Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Energy is Nature's Currency and Work is how it gets Exchanged

December began with an article that related a healthy lifestyle to the first law of thermodynamics.  The first law says that the quantity of energy contained within a system must be conserved – never created or destroyed.  In relation to dieting, the lesson we may draw from this is that the amount of energy that we consume should be kept in check with respect to the amount of energy we output.  Short of bariatric surgery, we must output more than we input for our body to lose weight.

Let us now take a closer look at the first law of thermodynamics.  The conservation of energy principle has more to teach us than merely how to balance energy.  The law also establishes the concept of mechanical work.  Before getting into the physical definition of work, let us examine the traditional kind of work that we are all familiar with, like jobs and chores.
Have you ever heard a tough and hardened individual say, “You could learn a lot from a hard day’s work?”  We get more out of life when we put more into it.  As we will see, the benefits of working hard are actually predicted by the first law of thermodynamics.

Friday, December 24, 2010

God's Role in the Universe

Let me begin by saying that no one alive today can offer a complete proof as to whether or not God exists.  I was once at a talk where a philosophy professor proved the existence of a higher power.  Of course, his proof was based on a number of assumptions.
Who is God, and what role does He play in this Universe?  It is a philosophical question, and one well worth pondering.  As with most other thought-provoking questions to which there are no clear answers, the answer most parents would provide for their children is based on faith.  Many parents today will give an equally truthful response: “I don’t know.”
Still, man’s ability to observe the Universe, and make deductions based on what he finds, places him in a unique position.  Above all else, it is this unique skill combined with our insatiable curiosity that sets us apart from other animals.  Well, that, and we use rolls of soft tissue to clean our butts when we poop.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Video Game Technology

The holiday season is upon us, and we sometimes associate this period of time with gifts.  As a kid, the gift I received with the highest frequency was probably video games.

I remember my sixth birthday fairly well.  Nintendo had released its first gaming console at some point that year: “The Nintendo Entertainment System”.  I was lucky enough to get one for my birthday, along with the first edition of “Mario Bros”.  Two Italian plumbers took turns eating mushrooms, battling goombas, travelling through pipes, and leaping over crevices, all to the soundtrack of some of the most psychedelic music ever produced to date.  I would love to have been in the boardroom when the makers of this first adventure video game were proposing their vision for it.  They must have been very creative and very high.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Physicist's Guide to Surviving a Montreal Winter

In the sixties, a band called “The Zombies” sang: “It’s the time of the season for loving.”  Now that December has rolled around, it’s the time of the season for freezing if you live north of the equator, and reasonably far from it.  Those of us who actually experience four distinct seasons usually agree that it is good for the soul to see our environment change.  Still, as we dump cat litter under our snow tires before giving the car yet another push, many of us would like to skip over winter.  We curse its arrival every year, and even vacation far from it when the opportunity presents itself.
Winter is very particular.  You can examine a picture of downtown Montreal in mid-February, and know with absolute certainty that you are looking at the winter season.  Snow is the symbol of winter, and after a quarter of a metre of the stuff got dumped on my walkway and driveway last week, I set out at 6:30 am to displace it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Toddler at Night as Predicted by Material Science

A few days ago, at around 8:00 pm, my 17-month-old daughter was standing in the living room, when she suddenly began to spin herself in circles in an effort to induce dizziness and fall down.  She seemed to enjoy it a lot.  After a few nice, relatively harmless tumbles, she eventually made herself so dizzy, that she fell, smacking her face directly onto the hardwood floor.  At that moment, the “witching hour” ended with a brief fit of crying, and it was time for bed.

As a parent of a toddler, I am beginning to see the importance of recognizing toddler fatigue.  The witching hour is an unofficial domain of time where an otherwise normal child goes bananas.  Imagine how a prison inmate gradually loses his mind in isolation over a period of months, and condense that experience into one hour, and you begin to depict the decline of a toddler in the evening.  For my daughter, this strange yet entertaining timeframe seems to occur between the end of dinner and bedtime.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The First Law of Dieting

*** Disclaimer: While the laws of thermodynamics apply unconditionally to everyone, I am no dietician, and so my proposed law of dieting is based on opinion, and may not apply to all dieters. ***
The holiday season is upon us, and there are two things we can expect with certainty once December is complete: (1) 2010 will become 2011, and (2) in the month of January, we will be inundated with new dieting suggestions. 
A quasi-doctor with nice teeth and salon-fresh hair will push her new-age plant diet, which involves eating anything in your home that grows from soil.  A very muscular chiropractor who graduated from I-Wish-I-Was-A-Dr. University will counter this ad with his “Nothing but Brownie” diet, which promises to make each of your bowel movements smell like Parisian baked goods.