Archive for October 2008

Vikings Versus Pumpkins

October 31, 2008

Our drakkar set shore on the Cursed Land of the Yäck-O-Lantern.   The enemy had already spotted us.

They amassed in formidable numbers.   We prepared to do battle.

Our casualties were heavy at first.  Many of our brethren were sent to Valhalla.

Our Chieftain, Olaf ThunderFröck, blew the Sacred Hörn of Thunder to give us courage.

This excited the Berserker, and he inflicted much damage on the Orange Demon-Gourds.

The battle turned in our favor, and victory was imminent.

We made pies of their dead, and ate them on the feast of Samhain.

And there was much rejoicing.



Perfesser Friar gets Elemental.

October 29, 2008

Hydrogen is the simplest element.    One proton, and one electron.   It’s the most abundant element, it makes up pretty much 75% of the entire universe we see.

You can make heavier elements by fusing simpler elements together.   By how do you “make” hydrogen?

According to what we know about physics, hydrogen (along with helium) was formed very shortly after the Big Bang.

So, basically all the hydrogen atoms around us (in the plants, animals, and the oceans) are billions of years old, the net result of creation of our universe.  They’re like the “Fossil” atoms from the beginning of time.

The heavy elements (carbon, silicon, gold, lead, etc) were formed much later, inside of stars.


If you throw a rock up, it comes down.

If you do this at fast enough speed, it will never come down and will keep going into space.

That’s called Escape Velocity and it depends on the surface gravity.    On Earth, escape velocity is about 25,000 miles an hour.

Gas molecules in our atmosphere randomly move around like tiny bouncing billiard balls.  They do this at incredibly high speed.

Some of the lighter molecules (hydrogen and helium) can actually exceed escape velocity, and can therefore escape earth.  This is why you hardly find these gases in our atmosphere.

On the other hand, heaver gas molecules (oxygen and nitrogen) travel below escape velocity.   This is why they’re so abundant:  they’re bound by earth’s gravity.

So remember, …when you pop that helium balloon, all that gas is eventually lost.  Molecule by molecule, the helium will slowly makes its way towards outer space, never to come back.

That’s why helium is a non-renewable resource.


For fuel-cell-powered cars, it would be nice to concentrate the hydrogen fuel into a liquid form, for storage and transportation.

But at normal ambient temperatures, you can’t liquefy hydrogen, not even if you compress the Be-Geezus out of it.

It’s not like people are lazy and not trying.

No, it’s just the way the physical properties of hydrogen work.

You can’t get liquid hydrogen unless you go down to several hundred degrees below zero.

That’s one of the challenges for fuel-cell powered cars:

How do you store large enough quantities of hydrogen aboard, without having to install a cryogenic storage system?  Or without building huge reinforced compressed gas tanks?


In my opinion, the LAMEST natural-occurring element ever is Astatine.

At any given moment, there is no more than 1 ounce of it the entire Earth’s crust.

(I mean, really…at those levels, what’s the whole POINT, even?)


Useless bit of trivia here.

All the metallic elements look relatively similar…shiny and silvery.

The only metals with color are copper and gold.


If you leave a bowl of water out, it evaporates.   The molecules turn to gas, and dissipate.

Actually, everything evaporates.   Even metals like iron and gold.

(Just NOT that quickly, mind you!)   But they do.   In tiny quantities, that we can measure.

Leave a gold brick out, come back in a jillion years, and it will be gone.


The densest element is Osmium, at 22.6 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3).

For comparison, lead is 11.3 g/cm3.


What’s the most expensive element?

It’s not gold, or platinum, or palladium.

It’s Californium:  a man-made radioactive element that’s only synthesized in microscopic quantities.

It costs something on the order of $30,000,000 a gram.

(Or hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars a pound.)

Not surprisingly, they haven’t made too much of it.


My favorite element name (and my niece’s too) is:


That’s what they call Element Number 111.

It’s chemical symol is Uuu. 😀

Except now they’ve recently changed the official name to Roentgenium.

(Though I admit, I kinda like the old name better!)


Putting aside the nuclear threat, Plutonium is pretty amazing, when you come to think about it.

It wasn’t mined and extracted from ore.    It was MADE by us humans.

