24 June 2016

Brexit After All

The votes were tallied and nearly 52% of those votes supported the UK leaving the EU.  I knew the vote would be close -- all polling leading up to the vote suggested as much -- but I confess I'm surprised that "remain" didn't carry the day.  These are strange political times we live in.  Both left and right have serious divisions with them.  Here in England, I've heard isolationists on the right who fear the "other" side with some on the left who want to blow the establishment system up, thinking that starting over is the only way revolution will happen.  Strange bedfellows indeed.

While on a recumbent bike at the gym this morning, I watched on live television the British Prime Minister resign.  That David Cameron would leave isn't a shock, but it was something else watching it happen in real time.  He'll likely leave in October.  My family picked an interesting year to be in England!  We'll leave an England at the end of July that will be rather different from the one we'll visit if we are lucky enough to return in the future.

The Brexit vote reminds me of just how divided people are on certain ways of viewing the world, and how the groups rarely intermingle.  I admit that I wanted the UK to remain in the EU, and essentially everyone I know here feels the same way.  At least three times this morning I heard something like, "Everyone I know voted to remain.  How did we lose?"  While working at a university, I primarily interact with people in academia and professionals with "white collars."  I simply don't cross paths with the large number of people in Sheffield who work "blue collar" jobs in various industries.  I certainly don't view one group as being better than the other; my career choice has put me in proximity with one group.  I learned this morning that Sheffield voted to leave by a margin of 51% to 49%, meaning the people I associate with were part of the minority opinion.

I've heard much talk about there being "two Americas" in the US.  We will have a choice this November between two candidates who poll at #1 and #2 historically on how much they're despised.  And both have earned those rankings.  But people who support one candidate can hardly fathom the thinking going on inside the heads of those support the other candidate.  I can't help being like that myself.  It has always been a complete mystery to me why so many in my country support citizens owning semi-automatic (or fully automatic) weapons.  And that's just one example of many that make me feel like I'm part of one of the two Americas.

It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds as the UK moves forward.  We'll certainly be keeping up with UK politics after returning to the US.

20 June 2016

Great Father's Day in Hathersage!

There was no way I could attempt to stay up all last night and watch the deciding game of the NBA Finals.  The game here began at 1 am today.  So I made sure to enjoy myself all of yesterday for Father's Day.  I've been called "son," "brother," "husband," and "uncle" in my family life, the latter of which has been particularly fun.  In my professional life, I've been called "doctor" and "professor," though I've never liked all those titles.  The one title I love above all others is "daddy," which has evolved to "dad" as my girls have gotten older.  Hearing "dad" always makes me happy and represents the best way a part of me can live on after I die.

My wife and daughters know how much I love the Peak District, so we all went to Hathersage for a little walking and a visit to a great country pub.  Because my older daughter has a broken left pinkie toe, we kept walking to a minimum.  Walking the countryside was still a lot of fun (click on the image for a larger view).
I never tire of the lush green grass on the English countryside.  We walked along River Derwent for awhile before crossing it to get to a pub (click on the image for a larger view).
After walking got our appetites ready for a pub visit, we nipped into The Plough Inn.  We had wonderful food there, including delicious desserts that should be reserved for special occasions only.  Give The Plough Inn a try if you're ever in Hathersage.

My wife and daughters gave me a great Father's Day yesterday, though every day feels like Father's Day when I'm fortunate enough to hear my daughters call me "dad."

17 June 2016

From Joy to Sadness

I have so thoroughly enjoyed my time in Europe over the past year.  It is hard for me to believe that my family will be flying home in about six weeks.  I have also enjoyed using my blog for a sabbatical journal.  I've been able to record thoughts on holidays my family has taken, and I've noted times when I've interacted with media and given talks.  There has been some sports science writing, too, which is how this blog got started.  At the beginning of this week I put a few words in this space that pertained to the massacre in Orlando.  And now something else has happened to motivate me to write outside my comfort zone.

Just before 2 pm yesterday, my research colleague and I joined a couple of his colleagues and watched England's thrilling 2-1 win over Wales.  We all felt joy as England pulled out the win with an exciting goal late in the match.  But in the middle of the match, my colleague checked his phone and saw that an MP from West Yorkshire had been stabbed and shot.  That was big news, partly because gun crime is so rare here and partly because the last time an MP was murdered was in 1990.  My colleague said the name Jo Cox, and though I'm not sure, that may have been the first time I heard her name.  I've watched and read a lot of BBC while living here.  And I've followed the Brexit debates rather closely.  It is entirely possible I've heard the name Jo Cox before, but I don't remember.  It takes awhile for a visitor like me to learn all the names and places involved in important issues.

When I got home from work, my wife and I learned that Jo Cox had died from her wounds.  I spent a little time last night getting to know her from various websites.  She pursued ethical and humane solutions to the problems in Syria.  She saw it as a moral obligation to help migrants fleeing the strife in Middle East conflicts.  Her website highlights recent efforts to help people with cancer.  And some deranged individual takes her life because, from all reports I've read, he hated her position on the Brexit issue.  Wow.  A woman who has done more good for more people than her murderer could fathom is dead because of her political stances.

