20.9.10

Was the Tricerotops a baker?

Q: On a recent Scout hike, a heated debate developed during our woodly wanderings. Proudly standing on one side was a 12 year old insisting that grass did not exist during the era of the dinosaurs, and didn' t appear until after the great meteorite that brought mass extinction. On the other were several boys and leaders insisting that common sense pointed to the fact that grass did exist. There is honor, a little money and participation in future Scouting events riding on this. So. Did grass exist at the time of the dinosaurs?
The Vegan Raptor

A: Dear Poaceaen Minded,

It sounds like your adolescent dinophile is fairly caught up on the early eras of the earth and the development of land animals and plants. Or fairly so. You may not like the answer, but technically the 12 year old is right, and wrong. (What a safe cop-out). And until 2005 or so, he was mostly correct. Let's explain.

Grasses - specifically of the poaceaen or gramineae family - are a branch of flowering plants, even part of a greater group of monocotelydons (single seed leaf) that include pineapples, palms, orchids and lilies. We know grasses as things that produce food we eat - ryes, wheat, etc - and things we decorate with, i.e the lawn. The family includes bamboo, rice, and corn, and includes 9-10,000 species.

But this plant family that dominates our lives and cuisine, is relatively new. Lets describe the history briefly, as understood up through 2004, best summarized by Elizabeth Kellogg. Using rDNA studies of the chloropast genome (a sub-cell structure in plants) scientists can begin to create a family tree of grasses to show their development. You have to go pretty far back to find a common ancestor of rice and corn (maize). Scientists also use fossil evidence in conjunction with atomic dating to start fixing the early descendants. Specifically they look at pollen fossils and for specific grass features (look for channels that go through the outer but not inner pollen walls). Earliest examples are found at 60-55 million years ago. They have found some examples of pollen from 70 million years ago, but they cannot confirm it actually comes from grass.

Your brief dinosaur history: Dinosaurs were the dominant land vertabrates from the late Triassic to late Cretaceous period - roughly 230-65.5 million years ago. Science generally points to several mass extinction events taking place at the end of hte Cretaceous period to kill off the dinosaurs and allow mammels to dominate. This later time is a time of thriving for dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaur. And some mammels were around at this time. But you can see that with dinosaurs dying off in 65.5 million years from asteroids and/or volcanos, grass wasn't around according to the fossil and genetic record. So before 2004 scientists declared, "Dinosaurs did not eat grasses".

?
A type of titanosaur sauropod
? But dinosaur poop saves the day! (Didn't expect that ever!) In 2005, a Science article discussed that they have found evidence of grasses in corprolites (the polite word for fossilized poop). Specifically they found that 5 different taxas (major species groups) of grasses were eaten by dinosaurs. (In this case titanosaur suaropods in India) This points to the fact that grasses were somewhat widespread and developed before the catastrophes of 65.5 million years ago.

?
A TV lie! He may have had the hammock, but not the lawn.
? So...both sides are right. (Keep in mind the the exact dating and science here is a bit nebulous and often dependent on what we are lucky enough to find in someone's backyard). Grasses did exist to a good extent during the time of the dinosaurs, but not for the majority of the time. So Fred Flinstone didn't have to mow the lawn. How you settle the bet is up to you.

HRB
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5.11.09

Chapping in the CAPTCHAs

Q: Dear 100HB:

How come on some web sites to leave comments I only have to leave one set of silly characters and then on others I have to type in TWO sets of characters the second of which are OH so very difficult to decipher?

Yours Truly,

Spam the Man

俄罗斯videosbest8 Dear Slave to the Anti-Spam:

Could the real slim shady please stand up? No? Well, okay how about you just fill out this verification then?

The answer to your question is because you work for a man named Luis. That is right you are part of the great plan to mobilize the largest workforce in the history of mankind. Not getting paid? Well, you have Luis von Ahn to blame for that. If you are one of the 100 of millions of people who use the Internet (and if you are reading this you are) you have been working for Luis von Ahn for years...for free! So I called him to get some background and answers.

According to Luis, years ago Yahoo had a problem- SPAM. In an effort to gather a vast number of email accounts, Spammers were using automated computer programs to sign up for them. They were right programs to gather millions of Yahoo accounts everyday. Spam was clogging up Yahoo email accounts.

So Luis and his advisor Manuel Blum were approached to identify who was a person and who was an malicious automated computer program. They finally came up with a test. That is where the birth of the verification process called CAPTCHA.

The idea is that a human can discern the characters whereas computers cannot recognize the characters. Suddenly, the spam programs cannot gather accounts. Millions of companies including, YouTube, Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, TicketMaster, Flickr, and NBC use CAPTCHA.

