Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Episode 61: Ponytail Science

In a Physical Review Letters scientific journal article, physicists claim to be able to predict the shape of a ponytail. I can do that too. It will look like a ponytail.  Does anyone not know what I mean by that? I can predict the shape of a square too. It will be a square.  Maybe I just don’t understand physics as well as the group of physicists sitting in a room somewhere drinking strong coffee and musing over ponytail shapes. 

The new equation they developed accounts for hair stiffness, random curliness or waviness, and gravity.  (One factor it does not consider is the activity level of the 6-year-old girl whose hair is trying valiantly to stay in a ponytail. Try predicting what that will look like at the end of the day when her dad is the one who tried to install the ponytail.)  According to one of the British scientists involved, ponytail dynamics have baffled scientists and artists for some 500 years.  The Ponytail Shape Equation uses all kinds of scientific-sounding jargon, like the Rapunzel Number, and it is this new equation that enables esteemed physicists to predict the shape of any ponytail.  In their defense (the physicists…ponytails need no defense because they are cute and fun and all that…unless they are weird and stringy and attached to middle-aged male physicists), this new equation will also help those same esteemed physicists understand the workings of random fibers in materials made up of random fibers, whatever those might be. 

I think they should have a contest with hair dressers to see who can predict ponytail shapes in the real world.  Maybe next they can predict what a pile of spaghetti noodles will look like.  That would be very useful to fancy chefs and such.  Is it just me, or does science seem to be taking itself a bit less seriously these days?  Back in the glory days when physics was first invented, physicists studied neurons, protons, electrons, photons, and a bunch more ‘ons. If they want to study ponytails the least they could do is come up with a more scientific-sounding name…like Fiberous Sliatynop.  That sounds way more baffling and serious.  I would say this is what happens when a bunch of hippies who became physicists hit midlife crises, but these guys are British, and I don’t think there were hippies in Britain.  In any case, none of this scientific research is any help to me in getting my daughter’s hair into a ponytail that looks like a ponytail done by someone who knows what a ponytail is supposed to look like, which makes me wonder if that equation would work for one of my Fiberous Sliatynops. I predict another victory for random ineptitude over scientific prediction.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Episode 44: Carnivores Versus Herbivores

So we were in the car on our way to a lake or some such summery place, and we passed a field in which some cows were grazing. My son looked out at them and asked, “Do cows eat other cows?” “No,” I replied, “cows are herbivores.” With those few words, I sealed my fate for the rest of the drive.

“What are herbivores?”
“Herbivores are animals that only eat plants and grass and such.”
“Do cows eat grass?”
“Yes, because they are herbivores.”
“What do tigers eat?”
“Tigers eat meat, so they are carnivores.”
“What are carnivores?”
“Carnivores are animals that eat meat.”
“What’s meat?”
“Hey, is that another cow?”
“Do cows eat meat?”
“No, cows are herbivores, so they only eat plants and grass.”
“Do tigers eat cows?”
“Probably not, tigers probably eat mostly smaller animals.”
“What kind of animals?”
“Probably herbivores.”
“What are herbivores.”
“Animals that eat plants and such, just like cows.”
“Do tigers eat grass?”

This went on for some time, but I am quite sure I wasn’t sure whether cows ate tigers or grass by the end of it.  In any case, it made me wonder who would win in a big gangland-style brawl between herbivores and carnivores. Sure, the carnivores have sharper teeth and worse attitudes, but there are some pretty big herbivores.

Speaking of big things and eating, did you know the biggest chocolate heart weighed 7 tons? The largest pizza was just over 122 feet in diameter. The largest Pierogi weighed 93 pounds. And just what is a Pierogi? Well, the experts at Wikipedia tell me it is some sort of Slavic dumpling-type creation stuffed with “varying” ingredients, I guess that makes the recipe pretty simple:

1.       Make Slavic dumpling-type thing.
2.       Stuff dumpling-type thing with whatever you can find around the kitchen.
3.       …(I didn’t get any further with the Wikipedia experts, but I assume you cook them somehow, or maybe not, but eventually you eat them…maybe.)

