My favourite bit so far, though, is The art of finding the right graph paper to get a straight line, from an almost-fifty-year-old volume of the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
This piece is not on the JIR Web site (though this other excellent graph is), and it doesn't seem to be online anywhere else, except for this site that lets you read a who-knows-how-legal copy of the whole book. (Or of course, you could download the book from a hive of scum and villainy.)
A Random Walk in Science is also still in print, too, though ridiculously expensive. So I've taken the liberty of image-ifying those two pages. Click for more legible versions.
This is probably still copyright to somebody, no warranty expressed or implied, et cetera.
When an investigator has developed a formula which gives a complete representation of the phenomena within a certain range, he may be prone to satisfaction. Would it not be wiser if he should say "Foiled again! I can find out no more about Nature along this line."
Besides that, it also fixed a few bugs which most players, me included, should have noticed. But didn't.
The second-most-coveted "Elite" efficiency upgrade for your 'Mechs is "Fast Fire", which makes your weapons recycle to fire again 5% faster. Everybody with a 'Mech that, you know, has guns, buys Fast Fire as soon as they can.
Except, until now, it didn't work.
Worse, it worked backwards. It made your weapons recycle 5% slower.
They've fixed that, now.
But I never noticed. I've bought Fast Fire for, what, two dozen 'Mechs so far? If you'd asked me, I would have said it worked.
(The most desirable elite upgrade is "Speed Tweak", which raises your top speed by ten per cent. That always worked, though it used to only boost you 7.5% before they bugfixed that too, a few patches ago. Well, I think it always did something. Maybe it just changes the speedometer to tell you 100 kilometres per hour is now 110...)
And it was actually even worse than that, because there were several other screw-ups in the upgrade system.
People noticed some of them, like how you still have to buy the Basic upgrade "Arm Reflex" if you want to get to the Elite upgrades, even if your 'Mech is a Catapult or something that does not actually have articulated arms.
But Arm Reflex and "Twist Speed" were backwards, until now. Each actually gave the other's upgrade.
And the reason the Fast Fire problem was even worse is that when you bought Fast Fire it didn't do anything to your fire rate at all. Because, like Arm Reflex and Twist Speed, Fast Fire and "Pin Point" were reversed too!
If you bought Fast Fire you got Pin Point, and if you bought Pin Point you got Fast Fire. Which was, once again, actually Slow Fire. But when you bought it you didn't get it. Which was actually helpful, since it didn't work. Stay with me, here.
And the doubled Basic efficiencies you got from getting to Elite weren't doubled properly! And there's more!
MechWarrior Online is still in beta, so you should expect stuff like this. If there weren't bugs, even quite egregious bugs, then it wouldn't be a beta.
But you'd think errors like this would be the talk of the town. I mean, it'd be the work of a moment to do a little science to detect such things. Time some gun-shooting, or screenshot how far your 'Mech's torso can twist, or whatever. Then buy a new upgrade that's meant to change whatever you did, and test again.
But, clearly, almost nobody did that. I certainly didn't. So almost nobody noticed the bugs. This may have something to do with how long it's taken these bugs to be fixed - we're almost four months into the open beta now.
The moral of the story is, once again, that if you want to see if something is true or not, you have to do science. And science is not restricted to incomprehensible white-coated boffins who look at brightly-coloured liquids in the background of wrinkle-cream advertisements and who also dogmatically pursue the formula for the perfect biscuit dunk. Science is just careful experimentation, observation and thinking, which anybody can do, any time they like.
Some differences are blatantly obvious enough that you don't need to set up a formal experiment. You don't have to do science to determine whether it is safe to cross the road when something that looks very much like a car, but could be a hologram or hallucination, is coming. And if there were some upgrade in MechWarrior Online that was meant to make your 'Mech twice as tall or twice as fast, you'd be able to tell if it was working pretty easily with informal observation. (Though you wouldn't be able to easily determine if it were only making you 1.95 times as tall or fast...)
When something is subtle or elusive, though, as many concepts in the real world are, there is no substitute for science. And it's surprising howoften it's needed.
If you're up for it, I'd really love an article on why the size of that meteorite varies from 10 tons to 10,000, why the rarity of it is 1 in 5 years to 1 in 100, and why the explosion is everything from 1 to 500 Hiroshimas (I hadn't realized that was a new standard measure until today).
