Thursday, December 22, 2011

Theoretical Thursday!!

More musings on Albert Einstein's Relativity, the Special and the General Theory, A Clear Explanation That Anyone Can Understand
Chapter VI – The Theorem of the Addition of Velocities Employed in Classical Mechanics.
This chapter I get! But it isn’t worth repeating because at the very end Albert says, “the law that we have just written down does not hold in reality. For the time being , however, we shall assume its correctness.” I don’t want to ASSUME correctness if it isn’t correct. I’d rather just be told what is right..
Chapter VII - The Apparent Incompatibility of the Law of Propagation of Light with the Principle of Relativity. OR – why you should never assume!
I won’t bore you with more of the train and the man or the raven, so basically – light does not follow the above law so therefore the law is not correct.

I may be dim, but it is slowly dawning on me that my biggest mistake is trying to learn the theory of relativity as if I were a person born before it was invented. So, I back tracked a bit and sought out more help – The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Trip to the Fourth Dimension. by Lillian R. Lieber. This book, published in 1936! (much more recent) was reprinted a dozen times ( and probably more since my copy is the 12th edition) It is dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt “who saved the world from those forces of evil which sought to destroy Art and Science and the very Dignity of Man.”

Oh - and by the way -- you may be asking yourself why I am using such old texts.  Well, as a nonfiction writer, I am trying to use primary sources, or get as close as I can.  So there!!! No googling, youtubing for me!

Lililian's preface promises to use just enough math to HELP and NOT HINDER the lay reader (Lillian used the caps, not me). It is also written in what seems to be free verse!?!? So bear with me, or is it bare with me, ‘cause I feel so naked revealing how stupid I am? Anyway – Lil says that I have to understand what was going on in Physics that brought about Albert’s theory. What was the “ maladjustment producing a tension which ultimately causes a break, followed by a greater stability – at least for the time being.”

Physicists were trying to prove and measure the ether, what they assumed occupied all of space. They assumed that the earth traveled through the ether and therefore there should be an ether wind. No one could find it. They all thought the experiments  were flawed.

Enter Einstein. Albert, being the cocky guy that he was, chose to assume that the experiments were right and the problem was trying to find the law that supported what was observed. He thought out of the box. He re-examined the foundation of physics and proposed a few changes, which seemed to make everything work. Then Lil reviews one of the experiments that wasn’t working and what burns my butt is when she says, “any boy who has studied elementary algebra” can figure this out. Never mind the chauvinist comment, I can’t figure this out! This time it’s a kid trying to swim across a river. Get a boat and don’t bug me! And this is just one of the problems that didn’t work.

Oh, and did I mention the helpful illustrations by Hugh Gray Lieber?


Physicists are on crack! At least Lil and Hugh are.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Theoretical Thursday -- My notes on Chapter V

 The Principle of Relativity (in the restricted sense)
Word of the day – Anisotropic – having different values when measured from different directions.
Albert is trying to be as clear as possible, but I don’t get it. Perhaps it is the language of the early 1900s that is perplexing me or I am just plain dumb as a box of rocks. But I am not daunted.

Something that moves in a straight line at a constant speed is said to move in a uniform translation – imagine the old train car jugging along --------

Now if a raven is flying overhead while we are on the train it will have a different uniform translation than if we saw it flying overhead while standing on the ground. I get that, but then Albert has to start in with this math crap —“If a mass m is moving uniformly in a straight line with respect to a co-ordinate system K, then it will also be moving uniformly and in a straight line relative to a second co-ordinate system K1, provided that the latter is executing a uniform translatory motion with respect to K”. What happened to the raven??

SO –If the Train is moving in a straight line in relation to the guy on the ground, and the raven (m) is moving in a straight line with respect to the train, then the raven will also be moving uniformly in relation to the guy standing on the ground.

