Monday, August 31, 2015

The Inexorable March of Human Progress

Archimedes used something called the method of exhaustion to calculate the value of Pi. That means, I assume, that he worked on it until he got really tired, and then took whatever number he had at that point and said, “That'll do.” And it was good enough for almost everybody when they were figuring out how much strap iron to buy for a wagon tire, or the total length of a pizza crust. Then Newton and Leibniz simultaneously invented calculus, which led to more and more accurate values. Oddly, though, both these guys have rectangular cookies named after them.

Monday, August 24, 2015


There are maybe a couple hundred billion galaxies. In our galaxy, there might be 400 billion stars. About 0.000000045292 percent of the sun's radiation strikes our planet. Of that, about one third bounces right off, about a quarter runs the water cycle (ocean currents, clouds, rain, rivers, stuff like that) and maybe 0.02 percent is used by plants for photosynthesis. And all our food and also our fuel are minor side effects of that photosynthetic process. My point is that probably you shouldn't have invested the energy to tell me my yogurt cup goes in the recycling, not the trash.

Monday, August 17, 2015


We can't believe people used to go to public executions, or even that there was such a thing. But attendance was pretty much mandatory, and it's easiest to understand as a kind of edutainment. The takeaway was: “Here is why it's important to obey the rules.” An expedient way to reinforce social norms. We've got our own ways of horrifying the future. Forget about us eating animals, imprisoning huge numbers of our fellow citizens, moving two tons of metal to get one clerk to Walmart. Bad enough, but then there's this: We poop into large bowls of drinkable water.

Monday, August 10, 2015

And Sioux City is 2.6% Native American

Time was the hills around Fincastle in Botetourt County, Virginia, were covered with apple orchards. You can tell because the housing developments are called things like Orchard Ridge, and you can buy gifts and collectibles at the Apple Barn. A few miles away in Roanoke, the people who sleep where the orchards used to be spend their days in cubicles, and the apples in the supermarket come from Chile. Meanwhile, in Texas, Wichita Falls has a 54-foot tall artificial waterfall that is clearly visible from Interstate 44. The city fathers built it in 1989, I guess because people kept asking.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Self evident

I’m about egalitarian as a guy can be. I don’t hold myself above other people, nor do I judge them. Among the people above whom I in particular do not hold myself, nor judge, are the following: People walking and texting directly in front of me. People out in public in pajamas and shower clogs. People with comb-overs. People with neck tattoos. People who put a “support our troops” sticker on their bumper and believe this simple act of adhesion serves to support anybody at all. When you get right down to it, I guess I’m just a people person.