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.

18 January 2016

A Day in Nottingham

My family took advantage of a beautiful day (clear skies and 0 C) this past Saturday (16 January) by hopping on a train for Nottingham.  When we were here seven years ago, we visited Sherwood Forest, but did not make it into the city of Nottingham.  We discovered on Saturday that Nottingham has a lot of offer!

Our first stop was the City of Caves.  We learned from a great guide that Nottingham has something like 500 caves below it.  Some of the caves we toured are beneath the Broadmarsh shopping centre.   I like the room in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
This horseshoe-shaped room stored beer for a pub called the Three Horseshoes (was this cellar the fourth horseshoe?).  A hole in the ceiling was used to warn gamblers in the room that local authorities were about to raid the pub.  The room off to the left in the above photo was dug out during World War II as a place to store documents in case the Germans made their way into England.  We also saw an air-raid shelter from World War II, though Nottingham was not hit like other cities in England.  Not far from the pub cellar are the medieval tanneries.  All fascinating to see and hear about!

We next visited Nottingham Castle, which dates to the 11th century.  But before entering the castle, I just had to pose with the Robin Hood statue (click on the image for a larger view).
My bloody left ulna is still broken, so I could not come close to holding a pulled bow like the folk legend in the statue.  Once in the castle, we especially enjoyed the view of Nottingham just outside the Ducal Mansion (click on the image for a larger view).
Nottingham Station, where we got the train, is visible left of centre behind the "British Waterways" building.  The station has a nice clock on top.

After a great day of learning about Nottingham, we were met with snow when we arrived back in Sheffield.  The city looked beautiful at night with snow on it.  Not a bad way to end a great day!

03 January 2016

Winter Holiday in Norway

My daughters had a fortnight-long winter break from their respective Sheffield schools.  We took advantage of their break and spent ten days in Norway (21 December - 30 December).  What a beautiful country!  Most people we encountered were very friendly, almost all spoke English quite well, and public transportation made getting around easy.

We spent six days in Oslo.  That is one clean city, probably the cleanest city I've visited.    Even the subway stations are immaculate.  In late December at approximately 60 degrees latitude, there are only about six hours between sunrise and sunset, so we had to make the most of the daylight.  We visited a Christmas market (click on image for a larger view).
We enjoyed great food, including wonderfully-prepared fresh fish and traditional Norwegian fare on Christmas Eve.  One of many new experiences for me was ice skating on an outdoor rink (click on the image for a larger view).
Not bad form for a nerdy physicist, huh?  Well, perhaps I could use more practice!  I've not ice skated much in my life, but I've got more appreciation for those who zoom on the ice, be they figure skaters or ice-hockey players.  We toured the Oslo Harbour and walked many streets.  Part of Boxing Day was spent at Frogner Park.  The photo below shows the monolith, one of many cool statues in the park (click in the image for a larger view).
Boxing Day in 2015 will remain in my memory for a long, long time.  When I first learned that my family would return to Sheffield for my second sabbatical, I had the idea of spending Christmas in Norway.  Not only have I always wanted to visit Norway, I wanted to be in snow during the Christmas holiday.  For about a year, my family has been anticipating skiing in Norway.  Boxing Day was our last full day in Oslo; we were headed to the ski resort at Hemsedal on the following day.  I took my daughters to a playground near the home we were renting.  I've been studying friction between shoes and sports surfaces since my sabbatical research commenced.  I wish I had just a bit more friction on Boxing Day because I slipped at the playground and broke my left ulna.  No skiing for me!

So after a year looking forward to skiing in Norway, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch my wife and daughters hit the slopes.  But accidents happen, and there are definitely no do-overs in life.  Accepting reality is sometimes easier said than done.  As much as I hated missing out on skiing, I would have felt ten times worse had my wife or one of my daughters been the one sitting in the lodge.  I'm glad they had fun!

I still enjoyed Hemsedal.  It was a winter wonderland.  I witnessed beauty in nature almost everywhere I looked.  My family did some dogsled riding while there.  I was unable to drive, but thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  The scenery was breathtaking (click on the image for a larger view).
I learned a great deal about how the dogsleds work, what the dogs are like, and got some great ideas for physics problems.

