Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why is the number 13 evil?

In Sunday school last week, our teacher explained to us how numbers can be evil. I don't like going to Sunday school anymore since my friend Steve got kicked out. (If you want to know how it all happened, you'll have to read my post on 'So, when was God invented, then?'). But my parents think it's a good idea to have at least some religious education. Most of the stuff we get told doesn't make any sense to me, but I still go because my dad promised to get me a new bike for Christmas...

I think what our teacher was trying to tell us was that the devil has a number and that we should avoid using it (it's 666 - in case you're interested). He wanted us to know that 13 can be evil too. I didn't believe any of it and so I tried to think of more interesting things (such as building a fort this winter and playing Quidditch with my friends - we use broomsticks as well, but none of us can fly). I also tried to think of my new bike.

But I know that some people like to believe in strange things. My mom for example thinks that our uncle Herbert is special because he was born on Christmas Day. He believes in angels and sees people who aren't there. (He also uses aluminum foil to wrap his furniture in case aliens want to steal his lunch.) I think Uncle Herbert is schizophrenic. But my mom is convinced that he has visions. And when I asked her about the numbers, she couldn't explain any of it. So I decided to do some more research ...

Here's what I found: a normal year in our calender has a little over 12 lunar cycles, so there's an odd month every four years or so. In the old days, some of the monks who were responsible for coming up with new calenders didn't like this because it was too difficult. That's probably why they thought the 13th month was unlucky. (Find out more about lunar cycles and the blue moon on space.com)

13 is also important for Christians because, when Jesus had his last supper, there were 12 apostles at his table (13 people altogether). One of them betrayed him, so I guess he must have thought 13 was evil. 

In the Jewish religion, a boy achieves maturity when he turns 13. He then becomes a full member of the community (although I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing.) I think witches are cool, so I think it's important that there are normally 13 witches in a coven.

I guess people are a little afraid of the number 13 because there are some very complicated things you can do with it in Maths (and Maths is always scary). There are 13 Archimedean solids, for example, and people say that there are 13 ways for the three fastest horses to finish a race (if you're into this kind of stuff, you will be interested to know that this is because 13 is the third ordered Bell number - you can find out more about Bell numbers here). 

I also think people believe 13 is unlucky because it's an odd number that doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Some people think it's bad to start a new project on a Friday or on the 13th. But I think that's mostly because you would run way into the weekend before you could finish it...

I like funny words, so I think it's pretty cool that fear of the number 13 is called 'Triskaidekaphobia'. But - as it turns out - the number 13 is not an evil number after all, it's just been a bit unlucky. Not because it's evil but because superstitious people don't seem to like it very much. 

I'll have to talk to my Sunday school teacher on Sunday. Steve and I wanted to start building a boat next Friday. If I talk to him about his superstitions this week, I think there's a good chance that we'll have enough time to finish it next Sunday morning. If I do it right, he'll kick me out too and I could tell my dad it wasn't my fault ...

If you want to know a little more about why people don't like the number 13, check out this post on mentalfloss.com. I took the Quidditch picture from Harrypotter.wikia.com. The first 13 came from the Telegraph website and the calendar with Friday 13 came from a blog called blog.pch.com.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

What's the difference between a Raven and a Crow?

I haven't posted anything for a while. The reason is that my parents had this great idea to refurbish our house. They had been planning to do it for years, so I didn't think it would ever happen. But a few weeks ago they told me that they would need my room for storing bricks and cement and stuff. And that's why I had to go and stay with my grandma for a while.

My grandma's a little crazy, but she's also very nice. I didn't mind living with her for a few weeks. She bakes the most amazing cakes! The only problem is that she doesn't have any broadband at her place...

Anyway. I'm back home now. My parents are almost finished (there's still lots of cement bags and bricks stored on our driveway). So I thought I should post something new...

Last week, my cousin Carl (who is a few years older than me and totally into horror stuff) told me something very strange about crows. He said that they sometimes attack people and hack out their eyes. I thought he was just trying to scare me, so I asked my dad about it. He didn't think they did. But he also couldn't explain the difference between a raven and a crow. So I got online and did a little research.

Here's what I found out: Crows and Ravens are actually all part of the same crow family called corvus. Crows are a bit smaller than ravens (pigeon size), and they are less shiny. Ravens are huge, almost as big as a falcon. But they live farer away from cities and from people, so we usually see them less.

I only ever see crows when they sit outside my window in our neighbour's garden. Sometimes there's a few flying over our house (a few crows flying together is called a 'murder of crows'- which I think is pretty cool!). It's hard to tell what they look like when they're flying. But apparently they have a very different shape of tail (which you cannot see when they are sitting down). Crows' tail feathers are fan-shaped and a raven's tail looks a little more wedge-shaped.

Another way to tell crows and ravens apart is the way they sound. A crow's call sounds a bit like an angry poodle and a raven's call sounds more like a complaining old person. Check out these videos on YouTube for an example:

Video 1: angry poodle crow

Video 2: old person raven

Crows eat almost everything they can find. Berries, little insects and also dead things. In the stories of old, people saw them after battles and such because they fed on the dead bodies and the fallen horses. I think that's why a few of them together are always considered to be a bad sign.

