If you’re ever bored, and need something to do online, go to wikipedia.org, and look in that left hand menu. You’ll notice the random article link. Click the link and try to get from that article to the one on the Sunda pangolin, entirely by clicking links on the article pages you find. No searching allowed.
This is a great logic and reasoning game, and you need nothing but some computer time to play it. No waiting for downloads, no real demands on your system. Here’s an example of a round, and one path back to the pangolin.
There are a few strategies and tips I can give you for how to find the pangolin faster and more effectively. Work towards broad categories from your initial random page, and choose articles that will have a lot of text in them, and hopefully a lot of links. Think about how things are connected, if there’s anything that an article might share. In this case, the Irish hurler is connected to the Sunda pangolin by backing up to living people, and then realizing I might be able to use royals’ charitable interests to connect to the pangolin. I’ll give you another example round, so you can see how this works.
Notice how once we found the pangolin the first time, it is much easier when we realize we’re on the same path? We don’t have to find the Sunda pangolin anymore, we just have to find the page for Indonesia, which is likely to be linked in lots of places, and then follow the path to the pangolin.
Try surfing for the Sunda pangolin yourself, or, if it is getting too easy, just click random link once, remember the page, maybe write it down, and then try to navigate back to it when you click random link again. The link surfing game is a great way to test your reasoning about how things might be connected, and be creative and logical about how to link two literally random topics. The connections are there, all you have to do is surf them.
All too often, Black History Month is treated as an exercise in tokenism. Middle school students across the country get assignments to do biography reports, and George Washington Carver ends up on the list of subjects as That One Black Scientist Who Did A Thing You Can Relate To. I seriously have a problem with this approach, since it assumes that students can’t understand what he actually did do, making this whole peanut butter invention fiction an elaborate way to talk down to people while also de-fanging history. Well. NOT TODAY! I’m aiming for this to go up deliberately well clear of February, and this post is all about just how important George Washington Carver actually was, his key accomplishments, and why his work was so badly needed.
The Agricultural South – King Cotton
In the early years of the 20th Century, as before, the Southern United States was deeply dependent on cash crop agriculture. Centuries of putting cotton back on the same land had sapped nitrogen and other nutrients out of the soil. The crop on which the region’s economy depended was slowly weakening. To make matters worse, even as soon as the Civil War, other cotton-producing regions in the world had increased production, and the price of cotton had continued a slow slide downwards. Cotton remained as labor-intensive as ever, but wealthy landowners used sharecroppers rather than slaves – although these tenant farmers were often the descendants of slaves themselves, still tied to working another’s fields, through economic hardship. A sharecropper is a farmer who doesn’t own the land they work, and in exchange for their labor, gets a share of the profit from the crop grown on the land. Although some could work a portion of the land for their own kitchen gardens, it was more economical to put as much of a cash crop on the landlord’s fields as possible, and hope for a high profit. Frequently, they bought seed from the landlord, as well as other supplies, and were constantly in debt, unable to purchase their share out, and take up land for themselves elsewhere, or even move away. This fragile cycle of debt-slavery and cash cropping for cotton continued, with harvests getting slowly weaker, and the sharecroppers steadily poorer, continued.
The Nitrogen Cycle
While this slow-motion death spiral of soil degradation and poverty continued in the South, some important advances in our understanding of how plants grow changed the way we farm forever. Most significantly, for Carver’s impact, Jean-Baptiste Boussingault recognized in the late 19th Century that legumes like beans, vetch, and peanuts can fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, and therefore add nitrogen to the dirt they grow in rather than take it away. This nitrogen-fixing ability of legumes can be used to increase crop yields; if you’re growing crops that need a lot of nitrogen, it’s best to plant them either after legumes on a rotation, or with legumes in the same field. Intercropping and crop rotation for healthier and more fertile crops had been well-known and practiced before – by several Native American groups, for example, as in the Three Sisters intercropping system – but this approach was new to commercial agriculture in the United States, and required a change in culture. The picture below shows a cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) plant’s root system, and the round nubs attached to the roots are the root nodules, which house a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that works with the legume to suck nitrogen out of the air and feed the plant with it.
Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletins
Working at the Tuskegee Institute, Carver ran the agricultural experiment station, and published scientific research as well as a series of booklets, which contained advice for farmers on best practices and increasing crop yields. Carver’s genius lay not only in scientific study, but also in understanding that economic, ecological, and social systems are interwoven. If you wanted to improve the life of the sharecropper, you had to increase the productivity of the land. If you wanted to increase the productivity of the land, planting legumes could go a long way toward nurturing the soil. But it wasn’t enough just to tell people to plant beans, peanuts, and cowpeas. These crops had to make money for it to make any sense for farmers to grow them. You had to provide people a concrete benefit for themselves. Rather than merely promoting the sowing of soybeans, Carver developed lots of recipes and uses for legumes, and popularized them through the widely-circulated bulletins, developing an economic rationale for introducing them into the regular crop rotation in the South.
Here’s a selection of these bulletins, so you can go read a few yourself (all of these are available at Archive.org):
They’re a very interesting read, actually. Some of them are closer to scientific surveys, presented for the public. Some of them focus on home economics tips, like how to preserve the kitchen garden harvest and save money. Many of them, of course, promote growing legumes, notably the one on alfalfa, above. The message is clear – grow alfalfa, make money on fat, healthy livestock (and, incidentally, restore nitrogen to the soil).
