Saturday, January 10, 2009


So I just finished reading Earth Abides. I picked up a first edition paperback in 99% mint condition a few months back. Great book. I seem to be on an Apocalyptic bent lately. I'd read the novelisation of the 1970's BBC television SciFi show Survivors before that. I remember reading Alas Babylon in High School.

Prior to that I read...Making Money by Terry Pratchett.

I'm onto Lies My Teacher Told Me. Very interesting book.

Drive Time

One of the things I dislike about working so close to home is that I no longer have a commute of considerable length. I know, I know, people think I'm crazy for thinking that. In fact, when I sent that thought via text/SMS to several friends several weeks ago, one replied by saying that she thought I WAS weird but that was not the sole reason for that opinion. :D

Thing is, I learned long ago not to let traffic get to me. I liked the fact that I could listen to most of Howard Stern's show on the way to work. I liked the fact that I could get traffic and weather together every 10 minutes. I liked the fact that I could decompress after a long, tough day at work by rolling down the windows, opening up the moonroof and setting the volume on my stereo to 11.

There were days I'd come home and find a well-traveled package waiting for me at home. I'd tear it open to find a newly released Chris de Burgh or Paul McCartney album courtesy of or an eBay auctioneer. I couldn't wait to get in the car the next morning and pop it in.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Santa Claus, a scientific inquiry

Santa Claus, a scientific inquiry

From SPY Magazine, first published in the January/February 1991 issue...

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

This is a complex theological question that each child must decide for him- or herself. Until now, that is. With the aid of a calculator, SPY JR. has conducted a rigorous statistical investigation into the question of Santa's existence. Be forewarned: you may not like our conclusions...

We begin our investigation by assuming that Santa Claus really does exist. Now, if you've learned anything about human nature, you know that it's highly unlikely that a normal man would choose, for no particular reason, to devote his life to making toys and delivering them to boys and girls the world over. But this is an objective inquiry, and questions of motivation aren't relevant. We want only to know whether such a man could accomplish his mission.

Santa's first obstacle is that no known species of reindeer can fly. However, scientists estimate that out of the earth's roughly 2 million species or living organisms, 300,000 or so have yet to be classified. So, even though most of these undiscovered species are insects and germs, we can't rule out the slight possibility that a species of flying reindeer does, in fact, exist. And that no one besides Santa has ever seen one.

A bigger obstacle for Santa is that there are 2 billion children under the age of 18 in the world. The good news is that he needs to deliver presents only to the Christian children, of whom there are approximately 378 million. Let's assume that 15 percent of these Christian children have been bad and are thus -- like Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim children -- ineligible for gift getting. Still at an average rate of 3.5 children per household, Santa has a backbreaking 91.8 million homes to visit on any given Christmas Eve.

Fortunately, Santa has 31 hours of Christmas Eve darkness to visit all these homes if he travels from east to west, thanks to the rotation of the earth. Unfortunately, this still works out to 822.6 visits per second. So, for each Christian household with good children, Santa has just over a thousandth of a second to land, hop out of his sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the rest of the presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left out, get back up the chimney, climb back into his sleigh, take off and fly to the next house.

How fast is Santa moving? Assuming all 91.8 million stops are spread evenly over the earth's landmass, Santa must travel 0.79 miles per household -- a total trip of 72,522,000 miles. (This is a conservative estimate. It doesn't include trips across oceans, feeding stops for the reindeer, etc.) Given the 31-hour time period, Santa's sleigh must maintain an average speed of 650 miles per second, or more than 3,000 times the speed of sound. To give you an idea how fast that is, the fastest man-made vehicle ever built, the Ulysses space probe, travels at a relatively poky pace of 27.4 miles per second, and conventional, land-bound reindeer travel at a top speed of 15 miles per hour. But let's assume that Santa's flying reindeer are somehow able to reach hypersonic speeds -- thanks, say, to the magical spirit of Christmas giving.

Let's take a closer look at Santa's vehicle. First of all, assuming a cheapo 2 pounds of presents per child (that's like one crummy Lego set), the sleigh must still be able to carry a load or 321,300 tons -- plus Santa, an overweight man. On land, a reindeer can't pull more that 300 pounds of freight, and even assuming that flying reindeer could pull ten times that amount, Santa's massive sleigh has to be drawn by 214,200 beasts. They increase the weight of the overall Santa payload to 353,430 tons (not including the weight of the sleigh itself). This is more than four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner. Imagine: Santa skimming over rooftops in a gargantuan hypersonic aircraft with even less maneuverability than a Big Wheel.

Here's where things get fun.

