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Soup of This Day #182: The Spicks And The Specks

May 21, 2012

A Laser Strike at the Galactic Centre
This isn’t the start of a battle with a despotic galactic empire – It’s astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile firing a laser at the centre of our galaxy so as to create an artificial star. They can then use this ‘reference’ star to correct for the atmospheric disturbances that make natural stars twinkle. It’s brilliant but not really sexy – Photo: Yuri Beletsky, European Space Agency (ESA), 2009. Neither Yuri Beletsky or ESA are affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Maths and I aren’t friends. Which was a problem for me because I chose to study physics at uni and it turns out that maths and physics are sleeping together.

In formless flannel nightgowns. There’s nothing sexy about maths or physics.

There is a great, probably apocryphal, story about the scientist who was the 1st to work out that atmospheric conditions mess with the light that comes from stars. He was lying on the grass 1 evening with his girlfriend, the both of them looking up at the wondrous night sky.

‘Look at those beautiful stars twinkling,’ the girl said, in reverent tones.

‘Yes,’ said the scientist,’and I’m the only 1 who knows why they twinkle.’

If this story is true, I’m hoping that she rolled over, punched him and then loudly announced that she was off to have glorious sex with someone a little more in tune with the here and now. Like a sports jock for instance.

Anyway I didn’t do that well at maths at uni. It’s not that I don’t do everyday math – I’m quite good at that. In the case of uni I was very good at it – As in:

If Fred has $15:75 and a middy of beer (250ml) costs $2.50 how much change will Fred have left to put towards his bus fare home?

6 glasses of draught plus 1 zone of public transport, just in case you were wondering.

In hindsight, this kind of example might provide some insight into why I didn’t do so well at the more formal side of maths at uni. Which is a shame because I quite like numbers. You can’t really be into sport without at least having a basic appreciation of them. Sport is, at it’s most simple, just a competition to get better numbers – You want more goals than the other folk, more points, more runs, more distance, more speed – All of it comes down to more of something qualitative and that kind of equation can best be expressed in numbers.

In homage then to the role of the humble number in sport this post is devoted to a study of them. Bear in mind that it’s more the ‘how many beers?’ kind of study than say the ‘supercomputer’ type of work you’ll find in a university. That’s not to say that the university stuff isn’t extremely valuable – It is and if you’re engaged in it then please stop reading this blog – Get back to solving the really important stuff right away.

So to begin and where else should we start than with the number 1. It’s an uncomplicated number is 1, uncluttered by divisors yet part of every other integer in the business. 1 is the leadoff in a baseball lineup for instance. 1 goes out to bat with no runners on.

And if 1’s name is Mike Avilés it smacks lead-off home runs on 2 consecutive nights against the Phillies. This generates a whole other series of numbers – Avilés is the 1st Sox player to hit consecutive leadoff home runs since May 30, 1913 when future Hall-of-Famer (1971) Harry Bartholomew Hooper achieved the feat in a double-header against the Washington Senators (Who became the Minnesota Twins in 1960). That was a just shy of 99 years ago. Hooper incidentally still holds the Red Sox record for triples (130) and steals (300).

The Red Sox won just 1 of those games against the Senators, losing the 1st 3-4 but snagging the 2nd 1-0 as Hooper’s lead-off homer made the difference. Back in 2012 and neither of Avilés long blasts tipped the numerical balance but in both games the Sox beat the Phillies (7-5 and 5-1) so it would be churlish not to say that those runs played a big part. They helped the Sox to win the 3-game interleague series and brought to an end the Phillies’ 6-game winning streak and 3-series winning streak as the Boston outfit triumphed 2-1. The Sox are now 20 and 21, just a win away from parity, .500.

In Game 2 of the series Avilés was joined by 3 other players in hitting shots over the fence. Big Papi was no surprise – He nailed a 2-run blast to centre. The other 2 were a little unusual – Not in that they scored but more in that they both scored in the same game. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Will Middlebrooks have a combined 26 letters in their surnames. According to a tweet from ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume that’s the longest combined surname character total for 2 players who have hit home runs in the same game in MLB history.

