Sciency Words: The Other Kind of Tensor

October 10, 2014

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Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at new and interesting scientific terms to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:

TENSOR (anatomy)

In last week’s edition of Sciency Words, we looked at what a tensor is in physics. Or at least we tried to since I don’t fully understand the concept yet. Today, we’re looking at tensors in terms of anatomy.

A tensor is a muscle that tenses a body part.

That’s it! We’re done here! Why does the physics version have to be so frickin’ complicated?

Sciency Words: What the Heck is a Tensor?

October 3, 2014

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Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at new and interesting scientific terms to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:


I have barely scratched the surface of what this word means. In my efforts to become a better science fiction writer, I spend a lot of time reading (or attempting to read) scientific papers, and I’ve encountered this word many, many times. I have come to the conclusion that tensors—whatever they are—are one of the most important concepts in all of physics.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Tensors involve a lot of math.
  • They can be easily translated from one frame of reference to another, assuming you understand all that math.
  • They mathematically show how large sets of coordinates and/or forces are related to each other.
  • Tensors are categorized into different ranks or orders, depending on how much math they involve.
  • Scalars and vectors are examples of simple tensors (order zero and order one, respectively).
  • Seriously, there’s a whole lot of math.

I think I’m off to a good start, but clearly I have a lot to learn. Tensors are used in a wide range of fields (I think I’m making a pun here, though I’m not sure if I get it). They’re used in both relativity and quantum mechanics, they’re used in engineering, and apparently they’re used in computer graphics (meaning they have an artistic application).

If anyone can help me get a better understanding of this concept or if you know a good place where I can try to learn more, please let me know in the comments below. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to write a more intelligent post on tensors. Until then, keep it sciency, my friends.

IWSG: Writers Don’t Have to be Lonely

October 1, 2014

InsecureWritersSupportGroupToday’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. It’s a way for insecure writers like myself give each other advice and encouragement. Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

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Writing is an inherently lonely activity, or so I’ve often been told. To be a writer, you have to seclude yourself from the world, find someplace peaceful and quiet where you can concentrate, and stay there for hours upon end. Except it doesn’t have to be that way.

Yes, a part of the writer’s process is that alone time, but another important part is getting feedback from beta readers. I am fortunate enough to have friends who believe in what I’m doing, who want to encourage me, and who understand that the best way to help is to give me their brutally honest opinions of my work.

Some of these friends are fellow writers, but most are not. That doesn’t make their feedback any less valuable. In fact, I have learned that the more friends I make, the more people I include in my process, the more diverse range of perspectives I have involved in my work, the better my writing becomes.

Editing parties have become one of my favorite writing exercises. I invite several friends over for dinner, and we read a work in progress out lout. This is beneficial for three reasons:

  1. As I’m sure you already know, reading aloud helps you catch errors you might otherwise miss.
  2. When we’re finished, my friends can give me feedback while the story is still fresh in their minds, and we can brainstorm options to make the story better.
  3. Before we finish, I get to see my friends react to the story in real time. I see them grimace in confusion at a poorly written sentence or flip back a page because they think they must have missed something.

But perhaps the most important thing about editing parties is that my writing process no longer feels so lonely. Despite what other people may say, writing does not have to be an inherently lonely activity.

Venomous vs. Poisonous

September 26, 2014

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Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at new and interesting scientific terms to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is words are:


Since I was away on vacation last week and missed my regular Sciency Words post, today you get two words. I’m sure you already know the terms “venomous” and “poisonous,” but do you know the distinction between them?

Both terms involve toxic substances that could make you sick or potentially kill you. With both terms, these substances originate from animals. The distinction comes from how these animals deliver their venom/poison.

Venomous animals inject their venom by means of, for example, sharp, nasty fangs; whereas poisonous animals secrete their poison by other means, perhaps oozing it on their skin as a self defense mechanism. In short, if an animal bites you and you get sick, the animal was venomous. If you bite, touch, or lick an animal and get sick, the animal was poisonous.

Answer: both will lose.

Answer: both will lose.

During my vacation, as I trudged through the forests of Georgia, encountering many a spider and snake, I became quite concerned. Not because of the animals themselves but because I was worried about using the wrong words to describe them. Next time I stumble upon venomous and/or poisonous animals in the wilderness, I’ll feel much better prepared, now that I know which adjective is which.

Invariance vs. Relativity: An Interview with Thanh Nguyen

September 15, 2014

One of the cool things about science is that no theory, no matter how widely accepted, is safe. Some of the greatest scientific minds in history have had their work corrected or overturned by new discoveries. This could even happen to the cherished Theory of Relativity.

Today, we’re talking with Thanh Nguyen, whose Theory of Invariance challenges some of the ideas espoused by Einstein’s Relativity.


James Pailly: Thanh, thank you for joining us. First off, can you tell us a little about your scientific background?

Thanh Nguyen: I am at college level in Physics.

J.P.: So what is the Theory of Invariance and how is it different from the Theory of Relativity?

T.N.: The Special Theory of Relativity is a study of structure of space-time. It states that space and time cannot be separated and space-time can change depending on motion. While the Theory of Invariance was established on the perspective of absolute space and time. It is a study of relationship among energy, momentum, mass, motion and gravitation. Interestingly, the legendary equation E = mc2 can be simply derived from this classical perspective.

J.P.: How do you define the speed of light, and how is it deferent than the definition used by relativity?

