About Dane Mutters

I'm smart and cantankerous. I think in ways that are typically considered unusual. Everything else probably follows from there.

How Much Faster Can You Get There By Speeding?


Bad drivers roam in tailgating packs that form as a result of impatience and stupidity.  –Dane Mutters

Today, I’ll be examining how much faster a person can get to their destination by going 10 or 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.  Notably, people who try to go much faster than the speed limit typically do so by weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right/shoulder, tailgating (which doesn’t actually work, and is the most common and preventable cause of accidents), and other highly questionable maneuvers.  While much has been written on this topic (including in your state’s driver’s handbook), few people have taken the time to do the math for how much faster a person can actually arrive at a destination by speeding.  Below is such an analysis

For a 50 mile journey:

65miles/hr = 65miles/1hr
50miles / 65miles/1hr = .769hrs
.769hrs * 60minutes/1hr = 46 minutes at 65mph
So, it takes 46 minutes to travel 50 miles at 65mph.

75miles/hr = 75miles/1hr
50miles / 75miles/1hr = .666hrs
.666hrs * 60minutes/1hr = 40 minutes at 60mph
So, it takes 40 minutes to travel 50 miles at 75mph. Note that the extra 10mph only got you an extra 6 minutes, relative to traveling at 65mph

85miles/hr = 85miles/1hr
50miles / 85miles/1hr = .588hrs
.588hrs * 60minutes/1hr = 35 minutes at 85mph
So, it takes 35 minutes to travel 50 miles at 85mph. Note that the extra 10mph only got you an extra 5 minutes, relative to traveling at 75mph. As you increase speed, your gains in time saved will continue to decrease, relative to the previous 10mph speed.  In other words, the progression is not linear, and increased speed over a given distance will net diminishing returns.

So, to arrive at your destination 11 minutes sooner, on a 50 mile journey, you have to go 20mph faster than the speed limit. Not only is that dangerous, but it constitutes “reckless driving”, which is punishable by a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail, in California, not including the speeding ticket you’ll also get.

Now, let’s look the data for how survivable an accident is at 65mph vs. 85mph. According to the department of transportation (see link, below), at 85mph, you have a nearly 100% chance of killing at least one person if you get into an accident. Additionally, your risk of causing an accident dramatically increases at that speed.

So, is it a smart gamble to risk your life and the lives of everyone around you to get to your destination 6-11 minutes faster? Are you qualified to make that decision for someone else who is on the road with you? No.

Slow down, drive safely, be patient, and wait for a good opportunity to pass. No matter how slowly the person in the leftmost lane is driving, they can’t “force” you to do something reckless; that’s your decision, and it isn’t a smart one to make.  The math and physics don’t lie.

http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/relationship_between_speed_risk_fatal_injury_pedestrians_and_car_occupants_richards.pdf

Flirt


She’s buying watermelons, and I’m trying not to think about crass pickup lines
–No matter how funny they would be.
So, I’m looking at the asparagus and thinking simultaneously about how I want to cook those ribeyes I bought, and whether asparagus is the side I want to go with them;
Meanwhile, the other aspects of my masculinity chime in, suggesting that I really should go over and talk to this girl.

She has brown, almost hazel eyes, and I like the quirky upturn at the corners of her mouth, which could indicate:
One, that she has a clever, wry sense of humor; or
Two, that she’s too stupid or crazy to know that it isn’t always appropriate to smile.
I try to talk myself out of approaching her, out of some sense of assumed pickiness;
But really, it’s because I’m just feeling insecure.

She has a pimple on the right side of her forehead that looks like it’s been there for a while.
Her hair is loose, like she doesn’t know how to use a hair-tie, but tried to, anyway.
Her basket is full of “organic” produce, which proves that she doesn’t actually know anything about what constitutes “organic” produce. She must be ignorant.
Maybe malnourishment is what’s causing her skin condition.

