# Gravity Makes Things Rise

It’s said that hot air rises. It’s not the heat doing it. Put an ice cube in a glass of tepid water. Which rises, the warm water or the cold ice? It’s the denser warm water pulled down by gravity that displaces the ice up. The temperature isn’t moving it, it’s density and gravity.

What’s commonly called suction is not any kind force of attraction. Air pressure on the liquid pushes it up. A vacuum can’t create a force of any kind. Think about it, a vacuum is an area with nothing in it. How is a force created if there’s nothing there to create it? You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, especially if the turnip doesn’t exist.

There is a limit to how far up a tube you can push a liquid this way, about 34 feet. At that point the weight of the liquid in the straw is too great for the air pressure to push any higher no matter how much suction you have on the upper end. That’s how a barometer works, air pressure pushes mercury up a tube with a vacuum at the top. Low air pressure pushes it less high than high air pressure. Ever hear a meterol­ogist talk about inches of mercury? That’s what they’re referring to.

In fact, if you had a straw that extended all the way out of earth’s atmosphere into the vacuum of space you couldn’t get liquid up the straw any higher. And that’s a whole lot of vacuum, a universe of suction. Maybe you could turn this Straw To Space into a curiosity, a tourist attraction. That’s a different type of highly unscientific attraction though. How much drawing power that would have is hard to determine.

Filed in 2008

# Water Going Down the Drain Doesn’t Pay Attention to Clockwise or Otherwise

Here's an old bit of nonsense: water spins down the drain counter-clock­wise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere due to the Coriolis effect, the different rotational surface speed from poles to equator.

The speed difference between the northern and southern parts of your bathtub is practically nothing, unless you have a really enormous tub. The Coriolis effect in a bathtub is also practically nothing. The imperfect shape of the tub and drain plus currents in the water from filling or bathing activity have more impact to determine the direction water spins down the drain than does the Coriolis effect.

Filed in 2008

# The Nutty Notion of Peanut Allergies on the Rise

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 from peanuts unknown. Do the math and you can see peanut allergy-related deaths are extremely rare.

Peanut allergies are not increasing, though the discrepancy between perceived and actual food allergies is. Meaning the true increase is in parental peanut paranoia.

Filed 12/28/08

# Calendar Changes for Better and Worse

Happy New and Leap Year. The calendar is going to be a bit different this year with that extra day tacked on the end of February. Not a big deal really, unlike the way it’s been tampered with in the past.

For instance Julius and Augustus Caesar each named a month after themselves, immodestly enough. Name your very own month, now THAT’s power. Your face on money, the populace shouting, “Hail!” and rendering things unto you all about. That sort of thing could really go to your head, if being a living god wasn’t ego boosting enough. They even forced these months into summer when the weather was nice and sunny. That’s why December, which means tenth-month in Latin, is the 12th month these days.

Imagine if this sort of calendar fiddling business was still being done by the lord high muckety­mucks of our time, say for instance by American Presidents. In that case, New Year’s would be on Georgeuary 1st. Groundhog day would fall on Billuary 2nd. Then we’d have another Georgeuary in which spring would spring. The first day of the next month would be Ronpril Fool’s day. After that come the flowers of Jimmay, grads and dads of Jerrune. Happy Fourth of Dickly, everyone.

Way back when some French Revolutionaries dreamed up a decimal calendar to replace the current one. (They can also be credited with, or blamed for, the metric system.) Of course 365 days doesn’t exactly divide by 10 very neatly, but that sort of untidiness wouldn’t trouble folks who squelched dissent by removing the offending tongue, head and all. So the extra days were for one long New Year’s party. You’ve got to hand it to them for that, unless they’re handing you your head on a plate.

Forget all that. I’m satisfied with the calendar as it is. So happy New Year and all that this January 1st, 2008. And happy Leap Day this coming February 29th. I’ll see you in Thermador. If I can figure out when that is.

Filed in 2008

# Have a Power Plant in the Garage? Dense Plasma Focus Fusion

There’s a lot of talk about alternative energy these days. Much of alterative energy is solar energy in some form. Photovoltaics entail direct conversion; hydro and wind are indirect via the weather; biofuels from plants by way of photo­synthesis.

There are many combustion fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas) in the earth. These energy sources aren’t free, it takes energy to extract, refine, and transport them. They’re bulky and dirty. Fission reactors generate radio­active waste. Still, they represent very dense sources of energy.

