4/14/09 Taxing Time
April 15th looms and the IRS is expecting your check is in the mail. You might be thinking this is money down the drain you'll never see again. Maybe, maybe not.
Social Security began in 1935 and Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Virginia was the first to receive monthly Social Security benefits. Retiring at the age of 65, she began collecting checks in January 1940. Ida paid a total of $24.75 into the system and lived to be 100 years old. During her lifetime she collected $22,888.92. Which might not seem like a lot but represents a 90,000% return on her "investment".
In a strange way you might think of Social Security as reverse inheretance. Instead of the older generation providing for the younger, it's the other way around.
3/27/09 Time to Rain
Not only do oceans have tides, there are tides in the air, too. After all, both are huge fluid bodies covering the Earth. Just like sea tides, atmospheric tides are caused by gravitational pull from the sun and the moon.
As the Earth turns the tides migrate causing changes in atmospheric pressure. It's why there is more rainfall around 4AM and 4PM in the tropics than any other time. This effect on rain times gets later the father north you go. This is why it seems so often you get late afternoon showers.
These tides are the one effect on weather regular as clockwork and for well-known reasons. Even so, the weathercasters on tv can't predict what time it will rain or even if it will rain or not with total accuracy. They hedge their bets with predictions like "a 70% chance of rain." But why 70%? Ever wonder where they get that number?
Forecasts like those are calculated by the National Weather Service by comparing all other days in their historical database with the same weather characteristics (temperature, pressure, humidity, etc.) and determine on similar days in the past it rained 70% of the time.
3/13/09 Better with Butter
Vegetables are not only tastier with butter, they're better for you. That's because many essential vitamins and carotenes in fruits and veggies are fat-soluble. The bioavailability of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene is increased when salads are eaten with yummy full-fat dressing. Studies show up to a 15-times increase compared to salads with the funny-tasting fat-free variety.
Add to that the nutrients in many fruits, vegetables and grains are more bioavailable when cooked compared to eaten raw. Plus, high fiber diets reduce the absorption of nutrients in foods. While many extol the virtues of dietary fibers and whole grains while snubbing white, refined foods, this is mostly modern folk medicine short on science.
2/24/09 Whale of an Animal
One of the biggest animals ever to live on Earth is a gargantuan creature that's around today, the blue whale.
Unlike the biggest land-based beast, the elephant, the blue whale isn't a vegetarian but a meat-eater. And it eats a lot of animal flesh, if you can call it that, consuming vast quantities of krill, a tiny shrimp-like sea creature. Though it might be thousands of times bigger than a mouse, it doesn't eat thousands of times as much to get so big. It's just one of those wonders of nature that the bigger you get the less food per pound you need to live.
You gotta figure the biggest animal would live in the sea. After all, it doesn't need to use a lot of energy holding itself up with muscle power. Instead all that tonage is supported by water with bouyancy. It's kinda like living in a weightless environment.
2/5/09 Lots of Bang for the Buck
Pound for pound, gasoline contains 15 times more energy than TNT. Which might not be the main reason we don't drive TNT powered cars, but it's a good one.
Perhaps you're wondering how that compares to, say, the high-quality batteries used in cellphones and laptops? Electric batteries have only 1 percent of the energy of an equal weight of gas. While they're rechargeable, they typically die after 1,000 charges. If you include the cost of recharging and replacement, they're more expensive to use than gasoline.
Maybe you're thinking hydrogen fuel has more energy per pound. It does, but less per gallon. In liquid form hydrogen has 25% as much energy per gallon as gasoline, though it weighs less. However, to be liquid hydrogen must be kept at -253° Celsius (-423° F). Not very convenient.
The biggest problem with hydrogen, it can't simply be pumped out of the ground. There are no ready supplies of the stuff, it has to be manufactured either from water by electrolysis or from natural gas. With electrolysis you can only get back the same energy you put in. This makes a fuel-cell car similar to a battery powered car, it has to be charged up.
By contrast, the energy in gasoline is built-in when you get it out of the ground. That's why gas is so cheap and easy to use.
1/14/09 Thanks for Nothing
Arabic numerals are not Arabic. Though Europe got these symbols from the Arabs, they in turn got them from India. The concept of zero, a symbol for nothing or an empty set, also began on the subcontinent. The zero was the greatest idea since 1+1=2, and makes modern math possible. Imagine doing simple arithmetic and calculations with Roman numerals.
