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Radioactive wine

I've read more of the human evolution book, but am too lazy to blog it. And while plundering the library today, I found Become and Instant Physicist, by Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, author of Physics for Future Presidents. Become is a tiny book, with left hand pages having a little science fact and the right hand pages having an illustration. It's not really "teach you physics", more "have some interesting facts". A good toilet book (as in something you can pick and put down readily, like Calvin and Hobbes collections.)

Sometimes there's a theme, one page leading to another, e.g. the first page is about radioactive C-14 in the atmosphere and organisms, and the second is about radioactive wine. Supposedly the US government has banned the synthesis of consumable alcohol from oil. I'd never thought of this before, but I'd bet converting ethane to ethanol would be easy to do and easily safe. (You have to separate a non-polar gaseous hydrocarbon from a polar liquid alcohol. That's got to be the easiest chemistry ever.) And ethanol's too simple to have chirality. How to make sure someone isn't passing off synthetic alcohol, then? Biological alcohol would be radioactive, from plants recently incorporating C-14 from the air. Fossil fuels have been buried for millions of years, when C-14 has a half-life of 5700 years. Oil and its products isn't radioactive. (Well, not in carbon, anyway.) So apparently the BATF checks booze for radioactivity, wanting it to be present. You could do the same check on alleged biofuels.

"Plutonium is pretty toxic. If inhaled, the letha does is a few thousands of a gram", much worse than arsenic or other common poisons. But botulinum toxin, the poison in botulism, is a million times more lethal than plutonium.

Electricity from a store AAA battery costs $1000 per kilowatt-hour. P=IV, I=1 amp and 1.5 volts, P=1.5 watts, for about an hour. Price = $1.50. Math checks out, I haven't checked the input numbers.

The helium we put in children's balloons is nuclear waste. It's not primordial helium like that which makes up Jupiter, it's the accumulated alpha particles from Earth's radioactivity. Relatedly, geothermal power is indirect nuclear power. Related (this is me now), the one form of fusion power we could do now would be to blow up fusion bombs underground, and tap the hot rock for heat.

The X-Prize was lame. Getting up to 100 km is easy; the Germans sent a V-2 to 85 km in 1942, and by 1946 the US hit 185 km. The hard part is staying up; orbital velocity requires 30x more energy.

Cubic zirconia is supposedly prettier than diamonds. I knew it was comparable.

The anvil shape of thunderhead clouds (cumulonimbus) comes from the warm air of the cloud rising through cool air (air gets colder with height) until it hits the ozone layer (which is warm from the ozone absorbing sunlight) and spreads out.

Hurricane Katrina wasn't that big, it was just the first Category 3 storm to hit New Orleans in the last 30 years.

Organic produce may have less artificial pesticides, but it likely has more natural ones. Farmers select varieties resistant to pests. Resistance means making pesticides. Supposedly those are more carcinogenic than USDA approved ones, too. (I add: also, plants react a lot to getting eaten. Even the same strain of plant probably produces more pesticides when it's being nibbled on than when it's being kept safe by the farmer.)

Filling a car's gas tank is an energy transfer of 12 megawatts. (A gallon has 120 megajoules -- I'd have said 160 -- and takes 10 seconds to pump.)

If you think about the optics, mirrors are as amazing as holograms. But we're used to the mirrors. Though cheap high-quality mirrors are a modern invention. "through a glass darkly" refers to crappy ancient mirrors.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 20th, 2012 07:02 am (UTC)
Biological alcohol would be radioactive

now there would be better ways to do a BAC .. like with a radioactivity dectector..
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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