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!

Remembering the Paragon of Bravery

Seventy-two years ago today, a plane crashed in a park near where I'm currently living in Sheffield.  A United States Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress named "Mi Amigo" was hit while flying a mission over Denmark.  Returning to England, the plane was headed for a crash in Sheffield's Endcliffe Park.  Sighting children playing in the park, the crew chose not to try for a crash landing on the large, flat, grassy area of the park and instead crashed the plane into a wooded area on a hill in the park.  All ten on board were killed.  Protecting those kids in the park made all ten instant war heroes as much as any of their previous deeds.

My younger daughter and I were in Endcliffe Park yesterday (Sunday, 21 February).  She fed ducks on two ponds and then played for awhile on the playground.  As we were preparing to leave, I saw men and women wearing my country's Air Force uniform.  It dawned on me that this was the Sunday when the annual remembrance of the plane crash would take place.  My daughter and I went to the crash sight and watched the ceremony.  I took the photo below just before the ceremony began (click on the image for a larger view).
It was a beautiful day in the park; the sun was out and wind sometimes got pretty strong.  I felt pride seeing my country's servicemen and servicewomen at the ceremony.  I spoke to a couple of them afterwards, asking them where they were stationed and thanking them for their service.  The Royal Air Forces Association organizes the ceremony in the park each year.  It was moving hearing the names of the ten crew members who died in the crash, but well worth hearing every one of them.

21 February 2016

A Delightful Hour of Music

My wife and I visited our favorite Peak District pub, the Fox House, the day before Valentine's Day.  She made the experience even more wonderful for me by telling me that she had purchased tickets for an upcoming concert.  After a great week of work in which I got to teach my first tutorial of the current semester, my wife and I made our way to The Crucible Theater for the concert.  What a lovely hour of music we experienced on a Saturday afternoon!

I love experiencing chamber music in person because of the intimate feel one has with the performers.  Unlike listening to the music on an iPod, watching a live performance affords one the chance to see how the performers experience the music.  It had been many years since I witnessed chamber music in person, mostly because of being a workaholic and using free time for family and martial arts.

Yesterday I was introduced to the music of Sterndale Bennett, who was born in Sheffield 200 years ago.  My wife and I sat in Tier 1, which was the top of the cozy theater.  Because we aren't from the UK, I told my wife that we were Tier 1 Imports (I got the expected eye roll after a corny joke!).  Before the music started, Tim Horton, the pianist, talked to the audience about Sterndale Bennett, his music, and the performers' interest in celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth year.  How great to hear a Sheffield composer in a Sheffield theater!

The piece we heard was Bennett's Chamber Trio in A Op. 26.  Composed in 1839, the piece was positively delightful. I particularly enjoyed watching Gemma Rosefield on cello as she faced Benjamin Nabarro on violin.  During the second movement, the serenade, the string instruments were alternately plucked.  I had the image of two children talking back and forth with each other, two plucky children.  The piano was like a parent keeping the children from getting too wild.  I'm no musical expert, and I may have butchered what a connoisseur would describe for that second movement, but that was my honest feeling while watching it.  I could see Rosefield's face really well and she played with a lot of plucky passion.  She was fun to watch!  I will definitely check out more of Bennett's music.

After a brief intermission, a quartet prepared to play String Quartet in A Op. 41 No.3 by Robert Schumann.  I had heard this piece many years ago.  It was composed in 1842 during Schumann's "year of chamber music."  Joining Rosenfield and Nabarro were violinist Claudia Ajmone-Marsan and violist Ruth Gibson.  Prior to the beginning of the music, Nabarro regaled us with his obvious love and passion for Schumann's music.  He compared themes in the Bennett piece we had just heard with the Schumann piece we were about to hear.

I don't know why children were on my mind, but I had another thought of a child while listening to the Schumann piece.  It's great music with lots of passion from the quartet of performers.  During the third movement, the adagio molto, the viola seems a bit sad.  Gibson looked sad while playing.  As the fourth movement, the finale allegro molto vivace, got going, it looked like Nabarro's violin was talking to Gibson's viola, almost perking her up as the music progressed.  I had the image of the sad child in the third movement getting cheered up and joining the others in the fourth movement.  Again, a connoisseur might think I'm nuts for such imagery, but I'm sticking with it!