Disaster and Recovery
Meanwhile, as cotton yields gradually dropped, disaster finally struck the weakened cash crop. The boll weevil arrived in the United States and proliferated in the vast cotton fields. Cotton crops across the South were ruined. Famously, however, the town of Enterprise, Alabama turned away from cotton, and planted peanuts instead. As other communities scrambled to find and plant new crops, Enterprise prospered as early adopters of legumes. They commissioned a giant neoclassical statue of a woman holding aloft a giant boll weevil, crediting the insect with saving the town by forcing the farmers to wean themselves off the cash crop early. The statue’s still there, and it’s glorious.
When you drive past a corn field planted in soybeans this year, you’re seeing the results of George Washington Carver’s tireless promotion of legumes and crop rotation. The agricultural South could well have collapsed with its dying cash crop, but Carver’s work at the Tuskegee Institute Agricultural Experiment Station and the bulletins paved the way to a more sustainable future – the one we live in. If you want to make a difference on a large scale, it’s not enough to just tell people to do things differently; you have to provide them with real improvement to their own lives, and a pathway to success.
As promised, here’s a couple of recipes adapted from the bulletins. I chose two that looked good, and were pretty different from each other, and had accessible ingredients for us city people of the slightly more Northern future. Interestingly, food ways have changed quite a bit in the century between the bulletins and the present, so it’s absolutely worth reading the original, to see what’s different. For example, the peanut recipes take it for granted that you have access to raw peanuts, not roasted and salted ones, and the regular raw peanut, or at least blanched, is probably what the recipes are calling for, unless they actually specify otherwise. Interesting. Also, with recipes of this age, they tend to assume that the cook knows more about techniques than we might today. So for a biscuit recipe, they’ll just say “to any good biscuit dough add…” rather than explaining how to actually make biscuit dough from scratch, which is a pretty involved process that you’d definitely have to learn first. I’ve gotten these as close as I could to what the original probably was like, while substituting ready-made ingredients where possible and convenient (thanks to Carver, of course), and explaining things that the recipes don’t.
Very obviously, the peanut salad contains peanuts.
One tart green eating apple. One cup of roasted salted peanuts. Mayonnaise or plain salad dressing to taste. Romaine lettuce. Core and chop the apple, and pulse in a food processor with the peanuts until small pieces. You can also just chop them up, as long as it ends up the same way. Add mayo to the peanuts and apple mix and stir. Clean and carefully pull off the lettuce leaves whole, portioning them out onto serving plates. Spoon apple/peanut salad over the leaves and serve. (You’ll need a knife and fork to cut the lettuce up and eat the salad.)
You’ll need: a sturdy mixing bowl, a very strong fork and unflinching resolve, or some sort of mixing machine like an egg beater. A baking pan, and an oven. A cup of sauteed diced green peppers and onions (think: fajita leftovers, or get someone to help you cook them). A can of black-eyed peas (they’re cow peas and they’re already cooked). Melted butter or neutral tasting vegetable oil. Okay, here we go! Open the can of black-eyed peas into the bowl, reserving the can liquid, and mash and whip the peas with the fork, until smooth and light. This is going to take a while. Mix in the peppers and onions. If the mix is too tough and crumbly, add the pea juice until it’s like a very stiff pudding that can be sculpted. Grease the baking pan, and form a loaf out of the pea/peppers/onions pudding. Bake in the oven on about 350 F, and brush the butter or oil over it periodically to keep it from drying out. Cook until browned and firm. Basically, pretend it’s a meatloaf. There’s a recipe for cow pea custard pie, too. I also really want to try the cow pea salads, which look honestly great, but we already have a salad on this list. Oh, and it’s a substitute for meat because meat was expensive.
Go read the bulletins, seriously. There’s so much more than peanut butter to be found here.
It’s time for Big Ideas! Welcome to a mini-series-within-a-series on history and how it is made. One way to think about history is as a story, a series of events that happened, and when. Get comfy, and settle in, because this post will explore the events of the Wars of the Roses, from the lead up through the aftermath – one of the most headache-inducingly complicated historical narratives I could think of. In the end, after the dust settles, and the Tudors take over, I’ll discuss the value of treating history this way, and what we can really learn from it.
Story Time (Skip to the Relationship Map if you Feel Your Eyes Glaze Over)
A long time ago in England (about 600 years ago), King Edward III had three sons (who survived to adulthood and are important to this story). His first son, Edward the Black Prince, had a son, who became King, Richard II. His second son, Lionel of Antwerp, went on to have kids, and that branch would be the House of York (White Rose). Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt, had a son, who would depose Richard II, and become King Henry IV. Descendants of John of Gaunt are the House of Lancaster (Red Rose). John of Gaunt also had another son, by a mistress, and his name was John Beaufort, and he was legitimized later, so he could inherit and hold titles. So, for those keeping score at home, the new King, Henry IV, and John Beaufort are half brothers through their father.
Henry IV has a son who becomes king, Henry V, who marries Catherine of Valois. They have a son, who becomes king too: Henry VI. After Henry V dies, Catherine of Valois goes on to marry a second time, this time a wealthy Welsh landlord, Owen Tudor. This marriage produces another son, Edmund Tudor. Remember the half-brother of King Henry IV, John Beaufort? He had a daughter, Margaret Beaufort, and she marries Edmund Tudor.
Meanwhile, the latest King, Henry VI, marries Margaret of Anjou. He has increasing trouble keeping up with all his kingly duties, though, so she’s actually the one in charge of things, and he has two advisers, also. One of these advisers is the wealthy and influential descendant of Edward III’s second son Lionel of Antwerp, Richard of York. The other is another wealthy power-broker, Richard Neville, AKA Warwick the Kingmaker. Richard Neville married his daughter Anne Neville to Henry VI’s son and heir, Edward of Westminster. You hanging in there? Breathe into a paper bag if it gets too complicated and you need a break.
So, Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou basically hate each other, because he figures that the House of York descends from the second son of Edward III, and not the third, like the House of Lancaster, so by rights, he should be King instead. He gets Richard Neville’s support and fights with Margaret of Anjou and the House of Lancaster to get Henry VI deposed. In one of these battles, Edward of Westminster, the King’s heir, is killed. THEN Richard Neville has his daughter, the newly widowed Anne Neville, marry Richard of York’s youngest surviving son, also confusingly named Richard. He also marries off his oldest daughter, Isabel Neville, to Richard of York’s third surviving son, George. Then, Richard of York dies in battle, too. His oldest surviving son eventually wins the fight, and deposes and replaces (and, let’s face it, probably has murdered) poor Henry VI, who has been held hostage, rescued, and then re-captured, and ends his life in the Tower of London. Richard Neville switches sides, and mounts a rebellion with George against Edward IV. Richard Neville is killed in battle, Edward IV puts down the rebellion, and has his brother George drowned in a butt of wine for his backstabbing ways. Somehow, the new King Edward IV actually dies of natural causes, and has a son, the new King Edward V.
BUT WAIT, there’s more! It turns out that Richard of York’s youngest son Richard thinks that HE should be king, and has Edward IV’s marriage declared illegal, so that King Edward V is now illegitimate, and has him thrown in the Tower of London with his younger brother (they’re both just kids at this point). He’s declared King Richard III, and then the two “Princes in the Tower” just… disappear. (Again, probably murdered on the order of Richard III.) So… remember Edmund Tudor, from waaaaay back there? He had a son, who figures that he’s as close as anybody to being King, and comes back from France and defeats Richard III, who dies in battle, and, in the distant future, is discovered buried under a parking lot (confirmed by DNA testing in 2013). The End.
That was complicated and horrible, so here’s a relationship map, to help you figure out what happened:
Fun fact: my history knowledge strong points are really East Asian and African history, not European, so I didn’t really know most of this until I researched this article. In fact, I picked this particular topic purely because I didn’t know much about it. We’re learning together! Yay! It really doesn’t help things that nearly every dude is named either Edward or Richard. At least the various Henrys are numbered. So that’s the story of the Wars of the Roses. But, in the end, after all that, what has changed? England has a different king. The family in charge is now these guys, not those guys. The Tudors would continue the foreign policy aims of trying to get back France, so that didn’t change. The social structure is the same. The economic structure is still the same too. It’s a story dramatic enough for a whole batch of Shakespeare plays, but is the series of events actually important enough to how the world turned out to remember in detail?
On one hand, you can argue that without the Wars of the Roses, there isn’t a Henry VIII to have a succession crisis and kickstart the Catholic vs Protestant divide that would dominate the politics of later England (and then the United Kingdom, and everything including the potato famine in Ireland, and even a really scary undertow of Brexit negotiations much later).
For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost
For want of a shoe, a horse was lost
For want of a horse, a rider was lost
For want of a rider, a battle was lost
For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail
On the other hand, the horseshoe nail approach ads nothing to our understanding. Sure, it’s easy to say that future events come from events in the past, but that’s the very definition of what “past” even is: it’s the events that led here, so of course that’s what they do. There’s a lot of value in looking deeper, and asking more questions. If it wasn’t Henry VIII, would it have been someone else anyway, due to rules of succession and legitimacy being what they were? Could someone in a position of power have simply done the same thing, with their own pivotal decisions? Or, if you prefer, would the real reason be the way that English culture passed property on to children, and the critical role of religion in supporting this system? These questions are the core of historiography – the discipline of how history is written.
In a very literal sense, history is the practice of finding meaning in events of the past. History is writing about events of the past, but FOR the sake of the present and ultimately the future. Otherwise, why remember it? For everything you know about history, consider all that has been forgotten, or left unknown. History is what we choose to remember, and how we choose to remember it. As for historiography, narrative alone isn’t bad, and can be compelling. Remember, the narrative of the Wars of the Roses itself – with lots of spin, of course – was good enough for Shakespeare. Next time, we’ll dive into the duelling perspectives of historiography, and the question of whether it is pivotal decisions or socioeconomic forces that drive this narrative.
Go ahead, laugh: get all those giggles out of your system. Yes, this is the underwear post. As it turns out, though, underwear is anything but frivolous. There are actually a lot of important things underwear does, from the practical to the cultural, and – since we’re due another humanities post – this one will be a fairly thorough historical overview of how your very own modern underwear came to be, and how technology and cultural shifts shape what we wear. You may be surprised by just how much there is to learn!
IMPORTANT CAUTION: This Big Fat Historical Survey will only cover European underoos, since those, in the main, are the ones that mutate into the majority of current fashion. Maybe someday, we’ll do a cross cultural analysis of underwear, which would be cool.
What Underwear Does:
Protects outer clothes from the oils and sweat of your skin
Supports and shapes outer clothes
Extra layer for warmth or even cooling
So, with all this in mind, let’s start (because this is where fashion of the time makes it easy) in the last years of the 1400s.
