Thoughts on Einstein

Sublte is the Lord After many years of putting it off, I’ve finally started a biograpy of Einstein that has been on my shelf: Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein.  I will confess, this book is well beyond my mental capabilities at this point in my life.  Maybe 11 years ago I could have followed the equations; these days they all sound vaguely familiar but I find myself skimming through the tough parts.

I’m only about a third through the book, but I wanted to put down some things I’ve learned along the way.  I’ll keep adding to this list as I make my way through the book.

  • With his work in statistical physics, Einstein helped (with others) confirm the existence of atoms and molecules.  At the time there were doubts in the fields of physics and chemistry about the physical existence of atoms and their role in chemical reactions or phenomena like Brownian Motion.  Einstein’s work provided direct evidence of their existence and helped tie together the fields of physics and chemistry by showing that the same particles (atoms) were at play in both fields.  The equations he developed also provided several new methods for accurately calculating Avogadro’s Number.
  • Much of his early work was done without access to scientific publications.  A common theme is that Einstein would independently discover equations that were published years earlier.  In my opinion this is further confirmation of his genius.
  • In his younger days he would meet with friends to discuss Hume and Poincare.  This is what he would do for fun.  What hope do the rest of us have, with our US Weekly and Grey’s Anatomy?  Again, the guy was a genius.
  • I’m always amazed at how popular the man is and yet how completely inaccessible his work is to 99.9% of people.  Ask almost anyone about the impact of Einstein and they can probably offer up E=mc^2 (with no idea what that means), something about the space-time continuum, bending of space by gravity (the bowling ball-on-a-mattress analogy) and maybe describe length or time contractions as you approach the speed of light (twins paradox).  I’m certainly no better – I consider myself firmly in this camp.   All of the analogies and thought experiments that are used to explain Einstein’s work only seem to scratch the surface of what are truly revolutionary ideas about physics.   I doubt he spent much time thinking about novel ways of explaining these very diffcult concepts.

That’s all for now, more to come as I wade through this book.

Review – This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Stephanie and I watched this a few nights ago and were a bit underwhelmed. I think we can all agree that a rating system for films is a good idea. Maybe the current system isn’t perfect, but aren’t there more pressing issues in the industry, such as the increasing irrelevance of the physical distribution model and the gradual destruction of the movie-going experience for the sake of revenue generated by pre-movie ads and in-movie product placement? As movie distribution shifts from theaters to Netflix, Bittorrent, etc., I think the rating system will have less meaning and the NC-17 rating won’t be a death sentence for a film’s commercial prospects.

I did find the appeals process interesting; the appeal board was made up almost entirely of VPs from the major theater chains and movie studios. It seems like they would be more inclined to change NC-17 ratings to R ratings, since R rated pictures will have a higher gross.  I wonder why this group chooses, in the majority of cases, to uphold the original MPAA rating?

All in all, not a bad film, but not the dramatic exposé I was expecting.

LaceLid – A Holder for the Nike+ Sensor

I received a Nike+ iPod Sport Kit for Christmas this year. As you might guess from the name, the sensor only fits in a specially designed slot in certain Nike shoes. I am currently training with Asics, so my only option is to wedge the sensor between the laces, which would likely fall out after a couple of miles.

I figured I was out of luck until I spotted an ad in the back of Running magazine for the LaceLid, sold by Waterspeare Industries. They make a rubber holder for the sensor that has two eyelets that you can thread your shoe laces through. It seemed like a bargain for $4.95 plus $1 shipping, so I ordered a white one.

I got a little nervous after a couple of days because I never received an e-mail confirmation, but the package arrived today, only a few days after ordering it.

LaceLid Package
LaceLid Package

The sensor fits into the rubber holder very securely – I feel pretty confident that it won’t fall out during a long run.

Back of the holder
Front side

I retied my shoes, threading the laces through the eyelets. The LaceLid website shows a preferred method of tying your laces, which I didn’t follow. My method has a bit of play to it, so I’ll probably change the lacing to make it more secure.


I went for a quick mile run tonight and the sensor stayed in place. So far, I’m really happy with it, because it’s let me finally make use of my Nike / iPod kit.

Update 2/4/07: The LaceLid has performed well after a half dozen runs or so. And it sits there quietly when the sensor is out and I’m doing something other than running. If you’re looking for any hacks or widgets for the running data, Matt’s getting some good comments in his post about the Nike+ system.