going up out west.

(That’s me, being witty. Don’t go looking for dehydrated water on Amazon. This is just my way of saying that water could get scarce in the western part of the US.)

Parolari says that he and his colleagues have re-run some of their models and have drilled down through some theoretical work and found a surprise. Rather than expecting things to get more and more extreme, they now expect the opposite. Things in the mid latitudes should be less variable and we don’t have to worry about so many fierce cold snaps.

They will come less often, not more often.

No one’s saying things won’t get hot. The warming trend is well established. But the expectation of increasing variation seems – for now, at least – to be off the table.

Here’s the thing. Predicting is part of how science works. If the predictions of a scientist turn out right, this supports the idea that he’s/she’s onto something; it is considered a form (more or less) of evidence. But these are just computer models. They’re only right if the assumptions that went into them are right and the model itself isn’t flawed. We don’t know that.

I wouldn’t move or stay based on a computer model.

Would it hurt to stock up on dehydrated water?

Why not?

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The drawing? That’s mine.


Posted by on Thursday, 15 January, 2015


Planetwide Lights Out



Solar storms come and go. Usually they’re not too bad. But a couple of summers ago we near had our heads taken off.  A double “mass ejection” from the sun’s corona smashed past us.

We were on the far side of our orbit, conveniently out of the way.

A few days earlier? It would have been brutal.

The power grid, along with most electronics and computers, would have been made useless. We would have been back to the good old days when streets were lit with oil lamps and the houses were lit with flickering candles.

Except, who’s got oil lamps anymore? Who’s got candles?

In a paper in the journal Nature Communications Dr. Ying D Lieu and Janet G Luhmann estimated how long it would have taken to recover from our “sun spot hangover”. A long time, – years probably- before the lights would be back on everywhere.

The cost? In the trillions of dollars. The effect on our world?

No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine!

Here’s the thing.

These solar ejections happen pretty often. Once-in-a-while there’s a big one. There was one about this size in 1859 when there weren’t any computers. The worst thing was some problems with the telegraph system; some operators got electric shocks.

If this latest “big one”, the 2012 mass ejection, had caught us dead center, it would have taken out our TVs, computers, phones,  vehicles, and all the rest of our high tech equipment. Even my furnace would have been creamed. My furnace has a computerized controller board which runs the controls; it also talks to me over wifi and sends messages to my phone. A disturbance  92 million miles away on the surface of the sun would have had me burning logs. My whole life would have changed.


There isn’t much we can do to keep the sun from being the sun. Stuff will keep flying off the sun and, someday, a mass ejection will have our number on it. What we can do, is get serious about monitoring for these conditions. With sufficient warning, maybe we can take steps to minimize the damage.

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The drawing is mine.

Not finding life all over the place

Posted by on Sunday, 28 December, 2014
Not finding life everywhere




If you’re going “Enough with life on Mars”, I’m sorry.


I know there’s too much not finding life  going on.

You lost interest in life-finding years ago, right? But who cares? We keep not finding it, right?

Recently, we didn’t find it on Mars. Also, we recently didn’t find it on Titan or on Europa or on Io.

Not to mention the exoplanets, planets circling other stars, where, it so happens, we also haven’t had much luck. Plus, very excitingly, we now know there’s a dwarf planet called Ceres. Ceres is fairly warm, probably has oceans full of water and isn’t that far away.

We didn’t find life there too.

Not finding life is pretty much everywhere these days and, you know what? We’re just starting.

No life out there? Don’t get used to it

I hate to squash the hopes of the “Not Lifers” but things don’t look that good for them, in the long run. The Mars rover, Curiosity, has finally made it to Gale Crater where it has analyzed the rocks and found organic molecules and “puffs” of methane. Organic molecules are (often) a sign of life. Puffs of methane? Same thing (although that isn’t for sure either). Philip Gillet (Earth And Planetary Sciences Laboratory) says a meteorite from Morocco (but once from Mars) has organic chemistry that is “probably” biologic.

While these latest discoveries may turn out to be another Didn’t Find It Moment, that can’t go on forever. Sooner or later – sooner, in my opinion, we will find a microbe somewhere – somewhere besides our own silly planet.

Unless something unmistakably alive walks by one of our cameras, we probably won’t have a “That’s it!” moment for life on Mars. Maddening as it is, that’s the system. As the evidence grows, life becomes “more likely”. One day, maybe the evidence for life elsewhere will be “accepted”. If you’re a Not Lifer, you’re in for a surprise, not a shock.The idea of life “out there” will, I think, just gradually work its way into our heads as the evidence grows.

