Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category.

Question for a Physicist or Chemist

I have an ice cube tray that lives in my freezer. Earlier today, I used the last of my ice cubes, so I filled it with water and stuck it in the freezer again. Just now (maybe an hour later? It’s been a few hours at most), I open up the freezer again, and see this:

(taken out of the freezer and photographed with a Kleenex box as a backdrop) The tops of the ice cubes are frozen, but there is still liquid water underneath. The interesting thing, though, is that one spot has risen up about half a centimeter higher than the rest. What caused this to happen? Why isn’t the surface totally flat, like it was when I put it in?

Details that may or may not be important:

  • I know there is liquid water underneath because I thought there wasn’t and flexed the tray to crack the cubes loose, and some water came out and then there were air bubbles floating around under the cubes.
  • I kinda over-filled the tray, so that all the cubes are connected by a thin sheet of ice that goes over the plastic dividers in the tray.
  • When I filled the tray with water, there were some small bits of ice stuck in the bottom of the tray, maybe a third the size of a normal ice cube. These were left over from cubes that had cracked in two, where I used the top part but couldn’t get the bottom part out. I expect they’ll become part of the new batch of ice cubes, but I haven’t checked on that yet.

Question for a physicist and/or chemist

I have some wild rice. The instructions on it say to boil some water in a saucepan, stir in the rice, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and wait a while. When I stir the rice into the boiling water, I also stir in some butter and a spice mix (sugar, powdered soy sauce, onion, sesame seeds, garlic, and some other stuff). I mix everything thoroughly, cover it (so I can’t see what happens), reduce the heat, and wait.

When the rice is done, I uncover it, and all the sesame seeds are in a ring around the edge of the pan. The ring is maybe an inch thick; the pan is about 8 inches in diameter. The butter and sugar are mixed throughout and not clustered in any place, but the other spices, like the sesame seeds, seem to be in higher concentrations in the ring and lower concentrations in the center of the pan. I have a gas-powered stove, if that makes a difference.

Why does this happen?

If the arctic ice cap melts…

…where would Christians tell their children that Santa’s workshop is located?

Tell me about your ideal programming language.

Suppose you could create the specification for your ideal programming language. It must be possible to implement (it can’t solve undecidable problems, etc), but other than that the sky’s the limit. What would you put in it (what kind of syntax, intrinsics, etc)? For what sort of applications would it be used? What other features would it have? Would the interpreter/compiler do anything unusual? Tell me anything you want about your ideal language and the tools that go with it. You’re welcome to answer some of these questions if you don’t have answers to all of them.

I’ve been asking variations of this question to all sorts of people, and it’s fascinating seeing where they agree and where they don’t.

Questions for a Cosmologist

A coworker and I were having a discussion about general relativity, and wandered down a tangent in which our understandings of the universe differed. We both agree that each others’ explanations are plausible without any hard data against which to test predictions (and we didn’t have real data to back up any of our claims). Does anyone want to weigh in on this debate? Have cosmologists considered this idea and come to a conclusion one way or the other?

Is space itself expanding, or are the things in space just moving away from each other? →

What do you do when an organization wants your personal information?

Yesterday, I was asked by an organization I trust for my phone number, home address, and a couple other pieces of information they have no business knowing. When I want their services, I go to them and I don’t need to make an appointment, so I really can’t think of a valid reason they would need my contact information. When I asked the man why he requested it, he replied that he needed to put it into their computer system to make sure my records were up to date. To the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t know why they want this information, either; he elided the question because it’s just something he’s supposed to collect from customers.

I have experienced this on several different occasions. One of the more memorable ones was when I opened my bank account: the bank wanted my social security number, approximate yearly income, and a bunch of other information I really can’t justify their having. Have you experienced a similar problem? What did you do about it? My response has been to hem and haw for a while and then just give them the information to make everything go smoothly, but it’s never sat well with me, and I’d like to find a better way of dealing with this.

Questions about the Federal Flag Code

I read a copy of the Federal Flag Code today, and was rather puzzled by parts of it. According to section 4,

  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • The Flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

However, I see such things all the time: President Reagan’s funeral, flag paraphernalia, and Captain America are three examples that leap to mind, though I admit that the last one is a slight stretch. Perhaps Uncle Sam would be a better instance of a costume. That fourth part, about burning flags, seems to be under considerable resistance at the moment.

What is going on here? On one side, we have people who want to pass laws to keep the flag dignified and undesecrated. On the other side, we have such a code already in place and being blatantly ignored by the people on the first side. Does anyone have any insight into why this is happening?

Protected: Advice wanted: investigating plagiarism

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Questions for a physicist and/or chemist

  1. My can of soup says to put in a bowl, cover loosely, microwave, and then let stand for a minute. I do all of this in a plastic bowl with a flimsy plastic lid that can be sealed shut (but I don’t seal it). When I take the soup out of the microwave, the lid is not only sealed on, but bowed in from lack of pressure (lack of atmosphere?) inside the bowl. The soup is still hot (I don’t think it has cooled much). What’s going on?
  2. My shower has a smooth, clear, glass door. When I shower, the water covers it with a smooth, even layer, so I can still see out pretty clearly. When I touch my finger to the glass, the water “runs away” from my finger and leaves the glass nearly dry in the vicinity. This is so strong that the water will actually flow up to “escape” my finger’s vicinity. New drops of water that hit the glass while my finger is touching it also move away (though at a slower pace, since they can’t flow as easily without more water around). When I remove my finger, the film of water returns to the way it was before. This isn’t dependent on something I’ve put on my finger; it works with all 10 fingers/thumbs, both elbows, my tongue, and at least one toe. I don’t have a water softener. What is happening?
  3. Galileo showed that all objects fall at the same rate, no matter how much they weigh. I have a bowl full of Cheerios and put some raisins on top. The Cheerios and raisins are about the same size, but the raisins are denser. I put my hand over the top of the bowl and shake it. I would expect all objects in the bowl to fall at the same rate when I shake, and keep the raisins on top. Instead, they gradually migrate towards the bottom. What’s going on?
  4. There is a doorway with the sun shining through it onto a wall (with the shadow of the doorframe on the wall). I stand several feet in front of the door so that the side of my shadow nearly touches the side of the door’s shadow. The part of my shadow closest to the door’s is mirrored, so it appears that the side of my arm is coming out of the doorframe. This occurs even if I move around slightly (it appears as though the door’s arm is moving in the opposite direction). The shadows need to be within a couple inches of each other to get this to work. What is going on?

The world is a strange and fascinating place.