Then, she goes over to the Red Box, while I’m still stupidly pondering over which bunch of rubber-banded asparagus to buy, or whether to give up on it and buy broccoli, instead, or whether to get the asparagus and some lemon to go with it…that would be good with the Himalayan salt I bought from a different store…
And she’s looking at Arrival.

My heart leaps, because that might mean that she has some grasp of the sociological expositions displayed in the film, regarding innate xenophobia in a nation full of immigrants.
Perhaps she also likes science fiction that’s about philosophy, instead of special effects. Yes! I’ve met my bride-to-be!

Then, out of the corner of my lemon-filled field of view, I see the colors on the screen shift from silver to red and blue. Must be that new Marvel movie.
I like Marvel movies, because they involve some really neat special effects (forget what I said, above), and plenty of blowing stuff up.
And how cerebral they are…obviously.
OK, that could work.

Maybe I’m just horny.
Well, yeah, but it would be nice to meet someone with assets above the shoulders, too.
I guess her below-the-shoulders assets aren’t that bad.

So, I’ve picked out my asparagus and lemons, and I’m really sure I’m ready to talk to her, at which point I realize that I also need to get some red wine to compete the meal.
I mean, if I’m going to have a nice dinner with a pretty and intelligent woman (pretty despite the zit and bad hair day…I mean, I’m not that shallow, right?), I should at least have a nice bottle of wine to share with her.
Besides, she’s not done paying for her movie, and probably also wants to buy something other than organic produce and the chic flick she finally picked out.

So, I go over and pick out a $10 bottle of wine, because I’m classy like that. Yep, no Rex Goliath, this time, even though it’s actually pretty good.

I walk over to the checkout stand, and as it’s time to insert my awkward new chip-card, she’s entering the back of the line at the next stand over. She really is pretty, now that I’m not focusing on the overpriced vegetables.

I absent-mindedly tell the clerk to have a nice day, and then realize that it would be awkward to stand around for two minutes waiting for her to be done checking out.

Well, there’s always next time, and at least I have a nice dinner.

 

Dane Mutters, 2017

The Safe-Cracker’s Puzzle


By Dane Mutters
2016

She is locked in a wooden safe, with the handle on the inside.
The dial on the outside spins
To the
Click
Click
Tick
Of a safe-cracker’s twitch.

His wrist is stoically poised,
The back of his hand just outside of his vision;
His fingers twist one way, as his thumb tilts to the other.
The safe clicks and ticks, but doesn’t open.

This safe is a custom build that nobody has been able to crack.
Though wooden on the outside, it is petrified to the hardness of steel.
The woman inside has a demur smile as she quickly opens the door to other pursuant safe-crackers,
Allowing them a timid peek at who lounges within,
Before slamming the door shut, again.

They are left with dreams of twinkling eyes and a sunrise behind swaying brown vines.

But for this safe-cracker, she leaves the door wide open until he approaches near.
As he smiles, she smiles and closes the door an inch.
As his footsteps echo upon the marble floor, she closes it another two.
Before he can offer his hand, the door is closed, so he walks away.
This safe-cracker is no fool.

…But after years of dreaming, he can’t resist the call of the safe that has never been cracked.
More than a Browning safe, with its floral design near its base, and proud name at its top;
Or a stoically red Amethyst safe with a single, tantalizing, golden handle;
This safe sings his praise, and promises secret riches of beating rubies, dripping pearls, and adorning diamonds.

For a long time, he stood far away, remembering the click of the closing door.
He cracked other safes in hope that they would satisfy his craving.
He walked to other cities and conquered strongboxes, stores, and banks by the power of his keen senses;
And their strongholds did nothing but adore him, swinging their hinges apart to give their treasures.
But their diamonds he dropped on the ground,
And he walked away shaking his head.
He can’t return to those places.

