5/16/13 A Couple Car Bits Just for the Heck of it
A now standard bit of automobile gear was introduced at the first Indy 500 in 1911 and helped Ray Harroum in a Marmon Wasp win the race — the rearview mirror. All the other competitors had on board a co-driver/mechanic/spotter in the passenger seat to serve the same purpose.
Michigan's M-185 is the only state highway that bans automobile traffic. It's located on historic Mackinac Island where only foot, bike, horse and horse-drawn carriage traffic is allowed.
5/3/13 On Two Cash Crops
Fifty percent of the world's pesticides and herbicides are used to grow one crop, and we don't even eat it. Cotton. You may be sporting cotton head-to-toe right now. T-shirt, shirt, underpants, socks, denim jeans could all be cotton. Even your baseball cap, should you be wearing one, might well be cotton. Go through your dresser drawers and closet. Cotton everywhere.
Could we do without cotton? Is there another plant that can make better, more durable cloth while using less pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, energy and water? Yep. Everything you wear made from cotton could be made from hemp. Hemp's long fibres make stronger, more durable cloth than cotton. Or a stronger yet softer fabric than cotton. Makes great rope, too.
Hemp grows fast, its dense foliage shades the ground inhibiting weeds so needs less herbicides. The shade also retains soil moisture. Add hemp's deeper roots and little to no irrigation is required. Cotton cultivation uses lots of fertilizers and growth regulators. On the other hand, hemp leaves the soil enriched. It's deeper roots break down aerating the soil while providing humus.
Better cloth, fewer chemicals, less energy and water. It's a wonder plant. Only one problem. In our infinite wisdom we have made hemp ilegal. I guess that's the price we're willing to pay, plus law enforcement costs, to rid ourselves of pot smoking. What's that? There are people smoking pot anyway? H-h-m-m-m...
3/26/13 Happy Birthday Everybody
The most common date for an American to be born is September 16th. The least likely is February 29th, unsurprisingly enough. I "borrowed" this birthday heat map from TheDailyViz which shows every day of the year by numbers of births.
At a glance an obvious overall pattern emerges. Fewer babies born in January, gradually increasing up through September, then tapering off back toward the end of the year. This makes intuitive sense, babies born in months with plentiful food. Harvest times. A sort-of biological clock held over from days of yore?
However, there are curious hot and cold spots that buck the trend. There's an uptick in December, with a cold spot at Christmas. There are cold spots right around Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. There's a hot spot on Valentine's Day, February 14th. It's like women somehow can avoid giving birth on certain holidays. While they can force the issue (pardon the pun) on Valentine's Day and right before New Year's where there's a hot spot leading up to December 30th.
Another thing you can see is a downtick across the board on the 13th of every month. Appears as if some women prevent giving birth on Friday the thirteenth. Whether this is for their own sake or so the kid won't have a Friday the 13th birthday is a question. As is are mothers aware they're doing this.
All this birthday blather brings up what you might call the birthday quandary. Which is, if you had a random group of 30 people, what are the chances two of them share the same birthday? 10 to 1? 5 to 1? 50-50? Here's the possibly surprising answer.
3/16/13 Bad-ass Brass
Are you a germophobe? Here's a little tip that may help you: get brass doorknobs. That's because researchers have found that copper and copper alloys like brass can kill germs and prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria from spreading.
Plastic and stainless steel surfaces allow bacteria to survive and spread when people touch them. Even if the bacteria die, DNA that gives them resistance to antibiotics can survive and be passed on to other bacteria. On the other hand, copper and brass kills the bacteria and also destroys this DNA.
To quote Professor Bill Keevil of Southampton University in the UK, "There are a lot of bugs on our hands that we are spreading around by touching surfaces.... On stainless steel surfaces these bacteria can survive for weeks, but on copper surfaces they die within minutes." Source.
Nowadays when we think clean and sanitary we think of stainless steel. It's all over our kitchens and hospitals. But we may have rather missed the boat, sanitary-wise. Brass and copper would be better.
2/19/13 The Pareto Principle
Ever hear of the 80/20 rule? This basically applies to statistics like this: 20% of the beer drinkers drink 80% of the beer. I made that up, but it sounds plausible, doesn't it? Maybe this jibes with your own experience. You might know lots of folks who drink a few beers now and then, but a few people who drink lots of beer all the time. The whole 80/20 thing just seems right.
Thing is, there's some truth in the 80/20 rule. The rule came about because that distribution, or something close to it, happens to be true for many things. Economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Further research in other areas turned up a large number of other natural and social examples of a similar distribution.
This led to what came to be called the Pareto principle, the Pareto distribution, or simply the 80/20 rule. The Pareto distribution isn't a law of precise prediction, it's a power law probability distribution projecting probabilities and ranges, not exact numbers. The point is not precision but the basic distribution. For example: the top 25% of U.S. wage earners pay 87% of the Federal income taxes. Sort-of 80/20, though not exactly.
The next time you hear such a statistic at a cocktail party you might figure it was made up. But even so, might still be close to the truth. Whatever the case, you can challenge it or just let it slide. After all, at any cocktail party 20% of the people speak 80% of the nonsense.
1/27/13 Money to Burn
What's the difference between fiat money, counterfeit money, Monopoly money, and Joss paper? Well, I'm assuming you know what the first three are. But what is Joss paper, you might ask. In some cultures people send money to dead relatives in the afterworld, not by Western Union but by burning it. They cremate the money, as it were. How they direct who in the afterlife gets this money, I couldn't say.