Hatred of the "other" is a powerful motivator for some people.  I've seen too much of it my country, and it's sad to see it here in England.  Less than a week ago, 49 people were slain because of hate, fear, and credulity.  And I may be guilty of possessing the brain state based on the fact that the more people killed in a given atrocity, the more abstract the event becomes for those not directly affected.  After all, it is much easier and less time consuming to read about one murdered MP than it is to read about 49 victims of a mass shooting.  It may not be fair, but that's the way it is.

There will always be certain stories that tug at our empathy.  I learned that Jo Cox is survived by a husband and two children, ages 3 and 5.  Seven years ago, my family was preparing to leave England.  I was nearing the end of my first sabbatical, also spent at the University of Sheffield.  My daughters at that time were ages 3 and 5.  I cannot even imagine leaving England then without their mother.  Putting aside what my own grief would have been like, I cannot even imagine what my girls' lives would have been like in the past seven years without their extraordinary mother.  It is empathy that plays a large role in the solidarity we humans have with each other.  And it is empathy that makes me feel sick to my stomach when I think about what happened yesterday.

16 June 2016

Fun at the Engineering Researcher Symposium

I was invited to give the keynote address at the Engineering Researcher Symposium here at the University of Sheffield.  The logo for the event appears below (click on the image for a larger view).
A conference organiser asked me to speak on my Tour de France work, my World Cup football work, and give a physics preview of the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  That's a lot of material!  But I embraced the challenge and condensed what I normally talk about on those research areas.  I hope it was successful.  One of my office mates, PhD student Zing Siang Lee, took the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
As you can see from the slide I'm looking at, I was discussing the profile of Stage 17 of last year's Tour de France.  My research students and I have taken stage profiles and converted them into series of inclined planes.  When modelling reality, start simple and only add complexities as needed.

I thoroughly enjoyed giving the keynote address.  Even more fun for me was watching the other presentations, seeing the various posters set up for the poster session, and meeting and talking to so many people excited about research.  There is nothing quite like being in a room with people who have learned something new and are dying to share the news.  I was the sponge in the room, going from person to person and absorbing as much as I could.  When I got into academia many years ago, I knew that I could not be an effective teacher if I wasn't passionate about research.  After yesterday's symposium, I'm full of new ideas for what I'll be teaching at Lynchburg College during the upcoming academic year.

After all the talks were completed and the poster session had finished, awards were given out.  I was thrilled when another of my office mates, postdoc Raman Maiti, won the engineering researcher of the year award.  He certainly deserved it!

13 June 2016

Hike to Carl Wark and Orlando Thoughts

I resume my sabbatical journal writing after lunch today with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I was thrilled to be out in the Peak District this past Saturday with a couple of friends from work.  On the other hand, what happened in Orlando yesterday was so horrific that it's impossible for me to not put a few thoughts down in this space.  But where to begin?

Beliefs matter.  Beliefs lead to actions, which have consequences.  Most of the time consequences are benign, but sometimes consequences are fatal.  I've spent the majority of my life devoted to science.  Nothing in human history has proved more powerful and more accurate for helping us understand reality than science.  We are in a continual cycle of collecting data and evidence, forming hypotheses, peer reviewing work of others, and creating models of the natural world.  Though we never reach absolute truth, we constantly strive to improve our understanding of reality.  If new evidence comes along to shake our understanding of something, we go where the evidence takes us.  The models we create of reality surface only after much struggle and many hours of work.  We never simply assert truth.  I cannot wrap my head around what it feels like to read an assertion in an ancient book and come away thinking I've learned something about reality.

When all but one in a crowd of people entered that nightclub in Orlando this past Saturday night, they did so because they enjoyed life.  By dancing, laughing, singing, talking to friends, they celebrated the only life we know we have.  But one person, according to initial reports, had a problem with something as intrinsic to those people as to any of us.  Sexual orientation.  A belief not founded in reality contributed to the deaths of about 50 people and the wounding of at least that many more.  Were there other factors at play?  Most certainly.  But all those factors merged into hate so powerful that taking life became something doable.  And two prior FBI investigations provided no obstacle to purchasing an assault rifle, the AR-15, very popular in the US.  Now that the worst mass shooting in US history has happened, will more people want to be armed?  I won't be surprised if gun sales go up.

So what was I doing this past Saturday?  Two of my work colleagues and I took a bus to the Peak District with a walk in mind.  But weather played some tricks on us and we lost our path.  After getting to the top of Carl Wark in the Hathersage Moor, we were supposed to hike over to Higger Tor.  We did well to stay close to Burbage Brook but we lost our way in the fog atop Carl Wark.  Check out the photo of me on top of the promontory (click on the image for a larger view).
I'm told there is quite a view behind me!  We were inside of a cloud and couldn't see anything off the promontory.  But the great thing about the Peak District is that you really can't go wrong with your walking direction.  Once we got to the A6187, we entered the Longshaw Estate and hiked to Padley Gorge.  I visited Padley Gorge last October (click here for that story), but my colleagues saw it for the first time.  It's a great place to hike and has lots of neat paths (click on the image for a larger view).
I can imagine starting off a creepy story with a detailed description of the above path.  Just look at those trees!