Right after everybody started goggling at YouTube videos of lights in the sky over Chelyabinsk, and blessing once again the everlasting source of comedy and horror that is the Russian dash-camphenomenon, a lot of reporters were probably hitting the telephones. (Or just Twitter, now that having the first story is so much more important than having the first correct story.)
Anyway, early on there was an estimate allegedly from the Russian Academy of Sciences that said the meteoroid was only about ten tons. I don't know who at the Academy first said that to a journalist, since there doesn't seem to be an official press release or anything, but that mass estimate seems tied to them.
Since this estimate came before anybody had pulled together enough reports and readings to know for sure the size, velocity and explosion altitude of the rock, it's not surprising they were way off. I presume they just estimated a relatively low airburst of a relatively small rock, enough to do this sort of damage...
...without requiring the meteoroid to be a one-per-century size.
Around the same time, the European Space Agencysimilarly estimated the rock to be relatively small, with the caveat that they didn't yet have "precise information on the size, mass and composition of the object".
But then NASA estimated the rock was much bigger and heavier and blew up much higher. Since then, better readings have caused NASA to estimate it was a little larger again, putting it in the one-per-century category. I think this pretty conclusively overrules the early, low estimates.
This may also make it fortunate that this meteoroid came in at a grazing angle, and exploded so high up. I'm no expert on meteorite dynamics, but if the Chelyabinsk rock had managed to get down to ten kilometres or lower before it exploded, it would have Tunguska-ed the city, not just outshone the sun and then broken lots of windows.
This may have been impossible, especially if this meteoroid was one of the common stony types. Nickel-iron meteoroids are much rarer than stony ones, but also much more likely to make it to the surface without "exploding". The explosion effect when a meteoroid disintegrates in the atmosphere comes from the much greater surface area per mass of the fragments; they decelerate faster and heat up more, creating the kaboom. Whatever bits survive this process are generally small enough that they're only travelling at terminal velocity when they hit the ground.
I think gigantic dinosaur-killermeteorites can't help but make it to the surface largely intact, and ruin everybody's whole week. At the other end of the size chart are the tiny micrometeorites that drizzle down constantly, which anybody can harvest from the roof of a building.
I agree that using the Hiroshima bomb as an explosion-size yardstick is a bit silly, since it's not as if many people now living have a personal, visceral understanding of what that means. You might as well say something like "the meteoroid weighed more than 9000 tonnes, as much as fifteen thousand adult bluefin tuna".
The two biggest explosions there, which happened almost simultaneously, added up to only about 2.7 kilotons of TNT. The Chelyabinsk meteoroid explosion was, according to NASA's corrected estimate, close to 500 kilotons.
UPDATE: Phil Plait, the moderately famous actual astronomer who you should obviously have listened to about this stuff before you wasted minutes of your life on the above, has a couple of articles about the Russian meteor here and here.
I purchased some modulators from Mr Orchard and had one of the units tested using a machine called a PowerMate that is made in Adelaide.
The result was a 30% reduction in power consumption. The test was done over a 3 month period.
Mr Orchard is way ahead of his time. People just on get it!
This email is COMMERCIAL IN CONFIDENCE
The contents of this e-mail is highly confidential and for the intended recipient only and to the e-mail address to which it has been addressed to. It's contents may not be disclosed to or used by any other 3rd party other than this addressee, nor may it be duplicated in any way or format without prior consent by the sender. If received in error, please contact the sender by email quoting the name of the sender and the addressee and delete it from your email server and email client software. The sender does not accept any responsibility for any forms of viruses, spyware or malware. It is the responsibility of the receiver to scan all their incoming e-mails and all attachments that have been sent to them.
First, no, e-mail sent to a stranger is not confidential, and no disclaimer boilerplate at the end can make it so. (I'm not sure what the "commercial" part is supposed to mean, either.)
That aside, I presume you're sincere about your statement about seeing the magical EMPower Modulator doing at least one of the numerous extraordinary things it's meant to, and I will also grant for the sake of argument that the test you saw was not rigged, or performed with a defective power meter. (The "Power Mate" is I think meant to be able to take reactive loads into account; cheap power meters like the ones I write about here cannot fully do this.)
Why is the person who has been selling this thing for so many years or, in many cases including that of Harmonic Products, DECADES, not a billionaire Nobel-Prize winner?
