Archive for September, 2009

Digging into numbers to the last vigintillionth of a yoctometer

I love esoteric measures, for example when working early in my career for an oil company where barrels ruled, I made it my business to know the number of firkins in a hogshead.*  Therefore I was piqued by “Coding the Wheel” blogger James Devlin making a point about precision to level of “the last vigintillionth of a yoctometer” (yes, evidently those are real units of measure!).

Fyi, math whiz Landon Curt Noll made a “heroic attempt to put names on hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian numbers” (quoted from this web page on Naming Large Numbers).  He provides this utility for getting the English name of any number you enter.  I entered 1,000,000,000 and got “one billion” as the result.  But then I changed from the American to the European system and Noll’s number-namer spit out “one milliard”!  So then I tried 1,000,000,000,000,000 and came up with “one billiard”!!  That sent me back for a draft of brew from my firkin (depicted in this video).

Thus fortified, I kept after these mind-muddling measures and verified that this pool-player’s favorite number (billiard) is considered acceptable under the “long scale” (European) branch of the SI (Système International) of units – the modern metric system.

Who knew?  (Please forgive my ignorance of European styles, being that I’m a mid-continent dweller of North America.  I am learning!)

*See this picture of a 19th century hogshead barrel and learn how it varies in gallons depending on whether it contains beer, wine or tobacco.

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An ideal world: Ballpark beer cost correlated completely with quality of baseball

Indian's lefty Laffer delivers a pitch to Twin's slugger Cuddyer

Indian's lefty Laffer delivers a pitch to Twin's slugger Cuddyer

When offered a free $149 seat behind home plate, I abandoned my desk last Wednesday for a matinee game between Minnesota and Cleveland.  It was dollar-a-dog day so I enjoyed a $2 lunch washed down by what the Wall Street Journal (9/11/09) considers to be one of the Major League’s best-valued beer.  They figure that the cost per ounce of brew – 27 cents at the Metrodome — should be based solely on the quality of the team.

The Twins have been consistent winners for some years and remain in the hunt for the Central Division of the American League after winning 2 out of 3 from the Detroit Tigers this weekend.  Nevertheless, they chronically play second-fiddle to East Coast teams like the Boston Red Sox.  WSJ reports that the crimson-hoser’s home field, Fenway Park, charges more than twice as much for beer for the Twins – far more than they merit by their winning percentage – a 46% overcharge, to be precise.  Boston fares poorly on price-to-value across the board according to this in-depth analysis by a blogger writing as “JinAZ” for Beyond the Box Score – a Saber*-Slanted Baseball Community.

However, being a lifelong fan of baseball, and having been to many ballparks around the League, but never Fenway, I’d gladly pay a premium to see the Red Sox some day.  (That explains why they can charge so much!)

*Referring to sabermetrics — a statistician specializing on baseball

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Math messed with future astronaut’s mind and made him think faster

Last Thursday I enjoyed an inspirational speech by USAF Lieutenant Colonel Duane “Digger” Carey – a Saint Paul guy like me, but one who went far further than possibly any other from our home city.  Digger was invited by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology to speak about his experiences as pilot of the Columbia Space Shuttle mission of March 1-12, 2002,* that successfully upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope.**

Although Digger has many stories to tell, not the least of which is his record as a combat fighter pilot, he is most passionate about the benefits of math and science.  He feels that his Masters in Aeronautical Engineering, while not directly relevant to flying a jet, enabled him to solve mission-critical problems at afterburner speed.

It was great seeing a hero like Digger Carey talk up math and science to our young people.  I recall taking a summer physics camp and working out the equations for rocketry while building a model of the Saturn V.  At the end of the course we blasted it off with 5 solid-propellant engines.  Unfortunately it went way up and out of sight, so we never recovered the parachuted parts that floated somewhere back to Earth.  However, even if we’d found the rocket, there would be no way to recapture the joy of seeing math and science put into action on that first launch.  Anyways, that was enough for me.  Imagine actually being inside a rocket blasting off!  That takes a lot of courage and faith in technology.

“The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and to advance science, math and technology education.”

— John Glenn, one of NASA’s original astronauts

* The last mission before the disaster of 2003

**See these spectacular new images from Hubble produced by the space telescope after the latest (and likely last) upgrade made by Shuttle Discovery astronauts who just landed Friday.


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Fair food follies – sticking on calories at a prodigious rate

Deep-fried twinkieThe weather here in Minnesota has been incredibly clement this summer – encouraging more State Fair goers than ever before.  The total for the dozen days will likely break the record, now approaching nearly 2 million visits!

My wife and I went for a second time yesterday.  Thanks to a tip from my son, I found healthier food fare this time around – a pot-roast sundae (savory roast beef atop a scoop of mashed potatoes mixed with corn – yum!).  On our first visit I succumbed to the siren call of a vendor selling deep-fat fried Hostess Twinkies on a stick, to which I compounded the calories by agreeing to it being dipped in chocolate and powdered with sugar.  You can see this terrifically calorific confection pictured alongside a free yardstick — a mandatory pickup for any serious fairgoer.

I avoided the bacon on a stick dipped in chocolate at the advice of my daughter, who tried it last year.  She worked the Haunted House at the last two Minnesota State Fairs and ate just about everything on a stick.  My wife ate a piece of corn on a stick and part of a foot-long corn-dog on a stick.  That looked good to me, but I was already satiated by my second sundae — the pot roast: I’d already eaten an ice-cream sundae with rhubarb and strawberries (highly recommended by my colleague Pat).

Several years ago I ate a deep-fat fried Snicker’s candy bar on a stick.  Based on a sample size of two, I advice not eating any dessert confection that’s been deep-fat fried.  I really think this can be hazardous to one’s health, especially on an empty stomach.  However, if you like to live dangerously culinary-wise, see the recipes at the end of this report from the Seattle-Post Intelligencer on the Puyallap Fair.  (“Puyallup” does not sound too appetizing, though, does it?)

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