High School Mathematics Physics SMILE Meeting
10 September 2002
Notes Prepared by Porter Johnson

Note:  Porter Johnson announced that the syllabus for courses in the SMILE program is located on the SMILE website at syllabus.htm. A signed copy of this syllabus can be obtained at SMILE meetings.

Fred Schaal (Lane Tech HS, Mathematics) Observations on Famous Trains
made a summer junket to the West by traveling on several famous trains, taking the following route:

Empire Builder: Chicago ® ® ® Seattle
Cascades: Seattle ® ® ® Vancouver BC
Coast Satellite: Vancouver ® ® ® Emeryville CA
Southwest Chief: Emeryville ® ® ® Los Angeles
Sunrise Limited: Los Angeles ® ® ® Dallas
Texas Eagle: Dallas ® ® ® Chicago
Fred pointed out that one may still travel on these legendary trains, although the concept of a time schedule is vague to non-existent these days. Fred commented that the tongues on the back portion of "double semi" trucks on Western roads were very long, and asked why they were constructed in this way. Fred also asked what happens when the "unitized rails" become loose, since the forces tending toward expansion are very large on warm days.  Any ideas on either of these questions?  Thanks, Fred.

Larry Alofs (Kenwood Academy, Physics) Son of "Stomper"
showed a "one speed" toy available for about $4.00 at Meijer Department Stores. These toys were manufactured by Newbright Quality Toys, http://www.newbright.com/, with the following description:

Product ID : 105
Description :1:43 Scale 4XFOURS TRUCK/SUV ASSORTMENT: CHEVY AVALANCHE, TRAILBLAZER & SSR, FORD F-150 THUNDER & SUPER CREW LARIAT, 2002 DODGE RAM, JEEP LIBERTY & CHRYSLER PANEL CRUISER LARIAT. Powerful motors help these rugged vehicles climb grades up to 35 degrees! All tattooed with licensed product logos and require (1) "AA" battery, not included. Item #105

Very interesting, Larry.  Ann Brandon pointed out that the original 2-speed Stompers are available again at about the same price at K-Mart Department StoresDetails??

Bill Colson (Morgan Park HS Mathematics) Book Reports
Bill passed around a catalog of "short and simple" books originally published by Wooden Books [Welsh Publishers], and available in the US through Bas Bleu Booksellers: http://www.basbleu.com/.  [Note that "bas bleu" means "blue stocking" in literal French or "literary woman" colloquially.] Check their catalog under Math-Science for the following titles: The Riddle of the Compass; Conned Again, Watson!; The Road to Ubar; Nightwatch; Mauve; Beethoven's Hair; Innumeracy; A Primate's Memoir; Medusa and the Snail; Sacred Geometry.  Other interesting titles include these:  Stonehenge; Platonic and Aristotelian Solids; A Little Book of Coincidences.  Here is the mailing address of the company: 

Bas Bleu Booksellers
518 Means Street, NW
Atlanta GA 30318
1 - 800 - 433-1155
Bill also touted a book that presented ideas in math and science in comic-strip form:
Imagination Rocket
Brian Clopper, editor
Behemoth Books 2002, 122 pages, $9.95
ISBN 0-9700659-2-2
For a preview of this book see http://www.brianclopper.com/the-father-daughter-connection.html.  It contains a description of the Birthday Problem, among other things.  Porter Johnson stated the birthday problem
With N people in the room, what is the probability that two were born on the same day and month (but not necessarily the same year)?
The surprising answer to this question is that, for N of around 30, it is very likely that there will be birthday matches. Here are some typical numbers:
Number of People     Probability
20 .41
22 .48
24 .51
26 .60
28 .65
30 .71
We looked for identical birth dates with 27 people in the room, and did not find any, although the probability of a match is about 0.63. Perhaps, some of us are simply too old to have birthdays any more!  Thanks for the info, Bill!

