Tag: Randall Munroe


By Phil Plait | August 25, 2012 7:00 am

I have a very odd coincidence to report.

I like getting fun questions from folks, the kind that take a little bit of math and physics to explain, but wind up taking you to fun places. A common question like that is, "What would happen if everyone in China jumped all at once?" Would it throw the Earth out of orbit? Would it cause an earthquake? Would it do anything?

The answer is, essentially, no. I tackled this a few years back; there was this announcement by a group that wanted to get 600 million people to all jump at once so that the Earth would be pushed farther from the Sun and global warming would be solved.

Um, yeah. They called it World Jump Day, and I made quick work of it. Nothing at all would happen, for lots of reasons. Still, it’s fun to think about, right? And it turns out World Jump Day was something of a prank anyway.

And that’s where the coincidence I mentioned comes in. I recently happened to see a video done by vsauce asking this very question. He handles it really well in an entertaining video:

My opinion: science is always better when Felicia Day makes a cameo! And, of course, vsauce is right.

So anyway, I liked the video, and made a note to myself to write it up on the blog here. And then, literally the next day, what happens? My pal Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame) goes and writes about this very topic for his "what if?" series!

Although, to be fair, Randall takes it in a slightly different direction. Still. Weird.

Of course, coincidences happen all the time. It’s a big world out there, with lots of things going on. There’s bound to be the seemingly-spooky overlap or two between ’em.

And as a final note, if you want to read more about the gnarly math of millions of people jumping, Dot Physics has you covered.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Debunking, Geekery, Humor, Science

xkcd asks, "what if…?"

By Phil Plait | July 12, 2012 9:57 am

If you read this blog, then you probably already know about xkcd, the web comic by the geektastic Randall Munroe. What you may not know is that Randall really is just that smart, with a keen interest in physics and math. He likes thinking about big-picture stuff, including taking what might seem like silly ideas and running with them to see where they lead.

So I’m really excited to see he’s started a blog called "what if?" He takes crazy questions from readers and answers them, following the logic wherever it may lead.

The inaugural post asked, what if you threw a baseball at very nearly the speed of light? I have seriously thought about this as well, and while I found myself smiling at Randall’s explanation – his thinking followed mine very closely – he took a turn I hadn’t thought about: atoms in the air undergoing nuclear fusion with the baseball. Huh.

The second post, which just went up, is about how well you’d score if you answered SAT questions randomly, and somehow due to Randall’s machinations all the US Presidents and 75% of the the cast of Firefly get electrocuted by lightning.


As usual, this is clever, funny, odd, and just plain cool. You’ll feel smarter – you’ll be smarter – after reading it.

Related Posts:

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xkcd on neutrinos

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor, Science

xkcd on neutrinos

By Phil Plait | September 23, 2011 7:51 am

I have a hard time thinking that my readers need to be reminded to read the web comic xkcd, but just in case, Randall Munroe chimes in on the faster-than-light neutrino controversy. Go read the comic now, since I spoil it below…

In fact, I agree with his idea, and said as much on Google+ yesterday:

So yeah, I’m skeptical. The fact that you’re reading this on a computer shows we understand a lot of physics pretty well, so the best thing to do here is to calm down and see what comes out of this. But I’d bet against it.

… and I’d win that bet either way. If I’m right, I make money. If I’m wrong, warp speed! Woohoo!

Scientist Brian Cox has an interview online where he describes why this is important, too.

We should have more news about all this soon, since the scientists involved are giving a talk in Zurich, and I’ll write up a review once I understand what’s what.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor, Science
MORE ABOUT: Randall Munroe, xkcd

xkcd and other-world walkers

By Phil Plait | May 5, 2011 11:00 am

Like a bazillion other geeks, I’m a big fan of Randall Munroe’s web comic xkcd. It’s funny and wonderful, but sometimes it’s his particular way of expressing his view that’s simply astonishing.

As poignant as that is, you really need to go to his page and mouse over the comic to read the text that pops up. It reminded me strongly of my own sentiments in an OpEd I wrote for the New York Post a couple of years ago. Especially this part:

For all of history, the Moon was a metaphor for an unreachable place, beyond our grasp. But in 1969 NASA looked to this unachievable destination and made it achievable. It was an event so singular that every accomplishment ever since has been compared to it. It was NASA’s shining hour.

But I’ve met many Apollo astronauts, and — no offense to them — they’re old. The last man to walk on the Moon is 75. How old will he be when the next human leaves a footprint on the lunar surface?

It’s a question I’d like the answer to very soon.

Related posts:

What value space exploration?
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Wait. How big is NASA’s budget again?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Space
MORE ABOUT: Randall Munroe, xkcd

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