It was tough leaving Hemsedal, knowing that I did not get to ski, and wondering if I would make it back at some point in the future.  The photo below shows my last look at the ski resort (click on the image for a larger view).
Beautiful, isn't it?  Despite my broken arm, I loved being in Norway over the holidays.  Sometimes life doesn't go exactly like you want it to go.  What's important is making the best of life, not only for yourself, but for those around you.  We get one shot at life.  Make the most of each and every day!

31 December 2015

Look Ahead to Stephen Curry in 2016

My family was in Oslo, Norway on Christmas Eve.  We stopped in a newsstand near the Oslo Harbour and picked up the latest issue of TIME Magazine.  Adele is on the cover of the special double issue called "The Year Ahead."  I contributed to the story on Stephen Curry called "Stephen Curry and the Greatest Show on Earth."  Click here if you have a TIME subscription and wish to read the article.  As I did for the Wall Street Journal last December (click here for that article), I analyzed Curry's shooting motion and the trajectories of several of his shots.  The guy is amazing!  He has an incredibly quick release that produces high-angle trajectories into the basket.  I like that TIME included my observation that Curry was born on Pi Day!

Happy New Year!

11 December 2015

UK Petrol Passes Below £1 per Litre

I was watching the BBC at Ponds Forge this morning while I was pedalling away on a recumbent bike.  One report noted that the price of petrol sold by a company is now slightly less than £1 per litre (click here for the story).  It got me wondering what that translates into dollars per gallon, which is more familiar to me.  One litre is approximately 0.2642 US liquid gallons, or one could state that one US liquid gallon is roughly 3.785 litres.  Thus if it takes £1 to purchase one litre of petrol here in the UK, it costs about £3.785 to buy one US liquid gallon of petrol.  Hopping on Google's "pounds to dollars" converter for today, £3.785 is equivalent to $5.73.

The price of petrol in the UK is considerably more than what people pay in the US.  The average cost today for a gallon of regular unleaded in the US is $2.012 (click here for my source, but note that the number changes daily).  People in the UK thus pay about 2.85 times for petrol what people in the US pay.

There was some hype about petrol prices falling below £1 per litre, and I'm sure there will be many happy customers at the pump.  But excitement is relative.  It's good to keep an eye on what happens outside one's country, of course, even the stuff that doesn't make huge headlines.

10 December 2015

Derrick Henry and Football Physics

Rain greeted me this morning on my way to the gym, but as I wrote yesterday, that is nothing new.  Back in the US, college football fans are gearing up for bowl season.  But before those games will be played a certain famous trophy must be presented.  One talented young man will have his life forever changed when he accepts the Heisman Trophy this Saturday night.  I'll try to stay up for the announcement, but it will be early Sunday morning for me when the winner's name is called.

Three deserving finalists will be in New York for the Heisman ceremony.  Strong and convincing cases can easily be made for Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Deshaun Watson of Clemson.  But my money is on Derrick Henry of Alabama to become the Crimson Tide's second Heisman winner.  I could certainly be wrong, but as someone who did his undergraduate work in the Southeastern Conference, my rooting interest is with the Alabama running back.

I recently got to study game film of Derrick Henry in preparation for a story the Alabama Media Group was putting together on the science behind Henry's dominance.  At 6' 3" (1.905 m), Henry is quite tall for a running back.  Usually the guys who run the ball have a center of gravity that isn't so far off the ground.  But I learned a few things watching Henry in action.  Click here for the article that contains some of my physics analysis of Henry's running.  That guy will be playing on Sundays someday!

09 December 2015

Wet and Windy in England

I've been slow to keep up my blog writing, especially as it pertains to my sabbatical experiences.  Late 2015 here in South Yorkshire has seen lots of wind and rain.  We have rarely found a day in the past month that we've not felt at least a little mist on our faces.  People north of us have had it much worse with Storm Desmond causing lots of flood damage.  For all the rain and wind, it's great being in Sheffield as holiday time approaches.  The city centre is decorated and fun to see at night when I'm on a bus headed for home after work. With the sun setting before 4 pm now, it's always night when I leave work!