Now try using Roman numerals to multiply and divide, do calculus, or simply balance your checkbook. In fact, just try writing two thousand fifty-eight without a zero and you can see how cumbersome it can be.
To give credit where credit is due, they should rightly be called Sanskrit numerals. All thanks to some un-named Indian a long, long time ago.
12/28/08 Nutty Notion
Perhaps you've heard the rate of peanut allergies is growing. Maybe it was even reported on the news. Yet, when you know the report's basis, you get a different picture altogether. That's because they're not medical exams, but non-medical surveys of parents.
These surveys found the percentage of parents who believe their children have food allergies increased over the past decade. Five times more parents report their children have food allergies than actually do when tested. The rate of parent-perceived food hypersensitivity (54%) is much, much higher than assessed cases (1.2%).
For 2005 the Center for Disease Control reported 2.5 million deaths in the U.S., of which 11 people died from a food allergy, with the number specifically from peanuts unknown. Do the math and you can see peanut allergy-related deaths are extremely rare.
Peanut allergies are not increasing. What is actually growing is the discrepancy between perceived and actual food allergies. Meaning the only increase is in parental peanut paranoia.
Gaol, cheque, colour, tyre, and theatre are the English spellings of jail, check, color, tire and theater for Americans. This didn't happen by accident. There was a concerted effort, a sort of revolutionary spirit on the part of American lexicographers to rationalize and differentiate American English from British English shortly after America gained its independence.
Some wanted to go even farther and spell things strictly phonetically, which would get us jale, chek, kuller, and so on. Even "phonetically" would be spelled phonetically as "fonetikally." Az yu no, that dident katch on.
Columbus didn't discover the New World. At least not in his own mind as he thought he had landed on some outlying islands and peninsulas of Asia.
America was named after explorer Amerigo Vespucci, or rather the Latinized version of his name, Americus. Funny thing was, this was never done formally. There was no convention or system for naming continents as nobody thought there were any unknown continents which needed naming.
Mapmakers and printers attached the name America on their latest works showing the New World. These maps were best sellers and widely copied so the name just stuck by default.
Rather appropriate South America is named after Vespucci as he figured out it was a large new land mass and not an island or peninsula. He did so because of the outflow of fresh water into the ocean from the Orinoco River which could only be from a large watershed.
Why they used the first name and not the last, I don't know. If they had, I'd be living in the USV, United States of Vespuccia.
Sergei Federov and Anna Kornikova were the hot sports couple once upon a time. I don't mention this because I'm a gossip hound or so much interested in celebrity news. I bring it up to point out something interesting about the last names, if this sort of thing interests.
It's the "ov" ending of Federov and the "ova" ending of Kornikova. If Sergei were a girl his/her last name would be Federova and if Anna were a guy she/he would be Kornikov. It's a weird Russian thing where the last name has a masculine and feminine version. I don't know of any other folks who do this.
Check it out for yourself. There are no Russian NHL players with the "ova" ending and the women tennis stars have it. Well the Russian ones with that sort of name, at any rate.
Latex paint is the house paint of choice for most folks now-a-days. Latex is rubber. So, are we covering our walls with colored rubber? Not really. If you notice, on some cans of paint it says, "acrylic latex". Acrylic is plastic. Latex paint is actually synthetic rubber paint.
The first latex paints were real latex, rubber. But you'll have a hard time finding any real rubber paint these days. In fact, you'll have a hard time finding much of anything around the house that is real rubber rather than a synthetic. From what I understand, the only real rubber on your car is the motor mounts and shock mounts. There's something about real rubber that can't be bested for these applications. What else is real latex rubber anymore, I couldn't say.
Maybe the only actual rubber is the eraser on the end of your pencil. Which would be apt because that's where the term rubber comes from. An eraser erases by rubbing out the graphite on the paper. Hence an eraser was called a rubber and the word eventually came to apply to the latex material itself.
The human body reacts to raucous music, like rock and roll and rap and such, by cooling down. Soothing music warms you up. Not a lot, but enough to be measured with a thermometer. Which I guess means something called hot music is cool, temperature-wise and possibly otherwise. Unless you dance to it then it's hot, or something.
I'm guessing this might help lullabies put babies to sleep by making them feel all warm and cuddly. Then again, maybe they just bore them to sleep. What do I know.
Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Don't scoff, it isn't a far-fetched bit of casting.
There seems to be a tendency now-a-days to imagine Cleopatra was exotic-looking, a bronzed beauty of sorts. I presume in a belief this is historically accurate, her being Egyptian, African. This, however, is historically inaccurate.
