Links: Early August 2013

Here are some links for you to enjoy.


  • The science of military helicopters with halos.
  • Long video of astronomer talking passionately about exoplanets.
  • Fascinating article on island home of isolated tribe.
  • Alien explains shape of universe (wouldn’t recommend as primer, but entertaining if you’re already fairly well informed).
  • Documentary on deception, featuring Richard Wiseman (more episodes to come).
  • Long article on parasites of plants, including biological, historical and social perspectives. Main case study from Ghana.
  • Insights into how Roald Dahl’s The Witches came to be, from his editor.
  • Good, comprehensive article on milk tolerance and its historical implications.
  • How relativity explains mercury. (No, the other mercury: the liquid metal.)
  • Dark matter as mapped by Planck.
  • Wonder and the history of science.



One more link, which merits a few paragraphs…

The Royal Institution of Australia is running a haiku competition, for which entries close on August 18. To quote from the submissions page:

Inspired by the Japanese haiku, sci-ku is a short three-line poem about sciences. Sci-ku is a small, modest and humble poem that depicts the everyday world around us, aiming to give a flash of insight into that world — like a scientific ‘Eureka!’ moment expressed briefly in words.

This year we’re looking for Sci-ku poems with a statistics or mathematics theme, in recognition of 2013 being the International Year of Statistics and the International Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth.

I mulled over my entry for some time. I don’t know whether there are any experienced poets on the judging committee, but I wanted my entry to be as true as possible to the haiku spirit. Any haiku-writing guide will tell you that the poems describe an experience of the senses and do not intellectualise. This is not an easy guideline to follow when writing about mathematics, but I eventually hit on the idea of describing a mathematical thought experiment. That way it’s a visual experience of sorts (albeit an imaginary one), and the only intellectualising occurs in the reader’s mind.

The thought experiment I settled on was this. Cut the earth in half (so that the mass of each half is the same), throw away one piece, and keep the other. The next day, cut the remaining piece in half, throw away one piece, and keep the other. Repeat daily. How long does it take before only a single proton remains? (You can’t cut a proton in half and get something that weighs half a proton, so this is as far as you can go.)

The answer — which clearly has everything to do with the Mathematics of Planet Earth — is 171 days, or nearly half a year. So if you started on January 1st, you’d finish on June 20, and if you started on July 7, you’d finish on Christmas.

This, then, is my sci-ku:

The planet’s mass, halved
daily from December’s end:
leaves mid-year proton.

If this inspires you to write your own, submit it here.


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