Some More Stuff To Read


I’ve actually got enough comics for yet another Reading The Comics post. But rather than overload my Recent Posts display with those I’ll share some pointers to other stuff I think worth looking at.

So remember how the other day I said polynomials were everything? And I tried to give some examples of things you might not expect had polynomials tied to them? Here’s one I forgot. Howard Phillips, of the HowardAt58 blog, wrote recently about discrete signal processing, the struggle to separate real patterns from random noise. It’s a hard problem. If you do very little filtering, then meaningless flutterings can look like growing trends. If you do a lot of filtering, then you miss rare yet significant events and you take a long time to detect changes. Either can be mistakes. The study of a filter’s characteristics … well, you’ll see polynomials. A lot.

For something else to read, and one that doesn’t get into polynomials, here’s a post from Stephen Cavadino of the CavMaths blog, abut the areas of lunes. Lunes are … well, they’re kind of moon-shaped figures. Cavadino particularly writes about the Theorem of Not That Hippocrates. Start with a half circle. Draw a symmetric right triangle inside the circle. Draw half-circles off the two equal legs of that right triangle. The area between the original half-circle and the newly-drawn half circles is … how much? The answer may surprise you.

Cavadino doesn’t get into this, but: it’s possible to make a square that has the same area as these strange crescent shapes using only straightedge and compass. Not That Hippocrates knew this. It’s impossible to make a square with the exact same area as a circle using only straightedge and compass. But these figures, with edges that are defined by circles of just the right relative shapes, they’re fine. Isn’t that wondrous?

And this isn’t mathematics but what the heck. Have you been worried about the Chandler Wobble? Apparently there’s been a bit of a breakthrough in understanding it. Turns out water melting can change the Earth’s rotation enough to be noticed. And to have been noticed since the 1890s.

Weightlessness at the Equator (Whiteboard Sketch #1)


The mathematics blog Scientific Finger Food has an interesting entry, “Weightlessness at the Equator (Whiteboard Sketch #1)”, which looks at the sort of question that’s easy to imagine when you’re young: since gravity pulls you to the center of the earth, and the earth’s spinning pushes you away (unless we’re speaking precisely, but you know what that means), so, how fast would the planet have to spin so that a person on the equator wouldn’t feel any weight?

It’s a straightforward problem, one a high school student ought to be able to do. Sebastian Templ works the problem out, though, including the all-important diagram that shows the important part, which is what calculation to do.

In reality, the answer doesn’t much matter since a planet spinning nearly fast enough to allow for weightlessness at the equator would be spinning so fast it couldn’t hold itself together, and a more advanced version of this problem could make use of that: given some measure of how strongly rock will hold itself together, what’s the fastest that the planet can spin before it falls apart? And a yet more advanced course might work out how other phenomena, such as tides or the precession of the poles might work. Eventually, one might go on to compose highly-regarded works of hard science fiction, if you’re willing to start from the questions easy to imagine when you’re young.

scientific finger food

At the present time, our Earth does a full rotation every 24 hours, which results in day and night. Just like on a carrousel, its inhabitants (and, by the way, all the other stuff on and of the planet) are pushed “outwards” due to the centrifugal force. So we permanently feel an “upwards” pulling force thanks to the Earth’s rotation. However, the centrifugal force is much weaker than the centri petal force, which is directed towards the core of the planet and usually called “gravitation”. If this wasn’t the case, we would have serious problems holding our bodies down to the ground. (The ground, too, would have troubles holding itself “to the ground”.)

Especially on the equator, the centrifugal and the gravitational force are antagonistic forces: the one points “downwards” while the other points “upwards”.

How fast would the Earth have to spin in order to cause weightlessness at the…

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