One Possible Definition of Physics

Visual definition of physics

With my metaphorical “mathematics of sets” hat on, this is what physics looks like, to me. The further you go in the field, the more challenging the mathematics gets; also, the better (and more expensive) the toys become.

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A Music Video for “Ride Into the Sun,” by the Velvet Underground

This music video, for a Velvet Underground classic written by Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, was made today — for a song originally recorded in 1969, the year after I was born. I used Windows Movie Maker to assemble it, and “painted” the preview-pic for the video, using MS-Paint. Other programs I used, for other images in the video, include Geometer’s Sketchpad, MS-Paint (again) and Stella 4d: Polyhedron NavigatorOf all these computer programs, my favorite is Stella 4d, which you may try for free at

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A Scenario I Would Like to See: Friendly Competition, Between Teachers’ Unions and School Administrators, to Help School Libraries Everywhere

school libraries

During the Cold War, the usual way nations compete (direct warfare) was taken off the table by the invention of the hydrogen bomb. With the alternative being mutually-assured destruction, the two sides, led by the USA and the USSR, had to find other ways to compete. Some of those ways were harmful, such as proxy wars, as happened in Vietnam. Others, however, were helpful, such as the space race. The United States put men on the Moon in order to beat the Soviet Union there, as this iconic 1969 photograph makes evident (source: NASA).

planting the flag

We are all still reaping the benefits of the technological and scientific advances made during this period, and for this purpose. The most obvious example of such a benefit is the computer you are using to read this blog-post, for computer technology had to be advanced dramatically, on both sides, in order to escape the tremendously-challenging gravity-well of the Earth.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other conflicts in society took beneficial forms, as happened in this historical example?

This could happen in many ways, but the one that gave me the idea for this post is the conflict between teachers’ unions and school districts’ administrators, now taking place in school districts all over the place. I think it would be awesome if this previously-harmful competition changed, to take a helpful form: book drives, to help school libraries.

Please do not misunderstand, though: I’m not talking about taxpayer money, nor union dues. My idea need not, and should not, affect the budget of any school district, nor union budget. All that need happen is for individual people — teachers and administrators  — to go home, look at their own bookshelves, and help students directly, by donating some of their already-paid-for books to school libraries.

While I make no claim to represent any organization, I am a teacher, and a member of the NEA (the National Education Association) in the United States, as well as my state and local NEA affiliates. In an effort to start this new, helpful way to compete, I will give books to the school library where I teach, next week, which is the second week of the new school year. That’s a lot easier than, well, putting men on the Moon. 

This is something we can all do. All of us in the education profession, after all, already agree that we want students reading . . . and this is something we can easily do, to work together towards that goal. School libraries need hardcover books which are student-friendly, meaning that they appeal to a young audience, on a wide variety of subjects. Both fiction and non-fiction books are helpful.

Lastly, in the hope that this idea catches on, I will simply point out one fact: helping turn this idea into a reality is as easy as sharing a link to this blog-post. 

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On Error


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We’re Going Back to School Tomorrow, and I’m the Teacher.

Trunc Icosa

This is my 22nd year teaching. This year, I teach in only one department. This is nice; I’ve spent much of my career in multiple departments, simply because I am certified in multiple subject areas. This year, in my building, I am one of three science teachers. Our high school has become so large that the 9th grade has been “spun off” to a new freshman campus, while remaining part of the high school, and I’m one of the teachers who gets to go to the new campus. This provides my students, my colleagues (especially at the new campus), and myself the opportunity for a fresh start, to a greater degree than is usually the case when a new school year begins.

My students are in just two subjects, this year: Physical Science, and Pre-AP Physical Science. I don’t want the students in the class without the “Pre-AP” prefix to feel that they are in a “lesser” class, in any sense of that word, so I am renaming “Physical Science,” slightly: “High School Physical Science.” It is my hope that this change in wording serves to communicate high expectations, and 9th grade is the first year of high school — which, in the USA’s public school systems, means 9th grade students must pass courses to earn credits toward graduation, usually for the first time.

In the other class, Pre-AP Physical Science, I am teaching that version of the course for the first time, but I feel well-prepared by the extensive training I had this Summer, and last school year, through my university, the school where the Summer training was held, and the College Board. Both classes will challenge students, but it is also true that the two classes will be different, for Pre-AP Physical Science have to leave students prepared to function effectively, later, in other Pre-AP and/or AP science courses. 

