Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman – No Ordinary Genius

This was and is a great documentary. The entire thing is now available on YouTube and its great to see. I have this on DVD but I’m delighted that a wider audience will get to see this. Feynman wasn’t just a genius, he was a “character” who played bongo drums, talked about the interaction of art and science, and solved the mystery of why the Shuttle Challenger went down by dipping a piece of O ring in ice water.

[via Kottke.org]

Feynman explains how trains stay on tracks and go around turns

This is exactly the kind of Feynman explanation I love. Not only does he make the complex simple, but he seems to be taking perverse pleasure in revealing something simple that few people think about but is an interesting concept once you start thinking about it.

I’m one of the few oddballs who thinks about this stuff and I knew this fact about trains but could never explain it like Feynman.

Twenty five years ago when I lived in Oregon I noticed that the chip trucks: large tractor-trailers with oversize trailers that hauled wood chips to paper mills had atypical wheels and axils on their trailers. The front of the two rear axils with its double wheels was not set just in front of the rear set but in fact, about 1/3 of the way up trailer toward the front. I wondered how this setup went around a corner? Which axil did the turning and did the other one just scrape sideways along the road? In fact, unlike a train with its flanged wheels trucks have differentials but the differentials don’t account for this problem. I’ve asked lots of people about this over the years and the consensus is that the rear wheels “fudge” a bit which means they do scrape sideways some as the truck turns.

Tuva

Tuvan stamp

My friend Dale did some white balance work on this picture and it now looks great. My aim is to get more of this balancing done in the picture (rather than the computer) and once the setup is done, start pumping out images of some of my better small printed matter.

Tuva was made popular by the late Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. Feynman fixated on going there just because it’s in the middle of nowhere (well, Mongolia) and at the time, was part of the USSR so was harder to get to.

He also heard that people there could do something called “throat singing” which involved making tones and then numerous overtones in the throat producing an amazing multi-toned sound.

Feynman died of cancer before he got to go to Tuva but his interest pushed others to go and now Tuvan throat singers are in the mainstream. Want to see a great example of throat singing? Check out the DVD Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – Live at the Quick. It’s a fantastic concert DVD of a great band and as a treat they do a number of pieces with a great Tuvan throat singer.

This stamp was given to me as part of a collection of Tuvan stamps by the physicist John Sites. I met John in Lexington, Kentucky after a talk I did down there and we got to talking about Feynman and Tuva. I told him I’d been a stamp collector as a kid and I had a few Tuvan stamps but nothing uncanceled and they were not in great shape (inherited from my father’s collection). John sent me a sheet of 20 mint tuvan stamps, most uncanceled and in perfect shape like this one. I will always make an association with him when I see this stamp; the story is a lot more than just Feynman or Bela Fleck to me.