We basically fiddled around with the nucleus of uranium atoms, and MADE a new element

And not just in tiny amounts.  But big chunks of it.  A new metal that we can see and touch,  with it’s own melting points and density, and other physical properties.

And we didn’t just make plutonium, but all the trans-uranium elements as well.

This isn’t just mixing chemicals here…we’ve synthesized ELEMENTS…the Fundamental Building Blocks of the Universe!

Not bad, I think, for hairless cave-apes that not too long ago were trying to figure out how to use fire.


Watercolors: Country Barn

October 28, 2008

Yep, fishing season is winding down.   So now it’s time for me to start painting again.
Here’s one from my photo session a month ago, when the fall colors were at their best:

Friar-O-Lanters (Part IV)

October 27, 2008

Getting to Know More People in Your NeighborHood.

October 25, 2008

(*) Revisiting an old Meme.

I am:      Count Chocula
I think:   I should be classified as a “candy”, not a breakfast cereal!
I know:  I will turn your milk brown.  (Ah!  Ah!  Ah!)
I have:   A cousin who works for Sesame Street
I hate:   Sunlight, crucifixes, and dietary fiber.
I love:   How the advertisers have the nerve to call a chocolate cereal with marshmallows “Part of a good breakfast”.
I miss:   Frankenberry. (Whatever happened to him, anyway?)
I fear:    That stupid Cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs bird is gonna lose it and go postal one of these days.
I hear:   The kids bouncing off that walls, after eating five bowlfuls of my stuff.

I am:      Barbie Blogger
I think:   It’s wonderful how we Bloggers are single-handedly saving Humanity from itself.
I know:  How to solve the worlds’ problems, IF ONLY people would listen!
I have:   A big heart, no sense of humor, and rose-colored glasses.
I hate:    Negativity, ignorance and racism (only the politically-correct things to hate).
I love:    Rainbow fairies, marshmallow unicorns, and elf clouds.  (Insert Smurf song here.)
I miss:    Direct sunlight and fresh air (I really should get out more!)
I fear:     Being disconnected from the Internet for more than an hour.
I hear:   The landlord pounding on my door.  (Oh crap!)  The rent is due!

I am:     The Acting Director of The Work Strategy Safety Operations Initiative
I think:   My poo doesn’t smell, but everyone’s below me does.
I know:  The company manual inside-out (but don’t remember my kids’ names).
I have:   No soul.  Nor any idea what my job description means.
I hate:   Leisure time, because I don’t know how to deal with myself.
I love:   Procedures, documents, and documents that describe the procedures.
I miss:   My wife and kids. (Well, no, not really, I’m too busy working.)
I fear:    Someone calling my performance “Unacceptable”. (No, Jacques!  Surely, not THAT ONE!)
I hear:   The VP coming.  Oooh, I hope he notices I tattooed the company mandate on my forehead.

I am:     That guy from that fishing show on Saturday mornings.
I think:  I have the best job in the world, compared to all you poor cubicle-bastards.
I know:  Two words in my vocabulary:  “NICE FISH!”
I have:   A baseball cap, that also comes with a 13,000 horsepower bass boat.
I hate:   Canoes, fresh vegetables, and cardio workouts.
I love:   My bass boat.  Largemouth bass.  And my family.  In that order.
I miss:   My wife and kids (Well, no, not really.  I’m FISHING!)
I fear:   This might not last forever and I’ll have to get a REAL job.
I hear:  The director instructing me to talk to the camera.  “…..NICE FISH!”

I am:      North Dakota
I think:   I’m one on the least-appreciated States in the Union.
I know:  I’m at least as good as Arkansas.  (Or even Delaware!)
I have:   A border with Manitoba. (Heh heh.  At least I’m not as far north as they are!)
I hate:    Colorado.  (They think they’re so great, with all their high-fallutin’ mountains and such!)
I love:    Flatness.
I miss:    The Great Potash Rush of 1919.  (That’s about when I peaked.)
I fear:     Trees.
I hear:    The wind, blowing all they way from Northern Saskatchewan.