Physical Science is an introduction to two sciences: physics, and then chemistry, at least in my school district. It helps me that I have experience teaching both subjects as higher-level, “stand-alone” classes. In this class (both versions), we also touch on some other sciences which are also physical sciences, such as geology, astronomy, and the science of climate change. However, those sciences do not dominate these courses, as physics and chemistry do. The image above is from chemistry (and was created with Stella 4d, which you can try here), and shows a model of a sixty-atom all-carbon molecule called buckminsterfullerene, one of a class of roughly-spherical carbon allotropes called fullerenes. Mathematicians call this particular fullerene’s shape a “truncated icosahedron,” and, in sports, this same shape is known as the (non-American) “football” or “soccer ball.” Physical modes of this shape may be made with molecular model sets of various kinds, Zometools, and other materials. In both versions of my science classes this year, building models of this molecule will be one of many lab activities we will do; one of my goals this year is for my students to spend a third of their time doing labs. The legal requirement for science class time spent in lab, in my state, is at least one-fifth, so more than that is fine. Science classes helped me learn both science and mathematics, but what I remember the most is the labs. I don’t think that’s just me, either; students learn more effectively, I have observed, by conducting scientific experiments themselves, than by being “lectured at” for extended periods of time.

I’m looking forward to a good year — for all of us.

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A Back-to-School Gift for GSAs Everywhere: Simple Internet Memes Explaining the Best Reason to Support Gay Rights

gay rights are human rights

Although I did make these images, they are deliberately copyright-free, and their use by Gay-Straight Alliances, or GSAs, at schools everywhere is encouraged. LGBTQ students have been tormented for far too long. Together, we can make this their best school year to date.


Marriage equality has (finally) been accomplished in the USA, thanks to our Supreme Court. However, suicide rates among gay teens remain extremely high, due to bullying and homophobia, especially in schools, making the work of GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) critically important. People should not be treated this way. Recognizing this simple fact supplies all the reason necessary to support gay rights; no argument stands against it.

gay rights are human rights 2

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What Is Attempted Orthoism?

attempted orthoism

When the topic of labels for belief systems, life philosophies, and the like comes up, I find that I tend to become uncomfortable with labels which are also used by, well, anyone else. For this reason, I’ve named my own system “attempted orthoism,” which I will now try to explain.

First, I’ll deal with that elephant in the room: the Creator of the Universe, by any name. Does such an entity exist? Well, I simply don’t know, but I also realize that this could change. If there is a deity, and that entity chooses to make evidence of his/her/its existence, I’ll pay attention to the evidence, and see where it leads me. This is, to me, given my present state, the only position that makes sense.

“Ortho-,” as a prefix, can mean “right” (as in a right angle), or “correct,” either one. The suffix “-ism” is used in words such as Catholicism, capitalism, materialism, socialism, Communism, Hinduism, etc. — the “-isms” are simply systems of belief and/or thought. The meaning of “attempted” is obvious, so if you put it all together, here’s what it means: I simply attempt to be correct. Less formally, I try do the right thing, in the various situations I encounter in life.

These are some of the features of attempted orthoism:

  • The desire to hold positions on various issues which are correct.
  • The desire to do the ethical thing in all situations.
  • Honesty. Lies are not helpful in any effort to be correct.
  • The willingness to admit it when I do not know something, once I realize that I do not know it.
  • The refusal to reject the possibility that supernatural entities exist, in the absence of empirical evidence for their non-existence.
  • The inability to embrace a belief in any supernatural entity, as long as no compelling, empirical evidence is found that such a being does exist.
  • Respect of the rights of others peacably disagree, on these or other issues.
  • Maintaining high standards for evidence, and acceptance of principles. This means using and testing hypotheses, reasoning logically, and guarding myself from error with a mental shield: my skepticism. To prove something to me, a mathematical proof would be an excellent approach. If you simply want me to accept that something happens provisionally, until and unless new evidence arises to disprove it, then the scientific method is the way to go. I place a premium on logic, and reasonable arguments.
  • Refusal to accept emotional arguments, or arguments from authority, for the simple reason that such methods so often lead to serious error.
  • Re-testing previously-accepted principles, for we can all fool ourselves better than anyone else.
  • Reservation of the right to question anything and/or anyone.

This is not a complete list. Attempted orthoism is a work in progress.

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