Why?” he thought, as the safe quietly went, “tock.”
He froze for a moment, and reached for the handle that wasn’t there.
He heard a footstep from the other side.
He pulled his hand away from the door and held his breath.
The door went “clunk”, but didn’t open.

From the other side, he heard someone slowly spinning a dial, as if listening for the right combination.

DO NOT DISABLE YOUR AD-BLOCKER!


If you’re using an ad-blocker like AdBlock Plus (you should be!), and a page tells you that you need to disable your ad-blocker to see the content, it’s time to leave that page, and not return until they change their policy. Here’s why:
 
1) The most popular ad-blockers have “whitelists” that let content providers submit their ads for screening. If their ads are respectful–don’t install malware on your computer, don’t pop-up and cover the screen, don’t play loud videos, etc.–then AdBlock Plus and similar will let you see it! There’s no excuse for not being on the whitelist.  Are you a webmaster?  Click this link.  Now, you really have no excuse.
 
2) If an ad is not on the aforementioned whitelist, it’s because it’s a truly obnoxious ad, and/or the site’s owner isn’t a responsible citizen of the Internet. It’s literally unsafe to display such ads. In addition to being REALLY ANNOYING, they can install viruses on your computer/phone/device, steal your credit card information/identity, give your personal information to dangerous people, cost you hundreds or thousands in electronics repair bills, etc. There’s no good reason for displaying such an ad.  There’s no good reason for trying to make people see such an ad.
 
3) If you boycot pages that refuse to make their ads respectful and safe, you will force web site owners to make their content respectful and safe…which they should have, to begin with. Don’t give in. Yes, that includes Forbes.com, or your favorite “reputable” web site. It’s only as reputable as its content.  Be patient, and keep your ad-blocker on.
(You should also consider installing Web of Trust.)

Anthropological Motivation For Not Fighting About Politics


For context, look up popular American news articles for March 12th, 2016.

Raja Yoga (the Hindu philosophy of using physical movement to achieve a higher spiritual state–called simply “yoga” by most westerners) seems to have arisen out of a collection of movements and postures practiced as part of human life. From bowing to a king, to taking a wide stance in preparation for delivering a sword blow, to stretching in the morning and evening to alleviate muscle and joint pain, to picking up a baby–this is a system of kinetic learning intended to explain and teach the human condition and how to function within it.

Humans are loving. Humans are powerful. Humans fight for survival, spend their days gathering resources; humans follow leaders; humans battle for control over the followers and means of acquisition. (Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably seeing you as their follower…) This method of teaching translates literally to “royal yoga”. As profound as it once was, it fails to teach apt governance or understanding in the absence of the cultural understanding that could only be truly had in the more revered and wealthy circles of the ancient world.

What would such a system look like, if it were created out of the successful strategies of governing and being governed within our own society? Are there any motions that we can still use to universally increase our usefulness and success as a part of the human meta-organism? Today, we crave a method that works for almost everyone, and mourn the absence of any such thing that can make us happy. There is currently no “one size fits most” method for anyone born after 1980, or, perhaps, before.

In politics and religion, alike, we are bereft of truly effective guidance. We celebrate the death of “storge” love while complaining about lack of agreement in public matters. (This is a contradiction.) We seek ancient wisdom that hardly translates to how to make a real living, today. We are amply taught, in school, church, home, and in casual society everything but what is known to be truly, universally effective–because nobody knows of any universally “human” means of survival that has, itself, survived the test of time.

In the last decade, much of the world has awoken to this predicament, and we are fighting each other because nobody can figure out how to make things work, again. The information age arose out from Pandora’s box, and our greatest minds have yet to tame it in a way that lets everyone live happily, who is willing to keep trying.

Or maybe that is the nature of the human condition: as the Buddhists say, “suffering exists”, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with that.

It is a part of human nature to fight. We committed genocide against every human species that came before us, until only Homo sapiens remained. (A chilling thought, but true, according to archeologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists.) A new way of living will one day emerge out of the ashes of analog society and the minds of those who, like Homo erectus, failed to adapt (despite having a larger brain). In the mean time, let’s limit our battles to the ones that actually matter.

