Friday, October 25, 2013

Rocket Power

I have a list of about 1300 blog topics I'd like to cover.  Some examples:
  • Vas Deferens Aren't a Metal Band
  • On Becoming a Vegetarian and Smelling Bad
  • The Ben Stein Paradox
So, why am I covering model rocketry instead?  Because I don't have fucking time to write my blog anymore!  You may have noticed I dropped from five posts a week to one claiming a busy schedule (but, in reality, my triplets entered half-day kindergarten and I just don't have time).  I figured I could pull off one post a week, barring any impediments.

This week's impediment comes to us from our good friends at the Cub Scouts.  Scouting is something I've only been recently involved in as I am neither morally straight nor will I do my duty to God.  (As I understand it, God watches me do my dookie, so it evens out.)  However, my kids' friends were in scouting, so they had to be.  I was volunteered to help out with rocket merit badges, so I helped one son make something called a "Blue Ninja."

I call it "Giant, Cold Phallus."
I figured one rocket was enough, but...  Well, as my other son is five ("and a HALF!"), he always needs to do what the big kids do.  One cold day, we drove to the nearest hobby store and got him a level 1 difficulty rocket kit.  Here are the steps to building a level-1 kit with a five ("and a HALF!") year old:
  1. Read instructions.
  2. Explain instructions to child.
  3. Watch child destroy parts of rocket, necessitating a return to the hobby store.
  4. Perform difficult part of task while child watches.
  5. Attempt to get child to do easy part of task.
  6. Repeat step 5.
  7. Finish rocket by yourself.
  8. Repeat step 3.
In the end, though, the rocket got built.  There were some difficulties that had to be overcome, though.  For example, how do you glue three fins onto a tube when one of them will end up pushing against the table and falling off?  Answer:
Lego drydock
How do you get a child to paint a smooth, round surface with acrylic paint without having to buy a new {house/child/wardrobe} afterwards?  Answer:
Hang it from the coat rack.

In the end, I'm assuming this was a worthwhile craft.  I'm also assuming the third-degree burns he'll get after launching the rockets tomorrow will only leave minimal scarring.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Worldwide Processing Power

Here's a fun fact/exercise I show/do in my classes.
  1. Take out your smart phone.
    Yes, I know you have one.  Don't pretend you're an Amish hermit iconoclast.  Take out your phone and look at it.  Now look up the words "Amish," "hermit," and "iconoclast."
  2. Find out how powerful your phone's processor is.
    A Gigahertz is a billion operations per second, not how much power the time machine-DeLorean used in Back to the Future.
  3. Read this article.
    You're probably not going to read it (I know the habits of all both my readers), so here's a quick prĂ©cis: The combined processing power Microsoft is to deal with the Xbox One is more than there was in the world in 1995.  Here's a chart that corroborates it.
  5. Extrapolate from presented data to a finite date, notably your own natal event.
  6. Figure out how much processing power existed on the planet on the day you were born.
    Or, you know, just pretend and make a guess.

    Here's the big takeaway:
    You are carrying in your hand a more powerful computer than all of the world's computing power combined on the day you were born.

    Imagine the power of what you'll be holding in your hand in a few decades.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Into Thin Air

I just finished reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.  If you aren't familiar with the book, it's about the 1996 Everest disaster.  Several groups of climbers became trapped in a storm in the "death zone" at the top of the mountain and eight people died.

It's a riveting and enlightening tale, starting with the preparation for the climb, going through the trials and illnesses from climbing in a low-oxygen environment, to the decisions that led to the disaster and the aftermath.  While you read the book, however, one main question comes to mind: what the fuck are they doing up there?
Let's look at the lethal dangers Krakauer mentions:
·       HAPE
Fluid that builds up in the lungs due to high altitude.

·       HACE
Fluid that builds up in the lungs due to high altitude.

·       Hypoxia
Lack of oxygen from, say it with me, high altitude.

·       Frostbite
Part of your body freezes and has to be cut off.

·       Bleeding from your eyes
Low pressure tends to make your capillaries burst.

·       Falling seracs
A maze of dangling glaciers that sometimes crush climbers.

·       $50k
Not a danger, really, just how much you have to pay to try to climb.
Then he tells what happened during the storm, about people being trapped all night in the gale force winds and dying only a few hundred feet from safety.  He talks about people freezing solid in the cold.  He talks about chipping the ice off the faces of dying men and women to determine how alive they still were.
So, quick precis: you pay a shitload of money, climb up in increasingly miserable conditions, your body deteriorates and you lose about 15 pounds, then you stand on the top for a few minutes and climb back down.
Then you die.
Oh, and 1996 was a relatively safe year, if you compare total number of deaths.  On average, one in ten people who climb the mountain die up there.  There are hundreds more of these pictures on the internet.
Which leads us back to the question: why the fuck do people climb Everest?  Answer: because they're stupid.  Because they're blisteringly, mind-bogglingly stupid.  Because they weren't born with the same level of brain power given to the common squirrel (flying squirrels are kinda smart).  Alternately, the may have had basic squirrel IQs, but suffered severe brain damage early in life.
In any case, the book shouldn't have been called Into Thin Air.  It should have been called Into Thick Skulls.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Proud Father

I was going to write about the strange phenomenon of reading something on the internet you would never be interested in and how it can become an obsession.  For example, I never knew Caucasians had this obsession with touching African-Americans' hair, but the more I read about it the more I began to wonder.  Is it really that different?  Is it magical?  Does it feel like unicorn hair doused with pixie dust or something?

Oh my God!  I must touch it!!!!

Then I was going to go on about the trend of people freaking out about internet pornography and kids and I'd link to science fiction pornography and ask you to read it all and see if you suddenly had an urge to genetically engineer mice people and have sex with them...

And then something happened, something earth-shaking.  So, I'm starting over.


I have a lot of pictures of this bookshelf.

A lot of pictures.
Why?  Because it's the place my book would be some day.  I've written about this bookshelf a couple (or more) times.  It's where my book would be in the library when I got published.  Knowing where your book will be is as important as knowing your family medical history.  You just can't live a healthy life without it.  Okay, you can, but it's awesome to think your book will be in the library some day, rubbing covers with Moby Dick.
Er, sorry, still on the whole "internet pornography" thing.
Long story short, my book is in the library, but not where I thought it would be.  They put this whole new shelf up for me called "Local Authors" so it will stand out more to impressionable Silicon Valley residents.
Aww, look, it already has a name tag!  First day of school!
What?  You got a TATTOO?!  Wait until your father sees this, young missy!
Anyway, if you want to see it or check it out, you can follow this handy map:
I'd suggest you not take the route I took.