0809: "Los Alamos"

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Faranya
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby Faranya » Mon Oct 25, 2010 4:00 am UTC

CraigK wrote:When I was in high-school I was the first one to get to math class one day. The teacher asked me to sit in a chair at the front of the class and I complied. She then requested that I take off a shoe and sock. I was perplexed, but did as she asked. Then still without explaining what was going on she asked me to place my big toe in a small bowl of water. I was kind of creeped out at this point and the rest of the class was slowly filtering in giving me quizzical looks. Once everyone was there she started the lecture. "Class," She asked "What is he doing?" No one had a clue, including me. "He's soaking his toe." She said. Then wrote on the board, SOH CAH TOA.
The basics of trig are now burned into my memory with the power of adolescent embarrassment.

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CaptainC
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby CaptainC » Mon Oct 25, 2010 5:15 am UTC

You know, seeing the subject of the Los Alamos National Laboratory brought a smile to my face. My Great-Grandfather was a Fluorine chemist at the University of Washington. Fluorine was important in the process of refining Uranium, which leads into my grandfather's job. He was one of a multitude of less well known nuclear chemists. He has a very special souvenir paperweight. It's a piece of glass made from the sand of the Trinity nuclear test site. I wish I'd gotten a chance to really get to know my great-grandpa.

ijuin
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby ijuin » Mon Oct 25, 2010 6:55 am UTC

slider142 wrote:
...
Unrelated: imagine an alternate world in which the physicists misdid the calculations, believed that the bomb would destroy the world, and knowledge spread that such a bomb, constructed along such-and-such vague principles, would set off an out-of-control reaction that would kill off all life, or whatever. No bomb, but... "any day now..."


Close: A world in which Einstein sabotaged his work by calculating that there was not enough energy to start the reaction: Sliders: Season 1: Episode 4: Last Days. (Note: Ignore the Fox airdate order which aired the episode as third, the intended viewing order is as episode 4).


Nice, but any self-consistent theory of quantum physics that makes a U-235 or Pu-239 chain reaction impossible would also grossly alter the behavior of stars including our sun (i.e. the calculated energy output for a given mass of star would not match what we observe). You can't alter the behavior of fission without likewise altering the behavior of fusion. Either quantum theory would have to grind to a near-halt for fifty years, or else somebody was going to prove him wrong.

Speaking of which, in that episode of Sliders, why would they even possess a sufficiently large rocket to launch an exact replica of "Fat Man" (massing 4.6 metric tons) to escape velocity? Such a rocket would have to be comparable in lifting capacity to the Titan IIIA, i.e. large enough to launch a small 2-man spacecraft such as Gemini. However, as posted earlier in this thread, who would invest the literally billions of dollars necessary to develop such rockets (using the technology of the V-2 as a starting platform), if there were no nukes to be carried by them? The expense of such large rockets makes them uneconomical for launching chemical explosive payloads. Thus, no nukes = slower rocket development = delayed beginning of spaceflight = delayed development of computers that don't take up a whole room and dozens of kilowatts of power to run. Say hello to the bleeding-edge 2011 model Commodore 64 with blazing-fast 2400 baud modem and not one but TWO 5 1/4 inch floppy drives each holding a whopping 360kb of data!

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nopacman wrote:I do not want the tread to have another go at war, but dropping the A-bombs on people after succesfully making them was, like, TOTALLY necessary, right?

And of course, doing doomsday calculations is awesome. Makes you feel powerful, right? Having the future of mankind on your hands it's cool, yeah?.

Totaly. It's about that feeling of power.


That was an interesting story, but even if you accept that the guidance computers were expensive enough to be worth throwing away a trained pilot to replace, and were bulky enough that the five or six hundred kilograms of payload necessary to keep him alive until impact and allow him to control it would not reduce the mass of the bomb you could carry, it was apparent even in Asimov's time that even the most primitive electronic computer could calculate and react hundreds of times faster than a human ever could, resulting in far less accurate guidance (a delay of five seconds on an ICBM would mean missing the target by an amount greater than the kill radius of any fusion bomb lightweight enough to carry on one). And that is not to mention the secondary problem that if your warhead is entering the planetary atmosphere with a deceleration greater than about 12 g's, your pilot is going to pass out and you will have zero terminal guidance whatsoever. Thus, even if human pilots were more expendable than computers, they are also so far inferior in performance that your hit ratio will fall drastically.

James516
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby James516 » Mon Oct 25, 2010 6:57 am UTC

Wow, you guys had sucky mnemonics growing up. The one we were taught was 'Some old hags can't always handle their old age'.

austerus
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby austerus » Mon Oct 25, 2010 8:31 am UTC

Tomahawk wrote:Similar, I suppose, to
My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets

T.



Now that didn't work out so well, did it?

Now you'll have to stick to "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine"

BrokenSwitch
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby BrokenSwitch » Mon Oct 25, 2010 11:42 am UTC

For those who wish to debate the merits of nuclear disarmament, I pose this scenario:

During the Cold War, the expectation of mutually assured destruction deterred all involved from removing each other from the Earth's surface (we won't discuss those happy few owning sufficiently deep bomb shelters). But suppose there were an entity attempting to acquire nukes, with MAD as their objective instead of as an insurance policy?

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gmalivuk
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Oct 25, 2010 12:00 pm UTC

Lerkistan wrote:
StNowhere wrote:How does "co"sine suggest "adjacent side"?
Because "co" means, more or less, "together". Thus using the opposite side seems obtuse.
It might seem obtuse, but all you've done here is explained your *own* mnemonic, since "cosine" just means it goes together with sine. Same way "cosecant" and "cotangent" work.

There is nothing in the word itself that would suggest whether you're talking about the adjacent or opposite side, but congratulations for finding a mnemonic ("co -> together -> adjacent") that worked for you!
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BioTube
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby BioTube » Mon Oct 25, 2010 3:14 pm UTC

BrokenSwitch wrote:For those who wish to debate the merits of nuclear disarmament, I pose this scenario:

During the Cold War, the expectation of mutually assured destruction deterred all involved from removing each other from the Earth's surface (we won't discuss those happy few owning sufficiently deep bomb shelters).
Except you could have easily had your MAD insurance without actual nukes - there's no genuine use for that level of mass murder. Hell, the world might've been better of had the Soviet Union went and started World War III, which would've likely ended with it self-destructing.
Frédéric Bastiat wrote:Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

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StNowhere
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby StNowhere » Mon Oct 25, 2010 6:38 pm UTC

austerus wrote:
Tomahawk wrote:Similar, I suppose, to
My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets

T.



Now that didn't work out so well, did it?

Now you'll have to stick to "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine"


You just have to be a little more creative:

"Matt's Very Exquisite Mother Just Showed Us Noodz"

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Fat Zombie
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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby Fat Zombie » Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:42 am UTC

I never remembered a mnemonic for SohCahToa. I just remembered "Soh-Cah-Toa" as a single word.
...And before you ask: yes, I do like to listen to myself talk!

ijuin
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby ijuin » Tue Oct 26, 2010 5:29 am UTC

BioTube wrote:
BrokenSwitch wrote:For those who wish to debate the merits of nuclear disarmament, I pose this scenario:

During the Cold War, the expectation of mutually assured destruction deterred all involved from removing each other from the Earth's surface (we won't discuss those happy few owning sufficiently deep bomb shelters).
Except you could have easily had your MAD insurance without actual nukes - there's no genuine use for that level of mass murder. Hell, the world might've been better of had the Soviet Union went and started World War III, which would've likely ended with it self-destructing.

The concept of MAD requires that the enemy believe that you are capable of completely destroying them even if they make the first strike. Not just occupying their country and toppling their ruling class, but near-total genocide that will end their existence as a culture (in other words, worse than what was done to Germany in WWII). If an enemy believes that they can survive a war with you, then they will not fear starting one. There are only two ways that I can think of to accomplish this:

1: Have such an overwhelming advantage in conventional arms that you could conquer them at will.

2: Have weapons capable of killing a large fraction of their population and against which the enemy possesses no effective large-scale defense (probably nuclear, bio, or chemical weapons).

The thing about option 2 is that it does not require you to have MORE power than your enemy--it only requires that you exceed the threshold needed to devastate their population. Thus, having a hundred nukes can fend off an enemy who has ten thousand. This allows for a multi-polar standoff as opposed to option 1 which implies that a single party holds an undisputed upper hand.

aethon
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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby aethon » Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:16 am UTC

Uh, I thought this was a reference to the LHC, honestly. Remember that huge (ongoing) scare that it'll create a black hole and kill us all?

EDIT: Nevermind, running a search on "LHC" found me some folks who agreed on page 2.

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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby RebeccaRGB » Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:57 am UTC

austerus wrote:
Tomahawk wrote:Similar, I suppose, to
My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets

T.

Now that didn't work out so well, did it?

Now you'll have to stick to "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine"

My Very Educated Mother Just Said, "Uhoh, No Pluto."
Stephen Hawking: Great. The entire universe was destroyed.
Fry: Destroyed? Then where are we now?
Al Gore: I don't know. But I can darn well tell you where we're not—the universe!

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gmalivuk
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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:53 am UTC

aethon wrote:Uh, I thought this was a reference to the LHC, honestly. Remember that huge (ongoing) scare that it'll create a black hole and kill us all?

EDIT: Nevermind, running a search on "LHC" found me some folks who agreed on page 2.
Except, the LHC is rather far away from Los Alamos, and was built rather a long time after 1945...
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BioTube
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby BioTube » Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:04 pm UTC

ijuin wrote:The concept of MAD requires that the enemy believe that you are capable of completely destroying them even if they make the first strike. Not just occupying their country and toppling their ruling class, but near-total genocide that will end their existence as a culture (in other words, worse than what was done to Germany in WWII). If an enemy believes that they can survive a war with you, then they will not fear starting one.
Actually, there's reason to believe MAD simply gave an excuse not to start a war nobody wanted to fight all that badly - notice how Eisenhower refused to push to Berlin, despite the fact that it would've inhibited the Soviet nuclear program. As for the lack of cultural destruction of Germany, that never happened because of public outrage when the Morgenthau Plan was leaked(which echoes a similar situation the first Roosevelt faced with the Philippines; neither was happy about having to treat their victims as something approaching humanely) and the fact that the Cold War was already brewing.
There are only two ways that I can think of to accomplish this:

1: Have such an overwhelming advantage in conventional arms that you could conquer them at will.

2: Have weapons capable of killing a large fraction of their population and against which the enemy possesses no effective large-scale defense (probably nuclear, bio, or chemical weapons).
How many serious invasions has Russia suffered? Not many - the capability of soundly defeating any invading army is a deterrent all its own. Naturally, this has the shortfall of not always being projectable to you'd like to rule(see: the fate of just about every empire), but it serves the purpose. Besides, even before the Soviet Union and the United States became MAD-capable, they did have a balance of power of sorts: the US has been able to bring more materiel to bear than anybody else since at least WWI while the USSR had access to immense man-power. Nukes only broadened the scope of destruction.
The thing about option 2 is that it does not require you to have MORE power than your enemy--it only requires that you exceed the threshold needed to devastate their population. Thus, having a hundred nukes can fend off an enemy who has ten thousand. This allows for a multi-polar standoff as opposed to option 1 which implies that a single party holds an undisputed upper hand.
Guerrillas have always been able to give conventional forces a run for their money; only extremely unbalanced situations allow for conquest without tacit assent. As I said before, there is no justification for that level of mass murder, EVER.
Frédéric Bastiat wrote:Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby ijuin » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:14 am UTC

The only point of having the capability to cause such destruction is to make other people afraid of making you desperate enough to use it.

simea mirans
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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby simea mirans » Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:40 pm UTC

Anyway, the people who did the calculations at Los Alamos were mostly women. XKCD is usually careful about gender bias - surprised he missed this.

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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:03 pm UTC

Well it wasn't necessarily a matter of missing it, so much as this comic portrays a few men. (Plus, if Randall does know that much of the calculation was done by women, he probably made Steve specifically a man, so as not to stumble over the "women are bad at math" thing.)
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eran_rathan
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Re: 0809: "Los Alamos"

Postby eran_rathan » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:16 pm UTC

simea mirans wrote:Anyway, the people who did the calculations at Los Alamos were mostly women. XKCD is usually careful about gender bias - surprised he missed this.


Heh, I was going to mention this (my grandmother was one of the calculators there).
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby pinkgothic » Sun Oct 31, 2010 4:55 pm UTC

*chokes and sputters drink all over keyboard about halfway through page four*

cynical_otaku wrote:Oh, and look at our post war relationships with Germany and Japan. Which one did we nuke? Which one do we have a better relationship with?


...I very honestly hope you're joking. Political disagreements more than half a century later (YES, HONESTLY, THAT LONG) have no bearing on this - especially given the relationship between Germany and the USA during that half a century, which could probably hardly have been any better.

>.>
<.<

Anyway, carry on. That was the only statement in this thread that got to me. I'm fine now. I'll be over here, getting my regular-laughs from the comic strip in question.

*crawls away and back into lurk mode*
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wdg2012
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809:Los Alamos

Postby wdg2012 » Tue Dec 25, 2012 11:11 pm UTC

"...the coolest jobs ever"? Well. Not according to J. Robert Oppenheimer: "...'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."

herbys
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Re: 0809: Los Alamos

Postby herbys » Fri Nov 01, 2013 6:07 am UTC

It's unfortunate that the Psychlos were better at math than Steve.


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