5 June 2010 - 17:16Compostable Corn Cup?

At the Desert Moon Cafe I got a drink in a new kind of plastic cup. It claims to be made of corn and “compostable.”  To me it is indistinguishable from a conventional PETE cup.

A compostable plastic cup.

Compostable plastic cup, after one week on counter.

Much as I enjoy the idea of drinking my corn syrup from a corn-cob cup, I’m skeptical about this claim. So I decided to test it. Since I also happen to have a PETE cup

A PETE cup next to the compostable cup.

The PETE control cup (left) and the compostable cup (right).

PETE cups are recycle code 1 and the compostable cup is type 7, which I think means “other.”

Bottom of compostable plastic cup.

The cup claims to be compostable and is plastic type 7.

I buried the cups in the ground (today, June 4 2010) and will check up on them in a month or so.

The two cups in the ground.

Test site with cups inserted. Worms were observed (well, at least one).

Test site covered with dirt.

Test site after burial. Stone marks the spot.

No Comments | Tags: physics

7 July 2009 - 14:58The presidential birthday paradox

It occurred to me back at the time of the inauguration that the number of presidents is such that we ought to have had two who share a birthday. The well known “birthday ‘paradox'” is that once you have as many people in a group as the square root of the number of days in a year there is a good chance of a collision. We have had 43 different presidents, which is just in the right range to see the ‘paradox.’

I tested this when I first learned of the effect back in high school by waiting outside a classroom that was about to let out (my class had already dispersed) with the intention of asking everyone their birthdays. The first person out was the girl I had a crush on at the time (hi Hayley!) and I asked her. She had the same birthday as me. Paradox lost.

Returning to presidents, there is about a 90% chance that two should share a birthday. And in fact two of them do: Warren Harding and James K. Polk (the Napoleon of the stump) were both born on November 2nd.

More interesting are the death days of presidents, which display more surprising results. There are three collisions! Truman and Ford both died on December 26th, Fillmore and Taft both died on March 8th, and Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe all died on (get this) July 4th! Adams and Jefferson even managed to die on the same 4th of July, in 1826.

How anomalous is this? Fairly, but not unbelievably. I figure there’s almost exactly a 25% chance of there being three two-way collisions. Having a three-way collision at all is just under 6%. Without doing the calculation, it can’t be too unlikely that conditioned on a three-way collision you also get two two-ways, since having two two-way collisions is something over 50%. So it’s around 3% likelihood to get a distribution like the one we have. Of course, to have the triple collision on a particular important day you have to divide by another 365. That’s pretty extraordinary.

On the other hand, the presidents’ birthdays are also a little odd. There’s over a 2/3 probability that there should be at least two collisions, and we only have one. Ok, now that I’ve written that it isn’t all that odd.

But what can explain the improbable deaths? I conjecture that the deaths are more likely to be closely correlated than births. December 26th is certainly a special day–it’s easy to imagine old men hanging on to see their grandchildren for one last Christmas. And maybe old presidents are trotted out for Independence day and the fireworks give them heart attacks. I wonder if anyone has the actuarial data and the wherewithal to check on such correlations of births and deaths among the population at large.

In case anyone is interested, I calculated the probabilities using the python program below. I know I could have done this analytically, but I thought it would be a useful exercise for learning a little python, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. The program illustrates loops, if blocks, function calls, and importing a library. To run it, paste it into the python interpreter then issue a command like:
This will compute the expectation value of having at least 2 collisions and print out a list of those probabilities for collisions of size zero through 5. It does this by picking 43 birthdays at random, in a year with 365 days. The 10000 is the number of times to run the loop to get more accurate results. I don’t deal with leap years since I’m don’t really need a particularly accurate answer.

def birthdays(births,year):
    for x in range(0,births):
    return [a.count(0),a.count(1),a.count(2),a.count(3),a.count(4),a.count(5)]

def probability2(births,year,iters,howmany):
    for x in range(0,iters):
        for y in range(0,6):
            if a[y]>=howmany:
    for x in range(0,6):
    return probs

No Comments | Tags: Computers, idea, physics, Uncategorized

19 January 2009 - 20:17They let me off with a warning


On the way back from buying more Tequila (never a good start to a sentence when the law is involved) I was stopped by one of Santa Fe’s finest. He wanted to see both my license and Dave Bacon’s, who wasn’t even driving. But the officer was very nice and let us be on our way when he determined we didn’t have any outstanding warrants and weren’t (yet) drunk. Thanks to us, the QIP2009 after party was saved!

No Comments | Tags: personal, physics

3 January 2008 - 15:01XOXO QKD

This is very cool. Despite my misgivings about the one-laptop-per-child initiative, the machine and software are starting to get me excited. It is apparently too late for the give one/get one program, but maybe there will be another chance soon. But what’s really cool is quantum cryptography (key distribution) between two of these machines. This news came to me via the slashdot firehose, lwn.net and the source OLPC Austria. Check it out.

I do like that (from the pictures) it appears that Alice and Bob’s computers are right next to each other.  I guess that’s still better than when CHB and I did it, where Alice and Bob actually shared a computer.

No Comments | Tags: Computers, physics