So - as it turns out - crows actually will hack out your eyes if you're a dead soldier lying in a ditch somewhere. They will also eat your horse. But the good thing is that they would not try and eat you while you're still alive, so there's no need to worry.

What most people don't know is that ravens also eat dead things. But they usually do it alone. Maybe that's why they're not as well known for it.

 If you want to find out a little more about crows and why they sleep together in roots, check out this informative website: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/crowfaq.htm.

For some more information on crows and ravens in celtic and native American myths, you could have a look at this blog.

The picture with the crow and the pram was designed by Dark Shepard - I found it on imgfave.com. The image with the flying raven came from people.tribe.net.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Where does Rust come from?

Sorry for the long silence, everyone. The weather was really nice here in Britain and I spent a lot of time outside. My friends Tommy and Steve came over and my dad helped us build an awesome treehouse. We pretended to be Aliens who wanted to take over the world from up in our treehouse. Steve even invented a little lift we could use for transporting food and stuff... It was pretty cool!

We also wanted to go on a bike ride through the woods the other day. But when I got out my bike, it was pretty rusty. My parents don't have a lot of money, so they got the bike off one of my cousins when he got a new one last year. It was a very old bike, and when I got it, it already had a few rusty patches. But because we don't have anywhere to put it, I had to keep it outside over the winter (which was really cold and rainy!). And when I got it out for our bike ride the other day, the rust had gotten everywhere...!

There was rust on the chain, on the crank arm, on the handle bars, under the seat and all over the brakes. And when I tried to get it off with the sponge and the old cloth my mom gave me, one of the crossbar clamps came off in my hands and crumbled into a million pieces.

First, I got really upset because I couldn't go on the bike ride with my friends. But then I thought it might be a good idea to find out a little more about rust. Especially because my dad keeps complaining about all the rust on his old VW. He clearly has no idea how to get rid of it properly. So here it goes...

My dad calls rust the 'tin worm', but rust is a chemical reaction and not an animal. When metal rusts, it turns into a compound called 'Iron Oxide'. Iron oxide (Fe2O3) looks a bit like brown and leafy dirt (If you're a real chemistry nerd, you might want to have a look at the whole chemical formula on Chemicalformula.org). The whole process is called 'corrosion' and it happens when metal reacts with water and with oxygen (air). (Check out a few cool experiments with different oxygen levels and rusty steel wool on Physicsinsights.com here.)

Rusting is actually pretty cool. It is a full-on electrochemical process. The metal acts as an anode and the water as the electrolyte of the reaction (check out this video on YouTube for an introduction into electrolytes). When the oxygen in the water reacts with the metal, electrons are set in motion - which then flow to the cathode and convert the metal into rust (the metal also expands - which explains the flaky bits). If you're living close to the sea, sea water makes things even worse because it's got a lot of salt in it. (Higher salt levels make for better electrolyte action.)

Because water and air are pretty much everywhere, it turns out that the only way to prevent metal from rusting is to keep it in a vacuum or to coat it with lots of paint or with corrosion inhibitors. You can also 'galvanize' it with a special zinc coating (they do this with cars). But there are some more advanced techniques that can be used for corrosion protection.

On offshore oil platforms, big oil companies use something called Cathodic Protection to keep their steel from rusting. Instead of letting the structure rust, cathodic protection uses a fake bit of metal as a cathode. Once the first layer is fully covered with rust, it can then protect the rest of the metal because it creates a separate electro-chemical cell. This method is also used in storage tanks and home heating systems. But I don't think it will work on my bike or on my dad's VW because I don't think he will want to drive around in a car that's totally covered in rust...

If my parents had more money, I would ask them to buy me a bike with a full aluminum frame. Some people think aluminum can't rust but that's wrong. It does. But when it does, the rust on top looks a lot like the original aluminum because it's grey. It acts as a natural galvanizer and protects the surface from further corrosion.

I think I will have to sand off the rust on my bike and then put some zinc primer (which is a lighter version of cathodic protection) and some paint on it. This is also what my dad should do with his VW. I hope he has one of those masks people use for painting because some of the stuff I found online seems pretty potent. I don't think he should do this alone. He's not very good with technical things and I don't want him to go blind or faint...

The alien picture came from a website called Sodahead.com. The VW picture is from a project I found on TheSamba.com. The oil platform came from a website on rust protection and anti-corrosion paints www.aquasteel.co.uk).

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Why do we cry?

Yesterday my mom told me that my dad is not my real dad. She showed me pictures of my real dad and she told me what a loser he was. Then she cried a lot and said she was sorry she couldn't tell me any sooner.

I like my stepdad. As far as I'm concerned, he's still my real dad. We have lots of fun together. I don't know my biological dad, but I'm sure he can be nowhere near as nice as my stepdad. Especially considering that he left me and my mom and ran off with another woman.