A torn muscle in my left calf has kept us from doing much travelling of late.  Before the tear, my girls and I toured Shepherd Wheel, which is quite close to where we live.  Kudos to the woman (a volunteer?) we met there because she gave us lots of great information.  The wheel makes use of water that's been dammed from the Porter Brook.  I took the photo below on Sunday, 15 November 2015 (click on the image for a larger view).
The wheel is 18 ft (5.5 m) in diameter.  The large shaft through the wheel sends lots of kinetic energy into the building that's used for various grinding work.  It's great watching energy conversions in action!

Walking to Shepherd Wheel took us through Endcliffe Park, which is our wonderful local park.  The photo below shows the Porter Brook in Endcliffe Park, downstream from the Shepherd Wheel (click on the image for a larger view).
Wet weather could not distract from the natural beauty in the park.

This past Sunday, which was 6 December 2015, my family visited the 23rd Victorian Christmas Market at Kelham Island Museum.  That was a lot of fun!  We saw people dressed as Dickens characters, heard great bagpipe music and Christmas songs, and visited many shopping stalls.  I couldn't resist getting a fine pint while I was there and a jar of lemon curd to take home.  My younger daughter snapped the photo below of some reindeer at the market (click on the image for a larger view).
Some of the fine singers we heard are seen in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
It was a fun day to be out with family and denizens of Sheffield as we enjoyed a little holiday cheer.

Sabbatical research continues to stimulate my mind and keep me busy.  As a clumsy theoretical physicist who is more comfortable writing code and using a pencil and paper than tinkering in a lab, I am continually amazed by the ingenuity of people with experimental and engineering training.  Lots of what we do on a piece of paper takes for granted just how hard it is to build and measure what we're scribbling on that paper.  I take great joy in seeing what clever people construct to allow for precise measurements.

I am also enjoying the one hour per week I get to teach.  I volunteered to teach one of the second-year tutorials for the physics department.  My eight students are great and I enjoy interacting with them each week.  They see an enormous amount of material, so much that I wonder if being exposed to that much material is truly effective.  Just two days ago, I talked to my students about Lagrange's equations in mechanics, non-inertial forces, the infinite square well in quantum mechanics, and Born's interpretations of the wave function.  It's out of this world fun for me because I can yap about many areas of physics, but it's a lot for my students to digest.

Holiday break commences on Saturday, 19 December 2015.  Lots of research work to do before then!

13 November 2015

A Little Boxing Science

I contributed to an article in the current issue of The Ring, known as The Bible of Boxing.  What's funny is that the December 2015 issue has been out in the US for some time now.  I've been checking in at WH Smith on Fargate for over a week.  After a good workout at Ponds Forge this morning, I nipped into WH Smith -- and they finally had it!

Keith Idec is the reporter I worked with.  He wrote nice article called "Balance of Power," in which he describes how big boxers combine intrinsic talent with skill developed over years of training to produce some pretty powerful punches.  I contributed to the section "Properties of Power" on page 63.  A few more of my comments appear on pages 64-65.

It was a lot of fun working on the piece.  The human body is capable of delivering enormous amounts of power over short time intervals.  Tour de France cyclists can briefly output over a kilowatt.  Boxers can surely do that over a the brief time of a monster punch.  There is no way I would want to be on the receiving end of one of those punches!

05 November 2015

A Week in Italy

We have Guy Fawkes Night here in England today.  Some simply call it Bonfire Night.  It's an interesting and, frankly, strange holiday.  But, hey, everyone likes a chance to see a good bonfire and watch fireworks, right?  Research work has kept me from blog writing this week, but I'll steal a few minutes to add some comments about our recent trip to Italy.

Both my daughters were off school last week, so my wife organized an incredible trip to Italy.  She is a master of international travel, adept with languages, great at planning and coordinating, and skilled at keeping costs down.  I'm the lucky guy along for the ride.  We left Sheffield on Saturday, 24 October and returned on Sunday, 1 November.  We visited Venice, Rome, Pisa, Florence, and Treviso.