I am:     Ubu, the dog you see after every episode of  “Family Ties”.
I think:  I’m tired of sitting here.    Where’s my master?
I know:  He’ll come back by the end of the show. (He always does.)
I have:   To constantly listen to Michael J. Fox’s cracking post-pubescent voice.
I hate:   The MTM Cat.
I love:    Chuck Wagon, Kibbles ‘n Bits, and rolling on that dead squirrel rotting under the porch.
I miss:   Tina Yothers, before she stopped being cute.
I fear:    Vacuum cleaners, thunder, and baths.
I hear:   My master telling me to sit and calling me a good dog.   Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must bark ONCE.

Perfesser Friar Hikes into a Partial Vacuum

October 24, 2008

I was unpacking some of my hiking gear last night, and I came across my Nalgene water bottle.

And it’s SQUISHED!

Not because I sat on it, but because it’s being crushed by our atmosphere.

You see, the last time I had my water bottle open, it was near the summit of  Cascade Moutain in Upstate New York, at an altitude of 4098 feet above sea level.  The air was thinner up there, at higher elevation.

Then I closed the bottle, forgot about it, and drove back home to a lower elevation, where the air is thicker.

So basically, there some thin high-altitude thin air trapped inside my water bottle that’s being squished by the thicker low-altitude air outside the bottle, in my living room.

You with me so far?

Let’s do a a quick engineering back-of-the-envelope calculation to figure out the total force squishing my water bottle.  (Sorry, I’m a science-geek, I can’t help but wonder about such things!)

1.  First we need to know the air pressure as a function of elevation above sea level

This is easy to look up, you can find it in  published tables everywhere.

For example, where I live it’s about 500 feet above sea level, and according to the charts, the atmospheric pressure is 14.4 pounds per square inch (psi).

At 4000 feet (roughly the top of Mt. Cascade), the atmospheric pressure is 12.7 psi.

2.  Next, let’s determine the pressure difference across the bottle wall

This is easy.

Pressure difference = (Pressure of living room air outside my bottle)  – (Pressure of trapped moutain air inside my bottle)

= (14.4 – 12.7) = 1.7 pounds per square inch.

This means that every square inch of the water bottle is being subjected to a net force of 1.7 pounds.

3.  Next, let’s determine the surface area of the water bottle

Okay, sorry, folks, I’m going to have to resort to high-school geometry here.

Let’s just focus on the area of the bottle walls (we can ignore the bottom and top of the bottle, they’re pretty small anyways).

For a cylinder:

Surface Area  = (Circumference) x (Height)

which, according to my tape measure, is:

= (11 inches) x (10 inches) = 110 square inches.

4.   Multiply pressure times area to get force

Force = (1.7 pounds per square inch) x (110 square inches) =  187 pounds.


That’s 187 pounds pressing on the bottle!   Holy Jenny Craig, Batman!    That’s significant weight!

(No WONDER it’s BENT!)

Just goes to show you, how even a small gain in elevation can result in enough of a pressure difference to be noticeable in everyday life.

And as a side-note, atmospheric pressure at sea level is 14.7 psi.   So at 12.7 psi, the top of Cascade moutain is only (12.7 / 14.7) = 87% of an atmosphere!

(So, basically when you hike at 4000 feet, you’re already missing 13% of the air you’d normally breath at sea level)

Gee. Now I don’t feel so bad about puffing and panting so much to get to the top! 🙂

Things About the Workplace I Don’t Wanna Understand

October 22, 2008

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

This is what they teach in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

But (as I mentioned in a recent post), there are certain things that are so inherently screwed up and so WRONG…that I just CAN’T bring myself to understand them.

Nor do I WANT TO.

Especially, when it comes to the work place.

(Disclaimer:  I mean, ANY workplace in general: not necessarily mine, no sirree, Bob!)  😉

So without any further ado, here’s Friar’s list of:



– Rectal Managers who hold four-hour meetings, right through lunch without so much as a coffee or pee break.   And expect everyone to do the same. (Ah…How nice.  Another graduate from the Marquis de Sade School of Leadership!)

– The No-Lifers who work late every day, bring work home on evenings and weekends, but don’t claim any overtime or extra time off.  Even when it’s in the Collective Agreement and they’re rightfully entitled to do so. (For Chris-sakes…give us your overtime pay!  We’ll put it to good use!)

