Category Archives: Science

Mathematics #1: A Wall of Lights and Estimation Skills

Today’s post comes from NorthShorer.

Four weeks ago the night after I had the useless shots in my back I could not sleep and decided at 3:00 a.m. to take out the garbage. When I opened the door to the garbage room, I walked into a wall of lights.

The owners of our building finagled two grants to install LED lights throughout the building at only slight cost. I have been hearing about this for a couple months and imagined, I suppose, a few small boxes of bulbs, not that pile, which is only half the bulbs for the hallways, security lights, garage lights, and parking lot lights. Another pile even larger was in the other garbage room at the other end of the building. Reminded me of a few stories of people who failed to estimate the weight and volume of pennies they either ordered or amassed. To be fair these new lights are not just bulbs; they need new fixtures. For instance all the standard recessed tube lights in the three stories will be replaced by a same size fixture holding several LED bulbs.

What also is surprising is how much brighter are the LED lights in the garage and hallways. Our yard is almost daylight from the new security light above us. I have avoided LED lights because they gave such dim light.

On Wednesday they will install LED lights in the attached lights in all apartments, which is nice for me because I cannot reach the ceiling lights. They will also cart away for free all of the fluorescent bulbs we have. Our apartment is about the average. It will get 27 new bulbs. The building has 65 apartments, plus eight other rooms to get bulbs. 27 times 65 equals 1,755 bulbs. Add in another four dozen to get, say, 1,800 or so. How big a pile will that be? I bet each will come in a protective carton. I happened to be in the Batteries Plus store recently. The owner noticed my address and said he was supplying just the bulbs. He, too, had underestimated the volume. The supplier told him the bulbs would have to be shipped to the apartment building because they would not fit in his strip mall store.

All the medical facilities in this town will soon get LED bulbs under a grant from the same sources. There are six large clinics and the massive hospital, plus a couple smaller ones. What will those piles look like? I am pleased for this change because the tube lights give me a bad headache while I wait around.

Estimation is a vital skill. Schools are doing more to teach it, for one thing to try to get kids not to just accept what their fancy graphing calculators say. I am usually rather good at estimation, except in extraordinary events like these lights. I am very good at estimating distances and travel times. For weights I am usually far off. I know what time it is quite well without using a clock, a skill I developed working outside as a child. I don’t have to be outside seeing the sun to do this. Not sure if this is estimation, but I almost always know which way is north. When I do get turned around, I get agitated. I used to astound my partner with this ability plus the ability to remember routes we took on a previous visit, sometimes months before. In the post and common roads of the Northeast that is a challenging skill.

The students used to be astounded by how the chemistry teacher and I could quickly estimate calculations and come close. He was a very intelligent man and knew rapid calculation skills. His estimations were often exact..

I am intrigued byhow computers find complex answers through a series of estimations instead of seeking an exact answer when it is not needed. This shortens the time for calculation, often by days.

How are you at estimation of volume, distance, weight, time needed for a task? Do you know what time it is without looking at a clock? Do you know which way is north on unfamiliar ground? Can you guess the number of beans in the jar? Do you always measure carefully for recipes?

Little Rebellions

My Uncle Wink (his real name is Arthur but he’s an Arthur Junior, so he’s always been known as Wink) is a dentist. As you can imagine, this means that dental health and hygiene was a huge deal in my house when I was growing up.  Brushing, flossing, two check-ups a year – the whole shebang.

And Crest toothpaste was the ONLY toothpaste allowed, decreed by Uncle Wink. And when I was younger, there weren’t any variations… no special flavors, no gels, no nothing.  This wasn’t too big a deal until I was in high school and different kind of toothpaste began to show up on grocery store shelves and the ads for fancy formulas that made your teeth shine and sparkle began to proliferate on tv and in magazines. But it didn’t matter to my Uncle Wink (and therefore to my mother).  Crest was the only sanctified toothpaste for us.

So when I moved into my first apartment in Northfield, one of the first things I bought for myself was a tube of Aquafresh. It came out of the tube in three stripes of white, red and aqua – an unheard of thing back then.  Every night when I brushed my teeth, I felt a little thrill of rebellion run down my spine!

 

These days I buy toothpaste by price or coupon, but if there isn’t much difference between pricing the day I’m standing in the toothpaste aisle, I always reach for Aquafresh. And I still feel that little thrill each night!

When have you rebelled?

Modern Marvels

My animals are costing me sleep.   For several months, my old cat (Zorro) has been hanging out downstairs, avoiding YA’s dog (Guinevere).  Then about a month or so ago, Zorro decided he would really like to spend time on the radiator in my room.  At night.  But he’s afraid of the dog and I don’t blame him; when she gets woken up suddenly she lunges at him.  She’s never actually touched him but I wouldn’t want a 50-lb shepherd mix lunging at me in the middle of the night either.  Zorro is quite vocal about this whole scenario and this has led to me getting out of bed, turning on the light and standing between the two of them while Zorro moves from the doorway to the radiator (although once Guinevere is fully awake, she doesn’t really care what Zorro does).  Once often twice a night.  Occasionally more than that.

One of the things that I know about Guinevere is that she is afraid of pretty much everything. If I put a 5” box in a doorway, she won’t jump over it, even though I know she can; I’ve seen her practically levitate 4 feet in the air in the backyard when she thinks she might get a rabbit or squirrel.  I thought if there was a way to have a barrier between the two, then Zorro could come in at his leisure, Guinevere couldn’t get to him with her lunge and hopefully I could get more sleep.

Since assuming I can train a cat is problematic, I didn’t want to go out and spend a bunch of money on gates or tunnels before I knew if I had proof of concept.   So I collected up some cardboard boxes and built a little wall that goes from the door to the bed.  It’s just cardboard and duct tape so not pretty at all and right now I have some shoes stabilizing it in the middle section.  The theory is that I can fold it up during the day and just take it out at night.

So far Zorro is not impressed and I think the contraption is confusing him a bit. I’ve been using treats to urge him on, but a couple of times, once he got about halfway, he just turned around and went back downstairs.  The good news is that I was correct and Guinevere won’t even consider going over the barrier.  Only 2 nights so far, so I’m still hopeful.

What major engineering feats to you admire?

 

 

Space Cadets

Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly are no longer identical twins. After almost a year on the International Space Station, tests have revealed that some of Scott’s chromosomes have been altered – becoming longer.  He is also about 2 inches taller.  Medical science is not sure if these changes will be permanent.

You just came back from space. What change would you like to experience in your chromosomes?

Faulty Sidewalks

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown.

A couple of weeks ago our neighbor, while out walking her dog, went down on glare ice – that sort of fall where you are suddenly flat on your back staring at the sky, and don’t know how the he** you got there. This was worse than usual though, as she cracked her skull on the ice. Pamela actually passed out for a bit; there was a lot of bleeding, a trip to the ER, and a concussion. She’s almost back to normal now, but is taking an afternoon nap (which is tricky at work), and was told she must not hit her head again. Just saw her (carefully) walking the dog for the first time today.

Traveling on foot is particularly treacherous in this season, due to a lot of melting and freezing. And here in Winona, we keep getting a new dusting of snow, which is fine in some places but hides the ice in others. I fell last week after a concert, because of an uneven sidewalk that wasn’t really visible – “just” went down on my knees, but was OK mostly.

Have you had any really bad falls, either out- or indoors?

Got any tips for prevention?

Sensory Processing

I  frequently run into children in my psychology practice who have issues with how things feel, taste, or sound. These children do not have diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (although many of those people have significant sensory problems).  No, the children to whom I refer are just really irritated and bothered by things in their sensory worlds.  They have problems with the textures of foods, with seams in their socks, and with dirt on their hands. They crave tight clothes and heavy blankets, or else they don’t like wearing clothes at all.  Some can’t abide loud noises.  Some can’t bear to have anything like a tooth-brush in their mouths, or else they have an intense need for oral stimulation and need to chew on things.  I refer them to Occupational Therapists who do all sorts of mysterious and wonderful things with them to reduce their sensory stress  and make them less irritable.

I, too, have some sensory issues. I remember as child that I wouldn’t wear any article of clothing that had a tag in it. Mom had to cut them off. They were itchy and scratchy and I couldn’t stop thinking about them if they were still inside my clothes. I also remember wearing what are called “rumba pants” as a very little girl. They were  decorative panties with lace on the backside.  They itched like crazy and it was impossible to sit down without having them scratch my legs.

I prefer loose clothes to tight clothes.   I never liked it when my mom would wash my bedding, since I liked things soft against my skin, and the freshly laundered  sheets were scratchy.  I can’t stand to feel that there is anything under my fingernails. This partially accounts for my unbreakable bad habit of chewing my nails. My son tells me that whenever he touches cardboard with his fingertips, it is like hearing nails on a black board for him.

I don’t know why I am seeing so many children with this issue.  I think  other children had sensory issues when I was young, but that no one asked the right questions to find out.  Perhaps life wasn’t quite as complicated  then and it was easier to learn to cope.  Perhaps we are doing something environmentally  or in our child rearing practices that is causing more problems like this. I don’t know the answer. I just know I am glad there is help for all that sensory irritability now.

What sensory issues do you have? Do you know someone with sensory issues?

Not Science

I know that anecdotes are not science. Just because you know two people who know two other people who have had something happen to them doesn’t mean it is science.   When the anecdotes don’t agree with your own world view it’s pretty easy to refute them.  But when it happens to you, it’s a little harder.

For many years I didn’t get a flu shot because they were made with thimerosal as a preservative and I’m sensitive to that. Then about 8 years ago, they started making the shots without the preservative so I signed up at work and got the shot.  A month later I was as sick as a dog; since I’d had the flu shot I was sure I had food poisoning and that was when I got a lesson in flu coverage by my doctor.  The flu shot is an educated guess about what will be coming around each flu season; sometimes they work, sometimes they miss the mark.  But the memory of being that sick made me hesitant to get a flu shot again.

Fast forward to last spring when I had pneumonia (ick). My doctor told me that the flu shot would be a helpful preventative against pneumonia so I dutifully got the shot this year.

You know where this is going, right? As I sat in Urgent Care yesterday with chills so bad I could hardly drive and a temperature over 103, the doctor (of course) asked me if I had gotten a flu shot this year.  I said “yes, and a lot of good it’s done me”.  She repeated to me that every now and then the current flu serum for the year really doesn’t help that year’s flu strain at all.  This is one of those years.  And apparently 8 years ago was one of those years as well.

I understand that this is a complete coincidence that both years I got the flu shot were the only two years that I’ve gotten the flu in the last couple of decades. My brain knows that getting the flu shot didn’t really give me the flu…. but just the same, my hearts thinks it’s going to be really hard for me to go get that shot next year!

Has your brain ever disagreed with your heart?