You demonstrate your device informally. You talk journalists and a technical college or two into testing it. With that evidence, you talk serious test labs and/or universities into testing it. And then there you are with your proven invention that, because most of the world's population will want it, is not worth millions of dollars; it's worth billions. Hell, even if an evil corporate conspiracy steals your invention, rips up your patent and robs you of your rightful reward, you will still have greatly bettered the lot of humankind. Provided, of course, that the evil conspiracy doesn't tuck your gadget away in the same vast warehouse where they keep the Ark of the Covenant and the hundred-mile-per-gallon carburettor.
All could revolutionise the world, if true. None have ever managed it. They always just sell the gadgets, or tickets to their performances, one at a time to punters like you.
(And, notably, they do not mysteriously vanish when the abovementioned giant corporate Illuminati Freemason conspiracy catches up with them. A lot of these people have been selling the samescam pretty much all their lives, without any repercussions beyond getting serially busted by the government because they keep taking people's money and running.)
The closest these miracle devices and potions get to actual success is when they manage to be bought in quantity by someone who hasn't applied any proper tests to see if they work, or who are just hoping to turn a buck on resale or shares in the company. See the ADE 651 "bomb detector" and its various relatives, for instance, and the whole miserableFirepowersaga.
If the EMPower Modulator works, it is a miraculous device, and I use that word advisedly. (The same goes for the pieces of purple aluminium jewellery that Harmonic Products told me protect the wearer from radiation, make beverages take better, make metal on your person invisible to metal detectors unless you intend to do something bad with that metal, et cetera et cetera.)
But apparently Harmonic Products are perfectly happy to frame a lottery ticket and hang it on the wall for visitors to admire.
They say it'd win a billion dollars, if they only cashed it in.
Why haven't they?
UPDATE: Peter replied to me, with the following cogent rebuttal:
Yes the world is flat and the Sun revolves around the earth.
Sent from my iPhone
I'm not sure whether he's agreeing with me or not.
(There was no boilerplate confidentiality disclaimer this time. Presumably he's cool with his e-mail being published, provided he sent it from his phone.)
It seems perfectly reasonable that the distribution of rockets hits will be a Poisson distribution: i.e., for a given area and a given unit time, a Poisson distribution will model the probability of getting hit once there in that time, versus twice, versus n times, versus never. (And note that this varies linearly, as you would expect, in both area and period of time.)
But the thing about a Poisson distribution is that it is (as the statisticians like to say) memoryless. The chance of getting hit in some area in any unit time is independent of how many times that area's been hit in the past.
So, sure, the chances of not getting hit in the next hour and getting hit in the hour after that are lower, by multiplication of probabilities, than the chances of simply getting hit in the next hour. But that's not a question anyone cares about, is it? Answering what I understand to be the writer's question, he's asking whether, an area having been hit in the last h hours, it is more or less likely to be hit in the next, say, h hours, And the answer is, if the rockets are no more aimed than V-2s, that it doesn't matter whether or not the area's been hit before.
But, again, what a great site you do. With thanks,
You're exactly right about the characteristics of the Poisson distribution, and the fact that a chance of a future hit does not depend in any way on whether a hit happened in the past, presuming hits truly are randomly distributed.
But the NEXT [arbitrary time period] in which any [arbitrary location] is likely to be hit is still the VERY NEXT [arbitrary time period], if the distribution is random. Because, as per the lightning-strike analogy, for a hit to happen the [time period] after next, it must NOT happen in the next [time period]. This gives lower and lower probabilities of the next hit being at a given time the further that time is in the future.
As you say, this is still no help at all in figuring out where and who is going to get hit, or not. But it's the explanation for the "clusters" that often make random events look very NON-random, and my correspondent from Israel wanted to know whether this apparent un-randomness was of any predictive value. Which, as you say, it unfortunately is not.
(Also, in reality, human aiming of even unguided garage-built rockets may entirely swamp the random-clustering effect. So in reality a missile landing in some particular place probably does mean more missiles will land there, but not because of any abstract quirk of probability.)
Date: Fri, 28 Dec 2012
Subject: Wine Clip
Your review is entertaining but is not very helpful. I have used a Wine Clip for about 3 years, and frequently do a blind test on myself. Naturally, having some one else do the pouring.
After all, I don't really care whether some one else thinks the wine is better using the Clip. I am the only relevant person involved. And it works every time! Red wine is better when the Wine Clip is used. That is what is important to me; after all, I am the consumer.
