Of reason and realism

Laurie Penny writes on Longreads: Remember the U.S. presidential debates of 2016? Remember how the entire liberal establishment thought Hillary Clinton had won, mainly because she made actual points, rather than shambling around the stage shouting about Muslims? What's the one line from those debates that everyone remembers now? It's "Nasty Woman." What's the visual? It's Trump literally …

To explain the world

Simplicity is a deceptively simple thing. Recently, a scientist who was trying to explain something in general relativity to me did so in the following way: One simple way to understand … is as follows. Imagine that one sets up spherical polar coordinates, so that space is described by r, theta, phi and time is described by …

NYT on fire

As the world burns, is anyone paying attention to the New York Times? Because if you're not, you should: it's catching fire as well. On May 23, the grand old newspaper published a report by Maggie Haberman about how former Trump aide Hope Hicks has an "existential" crisis over complying with a congressional subpoena. Granted, it's been full …

The wind and the wall

I have an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering but I've always struggled with thermodynamics. To the uninitiated, this means most of the knowledge specific to mechanical engineering over other branches remains out of my reach. I would struggle even with the simpler concepts, and perhaps one of the simplest among them was pressure. When a …

A century of the proton

In 1907, a New Zealander named Ernest Rutherford moved from McGill University in Canada to the University of Manchester. There, he conducted a series of experiments where he fired alpha particles1at different materials. When he found that the beams deviated by about 2º when fired through air, he figured that the atomic constituents of air …

The worm and the world

Alanna Mitchell reports in the New York Times that boreal forests in the world's north are being invaded by worms of the species Dendrobaena octaedra. They're decomposing the leaf litter and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, transforming these carbon-negative forests into carbon-positives. In the process, they're also disrupting climate models that scientists had prepared to understand how climate catastrophe …

The symmetry incarnations

This post was originally published on October 6, 2012. I recently rediscovered it and decided to republish it with a few updates. Geometric symmetry in nature is often a sign of unperturbedness, as if nothing has interfered with a natural process and that its effects at each step are simply scaled-up or scaled-down versions of …

A tale of two horrors: poop and aliens

I saw this tweet yesterday: https://twitter.com/NYTScience/status/1128842187993767968 Information like this always reminds me of one fact that awakened me to the behind-the-scenes role that the natural universe plays in our cultural lives. The organic compounds called indole and skatole are what give human poop its unique and uniquely disgusting smell – an odour that our brains …