– The Betty Brown-Nosers who deliberately skip meals to meet a minor deadline.   Then proudly announce in a meeting that they’ve barely eaten in 24 hours, because they were working so hard.  (Excuse me…WHOSE FAULT is THAT? )

– Those Touchy-Feely-Group-Hug Team-building “Courses” you get sent on, where they make you play “Interactive” games like solving jig-saw puzzles with sign language, and running relay races with Koosh-Balls.  (Umm….what GRADE are we in?)

The Walking Brain-Dead who really “get into” these above-mentioned games.  (A mind is a terrible thing to waste…)

– Company Borg who ENJOY communicating in Corporate Thought-Speak acronyms. (Sigh.  Yet another one assimilated by The Collective.)

– The Money-Bag Pensioners who haven’t had enough work after 30 years, so they return as consultants at $100 an hour. (Thanks a lot…THIS is why there’s no money left to give the rest of us decent pay raises, or hire new staff!)

– Why some bosses think it’s okay to openly scold a staff member in front of their peers, to the point of almost making them cry. (Just WHERE did you learn your leadership skills, again…?)

– The same bosses who get upset and take it personally, when the person they repeatedly scolded transfers to another department. (Well, DUH.)

– Fake-Green Companies that lecture you on recycling, reducing waste, car-pooling and saving the planet, but will not permit any telecommuting.

– Big Brother Wannabees who actually wear those company-propaganda laminated plastic cards that are supposed to be hung around the neck like dog tags. (Sit, Ubu, sit.  Good dog!)

– Workaholic Insomniacs who routinely answer emails at 3:30 AM.  (I’m sorry, whether they’re just finishing their workday, or starting a new one, it doesn’t matter.  That’s just SO WRONG!)

– “Safety” consultants who feel the need to teach us Life Skills 101.  Like reminding us to wear a hat and mittens when it’s cold outside.  Or how to wash our hands.  Or to eat sensibly over Christmas.  (Again:  Umm…what GRADE are we in?)

– Don’t forget the Soup Martyrs and Standing-Room Only’s.

– Obsessive supervisors who badger a subordinate to put in extra hours.   At the boss’s house.   On a long weekend.  (Get a life. Seriously…GET A LIFE!)

– …and any subordinate who is HAPPY to do this!  (Oh, no, another candidate for the Management Chip-Implant Device!)


….Nope.   I DON’T UNDERSTAND any of these things.  None of them make ANY SENSE to me.

(And I’m PROUD of that!!)

Perfesser Friar’s Favorite Science Facts.

October 20, 2008


If the Universe was infinitely  large and infinitely old, the entire sky would be ablaze with starlight.

The fact that we see blackness in the night sky proves that the universe is of a finite age, and that it is expanding.

If you don’t believe me, read more about Olbers’ Paradox.


We remember from High school physics that (neglecting friction), that all objects fall at the same speed.

But it’s really awesome when you can see this first-hand.

Take a large coin, and place a tiny piece of paper on top of it.

Drop the coin.   It acts as a wind break, protecting the paper from wind resistance.

They both fall together.

How cool is THAT? 😀


No engine, no matter how perfect, is 100% efficient.

Not all of the energy from the burning fuel will go towards making the wheels turn.

Some of the energy will ALWAYS be wasted as excess heat.

Yes, Friar, you might ask, but who are we to say we can’t make a perfect machine?

What if we could develop a Magical Wonderful Engine, with frictionless pistons and gears that were perfectly oiled, everything was perfectly insulated, and everything ran perfectly smoothly?

Surely, THEN, we’d be able convert all the fuel energy into increasing our gas mileage?

Well, such an Engine exists…in La-La land, in our imagination.

It’s called a Carnot Engine.

But even if we could build one, a Carnot Engine STILL wouldn’t be 100% efficient.

We’d still waste some of the energy as heat.

And this isn’t just an opinion or theory.   It’s a mathematical proof.

It’s in the Official Rule-Book of How the Universe Works.

It’s the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.


Related to the above.

That nasty 2nd Law is a bitch.    It limits the maximum output that our power generating plants can achieve.

