The Other End of Sunset

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Your readers are waiting

Hello again my Otherenders. Hope the summer has been treating you well.

I’m sitting outside at my house, with music playing behind me, sun on my arms and legs (I’m wearing a hat), and it’s already in the 80s. Pretty darn good start to a day.

However, I’ve got a conundrum – I want coffee. I made a pot, although my coffee is so weak SL calls it dirty water. I was getting ready to pour coffee into my favorite mug – which commemorates something we did at Google, but, more importantly, is huge. Huge == “more coffee, fewer trips”. A nice optimization for me.

However, my coffee mug was nowhere to be seen. MIA, I guess. Having an out-of-cabinet experience. Gone fishin’

Anyway, it’s not here. So I try to find the next largest mug, and, as often happens to me, am confronted by a math problem. I have a cartoon mug that is pretty wide, and normal height.

I’m halfway to deciding that I want to use this cartoon cup when I notice a mug behind it that is a little taller, and wider at the top. With a wider and higher top, this cup has greater volume. Unfortunately, life’s not that easy.

The mug’s sides are not straight. Rather they are a curved shape that starts at a smaller base, and gradually gets wider, ultimately ending with a cup mouth that is far bigger than the base, and larger than my cartoon mug.

The curve making up the side of the mug isn’t even – it curves more as it gets closer to the lip of the mug. In other words, the radius of the cup changes from base to cup, but it begins to change more quickly as you get closer to top. For those of you who like math, the second derivative is increasing as the curve varies from base to top.

Now, my conundrum. Which mug holds more coffee? In the cartoon (simple) case, I can compute volume with the standard volume of a cylinder (2* pi * radius * height). However, if the radius isn’t the same across the entire cylinder, that formula won’t work.

There are optimizations of volume computations. For example, there is a clear way to compute the volume of a funnel, in both radians and more traditional measures. However, by their very nature, funnels grow from base to lip evenly. The radius doesn’t grow more quickly near the lip. The second derivative of a funnel is zero.

I assume there’s a way to compute the volume of my Capitol coffee mug. If you could measure the radius at each point, you could just sum each measure. Basically, cut the cup into a very large number of horizontal slices and compute the area of each. Which is something like taking the Integral of the area of each circle, from height = base to height = lip, for those of you who like the math game.

But there are many a slip twixt cup and lip, and here’s another. I can’t figure out how to predict the radius of my cup at any given point. I don’t recognize the function that would predict the radius – If I did, I could simply rotate that function around the y-axis (using another nice bit of calculus), but I don’t.

I could measure the cup, but I don’t have a soft measuring tape nearby.

Thus, I don’t know if my Capitol mug is larger than my cartoon mug. Very troubling.

In case you’re interested, I took the cartoon cup. Better memories. And drank it all dry, so I’m headed back to the pot for more caffeine (in an easy to swallow tablet).

While I’m gone…


By the way, SL points out the obvious. Fill one with water and pour the water into the other to see which holds more.

I didn’t think of that. There’s meaning there, I’m sure.

I don't want anything more
Than to see your face when you open the door
You’ll make me beans on toast and a nice cup of tea
And we'll get Chinese and watch TV
- Lily Allen

Picture a small town in the north part of Massachusetts in the very end of the 1600s. The relationships between the settlers and the Native American tribes had begun to fray across a variety of tribes. Raids from one party to the other are not uncommon.

Not the story you remember from Thanksgiving.

A 45 year-old man named Thomas Dustin and his wife Hannah had a lovely family of 13 children. (Yes, I know, puts the Octo-mom to shame). On this early spring day, a Native American raiding party came to attack the Dustin’s farm.

Thomas Dustin, who was working the fields, ran back to his house to warn his wife and get them all to flee. However, the 13th child, Martha, was just a few days old. Hannah did not believe it was safe to move her.

Hannah and Martha could not flee the coming attack, but the other 12 children could, with the help of an adult.

Hannah urged Thomas to take the rest of the children and get them to safety.

In some nice Hollywood movie, the father would say “No, I’m not leaving you!” and somehow she’d get the energy to escape with her family.

This isn’t Hollywood. Hannah convinced Thomas to flee. Leaving her was likely to sentence her to death. And the baby as well. But Hannah convinced Thomas to go.

A few minutes later, the Native Americans captured both Hannah and Martha.

The Native Americas killed Martha by striking her head into a tree. Hannah escaped from slavery a few weeks later.

Would you be able to make Hannah’s choice? Or Thomas’?

I don’t know what I would do..

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes
Because then you might know what it’s like to have to choose.

I just finished the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It’s a good read, with lots of interesting pieces of data. I love bits and bobs of data. I like the book even more because it isn’t a screed, it doesn’t preach that there is one, and only one, appropriate food system, connecting plants through animals to us.

He does, however, point out the stupidity of the phrase “food system”. I have to agree.

Some of his statistics are terrifying, and surprised me. My personal favorites relate to additional calories we consume above the long-run average in the past few decades. The extra calories, perhaps as few as 500, created a pandemic of obesity which, in turn, forces additional cost and pressure into the health care system. And the extra calories tend to hit hardest the poorest of us all, who may also not have great health care access.

I was also blown away by his measurements of the number of calories –especially calories derived from petrochemicals – required to grow a calorie of food.

However, the best line in the book, in my opinion, relates to new methods of growing corn, which is the base food for all the rest of the system (more or less). Natural corn – the stuff that nature built without (much) help from us requires a certain amount of space between plants to ensure growth and pollination. However, a few years ago, the corn industry started to focus on increasing the yield of corn for each acre of soil. The higher the yield, the more corn to get sold, or turned into high fructose corn syrup, or ethanol additives, and so forth.

To radically increase yield, agribusiness companies found ways to create specialized hybrids that could thrive very close to their brethren, and all plants would produce relatively similar product at the same time. And then die, falling into a mass grave, for future tilling.

This hybrid corn product generates equality – truly, all pigs are equal, and none are more equal than others.

Socialist paradise is a field of F1 corn
--Michael Pollan

SL and I flew up to the Bay Area last week. For a variety of not-too-interesting reasons, we were carrying life vests and a wakeboarding rope-and-handle in our carry on bags.

Now, if you were a security screener, and you saw a 40 foot coil of polypropylene cord, attached to some high-density piece of material, what would you think? Would you recognize it as a wakeboard rope and handle? I doubt it.

Would you wonder if, say, this was something dangerous that could burn, explode, something? If you so wondered, you might pull the bag aside and have it checked. That would seem prudent, in a land where I can’t carry 4 ounces of hand sanitizer for fear of a punk planet.

Guess what happened going through security.


Have a safe flight, SL, and let’s hope you aren’t one of the bad guys, because the screeners won’t be able to tell if you are.

Yes I'm waiting by the phone

I'm waiting for you to call me up and tell me I'm not alone

Cause I want somebody to shove

I need somebody to shove

I want somebody to shove me
-- Soul Asylum


  • If staying behind was practically a death sentence for both her and the baby, then they would have run. There was nothing to gain by staying behind - this scenario or story doesn't even make sense. (no offense)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:58 PM  

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