I thank my wife for a great Valentine's gift.  It was a delightful hour during which I could experience new feelings while encountering great music.

16 February 2016

TV Filming Outside Our Front Door!

We saw signs on a street near our rental house about a week ago that informed us of filming to take place on the weekend.  My wife and I decided to check out the scene this past Sunday (14 February).  Right around the corner from our place is Sharrow Vale Road.  It's a neat road with lots of local shops.  Our neighbourhood pub, The Lescar, is visible from our house and sits on Sharrow Vale Road.  The TV filming took place on the part of Sharrow Vale Road nearest Hunter's Bar roundabout.  A butcher store got transformed as shown below (click on the image for larger view).
Note the television store to the right!  The show that was being filmed is called Brief Encounters and will be a six-part show on itv.  Click here for information on the show set in Sheffield in the 1980's.  My wife checked out the phone booth and cars that were brought in to give the street an '80s feel (click on the image for a larger view).
As someone who spent his teen years in the '80s, I began to feel my age seeing all that old stuff around!  A travel agency and a record shop were even created (click on the image for a larger view).
It was fun seeing the track on the street for filming, and it was great watching a scene being shot in the butcher shop.  Not so great was the monster light set up right outside our windows last night (Monday, 15 February).  I guess there was some filming taking place at night and they needed the streets lit up.

We'll check out the show when it airs and look for our neighbouring street.

12 February 2016

Loving Science on Darwin Day!

How great was yesterday's announcement of the observation of gravitational waves?  We physicists knew there was an ardent search for what Einstein predicted a century ago, and there were rumblings last fall about a possible detection.  Learning of the news yesterday from the LIGO group made me proud to be a scientist.  I'm not an astrophysicist, and my research into the sports world certainly doesn't touch on anything like black holes merging together.  But like so many physicists, I studied general relativity in graduate school and have enough familiarity with the field to know how special yesterday's announcement was.  I am tickled to see something I studied many years ago now become part of observational science.  A nice read on the science behind yesterday's announcement may be found here.

How great is it to be a scientist?  It's wonderful!  I've had so many chills-on-the-spine moments in my life as I've learned about the natural world.  Any student of mine will recall a class where we were about to derive a famous result and I said something like, "Get ready to feel a chill run up your spine!"  As great as it is to learn and understand work done by those who came before us, it's an even bigger thrill to discover something new.  That "something new" doesn't have to be a discovery that gets you a call from Stockholm in a future October.  Learn how to make a car run more efficiently than today's most efficient cars.  Add a nugget of information to what's already known about designing a building to resist damage from earthquakes.  Gain insight into how a species of ants behaves when threatened by a predator.  I'm now grateful to those who developed technologies for plates and screws that assist in mending broken bones.  In my own work, I've gotten tingles on my spine as I discovered something new about how soccer balls move through the air and when I learned how to tease out what's important for winning Tour de France stages.

How great is it to be writing about science on Darwin Day?  Luminaries like Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein helped establish science as how we come closest to truth in the natural world.  It matters not what we were told as children; it matters not what we were told in school; it matters not what our peers told us.  Even if some or most of what we've been told in the past is true, the point is that we need not take seriously claims that are not supported by data and evidence.  And you know what's great about that idea?  Allow me to use a bigger font.

Anyone can be a scientist and investigate the natural world.

How great is that idea?  If you are of the opinion that gravitational waves don't exist, make an effort to prove your opinion.  If you show that Einstein was wrong on this and that yesterday's announcement was in error, and you have data and evidence on your side such that the physics community comes around to your way of thinking, expect a call from Stockholm someday.  As much as teachers come across as authority figures, and it is immensely valuable to teach students what has come to be thought of as true, there are no authority figures in science.  Darwin may seem like the ultimate authority figure, but you don't have to take evolution to be fact simply because someone tells you it's true.  Read about all the research that has been done to establish evolution as true as gravity.  Investigate the natural world yourself and put Darwin's ideas to the test.  If you have problems with what scientists have told us for the past quarter century about our climate, investigate Earth's climate yourself.  Scepticism and scrutiny are needed for good science.  Keep questioning until data and evidence point you in the direction of truth.  And definitely don't fill voids in our knowledge with whatever comforts you or might seem like good ideas.  Test your hypotheses and never be afraid of being wrong.  We can learn a lot from being wrong!

How great is it to be alive and be doing science?  It's a wondrous feeling!

11 February 2016

Wet and Windy in Southeast Wales

Today's entry in my sabbatical journal concerns my family's short trip to southeast Wales (Sunday, 7 February to Tuesday, 9 February).  Our trip timing wasn't great as Storm Imogen greeted us on two of our thee days.  But rain and wind weren't so severe as to dampen our enjoyment.  We stayed in Tintern, which is in the county of Monmouthshire.  The beautiful Welsh village sits on River Wye, which nearly flooded its banks while we were there.  If you are ever in Tintern, I highly recommend staying in The Tintern Rectory Bed & Breakfast with its interesting hosts and numerous delicious breakfast choices.

We toured Chepstow Castle in Chepstow, which is also in Monmouthshire.  Castle construction began just a year after the Battle of the Hastings.  Below is a photo of me standing in front of the castle's entrance (click on the image for a larger view).
You can see that rain was part of our visit.  My family enjoyed touring the magnificent castle, especially my daughters, who loved hiding in little nooks and crannies.  The image below shows the large castle interior (click on the image for a larger view).
River Wye can be seen off to the right.  We mostly had the castle to ourselves.  Nothing like some rain and wind to get rid of lines!

On the day after our trip to Chepstow, we visited Tintern Abbey, which is walking distance from the bed & breakfast.  The glorious abbey dates to the 12th century.  Check out the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
So much beautiful architecture and clever engineering to witness at Tintern Abbey.  I was particularly intrigued by the drainage system.  I'm always fascinated by how people solved problems so long ago.

We visited northern Wales seven years ago, and now we've gotten a glimpse at the southern part.  We heard Welsh spoken a little in the north, but not at all in the south.  Perhaps we can sneak a trip into the middle of Wales before we leave Europe.

05 February 2016

Can Peyton Manning run 17 mph?

That was the question put to me by the Tampa Bay Times.  During the AFC title game in which Manning's Broncos defeated the Patriots, a replay showed Manning running for a first down in the 3rd quarter and hitting 17 mph (27 kph) on a speedometer graphic.  To test the NFL's speed claim, I needed to analyse video of the play.  The best video I could get, however, was from the normal view we see on television (only quick looks from other angles).  That side view meant that I could determine the component of Manning's velocity parallel to the sideline, but not perpendicular to it.  Click here for the article and you will see images I used of Manning in motion.  From the 23-yard line to the 27-yard line, Manning was running mostly parallel to the sideline, but he did drift slightly toward the sideline while running those four yards.  That part of his run represented the best shot I had at seeing Manning running parallel to the sideline, so that my speed calculation could be compared to what the NFL found.  My guess is the NFL used overhead images, which would have been nice to analyse.

To give you a better feel for why it is challenging to determine speed from video, consider the screen capture below (click on the image for a larger view).
You can see the NFL's speedometer showing Manning running at 17 mph.  There is, of course, error associated with that number.  What I really want you to see is the orange arrow I put on Manning.  That shows approximately the direction of his velocity vector as he ran past the 21-yard line.  My modelling of the run, therefore, began after he squared his shoulders and got moving more parallel to the sideline.

I found a maximum speed of a little more than 16 mph (26 kph), and I estimated an error of no more than 10%.  Given what I had to work with, I would say the NFL's speedometer was reasonably accurate.  But as I mentioned above, an overhead view would have allowed me to determine his velocity vector instead of just the component of that vector parallel to the sideline.

Manning is listed at 6' 5" (1.96 m) tall and he's been a great athlete most of his life.  Athleticism and a long stride length help with speed (just ask Usain Bolt, whose height is about the same as Manning's).  Still, hitting 16 mph - 17 mph certainly isn't bad for a guy nearing 40 years old!

28 January 2016

Recalling Challenger

Have 30 years really passed since the Challenger space shuttle exploded?  That time period represents a generation.  I can see that sad Tuesday in my head quite well even now.  I was 15 years old at the time.  My 10th-grade English teacher had wheeled a television into our classroom so that we could watch the launch.  Though shuttle missions had become less of an event since Columbia flew its maiden voyage in 1981, and Challenger was on its 10th mission on that dreadful day in 1986, the Challenger lift off we watched 30 years ago was special because of crew member Christa McAuliffe.  She was to be the first school teacher in space, and my English teacher was giddy with anticipation just before the launch.  It's why we watched -- to see a "regular person" make it into space.