Venice is like being on another planet, or more appropriately, being on another part of this planet -- the part with water.  Travel on or over water is the way to get around.  We took water buses to various parts of Venice from our rented apartment in Lido.  We walked over many bridges that covered canals.  I knew there would be many tourists, but I wasn't prepared for just how many.  Water buses were sometimes packed to the hilt.  Streets were occasionally so packed with people that it was hard to move.  Of course, we were contributing to the tourist count, but the number there in late October surprised me.  The giant ocean liner we saw in dock with a few thousand paying customers certainly added to the total.  I can only imagine what the middle of summer is like.

Below is a typical scene along a Venetian canal (click on the image for a larger view).
We paid for a half hour ride in a gondola.  As I told my wife, and like anyone working in a tourist town like Venice knows, were we going to make a huge effort to get here and then not ride in a gondola?  We also saw amazing glass blowing in Murano.  I never tire of seeing skilled people performing their crafts.  There are many forms of genius in this world.

Rome is a city I've wanted to visit since I was very young.  I was into politics by age six, even seeing some of the Ford/Carter debates.  Standing in the Roman Forum and trying to imagine the influence that place had on Western political thought gave me chills.  We had to visit the Colosseum, too.  The photo below shows the interior (click on the image for a larger view).
That place was crowded, too.  What amazed me most about the tourists was the large number who so often chose virtual reality over reality.  The inside of the Colosseum is one big selfiegasm.  I'm not trying to play off the late, great George Carlin and his comments about driving (click here for that) because we all have a line in our minds about many things.  Sure, we took a few photos and a half-minute movie, but most of the time we were inside was spent looking at and studying something we've wanted to see and experience for a long time.  Maybe at age 45 I don't get the thrill of having my back to something interesting and taking a few dozen photos like that, and then moving on to something else.

We saw many great sculptures, fountains, and buildings while in Rome.  Getting around was pretty easy, though being stuffed inside an overcrowded bus like a sardine in a can wasn't always fun.  But since new bus routes went into effect here in Sheffield, I've repeated that experience a couple of times this week.

A brief trip to Santa Marinella gave us a chance to swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Seafood was amazing there!  Italy gave us a chance to sample wonderful pasta, bread, and wine, but I really enjoyed the seafood.  When we got to Pisa, there was really only one thing to see in the limited amount of time we had to visit.  You guessed it (click on the image below for a larger view).
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a fun building to walk in!  The spiral staircase along the outside walls took us to a height of about 180 ft (55 m).  There was even a device at the top for dropping balls that could have replicated the (apocryphal) experiment Galileo performed there in the late 16th century.  The lean angle is only about four degrees, but it somehow feels more than that when you're looking at the tower or walking inside it.

Speaking of Galileo, I was most interested in seeing his tomb in Florence.  Check out the photo below that I took in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence (click on the image for a larger view).
I like seeing a great scientist appreciated!  I also enjoyed the lighting in the above scene.  Galileo helped push our understanding of the natural world and how to investigate it.  In other words, he helped moved us into the light from darker times in human history.  We also saw tombs for the great minds of Michelangelo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.

Italy was an amazing country for us to tour for a week.  Like many places we've visited, we left each city wishing for more time to explore.  I'm sure Italy's tourism bureau enjoys hearing tourists say that they left wanting more!  If we are ever in Italy again, I think we'll try to visit smaller towns that are less populated with tourists.  We've sampled some of the great Italian cities, sights, and food, but in the future, I believe we'll opt for a more laid-back approach that will allows us to experience more of Italy's "normal" culture.  Still, we had a great time!

02 November 2015

Catching up on Sports

I was in Italy all last week (more on that in my next post!) when a flurry of sports activity happened.  On Halloween the All Blacks of New Zealand won an unprecedented third Rugby World Cup.  It has been a real treat living in England for the Rugby World Cup.  I got to watch several games live on television.  The US didn't do well, but I got to root for local teams like England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.  At the end of the day, however, the two best teams, Australia and New Zealand, fought for the title.  I could only follow the end of the game on my tablet while in Italy.

The Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets in the World Series -- and I didn't get to see a pitch!  Games mostly started after I went to bed, and it was especially hard trying to follow the World Series while vacationing in Italy.  I remember so vividly the Royals winning in 1985.  Has that really been thirty years ago?!?  To bad I missed all the great comeback wins by the Royals this year.  But, hey, I got to watch the Rugby World Cup, and it's impossible to watch everything!

