Archive for December, 2011

The Physics of Santa

Posted: December 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Twelve or thirteen years ago, young Dean was browsing some bookstore and happened upon The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey by Dr. Roger Highfield. Had to have it of course. I like to bring it out around Christmas, usually after a couple drinks, and find my favorite couple pages. The nerd in me comes out and I giggle a bit.

In my first Holiday Blog Post That’s Mostly Me Plagiarizing Someone Else, I share with you selections from pages 241-244  of said book. (Wait, it’s not plagiarism if I credit the author… Need another drink. Happy Holidays. Be Merry.) Enjoy!

Santa’s Challenge

Santa has a huge market. There are 2,106 million children under age eighteen in the world, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Given the pagan origins of the festival and the holiday’s emphasis on charity, I will assume that Santa delivers presents to each and every child, and not just to Christian children or to the 191 million who live in industrialized countries. It is Christmas, after all.

If we assume that there are 2.5 children per household, Santa has to make 842 million stops on Christmas Eve. Now let’s say these homes are spread equally across the landmasses of the planet. Earth’s surface area is, given a radius of 3,986 miles (6,378 kilometers), 196.6 million square miles. Only 29 percent of the surface of the planet is land, so this reduces the populated area to 57.9 million square miles. Each household covers an area of 0.069 square miles. Let’s assume that each home occupies a square plot, so the distance between households is the square root of the area, which is 0.26 miles.

Every Christmas Eve Santa has to travel a distance equivalent to the number of chimneys – 842 million – multiplied by this average spacing between households, which works out to be 221 million miles. This sounds daunting, particularly given that he must cover the entire distance in one night.

Fortunately, Santa has more than twenty-four hours to deliver the presents. Consider the first point on the planet to go through the international date line at midnight on December 24. From that moment on, Santa can pop down chimneys. If he stayed right there, he would have 24 hours to deliver presents to everyone along the date line. But he can do better by traveling backward against the direction of Earth’s rotation. That way he can deliver presents for almost another 24 hours to everywhere else on Earth – making 48 hours in all, which is 2,880 minutes or 172,800 seconds.

From this one can calculate that Santa has a little over 2/10,000 second to get between the 842 million households. To cover the total distance of 221 million miles in this time means that his sleigh is moving at an average of 1,279 miles per second. Ignoring quibbles about air temperature and humidity, the speed of sound is something like 750 miles per hour, or 0.2 miles per second, so Santa is achieving speeds of around 6,395 times the speed of sound, or Mach 6,395.

The preceding discussion assumes that Santa throws the presents down each chimney while whizzing overhead. In fact, he stops at each house, so he has to achieve double the speed calculated above. From a standing start, he has to travel the distance between houses in 2/10,000 second. That means going from 0 to 2,558 miles per second in 2/10,000 second, an acceleration of 12.79 million miles per second per second, or 20.5 billion meters per second per second.

The acceleration due to gravity is a mere 9.8 meters per second per second, so the acceleration on Santa’s sleigh is equivalent to about 2 billion times that caused by the gravitational tug of Earth. Given that Santa is somewhat overweight, say around 200 kilograms, the force he feels is his mass times his acceleration: around 4,000 billion newtons. Even fighter pilots can’t cope with accelerations more than a few times that of gravity, and they have to use special breathing techniques and G (gravity) suits to keep the blood in their heads. As the physics professor Lawrence Krauss puts it, the acceleration Santa has to cope with would normally reduce a person to “chunky salsa.”

There is one other problem Santa has to contend with: his cargo. Assuming that each of the 2,106 million children gets nothing more than a medium-size construction set (2 pounds, or 0.9 kilograms), he has a payload of 4,212 million pounds (about 2 million tons), or 1,895 million kilograms, of toys. Then there is the supply of fuel required to achieve the high speeds he must maintain. Any way you look at it, Santa has some serious hurdles to overcome.


Gone Too Soon

Posted: December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I would surely want to compose one or more entries on Christopher Hitchens at some point. I had not planned on doing that just yet, but Hitch died last night and this has been weighing heavily on me all day.

Hitch was a hero to me. I did not expect to be this bothered by his death. I had just turned off all the lights last night and was on my way in the dark to my room when my phone beeped. My brother had been doing some web browsing and saw the news on Hitch. He emailed me to tell me. I read his message on my glowing phone in the dark and uttered “noooo” in the silence. Twitter was buzzing with confirmation. I didn’t get to sleep for another hour.

Hitch died of pneumonia complications, long suffering from esophageal cancer. As he withered away physically over the past year, he continued to write some amazing stuff. He wrote a gut-wrenching account of losing his voice to the disease – a huge loss to one of the finest orators and debaters of our time. In his last Vanity Fair column (January 2012) he challenges the assertion “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and wonders why he ever thought it to be profound.

