November 23, 2011
Before I remove myself from the interwebs for a few days to be with the fam, I thought I’d debunk one of the most pervasive turkey myths out there: that turkey contains more tryptophan than other foods and that it makes you sleepy. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Turkey contains about the same amount of tryptophan as other meats and some veggies. What makes you feel sleepy after a big holiday meal is what makes you sleepy anytime you eat way too much- food coma. There are some slightly differing opinions out there as to what causes the proverbial food coma, but it is not the tryptophan in turkey that directly causes sleepiness after holiday meals. It is simply the fact that you probably ate way too much in one sitting, and probably had some wine to go along with it. For more info see this article from Snopes, this article from NPR, and this article from Live Science.
I’ll leave you with this bit of complete and total absurdity from an Indian gameshow. That should hold you over till next week when I eventually resume posting. Have a great Thanksgiving!
April 29, 2011
So I’m thinking that some Fridays I’m gonna steal NPR’s “Science Friday” idea and write a post debunking some popular myths. Not gonna happen every Friday, but I’m gonna make a pointed effort to do it somewhat often.
Today we’ll tackle the myth about water spinning in opposite directions down the drain in the northern and southern hemispheres. This is simply not true at all. While large-scale weather systems do indeed follow this pattern due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, water going down a drain does not. Minute things such as imperfections in the angle at which a basin was installed, inconsistencies in the surface or shape of the basin, and any residual motion in the water itself are what determine the direction the water rotates when drained. Once the water begins to drain, the conservation of angular momentum takes over and any hint of rotational motion in the water, whether clockwise or counter-clockwise, gets amplified as it moves toward the drain, creating a vortex. This is the same law of physics that causes tornadoes and dust devils to behave the way they do. The classic explanation for this concept is the spinning ice skater. As he/she moves her limbs closer to their body the conservation of angular momentum forces their rotational speed to increase. They can then move their limbs further away and they will slow down again. So no, no matter what you’ve heard, water does NOT always drain counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. That being said, experiments have been done that show the Coriolis Effect can be seen in draining water IF AND ONLY IF all other forces are completely removed. A large and absolutely perfect cylinder-shaped container with one very small hole exactly in the center was filled with water and allowed to sit untouched for 24 hours to allow any residual motion in the water to die out. The container was perfectly balanced with extreme precision. The plug in the hole was then carefully removed and the water did eventually start rotating counter-clockwise, and continued to do so when the experiment was repeated. BUT clearly this only happens in extremely controlled conditions. In your sink or toilet, a myriad of other forces are orders of magnitude stronger and completely overwhelm the minute effect of the Earth’s rotation. Snopes has a decent debunking of this myth as well.
Tornadoes are different. I was asked about this yesterday, in the wake of the massive tornado outbreak on Wednesday. The Coriolis Effect does influence the direction tornadoes spin, but in a more indirect way. There have, in fact, been clockwise (anticyclonic) tornadoes documented in many cases in the U.S. There have even been a few storms that dropped multiple tornadoes, both cyclonic and anticyclonic, at the SAME TIME. As I said earlier, the Coriolis Effect is what causes large-scale weather systems such as hurricanes, low pressure systems, and high pressure systems to rotate the way they do. Low pressure systems and hurricanes always rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. The opposite is true for high pressure (clear weather) systems. The storms which produces tornadoes are always associated with a large-scale low pressure system. The Coriolis Effect determines the rotation of that large-scale system, which in turn has an indirect influence on the structure of the supercell thunderstorms which spawn tornadoes. Tornadoes are far, far more common in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and because the warm moist air which “feeds” these storms at the surface is moving in from the southeast, and the cooler, drier air aloft is moving in from the northwest, that setup naturally lends itself to counter-clockwise rotation, hence most but not all tornadoes in the U.S. spin counter-clockwise. This illustration from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory shows the inner workings of a tornadic storm quite well:
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Education has a website called NEWTON, with a forum of sorts called “ask a scientist.” This very question regarding the rotation of tornadoes was asked, and I found this particular response quite helpful:
At least the great majority of tornadoes rotate counterclockwise (as do all low-pressure systems) in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere, for the reason (coriolis force) given by Eric Peterson in response #1. But occasionally, it would seem, northern hemisphere tornadoes do rotate clockwise: S. Flora’s book “Tornadoes of the United States” cites an 1890 article in the American Meteorological Journal. Its author, a J.P. Finley, states that, of 550 American tornadoes he studied, 29 were deemed to have rotated clockwise. I have not been able to find any “modern” study of this question. But I believe it could be true. The region of swirling air that contracts to become the tornado is not itself large enough in extent to have its rotation dictated by the coriolis force; rather, it “inherits” this tendency from the great masses of air whose movement sets the stage for the storms and any associated tornadoes. If the study cited is correct and representative, on occasion the direction of rotation is set by some other factor, perhaps the topography in the area where the tornado forms, for example.
