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Hard to Stay Focus at Times? That Might be a Good Thing…

April 27, 2012 3 comments

Do you feel hard to stay focus at times? Hang on, that might actually be a good thing…

In this transcription of a 1-minute podcast news titled “Mind Wandering is Linked to Your Working Memory“, it is reported that our working memory capacity is positively correlated with how often our minds wander. There is a link to the journal article also there. If you have a burning interest on that topic, it might be worthwhile to take a look.

So, that news strikes me personally, because I used to think that the inability to stay focus on 1 task at a time was always a bad thing. And sometimes I just can’t focus on 1 task at a time. “That’s just what my weakness is…” is what I used to think of myself. But then this news brings a new hope. It might be that my inability to focus at 1 task is because I have a good working memory capacity (which I hope is the case!). Which means I can handle a bit more complicated task better than a single simple one. Sometimes I just feel that it’s very difficult for me to sit down and do nothing. I have to do something. If not, my mind has to think about something. And I like to do at least two things at once, for instance lifting my pillow up and down with my legs while I’m lying on the bed and studying for school. It just feels better for me to have my legs busy with something else while my brain focuses on studying. I know this is not a very common habit (in fact I don’t do it so often anymore now), but anyway, yeah, it is worth mentioning I guess since I’m talking about this topic.

So what do you guys think? Do you think that this research is doubtful/not reliable/doesn’t make sense? Or is there anyone else feeling the same way that I feel?

A Little Bit of Reflection

April 10, 2012 7 comments

So recently Prof Myers said that it is not compulsory for us to talk about something which only smells scientific in this blog. And thus, I want to take this little time to invite you to do a little bit of reflection (as I reflect this upon myself).

As many of you may agree easily on this, I feel that there is a lot of work needs to be done in university, especially in this UW class (and maybe that’s why they gave it 4 credits). For instance in this class we need to post entries in our class blog, give comments, read articles, write essays, write reflections, and right now trying to get our project done given the limited time and energy. I am sure you guys are busy as well with other classes (which might be busier than UW) and perhaps (to be very honest) this class is not the 1st priority. And not to mention the extra curricular activities. But that’s okay. Everyone has a little different priority and I think every professor understands that.

Well oh well, I started to go off topic, but anyway, the thing that I really want to ask is this: how worthy is it to study in university? Let’s bear with me in doing engineering economic analysis for this. Let’s say we will finish our undergraduate program in 4 years, that means we (or rather, our parents) have to pay for that 4 year of tuition fee, which is not very cheap, especially in the US. And besides, we forgo the opportunity to do something else out there than ‘just’ being ‘imprisoned’ here in university for 4 years. But since we are all studying in GWU, I think we must justify/defend our decision to study in college. So, how does studying in the university outweigh all the costs?

Statistics Can Be Tricky

March 31, 2012 2 comments

Hi everyone! In this post I’d like to talk about Simpson’s Paradox. This wikipedia article might be helpful if you want to know more about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson’s_paradox

What is Simpson’s Paradox? In my paraphrase, that means a paradox when the decision making is reversed if the data is observed more carefully. Consider this real life example which I took from wikipedia about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States. Overall, a larger fraction of Republican legislators voted in favor of the Act than Democrats. However, when the congressional delegations from the northern and southern States are considered separately, a larger fraction of Democrats voted in favor of the act in both regions.

House Democrat Republican
Northern 94% (145/154) 85% (138/162)
Southern 7% (7/94) 0% (0/10)
Both 61% (152/248) 80% (138/172)

 

We discussed this in Statistics 1 class and all professional statisticians know about this, I suppose. What then can we make out of this knowledge? Well, at least we can be more careful if we read statistical reports on news or wherever. Coming back to the earlier example, if I am the journalist and given that data, I have two options to present the news if I want to influence the public in a certain way (biased towards Democrat or Republican). And as far as I know, statisticians and journalists do this thing all the time, i.e. to take the data in a certain way and use it to support certain opinion/thought/say/claim/whatever.

Another common issue regarding statistics which my engineering professor always mentioned in class is about significance. I’m sure we’ve seen articles saying something like, “Chocolate lovers have lower risk of getting heart attack” or “Contrary to popular belief, [a product or anything] is actually [the new claim]”. Often times they would mention that a study have been done in a university, this number of participants have taken part in the study, and the result shows that it is significant for the new claim to be correct. But, sometimes they do not tell you what the significance level is. Normally the significance level is denoted by Greek alphabet alpha. Common values are 1%, 5%, and 10%. Different conclusion can be made when using different significance level, i.e. claim A is significant when using 10% significance level, but not the case when 1% significance level is being used. Again, statistics can be tricky and we should be a little more careful!

Reverse Reverse Reverse

Hi mates! Whoever has taken university physics should know about irreversibility – which is related very closely to the idea that the entropy of the universe can only increase. Basically, what it says is that a lot of phenomenon (if not all) is irreversible. Examples: you can get older and not get younger, burnt paper cannot go back to the state before it was burnt, what is done is done and the process can’t go backwards.

However, this clip here from Youtube (3 mins, 14 secs) shows us that reverse actions are possible (at least in a movie). I really think that this video is really amusing. If you check out further (on Youtube), there are quite a number of people trying to produce ‘the best’ reverse video ever. After looking at a few videos, this video that I linked in this post is ‘the best’ one.

I think this post is related, to some extent, to my post before which is discussing about the concept of time. I realised that in the reverse video, instead of moving the time forward, it moves the time backward! Combining some acting skills of the actors in the video and backward streaming, voila, we have the reverse movie.

