Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Catching up

In my biography, they'll write, "A silence of several weeks passed unremarked, then he began blogging again."

We live in Niskayuna, New York now. Here's a picture of my boys at the local minor league ballpark:

We didn't see the game because there was a two-hour rain delay, which pushed it too late in the evening for us.

Last weekend we made an overnight trip to Boston. Great town, but it was hotter than Hades, so hot it was hard to have a good time. The coolest place in town was the Museum of Science. The "Mathematica" display by Charles and Ray Eames (of Eames Chair fame) was fantastic. I don't think I've ever seen a math section in a museum before, probably because when people decide to set one up, they take a look at Mathematica and feel like an amateur painter looking at the Mona Lisa, so they give up.

The boys enjoyed the lightning show, and the presenter did a great job. She made a point that a lot of scientists probably don't stop to think about: you can't directly observe a force. Forces are the fundamental explanation for changes in motion, yet their existence can only be inferred by observing the motion or deformation of bodies. You might think you can feel forces, but what you're feeling is the strain the force causes in your sensory organs like the nerves in your skin or the balancing apparatus in your inner ear. There's no physical principle by which a direct force-measuring device can be constructed. You need to assume an equation that relates force to something else you can measure, like the stretch of a spring.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was a sort of meta-museum section where they kept old items no longer displayed in the main museum - taxidermy, a video loop of a commercial for the museum from about 1978, and a very 1960s viscosity exhibit:

If you're not accustomed to reading psychedelic rock concert posters, those green blobs actually spell out "viscosity". Groovy, man. You're supposed to spin the thing around and observe the relative speed with which the different oils ooze down the tubes.

And in the main museum, there were plenty of these classic doohickeys:

You just hope the kid before you didn't have lice or dirty ears.

Here we are in front of a replica of the world's first liquid-fueled rocket. I think the display said it was "one of the first rockets", which is not close to the truth. Solid rockets have existed for about a thousand years. But it was the very first liquid-fueled rocket. 

On the way home, we stopped in the fancy suburb of Newton to get ice cream at J.P. Licks. (There is a dire shortage of decent ice cream parlors in the Niskayuna area, so an ice cream stop was a primary objective of the trip.) J.P. Licks had excellent ice cream but it was very pricey and there was hardly anywhere to sit. Next door was a tailor shop that had this sewing machine in the window:

My mother had this very same sewing machine when I was a kid - she may still have it for all I know.


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