Why your shoelaces come untied

Shoelaces_02On April Fool’s Day, not at the time being able to think of anything better, tried the old gag on two of my granddaughters:  “Your shoe is untied!”

One said, “Nice try.  But I’m wearing sandals.”  With the other, her shoe really was untied.

I report my failed joke to introduce a fascinating bit of research.  Engineers have determined why and how people’s shoelaces become untied.

The action of the foot striking the ground loosens the knot and the swinging of the leg acts much like a hand pulling on the strings.

This discovery, detailed at a physics website after the jump, contributes to the field of “knot mechanics,” which turns out to be an important topic.
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From energy scarcity to energy abundance

Schematic_cross-section_of_general_types_of_oil_and_gas_resources_and_the_orientations_of_production_wells_used_in_hydraulic_fracturingNewspapers tend to offer good coverage of their city’s main industry.  So if you want financial news, read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.  If you want entertainment news, read the Los Angeles Times.  If you want political news, read the Washington Post.  If you want news about the oil industry, read the Daily Oklahoman.

It even has an energy editor, Adam Wilmoth, who reported on an eye-opening industry symposium at the University of Oklahoma.  We learn about the impact of new oil production technology–such as fracking, horizontal drilling, and oil shale extraction–which has transformed our energy situation from scarcity to unimaginable abundance.

But some will not like to hear this, especially the point about how, in light of the new superabundance, it’s now not bad for energy consumption to go up.  And, if these figures are correct, there may not be that much economic impetus for alternative energy sources.  Much of the new technology has made oil production more environmentally friendly–there are now only 500 active rigs, pumping far more than the 4,500 rigs in 1981 and the 1,500 rigs in 2014.  But those worried that burning carbon contributes to global warming will be frustrated that economic forces will be working against them.  And we Oklahomans do not like all of our new earthquakes, which are apparently a by-product of the new oil industry.

Still. . .isn’t energy abundance a good thing and better than the alternative?  Or not?

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And now, the nature rights movement 

Main_Ganga_river,_before_the_Bhimgoda_barrage,_HaridwarThe language of “rights” tends to win all arguments.  There are “human rights.”  These include “women’s rights,” “minority rights,” “gay rights.”  Then people started asserting “animal rights.”  A new strategy for some environmentalists is to assert “nature rights.”

In a recent victory for that movement, a river in New Zealand held sacred to the Maoris has been legally declared a “person.”  Similarly, a court in India declared that for the purposes of law the Ganges river, sacred to the Hindus, is also a “person.”

This is an odd accommodation for secular governments to be so deferential to religions.  But the impetus is not so much religious as environmentalist.  Wesley J. Smith, who writes about these developments (read him after the jump), quotes an environmental defense organization that is behind other attempts to claim “rights” for other “natural communities,” such as mountains, streams, and forests.

For an overview of this movement, see the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature website.  The nation of Ecuador has formally codified the rights of nature.

Smith points out the painful irony of affirming the personhood of rivers while denying the personhood of unborn children.  Similarly, some of the same people who are sympathetic to the rights of mountains and forests are opposing human rights to religious liberty, freedom of speech, and others principles of the Bill of Rights (such as the right to keep firearms).  And they are insisting on “nature rights” while rejecting “natural law.” [Read more…]

To infinity and beyond

Mathematician Eugenia Cheng has written a popular, amusing, and fascinating book on the concept of infinity.

Beyond Infinity:  An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics takes up its paradoxes, mathematical conundrums, and important uses.

For example, one mathematical axiom is that:

infinity X infinity = infinity.

But if you work out this equation by dividing both sides by infinity, you get:

infinity = 1

Since that can’t be, infinity must not be a number, exactly.  But what is it?

Read an excerpt from her book, taken from Science Friday. [Read more…]

All mammals can swim, except for two

tiger-455804_640Contrary to what used to be thought, virtually all mammals can swim.  Cats?  Yes, though they hate it.  Camels?  Yes, despite seldom seeing water.  Pigs?  Yes. Elephants?  They are excellent swimmers.  Throw a bat into the water and it will use its little wings like oars.

From what we know now, apparently there are only two mammals–one species and one genus–that can’t instinctively swim.  Guess, and then see what they are–along with a fascinating article on the subject–after the jump.


Photo of tiger swimming by cuzitwasgood, Pixabay, Creative Commons, Public Domain

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The social implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics

15559246066_b31a92f623_oIn discussing the debacle at the Oscars, government incompetence, political surprises, and unintended cultural consequences, Jonah Goldberg invokes the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  This is the principle in physics that closed systems will increase in entropy (become less ordered) unless energy is introduced to maintain the order.  (A lay definition by me, a layman.  Feel free to explain it better.)

Goldberg applies this to social systems as well.  I suspect this is more of a figure of speech than an actual application of physics.  (Again, those of you who know, weigh in.)

But his point seems to hold true:  Our political system needs our continual input of energy to keep it going, otherwise, it will degenerate.  Societies, cultures, and institutions need the continual effort of their members to keep them from descending into chaos.  By extension, we could observe that marriages need continual work to keep them strong.  So do churches.

What other applications do you see? [Read more…]