As you can imagine burning money has a big drawback. Which is, of course, you're burning money. So folks came up with a workaround, they burn fake money, money that looks similar to real money but isn't. This is called Joss paper. This way a person can buy a million dollars worth of money to send to the afterworld for about ten dollars. This solves the drawback mentioned earlier.
Apparently dead people can't tell real money from fake money. Or at least living people think so or they wouldn't be burning Joss paper. Though come to think of it, once it's burned up to ashes it's hard to tell real money from fake money in the here and now. Maybe that explains it.
You might know the US Treasury replaces old worn-out, beat-up, grungy dollars with crisp new dollars. When they do, they burn the old bills. One wonders who gets all that money. Does it go to an afterworld central bank? Maybe Yoram Bauman knows. He knows all about Hyperinflation in Hell at any rate.
1/16/13 Just Don’t get Sick or Turn Blue
Does the sound of fingernails scraping across a blackboard make you cringe? You're not alone. Folks don't like screechy scratchy sounds. They actually studied it. Well, 74 sounds anyway. The four most annoying were knife on a bottle, fork on glass, chalk on a blackboard, and ruler on a bottle. On the other hand, the least annoying sounds were applause, baby's laughter, thunder, and flowing water.
What can we take from this? Scratching glass or a teacher at the blackboard can be very annoying. Also, the researchers didn't ask dogs about the sound of thunder or it wouldn't be on the not annoying list. I also suspect they didn't include a lot of annoying sounds in their test. Like opera, or teenagers playing video games in the next apartment at 3 in the morning.
Speaking of scratching glass, remember the Ghoul? What did he have against Parma, anyway?
1/5/13 Vive la Fry-yi-yi!
Some people celebrate New Year's Eve in strange, and dangerous ways. For instance, many folks like to shoot guns in the air. OK, they shoot the bullets in the air with guns. This is actually less dangerous than many worry-warts suppose. Provided merry-makers shoot straight up. Bullets go up from the explosive force of gunpowder. But they come down from gravity, and due to air resistance reach terminal velocity. Which is not nearly as fast as going up, and not nearly as lethal.
However the French have their our peculiar way of celebrating. They burn cars. This past New Year's Eve 1,193 vehicles were burned in France in matter of a few hours. Then again, burning cars is something of a national pastime over there. On average about 110 cars go up in flames daily. It is a tradition no-one can explain.
1/1/13 A Few Tidbits to Start the New Year
2013 will be as long as normal and shorter than average. A year is normally 365 days, and 365 1/4 days on average. The year in Greece will shorten by 2 months. Or rather, government employees will go from 14 monthly paychecks to 12.
In Japan, child diaper sales are less than adult diaper sales.
2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Federal Reserve. Since 1913 the dollar has lost 97% of its value and prices have risen 3,300%.
2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the Chicago Cubs last World Series victory, the longest drought in major league sports. Still, the Cubs are more popular than the Federal Reserve.
If the government taxed adjusted gross income over $66,000 plus all corporate taxable income at 100% it would not cover the yearly increase in government liabilities.
A simple arithmetic question most Harvard students get wrong: "A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?"
If you came up with 10¢ you got the same wrong answer as Harvard students. An easy puzzle can evoke an answer that is intuitive, simply arrived at, and wrong. If the ball cost 10¢ the bat cost $1, which is only 90¢ more than the ball. The correct answer is 5¢. While Harvard students get it wrong a little over 50% of the time, the general public gets it wrong nearly 80% of the time.
H.L. Mencken once said, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." I guess that can go for simple problems, too.
12/19/12 M-m-m-m-m Nitrogen
If I sent you out to buy a bag of nitrogen, where would you go? To the nearest convenience store, bodega, corner market, whatever. But don't look in the gaseous substances aisle, head for the snack foods and pick up a bag of chips which are inflated with nitrogen. This serves two purposes. Chips spoil pretty quickly if exposed to oxygen. Which you'd know if you ever ate from an opened week-old bag of chips. The poofiness keeps the chips inside from getting crushed. It's like an automobile air-bag for chips. Car air-bags also use nitrogen, but for reasons other than freshness.
Pringles come in a tube for protection instead of an air-bag. Which they can because they're stackable. Pringles cans don't use nitrogen because the chips pack so tightly there's very little oxygen in there. While you could just as easily stack flat potato chips, Pringles are all made with a curvey, horse saddle shape called a hyperbolic paraboloid. Besides looking nice and more like a real potato chip, the curve gives the chip extra rigidity for dipping in dip.
How the hyperbolic paraboloid adds rigidity would take an engineer to explain. You can demonstrate that it does easily enough. Take a sheet of paper and hold it between your thumb and one finger. It droops. Hold it between your thumb and two fingers, pressing with the thumb so the paper curves and it will extend out. It's the same piece of paper, only the shape makes it stiffer.
Tennis balls also come in a tube like a Pringles can. Though the tennis ball can came first so it's the other way around. Why in a can? Maybe it keeps the balls fresh and bouncy. I really don't know. Balls are curved in every direction imaginable. Which might make them the ultimate in curvey rigidity. They can roll in any direction. There's no right side up or upside down to a ball. They're a marvel. Then again, it's very hard to stack tennis balls like Pringles. Which might explain the can.