You would think with spam being reduced in every one's inbox Luis would be rejoicing at his success. Believe it or not Luis felt bad about this invention of his. When I spoke with him he let me know that he has estimated that for every CAPTCHA entry the average person is waisting 10 seconds of their time.

"If you were to multiply that by 200 million," Luis said, "you get that humanity as a whole is waisting 500,000 hours every day typing these annoying CAPTCHAS." This began to eat at him and he asked himself, "How could I better use this time? Is there a way to use this human effort in a way that benefits humanity?"

"I was on a mission to make good use of that 10 seconds of time," he says.

While hiding from the mass of Internet users upset at Luis's invention he got involved with another project, the initiative to scan books, decipher text and provide books over the Internet. Google has one, the Internet Archive has one but the problem is many books texts are old and faded. Type is not aligned, there are smudges and faded type as well. So when computers scan these old texts the computers don't recognize the text and converts 30-40% of the words incorrectly.

Solution? Take those words and use them as CAPTCHAs and have the people decipher them. But there in lied the problem. The computer could not decipher the word so how is the CAPTCHA test going to verify whether the person typing in the word got it right or not? Luis's solution was to combine the word from a book with a computer generated CAPTCHA.

"We will give two tests," says Luis, "One we know the answer to and the other that we don't and the person can solve the one we know the answer to them we will assume they can solve the one that we don't know the answer to."

He called it RECAPTCHA. Now every time you type a reCAPTCHA you are also transcribing an old book. It looks like this:
Today 125-150 books are being digitized a day because of RECAPTCHA. Even the New York Times archive are being transcribed this way. 130 years of newspaper archive is being transcribed from RECAPTCHA. Luis estimates that the NYT Internet archive will be complete next year with the help of RECAPTCHA.

"Now, we are taking that effort of 10 seconds and applying it to assist in the dissemination of literature, scientific text and social news," Luis states triumphantly.

Luis has done a lot with himself working as faculty at Carnegie Mellon University. But he tries to ensure his work is interesting to others. That is why he has founded GWAP (Games With A Purpose). In fact, I am sure you have all played one of his games, Google Image Labeler- pair up with another Internet user and try to identify matching labels for a picture. This data helps search engines refine search criteria and list more relevant and contextual results. GWAP has made games for the following:
  • Fighting Spam
  • Digitizing Books
  • Labelling Images on the web
So don't get too angry with yourself about those RECAPTCHAs. Just remember you are doing good for humanity. Yet, it begged the question, now that we all decipher two words is that not doubling our efforts to 20 seconds, Luis?

Also, Luis, could you establish a single sign on for the worldwide Internet?

I am sure your comments and questions Luis, are always invited on this Board (thanks for being a good sport).
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29.10.09

Inquisitor of the Nauseating, Ghastly, Repulsive, Revolting so Called Candy

Q: Dear 100HB:
Where do candy corns come from?

Sincerely,
Hal Louene

A: Dear Candy Cobbed Genesis:

First created in the 1880s by George Renninger of the Wunderle Candy Company, the three colors of candy corn are meant to symbolize actual corn. George Renninger came up with the idea to celebrate the unique food from the Americas but mostly because he was corny and vindictive. After all who else could possible invent something that looks like corn but tastes far worse and then call it candy? Each piece is approximately the size of a whole kernel of corn, as if it fell off a ripe or dried ear of corn. When candy corn first appeared, it was popular among farmers because of its agrarian look. They used the candy to fool pests into eating the candy rather than eating the farmers actual corn stock.

Candy corn is made primarily from sugar, corn syrup and honey. Working by hand, the original manufacturers first combined sugar, corn syrup and water and cooked them into a slurry. Fondant was added for texture, and marshmallows provided a soft bite. The final mixture was then heated and poured into shaped molds. Three passes were required during the pouring process, one for each colored section. Few changes have been made to the process or recipe.

Candy corn can be found at most popular grocery food stores in the United States. This is mostly due to the little known fact that candy corn is actually not manufactured anymore because it is not consumed anymore. That is right, NO ONE makes candy corn anymore. But you say, “they must I have some in my house right now”. Sure, just like everyone else.


The Goelitz Candy Company (now Jelly Belly Candy Company) started producing the confection in 1900. In 1952 Goelitz Candy Company found that kids in actuality don’t eat the bland tasting candy. At first this was due to a misunderstanding where kids thought that the candy corn was a candy version of the corns one gets on their feet. Since the candy had the same texture and taste the kids could not be blamed for their assumption.

