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Ask Slashdot: How To Pick Up Astronomy and Physics As an Adult?

polyphemus Read & Do the Problems (234 comments)

For physics, start by reading an intro textbook.

Be sure to solve the problems at the end of the chapters. You will know physics when you can solve physics problems. If you're not interested in solving the problems, just read some pop physics books.

For astronomy, I would be of no help whatsoever. The math is easier, though; if you can use the Pythagorean Theorem, you're good (I hear).

My background: 36, a Ph.D. in physics, and I work at New York tech startups.

about 2 months ago

Drought Inspires a Boom In Pseudoscience, From Rain Machines To 'Water Witches'

polyphemus Re:As it's always gone (266 comments)

People who are suffering, ignorant, and afraid are more willing to turn to the supernatural - be it religion or superstitions - as a 'solution' to their problems.


I see parallels between this and any number of other situations that make people desperate:

* Cancer patients turning to stem cell "remedies" from quacks who don't bother looking for evidence

* People with autistic children who can't find a cause so they blame vaccines

* People who can't see any obvious good options, so they turn to psychics

Fear is a wonderful tool if you're a charlatan, as it makes your victims less likely to pause and ask whether you're actually qualified to do (or to know) any of the things you claim.

about 4 months ago

Suddenly Visible: Illicit Drugs As Part of Silicon Valley Culture

polyphemus Re:The only good thing (511 comments)

When I was in primary school, I was taught by all teachers to not take any drugs, smoke or drink excessively, even painkillers...

Well, one problem is that the teachers lie through their teeth, demonizing marijuana along with heroin. But then you get to high school, and your friends are smoking weed, having fun, and they look fine. You've got older friends who have smoked pot on & off for years without visible consequences. So you try it and, sure enough, it's not the drug you were warned about by your teachers; it's actually fine, except for the consequences of getting caught. Your teachers lied to you, and now you know it.

And the irony is that the most dangerous, most addictive, most popular drugs (alcohol and tobacco), well, these the ones your teachers tell you to use in "moderation." They imply that there's relative safety in these drugs, which is another lie.

So how should you know about the dangers of addiction from heroin or methamphetamines, when your teachers are demonstrably lying to you about drugs?

about 5 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Joining a Startup As an Older Programmer?

polyphemus Ignore the kids (274 comments)

I've worked at startups for the last 2 years. It's OK to be one of the "grownups" there and duck out of the social activities. They'll still massively value your work, and I'm sure you'll find plenty of others in your age range to relate to.

BTW, I'm 36, with a wife and 2 kids, and I work in New York.

about 7 months ago

How Silicon Valley CEOs Conspired To Suppress Engineers' Wages

polyphemus Re:Time for unionization in the tech sector yet? (462 comments)

... Forced unionization has often just become a tool by which employers actually force collective bargaining on workers. It seems all too common that employers are actually the ones creating the unions ...

I'm pretty sure employers tend to oppose unions.

about a year ago

Programmer Privilege

polyphemus Re:You act the part, and blame people for believin (353 comments)

I think he's trying to say that not everyone gets the benefit of the doubt. Sure, he was pretty much qualified, but a lot of people don't have the chance. He's not blaming anyone for his privilege, he's not saying he is wrong to have this privilege, he's saying it's wrong that so many other people don't.

about a year ago

Ask Slashdot: Best Language To Learn For Scientific Computing?

polyphemus Re:Python (465 comments)


I was using Mathematica in grad school (experimental physics). Great for simple number crunching, but awful for doing anything programmatically interesting, and annoyingly expensive.

I'm now using Python and loving it.

about a year ago

Orson Scott Card's Superman Story Shelved After Homophobia Controversy

polyphemus Re:An Old Discussion (1174 comments)

My sentiments are the same. I loved Ender's Game, but I see his morality infiltrate his writing in everything else of his that I've read (Speaker, Shadow, and a prequel about the parents). It's ubiquitous, and it makes his writing worse. I can't read his writing anymore.

about 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Using a Tablet As a Sole Computing Device?

polyphemus My parents use their iPad exclusively (417 comments)

They have a Windows desktop, but they don't use it anymore.

The iPad works great for them. I couldn't survive without a keyboard, but I live inside a vim terminal, pulling out to execute my code. My parents ... they don't code. Without that, there's literally nothing they do that can't be done on an iPad. Even things that seem more convenient (long emails) are tedious for them ("I have to go all the way _upstairs_ to do that? I'd rather sit on the couch, or compose it in the passenger set of the car."). They find it significantly more convenient than their desk top, and they argue over who gets to use it. They'll soon buy a second one.

Based on my parents' experience, I say have your mom ditch the desktop.

about 2 years ago

Killer Apartment Vs. Persistent Microwave Exposure?

polyphemus Re:Easy and cheap solution: (791 comments)

Also, microwaves only penetrate a centimeter or two. And yes, putting wire mesh (say, 1 cm square) in the walls will completely shield you from all of the microwaves. Of course, it might also cause cell-phone troubles. And your windows will be holes in your net, but that should be fine unless you sleep with a window and no screen, facing the towers.

But seriously, you should be fine.

more than 4 years ago

Using a Toy Train To Calibrate a Reactor

polyphemus We did the same thing at DIII-D (120 comments)

I spent a summer working at the DIII-D tokamak in La Jolla, CA back in 2001, and this system was already in use. It had clearly been around for years, and the train (and track) had been packed & unpacked for the n-th time during a long period of scheduled downtime. Things were starting up again, and the neutron detectors had to be calibrated. It was my job to get the train working, making sure the connections were good by assembling the train outside of the chamber & sanding the aluminum (some of which was lightly oxidized and nonconductive) until the train ran smoothly.

Things were going well until I disassembled it for reassembly in the chamber. During the process, I dropped a small connector piece on the floor. My attitude was "oh, well, it's not worth my hourly wage to look for this," until I was informed that due to exposure to the radiation, the piece was considered nuclear waste, and had to be found, even if a replacement piece was only $0.01. Half an hour later, the problem was compounded when the lights went off. So there I was, in a huge bay, with a flashlight, looking for a tiny grey connector on a grey unpainted concrete floor.

I didn't realize it at the time, but the lights going off really sped up the search process. With a flashlight, I could simply crouch onto the ground and look for long shadows. I found the piece after about two minutes of trying this technique.

more than 4 years ago

String Theory a Disaster for Physics?

polyphemus Re:Man... (737 comments)

Technically, the sun is wobbling about the center of mass of the solar system, mainly due to the movement of Jupiter, much like an olympic contender doing a hammer throw. The earth is also tugged a bit by the movement of Jupiter, and its main effect isn't to cause the earth's orbit to decay, but rather just to perturb the orbit slightly so that the semimajor axis to precess slowly.

There should be a small (too small to detect, even on the scale of millenia) amount of gravitational energy being radiated in gravity waves because the field at the Earth's radius takes a few minutes to catch up with the slowly accelerating sun, but this sort of effect has only been strong enough to be observed in binary pulsar inspirals, for which the 2003 Nobel in physics was awarded. The earth will be swallowed by the expanding sun when it turns into a red giant well before the earth loses enough energy through this process to change its orbit in any significant (experimentally detectable) way.

more than 8 years ago


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