Alternatives are pretty diffuse. You need a lot of windmills or a lot of solar panels to generate electricity. Plus you can’t always rely on the wind blowing or the sun shining. Actually the sun always shines but those pesky clouds some­times get in the way. At night the earth itself gets in the way. There are only so many rivers to dam for hydro. I could go on, but the point is all the known and currently used energy sources have downsides in one form or another.

It’d be great if we could find a concentrated alternative alternative energy source. Perhaps they have. To be specific, dense plasma focus fusion. There are a few different approaches to this. One which seems to show promise is that of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. I could try to explain it, but I’m no plasmacist, or whatever it would be.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics

Video: How a Plasma Focus Works

There are several advantages to LPP’s method: clean, small, safe, cheap. The fuel is plentiful, non-radioactive hydrogen and boron. There’s no radioactive waste, the main byproduct is helium. The process generates no particulates, smoke, or any of that. Their method generates electricity directly rather than by producing heat to generate steam so there’s no need for large, expensive turbines. A generation station will fit in a two-car garage. As it runs on controlled pulses there can be no runaway thermonuclear reaction.

These clean, small, safe power plants can be located close to end users. A factory or skyscraper can house its own power source. Power grids would become smaller and easier to operate. On top of all that, electrical generation cost is projected to be about a tenth or less of that from combustion fuels.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, right now it is because they haven’t made it work yet. But it’s all based on established electrical and plasma science, not untested theories. How close are they? Check out the links and judge for yourself.

# Why It’s America and Not Columbia

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 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.

# Inflation Taxation –How to Be Ahead and Fall Behind at the Same Time

One might imagine getting an invest­ment return greater than inflation keeps you ahead of the game. Not always, the game may be rigged. That’s because the tax man only counts the number of dollars and not the value of dollars. To see what I’m getting at, let’s run a scenario.

Let’s say you have a capital invest­ment of \$100,000 which returns 5% over inflation in a year. Assume a capital gains tax rate of 30%. With inflation running 15% per year your investment returns a \$20,000. You pay \$6,000 in tax leaving \$14,000. Your total account is now \$114,000. Sounds pretty good, right? Yet, because of inflation this money has lost 15% of its purchasing power. Compared to what this amount would buy last year it’s now only worth \$99,066. You’re \$934 worse off than last year.

On paper you made \$20,000 but only \$4,280 adjusted for inflation. You’re really only \$4,280 ahead but the IRS taxes you as if you were \$20,000 to the good and taxes that instead of the inflation adjusted gain. No wonder the government favors inflation over deflation. The tax man gets a windfall when inflation creates phony profits that get taxed like real profits. That’s how to be ahead and fall behind at the same time.

# Ova, Not Eggs, Although…

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.

# There Used to be Rubber Coated Houses

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. 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 away the graphite on the paper. Hence an eraser was called a rubber and the word eventually came to apply to the latex material itself.

# Cleopatra Was Not African

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.

# Speaking Japanese

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.

# Most Pilots Were Flying Cannon Fodder

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.

# The Christmas Carol That Isn’t a Christmas Carol

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 a very stunning revelation, but it fits with the season.

# The Night They Stole the Mona Lisa

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.

# The Three Types of Asbestos

Are you needlessly terrified 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.

# The German Resistance in WWII

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.”

# Oater Errata

Many a Hollywood Western shows cowboys wear­ing guns in holsters in town. Mostly not true. Such was the practice out on the range, but in town sidearms were concealed, usually carried in a pocket. Just like they did in New York City at the time.

The notion of adept gunslingers and cowering townsfolk is a big exagger­ation. Many western settlers were Civil War veterans and most western men were quite familiar with guns and violence.

Most people know the street show­down is largely myth, shootings were more often bushwhackings. If a man actually were in a “go for your guns” type shootout, the advantage was to the cooler head with an accurate shot rather than the quicker draw.

I’m sure gunshots would make a person flinch, but you can’t dodge bullets. Especially since the bullets get there before the gunshot sound would. You know how they say you never hear the one coming that gets you? Absolutely true, bullets travel faster than sound.

In old oaters black or latino cow­boys were few and far between, which wasn’t the case in actuality. Cowboy culture was adapted from Mexican ranchero practices and a good many cowboys were latino. There were plenty of black cowboys, too.

By the way, only black troops were called buffalo soldiers by the Indians. It was in reference to their nappy hair which the natives thought similar-looking to a buffalo’s mane.