I reach the end of this post and I feel weird.  The thought of breaking this post into two separate posts did enter my head.  But I think my short description of the hike I did this past Saturday is where I wanted to go after putting a few thoughts down about Orlando.  Because all I was doing was enjoying life with friends.  I'm no better or worse than those people who were murdered in that nightclub.

06 June 2016

Holiday in Cornwall

It is a beautiful spring day in Sheffield.  The high will be about 24 C (roughly 75 F) today and the sky is a bright blue.  It felt wonderful working out at the gym this morning and then walking to work.  No better day to be alive than this one!

My daughters had their half term holiday last week, and we took advantage of their time away from school to visit Cornwall.  It turned out that train tickets cost about twice what renting a car for a week cost, so I got to drive again.  I drove more than 1000 miles (more than 1600 km) and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Though I'm now completely acclimated to driving here, reversing is still tough.  I never realized how much muscle memory I have in my left hand for driving backwards.  Using my right hand to steer while in reverse is akin to trying to write with my left hand.

Scenery out the car window was great.  Unlike in the US, roads here are essentially unsullied by billboards.  What I did see here much, much more than in the US are windmills and solar farms.  My wife took the two photos below while I was driving in Cornwall (click on the image for a larger view).
Good for England for pursing energy sources that represent alternatives to fossil fuels.  It was nicer to see collecting stations for wind and solar energies than seeing inane billboards shoving advertising in my face every few miles or so.

We took many back roads in Cornwall.  That meant I got to experience beautiful, but dicey, one-lane roads.  My wife took the photos below (click on the image for a larger view).
Meeting an oncoming car was a lot of fun!  One of us had to back up to a slightly wider part of the road and let the other pass.  That's when I put my right hand's reversing prowess to the test.  Of course it was fun backing up and meeting up with an oncoming car in that direction!

While in Cornwall, we visited three castles.  The first was Tintagel Castle, where King Arthur was supposedly conceived.  Putting folklore aside, I can't recommend visiting this castle enough if you're ever in Cornwall.  Vistas there are breathtaking.  The photos I took simply don't do justice to what we saw (click on the image for a larger view).
The best photo I took of the castle ruins is below (click on the image for a larger view).
We had so much walking and hiking around the ruins, along the myriad of paths, and near the cliff edges.

Restormel Castle was our next English Heritage destination.  The circular Norman castle is shown below (click on the image for a larger view).
This castle was fun for my daughters as they ran all over the place and kept hiding from my wife and me.  I just hope a little of the historical significance of the castle rubbed off on them while they hid in 800-year-old ruins!

What was great about visiting the third castle, Pendennis Castle, is that English Heritage was hosting a special World War II commemoration.  My family were awed by seeing a Howitzer fired.  The photo below shows the big gun a few minutes after it was fired (click on the image for a larger view).
We saw swing dancing and heard songs from the '40s.  There were also displays that educated us on WWII rationing, coastal defence, and propaganda art from George Butterworth.  The photo below shows a good look at the castle Henry VIII got built (click on the image for a larger view).
I relish learning and experiencing history.  Trying to imagine the positive and negative ways we humans have gotten to where we are today will never be a boring mental exercise for me.  If you've never visited a museum or a monument or other such place, do so.  Take your time and read the signs.  Most importantly, think and imagine.  You won't regret it!

There was no way we could visit Cornwall and not drive out to Land's End.  The cool thing about driving there was seeing the ocean on both sides of the road, and as we got closer to our destination, the ocean on each side kept creeping closer.  I was blown away by what I saw there.  Such beauty at the coast made me feel lucky to behold it.  A photo again simply does no justice to reality (click on the image for a larger view).
And we could not leave Cornwall without hitting the beach.  The photo below shows Porthmeor Beach in St Ives (click on the image for a larger view).
After getting sun on the beach, we took a tour boat to Godrevy Lighthouse and saw seals in the wild.  Check out the lighthouse in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
Both sky and water were so very blue and lovely to see.  Seeing seals in the wild was a first for my family.  It was better than seeing them in a zoo -- by far.

We got to see and experience a great deal of Cornwall.  It was a wonderful holiday and a week we'll never forget!

18 May 2016

Energy Burned at the Gym

I love getting lots of exercise, especially my morning workout at Ponds Forge.  When I go too long between workouts, as happened with my recent arm break, I don't feel very good, sluggish, in fact.  Now that my arm is mostly mended, I'm back to a regular three-to-five visits to the gym each week.  My workout begins with 60-75 minutes of cardio, followed by weights.  Like anyone else who likes to use a gym on a regular basis I have certain goals I strive to attain.  My goal for cardio is to average a burn of 10 Calories per minute, and I have to push myself a bit to keep that average up for an hour or more.  So what does burning 10 Calories per minute really mean, and why do I capitalize "Calories"?