Porter Johnson (IIT Physics) handed out the following list of websites involving Microwave Ovens:

Earl Zwicker (IIT, Physics Emeritus) Geckos and Coffee Filters
passed out copies of a recent newspaper article describing the discovery that Geckos, lizard-like animals native to Asia, are able to stick to surfaces through van der Waals forces of attraction.  For details see the Lewis and Clark College [Portland OR] Gecko Adhesion Website, http://www.lclark.edu/~autumn/PNAS/. Or, perhaps you prefer the German version, http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/erde/0,1518,211289,00.html.   May the force be with you, Earl.

Earl also presented the following novel uses for coffee filters, courtesy of former SMILE participant Rudy Keil [source: Wacky Uses for Mr Coffee Filters by Joey Green: http://www.wackyuses.com/mrcoffee.html].

  1. Filter broken cork from wine.  If you break the cork when opening a wine bottle, filter the wine through a coffee filter.
  2. Clean windows and mirrors.  Coffee filters are lint-free so they'll leave windows sparkling.
  3. Protect china. Separate your good dishes by putting a coffee filter between each dish.
  4. Cover bowls/dishes when cooking in the microwave. Coffee filters make excellent covers.
  5. Protect a cast-iron skillet. Place a coffee filter in the skillet to absorb moisture and prevent rust.
  6. Apply shoe polish. Ball up a lint-free coffee filter.
  7. Recycle frying oil. After frying, strain oil through a sieve lined with a coffee filter.
  8. Weigh chopped foods. Place chopped ingredients in a coffee filter on a kitchen scale.
  9. Hold tacos. Coffee filters make convenient wrappers for messy foods.
  10. Stop the soil from leaking out of a plant pot. Line a plant pot with a coffee filter to prevent the soil form going through the drainage holes.
  11. Prevent a Popsicle from dropping. Poke one or two holes as needed in a coffee filter. Insert the Popsicle, and let the filter catch the drips.

Roy Coleman (Morgan Park HS, Physics) SMILE/SMART CDs
showed the new CD that contains all lessons located on the websites http://www.iit.edu/~smile/ and http://www.iit.edu/~smart/, which is available for $10.00, [plus any shipping costs].  He showed that it is possible to do "local searches" for key words over the entire database, and illustrated the point by searching on the word Boolean, finding Fred Schaal's lesson on Boolean Algebra, http://www.iit.edu/~smart/schafre/lesson2.htm.  This CD will be available at future SMILE meetings, or it may be ordered directly on the SMILE website, http://www.iit.edu/~smile.  Good job, Roy!

Bill Shanks (retired teacher, JJC Music Student) White Light LEDs and Bicycling Energy
showed the Princeton Tec Matrix LED Headlamp Item 656480, which he recently obtained for about $25 from REI [http://www.rei.com]:

Energy-efficient LED headlamp provides long battery life--incandescent option gives extra-bright lighting. Tailor your light with 2 different bulb-cartridge options
An electron passing through an LED Diode goes first through an N [electron enriched] type semiconductor, and passes into a P [electron deficient] type semiconductor. It takes a discrete downward step in potential energy, E,  in passing from N to P, and may emit a photon of energy E = h f  in the process.  Thus, the simple LED emits monochromatic light, except for a relatively small spread in frequencies, since the potential energy provided by the batteries is somewhat greater than the potential step E. We may translate from photon energy E [in electron Volts] to photon wavelength l [in nanometers] using the formula E [eV] = 1240 / l[nm]. Thus, with two 1.5 V batteries in parallel, one may obtain 3.0 eV ® 410 nanometers, or greater, in wavelength. By picking a specific diode material, one may tune the emission frequency to a particular value. Monochromatic diodes are commonly available in red, yellow, green, and blue. Note that the visible range lies between 400 nanometers [violet: 3.1 eV] and 700 nanometers [red: 1.8 eV]. By passing blue light through a phosphorescent material, one may make white light LEDs, which produce a rather wide spectrum of visible frequencies.  These light sources are rapidly being applied throughout society, since they represent efficient conversion of electrical energy into visible light.  For additional details see the Dialite website Getting to Know LEDs, Application and Solutionshttp://www.dialight.com/Assets/Application_Notes/Indication/Getting%20To%20Know%20LEDs.PDF. We see the light, Bill.

