Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best Opening Line from a Staff Meeting

"My copy of the meeting agenda lost some characters when it was reformatted from html, so it is difficult for me to determine if I have been invited to provide HISTORICAL perspective on the project, or HYSTERICAL perspective, but I imagine by now it is already apparent..."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Watching Basketballs...

I do remember when I first got interested in Physics ... It would have been in 1971, and yes that would make me at best 13. I had been reading "The Glass Giant of Palomar", the story of the construction of the 200 inch Hale telescope in California, and I was fascinated by the accounts of the precision required to mold the giant mirror, and why even a small perturbation in the surface could deflect light away from the focus...
That of course led to an interest in astronomy, which was not unusual in those heady days of space travel coming true. People were still landing on the Moon in 1971 and we saw no reason why they should ever stop the expansion of that trend.

My brothers and I used to take a bus to go downtown to the Milwaukee Bucks games, and we always got there in time to watch warmup and practice.
I was sitting in the stands one night watching the entire team taking jump shot practice at one end of the court. All the basketballs were arriving at the hoop at the same time, and as they bounced off of each other around and off the rim, careening off the backboard and each other and shooting back out to various corners of the court, I suddenly realized that what I was seeing was not as random a process as it would first appear.

Every one of those collisions between basketballs, iron rim, or plexiglass backboard could be precisely and elegantly described by the same laws of physics that governed the trajectory of the flights to the moon that had so enthralled us in that same decade. Here was a live example of ballistics, conservation of momentum, and elastic collisions, and the same laws that governed how those balls swooped down to collide in the cylinder above the rim ensured that the planets in our solar system did not do exactly the same thing.

I was impressed .... and hooked ...