If you've ever used, for example, a stationary bike in a gym, you've noticed that all modern bikes have a screen that shows energy burn, typically in Calories.  How does the bike know?  I enter my age and mass before starting my bike work.  The machine doesn't know my gender, my height, or my level of physical fitness.  My heart rate is determined by an electronic sensor in the handle I hold while biking, but that's it for biometric data.  So general population statistics must be used in the determination of energy burn.  That's a lot faster than having to enter gobs of information before exercising, some of which we probably wouldn't want to enter anyway.  And besides, how accurately do you really need to know how many calories you burned?  You certainly want the number to be reasonable.  After all you don't want to spend an hour on a bike and be told at the end of that hour that you burned 6 Calories.  The idea is to provide a reasonable estimate, which mostly serves to help me set goals.  Tomorrow I'll burn five more Calories!

How much energy do 10 Calories represent?  Well a "calorie" is an energy unit that scientists found useful while doing calorimetry (note the similarity?).  The "thermochemical calorie" is defined to be exactly 4.184 joules.  Other definitions of "calorie" involve how much energy is needed to increase water's temperature a certain amount at various starting temperatures.  All those definitions give approximately, 1 cal = 4.2 J.  The "kilocalorie" is what we think of as a nutritional calorie.  Often called a "large calorie," the unit is written "Calorie" with a capital "C" to distinguish it from a normal calorie.  Nutritional labels that state how many "Calories" are contained in food really mean "kilocalories."  Here in England, I often see "kilojoules" or kJ on food packages.  That means 1 kcal = 1 Cal = 4.2 kJ (good to two significant digits).  My per minute burn goal of 10 Calories thus translates to about 42 kJ per minute.

Let's suppose I bike for a full hour and I'm told that I've burned exactly 600 Calories, thus achieving my 10 Calories/minute goal.  The computer determined the energy burn from average population statistics, as I've mentioned, and from simple physics.  It's not hard to calculate how much work is done with each turn of the bike's wheel at a given resistance setting.  To check the bike's accuracy in determining my energy burn, I prefer to work with power, which, in this case, is the rate at which energy is burned.  Burning 10 Calories per minute turns out to be equivalent to an average power of 697.8 watts.  Instead of working with all those digits, let's just round up and say that 10 Cal/min corresponds to 700 W.  Is that a reasonable power output?  Not for me!  During last year's Tour de France, the black sticks you saw on bikes determined, among other things, a cyclist's mechanical power output.  A few cyclists published their power data, and for some of the big climbs, power outputs were in the range of 300-400 W.  Do I seriously double the power output of an elite cyclist at the gym each morning while I'm watching news on the screen in front of me?  No!

So what to make of 700 W?  Well the bike's computer is trying to tell me how much energy I burned, not my mechanical energy output.  Energy conversions in the body and with muscle actions, as with car engines, are not even close to being 100% efficient.  Muscle efficiencies depend on which muscle groups are used.  Some exercise equipment may even add the energy burned from normal metabolic processes that take place, even when we're not on a bike.  In my Tour de France research, I've used an average efficiency of 20% to estimate how much energy a Tour de France cyclists burns for each stage.  Suppose the bike I use in the morning skips my normal metabolic burn and uses 25% for its efficiency conversion calculation.  That means my power output was just 175 W.  Now that's more reasonable!  At that power output, I'm about half a Tour de France cyclist on a steep climb.  I could output more power, but I couldn't maintain that power output for an entire hour.  That Tour de France cyclists can output 300-400 W for a half hour or more is testimony to just how fit they are.

Next time you're in the gym, note your energy burn on the machines that provide such information.  Then calculate your average power.  See how close you get to an elite athlete like a Tour de France cyclist.

16 May 2016

A Weekend in the 12th Century

Desperately needing a couple of days away from work and normal home routine, my family decided to spend this past weekend along the southern edge of the North York Moors.  We became members of English Heritage when we were in England for my first sabbatical seven years ago; renewing our membership was one of the first things we did after getting settled in Sheffield for this sabbatical.  We've been all over the UK looking at marvelous monuments to history.  Four such English Heritage monuments took us back to the 12th century while up north this past weekend.

After the Norman Invasion of England in the 11th century, new castles and abbeys were built.  Castles often had the motte-and-bailey fortification scheme.  Those are the most fun for my younger daughter and me because we love to climb the earthworks and "attack" the castles.  Playful today for sure, but we do get at least a sliver of a glimpse as to what it would have been like to make an attack on a motte-and-bailey castle.

Because the places we visited were not so easy to get to via train and bus, we rented an automobile.  It was my first time driving in England, though I had driven in Ireland seven years ago, so it wasn't my first time driving on the "wrong" side of the road with the steering wheel on the "wrong" side of the car.  My wife was great about reminding me to "Keep left!", but it didn't take long to get used to driving here.  The circuitous loop we had to take to get to a petrol station at a services exit is a story for another day.  For now, I'll mention that it was a thrill driving up to the North York Moors.  We saw many large fields of rapeseed, which provided spectacular yellow next to the lush greenery.

Our first stop was to an abbey that I'd wanted to see for a long time, Rievaulx Abbey.  The magnificent structure is located in an idyllic setting:  peaceful with beautiful vistas.  The photo I took below hardly does the monument justice (click on the image for a larger view).
The architecture blew us away.  There was so much to see.  We learned that Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in 1538, a fact mentioned early on the abbey's Wikipedia page.  English Heritage does a great job with images scattered throughout that give a sense of what life was like when the monuments were in their heyday.  Check out the reconstructed image of the refectory on the left and the actual remains of the refectory (upper floor) in the photo on the right (click on the image for a larger view).
It was wonderful standing where I took the photo on the right and imagining the roof and the windows in their finished splendor.

