Archive for the ‘Thought Exercise’ Category

Don't believe me.

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

You really shouldn’t believe anything that I say here.

That’s not to say that you should stop reading, but you just shouldn’t believe me. Here’s why: most of this stuff that I’m writing about, I pretty much just pull out of my ass. I’m not an expert, there’s no research done here. I just pretty much copy and paste from wikipedia, and we all know how reliable that is.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything that I’m posting is wrong. I’m sure that most of it is actually fairly factual. At least it’s as factual as we know it to be right now. You always have to add that caveat in there, otherwise some jerkwad is going to discover something new tomorrow and come back to your blog and call you out on being an idiot because you were talking about something before something else was learned about that one thing. That’s what Galileo did when he found out that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, and then they burned him at the stake.

See, I just proved my own point. They didn’t burn Galileo, but it sounds believable. Let’s put it this way, my posts have an unfortunate, sometimes unavoidable amount of truthiness to them. I try hard to present factual information here, but sometimes the information that I get isn’t completely true. And sometimes I just intentionally provide false information that I assume everyone knows is wrong anyways. I’m kind of a dick like that. The point is that you should keep reading this despite my flat-out lying, but you should also cast a critical eye on everything you take in. This shouldn’t just apply to my posts, but to all “factual” information or news that you take in.

I don’t want to suggest that anyone turn into a hard nosed cynic disbelieving everything they hear. Someone who instantly rejects anything is just as annoying as someone who believes everything they hear. I just want people to believe what they want to believe, while taking a bit of time to do some research themselves to make sure that the facts they’re regurgitating are actually facts. In the past year there have been a number of instances where news organizations have been purposefully duped in order to be discredited for reporting false information. Fact checking is becoming more and more difficult due to the pressure of breaking an important story first, especially when the internet is instantaneous and you don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next print edition before deciding to run the story.

Just in the past week I’ve run acrost my own critical moments. In the first I was watching Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary. In the first episode he mentioned that the last Civil War veteran died in 1959. When I heard that alarm bells began ringing. The war ended in 1865. If the veteran in question was born in 1859 and died when he was a hundred, he would’ve been 6 when the war ended. I know that they weren’t very choosey when recruiting troops during the Civil War, especially  near the end, but I think the rules were a little bit stricter than that. More than likely the youngest soldier would be about 12, which would mean that the oldest veteran would be about 106 when he died. That’s possible, but still not likely.

I made a quick search on wikipedia, and sure enough found that it was actually a hoax that the last surviving veteran died in 1959. It turns out that the last veteran of the Civil War died in 1951. He was about 104 when he died. Still an unbelievable number, but I felt an enourmous amount of pride when I was able prove Ken Burns to be a lying liar telling lies. LIES! Not so special now you epically long documentary making bastard. No, I’m just kidding he makes really good stuff.

The next example came from Bruce Russet’s book No Clear and Present Danger. The book is a critical look at whether or not the United States was right to enter World War II. Seems like a bizarre stance to take, but it’s a perfect example of taking a quizzical look at conventional thinking. At one point of the book, Russet talks about the making of the atomic bomb. He mentions that without getting involved in the war, America wouldn’t have been able to develop the bomb by 1945, but we would’ve gotten there by 1947 or 1948.  Obviously there’s no way to disprove his prediction, but I couldn’t help but think that he had overestimated the timeline. If The United States hadn’t gotten involved, we wouldn’t have had such an incentive to kick off the Manhattan Project. I can’t underemphasise this enough, but the Manhattan Project was a HUGE!!! undertaking. I don’t all caps shit without a good reason, and don’t even get me started on the multiple exclamation points. As if that weren’t enough there’s the bolding going on. All that to prove that I’m serious about this. The Manhattan Project cost 2 billion dollars and had 130,000 people working on it. They even created a city to work on it. In 1945 there were 75,000 people living in Oak Ridge Tennessee. All of the workers there were involved with the Manhattan project. I cannot imagine this many people and this much money being thrown at building the nuclear bomb if it weren’t for America’s involvement in the war. In my humble opinion, there is absolutely no way that we would’ve completed the bomb within an extra ten years without that incentive to beat the Germans.