When I got up this morning I put my audiobook version of his memoir Hitch-22 on my phone so I could give it a re-listen in the car. Hitch reads it himself. His reading of the book’s prologue brought tears to my eyes. He wrote the prologue to his book in late 2008, before he had been diagnosed. He speaks of the timing of writing a memoir. Too early? That may end up being awkward. He worried that there was always the possibility that the project was begun too late. As it turns out, his timing was, unfortunately, perfect. He tells a story of a recent article in which he was mistakenly referred to as the late Christopher Hitchens, and how deeply disturbing being killed off by an editing error can be. He jokes about his own obituary and how he’s sure it is already written. It was tough to listen to…

I made my way through the day occasionally reading wonderfully written tributes (, occasionally coming across nauseating and condescending comments (shit stain Rick Warren: “Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.”). I was in a deep funk all day. If you are a Republican, this is how you felt when Reagan died; Catholic, Pope John Paul II; technophile, Steve Jobs… you get the idea.

Hitch will live on in his books, essays, lectures and debates. Turn off the shitty reality TV and spend some time with him. You won’t regret it.

I’m drinking to you tonight, Hitch.


White Wine In The Sun

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I discovered Tim Minchin a few years ago and have been in love with him ever since. He is an absolutely brilliant British-Australian musician and comedian. I dreamed of the day when he would come to Milwaukee to perform. When I learned he had scheduled a stop here last October I was thrilled. Then the Brewers made the playoffs… I had to decide between seeing Tim and going to see a playoff game. The game won out when I decided that it was a safe bet that Tim would be back in town (or somewhere within 100 miles or so) before the Brewers would again make the playoffs with home field advantage.

Most of Tim’s stuff is witty, irreverent, smart and generally hilarious. When I first heard the sentimental White Wine In The Sun I was floored. It’s a song about Christmas that I could listen to any time of the year, over and over, and never tire of. Enough of my babble about it. Here it is. I hope you love it as much as I do and share it with others.

Here are the lyrics:

I really like Christmas
It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it
I am hardly religious
I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest

And yes, I have all of the usual objections
To consumerism, the commercialisation of an ancient religion
To the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer
But I still really like it

I’m looking forward to Christmas
Though I’m not expecting a visit from Jesus

I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun
I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun

I don’t go in for ancient wisdom
I don’t believe just ‘cos ideas are tenacious it means they are worthy
I get freaked out by churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are spooky

And yes I have all of the usual objections
To the miseducation of children who, in tax-exempt institutions,
Are taught to externalise blame
And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong
But I quite like the songs
I’m not expecting big presents
The old combination of socks, jocks and chocolate is just fine by me

Cos I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun
I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun

And you, my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You’ll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school
And you won’t understand
But you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world
My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if, my baby girl
When you’re twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself nine thousand miles from home
You’ll know what ever comes
Your brother and sisters and me and your Mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun
Whenever you come
Your brothers and sisters, your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum
We’ll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Darling, when Christmas comes
We’ll be waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you in the sun
Waiting for you…

I really like Christmas
It’s sentimental, I know…

If you have the time, check out Tim’s YouTube channel.  DO NOT miss STORM.

Blast from my blogging past

Posted: December 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Apparently MySpace isn’t dead. Who knew? I wanted to see if I could still get at some old blog entries. After many attempts to log in I finally got the correct email and password combination and was able to access the blog. Wow. My biking adventures series was some pretty amusing stuff. The posts about putting my cat Maizee to sleep after the pet food poison mess got me a little blurry-eyed.

So, for anyone who doesn’t know the story, or would just like to read again what I had to say after it, below is the first post after my unique bike accident. This has become my go-to story when the moment calls for an amusing one that’s tough to top. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I used to be quite a bike nut, commuting to work and home nearly every day for a while up until this incident. Yes, bike = bicycle, not motorcycle. And yes I got pissed when Matt Lauer of the Today Show was run off a bike path by a deer and wore that stupid arm sling on the show for weeks. I don’t think he even made contact with the animal and he stole my story. And then there was this more recently:  Yeah, been there, done that…



August 10, 2006

Adventures in Biking III: I’m not a fan of Brown Deer’s brown deer

Last night while biking home from work I hit a deer.

I’m not joking.  I seriously couldn’t make this shit up.  I HIT A DEER!

My buddy Stephan and I left work around 6pm.  We were about a mile from work and cruising at a decent clip of about 15mph down Dean Rd. in Brown Deer.  A deer bolted out of the brush on the left side of the road at full speed and I collided with it.  Again, I’m not making this up.