So there you have it. I won’t have as much time every week to write up a post this in-depth, so don’t expect this every Friday, but I’ll do my best.
October 19, 2010
It’s been a while since I got on my soapbox of how the 2012 Mayan calendar doomsday myth is, well… a myth. Let me begin by saying that there is no reason to believe that anything exceptional will happen when the Mayan long count calendar ends. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either totally full of shit, or is very gullible to fluff and hype (generated by the former). The descendants of the Mayans themselves have even said that the doomsday myth is bullshit. So, this thing is already completely blown out of the water by real science and reason, but just in case you needed another reason not to believe the doomsday hype, now the actual date of the end of the long count calendar is in question. The methods used to convert the Mayan calendar into our own Gregorian years has been shown to be unreliable, and this could throw off the date conversion by as much as 50 to 100 years. So in reality, the Mayan calendar might have already ended (and thus simply started over again)! I’ll keep an eye out for any updates and clarifications to this story, but let’s face it- the Mayan calendar doomsday hype is nothing more than fear-mongering and utter ignorance. (Via LiveScience)
I know I link to this blog all the time, but the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog continually showcases some of the most amazing imagery you’ll find anywhere, and what’s best about it is the content. This particular series involves the National Ignition Facility in California. This massive experiment could literally solve all the world’s energy problems. What they’re attempting to do here is essentially create a miniature star right here on earth. Just recently they completed a successful test in which they fired 192 lasers simultaneously into one tiny frozen target capsule containing deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). The ultimate goal is to create a nuclear fusion reaction- the same process taking place in the center of our Sun. As you can easily deduce, this would release enormous amounts of energy that is completely clean- the only by-product is helium, which is the element formed when hydrogen atoms fuse. The only hurdle is that it already requires a massive amount of energy to power the lasers that start the reaction in the first place, so the reactor must produce significantly more energy than it consumes in order to truly be a viable solution to the energy crisis. Another issue could be safety. With a reaction as powerful as nuclear fusion, things can get dangerous very quickly. Thankfully though, if an explosion were to occur, it wouldn’t involve the radioactive fallout danger associated with current nuclear reactors which use a different process- nuclear fission. (AKA the reaction used in the atomic bomb.) Click here to learn more about the NIF.
August 6, 2010
You’ve probably heard the Ben Franklin quote, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Sadly, I did a little research today and found out that quote is actually not accurate. It’s a derivation of a quote from a letter Franklin wrote to Andre Morellet in 1779. The real quote is:
Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
As a beer lover, it was kind of saddening to learn this, but oh well. (Via this about.com article)
Now for some shows to catch this weekend.
Before we get to the individual days, I’ll mention that Little Hamilton is throwing YES FEST all weekend. There’s a shit ton of bands, and you can also get special weekend passes. There’s too much for me to mention here, so if you want to know more about YES FEST, check out Nashville’s Dead.
The Protomen, Makeup & Vanity Set, and Magic Hammer @ 12th & Porter. 9pm
Andrew Combs CD release show with Caitlin Rose, Rayland Baxter, and Giving Tree @ The Basement. 9pm
Unknown Hinson @ Exit/In. 9pm
Powerload (AC/DC tribute) w/ Magnet School, Alcohol Stuntband, and Dirtbot @ FooBar. 9pm
Black 13 Tattoo parlor’s 2-year bday party w/ Autovaughn, Hillbilly Casino, Madi Diaz, and Plumb.
Megan and I will also be at the Arcade Fire show at the Ryman on Monday. (I’m taking pics for the Scene.)
Have a great weekend!