We then drove to Helmsley Castle where my younger daughter and I did all kinds of climbing on and around the earthworks.  It was a blast!  The photo below shows where we attacked the castle (click on the image for a larger view).

The castle shadow kept our attack from being discovered!  Once inside the castle grounds, I snapped a photo of the East Tower (click on the image for a larger view).
We loved the weather and the gorgeous green grass.  After a great night's sleep at The George and Dragon Hotel in Kirkbymoorside, we drove to Pickering Castle.  We were met by a lovely English Heritage host who gave us the rules off the bat:  no climbing!  My younger daughter and I were disappointed, but we understood that climbing would have meant disturbing birds' nests in the earthworks.  The photo below shows me near some castle ruins (click on the image for a larger view).
Our fourth and final destination was Byland Abbey.  I was thoroughly amazed by the size of the abbey.  I tried with the photo below to capture the size of the ruins, but there is so much more to the left of the photo that I didn't succeed (click on the image for a larger view).
Just look at the size of the cloister in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
I can think of several games that could be played on that much grass!  My daughters had fun racing along the edges.

A refreshing weekend away from work gave us the opportunity to explore beautiful parts of England and transform ourselves back to the 12th century.  All of the structures we visited thrived in centuries that followed the 12th, and thousands of people either called them home or passed through them on their travels.  We are glad English Heritage maintains these national treasures and allows visitors to England, like us, the chance to learn and experience the history in the country we call home for a year.

11 May 2016

Love Talking Research!

I had a great time earlier today giving a talk on my Tour de France research at Sheffield Hallam University.  The audience was gracious, asking lots of insightful questions during and after my talk.  A colleague snapped the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
I so enjoy talking about my research and science in general.  I spoke about the successes we had modelling last year's Tour de France, as well as what we're looking forward to this year.  There are just 52 days to go before the Tour de France begins.  I can hardly wait!

10 May 2016

Talk at Sheffield Hallam University

On Wednesday, 11 May 2016, I will give a talk at Sheffield Hallam University on my Tour de France research.  The talk will be at 12:00 pm in A021 Collegiate Hall, between Collegiate Crescent, Broomgrove Road, and Ecclesall Road (bottom of the hill).  The talk is open to the public.  I'm looking forward to it!

04 May 2016

From Sports Detectives to Napoleon (and two stories in between)

It is a beautiful day in Sheffield right now.  The temperature is around 13 C (about 55 F), which feels great accompanied by a steady breeze.  My sabbatical journal has been a bit more sporadic than I originally thought, but that's fine.  It is what it is.  For now I'm enjoying life in Sheffield on a gorgeous spring day.  I spent 75 minutes working out at Ponds Forge this morning, followed by an hour teaching quantum mechanics to three of my tutorial students who showed up for an optional class.  Before getting back to the several upcoming talks I need to prepare for, I'll touch on a few items that have piqued my interest of late.

In May of 2015, I was flown up to New York City for three hours of interviewing for a show that is now on the Smithsonian Channel.  The show is called the Sports Detectives, and I provided sports physics commentary for a few of the topics that will be discussed during the six-part series.  For all the time I spent in front of a camera, the show will likely use just a few seconds here and there.  But that's okay by me!  Because I don't get the Smithsonian Channel here in Sheffield, my cousin was kind enough to send me a screen shot from this past Sunday's episode on Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception (click on the image for a larger view).
I'll have to wait until I return to the US in August to see the entire series.  But for now it's neat thinking about being on a television show for a few seconds.

The biggest sports story of the year just unfolded here in England.  Leicester City defied 5000-to-1 odds and won the Premier League Championship.  I've seen single-game upsets in my life that shocked me, but having a team with 5000-to-1 odds against it go through an entire season and win it all is something I've never seen.  I simply can't think of anything comparable in all the years I've watched sports in the US.  Check out the photo I took of the front page of the Metro I picked up on the bus yesterday morning (click on the image for a larger view).
Unless one has a rooting interest in another football club, who can't love this story?!?  Now if I had only put £20 on The Foxes at the beginning of the season ....

In other sports news, Sheffield once again played host to the World Snooker Championship.  The Crucible Theatre was the venue.  I confess that I know very little about snooker, but I couldn't help but get interested with the world championship being played in the city I currently live in.  I snapped the photo below a week before the tournament ended (click on the image for a larger view).
I love that topiary!  I'll miss seeing it when I walk from my bus stop to work in the morning.  Mark Selby won the championship, his second in the past three years.  I suppose it's only fitting that he was born in Leicester.  This is definitely Leicester's year!

