August Recap

In case you missed a post or two this month, here’s a quick recap of what I wrote about during the month of August:

Questions I Asked –

Who Invented The Chair? – It is something I have never thought about before, but it may just be the most important question ever asked during a Wonder Why Wednesday post.

Where is Sesame Street Located? – Now I can tell you how to get to Sesame Street.

Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer? – Hint: the term “dog days of summer” has nothing to do with dogs lying around in the heat.

How Big Is A Rainbow? – If you are anything like me, your mind will start to wander after you read ice cream cone in the post.

Why Is There Traffic? – Americans spend 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. Find out why.

Things We Learned –

The One Time To Procrastinate – If there is one thing we need to learn to procrastinate about, it is tomorrow’s problems.

What Happens When We Look For Roadblocks – When we are driving, it is important to look for roadblocks. Not spotting them can take a chunk out of your bumper and your wallet. In other aspects of our life though, looking for roadblocks may actually be harmful.

What Inspired The Post About Roadblocks – In order to let the readers into the parts of my brain that are missing, I came up with an idea that will show how I came up with the idea for certain posts.

What Once In A Lifetime Looks Like – Just don’t stare directly at it.

What Johnny Cash Can Teach Us About Worrying – From his very expensive to do list.

Fun With Numbers –

Top 10 Lines From The Elements of Style –  My brother is not a fan of #1.

5 Science-Backed Ways to Have a Healthier Weekend – Fun fact: Research shows that people log the least amount of exercise Friday through Sunday, while bacon, beer and French fry consumption spike.

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Why Is There Traffic?

Picture this…

You are cruising down the freeway, minding your own business and rocking out to the latest Taylor Swift song. Just a nice, casual drive to the mall. Everything is going great until you notice some traffic up ahead.

“Uh oh,” you think, “there must be an accident.”

Five Taylor Swift songs later, you are still inching along through the traffic. This accident must be big.

All of a sudden, cars start to move. Poof! The traffic jam is over. But wait. There was no major accident. No police cars. Not even a fender-bender.

“What? How could that happen?” you ask T-Swift. She just tells you to shake it off.

But you can’t just shake it off. You want answers! What the heck just happened? How was there no accident? What caused that traffic?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I will answer those questions and more in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday.

Why is There Traffic When There’s No Accident?

Has the above scenario happened to you? I’m guessing it has. According to The Atlantic, Americans spend 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. With all that time spent in traffic, we are bound to run into a few instances where the traffic appears to have no cause.

But actually, the cause is quite easy to explain.

To answer this question, a Japanese research group set up circular track with a circumference of 230m. They put 22 cars on the road and asked the drivers to go steadily at 30km/h around the track. Initially, there were no problems. But as soon as a driver altered his speed, things changed and led to brief standstills.

Yuki Sugiyama, physicist from Nagoya University, said, “Although the emerging jam in our experiment is small, its behavior is not different from large ones on highways. When a large number of vehicles, beyond the road capacity, are successively injected into the road, the density exceeds the critical value and the free flow state becomes unstable.”

So basically, traffic jams that are not caused by accidents are simply the result of there being too many cars on the road.

HowStuffWorks.com calls these types traffic jams, “network overload.” They echo the findings of the Japanese researchers and explain that it boils down to demand outweighing capacity. Just as your computer slows down when you have too many programs open at once, highways and roads are slowed down because of too many drivers.

The site breaks down the occurrences of traffic in two areas: network overload and traffic disturbances.

Traffic disturbances are the accidents, collisions, and breakdowns. According to the 2007 Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute, this type of traffic accounts for between 52 and 58 percent of the delays motorists experience

So the other 42 to 48 percent, or roughly 17 hours of the year you spend in traffic is caused by network overload.

17 hours of year sitting in phantom traffic. That is a lot of Taylor Swift songs to listen to. Don’t worry. Shake it off.

What Johnny Cash Can Teach Us About Worrying

Do you keep a to do list? If so, you have something in common with Johnny Cash.

In December 2010, one of Johnny Cash’s to-do list sold at auction for $6,250.

Johnny cash to do list

It is fun to see the things he had on his list. Some are funny, like “pee.” Some are surprising, like “practice piano.” I guess even the great ones need to be reminded to practice their craft (and go to the bathroom).

What stood out to me was #8 “worry.”

I can’t be sure why Cash put worry on his list of things to do, so I am going to speculate for a minute. Suppose Cash knew that in the course of his day it would be inevitable that he would worry about something. By adding “worry” to his to do list, he may have been creating a preemptive strike.

He wasn’t going to let worry creep up on him. He was going to schedule it into his day and then be done. Maybe he thought that if he had it on his to do list, it would be easier to check it off and move on to something more important, like visiting his mother.