In theory,  if some of our power plants were perfect Carnot engines, we could get efficiencies approaching 60%.

But in the Real World, nothing is perfectly frictionless or perfectly insulated.    So our actual coal and gas plants might typically be only 30% efficient.

That means for every 100 watts of heat we get from from burning fuel, at the most, maybe 30 watts will go towards making electricity we can use.

The remaining 70 watts will get dissipated into hot air up the stack, or wasted in heating the river water.

Hardly seems fair, does it?

Yet we can’t do a damn thing about it.

Oh well.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Ask the 2nd Law.


Atoms are mostly empty space,  with almost all the mass centered in the very small nucleus.

Our planet has a density of about 5500 kilograms per cubic meter.  But if you focus on just the proton and neutrons, the density of the atomic nucleus is quite high: about
1018 kilograms per cubic meter.

That’s about the same density of a neutron star, which for all intents and purposes, can be considered to be a giant atomic nucleus.


The theory of general relativity dictates that time passes more slowly under a strong gravitational field than it would under a weaker one.

You might think, oh, that really only applies for massive objects like black holes and neutron stars.

But we can actually measure this in every day life, on planet earth.

For example, our GPS units would not be accurate, if the techno-geeks didn’t take into account the time dilation factor for the satellites located far above the earth.

And in 1971, an experiment was done where they put atomic clocks on plane that flew around the globe, and compared them to an atomic clock that stayed on the ground.

Taking it account the planes’ speed and altitude, they predicted that the clocks on the planes should have run a few nanoseconds faster, because they where higher up, where the effect of Earths’ gravity was slightly less.

And the clocks did run faster, exactly as predicted.

(Way to go, Einstein!)


Take the Fibnoacci series of numbers:   1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 35, etc.

Each number is the sum of the previous two.

So what, you might ask?

Well, take the ratio of any two consecutive numbers.

The further you go down the series, the closer this ratio approaches 1.6180339….

The is called Φ, or the Golden Ratio, and it’s been know since antiquity.  It has significance in mathematics and geometry.

For some reason, humans find this number pleasing.

We’ve built temples and pyramids and composed paintings, even our credit cards are based on this ratio.

But it’s not just something we happend to make up.

You’ll  find the Fibonacci sequence in nature, in flowers and sea shells.   Our bones and anatomy appear to be based on Φ.

That’s a pretty cool number, if you ask me.

Six Habits out of Seven Ain’t Bad.

October 18, 2008

In Franklin Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the things he teaches is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood“.

He basically says before judging someone, to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how they feel.

But certain things I don’t want to understand.

Like this advertisement that I got in a stack of coupons the other day.

What a horror show.

I’m trying to figure out WHY, by everything that is sacred and holy, would any SANE adult want to PAY MONEY for one of these monstrosities?

I can’t understand.

And you know what?


Nothing like a miniature Demon-Fetus to brighten up your home.

Advertising a major candy corporation, at that.

This is wrong on so many levels.

I’m sorry, these babies aren’t’ cute.   These babies aren’t lovely.

They’re just CREEPY.

I have visions of these wretched things becoming alive at night, skittering across your bedroom floor, and stealing your soul from you while you sleep.

Evil Babies.


Great.  Now I’m gonna have nightmares.

Friar-O-Lanterns (Part III)

October 17, 2008

It’s Friday, and it’s been a really SERIOUS week.

And I’m tired.

So today, I’m not going to discuss who should be the Elf-Leader of the Middle Kingdom.  Nor will I take out my Magical Lute and sing whale-songs to save Mother Earth.

Today, I don’t care how we’re going to rescue little Timmy and Bhupinder who both fell down the well.

Today, I won’t ponder the existence of the Gitchi Manitou.  Nor will I attend a Morality Play teaching our children to respect their Play-Doh.

Today, I won’t read that inspirational passage that someone wrote.   Even if it could change my life.  I’m willing to take that risk.

Today, I don’t even want to talk about RSS or SEO.   Or PBS or NBC or Ee-Eye-Ee-Eye-Oh.

Nope.   It’s Friday, and I’m tired.

Today, I just want to draw cartoon pumpkins.

Stupid, silly pumpkins.

Happy Friday!  😀