"You can find magic in places you never thought to look."
December 2002 Science is knowledge at a slightly deeper level of abstraction than we readily notice.  We must do a bit of harder thinking to "see" the patterns of science.  We are here looking at (and perhaps seeing) one of the odd patterns in the sunrises and sunsets: from the first week in December to the first week in January, both sunset and sunrise are getting later each day.  The sun is due south halfway between sunrise and sunset: that's "solar noon."  So solar noon is getting later, and that means that the length of the day is increasing.  The length of the day is mostly determined by the very, very steady rotation of the earth on its axis, but there's more to it than that.  The earth also revolves about the sun, and that's not steady. The orbit of the earth is an ellipse not a circle.  That's the cause of the changing day length.  Analyzing that elliptical motion is what led Isaac Newton to his "Laws of Motion," and that led to science. 

Newton's Laws of motion are today seen as the abstract patterns that actually exist in the real world about as often as is seen the odd behavior of those sunsets and sunrises.  Navigating Newton

Have you Noticed...

The year is almost over; winter approaches.  The evenings were recently rapidily getting darker and darker.  But by the first of December sunset time is no longer racing toward noon, and the darkest evening of the year is almost upon us.  On which date would that dismal eve be? 

No!  It's not the solstice, December 21st.  It's much earlier, about December 8th! 

During most of December, evenings stay light later and later day after day.  Yet, almost noone notices.  Even fewer reason why.  Reasoning through this puzzle leads to what became the basis of modern science.  The magic of science is simple but subtle—those powerful patterns are seldom seen even when right there for everybody to see.
 (See January, below)

...What is the magical reasoning?
November 2002

Springwater Corridor
Have you Noticed...
Alongside one of Portland's trails some of the hills are actually huge piles of bricks with trees and bushes growing on them.
...Where ?
October 2002.
Riverview Cemetery
45.4618° N
122.6731° W
Have you Noticed...
Wyatt Earps's brother, Virgil, is buried in Portland.
...Where ?
September 2002.

in the Rock Garden
Hoyt Arboretum Tree House

Have you Noticed...
Very few plant species grow on the Antarctic continent.  You can see one those unusual species growing somewhere in Portland. 
...Where ?
August 2002. face="Arial,Helvetica">.
Statistics is one of the most powerful tools in the scientist's toolbox.

...and everybody should be able to handle some statistical reasoning. 

Have you Noticed...
win      lose                win      lose
...statistics can baffle.  A nut was added to the appropriate column as hundreds of players told how they would bet: "stay" or "switch." The columns were thus statistical information on how they should bet.  We wonder why they didn't use that information.  Do you recognize the problem (made famous by Marylin vos Savant in her Parade column)?
July 2002.
Have you Noticed
 new "Walk Map of SW Portland"?
A hillside in Portland is covered with a maze of hillside stairs. Some are public. Some are posted "private but open to public use." Some are posted "private." Some lead into overgrown bramble bushes. They are somewhat connected to each other, or connected by short sections of streets.  PICTURES
...Where ?
June 2002.
45.4968° N
122.6799° W
Have you Noticed?

Somewhere in Portland is a monument to the Spanish American War.
...Where is it?
May 2002.
Calculating ratios and recognizing when a ratio needs to be calculated is one of the simplest concepts of science.  It also presents one of today's most common barriers to understanding the use of science.  Today, lack of understanding of the use of science is one of of the most serious threats to all of us, even though better understanding will come to most adults if they put a little of the right kind of extra effort into it.  So think about it . . .  What's most likely to happen if an adult who's still using his child-like mind is given the controls of a huge modern hi-tech bomber loaded with nuclear weapons?*
*Dumbing down in dangerous.
Have you Noticed?
On that joyous day in May, when you get your state and federal tax refunds, you have forgotten the details of all those bond measures and tax levies that raised your taxes.  But did you notice how much each one was going to affect your own tax bill?  Did you, or someone you know, actually calculate some estimates?  For example, which of the following would cost you the most, which the least: your state of three million people funds a new freeway costing six billion dollars; your city of a hundred thousand funds a new soccer stadium costing four million; your country of 250 million funds a new Coast Guard rescue vessle costing 600 million? 

Even more interesting is the great variety of calculations that different people use when trying to make those estimates.  What to add together?  What to subtract?  What to multiply ? What to divide? 

How important is calculating ratios?

April 2002.
Precision is important in modern science and technology.  The ways things work is important, too.  And correctly anticipating outcomes of what we do is a fundamental key to life itself.  Human evolution has been developing ever better skills of anticipating outcomes. 
Have you Noticed?

When, the first weekend in April, you adjusted your clocks for Savings Time, they had drifted a bit from the exact time by several seconds or a few minutes.  If the clock is on your VCR, you probably missed the start of some programs.

Actually, if you thought a bit about it, you may have noticed that some of the clocks had not drifted from the exact time.  Some of them had kept precise time.

Old-fashioned electric dial clocks hadn't drifted as long as no power outages had occurred.  But the new-fashioned digital clocks did drift. 

Most of them drifted.  Some did not.  Some didn't drift even a fraction of a second—especially those that have very large numbers.  Some plug-in digital clocks have practically perfect precision. 

...What's going on?
How do modern clocks (try to) keep accurate time?
March 2002.
More in the shadows of the edges of human comprehension!  Science succeeds because it uses often unrealized human potential for sorting relevance from irrelevance.  And the first step in doing so is is to abandon the somewhat satisfying sense that each effect has but one cause and each cause leads to but one effect.
Have you Noticed?

Sunburns have not been happening since early last October  (unless the sunburnee has been a long way out of town or in a tanning salon).

Sometime in mid March sunburns will suddenly appear on a lot of people.

People sunbathing to get a tan sometimes lie in a hot sun for hours with no effect, but can, a week later, lie in the sun for 20 minutes and get burned.

What simple information reliably tells us when the sun is actinic?
Ferret out what's relevant ("Back" to return).
February 2002.
This striking phenomenon lies in the shadows at the edges of human comprehension.  Everyone looks at it as TV weather forcasters display the relevant numbers year after year.  Virtually no one sees it, because "seeing" this one seems to require graphing.  No one thinks to graph it.

Have you noticed?

See all temperature records  (graphed).
Discover more about it ("Back" to return).
January 2002.
This looks pretty mundane, but if you see deep enough to see the magic underlying it, you have seen what began the science and technology that surrounds us today.

Did you notice?
On January 3, 2002 . . . 

The drive to work in the morning was the darkest of the year. But the drive home in the evening was much lighter than it had been a month earlier.

See it for yourself (graphed).
Discover more ("Back" to return).

We will grow this list monthly.

YEAR 2003
YEAR 2004+


The Physicist's Domain