My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sun, 16 Oct, 2005

Sliding blocks

I have had a miserable cold for more than a week now. I cough and hack like a dog, and I have no energy. I have missed at least one day of work. There is no special treatment for it other than the usual: drinking liquids, taking over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, and rest. I am helping to keep Poland Spring of Maine in business, drinking their excellent sparkling water. A friend has brought over her delicious and comforting chicken soup. If all else fails, Glenfiddich single-malt scotch is my friend.

The forced interruption of my hard-working routine is very upsetting. I need to finish art for the show and get my stuff ready to travel. Stuck in my rooms instead of out doing errands, I get the weird feeling that I am alone in the city, with hardly any sound from the usually noisy neighbors in the other apartments. I watch TV, which I rarely do. I check wistfully for e-mails, and surf the web, hoping for some news which is not about disasters, but there isn't any. I read about the upcoming plague of deadly bird flu, which will make my current cold look trivial. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and now plague. Late at night, I panic. Why bother to plan for the future? If the plague is gonna get us, why not spend all our money on mindless pleasures now and forget about improving the world?

Something about this little virus makes me depressed as well as sick. I am told that its progress is exactly the same with other people who get it; it lasts from 10 to 14 days, and recedes only to come back again if you get active too soon. Today, I was able to drag myself outside (after two days of confinement) and do some important errands, and tonight I resumed painting. I needed to finish the airbrush background of my latest picture, and get the airbrush and its accessories off the floor and the worktable so I can use the space. This is now done, so I can finally reclaim a few feet of studio space.

But there is always physics. Even at my sickest, I coughed my way through my return to Newton's f = ma. I might only be able to do one or two problems a day, but I did them. Physicists, my current heroes, will work on physics no matter what shape they're in: sick, hung over, awake thirty-six hours in a row, no matter where they are. I can do the same thing, except I'm working on block-headed problems about blocks, rather than string theory or quantum gravity.

Schaum's, the superior physics text, has a lot of material about sliding blocks. Some of them are tied together with ropes or cords, some of them pull on each other, through a pulley, on two sides of an incline. Some of them glide on those frictionless surfaces that exist only in physics textbooks, while others have to be pushed along against a co-efficient of friction. They get piled and packed together, tied up in trains, hung, and dropped. The book presents a situation, complete with diagram. I have not encountered it before, so I try to figure out, with the physics I know, how it might be analyzed. Since I don't really know, I then have recourse to the explanatory text and solution that follows directly after the question. Since I have no teacher in front of me to demonstrate it on the blackboard and tell me about it (or sarcastically tell me how wrong I am), I imagine that the book is talking to me, and I take notes. Sooner or later I will get familiar with the ways sliding blocks and hanging weights are handled in the abstract language of physics. No matter what else is happening, there is always one place where things work.

Posted at 3:33 am | link

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