Meet the Chemise
By 1498, wearing your clothes like you rolled out of bed and just don’t care was in fashion, fortunately for us. This means that we can see plenty of the chemise, which was basically a really long undershirt. Dürer here is wearing his chemise practically on the outside, with his clothes wide open at the chest. You can also see a bit more chemise sleeve puffed through slits in the sleeve, too, especially at the elbow. While early chemises were very plain, by this point, people wanted you to see it, and they began to be embroidered at the neck, or gathered up and stitched, like the very tiny pleats you can see on the artist’s own chemise. The chemise was worn by everybody, since its main function, aside from looking fashionable, was to absorb sweat and oils and gunk from the skin before it could soil your actual clothes. The bottom hem of the chemise usually ended up tucked into the hose, or eventually breeches. Pants or slacks as we know it didn’t really exist.
The Reign of the Hose
Hose were the other universal underoos, and were basically separate leg sleeves, like whole-leg socks, and could therefore be mixed and matched. Hose were held up with ties to a belt under your clothes, or, for very short menswear, even sewn together into proto-pantyhose.
Fashions at this point created an interesting problem: men could wear their tunics long or very short to nonexistent. Note that separate leg sleeves mean that there’s a need to invent coverings for sensitive bits if the hemline rises too far. That’s what a codpiece is for. Fairly rapidly, we end up with the classic poofy breeches, codpiece, and stockings combo of the menswear of the next two centuries. Fashion history aside, though, men and women just keep wearing stockings and the chemise for several more centuries, until the French Revolution.
18th Century Revolutions and a Side Note on Stays
So, eventually, women still wore separate stockings, attached at the belt or held up with garters, and men’s stockings were held on by the sheer pressure of the cuffs of their buttoned up breeches. The codpiece was long gone, and elaborately buttoned fall front flies ruled the day. Everybody still wore the chemise, though, and stockings were still in, until the French Revolution would switch men to pants, permanently. Seriously, that’s what happened. Stockings were expensive, so regular people tended to wear pants. During the French Revolution, it might well be risking your head (literally) to look too aristocratic, so French men started wearing pants. Everybody looked to France for fashion, and pants spread. Within a few decades, stockings for menswear would be completely dead, except for a few ceremonial vestiges.
Stays were support undergarments, generally worn by women, and they were one of the options to tie your hose to. Stays and eventually corsets and girdles weren’t always about pinching the waist, but also provided support for accessories like tie-on pockets, key rings, sewing kits, bustles, crinolines, panniers, and so on. Lest you assume that stays were strictly for the ladies, here’s a great cartoon that actually shows a bunch of men’s body-shaping underthings in 1819, for gentlemen who wanted to achieve a fashionably wasp-waisted silhouette with nice legs:
Remember: no boxers, briefs, jockeys, whatever – he’s got his chemise stuffed into his breeches. Also, for centuries, there were only a few ways to fasten and shape clothes to stay on and fit the body: laces, ties, pins (yikes), or buttons. Velcro, snaps, zippers, elastic, and truly stretchy fabrics – all of which we use to do the same – were firmly 19th or 20th Century innovations. This is a major factor in why young children wore dresses, until the boys were old enough to handle the complications of breeches. To illustrate, here’s toddler Franklin Delano Roosevelt in an adorable sundress and hat, looking pensive on a donkey.
Enough about menswear, though. Because of their lower hemlines, women’s stockings never had to change beyond tie-able thin socks until very recently. Similarly to the situation with gentlemen, actual panties as we know it didn’t exist because that’s what the chemise was for. By modern standards, absolutely everyone went commando because hemlines were low enough to conceal everything. (Under normal circumstances. Kind of puts Fragonard’s famous painting The Swing or can-can dancers in a very different light, huh?) As for keeping legs warm in the wide skirts of the 19th century, there were pantalettes. Imagine ankle or knee length frilly cotton or wool (itchy!) leg sleeves that tied on to the stays or to a belt. In this picture, the pantalettes are the frilly cuffs you see around the ankles, below the skirt:
Bodily Functions Interlude!
On the subject of going commando, and pantalettes as separate leg sleeves, this means that the problem of “how did they go to the bathroom” basically is resolved by the fact that nobody’s underthings worked like the modern versions. Here’s a (perfectly safe for school and work) video. You’re welcome! As for the dudes, it’s just an awful lot of buttons, for breeches, or otherwise normal pants. When it comes to monthly bodily functions for the ladies, imagine basically cloth or rags buttoned, tied, or pinned to a belt. This is why safety pins (also a 19th Century invention) are a big deal, folks. You live in a world that has achieved comfortable, convenient, safe fasteners for your clothes.
Corsetry, Swimwear, and Materials Science
So, you may have noticed that even by the late 19th Century, we don’t really have the advent of actual underoos as we know them. Between holding up stockings, pantalettes, and crinolines, corsetry is actually the foundation of a very complicated suspension system. That’s why women wore girdles, even way past the time that wasp-waisted silhouettes were in fashion.
It was over the 20th Century that things really started to change. Innovations in materials science, actually, gradually made new and exciting clothing possible. You could have stockings that held themselves up, for example. Or elastic bands rather than ties that made actual underwear like you’re used to feasible. Stretchy fabrics meant that you could buy off-the-rack clothes that fit like a glove. For a while, this was so new and exciting that the trope that “in the future we’ll all wear skintight body suits” took hold. Ultimately, though, in the far-off and futuristic year 2019, we only wear skintight and futuristic underwear. Oh, and undershirts on the outside, since that’s what the t-shirt eventually derives from: the chemise. It happened fast, mostly because there was another category of clothes that needed to be fairly form-fitting, reasonably warm, and easily washed and absorbent. Swimwear! (Technically also weird, specialty underwear like the union suit, as well, which eventually became two-piece long underwear as soon as we had elastic to hold it up. Union suits, being one piece, had that hilarious buttoned buttflap.)
