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To get to the other side… September 30, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, geology, older son, physics, teaching, younger son.
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If anyone knows who made this comic, please let me know so I can credit them.

If anyone knows who made this comic, please let me know so I can credit them.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may remember that I compiled a whole series of physics jokes.  I was posting them daily for about two months.  Some people loved them.  I think a bunch of people also unfriended me because of it.

When I did this, I had an ulterior motive in mind: I wanted to tell them to my classes.  I’ve found that students tend to listen better to teachers they think are likable.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the warm, fuzzy personality that many of my friends (particularly those in geology) have.  I come across, sometimes, as a mean, nasty type.

And so the jokes…

They really do work.  Students will loosen up and talk.  They relax a bit.  They smile.  And most important, they don’t think I’m out to get them.  Those endorphins do wonders.

The problem I’m having now is that so many of my jokes are physics related…and I’m teaching freshmen.  While they all know about atoms and noble gases and protons, electrons, and neutrons, many of my jokes cover more esoteric topics.  They give me blank stares when I talk about Heisenberg or Schroedinger or neutrinos…

There’s a part of me that would like to teach older students simply so that I have a more receptive audience.  Or maybe my problem is that I’m teaching engineers and not physicists.  Or maybe too many of them are from farms (see above comic).

But you, my dear reader, are a more receptive audience, right?  And my kids…my kids know what neutrinos are…kind of.  Maybe they’re just laughing at me because I sound funny when I talk about physics.

Incidentally, the punchline to the joke in the title, if you’re wondering, is, “Why did the tachyon cross the road?”

Typical woman November 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
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I was ribbing a coworker at a meeting, and his response could more or less be summed up with, “Typical woman.”  I was completely expecting him to say that, and I laughed when he did.  However, one of the other people in the meeting was obviously very uncomfortable with the exchange and quickly changed the topic, redirecting us back to our original focus.

After this exchange, I was somewhat troubled because I started wondering if I had some sort of double standard: in this scenario, my coworker was obviously kidding and I know that he doesn’t really believe that.  (At least, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t.  We have a very good professional relationship.)  On the other hand, I know that if certain people did it, it would probably offend me as it would just cement my view that they have issues with women.

This left me wondering when, if ever, sexist humor is appropriate.  Is it alright as long as the woman or women present aren’t offended, or ought there be a more universally applied standard?  I know some people who feel it is never okay to make jokes like that.  Or should it be situation dependent?

Diffusion in the presence of nerds January 7, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, humor, science, societal commentary.
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If only life were as simple as mathematics.  Unfortunately, people to act like molecules.  That is, they’re not easily quantifiable and logical.

Earlier this week, I had to do an experiment in diffusion of the human variety.

I went into a meeting where I was the only woman (as usual), and it began with someone telling me a somewhat sexist (as well as old and lame) joke.  At least I think it is.  Either way, it definitely had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?  They don’t know…it’s never happened.

My first inclination was to respond that obviously the investigators had never been to my house.  One of the things you probably don’t need to know about me is that I tend to be lazy and pull TP out of the closet and just put it on the back of the toilet.  My dear, patient husband gets horribly annoyed with this particular quirk of mine.  However, he’s never actually told me he’s annoyed, but he will make a show of picking it off the back of the toilet and putting it on the roller in front of me.  When he does so, I tend complain that he has put it on backwards and that I will have to fix it.  (We’ve both engaged in these practices for at least ten years, so I don’t see them changing any time soon.)

I also had the inclination to say that I’d heard it before…or even that I thought I was inappropriate.  The problem is that there were other people in there, and I got the feeling that most of them were both thinking also that the joke was inappropriate and not sure how I would react.  The overall sense I got (which may or may not have been incorrect) was that everyone was a bit uncomfortable and not sure how to respond.  Hence, I needed a way to diffuse the situation.

I did none of these things (pointing out the inappropriateness of the behavior seems rather useless with certain individuals).  I’d heard a joke the day before and had shared it online with several people.  I decided to not acknowledge the joke the colleague had just told other than to say, “And now I have a joke for you.”

A photon walks into a hotel. The concierge asks, “May I help you with your bags?” The photon says, “No, thanks. I’m traveling light.”

Given I was with a bunch of engineers and scientists, this was a great way out of it.  I didn’t have to look like a jerk for calling the person out nor did I make anyone uncomfortable, even though I don’t think anyone would have faulted me if I had.  And better yet, I think those present appreciated my sense of humor than my colleague.

What would you have done in that situation?

Electrical engineers are the worst September 9, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, humor.
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I was having lunch with a friend who happens to have a background in geology.  He has a strong dislike for engineers, especially civil, but apparently I’ve been given special dispensation since we’ve known each other since high school. While we were waiting in line to pay the check, I started telling my friend a joke I’d heard:

“What’s the difference between an introverted engineer and an extroverted engineer?”

Another guy standing in line decided to interject himself into our conversation.

“There’s no such thing as an extroverted engineer.”

“No,” I said.  “The extroverted engineer looks at your shoes when talking to you.”

“There’s just no such thing as an extroverted engineer.”

My friend piped up, “Yeah, those civil guys are pretty bad.”

The guy responds, “The civil are pretty good.  But electrical are just the worst.”

My friend grins at me and nods, and I just pointed and told him to shut up.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t on top of my game or I would’ve had a response for the other person.

My thoughts after this experience, however, are that maybe it’s not wise to interject yourself into a conversation when you know nothing about the other people involved.  You might just be coming across as a jerk, especially if you start insulting them…even if they are electrical engineers.

Kinetic theory of kids July 23, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in humor, science.
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It’s always fun to bring my kids to play when visiting with my scientist and engineer friends. Inevitably, the most haggard of us will comment on “how much energy they have!”

My response for the past few years has been, “Oh, we have the same amount of energy as we do, they just have less mass.” This has elicited laughter, groans, and, more often than I care to admit, blank stares.

Therefore, I have decided it is time to proffer a full explanation as more than once I have wanted to say, “Go look it up on my blog.”

Energy, as you may know, has an amorphous quality about it: it makes things move, makes them hot, makes them roll downhill, but it’s hard to define. It’s just one of those things things that we assign a number to and use it to do calculations.

The most important things about energy are that 1 – it is conserved because 2 – it can change from one form to another. As an example, a ball rolling across the floor will slow down because it’s transferring the motion from its energy into heat. The energy doesn’t go away (is conserved) but simply changes to a different form.

Fortunately, for this explanation, we’ll only deal with one form of energy: kinetic, or energy due to an object’s motion. It turns out that kinetic energy is proportional to the object’s mass and the square of its velocity. Specifically,

As I said, energy is conserved. This means it can’t go away but just can be transformed into another type of energy. However, I half jokingly assert that kids have the same amount of energy as adults, so I’m corrupting the meaning. But, moving along, we’ll assume this means that we can set the energy of an adult equal to that of a child. We’ll use the subscript A for adult and C for a child. (The use of the subscript k would be for kid, but that leaves a certain amount of ambiguity as to whether the topic of the post is human children or goats.)

If we want to know how fast a child should move relative to an adult, we can rearrange the terms to get:

In words, the root of the ratio of the adult mass to child’s mass will give the factor describing how much faster the child moves than the adult. Practically speaking, this means my younger boy moves about twice as fast as me.

One may wish to assert that the above equation is obviously false because infants, as we all know, can’t move very fast. While they may initially appear to be an exception, it is useful to note that they make an awful lot of jerky, uncontrolled movements which would probably average to the correct mean velocity.

I have, on occasion, considered taking measurements to validate the theory, but I just haven’t had enough energy.


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