Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 7:48 pm

The rock-and-roll bone connects to the baseball bone, and they both connect to the physics bone …

What united them was physics.

Sara Romweber, formerly the drummer for Let’s Active, Snatches of Pink and the Dex Romweber Duo, who died Monday of brain cancer, was renowned for being able to draw big, loud sounds from her drum kit despite being pretty unimposing physically.

The reason, according to Snatches bassist Andy McMillan in an appreciation by longtime N&O music critic David Menconi, was wrist speed: “Sara had amazing quickness in her wrists.” Why does that matter? Because wrist speed, more than overall size or arm musculature, is what determines the velocity of the tip of the drumstick and therefore the energy that drumstick imparts. And THAT was where her wall of sound came from.

That tidbit resonated with me because I’d once heard something similar about another person whose performance I had admired: baseball home-run king Henry Aaron. Aaron wasn’t a small man by baseball standards, but nothing in his physical appearance gave any clue as to why he should be so much better at hitting long balls than many other men his size.

What was the difference? His wrist speed, which Ted Williams, inarguably the greatest overall hitter in baseball history, said he admired. (But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself). Aaron’s wrists, at the extreme pivot point in his swing, generated enormous speed at the head of the bat, and that speed imparted the energy needed to hit a baseball over the fence.

That both Aaron, who’s still with us, and Romweber were humble, self-effacing artists who wore their fame lightly is probably coincidental. And I suspect that there are a lot of other areas in which wrist speed contributes to excellent performance, from cooking to, oh, I don’t know, Formula 1 racing. But having a liberal-arts education, I’m just tickled at this wonderful connection between two otherwise deeply disconnected parts of my life, a connection illuminated by a third, also disconnected interest, physics, that dates back to my grade-school infatuation with astronomy.

And while I am sorry that Sara Romweber is gone, I have a ton of good memories of her music, both recorded and live. I am happy that I got to meet her and talk to her and find that she was almost oblivious to her own celebrity, just the kid down the street who plays drums. And I’m glad that we still have Henry Aaron with us — you should read his autobiography, “I Had a Hammer” — for whatever time God allows.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 8:10 pm

Not so bizarre after all

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:10 pm
Tags: , ,

So, the recent report that scientists had found particles traveling faster than the speed of light? The one that was going to blow up Einstein’s theory of relativity?

Maybe not so much, actually.

Oh, it’s not that the neutrinos in question weren’t traveling slightly faster than 186,200 miles per second. They might have been. It’s just that that might not actually be the top speed of light, depending on what light is going through.

In a Q&A with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marvin L. Marshak, a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, breaks it down:

Q. Could Einstein and his immensely famous ratio, E=mc2, really be wrong?

A. I’ve convinced myself that this could actually be real. If it’s real, I don’t think it overthrows relativity completely. It could be basically telling us that the constant that Einstein proposed—namely, the speed of light—is not actually the right constant. In other words, when light goes through material, it slows down, and so it could be that what we think is a vacuum is not actually empty. And that’s not that shocking, because for the last 10 years or so we’ve been talking about dark energy. We’ve been talking even longer than 10 years about the Higgs field. So the possibility is that a vacuum is not empty, and therefore, just like light going through glass, light is slowed down relative to neutrinos, which don’t have electromagnetic interactions, and therefore could possibly go a little faster.

Q. But there’s still some ultimate speed limit at which matter converts into energy?

A. Right. There’s still some point. And in any event, for us here, the exciting thing is that we have the only other experiment that could really check this result, and that’s the neutrino beam that goes from Fermilab to northern Minnesota. This is an existing experiment that actually published a result four years ago on this topic, but not with sufficient accuracy to detect the effect at the level that the people at CERN are claiming exists. So now our plan is to improve our timing and go back and look at this with a different setup.

Q. So what does this mean for Einstein and relativity?

A. I don’t want to minimize the impact on physics of this, but personally, I think it could fit into Einstein’s basic framework with some relatively small modifications. What the implications of those modifications are, that would be still significant.

So: significant, but not quite “What if everything you thought you knew was wrong?” significant.


Friday, May 6, 2011 8:45 pm


Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:45 pm

In my senior year of high school, I won the Physics prize, competing against students who went on to study not just at N.C. State but at MIT.

How did I so excel in a subject in which, to put it charitably, my natural talents did not lie? Then and now, other than the fact that I paid rapt attention to our teacher because she was a walking, talking, jiggling illustration of the concept of simple harmonic motion, I have absolutely no idea. To this day, physics remains, to me, both baffling and utterly fascinating, even if my concentration has veered from simple harmonic motion to ballistics.

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