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The drawing is mine.

Leading intellectual says time came first.

Posted by on Saturday, 28 June, 2014
TIME explained (cartoon)


MISTER ScienceAintSoBad explains “time”

I am often asked to explain time.

If I can get off the hook with “It’s what the clock says”, we’re done here. Otherwise?.

Here’s the thing. Lots has been written about this. It get pretty deep out there, believe me. We humans figured out how to count time by using something that moves continuously and uniformly such as the moon traveling around the earth as a proxy for time.  Twice as far meant twice as much time had gone by. Distance traveled equaled time. It’s the idea behind  clocks (the old fashioned kind) where the hands rotate around the face of the clock and time is marked off along the edge.

You can see that this doesn’t tell us a thing. What does uniform mean?

It has been suggested that time represents a change in “entropy” (how much is left of the way things were ordered or “wound up” when the universe started). If that’s true, time started when the universe started. But maybe time stretches out beyond the end of the universe and before the beginning. Maybe there was time before “the first second”.

I’m not supposed to say that, am I?

We’re still unraveling that mysterious first fraction of a second of the “Big Bang” when, supposedly, there was infinite density. Few physicists believe that there was any such a thing. Getting smaller than the “Planck length” ( 10 to the minus 35 meters) may not be physically possible. So something else might have happened other than a so-called singularity. Maybe there were events “before”. Before? Doesn’t that mean there was time?

Some say that there is an illusional quality to time. That we perceive something that isn’t there. That the physical world is sliced up into very small “ticks” making the time dimension granular instead of continuous. All that was, and all that will be, is captured in each of these ticks like frames in a movie film.

I could go on and on but I’m afraid I will mislead. This is a lovely and fascinating area for discussion, but I shouldn’t take take up your valuable time for this. The subject goes deeper than my own brain goes.

Here is an article in Wired Magazine  – an interview with Sean Caroll by Erin Biba.

Your ideas are welcome. Maybe you know more than me.

It wouldn’t be hard.

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The drawing is by me.


Posted by on Monday, 14 October, 2013


A cute cartoon about fuzzbals


We shouldn’t be here.

 For the universe to have life in it,  the force that holds particles together, the charge on the electron and  the  mass of the proton have to be just so. If not, there would be no life – just some zany physics experiment.There are an awful lot of physical “properties”  that scientists say have to be close to perfection to wind up with life.

What is behind this curious coincidence?


My cousin Eric says it was a creator  – a creator who set things up so that, after a few billion years (assuming everything goes just right), there would  be all kinds of living things – worms and crabs and monkeys and stuff.

It’s possible, right?

But why not just  “POOF! You’re a world and “POOF! Here’s a firmament to go with it”?  A firmament, in this case,  is  a ceiling full of lights as described in Genesis and it seems like the most straightforward way to make a good looking  sky.

I’m not saying you couldn’t tune the thing up and let ‘er  rip  but that’s pretty indirect.


An alternative explanation for why there’s life is parallel universes.

Maybe our universe got this way while a ton of other tries didn’t work out. Maybe  there are an infinite number of universes,  each with its own set of physical laws. Some have only negative gravity.  Some have a very, very weak “strong” force. Lots of them are too weird to describe. If  each one represents a different roll of the dice,  doesn’t that explain  why eventually things might come out this way?

 Well it might.

Except we don’t know if there are other universes. So that’s a stupid argument. right?


And it’s too complicated. Who needs all those attempts? What’s the difference what the odds are? A zillion trillion to one?  So what? Those critical  physical properties had to have some values,  right? If they had turned out different and had  allowed for only  anti-matter tomatoes,  would  tomatoes  be standing around in wonder at the strange coincidence of a world tuned for anti-matter tomatoes?

The universe we know may be just one of a large  number of possible outcomes. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep trying and trying until things look the way they do. This could have been the first roll of dice. Our universe  only seems like  someone arranged it this way if you think life has some sort of  importance to the cosmos and matters more than some other thing.

Actually? It doesn’t.


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Drawing is by me



Posted by on Thursday, 26 September, 2013


Sex compared to physics



Is physics hard?

Sex would be hard if you were held responsible for the kama sutra on the final. But, like sex, physics can be a rush if you just lay back and enjoy it. That’s what I suggest you do today. This video is hugely fun but it’s not simplistic. In fact, I learned a couple of things about back when the universe was was a pea pod – some of them quite surprising. I knew about the priest who came up with the big bang theory. But I didn’t really think of the first fraction of a second this way. It’s pretty cool. Really.

This is from “Minute Physics” and has been embedded from Youtube.