In the past 10 years or so, I’ve become more and more of a skeptic. Especially in the last 5 or so years, the American public has become increasingly susceptible to scaremongering and inflated fears about health issues, doomsday nonsense, and other junk science that has no basis in reality. The myth about cell phone radiation causing brain cancer is one example of this. The flat truth is that there had been no proven link between cell phone use and brain cancer. In fact, according to Christopher Wanjek’s column on LiveScience there has been no significant increase in brain cancer that correlates in any way with the increase of cell phone usage. We all know how much cell phone usage has risen in the last 2 decades… if they cause brain cancer, why the hell hasn’t there been a corresponding increase in the disease? Because there’s no connection. That being said, this article on NewScientist is one of many covering research into the effects of cell phone radiation on the brain, and in fact it does affect brain tissue, and there have been some hints that extremely prolonged exposure could cause some degree of tissue damage, but tissue damage is not the same thing as brain cancer. Furthermore, another recent study actually showed that cell phone radiation reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice! (And if you look at the bottom of that article, you’ll see that the study wasn’t funded by any cell phone companies…) We might even soon be seeing cell phone radiation used as a treatment for the disease. So, the jury may still be out on whether it causes tissue damage or has therapeutic effects on memory, but with as many studies as have been done on the link between the radiation and brain cancer, it’s pretty obvious that cell phones don’t cause brain cancer. Unfortunately some companies have tried to capitalize on the scaremongering by marketing products that are supposed to “protect” you brain from the radiation. These don’t work, and several have been shut down by the FTC.
Now that I’m off my skeptic soapbox, something actually interesting:
Biologists have discovered a species of sea slug that is the first know organism to be able to produce chlorophyll. This creature actually has aspects of both plants and animals, and thus sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. But it’s real. Scientists have determined that it somehow “borrowed” the plant genes that allow chlorophyll production from the algae that it consumes. Exactly how it did that in it’s evolutionary path is still a mystery. It still can’t produce the actual chloroplasts (the cells that are responsible for the conversion of sunlight into energy) without consuming algae, but it apparently can produce chlorophyll entirely on its own.
And just for kicks: How the main LOST characters would each make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. (Via Yewknee’d)
November 12, 2009
As you can see from this video, NASA is joining in on the fight against junk science and stupidity in general by putting some of their scientists into the public eye to debunk the 2012 doomsday B.S. This is the manager of their Near Earth Object tracking office. I’d say he’s a pretty good one to talk about doomsday scenarios, since his office is responsible for tracking asteroids and any other objects that might slam into our pale blue dot and kill us all. DON’T BELIEVE THE SCAREMONGERS! THERE IS NO REAL, CREDIBLE SCIENCE BEHIND ANY OF THE 2012 DOOMSDAY MYTHS! (Via Universe Today)
In other science news, apparently the Vatican is officially acknowledging the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. They recently had a week-long study/discussion involving over 30 scientists and religious experts to develop an official stance/policy/statement about the subject. This is kind of surprising, because we all know that most sects of Christianity don’t always agree with science/reality. Good job, Pope. (Via Physorg)
The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) has been working with the Library of Congress for the past couple of years to create a huge online resource for photography info. They just launched it, and I can’t even begin to describe how awesome dpBestflow is. Find some downtime, and go check it out if you’re at all interested in photography. They’ve compiled loads of industry knowledge, standards, and general information, and it’s all in one place, for free. Basically, it’s everything you could possibly want to know about the profession of digital photography, all in one place. (Via Photo Business & News Forum)
October 13, 2009
I haven’t posted any science-related stuff on here in waaaay too long. Part if it has been Next Big Nashville, which I’m still recovering from, along with other general business. That being said, here are some goodies for you:
NASA has a renewed focus on the moon, especially to determine how much, if any, water is there. One of the ways they decided to do that was to smash the rocket stage of the current satellite into the surface and analyze the result plume of dust and debris. Sunday they did just that, and the results are still coming in, but it was definitely a successful impact. Check out more about the LCROSS mission here.
I’ve mentioned the 2012 doomsday myth on here before and linked to various website that thoroughly debunk it, but today one article caught my eye. I’d never even thought to research what the Mayan descendants have to say about this issue. Turns out they are pretty smart and fully understand that the world won’t end just because their Long Count calendar ends. The whole steaming pile of bullshit that is the 12/21/2012 doomsday myth is entirely a creation of modern Western culture that’s been imposed on the Mayan culture and one of their many calendars. The point to drive home here is that THE VERY PEOPLE WHO INVENTED THE CALENDAR DON’T EVEN BELIEVE THE HYPE BECAUSE IT’S BULLSHIT! They simply take it for what it is: an anniversary of sorts, a time when the Long Count calendar starts over again. Read the article at Discovery News.
Remember when Stephen Colbert lead a huge campaign to get the newest node for the Space Station named after him? While he did win the popular vote, NASA had the final say and didn’t name it after him, but they did come up with a ridiculous name for the new treadmill for the ISS that, when abbreviated, spells C.O.L.B.E.R.T. and the astronauts just completed its assembly. Here’s a pic of them using it for the first time: