Smart Dicks Choose Tungsten!

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12″ x 12″ x 5-1/2″ Box — “If it fits, it ships!”

I’m way late to the party here, since the US Postal Service’s “If it fits, it ships” slogan has been around for a good four years now. The humor potential is also seriously dampened by sneaky weight limits that are advertised with much less vigor than the slogan. Still, let’s look at how to get the most bang for your buck in terms of hernia inducing packages.

Dylanstiles.com recommended osmium in a 2010 post. But since it would take around $5 million to fill the “Large” flat-rate mail box with osmium, he recommended depleted uranium as a second choice. Unfortunately, I don’t think Walmart carries depleted uranium.

A year after that post, somebody actually did this, but with pennies. Copper is actually a great choice, since it is at the peak of a density plateau among the lighter transition metals and is also reasonably cheap. Unfortunately, most US pennies are zinc now, which is a lighter metal. They could only manage to get a bit less than 60 pounds of pennies into the box, well shy of the 70 pound limit.

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The Art of Approaching Pi

This haunts me …

pi_calc

There is beauty here. It’s art, no less valid as art than a poem, or a sculpture, or a fine painting. It is simple and clean, yet infinitely precise. It is so simple that one may memorize it in seconds, yet it defines an infinite number of digits of an irrational mathematical constant. What poem can match that?

As simple as that formula is, one should be able to sit down with nothing more than pen and paper and derive it. It has to be possible: Draw some circles and triangles, think, rationalize, doodle, and come out with that formula. Thus far, I’ve not been able to do that. But I refuse to look up a solution, so I return to it from time to time.

circle_pi_calcI’ll get back to that beautifully simple formula in a bit, but first I would like to highlight the sloppy alternatives. There are any number of approaches that one may consider for approximating pi. The most straight forward, in my view, is the method if dissecting a circle into increasingly slender isosceles triangles and allowing the bases of these triangles to form the sides of a polygon, approximating a circle. Start with a hexagon embedded in a circle as shown in the picture to the right and divide the hexagon into six identical triangles. We’ll let the radius of the circle equal one, and since in this case the six triangles are equilateral, all sides are of of this length. This gives a first approximation of π of 6/2, or 3.

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Mathematical Oddities

fucked_cubeThe strangest shit amuses me. I’m constantly fiddling with or obsessing over some of the oddest things in mathematics. Among these are statistical puzzles, geometric relationships, gravity, relativity, paradoxes, Möbius strips, and all manner of related arcane and trivial things. In fact, my screen name “ZombieSymmetry” is derived in part from my infatuation with symmetric and asymmetric relationships in geometry, time, and space. Some of the mathematical oddities I obsess over are my own creations, but most are the creations of real mathematicians, and in some cases they are thousands of years old.

It’s the kind of thing that I normally keep to myself. After all, they lock people up in the loony bin for having thoughts such at this. But fuck it … it’s my blog, and these are the crazy things that run through my head all the time, for better or worse. So, I’m making a new category here just for these weird thoughts, and I’m gonna start posting them, God help you all.

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OMFG … Cell Phones DON’T Cause Cancer!

Suppose a guy holds two doctorates in physical sciences from prestigious institutions, has a long history of academic and industrial research, and has published over 200 scientific papers. Can it be assumed he isn’t a bat-shit crazy nut? What about THIS guy? That’s the guy who wrote THIS article that appeared on SALON the other day. From what I can tell, it’s the only article he’s written for Salon, and it seems to be intended to plug a book he has coming out (surprise surprise). It’s another article on the purported dangers of microwave radiation from cell phones.

Periodic_table_big

There are a couple of very special diagrams that offer insane amounts of information crammed into a very small space. One of those is the periodic table of the elements, which provides a dazzling amount of information on the elements beyond just their names and atomic numbers and masses. The location of an atom on the table also tells us a lot about it’s atomic radius, electronegativity, electronic configuration, and other such properties. The periodic table tells us a lot about the physical world in which we live.

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Is a Shootout Brewing in Nevada?

What do cows, tortoises, the housing bubble, government bloat, and crazed militias all have in common?

Desert Tortoise

The Desert Tortoise: “Manage me please!” [Wikimedia]

Apparently back in 1993, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided that they needed to protect the desert tortoise. Fearing that Cliven Bundy’s herd of over a thousand cattle might strain the desert tortoise’s habitat, the BLM capped Bundy’s herd on the 158,666-acre Bunkerville rangeland at 150 head. (Really? The land can’t handle more than one cow per thousand acres?) As you might expect, Bundy was pissed. His family’s cattle had grazed unmolested on this “public” (i.e. government owned) land since the mid 1800′s, long before anybody considered assessing fees for, of all things, cattle grazing. What exactly was he supposed to do? Just get rid of virtually his entire herd, reducing it down to 150? In retaliation, Bundy stopped paying his grazing fees, effectively saying “fuck you” to the Federal Government.