If an idiot or a fool gets elected president, let them show us how not to do things.

Some arguments can only be won by letting your opponent win, and then realize, on his own, that he should have been wiling to compromise (A.K.A. “adapt”). We decided in the late 40s that killing all the stupid people is wrong, so if such people end up running things, and we don’t crash and burn because of it, we will have proven that the antiquated morals of centuries past–survival of the fittest, when you boil it down enough–are truly not as good as the softer ones we revere, today.

And if letting stupid people self-actualize turns out to be a problem, we can always decide that Hitler had the right of things and commit genocide until all the stupid people are extinct, and we evolve into a species that’s better than Homo sapiens. (Personally, I don’t advocate this method.)

Seriously, folks, don’t get into physical fights over political beliefs unless you think we should silence, cage, and eventually extinct all the imbuciles–including, possibly, you.

Trump and Sanders fans, I’m looking at you.

Proverbs That Last Forever


“However, a much older Near Eastern origin is suggested by a near equivalent in the 6th century BC Proverbs of Ahiqar: ‘a sparrow in thy hand is better than a thousand sparrows flying’.”

I love finding proverbs that have somehow survived 25 centuries of linguistic translations and societal changes. Such proverbs are almost certainly somewhat accurate (in the right context), because the only way people would keep saying them for 2,500 years is if they feel like they have a decent reason to do so, themselves, and to teach their children to say them, too.

Interestingly, it’s possible that personal adherence to old texts of philosophy, poetry, mythology, scripture, and fable–stems from the same phenomena; and that, therefore, religion, philosophy, ethics, and more are a result of old thoughts being consistently seen as worthwhile enough to repeat and teach future generations to repeat.
The historic use of force to enforce adherence to ideas skews this effect, somewhat. This includes classic examples of European churches imposing laws and punishments, as well as popular non-religious philosophies making law with legislation and court cases (incl. case law), and punishing those who violate those laws. It can’t really be argued that the modern law and punishment is as brutal or authoritarian as ancient law and punishment; but when an armed person can come to your home and put you in shackles (handcuffs) for not obeying, one can neither argue that this isn’t the use of force. Sure, the methods are different, but disobeying gets you punished.
How do we decide whether and when old ideas are more/less valuable to us than new ideas? How effective have those uses of force been in making a given idea persist? Does an idea that has been appreciated (even/especially out of pure expediency) for 2.5 millennia have more (objective) believability than an idea that’s been around for 50 years? Each person chooses how to weigh these and other factors to create a personal philosophy. Then, they explain their philosophies to their children using proverbs.

Kitchen Chemistry: What are Calories, and Why Do We Eat Them?


At one time or another, we’ve all looked at a food package to determine whether a food is “healthy” or not, according to the nutritional doctrines of the day.  Often, the first (and perhaps only) thing that someone looks at on such a label is how many calories a food product contains per serving.  But what are calories?  Are they good or bad for us?

A calorie is a scientific unit of energy

What food packages label as “calories” are actually “kilocalories”, or a unit that equals 1,000 calories.  In chemistry (and other sciences), a single calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat one milliliter of water one degree Celsius.  Wait…huh?

Momentarily setting aside the discrepancy in naming conventions, let’s paint a mental picture of what this “calorie” actually does.

Think of a centimeter.  A centimeter is about 1/3 of an inch.  Now, think of a square that’s 1cm on each side.  That’s a square centimeter because each side is equal, and all four sides are 1cm long.  To get the area of a square, you multiply the length–1cm–by the width–1cm–and get…you guessed it: 1 square centimeter (a unit of area).  Now, think of that same square and make it three-dimensional.  It’s now 1cm wide, by 1cm long, by 1cm tall.  That’s a cubic centimeter or “1cc”.  1cc equals 1 milliliter (1ml).

