How Many Miles? -or- Weird Conversions Part 1

I love conversions and comparisons. How many ball bearings would it take to fill up the Empire State Building? If Jupiter was made entirely out of lead, how much smaller would it be?

Well, finally, the strange people at Wolfram (who are responsible for the ridiculously expensive and popular math software Mathematica), have created something to titillate this extremely weird and unproductive part of my soul. They call it Wolfram Alpha, and it is honestly a frightening piece of technology. You can, for example, ask it questions like “(mass of jupiter / density of lead),” and it will, in a flash, give you the answer. Which, as it turns out, is 167,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic meters. And, like an obedient child or an extremely well-trained German Shepherd, it also serves up the tidbit that this volume of lead would have a radius of 21,244 miles, which, the link Wolfram Alpha provides will gleefully tell you is about half the radius of Saturn.

Because I am a sad and lonely man, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time punching numbers into this thing and seeing what kind of funny stuff comes out. I can, through a simple multi-step process involving some shadowy calculations that I feel compelled to trust without question (Wolfram Alpha, as an extra feature, apparently comes with hypnotism), find out how large a cube of uranium weighing the same as me would be (distressingly large, is the answer). But sometimes, it comes up with slightly odd comparisons. Something might, for example, be said to have 0.25 times the mass of Earth’s atmosphere. Or, this little gem, which has spawned what may or may not turn into a post series of strange conversions and comparisons:

Don’t you go sticking your nose into why I wanted to know what 45,000,000 times 3 centimeters was, just take note of the bit at the bottom. Wolfram Alpha very helpfully pointed out that the result is 0.84 times the number of miles the Proclaimers would walk to fall down at your door. Which is a reference to this:

Every other weird comparison I’ve gotten has been, well, weird, but not quite as weird as this. And now, because, as I mentioned earlier, I am a sad and lonely man, I’m off to stick a lot of other weird numbers into it to see if it will tell me more odd facts about Scottish bands. And if it doesn’t serve up a reference to Harry Chapin’s 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, I shall write a scathing letter of complaint.

Remembering 9-11-2001

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the day a very bad thing happened, I’m sending out my traditional plea:

Today, forget about politics. Agendas. Conspiracies. Strategies. Arguments. Today, simply remember that, ten years ago, a lot of human beings went to work in two skyscrapers, and some other human beings got on planes, and some of the human beings on some of those planes hijacked the planes and flew them into the skyscrapers. And as a result of what those human beings did, a lot of human beings have died in the ten years since. Learn from the hijackers’ mistake: they learned to forget that the people on the planes they hijacked and the towers and buildings they attacked were people. Today, learn from that terrible error. Never forget that every other human body who walks or crawls around the world is inhabited by a person. We must learn never to de-humanize another person. We must never write another person off as insignificant.

And we should take this opportunity to remember that life is precarious. It might have been you or I on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings. Or it might be you or I who dies in a car crash today or tomorrow, or dies of a heart attack. In the memory of the people who died on September the 11th, cherish life, and remember that, no matter how bad or good it seems, the fact that you are alive is a gift, and it can be withdrawn at any moment.

Spawn More Overlords!

Bam! You just looked at a picture of two snails having sex! It’s like a Rickroll, except it makes you want to wash your eyeballs and move into a monastery! I would just like to congratulate the snail on the right. He (yes, he; not all snails are hermaphrodites, trolls…) has been..spreading the love at least once a day for the last two weeks. Which is more action than I’ve gotten in the last year. Which, considering I have an aquarium full of snails and take pictures of them boinking, isn’t really too surprising. Sooo lonelyyy… Anyway, that snail is awesome. In spite of the fact that, out of the four females in the tank, all but one (the other snail in the dirty, dirty picture above) are at least twice his size. Does he let that stop him? No! Is he dissuaded by the fact that the other snails are more or less uninterested in his runty ass? Of course not! Does he let go when they maneuver under low-hanging objects in an attempt to bash him off their backs? No way José! Like the emperor Caligula or a that one guy in high school, he will not rest until he’s fathered at least a thousand bastard children. (Which really, is unfair to the snail; lacking a concept of matrimony, they really have no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate offspring. You judgmental bastard.) Anyway, kudos to him! I’ll leave you with this:

Or, (and with many apologies to Allie Brosh, whose blog is much better than mine):

The Amateur Mad Scientist: Episode 5

Having discovered that I can maintain a closed ecosystem in a jar indefinitely (by which I mean for three weeks; I have the time-sense of a hyperactive Chihuahua), I decided to try a slightly riskier endeavor. Using a high-grade sterile enclosure cleverly disguised to look like an old curry jar, I added sand, gravel, crushed seashells, conditioned tapwater, and one Malaysian trumpet snail (Melanoides tuberculata). I chose the trumpet snail because: 1) I had some on hand, which the petstore (somewhat forebodingly) gave me for free; 2) They’re a lot smaller than my big aquarium snails; and 3) They’re apparently tough as hell and don’t have much in the way of oxygen demands. For oxygenation, I added four or five fragments of a Marimo moss ball plant I bought about a week ago. Here are the results:

In case you couldn’t tell from my wonderful photography, the plants are in the middle and the snail is that little brown thing half-hidden by a reflection off to the left. Surprisingly, the water isn’t cloudy because of my incompetence, but because the crushed seashells haven’t had time to settle yet, and I’m apparently harboring some latent anger, because I crushed them really well. More updates as events warrant!

An Update (No, Really)

I’m still here. I’m still alive (mostly). I’m just busy. Like, really busy. Beavers? Beavers ain’t got nothin’ on me. I promise I’ll be updating again soon. (Hopefully) I’ll have some big(gish) news soon.


I’m not going to pretend to know the miseries of the Haitian people after the earthquake, and I’m not going to use guilt or pathos to appeal to anyone. I just want to say that, if you’ve got any money at all to spare, spare a little for Haiti. It’s in pretty rough shape, and it could really use the help. I suggest giving to the American Red Cross, I think they’re fairly reputable, but give wherever and however much you can.

R.I.P. Kim Peek

R.I.P. Kim Peek (11/11/1951 – 12/19/2009). Goodbye, Rain Man.