Friday, October 16, 2009

Leave it the way you found it

For mysterious reasons, many people seem concerned about the moon.

Recently NASA hit a crater on the moon with a bus-sized vehicle to see if there was frozen water under the dust. There was general alarm. Is it ethical to bombard another object in the solar system? Did we have the right? Are we in danger of messing up space?

Some of the people worrying about the moon do not have the same level of concern for global climate change on our own planet. But that's another story.

As anyone with binoculars or a telescope can tell, the moon has been hit hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times by leftover solar system debris. The only places without craters on top of craters are the "seas" and "lakes" covered with relatively smooth melted and solidified rock. In a few billion years these areas will be just as pocked as the rest of the surface.

Humans have hit the moon repeatedly since the 1960s with jettisoned lunar landers, and probes of various kinds. Humans have left stuff there either because the instruments are impossible to retrieve, or the cars, tools, and all of that other moon landing material were too heavy, cumbersome or useless.

Should we dispose of garbage by sending it to the moon? No, of course not. Even if it were possible. it's just not right to trash a pristine world.

The idea of messing up space is different. Because, if you haven't noticed, most of the sky is space. Or it appears to be. There is a lot of invisible dark matter unaccounted for, not to mention dark energy.

If we ever want to get to another galaxy, scientists will have to figure out a non-destructive, practical way to bend or twist space.

That could make the trip short enough to tolerate. Unfortunately, whatever we beam up to warp space can only travel at the speed of light, so to reach a star 100 light years away, the beam would have to travel 100 years.

The irony is that once humans get to wherever they are going, it would turn out to be just like it is here, because Earth is a non-exceptional planet orbiting a non-exceptional star, in a non-exceptional galaxy in a non-exceptional universe, among million, billions, or an infinity of other universes.

So, the short answer is, don't worry about the moon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fate is full of fat

A recent study found that posting the caloric content of fast food does not make any difference in what people order.

Come on. If you go to a place that fries or deep-fat fries everything on the menu, it's safe to conclude that the food contains a lot of -- yes -- fat.

Double maximize the order with a gallon of sugary soft drink, three or four patties of beef, or whatever that stuff is, top it all off with mayonnaise, or some other equally fattening, oily, condiment, and in one meal you exceed the number of calories you require for a day and a half, you get a month's worth of fat, and more sodium than you can shake a salt shaker at.

The problem with this study, at least as it was explained in a newspaper, is that by "posting," fast food places mean that the numbers are available if you search long enough and with a magnifying glass.

Some franchises list nutritional details in handy take-home folders, that the staff never places in your bag. Others have them on the wall, but the letters and numbers are only visible if you have a step ladder.

What we need is something that is chewy, like meat, that tastes like meat, and that contains something that feels like fat, and something else that tastes salty but isn't. Or foods like french fries could be cooked in highly pressurized and superheated helium.

McDonald's had a non-meat hamburger a few years ago. It wasn't bad, basically because it was slathered with mayo and ketchup, and loaded with pickles, lettuce, and so on. But it disappeared quietly. No one noticed.

Is there not some method to render tofu into an ersatz hamburger, a convincing one? There's got to be a way. Soybeans are certainly less expensive than beef. Do it right and no one would know the difference.

Because, as we now know, no one looks at the ingredients or the calories.