I'll end this hodgepodge of a blog post with a short story about a book.  When we arrived in Sheffield last August, I bought In These Times by Jenny Uglow.  The book's subtitle is Living in Britain Through Napoleon's Wars, 1793-1815.  I just finished the book, and before I'm criticised for reading a 600+-page book at a snail's pace, let me explain.  Uglow tells the story using many letters written by people who lived in Britain at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.  I got a real sense of what common people's lives were like at that time.  Sure there were stories about famous individuals like Horatio Nelson, but I was fascinated by the words common people wrote two centuries ago that described their struggles, joys, hopes, and fears.  The reason it took me nine months to finish the book is that I only read it while travelling, mostly on trains.  I loved reading about Britain while stealing glances out a train window and seeing the British countryside.  It was the first time I purposely experienced a book on history by reading it only while out in the places discussed in the book.  Only a couple of times was I lucky enough to be reading about a place that I was visiting, but there were many times I was reading about a location near where we were.  It was a fun way to read a great book!  Check out my copy of the book after I finished it (click on the image for a larger view).
It's certainly a worn book now.  But that's the best kind of book, isn't it?

This has been fun getting a few items off my mind and into a blog post today.  But now it's time to get back to talk preparations.  I'll write more on my upcoming talks in the not-too-distant future.

03 May 2016

Fun Place to Experience Sea Life

We spent May Day, the Early May Bank Holiday, at Sea Life in Manchester.  It was a great day!  There are reportedly over 5000 animals in the various tanks there, and I can believe it.  My wife, two daughters, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing an incredibly diverse group of sea creatures.  My younger daughter was especially enthralled; she hopes to make a career with animals in another decade or so.  We learned a lot about the animals, including conservation efforts underway to help some of the more endangered species.  More than 70% of Earth's surface is covered with water.  It's not always easy to remember that we humans occupy less than a third of Earth's surface.

Of all the animals we saw, my favourite was Ernie, the giant green see turtle.  I snapped the photo below of Ernie swimming with lots of other animals (click on image for a larger view).
As we walked under the tank, we learned that Ernie is 11 years old, which is still quite young for a species used to living to almost a century.  Seeing so much sea life in one place really got us thinking about our very distant cousins.

Before hopping on the train from Manchester to Sheffield, I snapped a photo of this headline (click on image for a larger view).
I suppose everything is relative.  A temperature of 75 F (about 24 C) would be considered mild at this time of year in my Virginia hometown.  My hometown will in fact have temperatures comparable to 75 F today, but with thunderstorms helping to keep the day "cool."  Frankly, I'll take English weather any time!

25 April 2016

Bamford to Ladybower Reservoir

I spent yesterday (Sunday, 24 April 2016) with a colleague and his wife hiking in the Derbyshire part of the Peak District.  We took a short train ride from Sheffield to Bamford, which is a small village with a population around a thousand.  We crossed River Derwent just west of Bamford using stepping stones and footbridges (click on the image for a larger view).

We then proceeded north toward the Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.  Once at the Ladybower Dam, I took a photo of the massive overflow just inside the reservoir (click on the image for a larger view).
Reservoirs are great examples of the application of potential energy.  It takes energy to raise water to a certain height, and much of that energy may be retrieved by allowing the water to fall.  As we walked along the eastern edge of the reservoir, I got a sense of just how large the body of water is.  I took the photo below from the eastern edge of Ladybower Reservoir as I looked across to the Ashopton Viaduct, which carries Snake Road or the A57 (click on the image for a larger view).
As you can tell from the above photo, we didn't have the greatest weather on our hike.  But one must get used to cloudy skies and rain if one is to enjoy hiking in England!  After walking awhile, I needed a break (click on the image for a larger view).
I am looking west at beautiful Peak District scenery.  We then headed back toward Ladybower Dam and had a fantastic lunch at The Yorkshire Bridge Inn.  We completed our 10-mi (16-km) hike by climbing New Road towards Bamford Edge and then descending toward Bamford along The Clough.  The latter path was officially closed, but we had a train to catch and braved the steep decent.  It wasn't so bad!

The high temperature in Sheffield this week looks to be around 9 C (48.2 F).  Rain is expected next weekend, so we may take a weekend off from hiking.

22 April 2016

Earth Day, the Queen, and Modelling in Sport

Today is Earth Day, and it's important for several reasons, most notably the Paris Agreement is now open for signatures.  The US better be rushing to sign.  Climate scientists have been calling for action for decades now.  I hope to see my country taking established science more seriously and doing more to combat climate problems.  There are more than 7.3 billion people in the world, which is twice the human population in my birth year of 1970.  Nobody can be blamed for wanting a car, a nice home with air conditioning, and all the other comforts of modern living.  But it would help everyone to understand that we all share a common ancestor, just as we share common ancestors with all living things.  We are just one of a whole multitude of species occupying Earth.  Let's leave it better than we found it.

Yesterday was a fun day.  I woke up to the news that Queen Elizabeth II turned 90.  As someone from a country with a secular government and no monarchy, especially a country that tossed out the English more than two centuries ago, I find the English monarchy to be rather silly.  But I suppose it's been neat being here when QEII became the longest serving monarch and when she turned 90.  Maybe the English will give up the monarchy someday, but traditions die hard.

I got a chance to talk research yesterday.  My colleague asked me to guest lecture in his Sports Engineering course.  I never turn down an opportunity to talk to students about my research work.  They were a fun bunch of kids who asked great questions as I talked to them about my Tour de France and World Cup football work.  A physicist like me tries to tease out of the natural world what is important for a particular phenomenon.  The students I talked to certainly knew that worrying about Jupiter's pull on a cyclist would be a waste of time, whereas cyclist power output is worth studying.