Again, I don’t know why “worry” was on his list, anymore than I know why “cough” was on the list. But maybe, just maybe, Cash was telling himself to worry about today, today and save tomorrow’s worries for tomorrow.

How Big Is A Rainbow?

Rainbows are pretty amazing things. We have urban legends about them, viral videos featuring them, and even cereals based on them.

But how much do we really know about rainbows?

I, for one, know very little. I know they are colorful (kinda like hipsters) and they like to come out in the rain (kinda like hipsters).  But, honestly, I don’t spend much time thinking about them (unlike hipsters, apparently).

Until now.

Wonder Why Wednesday: How Big Is A Rainbow?

Before I could figure out if it is possible to measure a rainbow, I had to determine just exactly what a rainbow is. Here’s what I learned,

Rainbows appear when light originating from the sun is refracted and reflected by small water droplets suspended in the air.”

Next, I had to look up what refracted means.

After that, I learned that the size of a rainbow has more to do with how we see it than actual length. The size we see depends on three things: how many particles there are for light to refract off, the angle in which it reaches the eye, and any objects that obscure the view of the rainbow.

Finally, after much searching on the Internet, I learned that measuring the actual size of a rainbow is very, very difficult. One site puts it this way:

It’s probably not impossible, but it is difficult. A rainbow looks circular because it’s basically the circle where a cloud of rain droplets intersects with your cone of vision, like the circle on the end of an ice-cream cone. Imagine said ice-cream cone with the point in your eye (don’t actually try this experiment unless you’re looking for a career in piracy). Now make the cone bigger and bigger until the round end hits the cloud of raindrops that are reflecting the sun’s light. The big circle on the end of that cone is where the rainbow appears to be — as someone else pointed out, you can only see the top half of it (because the other half is below the surface of the earth). The raindrops reflect light at about a 40 degree angle, so you can calculate the diameter of the circle if you also know the height of the cone (because the height of the cone, the radius of the circle, and the 40 degree angle are all part of a right angled triangle). The challenge is knowing the height of the cone, which is how far away the cloud of raindrops is from you. If you can work that out then, yes, you can measure the diameter of the rainbow (diameter = (2*distanceToCloud) / tan 40).”

Now, if you are anything like me, your mind started to wander after you read ice cream cone. But he’s what I think we learned:

  • we only see half of a rainbow, the other half is underground
  • we can determine the size of a rainbow if we can figure out its height
  • to find out the height, we need to know how far we are from the cloud of raindrops
  • not sure how you do that, but if you can, then you use the following equation: diameter = (2*distanceToCloud) / tan 40

Got all that?

In short, rainbows are really complicated and figuring out their size is probably not worth our brainpower.

 

Sources: Scientific AmericanAsk PhilosophersAnswers.com

 

5 Science-Backed Ways to Have a Healthier Weekend

Many times, I will read something online and immediately think, “that was great, I wish I wrote it.” I may not have written it, but I can still share it. Here’s the latest…

5 Science-Backed Ways to Have a Healthier Weekend by Brianna Steinhilber

We are just hours from the weekend, so the timing of this article is perfect. Steinhilber presents a great science-based argument for how all our hard work during the week can “be completely derailed by the short span of time between happy hour on Friday and Sunday brunch.”

Some of the most interesting points include:

  • A study from Cornell University found that people tend to weigh a little bit more on Mondays than they do on Fridays.
  • Every one hour that sleep is shifted, we increase our risk of heart disease by 11 percent.
  • Research shows that people log the least amount of exercise Friday through Sunday, while bacon, beer and French fry consumption spike.
    Research shows that people log the least amount of exercise Friday through Sunday, while bacon, beer and French fry consumption spike.

For more great insight and helpful tips, you can read the entire article here.

Once In A Lifetime

This Monday, August 21, the United States will get a once in a lifetime opportunity. For the first time since 1918, a total solar eclipse will cross the country from sea to shining sea.

For those of you like me whose only knowledge about space is the name of George Jetson’s dog, a total eclipse is when the Earth, moon and sun all align, and the moon appears to block out the sun.

Eclipses happen all the time, but total eclipses are rare. Apparently it is harder to get the Earth, moon and sun to act together than it is Congress! Zing! That might be my first political joke ever and I know so little about politics that I am not even sure if it made sense. Is Congress being difficult still a thing?

Anywho, total eclipses don’t happen everyday. And the fact that it is happening in the U.S. is even more rare. Total eclipse events take place about  every year in the world, but America hasn’t had one since February 26, 1979. That year only a few people got to see it because it was only visible in Washington before traveling east to North Dakota and then moving into Canada.