So when my mom asked me if I wanted to meet my real dad sometime, I said no. I don't want things to become complicated between me and my stepdad. And I also don't want things to become weird and awkward just because there's some other dad on an old photograph. I like things very much the way they are.

But the whole thing made me realize something else. My mom almost never cries. She's one of those people who think that 'keeping a stiff upper lip' is more than just a saying. I never understood what 'keeping a stiff upper lip' really means. I think that people would look very weird if they were to do it properly.

My mom says it has to do with manners. And that's why she's always pulling herself together so much. (Have a look at this article in the Telegraph to find out a little more about British stiff-upper-lipness.)

Anyway. When she showed me those pictures of my dad, I thought it was strange how she lost a bit of her stiff upper lip. I had never seen her cry before. I think it had to do with my other dad running off with that woman. But I also thought it would be best not to ask her any more questions. I know that crying makes her feel very uncomfortable.

I'm sure my mom will tell me more about my other dad when she's ready. So - in the meantime - I wanted to find out why sad memories can make us cry so much. And I also wanted to know what tears are really made of. So here it goes...

Tears are very interesting because they're always there, even in our sleep. They are made out of mucus, water and oil, and our body produces them to keep our eyes lubricated and clean. The mucus in the middle part consists of a lot of proteins, then there's a layer of watery minerals, antibodies and vitamins. The antibodies and vitamins are there to keep the eye fresh and healthy. The outside of each tear consists of an oily substance called meibum (which sounds a lot like 'my bum'). This keeps our eyes from drying out too quickly.

Biologists distinguish between three different types of tears. These are basal tears, reflex tears and psychic or emotional tears. The basal tears are the ones that are always there to protect the eye. When we blink, they get washed out of something called the lacrimal punctum. It's a pretty interesting process because every time we blink we also wash out the old layer of tears through something called the inferior lacrimal canal. It's a little tunnel that transports our old tears through to our nose. (Check out this image on Wikipedia for a detailed description of the tear system in our eyes.)

Our reflex tears are the ones we shed when we've got something in our eye (such as a hair or dust). They are also the reason we get so teary every time someone cuts an onion. Onion vapors are really irritant for our eyes, so our eyes try to wash away the sulfenic acids they produce by generating more and more teary lubricant. (If you're into chemistry, you'll be interested to know that the sulfenic acid of an onion is turned into a special kind of sulfenic acid named 1-propenesulfenic acid, which then reacts with an enzyme to create syn-propanethial-S-oxide. Click on the link for a full description of this and to see what it looks like).

But I think the third type of our tears is the most interesting one. When we cry because we're sad or emotional, we activate all kinds of physical reactions. Reflex tears and basal lubrication of the eyes is pretty straightforward. But when we have emotional stress or when we feel fear, our limbic system, our whole muscular system and our brain get involved. (It's actually not the whole brain but only a little part called 'hypothalamus' that gets involved - click here if you're interested in learning more about the hypothalamus and how it functions.)

This is why emotional tears are a bit different from normal tears. Sad tears make the body release endorphines (endorphines make us happy). But they also have a lot more hormones in them. When we cry, it's easier to calm ourselves down because our tears can regulate our hormone levels (they get rid of one special hormone called Corticotropin in particular.) Some people cry when they're happy in order to release some of the joy they feel. But crying always has a social function as well. When we cry, we want others to see what we feel inside. And this might help them to help us get better.

Before I ask my mom some more questions, I think I'll have to tell her that it's OK to cry. You don't always have to keep a stiff upper lip. Scientists say crying helps to calm ourselves (I even found a blog on a site called Psychcentral that's called 'Seven Good Reasons to Cry'). It tells others about our difficulties and it strengthens our social ties. So it's OK for my mom to feel sad that our first dad left us for another woman. There's nothing wrong with that.

And while I'm on it, I will also tell my (step)dad. He still thinks that men don't cry. But I've seen him fall apart every time he watches a romantic comedy...

Check out this video I found on psychic crying by the 'Talk Nerdy To Me' guys. It's pretty interesting.

I took the small picture of the crying woman from a blog called Science inspiration. The stiff upper lippy picture came from the article on stiff upper lips on the Telegraph's website. The crying girl picture at the beginning of my post was made by Roy Lichtenberg in 1964. 

The crying boy was photographed by someone called Jill Greenberg. I found him on a blog post praising her work on reelphoto.blogspot.co.uk.   

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Everyone can always change the world...

Yesterday, my friend Steve, my dad and I went to see the new Superman movie Man of Steel. I was very excited to see it. But - as it turned out - it wasn't very good. Steve did not expect as much as I did, so he wasn't too disappointed. (He also thinks that Earth Generators should be freely available on Ebay). But I thought the film was too loud and there was no real story. After about 2 hours, I got really bored and wanted to go home.

I like Superman very much, but I don't think he should be an emotionless alien. I also think he should be one of us because that's why people like him so much. In 'Man of Steel', he is only a man of steel. That's why I thought the film was very boring. (Check out this review I found on the Guardian's website - it seems that someone called Philip French agrees with me big time).