So, let’s take that 1ml (1cc) cube and fill it up with pure water.  Next, we’ll put a tiny amount of fuel under it and light it on fire, then wait for the temperature of the water to go up by one degree Celsius.  The moment it has done so, we put out the fire.  How much of that heat energy just went into the water?  Exactly one calorie.  How do we know?  Because by definition, 1cal is how much heat energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1ml of water by exactly 1 degree Celsius.  See?  We’ve just used a single calorie to heat water.  How scientific!

As it so happens, 1cc [1ml] of water weighs exactly one gram.  Isn’t the metric system neat?

Alright, I see that you’re wanting to know how this has anything to do with food.  The neat thing about a unit of energy (a calorie, for example) is that it doesn’t just measure heat energy.  It also measures kinetic energy, positional energy, nuclear energy, and–what we care about, right now–chemical energy.  The amount of chemical energy that our bodies can extract from a morsel of food is what is being measured and written down on the food label.  More properly, this is chemical potential energy: energy that’s stored in chemical bonds that can be re-arranged to make heat, movement, and other fun stuff happen.

Why, then, does the label use kilocalories instead of calories as its unit of measurement?  Creatures with over 15 trillion cells in our bodies, each of which need energy to survive, we need a great deal of energy to keep living.  So, any meaningful measure of nutritional energy will have to be in the thousands.  1,000 calories (“small calories”) = 1 “large calorie” or kilocalorie, which means that we don’t have to put a whole bunch of zeroes at the end of every “calories per serving” number on a cereal box.  That saves space and is easier to read.

Why do we need chemical energy to live?  Because without it, our cells would be rendered immobile–unable to respirate, unable to repair themselves, unable to move oxygen and water around, etc.  When our cells stop moving, we’re dead.  The tricky thing is that we can’t just pump heat into our bodies and have our cells magically turn that into energy; our cells are combustion reactors, not very unlike the engine of a car.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right.  An automobile takes chemical energy from molecules called hydrocarbons and breaks the chemical bonds to release energy.  How does a car do that?  First, it takes a bit of energy to get the process started.  This is called activation energy.  The battery sends a jolt through the system (with the help of the starter, spark plugs, etc.) that lights vaporized gasoline on fire.  That little explosion makes the pistons move, which cause the wheels to spin, and also gives parts of the engine enough kinetic energy to fill the reaction chambers with gasoline and light it on fire.  This produces a chain reaction, because each little reaction makes another reaction happen (until you break the “chain” by cutting power to the ignition process–A.K.A. “turning it off”).

Our cells do basically the same thing.  We have a chain reaction already happening inside each and every one of our cells since the moment of conception.  Our mother’s womb feeds those cells chemical energy in the form of sugar and other things–all of which are hydrocarbons–and that lets our cells keep going while having enough energy left over to make more cells.  Eventually, we get big enough to survive on our own, and voila! we are born!  Every day, we put more food into our bodies because that food is made up of hydrocarbons that our body knows how to break down.  We have enzymes, symbiotic microbes, digestive juices, and other things that let our bodies disassemble a wide variety of chemicals and turn them into the stuff that our cells run off of.

In fact, the chain reaction that keeps us alive is part of the same chain reaction that started life on this planet!  Think about that for a moment.  If, at any point between the creation of the first primitive lifeform and when we were born, that chain reaction had completely stopped, our mothers would have passed away before giving birth to us.  Isn’t that remarkable?

If cars use gasoline for fuel, what do our cells use?