Three hundred fifty-three thousand tons of reindeer and presents are going to create an enormous amount of air resistance -- especially at 650 miles per second. This air resistance will heat up the reindeer in the same way that spaceships are heated up when they reenter the earth's atmosphere. According to our calculations, the lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. This means that they will burst into spectacular, multi-colored flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them. As Santa continues on his mission -- leaving deafening sonic booms in his wake -- charred reindeer will constantly be sloughed off. All 214,200 reindeer will be dead within 4.26 thousandths of a second.

As for Santa, he will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa will be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,375,015 pounds of force (after we deduct his weight). This force will kill Santa instantly, crushing his bones, pulverizing his flesh, turning him into pink goo.

In other words, if Santa tries to deliver presents on Christmas Eve to every qualified boy and girl on the face of the earth, he will be liquefied.

Our conclusion: if Santa Claus does exist, he's dead.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Heat on a Day Off

Is there anything so depressing as that mid-September day when the heater kicks on for the first time since early March? The WHOOSH of the unit as the flame catches. The stink of disuse that lingers for several hours. Of course, it usually happens the evening after you pull out the heavy bedspread from its summer storage. *sigh* Wearing socks around the house again. Ah there, it went off. Thirty minutes. I really don’t want to do anything today.


I didn’t sleep in all that much. But, to quote the great Roy Orbison, I did have “beautiful dreams.”

Day's Off Eve

Why is it that the whole work week you’re tired and tired and tired and then you come to the eve of your day off and you can’t sleep? Anticipation of sleeping in? Can’t wait to do nothing? Looking forward to watching Charlie Rose tonight?

I think it’s a combination of all of these. I have my to-do list right here: Drop off gift for a friend. Maybe stop by for a coffee at this place with an incredibly beautiful barista with an amazing body. Lunch at Long John Silver’s. Send out bills. Do laundry. Prep G.U.R.P.S. for Saturday.

That soreness I’ve been feeling is going away. Earlier in the week, at this time of night…lessee…lemme look…9:45PM Pacific time, I could barely keep my eyes open. On more than one occasion I would be startled awake by an especially loud commercial before snapping awake, sitting up groggily and absentmindedly wiping the sideways drool trail from my cheek.

I'm on my way home

I had an epiphany today. Regardless of whether you live 1 mile or 39 miles from work or school, once you’re done for the day, you just want to go home. You might have errands to run, your nose and stomach might be directing you attention towards Burger King, but the soreness in your shoulders hits the big red Override button and sets your cruise control for home.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gas Station vs Me

So what the fuck is up with this?!?

I go to fuel up my car this foggy morning. I happen to stop at a 7-11 which has a gas station. First off, the pumps look weird. They’re low slung. Low to the ground. Second, the nozzle seems short. About 6 inches shorter than I’m used to seeing. I set it and prepare to forget it. I start walking to the squeegee bucket hanging from the side of a nearby pump when I hear the clank clank of metal on concrete. I turn around and see the hose and nozzle assembly on the ground, a small amount of gasoline dribbling out. I whisper a curse and re-set the nozzle. It takes this time.

I resume my trek to the squeegee station. As I’ve seen at other stations in recent months: the bucket’s filled with water…no soap, just water. And, as has been my luck lately, no paper towels. So I clean my windshield sans towel and I’m reminded of a move I’d seen a family friend make while making some household repairs some years back. He needed to blow his nose and had no hanky around so he squeezed a nostril and launched a nose goblin to the ground. You do what you can with what you have.

At this point, I hear the click of the pump indicating it has completed the fueling process. I approach my car. The hose and nozzle assembly chooses this moment to test my reflexes as it jumps from my car’s refueling port and drops to the ground. Of course, I get splattered with gasoline.

Then to top things off, I go to gather my receipt when the automated pump smiles it’s LED smile at me and says, “See attendant for receipt.” So I go inside. I was planning on getting a cuppa coffee anyway.

I first stop at the counter. Two clerks are putting away inventory, each trying to avoid eye contact with me in hopes of having the other one help me. One of them, a dumpy, double-chinned, inbred clerk, finally gives in and approaches me. I ask her for my receipt and tell her my pump number. She looks at me and asks, “Uh…how much was it?” I tell her that I was unsure of the amount. I seem to remember telling her the pump number sometime in the not to distant past. She looks at the console and rattles off a number, in the form of a question, which sounds about right. I look at her and, after a pause, I say “…sure.”

I go to get my coffee, pay for it and the gasoline and make my way onto work. Just my luck. “Alex, I’ll take Pump #2 for $1.95.” Oh, wait, I meant to say was “What is $1.95?” That’s it’s. That’s what I meant to say.