When Steve and I discussed the Earth Generator they use in the film in school today, one of our teachers said that Superman was outdated. (If you haven't seen the film - an Earth Generator is a machine that can alter a planet's atmosphere so that evil people from Krypton can live on it). I don't think our teacher's right. I think that people always need Superheroes. But I don't think we should only look for them in Sci Fi movies.

There was another article on the Guardian's website which talked about the protests that are going on in Turkey. It said that Turks were now forbidden by their president to protest against any new law. But there was one young Turk who found a way around this. Instead of protesting, he just stood there for hours, without doing anything. The police didn't know what to do with him because he wasn't breaking the law. So others started to join him. After a few hours, they were all protesting against the government without actually protesting. And although the police later arrested all of them, I think they had enough time to make their point.

I think this is also what makes Superman so special. Although he has all kinds of special powers, he always remains one of us. I don't mean by that that he's American from Kansas or anything. I just think that, for a person from Krypton, he is still surprisingly human. And that is why we trust him.

So if Clark Kent from Kansas can do something special and help us against a common fiend, then we can all join him. The same goes for the man in Turkey. The Turks on Taksim Square in Istanbul joined the man who protested against not being allowed to protest because they saw that what he was doing was right (and that it worked). And I think this makes the standing Turk of Istanbul some sort of a Superman too.

I guess Superman's message is that everyone can always make a difference. No matter where you're from (from Krypton or from Kansas) or if you have any special super powers, you can always change the world. Maybe someone needs to tell Zack Snyder about all this...

I took the Superman picture from the film's official website (www.manofsteel.warnerbrothers.com). The man in Istanbul is called Erdem Gunduz and I got his picture from www.businessinsider.com.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Why are some people lactose intolerant?

My dad recently found out he's lactose intolerant. Whenever he has milk or anything with cream in it, he has what he calls a 'major arse explosion'. I don't think his arse actually explodes, but the smell coming from the loo is always pretty bad. And when he's done, he's usually pretty exhausted.

My mom thinks he's been lactose intolerant for years and just didn't realize. My dad was not too bothered about his angry farts. But my mom got pretty upset with him at some point and that's why she put him on a non-dairy diet. For two weeks, he could only eat stuff without any milk or cream in it; she didn't even allow him to have milk chocolate. And when he finally started drinking milk and eating cheese again last Saturday, things became really, really bad...

My mom's not lactose intolerant. She can have whatever she wants, normally it's lots of creamy cakes and nougat chocolates. I know no one in school with lactose problems, and I am not intolerant either. So I was wondering why only some people have 'arse explosions' and others don't.
I found out that lactose is a special kind of sugar that only occurs in dairy products. (If you're into chemistry, you might like to know what it looks like, so check out this picture of its full chemical structure on Wikipedia). Lactose is a part of all kinds of milk produced by mammals. This means that it's also found in human breast milk.

The real problem with it is that it needs to be broken down into glucose by our bodies. And this can only be done by a special enzyme called Lactase. Lactase is normally produced in our small intestines (that's where the first part of digestion happens). It breaks down lactose into glucose so that our body can absorb it via the bloodstream.

If you can't produce lactase, lactose apparently goes right through you and ends up in your colon. Our colon can't absorb the lactose without lactase. So it just starts working on it with the bacteria it has. And this can become very messy because it will produce huge amounts of acids, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane.

Anyway. The NHS has a very good site on lactose intolerance. You can check it out here. It says that there are two different types. One is called 'primary lactase deficiency', the other one is 'secondary lactase deficiency'. The first one is inherited, the second one is what you have if there is something wrong with your intestines. Most people inherit lactose deficiencies from their parents though. I found out that it can sometimes take really long until you notice it. Which would explain why my dad thought he was normal, although he smelled like a monster every time he let one rip.

Babies are immune because they produce huge amounts of lactase throughout the first two years of their lives (unless they have a problem with breast milk right away). But the gene responsible for lactose intolerance (the LCT gene) is usually passed on by parents who have at least one mutation of a gene called MCM6. (Check out this governmental website on genetics to learn more about genetic mutations in relation to lactose intolerance).

What this means is that -  although only one of my parents is actually lactose intolerant - it might still be enough for me to get some major arse explosions in the future...!

I took the bomb picture from fdwallpapers.com. The belly and the cream came from an Indian website called www.medindia.net/. Grover and his smell came from fanpop.com.  

Saturday, 1 June 2013

What do people think of when they die?

I have been wondering what people think of when they die for quite some time now. I have already asked my dad. But he doesn't know. And every time I ask her, my mom only keeps talking about angels and how people with special birthdays (such as Christmas) see special things others can't see. So I decided to do some research.

People used to be dead once their blood circulation stopped. But nowadays, medicine has found a number of ways how doctors can prevent this from happening (check out some info on Advanced Life Support in this article on Wikipedia. There are also a few reanimation techniques such as CPR - Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation - that can help save people's lives.) Some doctors even claim that they can resurrect people. Someone called Dr Sam Parnia has written a book about cases where people had been dead for more than 40 minutes (check it out on Amazon). So I guess, in the 21st century, you're only dead once your brain has finally stopped working.