There is a factor in the use of panels. The participants should never know it is a test. (I found this out when I was doing panel responses. Whether it be taste, smell or any other perception, translation by the brain of the perceptions received is influenced by the environment.
But you are right about one thing. Great magnets!
What would you do, Ernest, if someone sent you an e-mail that said, "Your commentary on the Psychotronic Money Magnet is entertaining but is not very helpful. I have used a Money Magnet for about 3 years, and always make more money when I have it hanging around my neck than when I leave it in the bedside drawer"?
Would you, in response to this, drop everything and dash out to buy a Money Magnet from one of the... differently-cognitive... people who sell them?
Would you turn your whole comprehension of the world upside down, because apparently it seems that the free will of other humans and the very workings of abstract probability can be distorted by a talismanic device that works by, uh, quantums, and stuff?
Or would you, rather, presume that the fellow e-mailing you might have not quite the right end of the stick?
I do not doubt that you believe the Wine Clip works. I am intrigued by your claim to have tested it in a controlled, though not double-blind, way. I do not consider your claim plausible, though, not least because if it's correct, then the whole of electrochemistry, indeed most of modern physics, is not. Countless carefully-assayed chemical mixtures are exposed to magnetic fields from the modest to the monstrous every day, with the assumption that those fields will not modify any molecules and mess up the experiment - and the fields never do.
Unless you stick some magnets on a wine bottle, apparently. Then, suddenly, physics goes out the window and "tannins" start getting broken up by magnetism.
Since I am surrounded every day by evidence that magnetic fields do not pull molecules apart, and a good thing too or writing this piece would almost certainly have killed me, I am afraid I can only conclude that there is probably something wrong with your testing regimen. Your collaborator is accidentally signalling you - without your conscious knowledge - or the Clipped pour is consistently the first or the second, or any of the hundreds of other possible variables for which a good test must control, which is why good tests are so difficult to do.
Note that James Randi told me, personally, that he has specifically requested that makers of magnetic wine-treatment devices demonstrate the truth of their claims in return for worldwide fame and a million dollars.
Not a peep.
(You are of course welcome to join the many other believers in paranormal events who say that the Randi Challenge is clearly some kind of scam. I would venture the opinion that a scam-challenge looks more like this.)
But wait a minute - why am I bothering to say all this to you, when you conclude by saying that tests that people know are tests aren't useful anyway?!
I'm currently writing a piece in response to yet another example of audiophile weirdness, and this "the participants should never know it is a test" thing comes up there, too.
I even managed to find someone claiming that the fact that blinded tests are objective makes them bad. Because, see, if a proper test shows you that a $900 audiophile widget does nothing, and you therefore save some money and don't buy that widget, you then won't be as happy listening to music, because even though you now know it was a placebo, you still need that placebo in order to fully enjoy the music. Or something.
But... didn't you say you frequently do blind tests on yourself, Ernest?
If objective testing doesn't work if the testees know they're being tested, I suppose you don't know when these blind tests are happening, right?
So is it something like, your wife sometimes doesn't use the Clip when you think she is using it, or something? And then asks you what you think of the wine, which for some reason doesn't alert you to the fact that another "test" is in progress? And then you turn out to be the first person in human history completely immune to cues from a non-blinded researcher with whom you have a personal relationship?
I'm really trying to not insult your intelligence here, Ernest, but you're not making it easy for me.
In the comments of my post the other day comparing electrical and firearm energy levels, commenter "hagmanti" was delighted to be informed that the blast of flame coming out of a rail-gun's barrel...
...which makes it look more like a normal chemical firearm than most normal chemical firearms do, is vapourised rail and projectile material.
This is a serious problem for both military and... hobbyist... railguns. Damage to the projectile is not that big a deal as long as you're only firing "kinetic kill" lumps of metal, not explosive-filled shells. But a gun that needs to be torn down and have major components replaced every few shots is not a practical weapon.
There are actually analogous problems with a lot of other unreasonably powerful guns. Truly monstrous artillery like railway guns (often, confusingly, also referred to as "rail guns") could fire only a few hundred rounds - even with WWII technology - before the whole huge barrel had to be replaced.
At least one of those railway guns, the World-War-One Paris Gun, had a series of shells of gradually increasing size to be shot in order, so the bullet always fit the barrel.
