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« the mimetics of math | Main | double, double, toil and trouble »


Thanks for the link to Gray's periodic table. I had come across it before, but had lost it.

I can't figure out why the Moran (and then the Times, and then you) used "lanthanons" and "actinons". They've appeared in the literature, but they're so nonstandard that a quick survey of several chemists (including myself) found that none of them had even heard the terms. I don't know whay he didn't used lanthanides/actinides (the standard and found in intro chem books) or lanthanoids/actinoids (common and recommended by IUPAC).

I have to say, I'm not particularly enthralled with Moran's periodic spiral. It clears up the relationship of hydrogen with the halogens and alkali metals? I'm not sure how, since it is now in equal contact with several unrelated elements. It incoporates the lanthanides and actinides? Yes, but so can the periodic table:

There are a number of alternative designs, including other spirals, that make much more sense than this honeycomb pattern with its not entirely clear flow and large gaps.

Well, mostly I took the path of least resistance and used the phrasings in the Times article, hence lanthanons and actinons. That's how these things propagate, especially over the Internet. If anyone can clear up the spelling issues of gadolinium, please do!

As for Moran's design, note the use of the words "tries" and "attempts". I've always found it intriguing, but rather difficult to navigate, myself. The real appeal from my perspective is in his software, particularly the pop-up fun facts... really quite an ingenious approach.

The remark in the LabLit interview about tarot cards reminded me of an old joke -- I think it comes from Steven Wright. "Last night my friends and I were playing poker with tarot cards," the comedian says. "I got a full house and seven people died."

Hopefully this is not too far off point.

Back in the early '60s British High School chemistry lab was considerably more hands-on than it is today. Basically, be careful, wash hands well afterwards, and use the hood if you think it might explode or emit noxious gases. Or not. My chem teacher believed in what he called "bucket chemistry". No 5cc test tubes for him, no Sir!.

But the mention of mercury brought up a fun memory - I wonder if one can actually get ones hands on the ingredients today? I am talking about a fun experiment called the "Mercury Heart". take a 5" concave shallow dish. Fill it to 1/2 its diameter with mercury. Cover the mercury with moderately dilute H2SO4. Ad a pinch of Potassium Iodide (or was it permanganate? It was purple, anyway). introduce an iron needle horizontally through the pot. so its tip just touches the side of the mecury blob. The blob immediately starts beating, oscillating through two triangular shapes with the needle in the center of a side on one of the null motion points.

So, how many bits dropped in that 40 yr old memory? Visually sharp, details slightly fuzzy, but I learned something that stuck because I did it myself, not just a passive observer. And I would like to see it again, capture an AVI of it.

Yes, Stephen Wright. still going strong, still as dry as ever.

I hope that didn't come across as a criticism of your presentation of his spiral, just the spiral itself.

It's gadolinium (see, for example: Gandolinium and gaudolinium, I believe, are simply misspellings rather than alternative versions.

Hey, constructive critique of my presentation isn't off-limits. Posts aren't always as polished as one might hope... part of the appeal and dangers of blogging. :) and thanks for clearing up the gadolinium confusion!

If I may be permitted to mention a few off-topic observations:

Nice job on the "Random Walks" article. The Salem witch trials never fail to fascinate, and your summary was very good, especially your tying that period with modern day attempts at book-banning and the current political environment. Human nature definitely hasn't changed.

Regarding your LabLit interview, as a non-scientist I appreciate and enjoy your writing style immensely. In fact, I bought your first book some months ago (can't let the cat go hungry!), but decided to bump it up in the "reading queue." I love all the cultural references, which I can get (except for several TV shows, which is why I don't think "The Physics of Buffyverse" would work for me). These trip-wire references help form mental images and bring the past and present together nicely. My only "complaint," if you can call it that, is that I find I'm yanking out my science encyclopedia or googling for a more indepth explanation of whatever or whomever. It just makes reading a little slower, but you make it far at least. (Haven't finished it yet.)