In an effort to save on costs and be more environmentally friendly the company decided to send out representatives to simply collect all the unconsumed candy corn from people’s houses a week after Halloween. These remnants proved to be 98% of production that year. Goelitz’s research found that only a small population in Michigan was consuming 2% of their product while the rest went untouched- unconsumed.

One would think that George Renninger’s ancestors would be hurt by the news that no one in truth likes or even eats candy corn. But that is not the case. These brilliant entrepreneurs have been collecting candy corn remnants over the years, repackaging and selling them again for the next year. With the slashing in production costs, Goelitz has been raking it in since. According to the National Confectioners Association roughly 35 million pounds of candy corn will be "produced" this year.


But now the secret is out and we know that 35 million pounds of unconsumed candy corn are actually COLLECTED and recirculated out. That equates to nearly 9 billion pieces—enough to circle the moon nearly 21 times if laid end-to-end. The 100HB appreciates Goelitz's innovative business strategy modelled after the Treasury Department.


October 30th is National Candy Corn Day- this in no joke. So when you pick up a candy corn this week just think it may be as old as your grandpa.
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19.10.09

Let me think...minus 9 months means...

Q: Dear 100 Hour Board,

You have been busy 100 board, and i will add to your work load... i have a birthday coming up and this got me wondering, what month has the most birthdays celebrated in? thank you wise one...

Birthday Boy

A: Dear Spank Receiver (for your birthday and unnatural habit of not capitalizing your i's),


The 100 Hour Board most humbly apologizes for the delay in this answer. To our dismay, we have been stuck in a government archive digging out the information you requested. Unfortunately we were locked in one of the warehouses, and although we believe we saw the famed Ark of the Covenent, we did not relish our lengthy stay.
However, we have recovered some information for you. Hopefully you have not turned whatever you will turn this year yet, and we can assist in your celebratory exercises.
There are lots of answers on the internet regarding the most popular birth day and birth month. Many are not correct. Their sources are rather dubious. In fact I think you could pretty much pick any month by random (although not using 2, 6-sided dice as you will then only select months of Feb through Dec - although we can usually leave January out as a rather dull month will dull birthday kids) and supply a better answer. But the 100 Hour Board has come through again and given you the correct answer.
September!
But not by too much. First the information is hard to come by because the US Census buerau does not track births or birthdays, they leave that to the National Center for Health Statistics who are much more interested if you are born healthy and with 4 limbs than when exactly. (Actually there is a lot of data recorded by the NCHS and these results are confirmed by their data).
One website "Anybirthday.com" (a site providing a service whereby you can query any friend's or enemy's birthday just in case you need to send a present or order a credit card) uses a database of most states census records and birthdates. Although it isn't complete it is fairly concise. It points out that September is the lucky month. And January and February being unluckily lonely. (By the way they also point out that October 5th is the most common birth day.)

The NY Times summerized this research in a study that again points out that September is the most popular birth month.

Why you ask? I suppose we naturally turn towards excesses of egg-nog, idle time and frisky natures around Christmas. Yes September minus 9 months is December. Makes you wonder what people really mean when they sing the "Twelve Days of Christmas" and all those "lord's a leaping". And October 5th would point towards drunken hook-ups thanks to the ball dropping. This trend has been noticed since 1942 when the first reliable data tracking started.
However, September is a common birth month in non-Christian societies also - like India and Isreal. And in European countries they tend to favor the Spring. So it isn't just a proliference of Barry White music played over the Holidays.
Scientists are looking at other factors. (Here is one study that found that Crohn's disease is NOT related to the seasonality of birth date - for some of our interested readers.)
So, although the reasons are less certain - or perhaps varied (like based around Victoria Secrets sales or maybe due to temperature and length of the night...because no one except Canadians like to conceive in the snow) - we generally can assume that in the US there is something to that Holiday - unexplained birth 9 months later phenomenon. What you should really ask, is what month has the most unplanned pregnancies. My guess is still September. Although November 14th is a good guess.

The 100 Hour Board (not born in September!)
PS - Here is a great NY Times article from 1901 about the popularity of February as a birth month for famous people. Although I don't think we would consider Rose Terry Cooke famous nowadays. Although George Derby of New York vehemently disagrees in a follow-up letter-to-the-editor a bit later. Now you know what your great-grandparents did for fun. No wonder they had lots of September babies.
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14.9.09

Bird On A Wire

Q: Is it true that birds will sit on a wire to keep their feet warm?