My granddad died of a heart attack when he was 89. Technically, it was not his heart that killed him but the fact that - after his heart had given up - his brain was no longer supplied with oxygen. It's too bad I can't ask him what he was thinking when it happened. But there are lots of people around who have worked with people dying or who came back after a near-death experience. So I thought it might be a good idea to have a look at what they're saying...

I found lots of stuff, but most of it was not what I was looking for. In the Guardian, for example, there was an article about what people regretted most when they died. The article was about a woman named Bonnie Ware who used to be a nurse and who wrote a book about the 'Top Five Regrets of the Dying' (you can have a quick look at the book here). What she says is that most people regret that they had to live an unhappy life in which they weren't truly themselves. Having worked too hard came in second place. Bonnie Ware didn't record any young people, and most of her patients were old men, so I think most of the things she has to say are fairly common sense (or just sell very well). Her book didn't answer my question because it didn't mention what people were thinking of when they died. It only went on and on about what they were talking about before it happened.

You can find out all kinds of stuff on near-death experiences (NDEs) online. I think this is because people are really afraid of dying. My granddad used to tell me lots of times that he was tired of life because most of his friends and family were dead. So I think he didn't mind dying that much in the end. But I'm sure he was still pretty scared when it happened.

Psychologists think that most people in our Western World are scared of death. They even have a name for it: it's called 'Thanataphobia'. So I think people will definitely think about how scared or not scared they are when they are dying.

Anyway. There are a few common things in the NDEs I looked at. A priest named Don Piper had a near death experience and was singing along to 'What a friend we have in Jesus' after being hit by a truck. He says he went to Heaven and he's also written a bestseller book about it. He's now a baptist priest with his own church in Texas, so I don't know if he invented the story afterwards to sell a lot of books or if this really happened.

Other people tell stories about how they saw their own surgery or how the paramedics tried to reanimate their lifeless bodies. But they all described their outer body experiences from memory, so I guess they all may have made up at least parts of it. Maybe they were trying to make sense of what happened to them and those were the only explanations they could find. What all near-death experiences have in common is that people saw or thought of something that was connected with who they were or what they believed in.

Sam Parnia says:

'People tend to interpret what they see based on their background: A Hindu describes a Hindu god, an atheist doesn’t see a Hindu god or a Christian god, but some being. Different cultures see the same thing, but their interpretation depends on what they believe.' (I took this quote from an interview on Wired.com)

What this means is that what you think of when you die pretty much depends on who you are and what you believe in. Just before death, the brain goes through some exciting stuff. It is bombarded with a huge amount of sensory information. This happens because of a sudden loss of oxygen or of some traumatic injury (when you get shot in the head, for example). Just before you die, the brain cells then fire one last electrical impulse. Sometimes they also release a chemical called dimethlyltryptamine (DMT). This is exactly the same compound our brain releases when we dream.

So what some people describe as near-death experiences might just be their brain trying to make sense of an enormous sensory overload. And what people later describe as a tunnel or as a white light might just be their memory trying to make sense of a few confusing images...

As it turns out, it is quite difficult to tell what people really think of when they die. Apparently, you can have a near-death experience just by thinking that you're dying. So I think our brain plays all kinds of tricks on us when it is about to stop working.

But I have found out at least one thing that is true. No matter where we're from, which religion we believe in or what our regrets may be. We don't think of shopping lists or money problems when we die. What we think of always has to do with death.

Check out this article on the Daily Mail's website on the thinking you're dying experience. For a few more recorded cases of NDEs have a look round websites such as this one: near-deathexperiences.org. If you always wanted to know how to do CPR, then have a look at this NHS site. There's an interesting video on there with someone showing how to do it properly.

The Zombie Boy was drawn by someone called Rick Lucey, I took it from his blog. The surgery picture came from the National Geographic. The boy in the tunnel can be found on the Paranormal Encyclopedia; the painting is by someone called Mike Pettygrew.


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Why are there no 4D glasses?

My dad took me to see Star Trek- Into Darkness on Saturday. My mom only likes old movies with Romans in sandals or newer ones with Sean Connery in them, so we left her at home for this one. My dad's more into Star Wars than into Star Trek. But that's OK. Maybe it's because he always looks a little like Chewbacca if he doesn't shave for a while.

The film was in 3D and we had to buy a new pair of 3D glasses with our tickets (check out the Guardian's archive for an early review of its 3D quality here). I don't like 3D that much because it's always a bit darker and it feels like watching something through an aquarium. I have to wear glasses (because my parents don't trust me with contacts), so I have to wear my normal glasses under the 3D ones. And wearing two pairs of glasses for two hours makes my nose hurt.

Anyway. The film was alright, I thought. I liked Spock and Khan the most. My favourite scene was when Khan single-handedly took out a whole bunch of Klingons on Kronos. But I kept wondering why we had to watch it in 3D. I mean, there should really be a 2D alternative. Or a 4D one.

When we got home, I did a little research. I wanted to know how 3D glasses worked and if there was any way round them in a 3D film. I also wanted to know if 4D was an option for the next Star Trek film. This is what I found:

3D movies are projected onto the big screen twice, so what you see is actually two different sets of film. The glasses they give you then separate the pictures so that each eye only gets one picture each. (This is done by polarized films in the glasses. The two films are projected in a 45 and in a 135 degree angle. You can find out more about angles and on polarized films on mentalfloss.com here.) In the old days, cinemas used two different projectors to get the two pictures on screen. Nowadays, only one projector is used. The new projectors now use a system called RealD, which separates light rays in spirals. But the 3D effect itself has been around since 1936.

Check out RealD's website for a bit more information on those new projectors.

There are many different kinds of 3D glasses, but not all of them are used in the cinema. When you go to see a film in the cinema, you usually get a standard polarized set of glasses. (At home, people normally use red/green ones. You can find out more about the different kinds of glasses on this website). Normal polarized glasses work with something called 'stereoscopy'. They separate light rays so that only a few waves can reach each eye. This is then what creates the 3D effect because your brain reconstructs the depth and the distance of what you see with something called binocular vision. Binocular vision is pretty cool because it lets you figure out distance. It's what helps you catch stuff that is thrown at you. Or that makes you get hit in the face a lot if other people keep throwing stuff at you when you're not wearing your normal glasses.

So it turns out that - if a film is advertised in 3D - they can't just let you watch it in 2D because there's two images that are being projected on the screen. They also can't give you 4D glasses because the fourth dimension is time and we can't really see time.

Physicists use it for a lot of their calculations though. In our three dimensions, any given point can be localized by three coordinates, x, y, z. The fourth dimension gives it another coordinate named w. A square in 4D is called 'Tesseract' and looks like this:

There are quite a few crazy people in Physics and some of them work with up to ten dimensions. A lot of this has to do with something called 'string theory'. But I have no idea what string theory is about. And it's got nothing to do with 3D glasses, that's for sure. So if you want to know more about it, I suggest you ask your physics teacher.

I took the Tesseract image from Wikipedia. The Star Trek one came from www.totalfilm.com, the Chewbacca one from blancmaninc.com.


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Can you put rocks in the microwave?

Yesterday my mom got really angry with me because she found one of my socks in our microwave. She wanted to heat up my dad's dinner and then saw that I had left it in there. While she was yelling at me, I was pretty glad I hadn't told her about all the other stuff I had put in earlier.

In school we were told never to put any metal in the microwave because it can create an electric arc (and a kitchen fire as a result). Microwaves work with electromagnetic waves that heat up water molecules (at around 2.45 GHz - check out this cool article on 'How microwaves work' on Universe Today for a more detailed explanation.) But I wanted to know what else you could put in the microwave (besides tasteless ready meals) without making it explode or splitting it into a million pieces. And because at school, we only ever cover fairly regular stuff and not the more exciting options, I decided to conduct a little experiment myself.

I wanted to see if you could put a rock, an aubergine, a football, an egg, a piece of dry wood, half a loaf of bread, two grapes, some gum and a bit of rubber tyre in the microwave. So I went out, got myself a few very different types of rock, took all my other ingredients out of my room and out of the fridge and set to work.

I found out some amazing things. My grapes were sizzling hot within a few seconds, but the best thing was that - when they split open - they also created this very cool light arc. (I later found out this is due to the gas that comes out of them. Check out this exciting blog entry on www.instructables.com and someone's YouTube video of the same thing here.)

My aubergine exploded big time! First, nothing happened. But after a while, it grew in size and then burst into a thousand pieces and blew the door open. When my mom cooks them, they never explode. I guess this is because she puts little holes in them, so that the steam can escape instead of building up inside.

I tried two different types of rock. One with a lot of mud on it and another one that was pretty clean. Nothing happened to the clean one, although it was a bit damp. When I took it out, it was a bit warmer, that was all. But the muddy rock cracked open and split into four medium sized pieces! There were quite a few blue sparks, so I guess there must have been some metal in it too. The water that was left in the mud probably made it crack open when it was heated up.

My gum just melted. It was not very interesting but it stuck to the turntable like crazy. I had to use some of my dad's lighter fluid to get it off. I hope his dinner didn't taste funny because of it.

My football didn't do anything for a while but then started smoking like a chimney. After a few seconds, it also had a huge hole burnt into the side.

The egg surprised me a little. It exploded alright (which is what I thought would happen). But it was easier to clean than I thought. And it didn't blow the door open.

Nothing happened to the bit of tyre. It just melted and stuck to the turntable.

The piece of wood dried out and showed some nice bubble action. This didn't happen to the bread. But when I got out the bread, my bread and the piece of wood looked very much alike.