After a fun lecture, I enjoyed a few pints at the Red Deer with a couple of colleagues.  Few things finish off a great day better than delicious cask ale and palaver with friends.  My college needs a pub!

19 April 2016

Peak District and Bakewell

This past Sunday, 17 April 2016, my family took a bus from Sheffield to Bakewell.  We wanted to hike a part of the Peak District we'd not seen before.  I found out when we got home that we were in the Peak District on the 65th anniversary of the Peak District becoming the UK's first National Park.  That fact, plus ideal English spring weather, made for a perfect day to hike.

We hiked about five miles, some of which was along the Monsal Trail.  The loop we hiked was southeast of Bakewell.  Because bridleways make up part of the trail, we encountered several sections of muddy terrain.  Mud isn't a problem if you're wearing a good pair of hiking boots!  We enjoyed walking alongside many sheep.  The photo below shows wonderful green grass enjoyed by playful lambs and watchful ewes (click on the image for a larger view).

After walking a couple of miles, a gorgeous valley opened up for us (click on the image for a larger view).
We then hiked uphill through wooded areas with lots of muddy sections.  Once we broke through the woods, we were met with an incredible Peak District view.  I got so giddy and filled with joy that I had to take out running (click on the image for a larger view).
Note the shadows of trees off to the left, which mark the end of the woods.  The stunning blue sky and the lush green grass almost colour overloaded us.  The part of the Peak District in Derbyshire is certainly a thing of beauty.  And of course no hike through the Peak District is complete without stopping in a great country pub.  We chose The Peacock in Bakewell, and we weren't disappointed (click on the image for a larger view).
But our food consumption didn't stop with The Peacock's delicious dishes and tasty cask ales.  We had to experience what Bakewell is famous for:  Bakewell pudding and Bakewell tart (not the same!).  Suffice to say, Bakewell's reputation for pudding and tart is well deserved.  I had to get some tart to take home from The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop (click on the image for a larger view).
The shop also has lots of little odds and ends.  By the time we got back to Sheffield, we were tired and well fed.  Truly a great day in the Peak District!

05 April 2016

Fun Time in Germany

I pick up yesterday's sabbatical journal with a few comments today about our recent week spent in Germany.  We spent about two thirds of our week in Hamburg and the remaining third in Berlin.  What we loved more than anything was spending our Hamburg time with a friend of mine and his family.  We got to experience a little German life from a normal home on a normal street.  Our two daughters managed to interact well with their three children, despite the fact that our children don't speak German and their children don't speak English.  Nothing like a playground or a trampoline to break language barriers!

A real treat for us was visiting Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.  I cannot recommend this place highly enough.  It was wonderful!  We saw the most amazing miniature train displays, airport displays, and many other miniature set-ups.  Check out the scene of a Swiss train station below (click on the image for a larger view).
The detail on the people, trains, and other various objects is extraordinary.  The scene below made me giddy (click on the image for a larger view).
They had a demonstration using Magdeburg hemispheres!  It was thrilling to see a classic physics experiment in miniature.

We also saw much of Hamburg's city centre, including the Hamburg Rathaus (click on the image for a larger view).
Despite the rain, we enjoyed touring the city.  We also enjoyed visiting Wildpark Schwarze Berge in Rosengarten on Easter.  We saw many animals and got to pet and feed a few of them.  Anyone with children who find themselves near Hamburg should get to that park.

We stayed in what used to be East Berlin after leaving Hamburg.  It was not hard to see the influence of four decades of Soviet occupation.  Visiting the remains of the Berlin Wall gave us a chilly reminder of the Cold War.  The photo below shows me in front of a graffiti-filled part of the wall (click on the image for a larger view).
The circular part at the top helped prevent people from climbing over the wall.  Nothing like applying physics to something terrible.  And nothing like seeing walls between people come down.

Of course we had to visit the government buildings in Berlin.  The Reichstag is a particularly interesting building (click on the image for a larger view).
We enjoyed good food and beer in Germany, as well as good times with friends.  Now I'm anxious to visit the southern parts of Germany!

04 April 2016

Seeing Beauty and Division in Northern Ireland

My sabbatical journal writing was on hold over the past fortnight as my family was on holiday.  Our first of two trips took us to Northern Ireland.  We visited Ireland seven years ago during my first sabbatical.  Getting to Northern Ireland completes the last big piece in the "seeing the UK" puzzle for us.  We stayed in Belfast, which is a beautiful city.  To get a great look at the city, we did a little hiking toward Cavehill.  I snapped the photo below on our way up (click on the image for a larger view).
Hiking the hills mostly north of the city was a lot of fun.  Leave it to Northern Ireland to give us lots of green!