T.N.: In relativity, the speed of light in vacuum, denoted c, is defined as the distance light can travel through vacuum in a unit of time, and it is a constant. This definition causes a conflict between electromagnetism and classical mechanics in a universe of absolute space and time. The Special Theory of Relativity was established to reconcile the conflict with the concept of relativistic space-time.

While, in invariance, the speed of light in vacuum, denoted c, is defined as the rate of change of the distance between light and objects which are shined with the light, in a unit of time, in vacuum, and c is also a constant. The invariant definition does not cause any conflict between electromagnetism and classical mechanics in a universe of absolute space and time, and it is perfectly appropriate with empirical results of the Michelson-Morley experiment or the De Sitter binary stars observations.

J.P.: One thing that really caught my attention while reading your paper is the claim that black holes do not have event horizons.  This seems like a testable prediction that could help astronomers determine the validity of your theory.  Could you tell us more about black holes and how they function in an invariant universe?

T.N.: Black holes are mysterious objects predicted from the General Theory of Relativity. They are defined as regions of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. Though most people have deeply believed in the existence of black holes, the Theory of Invariance disagrees with their existence. In the theory, I wrote “A black hole, if it exists, is a point with no volume and no event horizon.” It is one of ways to say that black holes do not exist. According to the Theory of Invariance, no matter how intense a gravitational field is, it cannot hold light.

J.P.: But haven’t astronomers already confirmed the existence of black holes?

T.N.: In relation to the existence of black holes, a mainstream scientist may answer: To the best knowledge of our current scientific understanding, black holes do exist. However, an anti-relativity scientist may have a different answer: To the best knowledge of our current scientific understanding, black holes do exist in a specific theory. Besides, we also have another answer in Wikipedia:

J.P.: Do you see the theory of invariance as an improvement upon Einstein’s relativity, or should we throw out relativity in favor of this new theory?

T.N.: I would see my theory as an improvement upon Newtonian mechanics instead of Einstein’s theory since it is based on the perspective of absolute space and time. In science, we should not put a theory aside until we have convincing evidences against it. Though anti-relativity fans so far have provided some negative experimental evidences, scientists who support the Theory of Relativity persistently say that it has passed every real experiment. So if we have stronger evidences, mainstream scientists might re-examine the Theory of Relativity. Currently, I have no experimental evidence against relativity. However, I thought of a low-cost experiment, which, if performed, will yield results falling in only one of two cases, being against relativity or against invariance.


Thanh has provided two links for anyone who would like to learn more about the theory of invariance:

  • Click here for the introduction to the Theory of Invariance.
  • Click here for Thanh’s paper on Theory of Invariance.

And remember: keep it sciency, my friends.

Sciency Words: Gynandromorphy

September 12, 2014

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Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at new and interesting scientific terms to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:


The other night, I was doing some concept work on a new alien species, and I was considering alternatives to the simple gender dimorphism we humans are accustomed to. For example, what if children of these aliens were born without gender and only developed male or female traits (including reproductive organs) upon reaching puberty? What if, in some rare cases, a few individuals never developed gender at all?

I speculated briefly about another possibility: what if a small minority somehow developed both male and female parts, maybe split down the middle or mishmashed together somehow? Could such a thing happen? As much as I liked the idea, it seemed a little too bizarre to me. Then, Sci Show released this video on gynandromorphy.

Gynandromorphy comes from three Greek roots: “gyn” for female, “andro” for male, and “morphy” for shape. So the term literally means having the shape of both a male and a female.

One of the important functions of science fiction is to provide us with new perspectives on our current social issues. Sci-Fi writer Rosie Oliver has written several posts like this one asking what’s happened to what she calls progressive science fiction. Given the current crusade for L.G.B.T. rights and the growing importance of the L.G.B.T community, maybe a story from the perspective of a gynandromorphic alien is just what science fiction needs.

P.S.: When writing these Sciency Words posts, spell check usually goes bananas with it’s little, zigzagging red lines; but to my surprise, gynandromorphy was already in spell check’s dictionary. I guess the word is more common than I thought.

Sciency Words: Supercluster

September 5, 2014

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:


Before we talk about superclusters, let’s talk about fruit. What is the definition of fruit? It depends on who you ask. A biologist’s answer will involve seeds and plant reproduction. A grocer’s answer will involve flavor, specifically sweet flavors. This is why tomatoes and cucumbers are fruit in biology and vegetables in grocery stores.

So knowing that there are two different definitions of fruit, let’s turn our attention to superclusters. A supercluster is a large group of galaxies. That’s the easy part of the definition. The hard part is determining where one supercluster ends and another begins.

Astronomers in Hawaii say gravitational currents determine the shape and boundaries of superclusters. Using data on the velocities of 8,000 galaxies, they’ve even mapped the currents of our own supercluster and given that supercluster a name: Laniakea (immeasurable heaven in Hawaiian).

But Gayoung Chon if the Max Plank Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics is quoted as saying, “The definition [of supercluster] you use really depends on the questions you want to ask. The latest method is a very good way to chart the large-scale structures of the Universe, but it doesn’t ask what will happen to those structures eventually.”

Gayoung Chon prefers an alternative definition: superclusters are structures that will eventually collapse into a single object. The gravitational currents of Laniakea apparently won’t cause that to happen, so Laniakea is not (according to this definition) a supercluster—just as tomatoes (according to grocers) are not sweet enough to be considered fruit.

It all depends on the questions you ask and who you’re asking.


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