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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Language, Drifitng on a Flood of Molasses

On a happier note, I'll take this chance to plug Steve Cook's snarkout to anyone who doesn't already read it. He's started updating more frequently with the New Year, and like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, he has a knack for finding an oddball subject, researching the hell out of it, and providing you with a huge array of interesting links on every aspect of the subject.

I particularly liked two recent posts, one about the Great Boston Molasses Flood (which I'd never heard of), and another on Bugs Bunny's profound effects on English idiom. But everything over there is good. Check it out.

Posted at 3:15 PM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Sometimes, No Snide Comment Seems Adequate

From this morning's Washinton Post, we have:

Two Republican state lawmakers from Northern Virginia received thousands of dollars in the summer and fall from the leaders of several Muslim groups whose Herndon headquarters were raided in March by federal agents investigating possible terrorist financing.

The network of individuals, foundations and businesses gave $8,000 to the reelection campaign of Del. Richard H. Black (Loudoun), campaign finance reports filed last week show. Ken Cuccinelli (Fairfax) took $5,400 in campaign cash from some of the same sources in July, a week before he won a special election to the Virginia Senate.

I don't suppose we can expect any smirking implications of treason from the warblogging community over this, nor rabid commenters insinuating that Black and Cuccinelli are Al Qaeda sock puppets (part of Osama bin Laden's demonic plan to buy the Virginia Legislature, in an effort to smooth the way for the sniper attacks of the fall, dontcha know...). I wouldn't even bother to comment on this, as August's white-hot rage has faded into the general background of utter disgust for our Fearless Leaders, but this quote is just too good to pass up:

Black and Cuccinelli are two of Virginia's most conservative lawmakers. They said they have found common ground with Muslims who share their opposition to abortion and pornography and their support of traditional families.

"They were brought to my attention by Dick Black because they're so conservative, and my goodness, they are," Cuccinelli said of the groups.

Just another data point for the endless debate over who's funnier, I suppose...

Posted at 3:06 PM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Ask Dr. Principles

Somewhere in the middle of his long recap of the anti-war march in Washington, Jim Henley asks for a "Fermi number" guesstimate of how many people were in a segment of the march. The figures provided are:

I can say that after finishing the march ahead of everyone else, we had a view down M Street SE for about a half mile of seven-lane street and it was filled with people.

Half a mile is roughly 2600 feet (we'll work in American units, here), and a typical lane width would be somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen feet, so we'll say that seven lanes is a hundred feet wide. The tricky part of this comes in trying to determine how many square feet a person occupies when the street is "filled with people."

Personally, I start to get a little twitchy if anyone stands closer than two or three feet away when talking to me (I have a very American concept of personal space), and I'd probably want to be on the high end of that while walking (though I doubt the march was proceeding at a brisk walk). If we say that peace marchers are more communitarian than I am, and call it a two-foot cushion between people, that works out to roughly 10 square feet per person (giving each person a circular area a bit under two feet in radius, to account for both "personal space" and the size of a person), or 26,000 people in Jim's field of view. It's a little hard to imagine packing marchers much more closely than that (I'm a bit over 2' across at the shoulders, and while I'm bigger than most, it's not by a factor of two). A more comfortable spacing of 20 sq. ft. per marcher would drop the count to 13,000, but then the street might not look completely full at that level.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000-25,000 people would seem like a reasonable estimate for the portion of the crowd Jim saw. That would be in line with the official police estimate of 30,000 marchers, but a far cry from the 500,000 claimed by some of the organizers. Jim notes that the path of the march made a right-angle turn at the limit of his view, so this estimate is almost certainly a low-ball number. One of the articles made reference to a two-mile march route, which, if filled with people at the same density used above would give a total in line with the 70,000 figure ABC quotes for past estimates of similar crowds, so it's probably not too far off.

Any way you work the numbers, that's a lot of people.

Posted at 10:07 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Monday, January 20, 2003

Songs to Strip Paint By

Quick comments on a handful of the CD's I've been listening to while undoing the poor aesthetic choices of our new house's previous owners:

Posted at 3:13 PM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

New Server has moved to a new server. The address change seems to have propagated through the necessary servers, and I think all the files made it through. If you notice anything missing, though, let me know.

Posted at 1:43 PM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

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