If you look at swimwear from 100 years ago, it really does look suspiciously like modern underwear.
By the 1930s, short shorts had never been shorter, barely visible under a shirt:
The reason swim trunks existed was because now public beaches were a thing. Before the 1800s bathing craze, it was easy to decide what to wear when you went for a swim: nothing (or you just didn’t swim). But, if the beach was mixed-sex and public, swimwear had to be invented.
The techniques, at least, already existed, and could be rapidly adapted for new underwear. As for the advent of modern clothes, if you’re really lucky, you can find people in really old photos, wearing something that wouldn’t make anyone look twice on the street today. Especially in informal situations, like students or street scenes, or factory workers, or farm hands. People’s “best clothes” tend to be fashionable, which is instantly dated. The trick is also to catch people so that they aren’t so aware there’s a photographer: body language changes over time, substantially. Here’s an article on a famous case of a “time-travelling hipster” from 1940, but I found several more, too:
Basically it’s easier in the 1930s and 1940s, because you’ve got most modern materials, making more recent clothing styles possible; there’s cameras and film allowing for faster shutter speeds, and less deliberate more candid photography; the Great Depression and WWII forced people to cut back on insta-dated fashion choices like lots of makeup, elaborate hair treatments, and new clothes. Go, explore archival photos of regular people doing hard work and find some time-travellers of your own, in old photos!
I hope you view my contributions to the Teen Blog as an invitation to challenge yourself, think hard, and learn new things. This entry marks the start of a new series on the teen blog, Big Ideas. So far, I’ve only introduced major themes and academic concepts obliquely, and as they happen to come up in the course of talking about something else in depth. In these Very Special Episodes, we’re going to tackle them head on, so you can prove to yourself that you can think Big Thoughts fearlessly. Very few things indeed are truly Too Hard or Too Complicated to comprehend the outline of. If you do, though, you’ll understand everything around you in a deeper way. Tragically, you won’t unlock most of these Big Ideas until sometime in college, maybe. I think this is deeply stupid and unfair, so that’s why I’m writing these, to introduce you to as many really Big Ideas as possible, in an approachable way.
To prove to you that you do have the ability to understand Big Ideas, let’s start with the most proverbially Big Idea of all.
This IS Rocket Science
Actually, it’s physics, mostly, and a little bit of chemistry.
Since I’m never one to do anything half-way, let’s make an example, where we can explore some of the math and concepts needed to put a living thing in orbit. That’s right: we’re going to model a solo orbital mission. For this, you’ll need Newton’s laws of motion. (Spoiler Alert: FOR NOW, you need Newton’s laws. I’m planning to cover special and general relativity later.) I’m going to write a summary in modern English, because here’s how Newton put it.
Yeah. So, basically everything academic that was published back then was in Latin, so everyone across Europe with a high level of education could read it. This is also the book in which Newton details calculus (Don’t forget about Liebniz too!), and also there’s universal gravitation in there, and also some extensions of Kepler’s laws… the Principia is kind of a big deal.
Are you ready? Here’s your cheat sheet!
Tricky. How about we pick a model, where someone’s done something similar before?
Now, let’s chart a path to orbit by thinking through what we have to do to get something to orbit the Earth and come back. The objective is less to do the math than it is to get an intuitive idea of what the math means, and therefore a feel for the physics. It’s all about how much the mass of the rocket escalates as you add more mass it needs to carry.
P. S. A note on just how dang fast these rockets have to get the capsule to. Sigma 7’s orbital period was a little under 89 minutes. Imagine circling the entire Earth in just under an hour and a half. That’s how fast something has to go to stay in orbit. Given that F = ma, you don’t have to do the exact math to figure that even a tiny chunk of space junk slamming into a satellite or something at these velocities would be a Very Bad Thing, especially since this sort of collision would result in even more space junk orbiting at stupidly high speeds.
P. P. S. For a nice illustration of how the need to accelerate to a high enough speed fast enough impacts rocket design, compare the Atlas D series to the Saturn V rockets. “But Katherine,” I hear you whine, “what about the outer solar system probes, like New Horizons, or Voyager? Those rockets were way smaller.” Indeed. Probes can’t suffocate, die of thirst, or starve. Spacefaring humans definitely can. With a probe, you just need to get it out of Earth’s gravity well, and coast to a bigger planet or several to get a boost from their gravity wells to gain more speed. If it takes decades to do it, who cares, because it’s powered by Plutonium pellets. It’ll be fine, probably. With people, they need to breathe air, drink water, and eat. You gotta get ’em to the Moon and back, FAST. The Saturn V is a balancing act between how much fuel you need to accelerate to speeds that will save you on mass in terms of air, water, and food vs more fuel. It weighs 2,970,000 Kg. That’s a gobsmacking 5,940 Thoroughbred race horses. Glorious.
P. P. P. S. (Post-Post-Post Script) It should be self-evidently clear by now that Newton was right about that First Law. There’s precious little to exert a force to slow you down in space. The Earth doesn’t need rocket engines to keep going around the Sun. The Moon doesn’t need rocket engines to keep going around the Earth. I’m sorry if I just ruined several space odyssey movies for you. No stern chases in space. If your ship is already going faster than your pursuers’ top speed, you already got away, past tense. Just NO. Also, no sneaking up on things in space. Don’t even get me started on the consequences of relativistic speeds and Faster-Than-Light-Travel. We’ll get to ruining space movies in devastating detail later, when we do relativity, I’m sure.
Join us from 1 to 3 pm this Saturday, October 6th at Southwest Regional Library for the Teen Session of Random Fandom! The first hour, we’ll test our knowledge of Riverdale with a Trivia Contest (individuals or teams), and for the second hour, come dressed in your best for our Teen Cosplay Costume Contest! Costumed characters will be available for photo ops and you can see some local vendors. It will be an afternoon of fun. 1-2 pm Riverdale Trivia; 2-3pm Teen Cosplay Costume Contest. Ages 12+
Cosplay Contest Rules
Random Fandom is a family-friendly event. All costumes must be suitable for public display. If costumes are deemed inappropriate or indecent, Southwest library staff have the right to disqualify contestants or insist on costume modifications.
Contestants must be fully-dressed in their costumes before coming to the library. No dressing rooms will be provided.
All kinds of costume props must be handled with care and must not have the potential for harm to fellow cosplayers, library staff, event attendees, or library property. Working firearms or any kind of sharp and/or bladed objects are strictly prohibited. Props must be made of plastic or flexible material.
High school students, grades 9–12, are invited to submit their original films on any topic in one of the following categories:
Short Film (3-5 minutes in length)
Public Service Announcement or Commercial (60 seconds in length)
Documentary (5-8 minutes in length)
Cell Phone Film (1-2 minutes in length, filmed entirely with a cell phone)
Original films on any topic or genre are accepted. Films should be G- or PG- rated and suitable for a teen audience. Filmmakers must be Kentucky residents in grades 9–12.
To enter, fill out the forms linked below and email them to KYFF@lfpl.org,then upload your original film by clicking on the button below and following the directions. All entries must be received by September 15, 2018.
I find that news releases on health research often do a lousy job of communicating what the findings actually are, and how they might inform people’s decisions. Often, in order to make sense of them at all, you have to know some statistics, read between the lines, and cut through the hype. The problem seems to be especially severe in the case of a study on the scale of something impacting populations, but hyped for the public because the authors don’t trust the reader to care unless they’re scared. There’s a difference between public health and personal health, and although the two are connected, statistically, the conclusions can be wildly different depending on your point of view – managing populations, or managing your own choices. Also, when people make decisions about their own health and safety, they fall prey to some particularly nasty logical fallacies (all natural means harmless, or it’s not cancer, so it’s fine – or, “not likely to be me” means that “it won’t happen to me”). Even nastier, research on sensational subjects – like all scientific research – often turns up complicated or ambiguous results that get distilled into inaccurate clickbait. Never fear, though, let’s play pretend, and sort through, now and forever, how to think about statistics and clickbait-y health headlines. (I sourced the images in this article from Wikimedia Commons, as usual, and the attributions are at the bottom of this page, to help maintain the suspension of disbelief.)
1. Skillet Skating is a Bacotanian folk dance, recently nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in which the dancer wears slabs of bacon on their feet and skates around a giant skillet with a giant spatula. A good performance is said to prevent the sticking of eggs in the coming year.
Bacotania is an imaginary country with a rich cultural history deeply intertwined with the consumption of cured pork. The total population is about 12 million, and national holidays include February 4th, Remembrance Sausage Day, and October 16th, Bacotanian Liberation Day. The festivities of Liberation Day culminate in a Liberation Day Bonfire Feast in which chunks of pork belly are roasted on sticks over Liberation Day Bonfires in honor of the heroic air drop of canned bacon into the besieged capital city of Schlachteplatte.
2. One of the historic bacon cans in the National Museum of Bacotania.
3. Bacontanian Liberation Day Bonfire with skewers of bacon sizzling over the open flames.
Needless to say, bacon is very important to the people of Bacotania, and the loss of cured pork products would cause immense damage to the economy and culture of the country. The 2015 decision by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify processed meat consumption as a Group 1 Carcinogen was met with increasing public unrest, including mass demonstrations outside the Surgeon General’s office in Schlachteplatte, which led to the Surgeon General stepping down from their post.
Congratulations! YOU have just been appointed Surgeon General of Bacotania.
What is your advice, concerning the consumption of cured pork products?
You’ll need some further information:
What is a Class 1 Carcinogen? In a masterpiece of shoddy journalism, a lot of press outlets didn’t discuss what the classes even meant. The IARC classifies substances based on how conclusive the evidence is that they cause cancer at all, NOT even remotely based on how dangerous they are. There’s only one item in Group 4, the Probably Does NOT Cause Cancer group, and that’s Caprolactam. I’d never heard of caprolactam before doing the research for this post. It’s used in nylon manufacture, and it’s definitely not harmless, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t cause cancer. Nobody seems to have studied whether, say, pure water causes cancer.
What is an individual’s chances of getting cancer from bacon? The average lifetime chance of getting colon cancer is about 4%. According to the World Health Organization, the chance of getting colon cancer rises by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day. Now, we need one more bit of information, and that is the average consumption of processed meats. According to this study, average daily consumption of meat (all types) was 128 grams per day, and 22% of that was processed meat. So (22% of 128 grams gives you how many grams are processed meat) that means that the average person eats 28.16 grams of processed meat per day. So, if you start at 4% with 28.16 grams, and add 18% of 4% for every 50 grams eaten over the 28.16 gram starting point, you end up with an average Bacotanian’s cancer risk.
How much bacon does the average Bacotanian citizen eat? Bacotanians are very fond of processed meat, and a traditional Bacotanian Breakfast involves lots of sausage, so they eat twice the processed meat that Americans do, at 56.32 grams per day.
What is the average Bacotanian’s cancer risk then? Well, we need to figure out how much more processed meat than the American average an average Bacotanian eats, and then figure out what proportion of 50 grams it is, and then add that proportion of the 18% of 4% to the average 4%. Got it? Let’s go!
