## February 24, 2014

### Questions

My eldest turned 18 and voted in her first Primary election this week. This being Texas, she decided to register as a Republican. Which means that, soon, we will start fielding phone calls from political campaigns. So I drafted a set of questions to ask the earnest campaign workers when they call.

## February 22, 2014

### Lying

Sometimes, for the sake of pedagogy, it is best to suppress some of the ugly details, in order to give a clear exposition of the *idea* behind a particular concept one is trying to teach. But clarity isn’t achieved by outright lies. And I always find myself frustrated when our introductory courses descend to the latter.

My colleague, Sonia, is teaching the introductory “Waves” course (Phy 315) which, as you might imagine, is all about solving the equation

This has travelling wave solutions, with dispersion relation

If you study solutions to (1), on the interval $[0,L]$, with “free” boundary conditions at the endpoints,

you find standing wave solutions $u(x,t) = A \cos(k x)\cos( c k t)$ where the boundary condition at $x=L$ imposes

The first couple of these “normal modes” look like

To “illustrate” this, in their compulsory lab accompanying the course, the students were given the task of measuring the normal modes of a thin metal bar, with free boundary conditions at each end, sinusoidally driven by an electromagnet (of adjustable frequency).

Unfortunately, this “illustration” is a *complete lie*. The transverse oscillations of the metal bar are governed by an equation which is not even *approximately* like (1); the dispersion relation looks nothing like (2); “free boundary conditions” look nothing like (3) and therefore it should not surprise you that the normal modes look nothing like (4).

Unfortunately, so inured are they to this sort of thing, that only *one* (out of 120!) students noticed that something was amiss in their experiment. “Hey,” he emailed Sonia, “Why is the $n=1$ mode absent?”

## February 11, 2014

### Naturalness Versus the Weak Gravity Conjecture

Clifford Cheung and his student have a cute paper on the arXiv. The boldest version of what they’re suggesting is that, perhaps, quantum gravity solves the hierarchy problem.

That’s way too glib a summary, but the detailed version is still pretty surprising.

## February 7, 2014

### Audiophilia

Humans are hard-wired to find patterns.

Even when there are none.

Explaining those patterns (at least, the ones which are real) is what science is all about. But, even there, lie pitfalls. Have you really controlled for all of the variable which might have led to the result?