Last week I railed against the Internet’s insidious plot to curtail my productivity. This week I want to provide some concrete examples of how the Internet is able to thwart my best resolve to focus on becoming a successful (read: rich) writer, photographer, and all-around nice guy.
For the purpose of this piece, seeing as it is on Slice of SciFi, I’ll restrict my writing to science related websites. In fact, I’ll only write about what I perceive to be the staples of a well-rounded geek; astronomy and physics. Math also figures in there as a core part of both those disciplines. Granted, the definition of geek has changed over the years, but I’m a traditionalist at heart.
Last week I mentioned The WorldWide Telescope project from Microsoft Research. My plan was to review it, but having played with it for about a week, I am sure I would not be able to do it justice. Suffice it to say this effort alone could consume all your attention and then some. The planetary exploration is great, as is the Earth @Night tour, and as are a number of others short and excellent pre-loaded tours. But that just barely scratches the surface. You literally have the entire known universe to explore. You can create your own tours, load other people’s tours, or just wander among the stars. It’s the next best thing to being there. You do have to download a program, and it is a Beta Release, but I encountered very few glitches, and most were due to my unfamiliarity with the program.
I have written before with regards to how most movies play fast and loose with physics, and that worries me because today’s young geeks may be opting for movie versions of laws that govern our universe.
For those who would rather get their understanding of physics from reliable sources, a good place to start is HyperPhysics. There are some excellent videos illustrating various physics principles, and a lot of information arranged in a very clever way, making it easy to navigate. You can learn as little or as much as you want about all matters relating to physics. Some of it is simple and fun, some gets into
If one desires a simpler version of the same material, the Physics Classroom Tutorial was developed for Regular-level Physics students at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois, but has gained in popularity to the point it is also used at the college level. A bit less daunting than HyperPhysics, it nonetheless contains a wealth of information.
These two sites alone could provide the basis for improving how physics is portrayed in movies. Then again, I don’t advise writers to stop in… like me, they would find it difficult to get back to their writings. They would also have to work out a way for Iron Man to slam into the ground from hundreds of feet in the air and survive the event… sometimes ignorance is the best shortcut to move the plot along.
Other sites of note for general knowledge and reference of physics: Usenet Physics, The Laws List, Flash Animation for Physics, and Physics and Astronomy Reference. By the way, some of those sites have excellent links to math resources… yes, I know; not a favorite, but wouldn’t it be nice to learn a little of it, just so you can confound cashiers around the country?
Theoretical knowledge of physics is one thing, but it’s another to apply it to human projects. Practical examples are to be had at NASA. This is another site where one could spend a considerable amount of time exploring every nook and cranny. And there are many. One I discovered when I started my second career in aerospace was the Aeronautics Resources. These are high-school level references, some interactive, that give you exposure to the basic principles of flight, rockets, and even kites. No, you will not become a rocket scientist, but you will learn the principles behind their operation. The interactive modules let you observe the effect of changing design parameters, and give a hands-on feel for what the equations mean.
One other part of the site, which I recommend, is the World Book at NASA. For an ever-increasing number of topics one can find all sort of useful information. The World Book is found under the Multimedia portion of the site, where one also finds a number of audio and video podcasts, blogs, photographs, and videos letting you know what is happening in the sky right now. By the way, the Perseids are coming, peaking only a few days from now on August 12th… I have my salt water ready just in case the Triffids try to sneak back in.
As you are out there watching great streaks of light cross the sky, you might also observe small specks of light slowly making the way across the sky. You are seeing satellites. You may even be watching a manned satellite, the Space Station, and if one is up there, the Shuttle. But how can you find out what you are watching? I’m glad you asked; Satellite Tracking is one of my favorite places at NASA’s Science @ NASA. You can research both what satellite you are watching, but also predict when various satellites will pass overhead, printing out viewing directions from your part of the world. It even tracks the Space Station, allowing you the opportunity to catch glimpses of your tax dollars at work from the comfort of your back yard. The J-Track 3-D is a neat Java applet that shows you three dimensionally (no special glasses needed) the satellites orbiting the Earth. This ties in neatly to the Missions web page. It lists all of the NASA missions alphabetically, linking to information about each one.
A site that is also worth exploring, if one is at all interested in finding out more about the planet we live on, is the National Geophysical Data Center. Their presentation can be a bit dry, consisting mainly of graphs, charts, and lots of data. But their info on volcanoes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters sources can be quite interesting. Actually, their space weather, solar events, and earth observation from space links are also worth exploring.
I’m only touching on a small portion of what is available out there. I’ve not even hit on all the Universities that are providing the public with terabytes of data on all sorts of subjects. It’s a wonder I could even tear myself away to write this little bit.
But all that can be boring to some people… sadly, perhaps it bores many people. How about this: do you want to get ready for a post-apocalyptic world? Yes, you say? Here are some neat links that gives you the means to tell time long after most watches will have stopped working. That’s right… you can learn how to make your own sundial. Of all the sites that will help you make sundials, this one is the one I like the best. It even has a program you can download to help you design sundials. +Plus Magazine (an interesting site for the mathematically inclined) will explain all the theory. At the bottom of the Sundials web page you can see a picture of a wrist-sundial, something that would surely make you the envy of geeks everywhere.
One final note… in the course of reviewing all these sites, I found a link to a website that has the electronic copy of Galileo Galilei’s Notes on Motion. These are high-resolution copies of his original notes and equations. How cool is that?!? Of course, it’s one more thing that will keep me from reaching anywhere near the level of his productivity. I imagine if Galileo would have had the Internet to tempt him from his works, he would have died a very informed, if unknown and unaccomplished person… much like I am tracking to do.