December 12, 2012

Santa Claus: Threat or Menace?

I have discovered Santa Claus' secrets. He is a tricky wily jolly old elf, and his exact methods are hard to pin down. The man is at least 800 years old, doesn't age, has had more names over his career than Prince, can seemingly travel at the speed of light at a whim with enough elf sweat shop toys in tow to put every toy retailer out of business,. In addition the man routinely breaks into peoples houses and takes their 'milk and cookies', meanwhile leaving behind his ill gotten toys.

The fact that NORAD tracks him every year does nothing to help my suspicions. Clearly they think him a threat to international stability

So how does Mr. Kringle accomplish this superhuman feat annually? 800 years ago giving gifts to every christian child was difficult with modern technology but it has only gotten worse since then. Of the approximately 7 billion people that exist at this moment, 2.2 billion of them consider themselves Christians, I'm willing to venture that a fair number of people celebrate the holiday otherwise. North America, South America, Europe, Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia are predominantly Christian and so most of the population likely celebrates the holiday regardless of religious affiliation. So we'll say an even 3 billion celebrate Christmas. According to the CIA, 26.3% of the world is under 14, and are thus children applicable for him to give gifts to. That's 789 million kids out there. With an average population density of 13.3 people per sq. km (that's 34.5/ sq. mi). Doing the math that's 58 million sq. km (or 22 million sq mi) to cover in a single 24 hr period (which is being charitable). For perspective the entire Earth is about 510 million sq km (197 million sq. mi)

 In order for St. Nick to accomplish that he'd have to be moving around 16 million m/s, that's about 5% of the speed of light (It's probably even more than that since I calculated plain km, not sq km, but just to be on the conservative end of the spectrum). Air molecules vibrate around a couple 100 mi/hr, this means as far as Santa and the reindeer are concerned  the molecules in the air are hanging there frozen. Aerodynamics no longer apply, normally air would get out of the way, but because of the speed of the sleigh, it collides with the front reindeer and begins a fusion reaction , each collision giving off gamma rays and scattered particles. This would cause an explosion everywhere he went, destroying every place he goes to.

Now clearly Santa can't do this, at least not without destroying 2/3's of the landmass. So how does Father Christmas do it? Well, perhaps we're wrong in thinking about time linearly. If Santa were able to bend time and space it would make the whole thing a different possibility.If he were able to say... make space bend he would also be able to store that many toys in a bag and on his sleigh.

What's interesting is that Santa has taken on many different appearances over the years. He's taken on many different names: Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Tomte, St. Nick, Sinterklauss, Belsnickel and many many others.

So the man has many different bodies, is practically immortal, can bend space and time, and has a sleigh that can clearly hold more than its dimensions should indicate.

Santa Claus is clearly a Time Lord....

December 11, 2012

The Search for E.T. Continues...

As it happens I have the time, the energy and the will to resume my blog, so I’m coming back to this. What better way to begin again than to talk about SPACE!

So pretty

NASA always has interesting news, even if its just interesting to me. Of note are two news bits from extraplanetary probes, the Mars Curiosity Rover and the Messenger satellite. The Curiosity rover turned heads when the lead scientist announced they may have found something that would be ‘one for the history books’ only to renege on said statement. What was found was complex chemistry with carbon in it (methyl chloride to be precise) but the exact origin of these compounds, and whether they’re of martian origin, is still up for debate. The current theory is that carbon from the rover reacted with choride in the martian soil, forming what is is technically an organic compound, but nothing groundbreaking.... Like what was found on Mercury by the Messenger probe

Much more noteworthy than a martian false alarm is the discovery of almost 1 trillion metric tons of ice from 50 cm to 20 meters deep on Mercury. For context that’s 1100 cubic kilometers (around 260 cubic miles) of 
ice this is roughly the same size as the Arctic ice cap . The ice is kept safe in the permanently shadowed poles of Mercury which never receive sunlight due to the planets almost perfectly vertical axis. Some of this ice is exposed and remains as -223 degrees Celsius (that's -370 Fahrenheit), but more interestingly there’s ice where there shouldn’t be, in fairly warm areas above the freezing point. Ice here appears to be insulator by ‘strange dark insulator’ that does seem to be comprised of a complex mix of  organic compounds (including amino acids sugars and proteins), the building blocks of life. Scientists at NASA were quick to say that life on mercury was a long shot, but the data gives hope that life might be found in even the most extreme circumstances outside of Earth and that the universe is a much soggier place than originally expected.