A story I worked on for the Wall Street Journal appeared in the paper on Monday, 25 October 2015.  Click here for the online version.  It was fun reading that in Italy!  The subject of the story is the great free-throw shooting of Elena Delle Donne of the WNBA's Chicago Sky.  Hitting 95% means hitting 19 out of 20, with crowd noise and pressure to boot.  She has amazing technique and my contribution to the story concerned the physics behind her great shooting.  By the way, it's cool that she and I share 5 September for a birthday.

Before leaving for Italy, I was coincidentally interviewed by an Italian online magazine, L'Ultimo Uomo.  Click here for the Friday, 30 October 2015 story that heavily quotes me discussing goals from corner kicks and other aspects of soccer physics.  The story is in Italian, but Google translate does a decent job of giving a good representation of what I contributed.  What was great about doing the interview was that the reporter was from Venice, which is one city I visited last week, but was contacting me from New York City.  He gave me a few good tips on places to eat while in Venice.  A great experience all around.

Sports like rugby and soccer have kept my interest while living in England.  I do miss seeing college football, and I'll especially miss seeing my Hoosiers and Commodores during college basketball season.  But one of the many thrills about being in a foreign country is experiencing new culture, and sports is a big part of culture.  I'm rooting for the Sheffield Wednesday to continue their unbeaten streak, which now sits at ten matches.  How great would it be to see the Wednesday get promoted out of Championship?  But I'd miss Premier League action in Sheffield next year!

13 October 2015

Hike into Padley Gorge

This past Saturday (10 October 2015), my wife, daughters and I returned to the Peak District for another hike, this time to the wooded area of Padley Gorge.  We had not seen much of the Peak District's wooded areas.  Weather was perfect and we had a great hike!  The photo below shows the wooded area where we were headed (click on image for a larger view).
We never tire of Peak District vistas!  Before reaching Padley Gorge, we passed by the Grindleford railway station.  I snapped a photo of the western edge of the 6230-yd (5.7-km or 3.5-mi) long Totley tunnel (click on the image for a larger view).
Hiking into Padley Gorge provided us with lovely forest scenery.  The photo below shows Burbage Brook, which runs through Padley Gorge (click on the image for a larger view).
One especially great thing about hiking in the Peak District is all the wonderful country pubs.  We ate lunch at The Grouse Inn, and I can't recommend it highly enough.  I had the best steak and ale pie of my life there!  Of course, we had to stop at The Fox House on our way home for dessert.  Living in Sheffield and being so close to the Peak District is spoiling us!

Rugby Knockout Time!

The eight quarterfinalists for the 2015 Rugby World Cup are now set.  My US team didn't fare too well, losing all four matches by combined point differential of 106.  Pool B was certainly a tough draw, given that Japan won three matches and didn't make the quarterfinals.  Scotland's dominating win over Japan ultimately sent the Brave Blossoms home.  Only Uruguay had a worse World Cup than the US, which probably doesn't help rugby gain in popularity in the US.

England was unceremoniously booted from the World Cup after its loss to Australia.  But there is still a great deal of excitement here in the UK as Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have all advanced to the knockout stage.  Action resumes this coming Saturday (17 October).

A colleague and I published a short paper on the fastest try in rugby earlier this year.  Click here to access the paper.  There is a lot of interesting physics in rugby!

28 September 2015

Learning Scottish History at Stirling Castle

I got up a wee bit late this morning after an incredible night staring at Earth's shadow on the moon.  Some time opened for me near the end of my work day, so I thought I'd update my sabbatical journal.

My family toured Stirling this past Saturday (26 September).  We could definitely understand how the city is known as the gateway to the Highlands.  I took the image below, which shows mountains in the background, including the National Wallace Monument to the left, and a statute of Robert the Bruce in the foreground (click on the image for a larger view).
Weather was perfect as we explored Stirling Castle.  There were many neat rooms to investiage, and the castle grounds were a lot of fun to walk.  I snapped the photo below of the Forework (click on the image for a larger view).
We were treated to a fascinating history lesson on the Jacobite rising of 1715, also known as Lord Mar's Revolt.  The castle hosts were in full costume, and they even taught us to rev up the fighters in preparation for battle.  Check out the YouTube video below.
We learned some very interesting Scottish history during our time in Stirling.  I've always thoroughly enjoyed learning history.  Being where history was made makes learning so much more enjoyable.

