Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

It's 2011! Another year has begun.

I have a long and busy year ahead. I have both my Cambridge AS and A Level exams in front of me.

2011 has been declared the International Year of Chemistry by the United Nations. So let's celebrate the achievements of Chemistry and of Science in general this year(I've always felt that we should always celebrate Science)!

I extend my wishes to the entire world. Let us spend another year working towards a more peaceful, more harmonious, more tolerant, more rational and open minded world.

Let's work together to make 2011 the best year the World has ever had!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Once in a Red Moon

It seems that the December 21 of 2010 was quite saturated with important events. A very total and spectacular lunar eclipse took place last Tuesday. A lunar eclipse as we all know occurs when the Earth comes directly between the Sun and the Moon. The Earth casts it's shadow on the moon and the full moon disappears from the night sky for a while. Well, not quite. This is what actually happens.

As you can see the moon is never completely in the Earth's shadow. Instead at the peak of a lunar eclipse, the moon appears blood red. All of you will have seen a sunset, at least in pictures. The sun appears red because it has to pass through much more of the atmosphere that when it is directly overhead. In this case the sun's light passes through a similar amount of atmosphere before it falls on the moon. Radiation of shorter wavelengths are scattered in the atmosphere leaving wavelengths we perceive as red to go through and fall on the lunar surface. This causes the moon to glow in a most enchanting red colour. Certainly one of the more beautiful celestial events.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice

Today, 21 December 2010 is a day of great importance. Today is the day the Earth's axial tilt is at it's maximum of 23° 26' away from the sun. If measure the angle of elevation of the sun from the horizon at twelve noon today you will measure an angle of 69° 34'. It certainly brings back memories. If you were a reader of my blog exactly a year ago you might remember my creative technique of measuring the Earth's axial tilt. For those who weren't there, you should know that I managed to calculate the axial tilt of the Earth by measuring the angle of elevation of the sun on the day of the winter solstice. While this in itself is not very impressive, the method I used to calculate the angle of elevation of the sun is very interesting. I did not measure the angle directly. I used a more long winded but safer method of using shadows and similar triangles. If you are curious read this post: then this post say my method was safer because looking directly at the sun is never a good idea unless you are hell bent on inflicting permanent damage on your eyes. The most impressive thing is that my measurement was very accurate. My answer was very close to the original value.

Historically, the winter solstice is a very important date. There are several festivals celebrated by almost all of the ancient cultures of the world that depend on the winter solstice. A very famous example is the Jewish festival Hanukkah. There are several magical tales and legends associated with this date. It is apparent that humans felt that solstice was a very mystic event.

Recently the date December 21 has gained quite some fame after the sudden surge in the interest the public has shown towards Nostradamus's predictions. Apparently he said that the world as we know it would end on December 21, 2012 due to the Earth, the moon, the sun and the centre of the galaxy lining up. Some people also believe that a fictional Planet Nibiru will come zooming into the solar system and knock Earth off it's orbit.

As someone strongly believes that  good science must be promoted and bad science must be debunked,  let me make an announcement. The world WILL NOT end on December 21, 2012. Period. It is a fantastic work of fiction. If you check the star charts you  will see that this alignment of the Earth, Moon, Sun and the centre of the galaxy happens EVERY YEAR. I thank my favourite astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for making me aware of this and for showing a contagious enthusiasm in science that has made the world a better place. So for those who are waiting for the end just take a step back and think for yourself. Do not be misled by pseudoscience.

On a different note today is also the birthday of my good friend Evelyn Chua. I wish you a very Happy Birthday!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A Mathematical Curiosity

I stumbled upon yet another mathematical curiosity on the web. This was something discovered by the Mathematician Hermann Minkowski. If you recall my blogpost about Space and Time you'll realize that this is the same person who reformulated Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity in 4 dimensional spacetime.

Consider the following situation:

A person wishes to travel from the first black spot at the bottom left corner of the diagram to that on the top right. He can only do it by following the grey borders. Assume that one of the square compartments have a length of one unit. If the person travels 6 units east and 6 units north he travels a total of 12 units.

If the person travels along the blue line he again travels 12 units. The figure below is a bit stretched. But with a little bit of imagination you can see that the distance travelled by the person remains 12 units even if the height of on step is reduced so much that it looks like a sawtooth. You can take my word for it but feel free to draw it out and confirm this.

Now Minkowski asked a very interesting question. What if the height of each stair became closer and closer to zero? The path taken by the person become closer and closer to the straight green line. So even when the height of the stair is only 10^-8 units the distance of the path is 12 units. Now's the time a keen mathematician's spider sense starts tingling. What is the length of the green line? According to the Pythagoras theorem it is (6^2 + 6^2)^0.5 = (72)^0.5 which is the same as 6(2)^0.5. But according to the reasoning we just followed it's 12!! So what happened to all that extra length that disappeared when we used the Pythagorean Theorem?

I'll try to give a solution in the next blogpost.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

First of all, let me tell you: I'm not a big fan of video games, especially those excessively popularized and advertised games like Warcraft, Halo or Devil May Cry. I used to play a lot of video games, but those were in the same league as Pokemon Emerald, Fire Red, Leaf Green and such. In fact I prefer such peaceful games to those involving violence and carnage.

There is however one game which deserves special mention. There is one game which should belong to my detested list but somehow managed to capture my attention. I am referring to Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. I can only conclude that the generous dose of Disney characters (For I just love Disney Films) attracted my attention enough for me to give the game a try.

So there it is. The one and only action role playing game that captured my attention: