Thursday 10 November 2016

Flippin' the bottle

I am so not down with the hood: 'down with the hood' isn't even down with the hood anymore. And living in the depths of rural Ireland doesn't help with getting current and trendy. We're about 2 weeks / months behind the UK and they are 2 weeks / months behind San Francisco and NYC.  Even in the age of the interweb, it takes memes time to cross the Atlantic and travel up the River Barrow.  In April I reported on one of these gorn viral ideas: "Bro, do you even lift?". I didn't get up the energy to deal with the ice-bucket challenge.  But I did make a nod towards neknomination, the peer-pressure drinking game; partly because the craze swept one of our students to his death in the River Barrow. A beer with friends is mostly harmless, but lots of beers; or beers consumed on the parapet of a bridge; or beers and driving or operating a band-saw? . . . those are maybe not so good.

A couple of days ago, I came across the bottle flippin' meme which hit the streets in May this year. A school kid is shown fooling about taking the piss of the 'intense concentration' and 'psyching self up' that we had a surfeit of a couple months later in the Rio Olympics. All the prep results in him making a half-empty bottle of water make one complete revolution and . . . land on its base and stay upright. It was eventually [02 Nov 16] reported in Wikipedia which pointed out that the trick was driving schools and families insane and was being banned wholesale. But that article also suggested that there was a lot of science in mastering the trick; including the concepts of fluid dynamics, angular momentum, centripetal force, and gravity. The physics was quickly explained in an article on Vox. Now I failed my physics "O" Level, so these words make me feel a) inadequate b) weak at the knees. But I know how science works and I dashed off an e-mail to my colleague who is down with the Physics, suggesting some science experiments our guys could do.
  • What is the best shape bottle to achieve success?
  • What proportion of air vs water is optimum?
  • Is bigger better than smaller?
  • Will a denser liquid of the same volume work better? 
    • Different percentages of dissolved glucose?
    • Mercury?
Here's the backyardscientist, a man after my own heart, pointing some science at the problem.  What appeals to me in this analysis, apart from dropping a plastic bottle full of Mercury in his garden, is an investigation of what constitutes success.  If you load up a particular bottle with a measured amount of water and then flip the thing so it lands properly, does that mean that the bottle or the amount /density of the liquid is optimum? Clearly not, because a single instance is an anecdote. You need data, which means that you have to think out an experimental design:
  • how many replicates do you have patience for? 
  • how many will allow you to say with confidence that 56 grams of water is better than 112 g?
    • I give ounces = 28g here in deference to American readers
  • should you retain the same flipper through all the trials?
    • are some people better at this task than others?
  • should you worry that your 56g trials preceded your 112g (training etc.)?
On Tuesday, I have a Research Methods [= Excel and stats] class with my 2nd Year Sporty people.
I asked them if they were aware of bottle flippin'
"Duh, Yes".
I then asked them if they did it themselves
"Not so much"
One of the students said she hadn't heard about it and there was a half empty water bottle on the bench and I showed her what to do. The berluddy thang almost stayed upright: my street cred was up only half a point [for trying]. That night I visiting a family with a 17 y.o. girl and she said it was a boy thing. Nobody in her all-girls school could be bothered. No bottle, those girls! It may seem daft to spend your time doing something so clearly without value, but to take anything on-board in a committed and sustained way is, I suggest, a Good Thing.  It's good for morale. If every day and in every way I am getting better at [bottle-flipping; nintendo; lacrosse; scything; drumming; paper airplanes] then that will bleed into my Maths, my Irish Grammar, my Physics.

And all over the world people are pushing the flippin' envelope: citior, altior, fortior - bottle flipping is, on the face of it, no sillier than triple jump or dressage.

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