You might think that somebody would have asked Bundy to pay up the delinquent fees he owed Uncle Sam before two decades had gone by. But apparently the BLM had a much richer teat to suck than those of Bundy’s cows: The Las Vegas housing bubble. According to an article on Huffington Post:

As the housing boom swept through southern Nevada in the 2000s, the tortoise budget swelled. But when the recession hit, the housing market contracted, and the bureau and its local government partners began struggling to meet the center’s $1 million annual budget.

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Museum of Crap Angry Over Shit Opinion

museum of crap

Eh … Google Translate may be a little off here. Click here to visit the source.

Talk about unfortunate translations! I think the museum of art’s director called the culture minister “a piece of crap.” As translated, it appears that the museum of crap’s director called the culture minister “a piece of art.” It’s harder to tell than it may first appear though, since the article really is about a piece of shit at the crap museum.

artists-shitSpecifically, it is about this can of “Artist’s Shit.” It is one of 90 cans, each containing 30 grams of feces from Italian artist Piero Manzoni. The “artist” canned his feces in 1961 for … I dunno. Art? I guess? Anyway, one of the cans at the museum sprung a leak (Ewww!), and art collector John Hunov, owner of the tinned turds, filed a lawsuit charging the museum with storing his can of crap irresponsibly. The lawsuit was ultimately settled for 225,000 Danish krone which, at today’s exchange rate, comes out to less than $42,000. That’s actually pretty cheap, considering these cans have sold as high as $171,000 at auction. At the current spot price of ca. $1300 per once, that is about 132 times the price of gold. And to think I just flush mine down the toilet!

According to this article, Piero Manzoni was inspired to defecate in the cans when his father told him, “You’re work is shit.” Parents know best. The artist’s father apparently owned a canning factory, although the article doesn’t say if Manzoni utilized his father’s factory for his crap canning project. Let’s hope not.

I’m kind of fond of paint on canvas myself.

Christina’s World

This is Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth. He didn’t shit in cans.

You may be wondering what led me to research poo today. I was intrigued by this link which was in a comment to my last post. I thought it was a joke until I looked it up and discovered that Sigma-Aldrich does indeed sell Sewage Sludge. For just over $600, you can buy a jar of your favorite blend, be it “mixed” or “industrial” in origin. That’s a real bargain, considering what Manzoni’s feces fetch. Anyway, while researching the poo market, I came across Artist’s Shit. I’ve read about it before, but was so amused by the way Google mangled that translation up there that I figured I needed to share. :-P

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The Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature is Mostly Crap

peer-review-literatureI’ll begin by pointing out that the statement made in the title of this post isn’t merely the crazed opinion of a lunatic blogger. It is in fact the subject of at least one peer-reviewed paper in the scientific literature: Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. Of course, if that published research finding turns out to be false, well … all bets are off!

I’m going to share some personal anecdotes of my experience in the area of peer review. But first, I need to give some background. I cringe whenever I see peer review and scientific consensus being used to support arguments in the media and on blogs. I cringe when I see “consensus” being used this way because scientific truth isn’t based on a vote. I cringe when I see “peer review” being used this way because I don’t think most people understand what “peer review” means. It doesn’t mean, for example, that something has been found to be correct or has been in any way proven true. It merely means that other scientists in the field, usually three, have looked at the work and found no problems with the methodology.

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The High Price of Collectivist Tyranny

Of all the famous quotes that I have read, one in particular stands out to me. It states a fundamental belief of mine with more clarity and precision than anything I could ever hope hope to write:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” 
– C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 1948

This type of tyranny is pervasive in our society. It can be seen in many forms, but always the end result, or the intended end result, is the same. I would like to offer some recent examples here. Some are more trivial than others, but they all have the same underlying theme of the omnipotent moral busybody seeking to usurp the rights of others to make their own choices in life.

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Cutaway

I’m going to go in a different direction here and try to tell a true story. That is somewhat uncharacteristic of this blog thus far, and I have no idea how well I will portray the event.

This should be an easy story to tell as there is only one character — me. I was alone at the time, about 3000 feet in the air and descending more rapidly than I would have liked. This is the story of a “cutaway” — the moment when one has to make the decision to pull the cord of his or her reserve parachute and hope like Hell things go as they should. The incident occurred on May 15, 1993. It’s been over twenty years, and I am relying heavily on memory. Fortunately, I still have my log book from the time, so I have a record of the date, equipment, aircraft, altitude, etc., along with notes taken following the jump.

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Gloriously Titled Books that Cry Out to be Proudly Displayed on One’s Bookshelf

The rise of e-books sadly means there will be fewer and fewer books displayed on people’s shelves as the years roll on. That’s a pity, I think. In addition to their sheer convenience, the books on the shelves of one’s home impart flavor and personality and say a lot about the individual who lives there.