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The cartoon is mine


Posted by on Thursday, 19 September, 2013
test tube




Sorry about that. I needed a headline.

However, life in a test tube is pretty close to the truth. M. Jewett, and G Church (Northwestern and Harvard Medical School) led a team of researchers which made a  ribosome.

Ribosomes make proteins and enzymes. And proteins are the worker bees of living systems. And enzymes (themselves usually made from proteins) slice up proteins into the many varieties that are needed to make something useful.

In other words, Jewett/Church make a “life kit”.

The ramifications are startling.

Delicate ground? Of course. This kind of thing  could ruffle  the feathers of a snake. Just remember, MisterScienceAintSoBad had   n-o-t-h-i-n-g – to do with this. Okay?

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The drawing is mine.

Faster Than The Speed Of Light?

Posted by on Friday, 19 October, 2012



If this is science, I will eat my shoe.

James Hill and Barry Cox  are mathematicians from the University of Adelaide. They say Einstein’s special theory of relativity can now cover phenomena faster than light speed ( Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences). Einstein missed this; they fixed it.

They say if you extend the math properly it can describe phenomena at any speed – even infinite speed at which, they say, your mass will shrink to zero.

Pretty good, huh?

But the math breaks down at the speed of light itself. They say that’s not a problem. It’s like breaking the sound barrier, something which was once was “impossible”.  We do it all the time now, right? With some new technology – maybe better spacecraft propulsion- sooner or later, we’ll be wondering why we poked along at a less than 186 thousand miles a second.

Here’s the thing. And where do I begin?

The special theory explains how, as you approach the speed of light, you appear to be gaining mass. The closer you get to the speed of light, the more mass you appear to have gained. (This is all relative to an “observer”.) Although your rocket engine (and your fuel) will get bigger too, you won’t be able to get ahead of the effect of your gain in mass and your speed will remain “subluminal”. Fast, yes. Light speed? Not gonna happen.

Says Einstein.

If you can’t GET to light speed, you can’t PASS light speed. And, if you can’t pass it, you can’t take advantage of the mathematics of Hill and Cox.

The authors admit that they aren’t physicists – just mathematicians having a nice day.

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Credits for the animation: to Heather’s Animations. Please note that donations are gratefully accepted in return for which (or even without a contribution) you can utilize the work you find there in your emails, articles, and what not.

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Fair disclosure: I’m not a physicist either.  And I’m having a nice day too.


Posted by on Monday, 30 April, 2012




It’s named after Ernst Grafenberg, a German gynecologist. The g is for Grafenberg. (not Germany or gynecologist) and the big thing about the g-spot is whether it’s imaginary or not.

Is there really an interior place where “stuff happens”? Or is that a myth?

How come nobody’s ever seen it?

Well guess what? Adam Ostrzenski, M.D., Ph.D., of the Institute of Gynecology in St. Petersburg, FL seems to have found something. After dissecting the heck out of the vaginal walls of a cadaver, he found a “well-delineated sac structure” on the back wall about 15 mm down from the urethral opening. It’s small. About 8 mm in the longest dimension.

Exciting, right?

Yes and no. The discovery is interesting and provocative. But it would be nice to see confirmation that this organ is present in others. And – not to be a scientific fanatic – but it might also be nice to show that the little whatzit  in there serves the presumed stimulatory function and isn’t part of the immune system or isn’t the long sought seat of common sense which is clearly lacking in males of the species.

Now. Why is a semi-respectable blog such as this wasting it’s time on the g-spot? Human sexuality deserves respectful mention in ScienceAintSoBad just like anything else. And deepening our understanding of the female response could – who knows? – make life better for people.

Speaking of which.


If you get off on rope climbing, spinning (biking), or weight lifting, maybe there’s a reason for that. An article in Sex Therapy and Sexual Health (Debby Herbenick, J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD) describes a study of 370 women who experienced orgasms. When they exercise.

Almost half of them, oops-ed at least 10 times while working out. About 20% said they really couldn’t control it. It just happens when it wants to. The “captains chair” is the worst. It’s a thing with padded arm rests and back support.

DON’T – do NOT – get into this thing if your business associates are around.

The women reported on in this study weren’t fantasizing or having sexy thoughts. This was a purely physical thing. And – yes – it was a little creepy. A lot of the women were at least a little uncomfortable about it. You would be too. Right?

Well now you know. Just physiology. Like a little sneeze. You didn’t do anything wrong.

And you have an extra motivator for upping the exercise plan.


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Image credits: Regular readers will immediately recognize the crude drawing technique as, unmistakably, those of the author. Nobody else to blame. :)