Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Orwellian equilibrium

Sheep preferences over location are not transitive!

You might think this is irrational.  But keep in mind that they are sheep.  Thinking for oneself is very costly for a sheep, so they adopt a decision rule of do as sheep do.  Good sheep go with the flow.  Why, if a sheep didn't go with the flow, the other sheep would smack right into it!  You might think it is worse to be hit by a car than by other sheep, since they are so fluffy and all...but for a sheep, it is simply too costly to weigh those alternatives.

Monday, January 30, 2012


I just learned why helium makes us sound like chipmunks.  If you don't already know the answer, try to think about it for at least a few moments before I tell you...

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The answer is that helium is less dense than air, and sound travels through it about twice as fast!  In retrospect this is not terribly surprising, nor too difficult to figure out once the question is posed.  The real question is how I (and perhaps you) could possibly get this far in life without knowing why.

The paradoxical answer is that I know less about helium because it is too common.  I knew from a young age that helium made people sound like chipmunks, and apparently I was happy to accept it as a basic property of the universe that didn't itself need explanation.  Fair enough, I suppose...back then there was all sorts of crazy universe magic competing for my limited attention.  For all I know, helium voices weren't even that crazy or interesting (to me) compared to the other stuff.

On the other hand, if helium balloons weren't so ubiquitous, I'd have been totally ignorant of the phenomenon.  Until I saw a crazy video on Youtube at age 18.  And then I would have a WTF!!! moment and immediately hunt for an explanation.

What's the craziest stuff everyone just accepts because they're used to it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Plastic Sentinels

Via MR,

As another swipe at the West, Iranians will soon be able to buy toy versions of the US spy drone that it captured in December, Iranian media reported.
Models of the bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel – which Iran’s military displayed on TV after it was downed near the Afghan border – will be mass produced in a variety of colours, reports said.
I guess I was wrong about Iran not having the technological know-how to replicate the captured Sentinel!  Or might these toys be...made in China?