Bike Riding on the Old Plank Road Trail.  In the course of his active life in retirement, Bill laid out a slightly inclined 2 mile course on the Old Plank Road Trail [http://oprt.org/], a railroad path converted into a paved cycling/running course.  He found that he could maintain a steady heartbeat [as measured on his portable heartbeat monitor] of 130 beats per minute both by walking and cycling.  In walking, he covered 1 mile in 12.9 minutes while maintaining that heartbeat, corresponding to a speed of 4.6 miles per hour.  In cycling he could cover a mile [averaging over equal uphill and downhill portions] in 3.5 minutes, corresponding to a speed of 17.1 miles per hour.  he concluded that cycling was about 3.5 times as efficient as walking, in terms of the energy required.  According to standard sources, about 30 kcal are required for each mile of cycling at moderate speed, whereas 3700 kcal are required to "burn" one pound of body fat. Therefore, we calculated that about 120 miles of cycling are required to "burn" one pound of body fat, and to burn 30 pounds of body fat one must cycle about 3600 miles, corresponding to 30-50 miles per day for 75-100 days.  It was his impression that these numbers significantly underestimate the effect of long distance cycling in weight control. 

Don Kanner (Lane Tech HS, Physics) Teaching of Reading of Physics Material
discussed how he uses selected passages from The Bard to teach the reading of Physics. As an example, consider this selection from Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1 [http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Macbeth/18.html]:

Thunder. Enter the three Witches
First Witch: Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Second Witch: Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Third Witch: Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.
First Witch: Round about the cauldron go; In the poison'd entrails throw. Toad, that under cold stone Days and nights has thirty-one Swelter'd venom sleeping got, Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch: Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Third Witch: Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, Witches' mummy, maw and gulf Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark, Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark, Liver of blaspheming Jew, Gall of goat, and slips of yew Silver'd in the moon's eclipse, Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips, Finger of birth-strangled babe Ditch-deliver'd by a drab, Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger's chaudron, For the ingredients of our cauldron.
ALL: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch: Cool it with a baboon's blood, Then the charm is firm and good.
Don then asks the students to consider the following points:
  1. Draw a picture describing the situation. [visualization]
  2. Determine the meaning of any unknown words or phrases. [e.g., a brinded cat is not the same as a blinded cat or a branded cat, but rather a tawny or tabby cat] See the website http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/macbeth/T41.html.
  3. List the items contained in the witches brew. [organize the information you have]
  4. Discuss the "higher level" meaning of the passage.  [e.g., Why are they making a potion and casting a spell?]

Don pointed out that one must carry out the same four steps in reading physics texts and laboratory manuals. He found that his Webster's International Unabridged Dictionary on CD was a big time-saver in class, and there are also web-based dictionaries, such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language http://www.bartleby.com/61/.

Don also mentioned the Peter Principle [source: http://www.bartleby.com/61/4/P0220400.html ]:

Peter Principle:  The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent. [After Laurence Johnston Peter (1919–1990).]

He discussed an extension of this idea as described in the book, The Running Dogs of Loyalty by Richard Gale Walker. For a review of the book, as well as information for obtaining it, see the website http://www.reall.org/newsletter/v03/n07/foxes.html.  Very good, Bill!

Ann Brandon (Joliet West HS, Physics) ISPP Meeting; Vernier Workshops; "Running Dog"
announced the next ISPP [http://ispp.info] meeting at Joliet West High School on Wednesday, 18 September, at 6:30 pm.

Ann then mentioned that Vernier Software [http://www.vernier.com/] will hold workshops in the Chicago area next month:

Finally, Ann showed the Running Dog" toy, which consisted of a little plastic dog supported on moveable legs, with a string attached to the front.  When a metal washer was tied on the other end of string, and hung over the edge of the table, the dog walked deliberately toward the edge.  Where do we get this little dog, Ann?  More later?

Notes taken by Porter Johnson