Stephan was biking slightly behind me and had enough time to react and hit his brakes hard.  The front brake stuck and he did an endo and almost went over his handlebars.  I didn’t get to react.  I hit my brakes, but it was too late.  I hit the deer and both the deer and I went airborne and landed in the ditch on the side of the road.  This was no small deer.  It was a buck with velvet antlers.  I didn’t get to count, but I’d estimate he was a six-pointer.  I had the wind knocked out of me laying in the ditch and was gasping for air as the deer scrambled to its feet and ran off.  When I caught my breath and tried to sit up Stephan yelled for me to just lay down.  I did and lay there realizing I hadn’t yet felt any pain and wondered what bones were broken.  A car coming up from behind us on the road had witnessed the incident and stopped.  A lady frantically ran out to see if everything was all right.  Realizing I was in one piece I sat up again and Stephan checked me out before letting me stand up.  We then went over to my bike and saw the the front end was pretty messed up.  My handlebars were bent and twisted and my brakes and shifter on the left side were a mess.  We fixed what we could to make the bike ridable and then just stopped and looked at each other and started laughing.  “Dude, you just hit a fuckin’ deer!”

Stephan recounted what he had witnessed of the accident.  It was all pretty much a blur to me.  I hit the deer pretty much in the neck and front shoulder and somehow was turned around 180 and rolled into the ditch.  I had to have flown in the air a bit to completely miss the gravel on the side of the road and land at the botton of the ditch.  He said I nearly landed on top of the downed deer.  When I got up I found grass stains on my shirt and gloves and deer fur on my left shoulder.  We checked for blood from the deer but found none.  Stephan commented that he was going to get me some deer whistles for my bike…

We got back on our bikes and pedaled home still in shock about what had just happened.  WTF!  I had seen deer on this route into work in the morning a few times, but they were mostly does with fawns and just crossing the road or whatever.  I had never seen a buck.

So , I made it home which was about another 9 miles.  My right knee had (I think) slammed against the frame of my bike in the crash and was pretty sore.  When I got home I sat down for a couple minutes contemplating what had just occured again.  As the adrenaline wore off, I started to stiffen up and get really sore on the left side of my upper body where the deer had hit me.  My left wrist was swolen and I soon realized I couldn’t lift my arm very high.  I got some ice on my knee.  I had a beer and made it to bed, but didn’t sleep very well.

This morning my movement in the left side of my body was more limited.  I had a hard time washing up in the shower with only my right hand.  I made it to work and had to tell the story a thousand times to people who didn’t want to believe it, but just ended up laughing and telling other people.  I was a celebrity at work.

As the day went on, my stiffness and soreness wasn’t getting any better, so i decided to call my doctor before it got unbearable.  I ended up going to see him at 4pm and he and the staff there were amazed by the story as well.  He checked me out thouroughly.  My sore ribs were fine, but he was concerned that I may have hairline fractures in my wrist and may have rotator cuff damage in my shoulder from the impact.  All this pain and stiffness on my left side was not from my fall into the ditch.  It was from the impact with which the deer hit me.  Doc sent me off to a clinic to get x-rays on my wrist and shoulder.  So, I have to call him tomorrow morning to get the results and see if I’m more messed up than I thought I was.  I hope they find nothing.  He told me to stay off the bike for 7-10 days.  That’s gonna be hard.  Yesterday after the accident, I really thought I may be able to ride in this morning, untill the stiffness set in.  I guess I’ll take it easy for a while…


Yeah the incident with the punks messing with me before was disturbing, but this time it was fuckin’ nature trying to take me out!  I’m in too much pain to ride for a bit, but I can’t wait to get back on the bike already…  I’ll know tomorrow how bad it is.  I realize now it could have been a lot worse.  Yeah, it seems funny to me now, but I was seriously freaked out when it happened.  You’d be too.

Thanks for reading.


For the record, I still have frequent problems with my left shoulder 5 years later. I went through a bunch of physical therapy and it was better for a while, but flares up here and there for a few months at a time. I know I’ll probably need some corrective surgery at some point, but who has time for that?

Just a post on what I’m currently reading… I’m about halfway through Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and it’s amazing. I’ve never read anything like it before.

I was mostly unfamiliar with Rushdie’s work until I read Christopher Hitchens’s memoir Hitch-22. Hitchens spoke highly of Rushdie. They have been close friends since the eighties. I have immense respect and admiration for Hitchens (and I’m sure I’ll have at least one post about him in the near future). I’m guessing (I may be wrong) that most people like me who know the name Salman Rushdie know it from his 1988 work The Satanic Verses and the controversy and violent protests that erupted because of it. Muslims in several countries issued death threats and the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa against Rushdie, calling for his death. In Hitch-22 Hitchens devotes a chapter to Rushdie simply entitled “Salman” and he tells of the time he put Rushdie up at his apartment after the fatwa. I had to learn more about this guy.