Short answer: a simple sugar called glucose.  Most single-celled organisms love sugar because it’s the easiest thing to light on fire and get energy from.  In human cells, we have a little cell-within-a-cell called a mitochondria that does the hard work of lighting stuff on fire without making us explode and die.  Our cells take in glucose, burn it with oxygen, and use the energy that produces to turn a low-energy chemical (adenosine diphosphate) into a high-energy chemical (adenosine triphosphate), which then goes around and deals smaller, safer amounts of chemical energy to its “customers” in other parts of the cell.  That lets the cell move around and do its job for the rest of the body–whether that be passing around oxygen (red blood cells), killing invaders (white blood cells), contributing to larger movement (cells that are part of muscle tissue), storing energy for later (fat cells), and whatever else our bodies need to do.

The average adult requires 2,000 kilocalories of digestible chemical energy per day to avoid cell death

It’s true: if we don’t get enough calories, our cells die.  We need about 2,000,000 calories (2,000 kilocalories) per day to make sure that, at the end of the day, we still have the same number of cells that we started with.  Of course, if we spend a lot of energy on exercise, we need more than that to maintain the same number of cells; and if we don’t get much exercise, we’re spending less energy, and don’t need to eat as much chemical energy to keep us going.  If we want to lose weight, that means that we’re actively trying to make some of our excess cells die by not feeding them enough.  When cells are in distress, they release lots of chemicals that tell our brains (comprised of nerve cells) and other parts of our bodies that something is very wrong.  In other words, it hurts.  This can manifest in tiredness, moodiness, etc.  Our bodies are built to gather more energy and make more cells, not to lose energy and have cells die.

Up until the last 100 years or so, this wasn’t an issue because we didn’t have reliable food supplies, and therefore had very little capacity to overeat.  Food was too scarce, too expensive, and required us to spend a lot of energy to get it.  That kept us skinny.  Now, our food supplies are pretty awesome, and starvation is basically gone in the USA.  (Yes, it still happens, but almost never on the grand scale, which may be the most remarkable achievement in our species’ survivability, ever.)  We can now sit at a desk all day, spending almost none of our stores of chemical energy, and still have cupboards and refrigerators stocked full of food!  We eat because our bodies tell us it’s “time”, and if we get a little too much, our bodies say, “That’s great!  We won’t starve, now!”

Evolution is a little behind the times–and that’s why we get fat: our bodies are telling us to eat as much as we can so we don’t die of hunger, but we have so much food available that we can literally kill ourselves by eating too much.  From a biological standpoint, that’s a very good thing…mostly.

So, to finally answer the question in the title: we will die if we don’t get enough calories, and that’s why we eat them.  We read labels and diet because, for the first time in human history, literally billions of people have the unique problem of being so wealthy, in terms of food availability, that we can eat ourselves to death.  How many calories are too many?  That depends on your body’s size (how many cells you’re currently maintaining); the amount of chemical energy you’re spending on a daily basis (A.K.A. “exercise”); whether you want to gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same weight; and the unique quirks of your particular body’s metabolic process.  (Each person manages their chemical energy slightly differently, and as a result, some people can seem to “eat anything and stay slim”, while others can’t.)

Fun fact:The kinds of cells that die first are somewhat dependent on what you’re (not) eating.  Your brain and nerves love fat.  Your muscles love protein.  Everything loves carbohydrates (simple and complex sugars like glucose, fructose, sucrose, and starch–which is made of glucose and/or fructose).  Every diet has a trade-off.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you that a diet is risk-free.

The important thing to remember is this: (calories in) – (calories out) = (net gain or loss).  If the net gain or loss is 0, then you’ll stay the same weight.  More means you’ll gain weight, and less means you’ll lose weight.

Finally, please be aware that our bodies need things that aren’t caloric (don’t contain chemical energy that our bodies can burn) like minerals (iron, magnesium, etc.), vitamins, amino acids (what proteins are made of), and so on.  The only way you’re going to get everything you need is by consuming the right amount of calories (not too little or too much) from a wide variety of sources that also contain other stuff that you need.  If you eat nothing but starch, fat, and sugar, you’re going to get very sick, indeed.  Follow the age-old wisdom of eating a little bit of everything in moderation and not being too picky.