# No Man in the Moon, Either

There is NO dark side of the Moon, despite what Pink Floyd says. There is a far side we never see from earth, though. The Moon rotates once for each orbit around the earth, which means one side is always facing towards us and one side away. Every part of the Moon gets sunshine for each orbit, which takes about four weeks. That creates what we call the phases of the Moon. If you were on the Moon, the days would last two weeks, as would the nights.

I guess technically there is a dark side, just not a permanently dark side. My apologies to Pink Floyd.

# Weeds Are a Matter of Opinion

There are no weeds. At least not as any type of scientific or horticultural classification. A weed is simply a plant, any plant, growing someplace we don’t want it. A dandelion is nothing but a wildflower growing on your lawn where most people would rather it didn’t . If you preferred a field of dandelions rather than grass, then it’s not a weed. The grass would be the weeds.

On the other hand, corn is not a vegetable. It is a plant, but it’s not in the family of green vegetables like peas or spinach or what are commonly thought of as vegetables. Corn, or maize, is a grain like wheat or rice only the grain head, the ear, is greatly enlarged. A kernel of corn is like a grain of rice, not like a pea. Corn as we know it today doesn’t grow wild, it’s a man-modified grain raised by American Indians. They knew about evolution way before Darwin. Then again, so did many ancient peoples, only they just thought of it as cross pollination, and selective breeding.

A tomato isn’t a vegetable, either. It’s a fruit which grows on a vine, as do grapes. Though not really like grapes which are akin to a loose berry. Oddly enough, a banana isn’t fruit but is an herb. Unlike grapes though, tomatoes and bananas make lousy wine.

# Typing is Hard on Purpose

Ever wonder about the peculiar arrangement of letters on a standard computer keyboard? You know, what they call qwerty. How did each letter wind up in that particular location rather than arranged alphabetically or maybe something less awkward?

It all goes back to when typewriters were invented. These first writing gadgets were prone to key jamming if used too quickly. To prevent this the keys were arranged to deliberately make it awkward to slow users down.

This layout eventually became standard so now we’re stuck with this anti-sticking arrangement. A case of the early bird gets the worm, first in and all that. Just like a lot of things, the standard stays standard because everyone is used to it.

Now for a trivia add-on. Mark Twain was the first writer to have a book published in which the manu­script was typewritten. I’m too lazy to research which one, but if you really need to know, try Google or Yahoo! or AskJeeves or whatever.

# Attack Plan Ar-r-r-choo

Micro-organisms living on or inside people outnumber human cells ten to one. Or so I’ve heard. You could say the human body is crawling with life. Still, while they outnumber us, their biomass is miniscule compared to ours.

Microbes can attain resistance to antibiotics by getting genetic material from other microbes, bypassing the natural selection route of evolution. Which means so-called superbugs can be created not by accident, but by a sort-of germ warfare plot going on in our guts.

A little note on anti-bacterial soap. Mostly, the harmful bacteria we fear making us sick or worse live in the dirt and oils that soil your hands. Washing with regular soap eliminating the grime containing the germs and washing it down the drain is just as effective as if you kill the germs first and wash them down the drain. You might be interested to know surgeons scrub with regular soap and water. The bottom line, anti-bacterial soap is pretty much a marketing gimmick, there’s no advantage to using it.

# Animal Trivia

Despite the black around the eyes, the giant panda is not a really big relative of the raccoon as some have said. On the other hand a koala bear isn’t a bear, it’s a marsupial like a kangaroo or a wallaby. Another odd Australian animal, the duck-billed platypus isn’t a marsupial, it’s a monotreme. Marsupials don’t lay eggs, the platy­puss, which means “flat-footed,” lays eggs. Very odd for a mammal.

Strictly speaking, a panda isn’t really Chinese as animals don’t have nationalities no matter where they live. Despite the name, a Canada goose isn’t Canadian. You might wonder if there’s a point to all this. Not really, I just wanted to draw some animals.

# Bodily Trivia

The brain is not “gray matter.” This was commonly thought so because people were looking at the brains of cadavers. In living people the brain is full of blood and is pink. So if some­one accuses you of lacking gray matter, agree and thank them because it means you’re not brain dead.

Despite being the control center for pretty much everything outside auto­nomic functions, the brain doesn’t feel anything. When you get a headache you don’t feel it in the brain, but in the skin and muscles over the skull. Most internal organs don’t have the kind of nerves or receptors that we experience pain with.

You do feel pain in the stomach and lungs, but in a way these are not really internal organs. The digestive system is like a tube and everything passing through remains outside the insides, so to speak. The lungs are similar only there’s only one way in and out.