Cleopatra was part of the Ptolemy dynasty which took the throne of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great who had conquered it. The Ptolemys were not Egyptian, they were Greek and pretty much stayed Greek through familial intermarriage. Even going so far as to marry brother and sister in the mistaken belief that this was an Egyptian tradition. Just trying to "go native", but never so far as to become Egyptian in bloodlines.
Japanese names are often as not mispronounced by English speakers. There's a tendency to say them as if they were Italian where you stress the penultimate (next to last) syllable. As in spaghetti, "spa GEH tee" or Fellini, "fa LEE nee." For instance, the manufacturer Matsushita is sometimes pronounced, "mat-su SHEE-ta" and most folks say "koo-row SOW-wa" for the movie director Kurosawa. Neither is the way the Japanese say them.
I'm told the Japanese don't stress any syllables at all. They more or less just run it all together, no syllable is longer or louder or whatever. There's no distinct gap between syllables which can sometimes sound as if they're not there. To a western ear Matsushita sounds something like "ma-soosh ta" and Kurosawa might sound like "ka-ros wa."
Listen for the names spelled out in the dialog of subtitled Japanese films. They go by so fast and sound so different than you'd expect you might not even be able to pick them out.
Fighter pilots in World War II generally fell into one of two categories, aces and targets. There were few of what you might call average pilots. Basically aces shot down targets, sometimes aces shot down other aces, but targets didn't shoot down anyone. It's one thing to be able to fly, many people can learn that skill, while it's something else altogether to be a natural born killer, a warrior.
This fact was not lost on the military after the war which is why they started programs like the Top Gun School. By simulating real combat conditions, as well as actually can be done in training, they're trying to find aces and eliminate the targets before the real shooting begins. After all, you don't want to send some poor soul into combat if he's just going to lose both a valuable piece of military hardware and his life. On the job training in this case is a poor option. As WWII was proof.
Jingle Bells is not really a Christmas carol per se. It's actually a song about people on their way to a Thanksgiving feast. There's nothing in the lyrics about Christmas at all. At least, that's what I've heard. Not exactly a stunning revelation, but it fits with the season.
The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 by a criminal gang master-minded by Marques Eduardo de Valfierno in the most sensational art theft of the 20th century. Oddly enough, more people went to see the spot where Da Vinci's masterpiece used to hang in the Salle Carre than to see the painting itself, many leaving flowers as at a grave or death spot.
The real twist in the caper was the perpetrators never intended to sell or ransom the painting, they stole it to generate headlines. Why? To provide plausible "provenance" so they could sell six forgeries on the black market to unscrupulous art collectors. That the genuine article might turn up someday didn't matter. After all, the buyers couldn't exactly sue them or complain to the authorities they had been defrauded into buying a fake stolen painting.
La Joconde, as the painting was called in France, was left with an Italian accomplice, Vincenzo Perugia, who sat on the hot goods for two years expecting an eventual payoff when it was ransomed back to the Louvre. As this never happened, and unbeknownst to Perugia wasn't part of the scheme from the git-go, he later tried to "repatriate" La Gioconda, as it was called in Italy, back to his homeland. For a little profit, of course. In the end Perugia was the only member of the gang to do time and became something of an Italian folk hero, as all Italy believes the Mona Lisa was stolen from them by the French to begin with.
Are you needlessly afraid of asbestos? Maybe, maybe not.
That's because it comes in three varieties. Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, and amosite, or brown asbestos, contain long fibres which, if inhaled, can trigger cancer and respiratory disease up to 60 years later. About 90% of what is called asbestos is crysotile, or white asbestos, containing short round fibres and is benign if inhaled.
So, I ask again, are you needlessly afraid of asbestos? Well, it depends on which variety you're talking about.
Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, the Third Reich's spy organization, was a member of the Schwarze Kapelle (Black Orchestra), an underground anti-Nazi group. The gray-haired admiral made overtures to MI-6 prior to The Overlord invasion of France to seek public encouragement from the Allies for those in Germany apposed to Hitler and seeking to end the war, but was rebuffed. Throughout World War II he worked to undermine the Nazi regime and was a co-conspirator in the famous failed plot to kill Hitler. He was eventually exposed and was personally arrested by his arch-rival Brigadefuhrer Walther Schellenberg the head of the SD, the political intelligence branch of the SS.
To understand his split pro-German, anti-Nazi loyalties you need only read this quote from him, "A defeat for Germany in this war might be disastrous, but a victory for Hilter would be catastrophic."