So Albert’s brilliant principle of relativity (in the restricted sense) is –If the raven maintains a uniform translation it will follow the same general laws as the train in relation to the guy on the ground.  I thought we already kind of knew that. 

Oh crap – there is a BUT. But in view of the recent development in electodynamics and optics things might be more difficult - of course.
If a man (w) is walking inside a train car (v) (in the same direction as the train car) his distance (W) traveled is the combination of his walking (w) and the train’s movement(v)
W = v + w

Then we have the speed of light – 300,000km per second in a vacuum – and this, Albert says threw physicists into a tizzy. Because if light (c) is moving through a train car (v) instead of a man it is now W = c- v. It is subtracted. It is not the same equation and that screwed things up. But I’m not sure why? Is it because the light is so fast that the train in essence traps it and slows it down? Like catching a flying hummingbird in a net. Okay. I’m good with that. However – since these two equations don’t fit, one of the founding theories was thought to be flawed - It couldn’t be relativity, no, not Albert’s brilliant idea. Perhaps it is the idea of the constant speed of light.. No. That can’t be it either. Some other guys proved that. So – we need another theory to explain the inconsistency.
At this point my book exploded – literally.

I guess I’ve been too rough on Albert.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy Theoretical Thursday!

Week 3 - of me reading Einstein's RELATIVITY the special and the general theory a clear explanation that anyone can understand. 

Is anyone still out there?  In chapter 4 we discuss the law of inertia -- a body (removed from other bodies ie gravity) moves in a uniform straight line.  Got it.
But stars move in a giant circle.  So, we can't use Euclidian co-ordinates to measure them because the law of inertia does not apply.  So, if we must follow the law of inertia then we must use a different system -- we use a Galileian system of Co-ordinates.  There is no picture.  But I googled one and it seems pretty clear that I am coming to the end of my understanding.  But I've also come to the end of this very short chapter which is less than a page long.  I think Albert knew this next page turn would be rough.  So I'm out of here!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Conflict in Nonfiction

Good morning!  Nonfiction Monday is being hosted by Gathering Books.

Last month I spoke in Ithaca, NY at the regional SCBWI shoptalk meeting. My topic, of course, was writing nonfiction and in particular story and voice in nonfiction.  One question has stuck with me since that night.  One woman who was working on a biography asked, "Does there have to be conflict in nonfiction?" 

I told her that, yes, especially in a biography.  She wasn't sure that her chosen subject had encountered any conflict. My response was, nobody's life is smooth sailing, and if it is nobody wants to hear about it.  So,  after a little discussion, she admitted that the woman's life had not been all sunshine and roses.  Now the writer has to decide whether the conflict, which seemed to be more in the subject's personal life, is appropriate fodder for a children's book. But that is a topic for another time.

So, my short answer is yes, there should be conflict in nonfiction.  However, that conflict can take many forms.  In a biography, which most resembles fiction writing because it is character driven, the writer must present the struggle the subject went through.  As in fiction, that struggle could be internal or external.  Most of the picture book biographies that I can recall tend to focus on the external struggles especially when someone steps out of traditional roles to forge new territory. Think of  Marian Anderson (When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan) against the racial atmosphere of the time; Louise Smith (Fearless by Barb Rosenstock) who made her name in stock car racing;  Annette Kellerman (Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey) who broke rules in woman's roles and fashion.

I would love to hear from you about picture books biographies that deal with internal struggle as well.  Off hand, I am coming up blank,  (although most people who struggle against tradition also face internal doubts).

Older biographies delve deeper into the psyche of characters.  Darwin comes to mind in Deborah Heligman's Charles and Emma. 

But conflict can also be represented in other nonfiction.  When writing about an invention or discovery you should address the setbacks as well as the successes.  When presenting information, you give more than one opinion, which can often be conflicting.  In a how-to you provide warnings where caution is required.

Conflict can come in the form of tension in the writing or presentation of the material  - surprises in the language, or in the turn of a page.  An ABC format, for example, could have unexpected entries that keep the litany exciting.