27 September 2015

Giddy over the lunar eclipse!

When the moon is at perigee, meaning closest approach to Earth, it looks big and is sometimes called a "supermoon."  That term originates in the codswallop known as astrology, but it's still a cool term.  If you were lucky enough to have clear skies today, you could see a total lunar eclipse.  It was amazing to behold!  I only wish I owned a camera capable of taking quality photographs at night.  The images below show the progression of the eclipse to near totality (click on the image for a larger view).
Being in Sheffield, England made me a tad nervous tonight because it's not unusual to have clouds in the skies over England.  But I got lucky and had nothing but clear skies all night.  It was amazing seeing all the stars near the moon that one never sees during a full moon.

I wrote recently about the awe I felt while witnessing a rainbow, and the joy I have studying the natural causes of such phenomenon.  Tonight's total lunar eclipse made me just as giddy.  Imagining Earth's shadow cast onto the moon's surface is one thing, but seeing it is so much more wonderful.  I hope you got to see it.  If not, you'll find plenty of better photographs on the internet.

21 September 2015

Great Views Atop Mam Tor

My wife and I hiked to the top of Mam Tor back in 2009.  Yesterday, our girls joined us for a return trip.  Though only just over a kilometer in elevation, the summit of "Mother Hill" provides wonderful views of the Peak District.  I took the photo below with Castleton just visible on the right (click on image for a larger view).
Photos simply don't do the views justice.  I also got a photo of Winnats Pass, which we walked through after descending from Mam Tor (click on image for a larger view).
It was great walking through Winnats Pass, especially when a flock of sheep decided to cross the road.  I took a short movie of the sheep stopping traffic (click below on the YouTube movie).
A neat problem in animal behavior could surely be obtained from the video as both sheep and humans (in cars) show heard mentality!

18 September 2015

Rugby World Cup Time!

The 2015 Rugby World Cup begins today.  England and Wales are hosting and it's exciting being in England while the World Cup is happening.  Australia and New Zealand are always tough, but England and Wales will try to make good use of home pitch advantage.  I'll certainly root for the US, but we are one of the long shots here.  The US is in Pool B with a tough South Africa team and a Scotland team that won't have to travel far.  I doubt the Rugby World Cup will be noticed much in the US, but I'm glad to be in England right now where I can enjoy the action on telly!

12 September 2015

Beauty in Nature

My younger daughter and I walked and hiked in the Peak District today.  We were near Castleton and scenery was amazing, as it always is in the Peak District.  A heavy rainstorm greeted us about halfway into our hike.  Neither one of us was bothered by the rain, especially when we could behold such a beautiful rainbow (click on the image for a larger view).
What makes such phenomena as rainbows so much more wonderful is that we understand how they are created.  Humans have provided natural explanations of such beauty, and the explanations themselves are a source of beauty.  I became a scientist partly because I was so enamored by the physical laws that govern everything.  If you are not familiar with how rainbows are formed, read up on the topic.  You'll find there's a lot of beauty behind the beauty we behold in nature.

11 September 2015

Up Close with the Tour of Britain

Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain came close to Sheffield today, so I got out to the Peak District to see the cyclists up close.  It was my first time seeing professional cyclists in a tour race.  Watching events like the Tour de France on television is great because I can follow the action for an entire stage.  Seeing stage action in person is thrilling for a few minutes, but then all that's left after the cyclists pass is a trip to a country pub.  Watching the cyclists go by was thrilling for me, and grabbing great food and a pint at The Fox House made the afternoon all the more better.

The profile of Stage 6 may be found here.  A colleague and I took a bus from Sheffield to The Fox House and set up just below the summit of the first King of the Mountain point at Millstone Edge.  By the time cyclists reached that point, they had traveled 83.7 km (52.0 mi) of the 192.7-km (119.7-mi) stage, i.e. about 43.4% of the stage distance.  The image below is a photo I took of Ian Stannard of Team Sky as he was about to be the first cyclist to reach the King of the Mountain point (click on the image for a larger view).
Stannard came in 27th today.  Italian Matteo Trentin of Etixx-Quick Step won the stage in a time 4h 45' 27" for an average speed of 11.25 m/s (40.50 kph or 25.17 mph).  I was very impressed watching those guys cycle up the hill!

