## The Special Beards of Relativity

Posted in Beards, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve recently moved on to the part about Special Relativity in my module on Mechanics and Special Relativity and this afternoon I’m going to talk about the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction or, as it’s properly called here in Ireland, the Fitzgerald-Lorentz contraction.

The first thing to point out is that the physicists George Francis Fitzgerald and Hendrik Lorentz, though of different nationality (the former Irish, the latter Dutch), both had fine beards:

One of the interesting things you find if you read about the history of physics just before Albert Einstein introduced his theory of special relativity in 1905 was how many people seemed to be on the verge of getting the idea around about the same time. Fitzgerald and Lorentz were two who were almost there; Poincaré was another. It was as if special relativity was `in the air’ at the time. It did, however, take a special genius like Einstein to crystallize all that thinking into a definite theory.

Special relativity is fun to teach, not least because it throws up interesting yet informative paradoxes (i.e. apparent logical contradictions) arising from  that you can use to start a discussion. They’re not really logical contradictions, of course. They just challenge `common sense’ notions, which is a good thing to do to get people thinking.

Anyway, I thought I’d mention one of my favorite such paradoxes arising from a simple Gedankenerfahrung (thought experiment) here.

Imagine you are in a railway carriage moving along a track at constant speed relative to the track. The carriage is dark, but at the centre of the carriage is a flash bulb. At one end (say the front) of the carriage is a portrait of Lorentz and at the other (say the back) a portrait of Fitzgerald; the pictures are equidistant from the bulb and next to each portrait is a clock.The two clocks are synchronized in the rest frame of the carriage.

At a particular time the flash bulb goes off, illuminating both portraits and both clocks for an instant.

It is an essential postulate of special relativity that the speed of light is the same to observers in any inertial frame, so that an observer at rest in the centre of the carriage sees both portraits illuminated simultaneously as indicated by the adjacent clocks. This is because the symmetry of the situation means that light has to travel the same distance to each portrait and back.

Now suppose we view the action from the point of view of a different inertial observer, at rest by the trackside rather than on the train, who is positioned right next to the centre of the carriage as the flash goes off. The light flash travels with the same speed in the second observer’s frame, but this observer sees* the back of the carriage moving towards the light signal and the front moving away. The result is therefore that this observer sees the two portraits light up at different times. In this case the portrait of Fitzgerald is lit up before the portrait of Lorentz.

Had the train been going in the opposite direction, Lorentz would have appeared before Fitzgerald. That just shows that whether its Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction or Fitzgerald-Lorentz contraction is just a matter of your frame of reference…

But that’s not the paradoxical thing. The paradox is although the two portraits appear at different times to the trackside observer, the clocks nevertheless display the same time….

*You have to use your imagination a bit here, as the train has to be travelling at a decent fraction of the speed of light. It’s certainly not an Irish train.

## Beard of Ireland 2022 Poll sees competition bristling

Posted in Beards, Biographical, Maynooth on March 5, 2022 by telescoper

Yes, I know there are far more important things to think about these days but if you want to take a break from doom scrolling then you might want to cast your vote in the St Patrick’s Day Beard of Ireland 2022 poll.

Owing no doubt to some form of administrative error, I actually won this in 2020 but sank without trace last year. I’m in the first round group this year and will no doubt be eliminated but I’d be happy if I could cling on to the fourth place (out of four) that I managed last year.

Beard Liberation Front

Press release 5th March

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

BEARD OF IRELAND 2022 POLL SEES COMPETITION BRISTLING

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that competition for the Irish Beard of the Year 2022 is officially open

The 2017 winner was politician Colum Eastwood who bearded broadcaster William Crawley for the annual Award.

In 2018 the DUP’s Lee Reynolds shaved writer Dominic O’Reilly for the honour with Colum Eastwood in a steady third place.

In 2019 Lee Reynolds retained the title

The 2020 winner was Maynooth academic Peter Coles

In 2021 Aodhan Connolly shaved opponents to win the coveted title

The BLF says that while traditionally a land of predominantly clean-shaven cultures, Ireland has in recent times become something of a centre for stylish and trendy beards.