Certain books stand out, not for their content, but for their titles. These are the books so bizarrely titled that they cry out to be displayed on a shelf or coffee table, purely for the “WTF?” effect they have on visitors to your home. Following is a list of my personal favorites in this category.

malleusMalleus Maleficarum (Der Hexenhammer or “The Hammer of Witches”)

The Malleus Maleficarum is both enormous and dry, leading me to question the integrity and anyone (other than a historian) who claims to have read more than a few isolated passages from the work. I have tried on more than one occasion. The book just screams “Read Me!” But anytime I have actually sat down and attempted the feat, within half and hour or so I’m like “Oh crap! I can’t read this shit.”

The book is divided into three sections. The first section deals with the authenticy of witches and witchcraft and seeks to refute claims of skeptics. The second section deals more with the science (Snort!) of witchraft: What they do, how they do it, and what role do others (e.g. Satan) play. The last section is the practical section, dealing with how to interrogate and torture a witch to produce a confession, how to prosecute a witch, how to conduit a witch trial, and related matters. Sounds thrilling, no? If you often find yourself wondering how to go about conduiting a witch trial, this may be the book for you!

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Dynamical Phyllotaxis, Artificial Spin Ice, and Graphenic Bicontinuum: A journey through leaves and stems, rotons and solitons, magnets and arrays, one ground state lost, many found and two fields

Dynamical Phyllotaxis, Artificial Spin Ice, and Graphenic Bicontinuum: A journey through leaves and stems, rotons and solitons, magnets and arrays, one ground state lost, many found and two fields

How did I come across this lovely gem by Cristiano Nisoli? I’m guessing it was a strange quirk of timing that I happeed to be on Amazon.com just as that book was coming out. I did a search for Robert Frost and clicked on a volume of collected poems. There, at the bottom of the screen, I saw “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought,” followed by Dynamical Phyllotaxis, Artificial Spin Ice, and Graphenic Bicontinuum: A journey through leaves and stems, rotons and solitons, magnets and arrays, one ground state lost, many found and two fields. It was the ONLY BOOK in the list! No kidding … it really happened that way. I wish I had a screen-cap to prove it! I never bought the book, but I’ve been damn tempted over the years.

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isopropyl_bromideEXCUSE ME SIR, WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY A KILO OF ISOPROPYL BROMIDE?

This book, together with it’s sequel, The Ageless Gergel, holds the memoirs of America’s most legendary (yet unknown to the greater public) “cowboy chemist.” The two volumes are a curious mix of beer, chemistry, and titties in the largely unregulated Golden Age of chemistry during the second half of the 20th century.

Max Gergel was (and IS … as far as I know, he’s still alive and kicking in Columbia, SC, although in his late 80′s or 90′s by now) a riot. Max and his memoirs have been written about by others (for example, here and here) so there is no point in my repeating what has already been said elsewhere. The reviews at Amazon.com are fairly insightful as well, for those who wish to know more about Max and the memoirs he is famous for. I would, however, like to quote a passage from the second volume (The Ageless Gergel) as I think gives a good idea as to the flavor of these two volumes.

“I had been visiting Will at the plant in Elgin, South Carolina, and noticed that he smelled goaty. For that matter, the other workers seemed to have a goaty odor, too. I inquired the reason, and he took me to the source, an isolated section of the plant, which smelled horrendous. A large glass still, one that would have delighted a moonshiner in the old whiskey-making days was stinking up Hardwicke Chemical Co. and the surrounding farms. Now fatty acids have a rank odor smelling like rancid butter. The absolute worst member of the series is isovaleric acid. This smells like rancid butter with a soupgon of goat and old sneakers thrown in for good measure. As bad as it smells, the acid chloride derived from it is worse. It is so volatile that it will chase a visitor and leave its far from subtle mark. The odor is soap, water and Lysol resistant. This acid chloride reacts with mucous membrane so that while you are rendered ill by the obnoxious odor, the acid chloride is hydrolyzing with your perspiration as a reactant and eats away your lips, eyeballs and tongue. Hardwicke, committed to make this monster, was only too happy to find’ Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., Inc., as a “farmout” and once more we were making something no one else wanted to make.

We had never had such a dreadful assignment. Anyone working with this “superstink” is branded and given a wide berth. No matter how amorous his spouse may be, passion crumples despite baths, Chlorox and Dentine. For a while we made isovaleroyl chloride at Cedar Terrace. It created pandemonium among residents who first sniffed each other, came to the plant to sniff us, and then sniffled to their lawyers.”

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That is all: My current list of “Wow!” factor book titles. Only three as of this writing. I could add more (e.g. “The Vagina Monologues”), but I think these three books set the bar pretty high. I would love to add to the list though, so if anybody should happen to read this and knows of a volume that begs to be included, just drop me a note or post a comment here to tell me about it. :-)

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