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Posts Tagged ‘Curiosity’

Numbers make sense out of our world. They quantify otherwise incoherent information. On occasions they reveal interesting patterns of symmetry. They may prevent us from taking flights of qualitative fancy should we happen to heed their steadying implications.

I was silly enough to pull over a few nights ago to take a picture of my odometer because of some symmetry I saw. It is in no way magical and not even uncommon to observe symmetry in numbers. It isn’t even a palindrome, for example, when expanding (x + y)^2  the coefficients of the resulting polynomial are 1,3,3,1.

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Then there was the one I ask my son to take a picture of in his car while I was driving (more about that when I get the pictures downloaded from the phone).

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I had posted a time for my one mile some time back. I have struggled with increasing my distance. I seem always tired or something not quite right. Finally, I made three miles recently. It was not pretty. It is amazing how much slower I am than a year and a half ago. Chock it up to old I guess, even though it seems more like some type of induced physiological inefficiency (I ought to name some syndrome after that- IPIS (pronounced eye-pis)- Induced Physiological Inefficiency Syndrome. It makes a good excuse.)

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Another trip on the road to pick up my wife who was visiting our daughter while I was away for the weekend with one of our sons (not a sentence yet), caused me to reflect on white lines. Strictly speaking, since they were white and it was daytime, they were reflecting on(to) me, but you get the idea. Have you ever wondered how many dashed center lines there are per mile on the interstate, and if the number is consistent? The first time I considered this seriously was on a trip to Oshkosh with a Scouting Outward group. A discussion came up about ways of thinking and perspectives. I made the point that people need to try to find several ways of solving a problem to see if the answers match. Then I proceeded to say I knew of three ways to estimate the length between the beginning of one stripe and the beginning of the next. Challenged that I could not, I pulled the van (driving again) over onto the shoulder, hopped out and paced off between the beginning of one stripe and the next (parallel on the shoulder). Then I got back in and counted the number of stripes in several measured miles (little green mile markers help) for repeatability, which I then explained as precision. Next I traveled at 60 mph, that is, a mile a minute, and had several people count how many stripes passed (relatively speaking (frame of reference)) every 10 seconds and then had them multiply by 6. Finally, as a bonus, I noticed a semi-trailer labeled 53′, as they frequently are, and estimated what fraction of that length the distance between beginning of stripes was. Well, I’m here to tell you that in NC, the distance between stripes is fairly consistent, with approximately 120 stripes per mile, at about 44 feet between the beginning of one stripe and the next. Now I imagine that there is a spec somewhere that delineates this distance and that the instructions for the stripe painting driver go something like “traveling at 40 mph, set the frequency of stripe painting at one stripe every 0.75 seconds for duration of 0.2 seconds (Can you figure out how long I am estimating the stripes to be?) All of that historical background was for the purpose of clearing my mind of the first time I seriously estimated the distance to refer to what I discovered about counting them today.

Actually, looking at and identifying sight of each stripe in order to count it is hard to do. After messing up several times, I opted for a simpler and more primitive method. Instead of looking directly at the stripes, I looked directly ahead (good idea when you are driving, eh?) and caught sight of the flash of contrast as each stripe disappeared at the bottom corner of my windshield. It felt almost like an involuntary response that I was counting rather than stripes. I got more interested in the process and why it is more efficient and more accurate than the result I was obtaining, though that result came out the same after several tries. Catching the peripheral vision flash method excluded the fully intentional recognition of individual stripes for the simpler counting of flashes. I understand that certain infrared missile guidance systems look for changes in heat signature rather than positive IR ID of targets. As an after note, I found out on that trip to Wisconsin those years ago that the stripes are closer together there, especially on WS toll roads. Is it a random change of the dials for the paint truck or a different spec for some legitimate reason like fog or snow? After allowing my brain to go with what comes to it in a paragraph like this one, I always wonder how many people who started this article read this paragraph and how many rolled their eyes as they did read it. I attribute readership of such wonderings to staunch friends and deep seated geeks.

Speaking of geeks and numbers, I just watched an informative YouTube video on rocket engine comparison. The main take away from the video for me was the number and complexity of considerations to engineer anything. Such a video can open your mind to the breadth of design considerations. If you like, you may check it out at “Is SpaceX’s Raptor engine the king of rocket engines?”

I like numbers and symmetry and beauty because they point to God. Galileo Galilei said, “[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language…” And concerning his astronomy, Johannes Kepler said, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” It has long been realized that math is the language of science, leading to an understanding, albeit at times ever so dim, of how God organized the universe. Math and Science and Art should be our means of giving glory to God, not detracting from it.

 

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