Contenders for the title in 2022 include a diverse range of the hirsute- a golfer…

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## Beards, Boxing and Bullshit

Posted in Beards, Sport with tags , , on September 14, 2021 by telescoper

I found out today that this year an IgNobel Prize has been awarded for a paper on Impact Protection Potential of Mammalian Hair: Testing the Pugilism Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Facial Hair which was actually published last April in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology. This seems to be a bona fide academic journal, though apparently not one that has very high standards.

Because facial hair is one of the most sexually dimorphic features of humans (Homo sapiens) and is often perceived as an indicator of masculinity and social dominance, human facial hair has been suggested to play a role in male contest competition. Some authors have proposed that the beard may function similar to the long hair of a lion’s mane, serving to protect vital areas like the throat and jaw from lethal attacks. This is consistent with the observation that the mandible, which is superficially covered by the beard, is one of the most commonly fractured facial bones in interpersonal violence. We hypothesized that beards protect the skin and bones of the face when human males fight by absorbing and dispersing the energy of a blunt impact. We tested this hypothesis by measuring impact force and energy absorbed by a fiber epoxy composite, which served as a bone analog, when it was covered with skin that had thick hair (referred to here as “furred”) versus skin with no hair (referred to here as “sheared” and “plucked”). We covered the epoxy composite with segments of skin dissected from domestic sheep (Ovis aries), and used a drop weight impact tester affixed with a load cell to collect force versus time data. Tissue samples were prepared in three conditions: furred (n = 20), plucked (n = 20), and sheared (n = 20). We found that fully furred samples were capable of absorbing more energy than plucked and sheared samples. For example, peak force was 16% greater and total energy absorbed was 37% greater in the furred compared to the plucked samples. These differences were due in part to a longer time frame of force delivery in the furred samples. These data support the hypothesis that human beards protect vulnerable regions of the facial skeleton from damaging strikes.

E A Beseris, S E Naleway, D R Carrier
Integrative Organismal Biology, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020

This study has attracted a number of silly headlines such as “Big manly beards evolved so we could take punches to the head, study says” and a rebuke from the Beard Liberation Front.

My main problem with the article are (i) that the study itself is very flawed and, worse, (ii) that the claims made of a link to evolution are clearly bullshit; the latter is especially disappointing because the connection to evolution was explicitly caimed by biologists, who really ought to know better.

On point (i) I’ll just point out that the experiment didn’t involve beards or punching. The team built models – sixty of them – made of fibres and epoxy resin to represent human bone, covered in sheepskin to mimic facial hair. Those models were either ‘furred’ (‘full beard’ with 8cm-long hairs), ‘sheared’ (0.5cm length ‘trimmed beard’) or ‘plucked’ (‘hairless’ shaven face). Human hair follicles are four times as thick as those from sheep, but five times less densely packed, so a fleece roughly approximates a beard. The biologists then used a mechanical striker to repeatedly drop a 4.7kg weight onto each model to measure the impact and record the damage.

The results showed that furred models were better than both sheared and plucked models at taking the ‘punch’: a beard will absorb 37% more energy than a shaven face, for example, partly because springy hairs serve as suspension to slow down and soften the blow. As the researchers explain, “the greatest advantage offered by the hair is that it distributes the force of impact over a longer time frame”.

The problem is that this experiment isn’t at all realistic. Dropping a load onto a solid object would simulate hitting a dummy rather than a person; the latter can roll with a punch, the former cannot. In addition, many punches thrown in fights – as opposed to the boxing ring – are not straight to the chin but some variation of the hook that hits the side of the head causing it to rotate. Now allowing the models to rotate is a significant flaw in the experiment.