This just made me think, maybe someday the scientists can invent something which violates the entropy law, i.e. making possible irreversible actions which we now deem impossible. Or maybe in the future there will be a device which lets us to travel back in time or move forward with 2x speed (just like a DVD player). If it can’t happen in real world (which I think is the case), maybe it can happen in a simulation room or something. It could be a nice attraction to put in an amusement park! Anyway, since I am still so amused and confused at the same time about all these things, any thoughts on anything are welcomed to give some enlightenments. Thank you.

Love is NOW or NEVER

March 4, 2012 9 comments

The title of this post is taken from this song by Michael Learns to Rock, titled Take Me to Your Heart. There is this line after the chorus section which says “they say nothing lasts forever, we’re only here today, love is now or never, bring me far away”. I want to highlight the ‘now’ and ‘never’ parts of my post’s title. Both words have to deal with the concept of time, which is my main interest in this post.

As you may see in a lot of occasions, humans have this notion of limited time, i.e. we only have 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 90 minutes to play soccer, 4 years to complete college, one life to live for, etc. This Take Me to Your Heart song also has this concept of limited time underlying it.

But, but, but, what is time? Well, in physics, time is regarded as a dimension with second as the standard unit of measure and [T] as the dimension symbol of it. What interesting about time is that it can only move forward. If you imagine a dot on a timeline which spans from left to right with left being past zone and right being the future zone, this dot can only move to the right. Logically speaking, time is universal for everyone, i.e. one hour for me is also one hour for you. But, in physics, time is relative. Einstein once said, “If you are spending time with a beautiful girl, one hour feels so short, but being in a boring 1-hour class feels so long.” I am sure some of you may have experienced this kind of experience.

I am interested of what other people think about time. Do you see yourself living a short time life? Have you had experience similar to what Einstein once said? Or, maybe why we must consider/not consider a good time management technique? Or any other thoughts about time?

p.s. I came with this topic because I felt that it is so fast, the fact that next week is already a spring break, which means we have done with roughly half of our semester. Semester comes, semester goes. Phew. Oh well.

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The World of The Seven-Alphabets

February 10, 2012 4 comments

Can you imagine yourself living in a world with only 7 alphabets around? The seven are A B C D E F G.

Hmm… Maybe you’ll get a better idea if I arrange them like this: C D E F G A B?

Yeah, those are musical symbols for music notes. I have no idea why the early musicians chose these seven letters and this post is not going to talk about that history anyway. But here we are, living in a world with music being represented with 7-letters.

Are you a musician or a singer?  Have you ever tried to be one? Maybe not all of us are musicians or singers but we all listen to songs, don’t we?

What is “music” by the way? According to dictionary.com, “music” is “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.” Alright, we know that one. Next is, what is a sound? I’m not looking up for dictionary result on this. Basically any sound that we hear everyday is a longitudinal wave that traverse in the air with certain frequencies. And every musical note has its own vibration frequency. The standard A that is used as the concert pitch has a frequency of 440 Hertz, or 440 vibrations per second. The complete frequency list of every note is listed here.

Why am I saying all these technical stuffs? Because I want to show that actually there is a lot of science involved in music. In fact, music is a result of a series of physics phenomenon, starting from the instrument itself whether it is a piano, guitar, or others. The construction of a guitar is so much dependent on the Mersenne’s Law. Those frets on the guitar neck are spaced out with certain distances (they are not equally spaced out if you notice) so that the frequencies created will be that of musical notes.

The harmonic sound (guitarists do this all the time, harmonic sounds are on 0:07, 1:16, 1:24, 2:46, and 2:53) has a science explanation too. It doesn’t just happen. It happens because it follows science rules.

Lastly, I want to ask another question: Have you ever experienced only hearing the electric bass sound of a group band while the whole band is playing? I have had that experience. And normally you can only hear low frequency sounds from afar. Only when you get nearer, you can hear them all. This, again, is a result of higher amplitude wave travels further.

I found all these interesting and amusing that music is actually an application of science! However, a lot of musicians may not be well aware of this fact. The question is, is it important for musicians to understand the relation of music and science? Or we can also generalize the issue: Is it important for people in general to understand how things actually work despite of the fact that they have already been using them everyday?

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Self-Introduction and a Physics Experiment

January 28, 2012 10 comments

Hi everyone! I am going to use this first post as an opportunity to introduce myself a little bit. I was quite involved in science when I was in middle school and high school, especially in physics. Physics is fun (I know some of you will object this!) and I found it very useful in my everyday life. Even though I have become an engineer now, the love of physics is still in my heart. I will perhaps in the future have some more postings about physics (sorry about that if you don’t like it >.<) since that was my cup of tea a few years ago. 🙂

I want to bring up this small fun experiment about determining if an egg is raw or boiled. You may read the detailed explanation (it is just a short one-page, don’t worry) here: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/experiments/eggboiledraw.html. The underlying concept is the idea of moment of inertia which was normally taught in high school. Thanks be to the Almighty who has made physics works as it does and to our dear scientists who have figured out and formulated how everything works. It is now up to us to use the laws according to our creativity to do or invent anything of goodness. I have, in fact, tried this experiment to determine if the egg on my dining table was a boiled egg. And it stopped spinning when I touched it! And when I cracked the egg, bingo! It was indeed a boiled egg! YEA, THAT WORKED!

Physics teachers in schools and universities should give more real life examples of application of physics laws. There are numerous of them, we just don’t know yet. It will be more fun if the students know more real life examples of how things work and science will not be so daunting towards the laymen anymore.

Cheers!

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