I don’t think that most of the people reading this really need to be made aware of how critical thinking is. Chances are if you’re reading this it’s because you can appreciate how awesome I am, which means you’re a pretty smart group. I pretty much wrote this to apologize for any times when I was presenting something that wasn’t true, and to preemptively apologize for any moments in the future where I lie to you all. Also, I wanted to blow my own horn about how smrt I am for finding those two examples.

Categories: History, Thought Exercise

Cold activated can? More like cold activated crap!

July 14, 2010 4 comments

I had the day off today, and even though I was watching the baby, I knew that there would be large chunks of time where she would be sleeping. While my plan is usually to try and sleep when the baby sleeps, this doesn’t always work out, leaving me with gaps of boredom that must be filled. While I was picking up some random items at the grocery store, I happened by the liquor department when inspiration struck me.

“Hey, there’s something that I can do to pass the time. Booze!”

I made a bee line past the cordials, wines and all of the hard liquors until I was at that Americanest of traditions, the beers. Granted, I had to go past a number of exports to get to the American beer, the real beer if you would, but still it was gold old fashioned cold brewed beer that I was after. The kind that can only come from the glacial springs of the Colorodo Rockies, Coors Light. Why Coors Light? They’re the only ones with the” Cold Activated Can” to let me know when the beer was the proper temperature to enjoy. Perfect for my little science experiment.

That’s right. I’m planning on doing SCIENCE! with my beer. You didn’t think I would buy Coors Light to drink it, did you? PSHAW! This is purely for the love of experimentation. Sure, I could’ve gotten away with just buying a six pack, then, instead of the case I picked up, but the cornerstone of any good science experiment is replicated the results. Over and over and over again. 24 times if need be, and by gum, I was going to do just that.

When I got my 24 pack science kit home, I ripped it open and threw a couple of cans in the refrigerator. After that, there was nothing to do but play the waiting game. Since the waiting game sucks, I decided to break out Hungy Hungry Hippo and had a couple of rousing games with Leia. After kicking her ass at it numerous times, and then rubbing her face in the humiliating defeat, I checked on how my cans were doing. What I found was shocking.

It turns out that the marketing campaign for Coors Light was full of lies. LIES! I tell you.

Yeah, I'm going to have to call bullshit on this one.

See that deep blue color on the mountains on bottle on the right? I didn’t get that. I got more of a paler, wimpier shade of blue. Pathetic in comparison, really. I could only assume that my cans just weren’t cold enough yet. So I did something drastic, and put one in the freezer. 20 minutes worth of Hungy Hungry Hippo (I won again, barely) later and the Rockies had not blue themselves any more than they were in the fridge. Shenanigans! I shouted. Angry at the marketing gods for filling my head with misleading advertisements. I had taken shit from these bozos for years into thinking that hamburgers could be three stories high, only to find that when I got to McDonalds they looked like someone had sat on them for a week, that subs would be overflowing with meat, freshly cut lettuce and tomatoes redder than the reddest red lipstick in a red lipstick store, painted red, only to be dissapointed again when my flat sub had just a few slices of meat, a pittance of cheese, lettuce that was already starting to slaw and yellowed tomatoes. If there was any safe harbor in the shit storm of advertising, I figured beer would be the last refuge.

In a last desperate attempt, I tried to see if it was my fridge that was the problem, and spread the cans out in various spots, some in the front some in the back, and all on different shelves (Yes, I actually did this). I decided to give a little extra time to this experiment. I felt I owed to the Coors bottling company, and to the public at large to get as accurate of results as possible. I’m just thoughtful like that. Unfortunately, all that time spent waiting was awfully boring, and I cracked open one of the cans from the box. The terrible irony being that the one thing that I chose to do to alleviate my boredom so I wouldn’t be reduced to drinking, was so boring that it reduced me to drinking. Again, there was no change in the blueness.

Now, a little flourish and exaggeration by the marketing department isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially considering that the idea behind the cold activated can itself is flawed. You see, when I grabbed the can out of the box, the mountains were white, indicating that the beer wasn’t cold enough to drink. However, I found it amazingly refreshing. How can this be? Did I suddenly turn British and decide that the taste of piss warm beer was refreshing? Far from it.

