Friday, November 25, 2011

Down the drain, finally

I did not know that the which direction the water goes down the drain depends on which side of the equator you're on thing was once a Controversy, much less that it is settled. Thanks, Conor Myhrvold!

Doesn't mean I won't still be amused by the jokes I make in this realm, however. Oceans love that sort of thing.

(h/t: Thomas Levenson)


Ocean said...

So you didn't believe me when I reported back to you last year?

bjkeefe said...

Heh. Sorry, no, I did not. I knew enough from my college physics to know that any one person's observation on a standard household appliance could not be conclusive, even given a perfect observer such as yourself. The Coriolis effect would have to be much too subtle on this scale. The signal would be lost in the noise, in other words.

I did propose to a physics professor at that time, who totally did not believe in this directionality thing, that we try to analyze the question statistically, by sending out a large mass of postcards to people all over the planet, asking them to draw an arrow corresponding to how their sinks and bathtubs drained, but my professor said that was a stupid idea.

In conclusion, this is why I did not get credit for inventing crowdsourcing.

Ocean said...

Phase I of the project: establish whether water draining down a hole (the conditions of the experiment will have to be precise once the confounding factors are clearly identified), swirl preferentially in one direction or the other dependent on what hemisphere the observation is being made.

Phase II: if indeed there is a preferential direction of the swirl, then we will need to figure what the possible causes are. If we can't establish the facts in phase I, phase II doesn't exist.

Alternatively, we could have a different approach and accept that life is mysterious sometimes, and we like it that way. :)

bjkeefe said...

As I understand it, the cause is clear. It's just that the effect is so small, it's very hard to see it on scales smaller than hurricanes, because the confounding factors, like shape of the container, surface irregularities, and so on tend to swamp what the Coriolis effect would produce.

I can accept that life is mysterious sometimes, but I like it better to think that we can, with enough thought and discussion, remove these mysteries one by one.