Universe Song, quantitatively evaluated

Something reminded me recently of the Universe Song from the 1983 Monty Python movie, The Meaning of Life. You’ve seen that clip, right?

It’s a funny song and a funny sketch. It also is, unlike certain science fiction TV shows, reasonably accurate with its facts and numbers. You quite literally could use nothing but your knowledge of this song to stand a good chance of passing an Astronomy 101 final exam. Shall we fact check?

… a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,

Not only is Earth evolving — it’s still cooling, for one thing, and the continents are drifting around, and the magnetic field flips every once in a while — but it is rotating (“revolving” refers to its motion around the Sun, but I quibble), and while one usually uses angular velocity measures such as radians per second or hours per revolution or something, one certainly can observe that the Earth’s circumference at the Equator is 24,873.6 miles (source) and that relative to the fixed stars, Earth rotates once in 23.934 hours (same source). So the speed at which Earth’s surface moves at the equator is 1039 miles per hour. The song’s value is low by 13%. Not too shabby, though “a thousand miles an hour” would have scanned just as well and been more accurate.

That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,

Likewise, Earth’s orbital circumference and sidereal revolution period are 584,019,311 miles and 365.26 days, for an orbital speed of 18.51 miles per second. Song is high by a mere 2.7%.

A sun that is the source of all our power.

Not quite true but close. Solar power comes from the Sun, of course; wind power comes from air circulation driven by the Sun (and Earth’s rotation); water power comes from water flowing downhill after solar evaporation lifted it up; fossil fuels come from ancient life that either photosynthesized using sunlight or fed on life that did. Nuclear and geothermal energy, though, does not have a solar origin. Not our Sun, anyway.

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day

The Solar System is about 28,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way, and it revolves around that center once in about 230 million years (source).  Doing the math, that comes out to 12.3 million miles per day.

But the song apparently isn’t referring to that speed, but the slower speed with which the Solar System is moving toward Lambda Herculis, in a reference frame in which the other stars are, on average, not moving: about 12 miles per second (source). In other units, that’s 1.0 million miles per day — exactly (to within stated accuracies) what the song says.

But the previous line’s wrong: that’s the Sun’s speed relative to the other stars, not the speed of “all the stars that we can see” relative to… something. Well, they’re moving a million miles a day relative to us, but that’s stretching the interpretation.

In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,

I’d prefer to say “the outer part of a spiral arm”, but yes. And that’s just the same speed again in different units; 12 miles per second is 43,200 miles per hour. The song’s value is 7% lower.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.

That’s the right order of magnitude (source). I’ve seen 200 to 400 billion claimed (source). Large uncertainties here due to the number of dwarf stars which are hard to detect.

It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.

Also about right (source).

It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.

And also the right order of magnitude, with this source giving about 10,000 light years for the thickness of the central bulge and 1000 light years for the main disk. There’s considerable uncertainty in these numbers — the Milky Way is harder to view than many other galaxies, because we’re in it and dust obscures a lot of it.

We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,

We’ve covered those numbers already, quoting 28,000 light years and 230 million years. So they’re correct to within about 15%.

And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions

Another number that’s hard to estimate, but one source quotes 100 to 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. “Millions of billions” is a whopper of an overestimate… except that the observable universe is likely only a small fraction of everything there is, the size of which we have no way to estimate with any precision, and it may well be infinite, in which case this is a whopper of an underestimate.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding

Well, yes.

As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,

Well, no. Relative expansion velocities depend on distance and can be less or more than the speed of light. But the bounds of the observable Universe are governed by the speed of light: it’s the region in which light has had enough time to reach our eyes.

Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.

It’s the fastest speed at which a particle or signal can propagate through space (according to present understanding); space itself, as I alluded to above, can expand faster. The speed of light in vacuum is defined to be exactly 299,792,458 m/s (source) (or in other words, the meter is defined to be 1/299,792,458 the distance light travels in a vacuum in a second). In other units, that’s 11,176,943.8 miles per minute. The song’s value is 7.4% too high. But “eleven million” wouldn’t have scanned.

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

This is correct (source).

 

.@Anagramatron classics IV

More from Anagramatron:

  • I’m going to be honest because I can = Me being so nice is about to change
  • Another math genius = He ain’t smart enough
  • I want to be an only child @santa = Wasn’t it only Cain and Abel tho?
  • Walked in the guys’ restroom = The drugs only make it worse
  • Again for the third time = I’m tired of hearing that

 

Fifteen minutes

Open up Google Maps, go to Gilbertsville, NY, zoom in on Maple Street, look at the available pictures, and you’ll find this.

20130428_120811

(This was one of a bunch of pictures I made public on Google+ that got stuck into Google Maps. Several others from downtown Syracuse were taken while I was trying to set up the ATM tour, but as such are only peripherally morris related.)

