Green Acres

Last month Mathalicious HQ packed up and headed to Austin, Texas, which now makes us a part of the single largest demographic group in the country. No, not Texans. City folks.

Depending on how much faith you have in the Census, it turns out that something like 80% of all Americans live in urban areas. For at least two reasons, that's crazy high. First of all, it's almost impossible to get 80% of Americans to agree on anything, so it's borderline miraculous that so many people have agreed to share such a tiny fraction of the country's area. Second of all, we've only been at this urbanization thing for a couple hundred years, and we started out extremely rural.

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My Fellow Americans

If you're a history buff, you may know that in 1790 George Washington delivered the first-ever State of the Union address to the American people. He opened on an optimistic note:

"I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important state of North Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity."

If you think that sounds a little highfalutin, that may be because, by today's standards, it is.

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Spinning Your Wheels

Sometimes the world is all backwards.  And sometimes it just looks that way.  Exhibit A: car commercials. Did you catch it?  If not, watch again, and this time focus on the wheels.  At certain points they seem to be spinning in the wrong direction even though the professional driver isn't spitting out pieces of his transmission all […]

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Let Down Your Hair

Rapunzel. She had long hair. Really long. So long, that although locked in a room at the top of a stairless tower (by the pettiest neighbor-lady ever), she could still entertain the occasional visitor by dropping her hair out the window for them to climb (one assumes hand-over-hand, gym class style). Both in classic stories and modern adaptations like Disney’s Tangled, Rapunzel’s exceptionally long hair is taken as a given. Nobody says, “Hey, how does this woman even have hair that is as long as the height of a prison tower? Everyone knows an ambitious high school junior whose hair falls past her butt, but I’ve never seen anything like Rapunzel’s mane on a real person’s head. Not even close. Is there any way this situation even makes sense?”

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Siren Song

Some strange things are so common that it's easy to forget how strange they are.  Like, for instance, standing by the side of the road.  Each time you hear a car moving toward you, you know it will sound different after whizzing by. It happens all the time, but if you stop to think about […]

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Letterboxing

In the Long-Ago Times (prior to ca. 1975), if you wanted to record video, you needed strips of light-sensitive material known as "film." You loaded this film into the camera, which had some sprockets that would latch onto perforations in the film and pull it through the camera, exposing frame after frame as it wound its way through.

The physical dimensions of the camera determined its film size, but different cameras required different sizes. Edison and his buddy William Dickson decided that this was pretty dumb, and that film sizes should be standardized. In 1892 they were using 35mm film stock; any image recorded on that film had a width:height ratio of approximately 4:3. This measurement is known as the film's aspect ratio. Because everybody generally agreed that Edison was a genius, 4:3 quickly became the industry standard. In fact, even today 4:3 is often referred to as "standard format" for video.

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Pounding Headache

Pharmaceutical companies take the motto "no pain, no gain" quite literally; without pain to medicate, they'd lose out on billions of dollars in the United States alone. But how does your body to respond to this sort of medication...and how much can you safely take?

For simplicity, let's consider one of the most popular over-the-counter pain relievers: Tylenol. When you take a couple of Tylenol tablets, the active ingredient (acetaminophen) is absorbed into your system and then gradually dissipates. Though individual responses may vary, typically acetaminophen has a half-life of around 3 hours once it's working its magic: this means that if you take two regular strength tablets (650 mg acetaminophen), you'll have 325 mg in your system after 3 hours, 162.5 mg after 6 hours, and so on.

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Out of Left Field

Baseball is a little strange, as team sports go. If you're a basketball fan, you'll remember that great scene in Hoosiers where Gene Hackman's scrappy underdogs are wandering around the enormous gym where they're about to play for the state championship, and they're looking all kinds of nervous. He pulls out a measuring tape to check the height of the basket and says, "Ten feet. I think you'll find it's the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory." In other words, any basketball player, stepping onto any court, knows exactly what the playing field looks like. But that's not the case in baseball: not all ballparks are created equal.

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