Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Cosmic New Year

Happy Cosmic New Year 

 Actually, no one has identified the day the Cosmic New Year starts, so why not tomorrow? Let the Old Man get credit for something.

Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies collide

Image Credit: NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. Mellinger.

Another year has passed. If One was counting since the beginning of the universe, then this would be the 13,750,000,000th year, give or take 11,000,000 years, since creation. Then again, for the first 9 billion years or so the earth didn't exist, so a celestial year is not a good measure to count on a grand scale.

The One counting would be God. This is because man didn't appear on the scene until roughly 200,000 years ago. Don't ask me how anyone knows this, it all seems a bit conjectural. But conjecture is all we have. And, it is in the nature of humankind to wonder who we are, where we came from, and where we are going to. Counting is a way we measure the passage of time.

A year is quite simply the time it takes the earth to travel fully around the sun. And since the earth is returning to its natural starting point, this is a good way for earthlings to keep track of time. Keep in mind that even though the earth remains in orbit around the sun, the sun itself is slowly spiraling around the Milky Way Galaxy in a trip that will take 220 million years, something the astronomers call a cosmic year. Given the age of the solar system as 4 to 5 billion years old, that makes for about 20 trips for our own solar system around the Milky Way Galaxy. As for the galaxy itself, NASA predicts it is headed for a collision with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4 billion years, a little less than another 20 cosmic new years.

Watch: NASA, when galaxies  collide. Read the story.

Have a Happy Cosmic New Year!

NASA Earth, Stressless recliner
NASA doesn't endorse any products. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Santa was an Old Man

Santa was an Old Man

What do you see when you look at me?
A jolly Old Man with twinkling eyes?

 An Old Man merry and wise?
What do you think when you look at me?

Will I put presents under the Christmas tree?
While you dream of faraway places.

Oh now, does anyone believe that a few good graces
Should outweigh so many mistakes through the year?

Have you been naughty? Have you been nice?
Have you been kind once or twice?

Never fear nor shed a tear for Santa is forgiving
You see, an Old Man has little time left for living

All that he has is a pipe for pleasure and,
A cup of strong ale for good measure.

Jest if you must for an Old Fool like me
For I trust in the kindness of all that I see.


This poem is based on a poem by Phyllis McCormick that is out there called Cranky Old Man. The actual poem seems to have been Crabbit Old Woman, with crabbit the Scottish word for cranky. The tale concerns an old woman in a nursing home. The sentiment seems to make the rounds of hospitals and homeless shelters. You can see one version of the poem here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Life is a Gift

Life is a gift, enjoy each day

Life is a Gift

Life is a gift enjoy each day,
Find something nice to say;
Find someone troubled by sorrow,
Lighten a burden, brighten tomorrow.

Remember those who have less
Try to be generous and do your best;
Do a kindness now and then
And joy will fill your heart again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why pipes freeze when the hose is attached.

Why pipes freeze when the hose is attached.

November in Kansas was unseasonably warm. Most days the temperature rose into the sixties, sometimes even into the seventies. People walked around in shorts, t-shirts, and tennies saying things like, "If this is Global Warming, I'm all for it," or "Living in L.A.." Even into the first week of December, it seemed as if summer had lingered a bit too long.

Perhaps, to Al Gore's relief, the weather finally turned cold. The temperature last night dipped down into the low teens and for the first time, and the weatherman was using the words "frigid" and "wind chill".

The Old Man's wife came home late last night. Dressed in pajamas and shoeless, he was ordered out of the house and told to unhook the hose from the faucet.  "If you don't, the pipes will surely freeze," she said knowingly.

The Old Man is a skeptic, not a cynic, mind you, just a skeptic. There is a difference. So, he said, "Can't be!" It was not just because he did not want to go out in the chilly night air and wrestle with two hoses, it was because he truly didn't think water could freeze all the way to the interior pipes of the house and burst.

After minding the wife and disconnecting the hoses, the skeptic went to Googe for an answer. Not surprising was that everyone repeated the mantra that one has to disconnect a hose or a pipe will freeze and burst. What was surprising was that no one explained why.

Was it just an Urban Myth cooked up by wives to get their husbands out of bed and out in the cold?

Water is one of those molecules that has an unusual property. Freeze most things and they contract. Any guy standing out in the cold North Wind notices this phenomenon with parts of his body. Not so with water, freeze it and the molecules form a pattern that actually increases the volume of a given mass. This is why ice cubes float, why pot holes show up, why icebergs sink ships, and why, if the polar ice caps melted, Florida would be under water.

The skeptical Old Man googled the volume of ice compared to water. It turns out that ice has about one-tenth more volume than water. Here's what the chemistry experts at Elmhurst College say:

Elmhurst College, Illinois

Which is more dense - Ice or Liquid Water?
"The increase in volume of ice is about 9%. This increase causes enough force to break most rigid containers. This is the same force, repeated on a daily basis, that creates "pot holes" in the roads in the winter time."
Of course, the Old Man's wife knew already that the Old Man was denser than both water and ice. The Old Man needed proof. How could a hose, turned off at the faucet, have enough water to expand and reach inside the house, bursting pipes and making plumbers all over the America rich? Scientific fact or nefarious housewives' plot.

Let's think about it. Take a 50 foot hose that attaches to a faucet 2 feet off the ground. Turn the water off at the faucet and one would expect that, all things being equal, the water in the hose would drain out if it was on a down hill incline. But, if the hose was attached to a sprinkler or a nozzle or if the hose was on an uphill incline, then one would expect the hose to be chock full of water. This is something the Old Man verified as he unscrewed the hoses from the faucets.

Now, the Old Man could calculate the volume of the hose, but it the answer comes out the same if we just use the length of the hose as a measurement. Assuming, for argument sake that 2 feet of hose is empty (the distance from faucet to ground) that leaves 48 feet full of liquid water.

That is a hose that is 96% full of water, or more than enough to burst anyone's pipe.

Now the Old Man was out to dinner the other night when his wife gave him some bubble gum with the following message on the package, "Let's just assume I am right."

Following this advice would have saved the Old Man some time and worry.