Any other morris dancing pictures in Google Maps? I checked Bampton, Oxfordshire: Nothing!

Someday the Street View car will drive by a morris danceout, right?

 

Comics of the web kind, a not too soon update

Hmm. I was thinking maybe I’d write up the webcomics I’m following these days… it’s been a year or two since I last did that. Then I looked. It’s been nearly three years. Hey, time flies.

So, update. The ones I was following in November 2011:

  • Cleopatra in Spaaaace! by Mike Maihack. No longer running as a webcomic. Instead Maihack’s doing Cleopatra in Space graphic novels. On paper. Book 1 came out last spring, Book 2 is due this spring. My son and I both liked the first one.
  • Crimson Dark by David C. Simon. Ended in late 2011.
  • The Dreadful, by Matt Speroni. I’m still following this one, but with less enthusiasm than in the early days. The story line sort of rambles all over the place without a very strong focus or direction. At least he’s finally brought Liz back after a too-long absence; she was a good character. And she and Kit played off one another well, but he hasn’t brought them back together yet.
  • Escape from Planet Nowhere, by Otis Frampton. Seemingly petered out some time ago.
  • How I Killed Your Master, by Brian Clevinger and Matt Speroni, never resumed.
  • The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, by Justin Pierce. Still following. Still funny.
  • Power Nap, by Maritza Campos and Bachan. Apparently still running, but didn’t sustain my interest.
  • Questionable Content, by Jeph Jacques. Still one of my favorites and going strong.
  • Red’s Planet, by Eddie Pittman. Still in my RSS feed, but updating very sporadically up until last June at which point Pittman said “There’s been a great development I can’t tell you about but it means not updating for a while.” I’m sort of guessing this one’s moving to paper too. I’m not missing it that much, it was kind of fun but not really high on my list.
  • Scenes From a Multiverse, by Jonathan Rosenberg. The fan vote thing got stopped but the comic’s still going and I’m enjoying it.
  • Spacetrawler, by Christopher Baldwin. Ended. Baldwin then started up a new comic, but it didn’t appeal to me as much and I haven’t been reading it.
  • Wondermark, by David Malki. Still going and another of my favorites.
  • XKCD, by Randall Munroe. Likewise.

And the newer (to me) ones:

  • Blindsprings, by Kadi Fedoruk. Updates twice a week. A fairly new comic; started last October. She’s telling a fantasy story about a young girl — well, young and very old at the same time — who’s central to a power struggle between two magical factions… I guess. At 80 pages in we’re still learning what’s going on. I really like the artwork.
  • The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo, by Drew Weing. Updates twice a week. Family friendly story of monsters in the basement. Just started in February, so easy to catch up with.
  • Dresden Codak, by Aaron Diaz. Updates very infrequently but steadily. Diaz just takes that long to get each strip done — he puts a lot into the art. He’s telling stories that are a little hard to follow (especially at his pace), somewhat nonlinear and a little obtuse, but worth following.
  • Drive, by Dave Kellett. Updating sporadically. Baldwin took some time off for another project, then came back for a couple months, but no updates since June. A fairly humorous science fiction story, but suffering from the hiatuses.
  • Dumbing of Age, by David M. Willis. Updates seven days a week. This is about a bunch of college students, mostly freshmen, mostly women, so I’m sort of outside the target demographic… but it’s fun. Interestingly, Willis has done a couple of other comics using the same characters in a different universe; one of these, Shortpacked!, will be ending in January on its tenth anniversary. I binge-read the DoA archive but am in no hurry to do likewise with the other comics.
  • Girls with Slingshots, by Danielle Corsetto. Updates five days a week. Another I’m-not-in-the -demographic situation, it being focused mainly on two women in their late twenties (and their friends, mostly other women in their late twenties or so) but fun and well written.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner. Also updates seven days a week. Gag comic with strong nerd content. I only started following this very recently and wish I’d started a lot earlier. There’s 3402 strips in the archive; not going to binge-read that anytime soon.
  • Woo Hoo! by Molly “Jakface” Němeček and J.R. Boos. Updates once, sometimes twice a week. Officially. But really it’s been about twice a month lately, though we’ve had three this month. This is the most recent addition to my comics RSS, and I’m not sure if I’ll be sticking with it. I kind of like the art, which is very vividly colored, but then again some of the style grates on me. The story’s just getting going, so we’ll see if it keeps me interested.

 

A hundred dollars worth of irony

I finally got a look at the “new” (2013) $100 bill today. I went to transfer some money from one credit union to another, and they were having trouble printing checks, so I took my withdrawal in Benjamins.

I can’t say I’m particularly enamored of the design. Still, slowly but surely we’re moving away from the drab green / black monochrome monstrosities we’ve been saddled with for so long. I’d say someday US currency might be as attractive as that of many other countries, except for the likelihood that paper money will be extinct before we get there.

Here’s a graphic showing $100 bills from 1862 to present. I kind of like the obverse of the 1862 note.

You probably recognize the guy on the 1878 and 1880 notes; maybe not the one on the 1890 Treasury Note, Admiral David Farragut (who didn’t quite say “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead“). Not shown on that page is the Series 1878 Silver Certificate with James Monroe pictured. 

What about the 1922 Gold Certificate, though; who’s that?

That’s Thomas Hart Benton; you may have heard of him. Or you may not have. I know I haven’t.

He was a Senator. So were a lot of other guys, so why’s his picture on this note? Good question. Wikipedia says he was known for being “an architect and champion of westward expansion by the United States, a cause that became known as Manifest Destiny.” That hardly seems sufficiently, ahem, noteworthy. (See what I did there? I kill me.)

Wikipedia also says:

Benton was an unflagging advocate for “hard money”, that is gold coin (specie) or bullion as money—as opposed to paper money “backed” by gold as in a “gold standard”. “Soft” (i.e. paper or credit) currency, in his opinion, favored rich urban Easterners at the expense of the small farmers and tradespeople of the West. He proposed a law requiring payment for federal land in hard currency only, which was defeated in Congress but later enshrined in an executive order, the Specie Circular, by Jackson (1836). His position on currency earned him the nickname Old Bullion.

Well, that explains it, then. They put his picture on paper money solely to make him spin in his grave.

.@Anagramatron classics III

More from Anagramatron:

  • Today’s game is pointless = Goes to play Sims instead
  • So many errands, so little time = I’m not stressed. I really am not.
  • I want to live in Germany = Argentina win it my love
  • Seriously, is it that cold? = It’s sorta chilly outside
  • I misplaced my remote = Limited memory space
  • Why do you treat me like nothing = when I’m here dying to talk to you

ATM 39, Seneca Falls

IMG_2837The 39th tour of the American Travelling Morrice is now in the books. Everything went pretty well, the worst problems being rain, including heavy thunderstorms Sunday night, and a nest of yellowjackets in the camp near our big tent which (via means approved by our organic farmer host) we eradicated early in the week, but not before several people got stung. Other than that… a good tour.

Our first stand Sunday in Geneva was one of our best, with a good appreciative audience. We circumnavigated Seneca Lake that day, going down to Watkins Glen and back up via Lodi and a nice swim at Samson State Park.

Practice on Monday was largely given over to two dances new to most of the group, “I-91″ (Litchfield) and “Johnson the Butcher” (Bampton/stick). The two outdoor stands that afternoon were scrubbed and we danced inside the new Sequestered Tavern in Seneca Falls.

Tuesday was the western arm of the tour, with scenic stands in Fairport and Pittsford before going on to the Strong Museum and the Old Toad pub in Rochester, with much jig work at the latter.

Wednesday was our day off, and partly because I thought I was fighting a cold (later I decided it was more likely allergies) I went off on my own on a foray to Letchworth State Park. The Catlin Bass Clarion is still off exhibit at the museum there, alas (I’ll check again in four or five years, maybe) but I got to see more of the scenery in the “Grand Canyon of the Northeast”. Last February I saw the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii”. Someday I should go see the “Grand Canyon of the Grand Canyon”.

Thursday was to the east, starting at Baltimore Woods in Marcellus, then on to a block party at the Moses House in the same town. After that, Syracuse. Rain flirted with us all day, including a downpour right at the end of our lunch at the Moses House which cleared up before our next stand at Hanover Square. It never rained on our dancing, but the weather may have contributed to small audiences. Armory Square was next, with a stand next to the shot clock bracketed by visits to Kitty Hoyne’s and Mully’s.

Friday we went via Taughannock Falls to Ithaca, and a visit to the late Bob De Luca, before a nursing home, a pub, and dancing and dinner at Rogue’s Harbor Inn. That was another lake circled, Cayuga this time.

The last day of dancing was closer to camp: Skaneateles, Auburn, and Seneca Falls — the Sequestered again, followed by a feast at the Gould Hotel. This morning we struck camp and returned home.

Allergy symptoms aside (no stings, thankfully) I had a great time. We had 35 or so dancers on the tour which meant less dancing for me than back in the days when 20 or so was more the norm. I remember years when my shins were in high revolt by Tuesday, mollified by the day off before returning to action Thursday. This week was largely pain free as far as I was concerned. Still, a tour that size poses challenges for planning and execution, and there are benefits to a more intimate size I missed this week. But I can’t say I was dissatisfied with the amount of dancing I did, mostly Bampton, Campden, and Ducklington, but one Bledington too, and a sloppy but still enjoyable Upton Stick at Mully’s. Some good songs and tunes, some remarkable food in camp, and of course a week with a bunch of friends some of whom I see far too infrequently. +1, would buy again.

Photos here.

 

or, Wallpaper paste must be good for something

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