Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Powers of Ten

Here is Steve Strogatz's latest article in the New York Times, and it's one of the best newspaper articles he's ever written (which is saying a lot).

The article concerns attempting to make sense of scales, and it includes an awesome old video (which I had either never seen before or had forgotten --- most likely, the latter, because in retrospect it does seem a bit familiar) about scaling up many powers of 10 and then down many powers of 10. The total span is 40 orders of magnitude, and this video is really excellent at conveying intuition about them. Truly fantastic. (I also noticed that the video includes what appears to be an inter-racial couple, which is also notable given when that the video was produced in 1977.)

One thing of which this video reminded me is the old Disneyland ride Adventure Thru Inner Space, which was my favorite ride at Disneyland. That ride tried to convey the idea of progressively smaller scales by "shrinking" the riders more and more as they go inside a snowflake. (It was one of the major things from my past that inspired me towards my career path.) The narration in the "Powers of Ten" video has a similar style as what I remember from "Adventures Thru Inner Space". I didn't like it when Disneyland dumped that ride and didn't ever want to go back after that. (I guess both my enjoyment of that particular ride and my reaction at its being dumped shows that I haven't changed much in two very important respects since 1985!)

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