Making Sport of Physics

A Little Boxing Science

I contributed to an article in the current issue of The Ring, known as The Bible of Boxing.  What’s funny is that the December 2015 issue has been out in the US for some time now.  I’ve been checking in at WH Smith on Fargate for over a week.  After a good workout at Ponds Forge this morning, I nipped into WH Smith — and they finally had it!

Keith Idec is the reporter I worked with.  He wrote nice article called “Balance of Power,” in which he describes how big boxers combine intrinsic talent with skill developed over years of training to produce some pretty powerful punches.  I contributed to the section “Properties of Power” on page 63.  A few more of my comments appear on pages 64-65.

It was a lot of fun working on the piece.  The human body is capable of delivering enormous amounts of power over short time intervals.  Tour de France cyclists can briefly output over a kilowatt.  Boxers can surely do that over a the brief time of a monster punch.  There is no way I would want to be on the receiving end of one of those punches!

Posted in Uncategorized

A Week in Italy

We have Guy Fawkes Night here in England today.  Some simply call it Bonfire Night.  It’s an interesting and, frankly, strange holiday.  But, hey, everyone likes a chance to see a good bonfire and watch fireworks, right?  Research work has kept me from blog writing this week, but I’ll steal a few minutes to add some comments about our recent trip to Italy.

Both my daughters were off school last week, so my wife organized an incredible trip to Italy.  She is a master of international travel, adept with languages, great at planning and coordinating, and skilled at keeping costs down.  I’m the lucky guy along for the ride.  We left Sheffield on Saturday, 24 October and returned on Sunday, 1 November.  We visited Venice, Rome, Pisa, Florence, and Treviso.

Venice is like being on another planet, or more appropriately, being on another part of this planet — the part with water.  Travel on or over water is the way to get around.  We took water buses to various parts of Venice from our rented apartment in Lido.  We walked over many bridges that covered canals.  I knew there would be many tourists, but I wasn’t prepared for just how many.  Water buses were sometimes packed to the hilt.  Streets were occasionally so packed with people that it was hard to move.  Of course, we were contributing to the tourist count, but the number there in late October surprised me.  The giant ocean liner we saw in dock with a few thousand paying customers certainly added to the total.  I can only imagine what the middle of summer is like.

Below is a typical scene along a Venetian canal (click on the image for a larger view).

We paid for a half hour ride in a gondola.  As I told my wife, and like anyone working in a tourist town like Venice knows, were we going to make a huge effort to get here and then not ride in a gondola?  We also saw amazing glass blowing in Murano.  I never tire of seeing skilled people performing their crafts.  There are many forms of genius in this world.

Rome is a city I’ve wanted to visit since I was very young.  I was into politics by age six, even seeing some of the Ford/Carter debates.  Standing in the Roman Forum and trying to imagine the influence that place had on Western political thought gave me chills.  We had to visit the Colosseum, too.  The photo below shows the interior (click on the image for a larger view).

That place was crowded, too.  What amazed me most about the tourists was the large number who so often chose virtual reality over reality.  The inside of the Colosseum is one big selfiegasm.  I’m not trying to play off the late, great George Carlin and his comments about driving (click here for that) because we all have a line in our minds about many things.  Sure, we took a few photos and a half-minute movie, but most of the time we were inside was spent looking at and studying something we’ve wanted to see and experience for a long time.  Maybe at age 45 I don’t get the thrill of having my back to something interesting and taking a few dozen photos like that, and then moving on to something else.

We saw many great sculptures, fountains, and buildings while in Rome.  Getting around was pretty easy, though being stuffed inside an overcrowded bus like a sardine in a can wasn’t always fun.  But since new bus routes went into effect here in Sheffield, I’ve repeated that experience a couple of times this week.

A brief trip to Santa Marinella gave us a chance to swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Seafood was amazing there!  Italy gave us a chance to sample wonderful pasta, bread, and wine, but I really enjoyed the seafood.  When we got to Pisa, there was really only one thing to see in the limited amount of time we had to visit.  You guessed it (click on the image below for a larger view).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a fun building to walk in!  The spiral staircase along the outside walls took us to a height of about 180 ft (55 m).  There was even a device at the top for dropping balls that could have replicated the (apocryphal) experiment Galileo performed there in the late 16th century.  The lean angle is only about four degrees, but it somehow feels more than that when you’re looking at the tower or walking inside it.

Speaking of Galileo, I was most interested in seeing his tomb in Florence.  Check out the photo below that I took in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence (click on the image for a larger view).