So why the big hunt for water and organic compounds? Organic compounds make sense, we’re made from long chain carbon compounds, and its unlikely that life would choose another method to base itself from. Carbon can form long complex chains, the closest thing to carbon chemically is silicon, but silcon doesn’t form long complex chains. Any silicon based life would be simple, if possible at all. Silicon is a more common element on earth than carbon is, so presumably if it were possible or sustainable it would’ve likely been done.

So why water? Water is often said to be the key component to life, but it’s seldom explained why. Water is an ionic mixture so it can hold many different compounds, salts and other metals, and more importantly it can hold some organic compounds in suspension. Water acts as a solvent, so it can act as a bridge helping various compounds react with eachother, and given it's ionic nature it keeps predominently nonpolar molecules (i.e. most organic molecules) close together, close enough so that they can react and do the processes required for life to occur
. Almost every animal, plant and microbe on the planet has it, even when the environment would dictate that it’s not feasible. Liquid water’s scarcity in the universe however brings up questions of other solvents, like ammonia, would be possible.

The search for life is ultimately a search to try and understand the universe. Are we special snowflakes, an oddity in an otherwise lifeless void. Are we perhaps the most intelligent lifeform out there? Or are we just one among many.

One way or another we will find out. I personally hope it’s sooner rather than later

November 14, 2010

Weight Loss: The Honest Truth

I've been using a lot of colons lately: colons are awesome. So that's alright

With Thanksgiving imminent, looming and inevitable weight gain is upon us. As such, the public consciousness goes into precisely how to get rid of the 'turkey weight', diets begin to spring out of the woodwork: the Atkins diet, the Caveman Diet, South Beach Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Liquid Diet, the Cookie Diet, Dye it diet and the Di tit diet (the last two are fake). This is even including the latest news article that touches on a very plain truth.

The news story going through the media lately has been that Mark Haub, professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds (around 12.25 kg) in ten weeks eating only Hostess and Little Debbie snacks once every three hours. Not only that but his LDL cholesterol and triglycerides went down, while protective HDL cholesterol (the good kind) went up.

So what's the take away here? Does this fly in the face of all of the conventional wisdom about diets? Do Twinkies have some hidden health benefits? Do I love asking rhetorical questions?

No, big no, and yes.

Very simply, take in less energy than you use. And since energy and mass are connected (see equation to the right) you will therefore lose mass, this is fundamental physics we're talking about here, regardless of the newest fad. Dr. Haub in total consumed about 1,800 calories as a day versus the 2,600 he consumed before. In taking in less energy (and that is what a calorie is, a unit of energy) he could no longer support the same amount of mass, thus losing weight (most likely fat AND muscle). About 3,500 kcal (kilocalories... which is frequently abbreviated to simply cal for most calculations) is required to lose one pound of body fat. Getting rid of 800 kcal a day for 70 days (10 weeks) represents a calorie deficit of 56,000 kcal. That would be enough to account for a loss of 16 pounds of body fat (56,000/3,500=16)

As for his cholesterol changes, this could just be a side effect of losing weight again, as losing fat overall will make one lose cholesterol in the blood stream, even with the rather fattening substances entering his body.

However as Haub himself is quick to point out, this is NOT a diet to follow. While it is possible to lose weight with Little Debbie and Hostess products, the long term affects are less than advantageous. I'm going to use the Twinkie as an example, for no other reason than it's gotten the most press out of this, and it's fun to say. As we can see from the nutrition facts, (found via the Hostess Website) the common Twinkie is not in fact, that bad for you in terms of pure caloric intake. However, the amount of fat and saturated fat is pretty high. Add that there is no fiber, no protein, and no appreciable amount of any vitamins, except iron, will very quickly lead a person to SEVERE malnutrition.

The stomach itself does not recognize 'calories taken in', it is rather based solely on volume that it determines whether one is full or not. This is the basis behind surgeries like stomach stapling, limiting the amount of food one eats before becoming full.  This is why low calorie things like vegetables, whole grain, lean meats and fruit are important, you will lose weight, get all the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals (which will help weight loss) and will make you feel full.... Something I imagine one Twinkie every three hours would be unable to do.

That and exercise. As said, if you use more energy than you consume, you lose mass.... Works even better when you increase the energy you use while decreasing the energy you consume. Of course sometimes you get hungry BECAUSE you exercise but that gets into a fun recursive loop

So there you have it. It's not especially sexy, nor is it particularly complicated. It is, however hard work...Perhaps that's why we don't get the straight truth about it...

Though I have heard about this new one called the News Diet... You watch the news and feel nauseous, so you don't WANT to eat. I have high hopes for it.

Thanks for reading as always,