But the bigger problem with the study is (ii), that its results are interpreted as evidence for evolution on the grounds that facial hair represents a form of ‘sexual dimorphism’ leading to the suggestion that certain facial features evolved as a result of competitive fighting between human males .There is then the idea is that, just as a lion’s thick mane covers vital regions such as the jugular vein, beards help protect against potentially lethal punches to the throat and jaw. This is the so-called ‘pugilism hypothesis’ (from the Latin pugil, pugilis meaning a boxer) and this study says nothing at all about whether or not this is true. Even if you think the experiment is realistic, its results shed no light on the pugilism hypothesis. That is not a matter that can be settled by biomechanics but has to involve evolutionary biology, and specifically how the trait in question might have evolved through natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s 1871 book The Descent of Man discusses hair in great detail but didn’t make the mistake of equating the lion’s mane with human hair: although he argued that the thick hair of various mammals might provide protection in fights between competing males, he believed that human facial hair is a ‘secondary sexual character’ that evolved as a result of female preferences, and rightly pointed out that human populations differ in their ability to grow thick beards — not something you would expect if facial hair has a protective function. Not every biological feature is the result of natural selection either: a given characteristic could be an adaptation that evolved for a specific function, but it could also have no “purpose:

Anyway in reading this silly article I became interested in beards in boxing, given that boxers are generally clean-shaven. A ban on beards in boxing has been in place in many forms of the sport and still is in, for example, the Olympics. There has been recent discussion about a beard ban being a form of discrimination against, say, Sikh boxers and the amateur sport. I think beards are only allowed in professional boxing if both sides agree.

So why would anyone forbid a boxer to wear a beard? I don’t buy the argument about a beard cushioning a punch, for the reasons outlined above and for the fact that the gloves play the role of “distributing the force of impact” far more effectively than a beard would. Some have argued that a full beard may make it difficult for an opponent to locate the line of the jaw and hence strike the wearer’s chin. Another suggestion is that a beard would conceal cuts and bleeding and possible hinder medical attention.

I’m not sufficiently expert to say whether any of these are reasonable, but reading an article like this one by promoter Frank Warren convinces me that the major factor in the beard ban is just an irrational aversion to beards among the boxing hierarchy. In other words, pogonophobia.

## Marking Bloomsday 2021 with beard power

Posted in Beards, Biographical, Literature on June 16, 2021 by telescoper

Although my primary research interest is in the area of astrophysics and cosmology I think it is important to get involved whenever possible in interdisciplinary scholarship. My latest such contribution was to use the “find” facility on the online version of Ulysses by James Joyce to establish that the word “beard” appears 59 times in that work. A thorough analysis of the role of beards in Ulysses would make an interesting PhD topic, in my opinion.

As former Beard of Ireland Peter Coles noted on twitter there are 59 references to beards in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

On Bloomsday 2021 the Beard Liberation Front salutes the hirsute canon of Joyce.

A typical Ulysses reference is below:

Mastiansky and Citron approach in gaberdines wearing long earlocks. They wag their beards at Bloom

(page 438)

View original post

## Beard of Ireland 2021 – The Qualifying Round

Posted in Beards with tags , , , on March 9, 2021 by telescoper

Just a quick post to pass on the news that I am in the Second Qualifying Round – known informally as a Beard-Off – for the award of Beard of Ireland 2021. Should you wish to do so you can vote here on Twitter:

The top two from the present Qualifying Round join Shane Lowry and Robin Swann in the final, with the overall winner announced on St Patrick’s Day (next week).

P.S. You may or may not be aware that I actually won this award last year.

## Beard of Ireland 2021 poll sees competition bristling

Posted in Beards, Biographical on March 5, 2021 by telescoper

And so it begins….

Beard Liberation Front

Press release 5th March

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

BEARD OF IRELAND 2021 POLL SEES COMPETITION BRISTLING

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that competition for the Irish Beard of the Year 2021 is officially open

The 2017 winner was politician Colum Eastwood who bearded broadcaster William Crawley for the annual Award.

In 2018 the DUP’s Lee Reynolds shaved writer Dominic O’Reilly for the honour with Colum Eastwood in a steady third place.

In 2019 Lee Reynolds retained the title

The 2020 winner was Maynooth academic Peter Coles

The BLF says that while traditionally a land of predominantly clean-shaven cultures, Ireland has in recent times become something of a centre for stylish and trendy beards.

Contenders for the title in 2021 include a diverse range of the hirsute- a golfer, political activists, journalists, an academic as well as the two Health…

View original post 151 more words

## Beard Wearers who stormed Capitol building condemned for bringing hirsute into disrepute

Posted in Beards, Politics with tags , , , on January 7, 2021 by telescoper

Here is an important perspective on yesterday’s shocking scenes in Washington DC. There’s no question that if Abraham Lincoln were alive today he’d be turning in his grave.

But seriously though, how come the Police presence was so thin that this rabble managed to get into the Capitol buuldings more-or-less unchallenged? Surely they knew what was going to happen?

Beard Liberation Front

7th January

Beard Wearers who stormed US Capitol building condemned for bringing hirsute into disrepute

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has condemned beard wearers who stormed the Capitol building in Washington on 6th January for bringing the hirsute into disrepute.

The campaigners, who promote positive images of the hirsute, say that while beard wearers were a minority amongst those trying to disrupt a legislative session confirming Joe Biden as the next President, they were a significant minority.

Two alt-right to fascist groups in particular appear to have been involved. The crazed conspiracy theorist group QAnon is not particularly associated with beards.

However the all-male Proud Boys are frequently to be seen with beards. Founder Gavin McInnes who was born in Hitchin but resides in the US is a noted beard wearer.

The BLF says that the Proud Boys have worked…

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## Beard of the Year 2020 Final Vote!

Posted in Beards on December 23, 2020 by telescoper

Well, here we are. The final round of voting for Beard of the Year 2020. There are four of them: Tinker (Bill Bailey), Tailor (Michael Rosen), Soldier (Michael Sheen), and Telescoper (me).

I’m off to a cracking start and have already accumulated a massive 3.5% of the vote. According to some criteria I’m in last place, but in terms of alphabetical order I’m in second.

Should you wish to vote you can do so by following the link in the enclosed post or here:

Polls close at Midnight on Christmas Eve (December 24th).

Beard Liberation Front

23rd December

Contact BLF Organiser Keith Flett 07803 167266

Beard of the Year Final vote open

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers has said the final vote for the Beard of the Year 2020 is open.

The final list consists of four names after two earlier voting rounds shaved the shortlist of eight names

Michael Sheen and Peter Coles won the first vote and went forward to the final on 23/24th December. Michael Rosen and Bill Bailey won the second vote

Beard of the Year will be announced on 28th December.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, we made some changes to the way the Beard of the Year vote runs for 2020. We’ve moved the vote to twitter where polls often have great engagement and instead of two polls which ran for many weeks we’re running a series of shorter more focused…

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## Second ‘Beard-Off’ vote for Beard of the Year features Michael Rosen & Bill Bailey

Posted in Beards, Biographical on December 22, 2020 by telescoper

I assumed I had been eliminated from Beard of the Year 2020 as a result of finishing second to Michael Sheen in the first “Beard-Off” last week but it seems I hadn’t read the rules properly. The first two go through to the final vote! Anyway, here is the second “Beard-Off” to determine the other two who will go into the final round of voting.

Beard Liberation Front

19th December

Contact BLF Organiser Keith Flett 07803 167266

Second ‘Beard-Off’ vote for Beard of the Year 2020 features Michael Rosen & Bill Bailey

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers has said the second ‘Beard-Off’ vote for the Beard of the Year 2020 is open.

The final list consists of eight names after two earlier voting rounds shaved the longlist of twelve names

There are two ‘Beard-Off’ votes for Beard of the Year 2020 which open on 14th December and close on 22nd December. The winners of each vote will face each other for a final Beard of the Year vote on 23rd and 24th December.

Michael Sheen and Peter Coles won the first vote and go forward to the final on 23/24th December.

Beard of the Year will be announced on 28th December.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, we’ve made…

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## Beard of the Year 2020: Last Chance to Vote for Me!

Posted in Beards, Biographical with tags , on December 17, 2020 by telescoper

Too busy with end of term things to do a proper post today, I’ve just realised that the first round vote for Beard of the Year 2020 closes tonight. I’m currently trailing in second place with Michael Sheen way ahead in the lead.

You never know, though, a late burst might make a difference!

You can vote here: