All posts by matt

Here Comes the Sun

As the world's population grows, so does the demand for smartphones, smart TVs, and even smart cars. But there's something not so smart about all of these "smart" devices: namely, the way we get the electricity used to power them. In America, electricity often comes from coal power plants, which fill our atmosphere with carbon dioxide while we're filling our iPhones with the latest pop hits. Unfortunately, as 60 Minutes reported, coal is cheap, which explains why we use it even though it's so dirty.

Thankfully, there are several alternatives to coal — e.g. wind, hydroelectirc, and solar power — that can generate much cleaner energy. Unfortunately, these alternatives can be expensive, meaning that when it comes to electricity, people are placed in the uncomfortable position of deciding between what's best for the planet and what's best for their wallets. Even though the cost of solar power has decreased recently, for many people it's still more expensive than coal. Which brings us to the question: are solar panels worth it?

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Blindsided

Cars today come with all sorts of crazy bells and whistles designed in the name of safety. There are backup cameras, blind spot monitors, and even sensors that will tell you when you're drifting out of your lane! But are these technologies making us that much safer, or are they just enabling us to drive carelessly?

Let's take your mirrors, for example. With all of this newfangled technology, it's easy to forget to adjust your rear- and side-view mirrors before starting the car, and trust that the car will tell you when something is wrong. But what if you drive a car that doesn't have technology like blind spot mirrors, or the technology itself malfunctions? Knowing how to adjust your mirrors seems like a pretty important (and potentially life-saving) skill.

So, how can you be sure that you've got your mirrors in the right positions? Despite the importance of this skill, a lot of people adjust their mirrors incorrectly! In case you aren't a maven of mirror mechanics, let's explore how people typically set their mirrors (and how they ought to set them).

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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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Sharper Image

Cameras today come with all sorts of bells and whistles. With so much choice, it can be difficult to understand what separates one camera from another. For many of us, the end result is that we simply use the camera on our phones. But the question remains: what sorts of features are we missing out on, and if you like taking pictures, are they worth investing in?

That's a pretty big question, and one that probably can't be answered adequately in a single blog post. So let's focus our attention on just one aspect of the camera: the lens, and some of its features.

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Bundle Up

With today's cable TV packages, subscribers have access to more channels and more content than they could ever possibly consume. For die-hard entertainment fans, the amount of choice is likely a dream come true.

All that choice isn't free, though, and prices for the most popular cable packages have increased fairly steadily over the past 20 years. (And with the pending merger of Comcast and Time Warner, many people are concerned that prices will only continue to rise.)

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It's a Trap!

Imagine you're late to an important appointment. You're driving on the highway in a 60 mph zone, but you look at the clock and realize that at that rate, you'll never get where you're going in time. Throwing caution to the wind, you press your foot against the accelerator and move into the fast lane. You relax a little bit as you pass other cars, but then you hear the cry of a police siren behind you, and reality sinks in.

Hopefully you've never found yourself in this situation. But if you have (or if you've seen it happen on TV), then you know that the police are able to tell you with a fair degree of precision (within 1 mph or so) how fast you were traveling. Obviously, they aren't estimating your speed as they watch you shoot down the highway; instead, officers have a variety of technologies to help measure the speed of cars on the roads.

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Romeo & Juliet

Shakespeare's famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet tells the story of two young lovers who want to be together despite the protestations of their families.  Although they know that they shouldn't be together, they can't help the way they feel.  In fact, in the famous balcony scene ("Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art though Romeo?"), Juliet describes her love in the following way:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Juliet's feelings only cause Romeo to feel even stronger for her, and this feedback loop of strong emotion, as we all know, does not end well.  But with a bit of mathematics, could anyone have predicted their fate?

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Sell Out

With the summer movie season right around the corner, people all around the country are psyching themselves up for the movies that they're the most excited to see. And during those hot summer months, millions of people will be grateful for the time spent in an air-conditioned theater.

However, they might be less grateful for the long waits that most of us typically endure if we want to be among the first to see the latest hit film. Lines for the opening weekend of a new blockbuster typically form hours — if not days — in advance. While some people may enjoy the community aspect of waiting in a long line together, the whole ordeal does seem to highlight a certain degree of inefficiency. For even though the people who camp out before a movie premiere aren't paying any more money for tickets than everyone else, they are spending more of their time. Unlike the money they spend, though, the theater doesn't profit from increased waiting times (at least not directly). And while most theater owners would probably love to accommodate people more quickly, theaters are limited by the number of screens they have and the number of films they can show on a screen per day.

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Been Caught Stealing

This week marks baseball's return from its annual winter hibernation. For fans of the sport, Opening Day is thrilling, and brings with it the promise of a summer filled with peanuts, home runs, and stolen bases.

Or, if not stolen bases, at the very least attempted stolen bases. Because unlike striking out, stealing a base isn't an easy thing to do. Say you're on first base and are looking to steal second. Take too much of a lead off first and the pitcher is liable to pick you off (that is, throw the ball to the first baseman before you can run back to first base and tag the bag). But if your lead isn't long enough, there's no way you'll be able to beat the catcher's throw to second. And of course, if you're too slow, or if the pitcher's windup is too quick, your chances of a successful steal will diminish even further.

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Overrated

The internet is a shopaholic's paradise.  If you can dream it, you can probably buy it; from an 85-inch TV to a tin of unicorn meat, millions of items are only a few clicks away from being shipped directly to you.  But with so many items to choose from, it's a mathematical reality that some […]

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