Rushdie joined twitter on September 14, 2011 and I’ve been following him since then (@SalmanRushdie). I soon learned that he had been working with director Deepa Mehta (@IamdeepaMehta) on a cinematic production of Midnight’s Children. I wanted to know more. Midnight’s Children was his second novel. He was younger than I am now when he wrote it. From his Wikipedia entry:

This work won the 1981 Booker Prize and, in 1993 and 2008, was awarded the Best of the Bookers as the best novel to have received the prize during its first 25 and 40 years. Midnight’s Children follows the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is endowed with special powers and a connection to other children born at the dawn of a new and tumultuous age in the history of the Indian sub-continent and the birth of the modern nation of India. The character of Saleem Sinai has been compared to Rushdie.

I’m nearly 300 pages into it and I can’t put it down. Before starting it I read (okay, listened to on audio book) his Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992 – 2002. I felt I had gotten to know Rushdie a bit and was ready to dive into Midnight’s Children. Now I only wish I could get more pages in at every opportunity I have to sit down and read. Last week I spent every lunch hour alone with the book.

Okay, writing this is keeping me from reading. I will queue up some more on the book to post at a later date. Please, if you’ve read any Rushdie, let me know in the comments.

It’s true, I do.

I don’t do Facebook. Never have. I did MySpace back in the day. It was fun while it lasted. I even did a few blog entries on it back when I had some interesting biking adventures. (I need to see if those are still somehow available to repost here for laughs.) The Facebook empire took over and I was simply too busy to get involved. Some of you who know me think I’m anti-FB. That’s not entirely true. I have a certain respect for it. Facebook has changed the way we communicate. Being a FB outsider makes this even more obvious. I’m often out of the loop because I’m not in the club. If my wife didn’t have FB I would miss party invites, travel arrangements and probably never see pictures of family and friends. Yes, I’m a little anti-establishment, independent, old fashioned… That’s only maybe 15% of the reason I don’t do FB. It’s mostly because I know me and I know I need to deny myself or I would go fanatic. I’m talking hours a day at the computer. I’m much better off suffering the communication inconveniences of not participating in the FB frenzy. I like to have a life away from the screens.

Then there was twitter…

I love the twitter. I bit and got caught, hook line sinker. There is something that just strikes the right chord with me about the challenge of 140 characters to express a thought, make someone laugh, make someone think. It’s just the right amount of real estate. Think about it… Reading a twitter feed is like scanning a list of cyber-first-impressions. If you haven’t peaked my interest in 140 characters I’m probably not going to be disappointed in the amount of time I wasted reading your blurb. Buzz off, try again, whatever. If you did catch my attention, well then we’re having a conversation already. (It’s also a great source of news, opinions, and a communication avenue for facilitating revolutions. That’s cool too.) Twitter doesn’t consume me, though I’m not sure what I would do if I had to give up my smart phone…

So why did I decide to do this blog thing, you ask? It’s been a long time coming I guess. Several times daily I find myself needing an outlet for these thoughts that rattle around in my head. Sometimes I need more than 140 characters. Over the last several years I had so many reasons to write. I’ve become more politically active. I’m a father of a 4 year old. I’ve experienced living in two completely different Milwaukee neighborhoods. My father deals with Parkinson’s disease, has been through brain surgeries, has had a nearly fatal accident. I’ve read some amazing and important books. I endlessly make home projects for myself that always end up both maddening and hilarious, yet rewarding. The list goes on and on… These are the important and entertaining things in my life that I feel I can use to make me a better writer, or something…

In my basement I have the archive of scrapbooks and picture albums my mother kept. When they come out I am amazed at the amount of time dedication love she put into them. She chronicled so much with stuff taped into blank books with penciled in dates and arrows drawn all over. It was her generation’s way to blog and she put her whole heart into it for us. I just have a lot of words trying to get outta my head onto these screens via my fingers. I have always made it a point to try to enjoy or appreciate a moment rather than take away its impact on me with concern for documenting it with a picture or video. Life doesn’t unfold with the same magic on the other side of a camera. Mom and Dad take a lot of pictures. Mom always makes sure there are people in her pictures. She has no need for pictures as art. They are meant to capture a moment so it can be remembered later. I get that. She is still documenting with the camera. I think I prefer to recall the moment and tell the story later. That’s why I’m here.

I’m planning to fail terribly in my documentation. Just setting the bar nice and low for myself. Maybe I’ll manage to inform or entertain here and there. I’m not really doing this for you. It’s an entirely selfish endeavor. I like to think I have some decent communication skills and can put sentences together in my own way. I decided I have to give it a shot. I’m tired of telling myself I should have a blog. No more excuses. On with the chlorophyll!