Thanks,
Avian Fowl

A: Dear H5N1:

In answer to your question we went to Rocky Mountain Power company:

100HB: "I was hoping you could tell me why birds sit on your powerlines. It has been suggested that it keeps their feet warm. Is this true?"
RckPW: "I don't know. I've never heard of that. I guess if it is a hot day and the sun is keeping the wire hot. It is metal...I really don't know. I can tell you why they don't get electrocuted though."
100HB: "No, that is alright, just want to know about why they sit up there."
RckPW: "I think it is becuas they can see prey from up there."
100HB: "As apposed to the wood sections of your poles? I mean why the wire?"
RckPW: "I don't know. But they don't get electrocuted because..."
100HB: "Yes, yes, I know the second wire bit. I just need to know about why the wire."
RckPW: "Beats me."

Oh, I think we will beat you...I think we will.

I went and asked one of our professors in Natural Sciences- he wasn't too pleased with the question. He started going off on how a bird will lift one leg close to its body to keep it warm and how wires provide unabstructed views for hunting.

Wow, you're a REAL professor and everything? So impressive (sarcasm).

The wires contribute no heat themselves to the birds' feet. First we are talking about high power transition lines and not telephone wires. With telephone and cable wires they are insulated so you wouldn't get any heat if it let out any at all. Just feel your cable to your lamp or cable box. Is it hot? of course not.

Now high power transmission lines I read average about 7.2% loss across them, which means somewhere the lines are resisting and changing the electricity into heat. This is due to grounding and the corona effect - a blueish discharge of electricity more than just heat loss in resistence. But b/c aluminum alloys are used in transmission lines it is possible to have some heat. Heat loss to resistence is given by Q = I^2 x R (power loss = current ^2 times resistence) Resistence in aluminum is 0.248*10^-8, average current in line is 100-3000amps (high voltage means low current PV=I (power x voltage = current). This gives about .00558kW in power loss. Power x Time = Energy - so assume you lost ALL of that energy is lost to one bird foot in a second. That's 5.58 kWs or 5.58 Joules. 1 Joule can heat 1 gram of dry air 1 degree Celsius. You release 1 Joule in 1 hundredth of a second. 1 /100th of energy in one drop of beer. So it COULD heat up a bird's foot a very little bit, but I assumed all the heat came out in 1 second at one point. No the bird ain't getting warm.

The real answer most likely has to do with wires warmed in the sun over the day that have a heat from radiation effect. Like sitting on a warm sidewalk. MUCH MUCH more effect from that (magnitudes more). Add in a social, hunting, and need to sit down and raise a foot to keep warm - and you have a handy community perch.

Until the Disney researchers get back with me, the answer is for the birds:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3IpOFsKcDQ


俄罗斯videosbest8

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10.9.09

Whirling Johns

Q: Dear All-Wise-100-Hr-Board,

I have heard (but have never traveled far enough to confirm) that when above the equator a toilet flushes in the opposite direction than from below the equator. Is this true?


If so, what occurs when you are located AT the equator?
 
Sincerely,
Flushed Away
 
A: Dear Swirly,
 
Who says they use toilets south of the equator? Or even AT the equator for that manner? Seeing as you have not traveled beyond the confines of your particular commodal region, you may not be aware what occurs in Australia. What do you think wombats are designed for? Which is why Tazmanian Devils are so very feared lest you confuse the two in the middle of the night. All of South America actually uses small buckets that magically teleport the...umm..leftovers to a specific septic tank in the 1000 Islands that magically needs extra pumping every year. And as you near the border, well...trophies are dried, shipped to Seattle and used as in high-price grande soy mocha latte.
 
We jest. Toilets in the Northern Hempisphere rotate counterclockwise, clockwise in the Southern. That is the whole toilet gets up and spins in only one direction. And then puts thier who selves in...their whole selves out... Ok...they flush in those respective directions. So at the border things just go straight down. Quickly. So watch the hands.
 
How do we know this? From watching hurricanes and cyclones that rotate similarly. Using deduction and gross-literary allegories we know that toilets behave similarly (gross...ha ha). What's good for the cyclones good for the crapper. If you know what I mean. I mean we give both of them men's names? Really...don't we consider the Gulf of Mexico our common WC? Coincidence? I think not.
 
Back in 1984 a group of MIT engineers and physicists undertook a NIS funded project to study this phenomena. Although fluid mechanics is central to engineers' studies (and essentially most civil engineers end up spending their career designing oversized toilet systems - HA BRIAN!), the real reason for the study arose from a debate on hair styling post swirlies. There was a worry that if an Aussie bloke gave you a swirlie while visiting a conference on Crocco effect in fluid dynamics (or a Star Trek convention Kirk) down under, you may not be able to adequately return to your 30 year old hairstyle. German nerds avoided this issue years ago by removing any toilet bowl and installing shelves. Trust me..I'll risk wet hair!
 
Surprisingly it was discovered that in fact the toilet bowls aren't large to come under the hyptonizing Coriolis effect. (Or that is, it is extremely neglibigle. Like spitting into the wind of a hurricane to mix analogies) The Coriolis effect is a 'fictional force' that is how straight movement on something rotating is perceived in another reference frame. Commonly we recognize this as air rotating in a low pressure storm - hurricane or cyclone (ruled by Buys-Ballot's law). Basically, hurricanes are huge and last around several days so the rotation of the earth effects the winds flowing towards the low pressure point to curve them. In the North you see this as counterclockwise storms, clockwise in the South. On the equator: nada - but only exactly there.

Turns out toilets, sinks, bathtubs (yes even jacuzzi tubs), swimming pools and the like are way too small to be effected or noticed. (Unless you live in a crapper).
 
 
"But my toilet swirls counterclockwise!" you say in consternation (NOT constipation). Well, the swirls are actually caused by the way the toilet flushes. Or small disturbances when the drain is plugged. So sorry, no dice. Toilets generally behave the same no matter the geography.
 
Although, in the 1930's British scientists did study the effect in bathtubs in very controlled experiments and found a very minimal effect to draining. Only the Brits have that much time on their hands. And week old bath water. Although we did watch a great video from 1961 of Ascher Shapiro demonstrating drains and how to calculate velocity vectors. But that's a little dry for most people. (Dry?!! We are too funny!) (In case you need to sleep watch the video Vorticity Part 1) More info here and here.
 
But this is ok. You won't believe what happens to toilets in Japan! Watch out! And of course I found this one that isn't about toilets flushing - but fun.
 
Sincerely,
Your WC Director
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26.8.09

I Thought I Had An Idea

Q: dear 100 board
i apologize for my absence, but i need an answer and i know of only one place to get the truth..... ok board a light bulb burns out, are we still using energy if the light switch is on even though our bulb has seen its last?... i appreciate your time oh wise 100!!

Pat

A: Oh Pat. Your absence is unexcused. The 100 Hour Board is aware of your departure and responsible for your light bulbs burning out.
The answer is yes and no. Or rather my favorite answer ever...it depends! Depends on what?
It depends on what kind of light bulb you have.

Light Bulb 101:

Light bulb technology is pretty intricate, cool and yet simple at the same time. Makes you respect Mr. Edison more.

Incandescent bulbs (old technology) work by sending a electrical current through a resistor, in this case thin tungsten coil filaments, that resist the flow of electricity and convert it into heat and some light. Only about 10% is visible which is why they are so inefficient. Normally the tungsten would catch on fire, so they fill the light bulb with argon or nitrogen. Over time the tungsten atoms fly off because the filament gets really hot - 4000 degrees! Like evaporation off water. The argon helps keep this from happening.

But over time, because of the tungsten leaving, and the constant on and off, rapid heating and cooling, the filament gets brittle and breaks. And your bulb burns out. Now an incandescent bulb can also fail because of vibration (filament breaks loose), glass breaking (argon leaves and filament catches fire), or the connection to the bulb and fixture is bad (that solder piece is deformed or the copper spring contact bends in - stemming from over tightening bulbs).

No matter which way it burns out, with incandescent bulbs, no electricity is flowing. The electrical circuit is broken. Like cutting your cord to the lamp. Which is why they are safe to leave in - no electric shocks from probing fingers.

BURNED OUT INCANDESCENT BULB = NO POWER

But fluorescent bulbs use a different principle to operate. A tube of argon coated in phosphor powder, is also filled with a little mercury. Electrodes at either end flow electrons through the plasma in the on tube and this causes gaseous mercury to release electrons and light. Although it releases ultraviolet light. The phosphor powder absorbs the UV and releases white light (or other colors depending on the powder). (I recommend looking at this page at How Stuff Works.)

These lights require a starting mechanism - usually what they call a ballast - that stores and releases energy at start-up. "Burning out" for fluorescent bulbs are less defined if they are not catastrophic (glass breaking) but can include issues with the electrodes, ballasts and leaks.

When fluorescent bulbs burn out it is possible to have electricity flowing through the tube but not igniting the mercury electron release. Also you can be sending electricity to the ballast all the time the switch is on. It could be a slow leak or even more to the ballast.

BURNED OUT FLUORESCENT BULB = SOME POWER

So not only do you need to worry about mercury spills and the EPA with a broken flourescent bulb, you need to worry about stray current! Oh my!
Hope that gives you some answers - or ideas to swallow for that matter:



100 HB
(Top photo courtesy of Josh Madison)
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