The same thing happens to small arms. A frequently-used rifle barrel will eventually be "shot out" and lose projectile velocity and accuracy, as the bullet bounces down the worn tube. It just happens a lot faster if you perversely insist on 120 million joules, or around 1.7 billion joules, of muzzle energy, for the Paris Gun and...
In their later life those mere 16-inchers became rather more destructive than any of the railway guns, though, on account of how they could toss fifteen to twenty kilotons of instant sunshine at the enemy.
And then there's the multi-chamber gun concept, where the initial propellant charge behind the shell is relatively small, and the barrel has branches containing subsidiary charges that are timed to go off after the shell has passed them. This design lets you have very high muzzle velocity without beating up the barrel, or the shell, with a single immense propellant explosion; multi-chamber guns could be used to launchsatellites, as well as to kill people. But nobody's ever really gotten them to work, which is, I think, in mostcases just as well.
I've read that the problem with ray guns is that as an energy delivery system, pieces of high-speed lead propelled by a chemical reaction work much better than photons propelled by battery power.
If you could dump all of the energy out of, say, a AA battery really fast, though, could you get bullet levels of energy out of each battery?
Yes, you could.
Let's presume you're using nickel-metal-hydride AA batteries, which are somewhere between average-rifle-cartridge and average-pistol-cartridge in size. You can get a lot more current out of a NiMH or NiCd rechargeable than an alkaline or carbon-zinc battery, but, as you say, you still can't discharge them nearly fast enough for them to be useful replacements for firearm cartridges.
Even if you don't care whether the battery survives the experience, the biggest bang you can get out of a battery is the feeble "explosion" of a laptop battery. That may give you nasty burns if it happens literally on your lap, and shorted batteries have been responsible for the destruction of quite a few cargo planes, but batteries are no more than firecrackers compared with proper explosive devices.
Never mind that for now, though, let's just look at the energy content.
The most generally useful kind of NiMH cell is the "low self-discharge" type, which unlike the older kind of NiMH, do not go flat in a matter of weeks whether you use them or not. (Low-self-discharge cells are often sold as "pre-charged", or "ready to use".) LSD cells have lower capacity, though, so let's say we're using non-LSD cells with the absolute bleeding edge maximum capacity today available, which is about three amp-hours (3000 milliamp-hours).
1.2 volts (the standard NiMH or NiCd terminal voltage) times three amp-hours gives 3.6 watt-hours. A joule is a watt-second, there are 3600 seconds in an hour, so 3.6 watt-hours is 12,960 joules.
Firearm muzzle energy is often measured in foot-pounds, not joules, but I'll keep it all in SI units here. You also couldn't get the entire capacity of any electrical energy source into your beam or projectile, because no laser or mass-driver is 100% efficient, but I'll handwave that as well.
12,960 joules is a pretty darn respectable chunk of energy, way more than any handgun cartridge can manage. 9mm rounds top out around 500 joules of muzzle energy, .44 Magnum is a couple of thousand joules at most, and even the ludicrous .500 S&W Magnum is only around 4000 joules.
Rifle cartridges that qualify as "high-powered" seldom exceed 4000 joules. You have to start looking at exotic specialised sniper and large-game rounds, or heavy-machine-gun ammunition, before you get above ten thousand joules. The .50 BMG round easily beats 12,000 joules, and the more ludicrous kinds of elephant-gun double rifleroughlyequal the battery's energy...
...as you'd bleeding well want them to, for this kind of recoil punishment.
But all of this is, again, just fantasy, because you can't dump the energy out of any kind of battery anywhere near fast enough to make it useful in a gun.
You can, however, dump the energy out of a capacitor in a very short period of time.
Normal caps certainly can be discharged fast, though.
This cap bank could be used to power some kind of kinetic or ray-gun weapon - but it takes all of those huge beer-can capacitors to hold a mere 11.3 kilojoules, roughly the same as our one AA NiMH cell. The one killing the watermelon above is only 9270 joules, and its caps are huge.
Chemical lasers can be usefully powerful without requiring capacitor banks the size of a house. They are generally very unpleasant to be near, though, because they either run on, or produce, horrible toxic compounds.
Which is why plain old deflagratinggunpowder, propelling a piece of metal down a tube, remains the standard way to do unto others at a distance.
Oh - and if you've never watched Kaboom!, you really ought to.
UPDATE: On the subject of ludicrous electrical things, there's this piece I did on what a AAA battery composed of nothing but electrons would be like.