The movie below shows the peloton going by.
After so many years watching professional cyclists on television, it was wonderful seeing them in action as they cycled right by where I was standing.

07 September 2015

Birthday at Hogwarts

I turned 45 this past Saturday (05 September 2015).  To celebrate my birthday, my wonderful wife planned a weekend trip to Northumberland.  She knew I've always wanted to visit Alnwick Castle, which was used for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies.  It was also used for last season's Christmas episode of Downton Abbey.  Before visiting Alnwick Castle, though, we had one little stop to make.

The bus ride north from Newcastle provided us with great vistas as we rode along the North Sea coast.  We hopped off the bus at Warkworth to see Warkworth Castle.  Wow, that place is amazing!  Dating to the 12th century, Warkworth Castle is as fun a castle to tour as we've ever visited.  My daughters, wife, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring all the rooms that are still intact.  It was fun getting lost in the castle!  Check out the photo I snapped below (click on the image for a larger view).
The flag on top is that of English Heritage, an organization we rejoined recently.  After a fun time there, and lunch at a local pub, we hopped back on the bus and headed for Alnwick.

Alnwick Castles is glorious!  Check out the photo I took below and see if you spot any resemblance to Hogwarts (click on the image for a larger view).
The castle dates to the 11th century; the Duke of Northumberland and his family still live there.  Because of the Harry Potter success, and all the other films and television shows that have made use of the castle, Alnwick Castle is much more commercialized than English Heritage castles.  It was still neat to see the magnificent castle and grounds.  I even took a broomstick lesson, and learned to fly after just that one lesson!  Don't believe me?  Check out the two photos below (click on the image for a larger view).
After I figured out how to call my broom, flying was a piece of cake!

I'm not sure if I've ever had a better birthday.  If you're ever in England, I highly recommend visiting Warkworth Castle.  We could have spent hours exploring there.  Visit Alnwick Castle, too, but keep in mind that it's more commercialized and some parts of the castle are off limits.

01 September 2015

A Visit to the Highland Games

Yesterday was the Late Summer Bank Holiday in England.  My family took advantage of the holiday weekend and hopped on a train for Glasgow, Scotland on Thursday, 27 August 2015.  We had been in Edinburgh a couple of times and spent Christmas 2008 in Inverness, but we had neither been to Glasgow nor seen any of the western part of Scotland.  We loved what we saw!

On Friday, 28 August, we visited Bothwell Castle.  We very much enjoy touring castles and learning more history.  I snapped the photo below, showing that a castle dating back to the 13th century can always use a little restoration work (click on the image for a larger view).
We had great weather to tour a castle last Friday, but had to content with Highland weather on Saturday with a couple of downpours.  I got to see something I've wanted to see for many years now:  the Highland Games.  We made our way via train and ferry to Dunoon for the Cowal Highland Gathering on Saturday, 29 August.  As someone whose professional life is spent with sports physics, I relished the opportunity to see sports I'd never seen in person before.  The image below shows a competitor from Germany throwing the 26-lb (nearly 12 kg mass) Braemer Stone (click on the image for a larger view).
The athletes could throw those massive stones for a horizontal distance greater than an American football first down!  We also saw the open stone throw (like a shot put), the Scottish hammer throw, the weight throw, the weight over the bar toss, and my favorite, the caber toss.  The image below shows the caber in flight (click on the image for a larger view).
I recorded a short movie of the best caber toss of the day.  The YouTube video is below.
The idea is to have the caber land on the thick end, and then fall over and land at 12 o'clock position.  The caber is 19.5 ft (5.94 m) long and held at the tapered end, which means more mass is on the opposite end compared to the end that's held.  That makes balancing the caber before the toss rather challenging.  At a weight of about 175 lb (79.4 kg mass), one cannot hold the caber very long.  A great deal of strength is needed to toss that large piece of wood.

As much fun as I had watching the Highland Games for the first time, I had even more fun learning about all kinds of new sports.  I've got a lot of respect for the men and women who competed in the events we saw.  Great strength and even greater technique are needed to be the best.