So it turns out you can actually put rocks in the microwave. And loads of other stuff too. But it pretty much depends on the type of rock you use and on the materials it is made of. (Most rocks consist of two or more minerals. In the UK, you can find three different types of rock: granite, sedimentary rocks and so-called 'metamorphic' kinds of rocks. Here in the south-east, we've got a lot of sand rock and chalk. Check out this cool Open University site for more info on rocks in the UK.) It also depends on the amount of water that's still in your rock. If it's very muddy or if there is water trapped inside, it will crack open or split. And if there is metal packed inside (this will only happen with non-Granite ones), you will also get a few sparks.

I have to say it was an eventful afternoon. I did enjoy putting stuff in the microwave to see how it would work. But the cleaning was not too much fun. So if you're thinking of repeating my experiment, I suggest you use things that don't leave a huge mess or stick to kitchen walls and to glass.

During my research, I found that there are people out there who would microwave anything, even their iPods. But I think that's a bit too strange for me to try. Besides, I don't think my dad would be too happy about it. He's the only one in our family who actually has an iPod.

Anyway. Here's what it would look like:

I took the egg picture from a site called http://whatscookingamerica.net/. My own egg didn't look so good after exploding.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

So when was God invented, then?

On Sunday my friend Steve got kicked out of Sunday school for asking who invented God. He's a pretty strange kid too (he likes dismantling things). But on Sunday I think he just asked one too many questions. Our teacher didn't answer but got all red in the face and started yelling at him. Then he called his parents and told them to pick up their devil-child and not to bring him back.

I have to say I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. I always thought Sunday school was about learning something. (If you have never been to Sunday school, this story about Sunday schools in Britain will tell you what it's all about.) I even found this quote on a website called time4thinkers:

'What is Sunday School all about?
It’s an environment where you feel totally supported. You can ask the hardest questions as you’re figuring out how to apply spiritual truths to your own experiences.'

I am thinking of bringing it to Sunday school next Sunday and showing it to our teacher. But I have a feeling that this might tip him over the edge.

I thought Steve's question was really interesting. So I asked if it was OK for me to use it on my blog. His parents didn't want me to. But when they called my dad to complain about it, he said he had no idea what blogging was. My dad can be really funny sometimes.

Anyway. 'When was God invented?' is quite a difficult question to answer. Most people would say that he wasn't invented at all, but that he has always been around. (While we're on it, I have to say that I don't understand why God has to be a man. He might as well be a woman. But that's something that will have to wait until some other time. Here's a website on God and Science that goes some way in answering the question. It's still not very clear, but it basically says that 'God is not male, since He is not a physical, but a spiritual, being.')

For people who believe that earth was created in seven days, God has to be something that came first because otherwise he wouldn't have been able to create everything. This means that for creationists (that's what you call them), God was 'invented' before everything else. But for people who believe that God is only an idea, he has been around pretty much as long as people have, because they are the ones with the ideas.

Other religions such as Islam and Judaism have a God too. This complicates things a bit because some religions have been around a lot longer than others. It seems that people have always had to believe in some God-like creature, no matter where they're from. In ancient Greece, people even thought that there were several Gods sitting on a hill called Olympus. Those gods enjoyed messing with people, so they sent all kinds of challenges their way and watched them struggle. It's not clear when the Greek gods were invented but they pretty much died after the fall of the Roman empire. I think that Gods in general only live as long as the culture that believes in them.

Here's a cool website about all of the Greek gods and their relationships. (Check out this Wikipedia picture if you want to know what the Greek gods on Olympus looked like). I think you can say that every culture invents or discovers their own gods. And depending on the culture, these can then be around for quite some time or disappear when the culture that invented them goes down the drain.

The problem with Steve's question is that most people act a little crazy when religion is involved. I think this is because people have to believe in something that can structure their lives. But I don't think they should go all red in the face when they have to explain it to someone. If it is true that God gave his only son to the world as a payment for our sins - as we were told in Sunday school -, I'm sure he won't mind us asking a few questions about his age.

After all the stuff I found, I think it really doesn't matter if God was invented or if he has always been around. If you're a religious person, you should always act as if he's watching you. And if that helps you be a nicer person, it also doesn't matter if God is Jewish, Christian or if he is a Muslim.

I took the picture with the religious fanatic from http://bellitta.com. The picture of God was painted by Michelangelo.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Disabled People can be A-holes too

In school today we were told that 'political correctness' means to treat all people the same, no matter where they're from, who they are or what they look like. Our teacher said it doesn't matter if someone is disabled, white, black, male, female, short or strange, for as long as you treat them all as if they were normal. And he also told us that we should never call someone an idiot or an a-hole to their face. Especially when we're talking to disabled or to black people.

I didn't understand why calling someone who is black an idiot would be any more wrong than calling someone an idiot who is not. I was also confused why it was OK for my dad to call George from next door a 'little bastard a-hole' for hitting our cat for no apparent reason, and why it would be wrong for him to call him that if he was sitting in a wheelchair. I mean, to me it really doesn't matter if George is short or black or green. He would still be a giant a-hole bully for hitting our cat. So I did a little research and here is what I found:

Most people don't know what 'political correctness' means. There is an Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook by someone called Henry Beard (check out the book on Amazon). But most people think that 'political correctness' means not to say or do something you really want to say or do because it is not allowed. Check out this article by someone called BJ Gallagher in an American newspaper, who says that the way people understand political correctness has gone way too far and how it now controls almost everything we think and do.