We toured the northern coast of Northern Ireland and were met with breathtaking vistas.  Picking a representative photo for this blog post wasn't easy.  I selected one I took looking back toward the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge that we crossed to the teensy island of Carrickarede (click on the image for a larger view).
And of course we had to visit Giant's Causway.  Seeing those 40,000 basalt columns blew me away.  I felt like I was living geology from 50 million years ago.  One of my daughters snapped the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
Touring the city of Belfast proved to be quite an education.  We hired a Catholic Republican loyalist to take us on a taxi tour of the locations made famous by The Troubles.  Though from the Catholic point of view, I'll never forget the stories we heard from our guide.  We wrote on the Peace Wall, something hard for me to conceive.  Check out the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
We were on the Catholic side of the Peace Wall and the people living to the left of the wall in the photo have put cages on their property to protect themselves from flying objects, like bricks.  I simply can't imagine what it's like living under such conditions.

I'll write about our second holiday trip tomorrow in which we got to see another famous wall.

02 March 2016

Hoosiers Win Big Ten!

Wouldn't you just know it.  I am out of the US this year and my Indiana Hoosiers win the Big Ten Conference.  I wasn't able to see any of the games!  We beat Iowa on the road last night to secure an outright conference championship, our first since 2013.  I would love to have seen the win, but the game started at 2 am here.  I just can't miss a night's sleep!  Oh well, it was a welcome treat to see the score and see highlights of the players celebrating.

I have been affiliated with Lynchburg College for nearly 14 years.  It took awhile for the school to grow on me, but I really love it now.  Both our men's and women's basketball teams won conference titles this year.  But there really is something special about one's alma maters.  I root for Vanderbilt and Indiana like crazy.  Vandy beat Tennessee last night and, as strange as it seems, has an outside shot a tying for the top of the SEC come season's end.  The great thing about one's alma maters is that they stay with you for life.

Lose Hill to Mam Tor Ridge Hike

This past Sunday, my younger daughter and I hit the Peak District for a great hike.  We took a bus to Hope and set out on a hike up Lose Hill.  My younger daughter doesn't remember going up Lose Hill more than seven years ago because she was about two-and-a-half at the time and sat in a harness on my backpack.  Now nearly ten, she is quite the hiker.  She bounded up Lose Hill with little effort.

After reaching the top of Lose Hill and enjoying the incredible vistas and strong wind, we began the ridge hike over to Mam Tor.  We had been to Mam Tor earlier, but this time we hiked to it from Lose Hill.  The photo below shows me atop Back Tor, not too far from the Lose Hill peak (click on the image for a larger view).
Hope Valley is off to the left (my right).  You can see the ridge walk that gets one to Mam Tor, which is visible at centre left.  We probably walked about 6 mi (9.7 km) because after hiking down Mam Tor, we walked into Castleton.  There we sat our tired bodies down in The Castle pub.  I enjoyed a few pints of great English cask ale and my daughter had hot chocolate.  The food there was great!

I absolutely love my work.  Researching sports physics and teaching physics are so much fun for me.  But even more fun for me is seeing my younger daughter hike like crazy in a beautiful part of the world.

22 February 2016

Daytona 500 Finish Line Math

I was not able to see yesterday's Daytona 500, in which Denny Hamlin beat Martin Truex, Jr by the smallest time since electronic scoring came into NASCAR back in 1993.  But headlines and stories this morning got my attention.  Most stories I read reported a winning time of 0.010 s, i.e. three digits past the decimal were stated.  I then read that Hamlin "won by inches" in several articles, some of which gave winning distances in the range 4 in - 6 in.  Before I saw the photo finish, the numbers weren't making sense to me.

A NASCAR race car travels about 200 mph, which converts to 3520 in/s.  Winning by 0.010 s means winning by (3520 in/s)(0.010 s) = 35.2 in, which is nearly 3 ft.  That's why the numbers I read didn't make sense to me.  I'm assuming a constant speed here and in what follows, a reasonable approximation for such a short time interval.

I then watched a replay of the final lap.  Speedometers on the lead cars showed they were just over 190 mph in the final turn.  I grabbed a screen capture of the finish (click the image for a larger view).
That winning distance looks larger than 6 in to me.  I checked out one web site (click here) that told me that the Toyota Camry Hamlin was driving is 189.2 in long.  Another web site (click here) told me the tire diameter is 28 in.  Using either of those reference lengths as my calibration distance, Tracker told me that the winning distance was about 20 in.  If Hamlin's tires really have a diameter of 28 in, a 20-in winning distance looks reasonable.  The gap between Truex's car and the finish line looks smaller than a tire diameter, but not by much.

So take the winning distance to be 20 in.  If the winning time really was 0.010 s, that means a speed of 2000 in/s = 114 mph.  That can't be right!  If the cars were going 200 mph and the winning distance was 20 in, the winning time would have been (20 in)/(3520 in/s) = 0.00568 s.   Crank up the speed to 220 mph and the winning time drops to 0.00517 s.  Drop the speed to 180 mph and the winning time increases to 0.00631 s.  All three of those times round to 0.01 s, but the winning time was reported as 0.010 s, i.e. three digits past the decimal.  I actually found a couple of articles that had the winning time as 0.011 s, but that makes what's being reported even worse!

I didn't see the race and thus may have missed commentary about the winning time.  It seems to me that the winning time that was reported was too big by a factor of 1.8 or so.  If there are any NASCAR fans out there who can provide me with a missing detail, I would love to hear from you!