Everyone has seen the awful explosion just 73 seconds after take-off.  I will never forget my English teacher crying after it happened.  I will never forget the feeling that what I had seen was not real.  It took awhile for my 15-year-old mind to realize that I had watched seven people die.  For my parents, "Where were you when JFK was shot?" was a common question.  For people my age, "Where were you when Challenger exploded?" has been a common question.  Other events like 9/11 have followed the "when" in the question.  I remember 28 January 1986 as being one year to the day since We Are The World was recorded.  I remember that Tuesday as being just two days after the Chicago Bears made a strong case in Super Bowl XX for the best football team of all time.  Not long afterwards, I remember seeing Richard Feynman put an O-ring in cold water to demonstrate that the material comprising the O-rings was not suitable for the cold weather of the January launch.  Richard Feynman became a superstar in my 15-year-old nerdy head.

I had to look up the other names of the Challenger crew members because besides McAuliffe, I remembered only Ronald McNair.  He had a PhD in physics from MIT and a black belt in karate.  I have read some of his work on karate physics.  He seemed like a cool guy when I was 15, and even more so now.  The other crew members were Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Gregory Jarvis.  I am glad to look up the names today because remembering those who sacrificed their lives for the advancement of science is important.

20 January 2016

Best Hail Mary Ever?

Think of the great Hail Mary passes in American football.  Staubach to Pearson at the end of '75 got the term into our vernacular.  My favorite Hail Mary was in '84 when Flutie hit Phelan to beat Miami in the Orange Bowl.  Not only was that a great game, but I was 14 years old, meaning great things happening in my life at that time would undoubtedly stand out in my mind for the rest of my life.  I loved the play so much that I devoted a chapter to it in my first book.  I saw a Hail Mary this past weekend that will rival Flutie's pass when the great Hail Mary passes are ranked again.

On Saturday night, 16 January 2016, the Green Bay Packers were trailing the Arizona Cardinals, 13-20, in an NFC division play-off game.  With just 5 s on the game clock, the Packers had one play left, but they were on the Arizona 41-yard line, and they needed a touchdown to force overtime.  I grabbed the screen image below just before the snap (click on the image for a larger view).
All pertinent information is supplied by NBC in the screen shot.  Aaron Rogers took the snap from the shotgun formation, and Arizona brought pressure.  Rogers stepped back and scrambled to his left.  It took 4.2 s for him to release his pass after the snap (click on the image for a larger view).
Look at that throw!  Rogers had a man in his face while falling back to his left as he threw.  I grabbed the screen image below from instant replay (click on the image for a larger view).
Pure athleticism and talent helped Rogers release the ball with a spiral.  You will note that he released the ball about 5.5 yards inside his own territory and well left of the left hash marks.  After spending 3.6 s in the air, Jeff Janis snagged the ball about 5 yards past the goal line (click on the image for a larger view).
I estimated that the ball travelled horizontally almost 61 yards (56 m).  Taking into account air resistance, but no wind (I do not know the weather conditions at the time of the pass), I calculated that Rogers released the pass at 56.4 mph (25.2 m/s or 90.7 kph) and 46.9 degrees above the horizontal.  Just after Rogers let go of the ball, the ball experienced a drag force from the air that was almost 22% of its weight.  Janis, who certainly deserves credit for an amazing catch, one that had to be reviewed to ensure he had possession throughout his fall to the turf, caught the ball travelling 49.0 mph (21.9 m/s or 78.8 kph).  The plot below shows the trajectory (click on the image for a larger view).
The maximum height of the ball was nearly 20 yards (18 m) above the turf.  That vertical distance represents two first downs!

After such an amazing play put the game into overtime, a coin flip fiasco gave the Cardinals first possession in overtime.  Their first play was a Palmer-to-Fitzgerald pass for 75 yards.  Two plays later, Fitzgerald caught the winning touchdown pass from Palmer.  Despite the loss, Aaron Rogers threw what has to be one of the greatest Hail Mary passes of all time.