Discussion Post: Week 13
We’re in for a short week, with Thanksgiving this Thursday. We’ve talked quite a bit about our individual presentations, but since we’re approaching the end of Presentation III, how do you feel about the way that your group work is coming together? Do you feel confident in the topic that your group selected (or, if you haven’t yet submitted a topic, what ideas has your group been discussing)? What challenges do you anticipate during our final round of presentations during the last week of class, and what will you do to overcome them?
Perhaps some of your parents were, at one time, high school cheerleaders. It’s less likely that any of them were cheerleaders when you were in high school, though. For a group of Michigan mothers, however, the situation is a little different. St. Ignace High School began the year without a cheer squad, as the student body was quite small (215 enrolled students) and, among those, there wasn’t much interest in getting involved. But when the school’s football team started off the season strong, and kept winning throughout the year — they remain undefeated as of Friday morning and remain legitimate state championship contenders — a group of moms decided to take action. More than a dozen of them donned their sons’ jerseys and created their own cheerleading squad. Reactions have been mostly supportive, although some of the players still aren’t sure what to think. As one senior put it, “Wow, that is my mom, she’s cheerleading, what’s going on?”
If you thought you were the world’s biggest fan of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you’re not. That honor, it would seem, belongs to Megan and Eric Kellermeyer… along with their son, Dovahkiin. If that last name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the name of Skyrim’s protagonist. The game’s developer, Bethesda, announced a publicity stunt in February that parents could win free Bethesda games for life by naming their child, who had to be born on November 11, after Dovahkiin. Megan and Eric Kellermeyer considered the name for months (and ultimately decided to use it whether or not their son met the November 11 birthday requirement). Let’s just hope their new bundle of joy likes video games, or that whole free-games-for-life deal will be such a waste. In any event, Bethesda’s publicity stunt has received considerably less attention than PETA’s recent Mario parody. Remember the Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3? Well, the animal-rights advocate tried to call attention to raccoon dog-skinning practices by creating a game of its own, in which a skinless Tanooki tries to recapture its skin from Mario. (A link to PETA’s game is in the article; due to its content, I’m not linking directly to it. Play at your own risk.) PETA representatives have since said that the game was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek joke, with no offense intended toward Nintendo or the Mario character, but many who played the bloody parody and read PETA’s earlier statements on the subject took the campaign quite literally.
In science news, scientists at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, CA have created a new, ultra-light solid based on the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The lattices they constructed have proven quite durable in laboratory tests, “bouncing back to their original shape even after being compressed to less than half their size.” They’re even lighter than aerogels and metallic foams, and unlike those other low-density materials, they have extremely organized structures rather than random connections between component particles. The structure, according to lead HRL scientist Tobias Schaedler, gives them significantly increased strength, much like the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge are able to maintain greater height with smaller mass because of their unique architectural designs. Potential uses for the substance have not yet been fully explored, although impact protection and acoustic dampening are likely applications, but it’s still fascinating to see a manmade solid that can sit on top of a dandelion without damaging the seeds.
Let’s also return to the neutrino story from before. You’ll recall, from our previous discussions, that a group of physicists discovered what appeared to be neutrinos travelling faster than light. Such a finding, if true, would significantly transform the laws of physics, particularly Einstein’s special relativity, which heavily relies on the presumption that the speed of light serves as the “speed limit” for the universe. Given that this principle is part of the foundation of modern physics, though, many scientists suspected that the finding was more likely a measurement fluke or something of that nature, and called for the experiment to be run a second time to see if the results were replicable. On Friday, the results of that replication study were released, and again, the neutrinos appear to have beaten light to the finish line. As MSNBC reporter Alan Boyle put it,
The claim runs so counter to a century’s worth of physics that most observers won’t be content until the findings from the OPERA experiment are repeated under a variety of conditions, by different teams of researchers. If the results hold up, that would require a reinterpretation of Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which effectively sets the velocity of light in a vacuum as a cosmic speed limit.
Many possible sources of error were ruled out or at least reduced in this latest experiment. For instance, the neutrino pulses in the first experiment were quite long, which could have produced a great deal of measurement variation. In the second study, the pulse length was shortened and the time between them increased in order to reduce the potential for error. However, other possibilities are harder to rule out, including speculation that the neutrinos may have travelled through extra-dimensional space in order to reach their destination more quickly without moving at a faster rate of speed. In any event, these results will certainly undergo a great deal of additional testing before the scientific community as a whole backs the idea that the “universal speed limit” has been broken.
Finally, last week an Illinois water utility pump was destroyed after hackers gained unauthorized access to its control system, according to security expert Joe Weiss. The hack appears to have been directed toward the theft of vendor and customer information — which was successful — but during the hack, the system was powered on and off, ultimately burning out one of the water pumps. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are currently investigating the incident, which makes sense given popular speculation that similar attacks could devastate critical infrastructures. As of the time of this writing, however, customers have not been formally notified about whether their information was compromised, nor whether their water supply remains safe given the security breach.
That should be plenty for this week. You know the drill!
Other articles of interest:
Regis Philbin says goodbye on ‘Live!’
Former Packer Johnny Jolly is going away for six years
High School Spikes NFL Players’ Kind Donation
Is economy best birth control? US births dip again
Flying With Little Children? Go to the Back of the Plane
Automatic spending cuts a new threat to US economy
Democrats Seek Taxes in Deficit Cut as Republicans Doubt Passage
House rejects balanced budget amendment
Occupy Wall Street: What should be done with the protesters?
California university to investigate police use of pepper spray
Monti Wins Broad Support in Parliament
GOP debate in Iowa gets weepy
Why New Hampshire hasn’t joined the anti-Romney bandwagon
Egyptians Rally Demanding Military Cede Power
Violent Protests in Egypt Pit Thousands Against Police
Pakistan bans ‘obscene’ words on cell phone texts
Iran to boycott Middle East nuclear talks meeting
16 killed in Syria; government OKs idea of observers
Capture of Gaddafi son ends “Libyan drama”
Wildfire tears through Reno; 10,000 evacuated
Officials Say 32 Homes Destroyed in Reno Fire
Clock Ticks for Phobos-Grunt Mars Mission
NASA Mars mission to test planet for ability to sustain life
NASA Administrator Tells WHNT NEWS 19 He’s Now Hiring Astronauts
Physicists extract light from seeming emptiness
Is the New Physics Here? Atom Smashers Get an Antimatter Surprise
Science panel: Get ready for extreme weather
U.N. Panel Finds Climate Change Behind Some Extreme Weather Events
Global warming a hoax for political gain, Larry Bell tells Round Table