56.32 – 28.16 = 28.16, because it’s twice, remember? Easy!
28.16 extra grams eaten divided by 50 (grams to raise risk by 18% of 4%) = 0.5632 (amount of the 18% excess risk we should add)
0.5632 of 18% = 10.1376% Cool. Now we’re getting somewhere.
10.1376% of 4% = about 0.004, which is 0.4%
So, the average Bacotanian faces an elevated lifetime colorectal cancer risk of 4.4% on account of their huge processed meat habit. This means that for the average bacotanian, their MORTALITY ROULETTE WHEEL lands on DEATH BY BACON not much more often at all compared to the American population. (Bacotanian healthcare and mortality from colorectal cancer are comparable to ours.)
How many excess colorectal cancer cases are likely to occur in Bacotania if people continue to eat processed meat at this pace? Well, 0.4% of the total population are going to lose that roulette round, so…
0.04% of 12 million is… 48,000. YIKES! That means that Forty-eight THOUSAND Bacotanians are going to get cancer from bacon, above and beyond even the background colorectal cancer rates. If you factor that in, it’s a staggering 528,000 cancer cases. The cost to society, and the personal emotional toll on all those families is absolutely astronomical. And, clearly, partially preventable.
So, that’s how the same decision – eat the bacon, tell people not to eat bacon – ends up looking very different from the perspectives of an individual Bacotanian and the Surgeon General of Bacotania. The Bacotanian might well accept the risk, shrug, and tuck into a full Bacotanian breakfast of smoked sausages anyway. Note that although it’s a Class 1 Carcinogen, processed meat has a much smaller chance to cause cancer, compared to other Class 1 Carcinogens, like Asbestos, which (depending on your own exposure) can have lifetime risk rates as high as a 25% if you were a construction carpenter in the United Kingdom for a couple decades before 1980. Also, note that this only concerns cancer risk, not whether the cancer has a high mortality rate, and not concerning other health risks associated with the substance. (Remember that although Caprolactam is the sole occupant of Probably Does Not Cause Cancer Group 4, it’ll still cause your skin to slough off. Nice.)
So, maybe suggest that Bacotanians cut back on processed meats, but that the Bacotanian Liberation Day Bonfires likely won’t do you any harm.
Probably want to suggest the closure of Ye Wooly Salamander Particle Board Mill, though…
Vintage Photo, United States of America. No, I have no idea what’s going on here. By UW Digital Collections [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
British Ration Can of Bacon from WW II. Seriously, my heaviest of two cats weighs 12 lbs. That’s a LOT of 70 year old bacon. By KingaNBM [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Hungarian Szalonnasütés By Christo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Is the most exciting phrase I know of. Any time I don’t know something, it means that I could find out, or maybe (even more exciting!) nobody knows the answer. For everything we do know, a huge mountain of other questions exists, and there’s no end of cool stuff to explore.
Do you know anything about beaked whales? Did you know beaked whales exist? You don’t? Good. Beaked whales are toothed whales, and generally they have just two big teeth on their lower jaw. They usually live in deep water in the middle of the ocean, and mostly they eat squid. Because of their lifestyle so far away from human activity, several beaked whales aren’t very well known at all.
Andrews’ Beaked Whale Mesoplodon bodoini
By Notafly [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
One of the most obscure of the already pretty obscure beaked whales is this, the Andrews’ Beaked Whale. This skeleton represents about 1/35th of our total knowledge of this animal, because everything we know is based on about thirty-five specimens. Click through to this species profile, and you’ll pick up a few more pictures of specimens. We’ve got some information about what they look like, and how their bodies are put together. But that’s just about it. The only way we know anything at all about them is that sometimes (very rarely), they’ve washed up dead on beaches.
How big are they? 15 feet or so long, 4.5 meters, we think. Thirty-five specimens isn’t much to work with.
Where do they live? In the circumpolar seas around Antarctica, probably.
What do they look like? Gray, with a bit of white. Males seem to have white on their rostrum, females a little less white, and juveniles more gray all over. Probably.
How long do they live? No idea.
What do they eat? Squid or something? Probably?
What do they do with their time? We don’t know.
How big are the babies? We don’t know.
How many of them are there? We have no idea.
How do they communicate? *shrug*
Do they live in groups? No clue.
Do they migrate? We don’t know.
Are they active during the day or night? No idea at all.
Here’s something we do know (again, anatomy) – those weird teeth are generally all below the gumline and never erupt in females it seems. In males, the very points might peek out of the gums, but that’s it. (Again, small sample size means that this is pretty shaky knowledge.) Weird.
Andrews, R. C. (1908). Description of a new species of Mesoplodon from Canterbury Province, New Zealand (Vol. 24). order of the Trustees, American Museum of Natural History.
Baker, A. N. (2001). Status, relationships, and distribution of Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews, 1908 (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Marine mammal science, 17(3), 473-493.
Dalebout, M. L., Van Helden, A., Van Waerebeek, K., & Baker, C. S. (1998). Molecular genetic identification of southern hemisphere beaked whales (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Molecular Ecology, 7(6), 687-694.
Dixon, J. M. (1970). Two new whale records from Victoria, Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews (Ziphiidae) and Balaenoptera edeni Anderson (Balaenopteridae). The Victorian Naturalist, 87(4), 88-93.
Hubbs, C. L. (1946). First records of two beaked whales, Mesoplodon bowdoini and Ziphius cavirostris, from the Pacific Coast of the United States. Journal of mammalogy, 27(3), 242-255.