25 August 2015

Nerd on a Bike

My family spent last Sunday back in the Peak District.  We rented bicycles for a few hours and did the 12-mi (19-km) circuit around the Derwent and Howden Reservoirs in Derbyshire.  The Upper Derwent Valley is beautiful!  I was fascinated to learn that the dams in the reservoir and the surrounding land were so similar to the Ruhr Valley in Germany that pilots in their Lancasters practiced bombing runs in the Upper Derwent Valley in preparation for Operation Chastise in 1943.

We had a few climbs to make during our cycling, but nothing like the hors cat├ęgorie climbs found in the Tour de France.  I never cracked on the climbs, but I can easily see how the best cyclists crack on long and difficult climbs.  Lugging one's mass uphill isn't easy!  The photo below shows a nerdy physicist away from his modeling computer and in the saddle on a bicycle (click on the image for a larger view).
My cycling was made more fun with a backpack full of water bottles, umbrellas, extra clothing, wallets and purses, and other miscellaneous items.  I really enjoyed seeing all the bell heather on the slopes in the distant background.  We were helped by a few tailwinds in places, but fought headwinds in other places.  The exercise was great and so was my deepening appreciation for how unbelievably difficult it must be to complete stages in the Tour de France.  We only bicycled a distance about 10% of a typical Tour de France stage, and we weren't in the middle of a three-week effort.  I hope we can get back to the reservoirs during the next year.  We need to do the circuit twice!

19 August 2015

Getting Settled in Sheffield

There are many, many things I like about living in England.  Utility companies aren't among them.  We arrived in Sheffield on Monday, 3 August, but had to stay in two hotels (kicked out of the first because of overbooking!) before finally moving into a rental property on Wednesday, 12 August.  We were promised internet service by Monday, 17 August, but that's now been moved to Wednesday, 26 August.  Some of the most trivial tasks connected to utility companies take the longest time.

Because of a lack of internet service, I've been unable to keep my sabbatical journal updated.  I hope to do better in the coming weeks!  Setting my little rant against utility companies aside, I'll note that it's WONDERFUL being back in Sheffield again.  My family really enjoyed living here during the 2008-09 academic year, and we were thrilled to see the city again.

Getting to Sheffield was a hectic adventure.  The last week of July brought a lot of attention to my Tour de France work.  See my post here for a few stories.  After those stories broke, I was interviewed by the local news in Lynchburg (link here) and did a long radio interview for The Outspoken Cyclist (link here).  Those were fun to do, but we were packing for a little 6000-km trip!  We were sad to leave our dog behind, but she's in very good hands with my sister-in-law and her dog.  A flight to Iceland, then Manchester, and finally a cab ride to Sheffield, and we were ready to look for housing and get our daughters signed up for school.

So what is so great about living in Sheffield?  I love not having a car.  Public transportation is great here, plus I get to do a lot of walking.  I should shed a few unwanted pounds during the upcoming year!  There are many great parks here, plus Ponds Forge is a fun place to work out.  I especially love that Sheffield is adjacent to the Peak District, a place we got to know very well during our previous stay in England.  Last weekend, we returned to one of our favorite places, Peveril Castle, which is only about half an hour away by bus.  Views from the old keep are breathtaking, especially Cave Dale.  I had a lot of fun climbing the hills with my daughters.  My wife, an experienced and intrepid international traveler who makes my life possible, was content to film me sliding down a hill with my younger daughter in my lap as we dodged a few sheep on the descent.  A physics problem with an inclined plane is sure to come from that video!

I also like that Sheffield is extremely diverse.  We get to interact with people from all over the world.  Traveling does wonders for opening one's mind and putting down tribal instincts.  In the short time I've been here, I've already spoken to people from at least a dozen different countries on four continents.  The abstraction of seeing countries on a map disappears when I actually talk to people face to face.  The seemingly trivial realization that people from different parts of the world want out of life what I want -- a loving family, good health, a decent job, fun leisure time -- is something that's comforting for me.

On the research side, I'm just getting my feet wet this week.  I will be thinking a lot about "friction" during the upcoming academic year.  I'm anxious to learn and contribute!