Earth vs Cue Ball

It is often stated that if the earth were the size of a cue ball, it would feel smoother than one.  No less a scientific giant than Neil deGrasse Tyson has referenced this “fact” in his excellent book The Pluto Files (p. 39).  But is this true?

The answer is a big NO.  This “fact” has become a scientific urban legend, passed along without being examined.  Debunking it takes us on a wild goose chase to billiard halls before finding truth in the mountains of Colorado.

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Foaming Soap Will Save the World

Well, maybe not quite.  But foaming soap uses less soap (it’s mostly air) and surprisingly, less water as well (as less soap means less rinsing needed.)  Much liquid soap is wasted as it slips off your hands and goes down the drain, or because you just squirted more than you needed.  Foaming soap gives you just enough suds and guarantees a ready-made lather.  Seems ideal, only thing is, there’s no such thing as foaming soap.

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Peak China

I’m traveling to Beijing this Thursday, so I need to write this blog entry…

First there was peak oil, the idea that has fascinated many since the 1970s that oil production was about to peak and then collapse, leaving our economy crippled.  Then there was “peak everything” as it has been called, the regular doomsaying that everything from clean water to the ingredients of computer chips are running out.

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Alphabetical Order

We learn the alphabet at an early age and we all understand the concept that each letter corresponds roughly to a sound.  Thinking back on having learned it, we are quite thankful that our language is based on an alphabet instead of thousands of pictograph symbols like Chinese.  But have you ever thought about why our alphabet has an order?  I mean yes, it’s quite useful to be able to alphabetize words and names, but that seems quite a modern thing.  Printing, and printed lists of words and names, only came about in the past few hundred years.  But the Phoenician alphabet, upon which almost all modern alphabets are based, arose more than 3000 years ago.  It had an order which is mostly the same as our own alphabetical order.  Without phone books, dictionaries, and other long ordered lists, the utility of alphabetization and alphabetical order must not have been great, yet alphabetical order existed.  Why?

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Aurora Watching 101

I’m heading home from a trip to northern Sweden to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.  I spent four nights trying to see the aurora (and about 5 minutes watching an amazing display!) and I came away with some ideas for effective aurora watching.  I’m writing them here in order to help others successfully see the aurora.

The aurora borealis is a beautiful display of colored lights in the sky caused by charged particles from the sun.  It’s rarely seen much below the arctic circle so a trip north is almost always required to see it.  The main challenges of aurora watching are timing your trip during solar activity, having clear skies, avoiding artificial and natural sources of light, battling the cold, staying awake and staying comfortable.

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Polar Bears in Antarctica?

This article is one of my meditations, where I first think and write about something from my own knowledge and point of view, and then research it and write some more….

One of the rites of passage of a child’s scientific learning is to understand that polar bears and penguins only meet in zoos and cartoons, never in the wild.  But what if it made sense to change that?

The polar bear’s habitat has been changing due to global warming, leaving the bears with less and less sea ice to use as a hunting platform.  With less ice, the bears have to swim great distances to find prey.  Increasingly, this has pushed them past their limits and many bears either starve or drown.

So I had the idea, why not move some polar bears to the Antarctic, where there’s still plenty of ice and there is a solid land mass that supports that ice as well as several species that could provide food?

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Sunscreen – Part II

When last we talked, we had discussed the most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and in order to understand what basal cells are, we talked a little about the structure of the epidermis.  It’s like the bark of a tree, where the new cells form on the inside and then slowly migrate out, dying along the way but toughening into the structure that protects us.

BCC is cancer of the basal cells before they differentiate into true keratinocytes.  Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the cancer of squamous (latin for scaly) cells, which is just another word for the keratinocytes once they differentiate and start to become hard and scaly.  SCC is also caused mainly by UVB rays.  It is less common than BCC, but more likely to spread (metastasize) and therefore more likely to be fatal.

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Sunscreen – Part I

The topic for today is sunscreen and sun protection in general and why it’s important, and of course an idea I have to protect more people from skin cancer.  There are a few important facts that everyone ought to know.

Let’s start with why we use sunscreen: sunburn (painful) and skin cancer (even worse).  Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet rays hitting the skin and damaging skin cells, much like a burn from heat.  The effects can be similar, with pain, blistering, and premature death of skin cells.

Skin cancer is also caused by damage to the skin, but usually it’s damage that builds up over time.  There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.  Each is named after the type of skin cell that’s affected.

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Why is the Largest Land Animal also the Strangest-looking?

Why is the largest land animal also the strangest-looking?

Meditation: Whether you think the elephant is the strangest looking land animal is a matter of taste, but you have to admit it is one of the stranger ones.  I think there are several reasons why.  One is just sheer numbers: Animals get rarer as they get bigger.  Rarer not only in individuals, but also in species.  There are millions of species of insects and other small animals.  And jillions of members of each species.  But bigger species are rarer and so are the members of each big species.  If only because there are only two species of elephant, while for example there are dozens of species of say, deer/antelope/gazelle-type creatures, the elephant looks less “normal” because there are fewer examples of it.

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