Laporta, P., Praderi, R., Little, V., & Le Bas, A. (2005). An Andrew’s beaked whale Mesoplodon bowdoini (Cetacea, Ziphiidae) stranded on the Atlantic Coast of Uruguay. Latin American Journal of aquatic mammals, 4(2), 101-111.
Nishiwaki, M. (1962). Mesoplodon bowdoini stranded at Akita beach. Sea of Japan, 11.
I’ve scoured through several scholarly journal databases, and these seven publications compose pretty much literally all we know about the Andrews’ Beaked Whale (note that the Andrews, 1908 citation above is actually the species description). If you hunt down and read all those articles (maybe with the help of a library – hint hint), then congratulations, you’re now a world expert in the Andrews’ Beaked Whale. It’s not often you have the chance to learn everything humanity knows about a subject in a single weekend, yet here it is. Maybe you’ll be the one to finally see one in the wild, or, better yet, take video of one.
As for the Andrews’ Beaked Whale itself, just think:
They’re out there, right now, doing whatever it is that they do.
Monkey Island notwithstanding, your life might just be better if you take “you fight like a cow” as a compliment. The truth of the matter is that – whatever Tennyson and the Victorians’ moralistic viewpoints – “nature red in tooth and claw” really mostly holds true only for predatory attacks on food animals in actual nature. Even then, few predators will attack prey with a mind to getting in a fight. After all, if your food stands a good chance of thrashing you in a fight, the predators won’t be around for long. An actual fight is just too risky. It’s not like there’s emergency veterinary hospitals in nature. Even a small cut could get infected and eventually kill you. A broken bone or chipped tooth could prove fatal if it means you can’t catch meals. As an aside, this is one of the major forces shaping the evolution of venom. The geographic cone snail has some of the most outrageously potent and fast-acting venom of any creature, purely because it’s a snail that eats fish. If a fish, once bitten, had any chance to run away or fight back, cone snails would have a very rough time just catching breakfast, let alone surviving it.
Given how much animals in the wild stand to lose from fighting, most will go to a lot of effort to avoid a fight in the first place. Lots of animals have specialized equipment – horns, antlers, ossicones, tusks, gill frills, song – specifically for settling disputes with other members of their own species in a way that keeps it from getting too violent too often. There’s a whole suite of behaviors that virtually all animals have to prevent fights in the first place and settle those that do occur as fast as possible.
Let’s talk about cattle. They actually have one of my favorite conflict sequences, and you can plainly see how cow disputes progress through several stages at each of which the parties have a chance to de-escalate the conflict, or decide to proceed to the next step.
The Official Cow Fight Procedure:
Rival Cow Spotted!
If you know this cow, and you each know where you stand with each other, you’re cool, and both can back down now. If either has any doubts, proceed to step 2.
Let the rival know you’re not happy about this incursion. If the rival responds with more angry mooing, and you don’t want to back down either, keep up the noise and proceed to step 3. Otherwise, if you get no response, the rival agrees to back down.
Pawing of dirt to signal aggressive intent.
If each cow is still prepared to get in a shoving contest, they’ll proceed to step 4.
Standing sideways to each other to show off size.
If either individual decides that the other is too big to take on, they’ll just quiet down and walk away to eat grass. Otherwise, if both are convinced that they can take the other, proceed to step 5.
Prepare to lock horns.
Both cattle lower their heads. This is the last chance to back down, and can be very brief.
The rivals lock horns, or rest their heads against each other (if polled or hornless), and try to shove the other until one disengages and walks away.
When one of the rivals backs down, it is possible to continue angry mooing, and allow the rival to angrily moo a bit to save face. If the issue isn’t settled, the cycle might repeat (but usually doesn’t) until the cattle can predict who will win the shoving contest and accept the results. Generally, just once is enough to settle the issue. Most of the time, cow fights don’t even get to step 6 at all before one of the rivals backs down.
You can watch the whole complicated sequence below, with these two Hereford bulls.
Switzerland has a whole sport based on introducing cows to each other in the Spring. The cows spend the Winter on their individual farms, but in the Spring, they get together again for the drive to alpine pastures. Of course the cows need to settle who’s top cow, and it was only a matter of time before people started painting numbers on their sides and setting up concession stands. Yes, these are actual cows, too, not bulls. Note udders. When a cow backs down, she’s removed from the ring until only one cow remains, and is crowned Queen of the Cow Thunderdome. Sorry: “Queen of Queens” technically, as the cow fighting is called the “combat de reines” or literally the “fight of queens.” Cows are Very Serious Business in Switzerland, in case you couldn’t tell.
These cows are all members of the Herens breed of cattle, and are selectively bred for cow fighting. Meet Penelope, a Queen of Queens.
Notice that nearly all of the Official Cow Fight steps are about communicating a problem and providing plenty of chances to back down. And if the other cow does, but they make a lot of noise about it, let them. It’s all just angry mooing.
Once everything’s settled, even Herens Queens are perfectly chill with each other, and pass their Summers in idyllic alpine meadows.
Plenty of other animals have an official fight procedure, like cows do, it’s just that in cows, it’s so clear and well-defined. There are plenty of videos of Complicated Cat Space Negotiations, for example. Just remember: if there’s video of it, someone found it interesting and exciting enough to record, so for all of these videos of cow fights, there’s lots and lots of cow fights that never happened. This is an example of selection bias – if you were to study how often cows fight, cow fight videos on YouTube would be junk data to draw on, because people are way more likely to record and post interesting video of cows fighting than the many, many allegedly boring instances of cows not fighting.