Launch to Orbit, Part 1

As a way to understand orbital motion, I’ve seen the idea of “Newton’s cannonball,” illustrated below from Wikipedia:

Source: Wikipedia

In this thought experiment, a cannon at the top of a tall mountain fires a cannonball at increasing velocities, until eventually it moves so fast that it achieves orbit.

Problem: Model a projectile being launched into orbit in this manner, and visually explore the transition between falling to Earth and orbiting.

Continue reading “Launch to Orbit, Part 1”


Individual Action is Not Enough

The Canadian chapter of the World Wildlife Federation produced this cool video/commercial:

Most people try, to at least some degree, to take steps to help the environment. And these small changes, when summed across the whole population, are significant. But still, the collective action of individuals can only do so much — government and industry need to be on board, too. Unfortunately, in the United States, leadership from the federal government has been lacking (and at times, actively impedes) so state and local governments and industry have had to take their own steps. There is some hope, though, that this will change when the Obama administration takes office (I hope to write more on this in a later post).

Quirkology and the Amazing Color-Changing Card Trick

I was introduced to Professor Richard Wiseman’s “Quirkology” through Michael Shermer’s “Skeptic” column in Scientific American. I really enjoy Shermer’s writing and was intrigued by Shermer’s descriptions in his November and December columns. He also had high praise for Wiseman’s book, also entitled Quirkology. (The term, according to the web site, is “a term coined by Prof. Wiseman to refer to psychological research that is quirky. Much of this work uses mainstream methods to investigate unusual topics, or unusual methods to investigate mainstream topics.”)

I was exploring the web site and really enjoyed this video: “Colour-changing Card Trick”:


(Be sure to watch the video prior to reading any comments, just in case!)

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

graphic showing one person with filled shopping cart and another with filled garbage can
See The Story of Stuff at

A friend of mine sent me a link to The Story of Stuff, a twenty-minute animation/video about our chain of consumption and the many negative impacts it has. It’s certainly thought-provoking, and since one of the main purposes of this blog is to provoke thought, I thought I’d share it here. While it is simplified, and may be a bit exaggerated in places, I like it because it does a good job tying things into a big picture—and I like big pictures. We have a tendency to focus on one area at a time: energy independence, protection of natural resources, climate change, industrial waste, and so on, but they are all aspects of a central issue, and that’s that we are living an unsustainable lifestyle, and that we need to change our outlook, not just isolated habits.

Amy Tiemann wrote about the video in CNET’s News Blog; below is an excerpt:

The Story of Stuff illustrates the consumption chain and aims to reframe our conversation from unlimited production and consumption to sustainability and equity. The video is quite engaging, and I was impressed by its simplicity and effectiveness. No flashy graphics or sensational techniques, just simple line animation accompanying a 20-minute video lecture by sustainability expert Annie Leonard.

There are several ways to watch it. I suggest watching it in Flash format. (There are links to the individual sections so you don’t have to watch it all at once, or you can go back and forth.) You can also download a 50-MB Quicktime movie. Finally, I’ve included YouTube clips for each chapter below; this is probably the simplest way and you can watch it in pieces.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Extraction

Chapter 3: Production

Chapter 4: Distribution

Chapter 5: Consumption

Chapter 6: Disposal

Chapter 7: Another Way

For more information about the information raised in the video, you can take a look at the resources page. If you’re motivated to action, there is a list of ten little and big things you can do. If you want to go further, there are numerous organizations working to tackle the various facets of this problem.