Nice work Steve – Give that man 250ml of beer I say.

Over in football and on Saturday night just past there were 3 games of significant import.

Heart of Midlothian FC played Edinburgh rivals Hibernian FC in the Scottish Cup Final for the 1st time since 1896. Hearts had won that day, triumphing 3-1 in what has so far been the only Scottish Cup Final to be played outside of Glasgow. Hibs went on to win the 1902 Cup Final but haven’t won 1 since. Hearts by contrast have won 6 since 1896, including their 5-1 victory on Saturday. The Jambos had led 2-1 at the break before Hibs had a man sent off while conceding a penalty early in the 2nd half. Down 3-1 and with just 10 men left on the pitch the result was a foregone conclusion. That’s now 8 wins in Scottish Cup Finals in total for Hearts (6 losses) and 10 losses for Hibs (Just 2 wins).

I think the numbers are on the side of Hearts there.

West Ham had a tighter contest against Blackpool with the 2 locked at 1-1 until just before the end of normal time in their Championship Play-off Final at Wembley. The game is known as the richest in club football because of the way promotion to the English Premier League from the Championship (2nd-tier) is handled. The 1st 2 clubs in the Championship are automatically promoted. The next 4 clubs in the Championship play off, 1st in a 2-legged semi-final, and then the 2 winning clubs play in a single game. That 1 game provides entry to the EPL, which some accountant somewhere has worked out is worth a lot of money. Therefore it is considered to be the richest club game in the world.

Which meant that the Hammers 2nd goal, scored on the cusp of full-time by Carlton Cole, is surely the most important number of the football financial year.

Chelsea’s fans will dispute that. They finished regulation time and extra time of the Champions League (CL) Final locked with Bayern Munich at 1-1. This was a prodigious feat given that the game was coincidentally held in Bayern’s home, Allianz Arena, and that the German giants had largely dominated the 120 minutes of open play. In spite of that the game went to penalties and even though Bayern took an early 2-0 lead, the Londoners fought back to have the scores at 3-3 with just 1 kick to come, that of Chelsea’s Ivorian striker Didier Drogba. On his boot rested Chelsea’s 1st ever European Cup/CL title while on Bayern’s Manuel Neuer’s gloves rested the chance to keep the Munich side in with a shot of their 5th.

Drogba and Chelsea won. Another 4 of those and they’ll draw level with Liverpool FC.

Which is more than you can say for the Dockers, who played Hawthorn down at Tasmania’s Aurora Stadium, on the same Saturday. Freo got pummelled, eventually losing by 56 points. That result dropped them to 8th and into a dogfight for a coveted finals spot. Damningly, their percentage is 102.55%, meaning that they have barely scored more points than they have conceded (643 vs 627). This doesn’t raise hopes that they’ve got the fire-power to out-score the rest of their 2012 season opponents. This is a rather immediate problem this Sunday coming up as they play local rivals West Coast in the 35th Western Derby. Apart from heading the historical tally by 20 wins to 14, West Coast has scored 903 points so far this year as opposed to Freo’s 643.

Freo will have some time to think about those numbers on the trip home. It’s 445km from Launceston in Tasmania to Melbourne on the Australian mainland. And then it’s 2701km from Melbourne to Perth.

I thought I’d finish up with a bit of physics. I may have unfairly maligned the noble discipline earlier and I figured I could make up for it by demonstrating that it can indeed be the sexy science.

With some help from Wikipedia I’m going to explain why stars twinkle:

‘It is clearly established that almost all scintillation effects are caused by anomalous refraction caused by small-scale fluctuations in air density usually related to temperature gradients. Normal wind motion transporting such fluctuations across the observer’s line of sight produces the irregular changes in intensity characteristic of scintillation.’

So now you know. Promise me you’ll use this information for good and not in an attempt to get to 4th base.

The Spicks And The Specks

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