Nov 302011

This great article on the life and times of Columbia House reminded me of a strange period of time when I was in high school.

Like many people I discovered rock music when I was in high school. Sure, I’d had a few 45 rpm records with some top 40 hit like “Waterloo” by ABBA, and “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace, but that was kid stuff. Before I had a turntable I had an 8-track player. Sometime in the mid 1970’s our family received a strange package in the mail; a Columbia House 8-track player. It was a gift sent to my father from an ex-con that my father had done some legal work for. My father really didn’t listen to music, but my mother did. Our family already had an 8-track player, so the Columbia House machine was extra. For several years the unused machine sat fallow until I rediscovered it.

I got lucky because my friend David Peterman not only had lots of LPs but an 8-track machine that recorded as well. The capacity to record was an unusual feature for 8-track machines. For those not old enough to remember, the music on pre-recorded albums on 8-track would often fade out before the big “Ka-chunk” when one track switched over to another. With home-made 8-tracks the music would switch abruptly, which would seriously harsh one’s mellow. You couldn’t buy blank 8-tracks either, so you had to find junk ones to record over. I remember enjoying Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo this way…

The problem was that the whole standard for 8-tracks was total junk. In an analog tape format, precision alignment between the tape and tape head is critical. The mechanical tolerances needed for genuine high fidelity just weren’t there with this format. The Columbia House machine that I owned was so cheap that I would have to fold up paper and cram it under the plastic cartridge to keep the tape aligned! As much as I enjoyed rock music I grew to hate this machine and realized that I simply HAD to transition to LPs.

The Columbia House machine came to a violent end one night. As with many dramas in life, you never know exactly how your life will impact those around you. Evidently the story I told my friends was resurrected in this hilarious account by David Peterman. David’s memory of my account is remarkably accurate, though I think I used an ax and not a baseball bat…

 Posted by on 11/30/2011 Growing Up In Montana 2 Responses »
Nov 152011

The term “Lorum ipsum” may be unfamiliar to some. Roughly speaking, it’s nonsense text in Latin used in designing graphics, often for webpages. It’s especially useful when combined with photographs or illustrations, as it enables an overview of the page before the real text is included. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia gives a much more thorough description of lorum ipsum.

In the past Loren Coleman has been taken to task for including stories about unknown animals with images and text about 9-11 on the Cryptomundo blog. Critics, including myself, claim this is done for the simple reason of garnering hits to the Cryptomundo site.

On November 12 of this year Loren Coleman posted a blog entry to Cryptomundo regarding Nittany Lions. Evidently Coleman discovered some sort of association between cryptozoology and child rape, and was willing to publicize his thoughts on the subject. Frankly this was not surprising, as previously Coleman asked whether Osama Bin Laden was as tall as Bigfoot:

In his recent entry on Nittany Lions, Coleman seems aware that others find his actions reprehensible:

One does not need to be an “insensitive skeptic” to test whether Coleman’s musings garner Google rankings. Today I simply entered the term “Nittany Lion” into Google image search. The result is shown:

My result is that the sixth most popular Google search for “Nittany Lion” is for Cryptomundo.
Because Google ranks images as well as text it’s possible to garner hits to a site just by the use of images. Here in Seattle the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a semi-defunct newspaper, often includes photo sets of scantily clad women, ostensibly as “news.” A regular Google web search for the term “Nittany Lion” returns Cryptomundo, but significantly lower than the image search, at least for me. In some cases the text surrounding a photo is less relevant for garnering hits than the photo itself, and thus becomes so much lorum ipsum, or in our case “Loren ipsum.”

No Loren, it’s not the skeptics that are insensitive, it is you and Craig Woolheater who continue to capitalize on human tragedy for the sake of profit and attention.

 Posted by on 11/15/2011 Opinion 2 Responses »
Nov 062011

Easy, just beam up from the Halkan planet during an ion storm and come aboard the “mirror” Enterprise!

Actually there is another way that really works, but the real message here is about examining things that we take for granted during our day-to-day lives. First off, what makes a pair of scissors “handed” in the first place? It’s more than just a molded handle that fits comfortably into a right hand or a left hand. It has to do with the topology of the shears so that they are held together during closing.

Consider how your right hand closes when you cut with a pair of scissors. The handles apply force across a revolute joint which acts as the fulcrum for two levers. But there is more going on than just a simple up and down movement, and this is the key to “handedness.” Your hand is applying a torque or slight twisting force across the fulcrum which helps keep the shears held together. Where does this torque come from? It’s part of the movement your hand makes as you close the scissors.

A pair of scissors is held between the thumb and the fingers when cutting. When the scissors are fully closed the thumb is on the outside of the fingers. Thus the hand is essentially forming a fist, the most fundamental motion of a hand with an opposed thumb.

Imagine a small rod held between the inside of the thumb and the outside of the fingers as you make a fist with your right hand. Which way would it rotate? With a little bit of visualization you can see it would rotate clockwise, as seen from above.

Conversely, the same rod held in the same position of a left hand would rotate anticlockwise, as seen from above.

Now we get to the secret. Notice I qualified the assertion about the rotations with “as seen from above?” That’s because if we see a rotation from the other end, or from below, it is seen to rotate in the opposite direction. Besides the shape of the handles, a right handed scissors is designed for a clockwise torque and a left handed scissors is designed for a counterclockwise torque, as seen from above.

Instead of beaming into the mirror universe of Star Trek, we can “see from below” by turning the shears around! When right handed scissors are held normally in a right hand, the applied torque is clockwise as seen from the revolute joint. When held with the blades facing backwards in the right hand the torque is applied counterclockwise as seen from the revolute joint. The best way to understand these issues is to simply hold a pair of scissors in your hand and feel for yourself the forces involved. Holding a pair of shears backwards is totally goofy for practical purposes, but the goal here is to illustrate what’s really going on.

 Posted by on 11/06/2011 Science Comments Off on How to Turn a Right Handed Pair of Scissors into a Left Handed Pair