I like seeing a great scientist appreciated!  I also enjoyed the lighting in the above scene.  Galileo helped push our understanding of the natural world and how to investigate it.  In other words, he helped moved us into the light from darker times in human history.  We also saw tombs for the great minds of Michelangelo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.

Italy was an amazing country for us to tour for a week.  Like many places we’ve visited, we left each city wishing for more time to explore.  I’m sure Italy’s tourism bureau enjoys hearing tourists say that they left wanting more!  If we are ever in Italy again, I think we’ll try to visit smaller towns that are less populated with tourists.  We’ve sampled some of the great Italian cities, sights, and food, but in the future, I believe we’ll opt for a more laid-back approach that will allows us to experience more of Italy’s “normal” culture.  Still, we had a great time!

Posted in Uncategorized

Catching up on Sports

I was in Italy all last week (more on that in my next post!) when a flurry of sports activity happened.  On Halloween the All Blacks of New Zealand won an unprecedented third Rugby World Cup.  It has been a real treat living in England for the Rugby World Cup.  I got to watch several games live on television.  The US didn’t do well, but I got to root for local teams like England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.  At the end of the day, however, the two best teams, Australia and New Zealand, fought for the title.  I could only follow the end of the game on my tablet while in Italy.

The Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets in the World Series — and I didn’t get to see a pitch!  Games mostly started after I went to bed, and it was especially hard trying to follow the World Series while vacationing in Italy.  I remember so vividly the Royals winning in 1985.  Has that really been thirty years ago?!?  To bad I missed all the great comeback wins by the Royals this year.  But, hey, I got to watch the Rugby World Cup, and it’s impossible to watch everything!

A story I worked on for the Wall Street Journal appeared in the paper on Monday, 25 October 2015.  Click here for the online version.  It was fun reading that in Italy!  The subject of the story is the great free-throw shooting of Elena Delle Donne of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.  Hitting 95% means hitting 19 out of 20, with crowd noise and pressure to boot.  She has amazing technique and my contribution to the story concerned the physics behind her great shooting.  By the way, it’s cool that she and I share 5 September for a birthday.

Before leaving for Italy, I was coincidentally interviewed by an Italian online magazine, L’Ultimo Uomo.  Click here for the Friday, 30 October 2015 story that heavily quotes me discussing goals from corner kicks and other aspects of soccer physics.  The story is in Italian, but Google translate does a decent job of giving a good representation of what I contributed.  What was great about doing the interview was that the reporter was from Venice, which is one city I visited last week, but was contacting me from New York City.  He gave me a few good tips on places to eat while in Venice.  A great experience all around.

Sports like rugby and soccer have kept my interest while living in England.  I do miss seeing college football, and I’ll especially miss seeing my Hoosiers and Commodores during college basketball season.  But one of the many thrills about being in a foreign country is experiencing new culture, and sports is a big part of culture.  I’m rooting for the Sheffield Wednesday to continue their unbeaten streak, which now sits at ten matches.  How great would it be to see the Wednesday get promoted out of Championship?  But I’d miss Premier League action in Sheffield next year!

Posted in Uncategorized

Hike into Padley Gorge

This past Saturday (10 October 2015), my wife, daughters and I returned to the Peak District for another hike, this time to the wooded area of Padley Gorge.  We had not seen much of the Peak District’s wooded areas.  Weather was perfect and we had a great hike!  The photo below shows the wooded area where we were headed (click on image for a larger view).

We never tire of Peak District vistas!  Before reaching Padley Gorge, we passed by the Grindleford railway station.  I snapped a photo of the western edge of the 6230-yd (5.7-km or 3.5-mi) long Totley tunnel (click on the image for a larger view).

Hiking into Padley Gorge provided us with lovely forest scenery.  The photo below shows Burbage Brook, which runs through Padley Gorge (click on the image for a larger view).

One especially great thing about hiking in the Peak District is all the wonderful country pubs.  We ate lunch at The Grouse Inn, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I had the best steak and ale pie of my life there!  Of course, we had to stop at The Fox House on our way home for dessert.  Living in Sheffield and being so close to the Peak District is spoiling us!

Posted in Uncategorized

Rugby Knockout Time!

The eight quarterfinalists for the 2015 Rugby World Cup are now set.  My US team didn’t fare too well, losing all four matches by combined point differential of 106.  Pool B was certainly a tough draw, given that Japan won three matches and didn’t make the quarterfinals.  Scotland’s dominating win over Japan ultimately sent the Brave Blossoms home.  Only Uruguay had a worse World Cup than the US, which probably doesn’t help rugby gain in popularity in the US.