If you think of other examples of conflict in nonfiction, I'd love to hear about them.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Theoretical Thursday - week 2

NOTE: anyone not interested in how my brain works does not have to read this. It is a bit drier than I would have liked, but hey, it’s physics.

Week 2– of me reading RELATIVITY the Special and General Theory, A Clear Explanation that Anyone Can Understand, by Albert Einsten, (1916)

Part 1 The Special Theory of Relativity,
Chapter one – Physical Meaning of Geometrical Propositions.

I was a little worried when I began chapter 1 when the first sentence talked about being “chased about for uncounted hours by conscientious teachers” on the “lofty staircase” in the “noble building of Euclid’s geometry. I don’t remember my geometry teacher, Mr. Fritz, becoming animated enough to chase any student anywhere. But I pressed on. Here is what I learned –

Geometry is filled with lots of ‘truths’ about a straight line, a plane, a point, etc. We think that these things are all true, but truth is limited. Geometry is not concerned with how axioms relate to real experiences. Geometry makes connections between one geometric idea and another. I thought this was interesting because when I took geometry I remember lots of word problems with real stuff like balls and tables and trains. But apparently, real geometry-ettes, - ites, -ists (?) don’t care about real stuff.

However, Physics is concerned with real stuff - how geometry relates to the real world. The catch is – the ‘truth’ of a geometrical proposition is founded on incomplete experience. (Isn’t all truth based on incomplete experience??) There for – “truth is limited.”

Ta Da! I got through the first chapter!! Do I dare move on to chapter 2? You bet.

The System of Co-ordinates.

In this chapter Albert gets pretty basic. Distance between two points is measured by a standard of measurement (ROD S). You can locate any point (or event as he calls it, which is confusing, but I’m getting used to it) in relation to other points on a rigid body (like Earth) by means of measuring these distances. And to explain things on a third plane, he uses the analogy of a cloud flying over Potsdamer Platz, Berlin. We can calculate that clouds position by knowing the location of Potsdamer Platz on Earth and the distance the cloud is from the ground. We have located an object in space.

Rather than using names, mathematicians prefer numbers and the Cartesian system of co-coordinates of x, y, and z three planes perpendicular to each other. I think of it as the corner of a see-through box. In pottery, to measure the size of a pot before firing, we would place it in the corner of a gridded box to measure the pots, height, width, how much space it would take up in the kiln.

But like Albert says, “in practice, the rigid surfaces which constitute the system of co-ordinates are generally not available,” meaning that we don’t live in a big gridded box. We have to imagine it. He concludes: “Every description of events in space involves the use of a rigid body to which such events have to be referred. The resulting relationship takes for granted that the laws of Euclidean geometry hold for “distances,” the “distance” being represented physically by means of the convention of two marks on a rigid body.”

Chapter 3 – I’m on a roll and I can’t stop now – Space and Time in Classical Mechanics.

I’m still on board the physics train, but not sure why Albert says, “In the first place we entirely shun the vague word “space,” …. and we replace it by “motion relative to a practically rigid body of reference.” When I look at the space in my living room, I'm not thinking it relative to the coach, but I will from now on. Here he uses the classic illustration of the stone dropped off a train. From the droppee the stone appears to fall in a straight line. To a person on the ground the stone appears to fall in a curve. The fall is ‘relative’ to whom ever sees it. Got it. However, to me, the stone does not occupy two different locations. So, to me, the stone is not relative – the measurement is relative. I’m sure somebody would have a problem with that, but that’s how it works for me.

But then he says – “for every point on the trajectory it must be stated at what time the body is situated there.” WHY MUST WE? Don’t give me a must and not explain why.

And THEN he says – “In this connection we have not taken account of the inaccuracy involved by the finiteness of the velocity of propagation of light." ???? But he assures me we will later.

Okay. Better go before my head explodes.