Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Small Links

1. Incredibly Small: Wired has some nice microscopy images

2. The strange world of nanoscience

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Creative Household Tips

Regardless of whether the frugality or creativity (or both) appeal to you, the "illustrated" household tips here are worth a read. Some of my favorites include:
  • A frozen, saturated sponge, in a zip-lock makes a drip-free ice-pack
  • Use clothespin to hold nails while hammering to save your fingers
  • Use a spring from an old pen to keep charger cord (especially on Macs) from breaking
  • On camping trips, use Doritos instead of starter fluid to kindle fires
  • Wrap beer bottles with a wet paper towel to chill them really fast
  • Use nailpolish to discriminate between similar looking keys

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nice Silly Girl!

A Way with Words is an informative and entertaining program/podcast, that explores word and language curiosities. Here is what I learned yesterday:
The word silly didn’t always have its modern meaning. In the 1400s, silly meant happy or blessed. Eventually, "silly" came to mean weak or in need of protection. Other seemingly simple words have shifted meanings as the English language developed: the term girl used to denote either a boy or a girl, and the word nice at one time meant ignorant.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pink is for Boys, Blue is for Girls

I was listening to a weekly podcast of the "The Reality Check" by the Ottawa Skeptics, and they had this piece about the history of "pink for girls and blue for boys".

This assignment of colors, which is rather arbitrary, is particularly strong in the United States. Quite interestingly, the associated history is quite fascinating as discussed in the show (and this article at the Smithsonian Magazine).

Apparently before 1900, white was the color of choice for kids of both sexes almost until first World War - partly because colored clothes were more expensive, and partly because whites could be bleached clean (and partly because of social norms).

Here's where things get interesting.
For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti. 
In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.
It wasn't until much later that the current practice became the norm. Neither the article nor the show delves into the factors responsible for the reversal. Given how hard it is to change arbitrary norms/formats (QWERTY keyboard, driving on the left/right side) that have gained some currency, this is definitely something interesting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why is the sky blue during the day and dark at night?

Two nice physics videos that explain a part of the question above.

Walter Levin does two magnificient demonstrations: in the first he shows why the period of a pendulum is independent of amplitude and mass (this part is cool!). In the second demonstration, he explains beautifully how Rayleigh and Mie scattering conspire to make the sky blue, clouds white, and sunsets red.

The MinutePhysics channel on YouTube also has a lot of snappy videos. Here is one that tries to explain why the sky is dark at night.