England was unceremoniously booted from the World Cup after its loss to Australia.  But there is still a great deal of excitement here in the UK as Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have all advanced to the knockout stage.  Action resumes this coming Saturday (17 October).

A colleague and I published a short paper on the fastest try in rugby earlier this year.  Click here to access the paper.  There is a lot of interesting physics in rugby!

Posted in Uncategorized

Learning Scottish History at Stirling Castle

I got up a wee bit late this morning after an incredible night staring at Earth’s shadow on the moon.  Some time opened for me near the end of my work day, so I thought I’d update my sabbatical journal.

My family toured Stirling this past Saturday (26 September).  We could definitely understand how the city is known as the gateway to the Highlands.  I took the image below, which shows mountains in the background, including the National Wallace Monument to the left, and a statute of Robert the Bruce in the foreground (click on the image for a larger view).

Weather was perfect as we explored Stirling Castle.  There were many neat rooms to investiage, and the castle grounds were a lot of fun to walk.  I snapped the photo below of the Forework (click on the image for a larger view).

We were treated to a fascinating history lesson on the Jacobite rising of 1715, also known as Lord Mar‘s Revolt.  The castle hosts were in full costume, and they even taught us to rev up the fighters in preparation for battle.  Check out the YouTube video here.

We learned some very interesting Scottish history during our time in Stirling.  I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed learning history.  Being where history was made makes learning so much more enjoyable.

Posted in Uncategorized

Giddy over the lunar eclipse!

When the moon is at perigee, meaning closest approach to Earth, it looks big and is sometimes called a “supermoon.”  That term originates in the codswallop known as astrology, but it’s still a cool term.  If you were lucky enough to have clear skies today, you could see a total lunar eclipse.  It was amazing to behold!  I only wish I owned a camera capable of taking quality photographs at night.  The images below show the progression of the eclipse to near totality (click on the image for a larger view).

Being in Sheffield, England made me a tad nervous tonight because it’s not unusual to have clouds in the skies over England.  But I got lucky and had nothing but clear skies all night.  It was amazing seeing all the stars near the moon that one never sees during a full moon.

I wrote recently about the awe I felt while witnessing a rainbow, and the joy I have studying the natural causes of such phenomenon.  Tonight’s total lunar eclipse made me just as giddy.  Imagining Earth’s shadow cast onto the moon’s surface is one thing, but seeing it is so much more wonderful.  I hope you got to see it.  If not, you’ll find plenty of better photographs on the internet.

Posted in Uncategorized

Great Views Atop Mam Tor

My wife and I hiked to the top of Mam Tor back in 2009.  Yesterday, our girls joined us for a return trip.  Though only just over a kilometer in elevation, the summit of “Mother Hill” provides wonderful views of the Peak District.  I took the photo below with Castleton just visible on the right (click on image for a larger view).

Photos simply don’t do the views justice.  I also got a photo of Winnats Pass, which we walked through after descending from Mam Tor (click on image for a larger view).

It was great walking through Winnats Pass, especially when a flock of sheep decided to cross the road.  I took a short movie of the sheep stopping traffic, which may be found on YouTube here.

A neat problem in animal behavior could surely be obtained from the video as both sheep and humans (in cars) show heard mentality!

Posted in Uncategorized

Rugby World Cup Time!

The 2015 Rugby World Cup begins today.  England and Wales are hosting and it’s exciting being in England while the World Cup is happening.  Australia and New Zealand are always tough, but England and Wales will try to make good use of home pitch advantage.  I’ll certainly root for the US, but we are one of the long shots here.  The US is in Pool B with a tough South Africa team and a Scotland team that won’t have to travel far.  I doubt the Rugby World Cup will be noticed much in the US, but I’m glad to be in England right now where I can enjoy the action on telly!

Posted in Uncategorized

Beauty in Nature

My younger daughter and I walked and hiked in the Peak District today.  We were near Castleton and scenery was amazing, as it always is in the Peak District.  A heavy rainstorm greeted us about halfway into our hike.  Neither one of us was bothered by the rain, especially when we could behold such a beautiful rainbow (click on the image for a larger view).

What makes such phenomena as rainbows so much more wonderful is that we understand how they are created.  Humans have provided natural explanations of such beauty, and the explanations themselves are a source of beauty.  I became a scientist partly because I was so enamored by the physical laws that govern everything.  If you are not familiar with how rainbows are formed, read up on the topic.  You’ll find there’s a lot of beauty behind the beauty we behold in nature.

Posted in Uncategorized