I checked the dictionary and also did a little search online. It seems that political correctness has more to do with language than it has to do with what we think or do. What it means is that we should not use words that 'exclude, marginalize or insult people' on purpose. (I found this in the Oxford Dictionaries here). But it doesn't mean that we can't say what we think if someone like George behaves like a giant bully idiot.

On my way home, someone in an electric wheelchair hit me from behind because he was talking on his mobile phone and didn't look where he was going. He didn't say sorry or anything but drove on and hit a few of my classmates too. He was angry and started shouting at them because they didn't get out of the way.

My ankle still hurts from where he drove into me with his chair. So I think it should be OK for me to call him a rude idiot. Political correctness should mean that if you are an idiot or a giant a-hole, it should be OK for everyone to call you one, no matter if you're black, white, male, female, short or disabled.

The cat picture is from Pawnation.com.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

What happens if you fart in Space?

When Superman is on a mission to Krypton (or when he's orbiting Earth to pick up stuff from somewhere else), he can fly through space without a space suit. This is because he's super strong and doesn't need any oxygen or pressure regulating gadgets. But sometimes I wonder what happens to his farts up there.

I mean, he is up there for quite some time, usually. And  it's pretty cold in space. So, the question is: what happens if he has to cut one loose on one of his space missions? Will it become solid and then stick to his cape? Farts are gassy, after all. And in school we were told that gas becomes liquid when it's cold enough.

I found out that human farts consist of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and of hydrogen sulfide. The sulfide is what makes them smelly. But the other gasses are mostly there because of your digestion. Check out some interesting facts on farts on Brenna Lorenz' Blog here. As it turns out, Superman's farts are a bit of a mystery, so I just assumed that they are human.

I did some research on temperatures in space and it seems that space is pretty unpredictable. NASA says that temperatures in space are always around absolute Zero (-270 degrees Celsius). This is because space is a vacuum. But there is some back radiation that makes bodies a bit warmer or colder, depending on the sun (you can check out some rather complicated NASA stuff here). So what they're saying is that, if you're in the shadow of a planet, you could freeze to death at -180 degrees. If you're in the sun, you could happily burn at 115 plus. (I had to ask one of my teachers to explain the NASA stuff to me a little. Check out this website at Universe Today for an explanation of space temperatures that is a bit easier to understand.)

Anyway. For Superman this means that it pretty much depends on where he's flying and when. If he's got the sun in his face, farting might not be a good idea. Hydrogen sulfide is highly flammable, so he might burn his trousers off. If he's flying close to the Ozone layer, he might leave an explosive condensation trail because nitrogen reacts with ozone. And then everyone would mistake him for a plane.

But it turns out that some of his fart gas could actually end up in his cape. If Superman is flying at night and in the shadow of a planet, liquid nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide and methane can get stuck in his costume. Nitrogen turns into a solid state at around - 196 degrees, Methane at -161 and hydrogen sulfide at -82.

It's good to know that no one will ever see Superman with a wet cape from farting though because most of the nitrogen will be burnt off by the ozone layer on his way back from space. The rest of his skid marks will probably evaporate into our atmosphere on his re-entry.

If you ever wanted to know what happens to normal Astronauts when they fart into their space suits, check out these cool facts on sciencemuseum.org.uk.


I found the cool Superman picture on Odin's Ravens Blog.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Where do Termites live?

I think Termites are cool. My dad doesn't think so, of course. He thinks they can destroy your home and eat your plants because they're pretty much always hungry.

It's true. Termites eat cellulose stuff, so they can eat your house, your boat and your sledge. And if you put a little jam on it, I'm pretty sure they'll also eat your hand. My friend from the US tells me that exterminators can make a successful career by chasing after them. But what puzzles me is that no one seems to know where they actually live. I mean, before they come to eat your home.

My first thought was to call up a professional exterminator and ask. But here in Britain, Termites only live in Devon (if you don't believe that stuff about Termites living in Devon, check here), and there are not enough around for exterminators to make a successful career out of them. My parents won't let me use the phone to call an exterminator in the US, so I tried finding an answer online.

I found loads of stuff. Apparently, Termites are amazing builders and create all kinds of mounds and nests. They are related to ants, so they are very organized. In Australia, their mounds can be enormous. Check this out to see one of their mounds in action. They also build nests in trees, so they're pretty versatile. Here's an image of a cool nest in Mexico, hanging from a tree so their natural enemies can't reach it (like ant eaters and such).

Although they eat American homes, termites are quite cool. They go underground and find food undetected because they can follow carbon dioxide. This is released when wood starts rotting. But unfortunately, they only eat wood and plants and stuff. So - as it turns out -  they won't eat your hand. Not even if you put an awful lot of jam on it.