Despite the can being warm enough to turn the rockies back to white, the beer was still cold. The problem has to do with the specific heat of the can vs. the specific heat of the beer. Before you start asking me how hot the can was, specifically, let me explain to you what I mean. Heat capacity is the amount of heat required to change something’s temperature by a given amount usually measured in Joules per Kelvin. Specifically, the specific heat is the heat capacity per unit mass, or Joules per gram Kelvin.

The specific heat of aluminum, which is what the can is mostly made of,  is 0.897 J/gK. The specific heat of water, which is what the beer is mostly made of, is 4.1813 J/gK. It takes nearly four and a half times more energy to change the temperature of the beer than it does to change the temperature of the can. So, just because the Rockies change from blue to white, doesn’t mean that the beer inside is warm, since the can heats up so much more quickly.

We actually did a similar experiment in one of my physics courses. When the aluminum bottles first came out, they were marketed as being useful because they kept your beer colder than traditional glass bottles would. We compared the specific heat of glass (which is .84) against that of aluminum, to see how long it would take each to heat up a bottle of beer. We did this by splitting the bottle up in a number of concentric rings from middle to outer edge and determined how hot those would get over a period of time. Well, to be fair, I didn’t really do that, someone who was much smarter and better at programming and physics than me really figured it out, but the results were what’s important. The difference in specific heat between glass and aluminum is only .057. This is a negligible amount when you consider the huge difference between the specific heat of  both of them compared to the specific heat of water. What’s really insulating the beer and keeping it cool is the layer of beer closest to the can.

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How would economics work if light speed travel were possible?

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m reading Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead at the moment.  In it the main character, Andrew Wiggin, has spent the majority of his life travelling from planet to planet at near light speed. Thanks to relativity, even though Andrew is only in his 30s he has been alive for over 3000 years. Thanks to some clever investments and accumulating interest, he’s probably the richest person in the universe. This begs the question: how would economics work if near light speed travel and colonization of other worlds were a reality?

If we assume, like in the novel, that a journey of 30 light years only lasts a week for the travelers, then even a modest investment with a modest interest rate would skyrocket after a couple of weeks.  However, near light speed travel would be prohibitively expensive. The only time it would be used would probably be for the purposes of colonization of other planets, or other extreme circumstances. Importing supplies wouldn’t be economically feasible, so anything that a colony would have would need to be produced on the colony. A new economic model would need to be created for each colony because money, as we know it now, would be worthless. Trade between planets would be virtually nil.

However, the Earth’s economy would most likely continue as usual, but lets assume that cheap light speed travel somehow became feasible (let’s say a breakthrough in fusion, fission, dark energy, rubbing cats together, etc…). If someone were able to make a long range round trip, they would effectively succeed at the ultimate get rich quick scheme.  Such trips would be the exception rather than the rule, unless the traveller were already rich or powerful enough to charter such a trip, in which case, the purpose of the trip would be invalidated. Obviously, rising inflation rates would offset some of the wealth accumulated, but inflation has always lagged behind interest. Would the economy be able to support many of these people or would there be a law set forth governing how much money could be accumulated in such a fashion?

I unfortunately never took economics in any of my studies, so I’m not really sure what the precedent would be for such an endeavour. I’d assume that if too many people attempted to accumulate wealth in such a way, the inflation rate would rise to conterbalance the wealth of these people, but that would also impoversh many others.

You could see how such a concept would be appealing.  Someone could save up a bit of money, leave on a space flight, spend a couple years colonizing a planet, return to Earth and live the rest of their life on the money they had saved while travelling. The only downside is that leaving on such a journey would effectively kill anyone and everyone you ever knew. By the time you could get back to Earth, anyone you knew would be dead. If you were commited enough to colonizing a planet to leave in the first place, this wouldn’t be much of a problem.

There are numerous other possibilities that can be explored here. Once interstellar travel is established, the world economy could drastically change to make such a scheme unnecessary. We could adopt the Star Trek ideal of commerce, where money no longer exists. This leads to its own set of problems and nuances. I can’t even begin to imagine how such a system would work, but it’s still an interesting concept to mull over.