In any case, I wonder what the makers of these gigantic food items do with them. Maybe they use them for school lunches and such, which brings us no closer to who would win between carnivores and herbivores. I am open to hearing arguments from both sides before I make my final hypothesis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Episode 60: ATMs and Fast Cars

A long time ago people had to go into banks to get money.  Banks used to be buildings in which people wore suits and little green visor hats that matched the money they spent all day counting. Sometimes their counting would be interrupted by people who wanted to give them more money to count or wanted to take back some money they had left there before to be counted.  You might ask why people wanted other people to count their money.  Well, it seems the bankers were better at counting and sometimes when they counted there was more money than when you counted your money at home.  The longer you left the money with them, the more money you would have when you came back to ask them for the count.  No matter how long you left your money in a breadbox at home, you would probably get the same count.  Maybe bankers were just better at separating the bills. (That is what people called little the little green slips of paper they used to count to see how much money they had. Now we use computers.)  It was all very confusing and time consuming. 

As more people got cars and cars got faster, people realized they did not have the time to go into the bank and talk to the counting people. This was strange because one would think faster cars would actually make for more time.  If you can get where you are going in ten minutes instead of four hours, you should have plenty of time. (Scientists in California are trying to figure out just what is happening to all that extra time, because they could use some extra time to keep ahead of the rest of the world in their research on the dangers of everything to everyone.)  In any case, banks decided to allow cars to drive through the building so people could just reach through the window to pass the green slips of paper back and forth.  Injured bankers and high heating bills forced a redesign of the drive-through concept in which bankers stayed inside and the green papers were passed back and forth with modified vacuum cleaners that sucked the papers out of the cars and into the bank or blew the papers out of the bank and into the cars.   This worked fine for a while, but cars continued to get faster, which meant people had less and less time to spend chatting it up with the bankers, who craved human contact after spending so much time counting paper.  That created an opportunity for the ATM to shine.

The automated teller machine (ATM) allowed people to give and get money from a machine instead of a person.  Luther George Simjian had tried to market his ATM in the 1930’s, but cars weren’t fast enough yet, so people still had time for bankers, not to mention a healthy fear of electronic devices handling their money.  James Goodfellow, John D. White, and some other folks tried again in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but people still had too much time, and most of them were hippies who cared more about growing their hair out and wearing ugly shirts than about counting money. 

Eventually people drove so fast they stopped having time to interact with other people and grew more comfortable interacting with electronic devices, which led to a surge in popularity for the ATM, more sad and lonely bankers increasingly desperate for human contact, and an inconsiderate woman who had the audacity to put her car in Park at the ATM. Yes, I drove up behind her car in the ATM lane and idled (in Drive with my foot on the brake) while she sat there preparing her papers for their ATM excursion.  I cursed James, John, and fast cars while I waited…and waited…and waited. I must have wasted at least three minutes just waiting for her. That is time I will never get back, time I could have spent doing other important things, like driving back home. 

Now that cars move so fast, it is vitally important to get places and do things, which makes it cosmically frustrating to encounter people who have no concept of how important my time is.  My Zombie Lane crops need to be harvested so I can get money to whack more zombies to keep them from attacking my fences, my Facebook friends need me to check their status updates every five minutes so they can feel connected with me, I have lots of Angry Birds that aren’t going to launch themselves at things, and I am sure there are some new youTube videos I cannot miss.  My life is full of important stuff.  I knew I should have just deposited that check via the camera on my iPhone.  Whenever I leave the house, I run into people, and people get in my way, and that slows me down.  At least the advance of technology is allowing me to do things faster so I can have more time to do other things even if people get in the way, which is good because the proliferation of iPhone apps means I have tons to do. Just think, without all the time-saving apps iPhones provide, I wouldn’t have time for all the other apps they offer.  What a sad and slow life that would be.