Also, I'm wondering how your Calculus lessons are going. I get the Teaching Company catalogues in the mail, which include free CD samples. I recently listened to Professor Richard Wolfson talk for a half hour on "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution," and "Muons and Time-Travelling Twins." Being that I've decided that a lot of science information doesn't stick in my brain without the structure of classes and tests (it's been well over a decade since the last science class), I took notes and drew pictures during the instruction. I was suprised that I felt I could get what he was discussing, and going back to my notes a few days later, I found I retained the information. I thought about buying the set of Wolfson's lecture and "The Joy of Science," but haven't decided if I want to shell out $ for the DVD or CD. Do you feel a DVD helps you better? Wolfson does speak a bit fast, so perhaps rewind on a DVD would be easier.

Since you often link to Wikipedia, 3 Quarks Daily linked to an article that might be of interest to present and ex-Wikipedians (there was also a long article about Wikipedia in the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly):

BTW, your punctuation when used with quotes is top-notch. ;-)

For TBB: Glad you enjoyed the Harry Potter commentary; I nobly refrained from mentioning an episode from Season 3 of BUFFY ("Gingerbread") that struck similar themes. :)

As for the "Black Bodies" book, the physics and other stuff therein IS extremely truncated; it's not meant to go into the science in great depth, merely to spark an interest in learning more in otherwise physics-phobic folks... believe it or not, there ARE some people who found some of the science rough going, even in its abbreviated form. Check out some of the books listed in my enormous bibliography in the back; many of those would give you the additional detail you crave. Like any writer, I'm often my own harshest critic, and there are definitely essays in the book I felt could have been better. But that's because I was learning as I was writing it, trying to develop a new prose style and approach that would appeal more to non-scientists. In particular, I didn't really do justice to the genius and personality of Michael Faraday; fortunately a new excellent biography has just been published, which I have on order from Amazon.

The big advatage of the Teaching Company's DVD packages is that they come with a printed transcript of all the lectures. So you don't have to constantly replay anything if you need to do some fact-checking or quick refreshment of your memory, or if the instructor simply talks too fast. They're not fancy, or showy, and I have some minor quibbles with the calculus ones (detailed in a prior post), but on the whole I'm really enjoying the lectures.

Thanks, TBB, for that Chronicle link. As an ex-Wikipede moving on to other ways of spreading knowledge (scary organ music here, please), I appreciate the information.

I'm glad to hear our gracious hostess is still enjoying the calculus lessons! =)

Jennifer, yes, your bibliography is overwhelming! And you have a great list of Internet links as well--I might never leave the house again, thank you. :-) I'm not so much "physics-phobic" as that I feel so rusty and wish I could go back to school; your book (and blog) makes physics look attractive.

Blake, I think you might enjoy the more in-depth article about Wikipedia in The Atlantic Monthly titled "The Hive." Grab it while it's now online:

There was also an earlier interview with its author in August:

The article I linked to earlier today and the AM one above both emphasize the quality of science-related articles on Wikipedia in comparison to other subjects. This says a lot about those contributors and the effort they put into Wikipedia. As you well know, it's an often thankless task that brings little notoriety to its authors as the rest of us blithely click and link away. I have no doubt that you put countless hours into Wikipedia and contributed much to it, so **thanks** from one of the consumers out there, and good luck with your new endeavors, which I hope bring you deserved credit! :-)

Offered for your consideration -

No discussion of the periodic table is complete without mention of the period table of the elephants
I couldn't find an online version large enough to really show the pictures, but the poster is well worth the $15.

Thanks for the tip about Nash Hyon. The hyperlink to the SilverMine gallery is bad; it looks like

is the best source of information on her art.

I believe that it is quite confusing to ours beginning scientist to learn different versions of periodic table. The modern representation was adopted in order to simplify the complex rearrangement. Luckily, nobody modifies the seven exiting periods that everybody knew. Please, don't confuse us; the periodic table is confusing enough!

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.