# Polar Tidbits

No matter how hungry polar bears get they don’t resort to eating penguins. They don’t eat Santa’s elves either. Polar bears live in the Arctic which is at the North Pole and penguins live in the Antarctic, the South Pole. Santa’s elves, on the other hand, simply don’t exist. As far as polar bears know, penguins don’t exist either.

If all the ice at the North Pole melted there would be no increase in sea level. That’s because the northern icecap floats in the Arctic Ocean and displaces its weight in sea water. Just as when ice cubes melt in your drink, the level doesn’t rise.

Saltwater is not full of salt, i.e., sodium chloride. The sodium and chlorine break apart and attach them­selves to water molecules. When water evaporates the sodium and chlorine recrystallize into salt.

# King Ethelredeless

Ethelred “the Unready” was an early British king, but the name is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a bastardization of Ethelred “the Unread” (Ethelred “the Redeless”), which doesn’t mean, as some might suppose, he was illiterate, but rather he was ill-advised.

This has something to do with how people of the past always read aloud, even when reading to themselves. So reading was also speaking. This is reflected in our current phrases, “Read him his rights” or “Read the riot act.” Advice, both written and given in person, was also spoken, or “read” in the parlance of the time. To be unread in this instance was to not receive advice.

# Putting On the Dog

Dogs and cats are not totally color­blind, seeing only in shades of gray. That they were was believed for years because normally they don’t react to color. Distinguishing between colors has no natural value to dogs and cats in the wild, so to them it’s a difference which makes no difference. However, both can be trained to react to color differences.

# The Grandaddy of All Racehorses

Eighty percent of thoroughbred race­horses can trace their lineage to a single stallion, Eclipse, back in 18th century England. And niety-five percent of Y chromosomes in current male thorough­breds can be attributed to this horse’s great-great-grandfather, the Darley Arabian.

# Motive Powerplant

A diesel locomotive doesn’t power itself quite the same as a diesel truck. There is no direct mechanical hook-up with a drive train. Instead, a locomo­tive’s engines run dynamos producing electricity to power electric traction motors which turn the wheels.

Basically, a diesel locomotive is an electric power plant on wheels.

# The Beginnings of One Size Misfits All

Sometimes the best innovation is not a thing, a product or gizmo of some sort, but a process or system. Take for instance, standardized clothing sizes developed by the quartermaster corps of the United States Army during the Civil War. Before that, all clothing in America was custom made for the individual, either by tailors or at home. That all clothing comes in sizes is something most people wouldn’t give a second thought to, but it is a fairly recent development and an innovative idea that’s now ubiquitous.

Not only that, but back in those days there were no left and right shoes made, both shoes of the pair were the same. As the soldier broke them in through wear they eventually were shaped into a left or a right shoe conforming to the wearer’s foot. And the soles of cheap shoes were made of wood. Ouch.

# It Ain’t Easy Blowing up a Planet

Ever see a planet blown apart in some sci-fi film by a superweapon? Think it could happen? Think again.

Breaking apart a planet the size of Mars requires the amount of energy produced by the sun in a month unleashed in a single blast. And even if you did that, because all the mass is still there, the total gravitational pull of all the bits must be overcome to get the parts to fly away from each other. A broken up planet would simply clump back together.

# A Jet Plane Before WWI

The first jet airplane, which incor­porated many innovations ahead of its time, was built and flown by Henri Coanda in 1910, less than a decade after the Wright brother’s first flight.

# Cast of Thousands, Mostly Dead

The German film “Kolberg” about Napoleon’s siege of that city holds the record for the largest number of soldiers used as extras, over 180,000 troops. The film was made between 1943 and 1944 at the height of WWII and the troops that appeared in it were diverted from the front lines just for the filming. Released in January 1945 in a war-torn Berlin that had virtually no theaters left to speak of, it is estimated that more people appeared in this film than ever saw it.

# Water, Water Everywhere

Seventy percent of all the fresh water on earth is in Antarctica. Yet water­front property is not available. If you lived there and told people you lived on the water, you’d mean that literally.

# The Pull of the Earth

The gravitational pull of a planet is not towards the center of the mass strictly speaking. The mass doesn’t gang up, pool its gravity and all pull in the same direction. A person on the surface is pulled in every direction there is mass. There’s just a lot more mass directly down than in every other direction. If you were in a hollow cavity at the center of a planet, the gravity would be pulling you equally in every direction outward, you would float.

Considering what else goes on inside a planet like Earth, what with molten rock sloshing about, I don’t think it’s worth the trip to see it firsthand.