And as I mentioned earlier it has been since 1918 that the total eclipse will go from coast to coast.

What is called the “path of totality” will cover a 70-mile wide path from Oregon to South Carolina. Side note, “path of totality” sounds like a great name for a movie with The Rock.

Those in the path will be witness to one of nature’s most impressive sights. And many people are expected to witness this once in a lifetime event.

Michael Zeiler, an eclipse cartographer estimates that between 1.85 million and 7.4 million people may commute into the path of totality.

Imagine 20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across the nation,” said Zeiler.

First of all, 1.85-7.4 million is strange range. How did they come up with that number? And are you really allowed to have a guess that includes a buffer of nearly 6 million? If you got stopped by the cops and told them you had somewhere between 2 and 8 drinks, they would definitely arrest you.

Second of all, Zeiler said it will be like 20 Woodstocks. Is he just saying that because there was so much drug usage that people thought they saw the sun being blacked out?

But I digress again. I promise there is a point to this post.

The point is that people are traveling great lengths to take in the total eclipse. Hotels are sold out, crazy traffic is expected and people from Goreville, Illinois have no clue what is about to hit their town.

People see a once in a lifetime chance and are seizing the opportunity.

Wouldn’t that be nice if we did that everyday?

Each day we let opportunities go to waste because we don’t act on them. We miss the chance to ask out the girl, start the book or eat pancakes for dinner. Maybe each one isn’t the only chance we will ever get. Or maybe it will. I know one thing, the more we let opportunities pass by, the more likely they become once more in a lifetime moments.

If only we had the power of NASA pinpointing the exact time and place we need to Carpe the Diem. I bet 1.85 to 7.4 million people would act then.

Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?

Recently, in my discussion of why schools have summer break I wrote, “There was no extra work to be found in the dog days of summer.” As soon as I wrote that, I wondered, “why do we call them the ‘dog days’ of summer?”

Here’s the answer…

Wonder Why Wednesday: Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?

According to National Geographic, the term “dog days of summer” has nothing to do with dogs lying around in the heat. The phrase stems from ancient Greek astrology.

As Wonderopolis confirms, the ancient Romans called the hottest, most humiddays of summer “diēs caniculārēs” or “dog days.” The star Sirius is associated with the hottest days of summer, and Sirius is known as the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Sirius also happens to be the brightest star in the night sky.

Because it is the brightest star, Romans thought it radiated an extra amount of heat toward Earth, causing hotter temperatures.

Romans considered from about July 24 to around August 24 to be the dog days of summer. Today, The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the dog days of summer as being July 3 until August 11.

Top 10 Lines From The Elements of Style

This year, I have highlighted the top 10 lines from a few great books about writing (here, here & here). With so many wonderful writing books to read, I figure I will keep these top 10 lists coming.

This month’s top 10 comes from The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White.

Here are what I found to be the book’s top 10 lines:

#10 –

Omit needless words.”

#9 –

The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up.”

#8 –

Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand.”

#7 –

Do not explain too much. It is seldom advisable to tell all.”

#6 –

No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.”

#5 –

When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.”

#4 –

Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.”

#3 –

Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.”

#2 –

Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.”

#1 –

Avoid fancy words. avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, they coy and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy.”

Where is Sesame Street Located?

I’ve always been terrible with directions. If not for the GPS on my phone, I doubt I’d ever get anywhere. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.

Once in junior high, my parents were late to pick me up from basketball practice and my coach offered to take me home. Only one problem. For the life of me, I could not describe how to get to my house.

Outside of knowing the city, I could not provide any other important facts, like crossroads or even zip code. It was not as if we had just moved houses. I had been driven to that same house for years but was unable to recall how to get there.

In my defense, I was just a kid. At that point in my life, the only place I had asked to locate was how to get to Sesame Street. And I didn’t know how to get there either.

Eventually I learned my crossroads, my zip code and figured out where the heck I lived.

The other day I was watching this Kid President video featuring Grover from Sesame Street and it got me thinking…where is Sesame Street? I realized that although I had figured out how to locate my own home, I had never uncovered the answer that the show’s intro asks, “can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”

Luckily that is what Wonder Why Wednesday is for.

Where is Sesame Street Located?

According to Wikipedia, the fictional Sesame Street is set to represent a Manhattan street in a neighborhood of New York City. However, the show’s creators disagree on the specific neighborhood where you can find Big Bird, Bert and Ernie.

Art director Victor DiNapoli thinks that it is supposed to be located on the Upper West Side. The show’s founder, Joan Ganz Cooney, stated in 1994 that she originally wanted to call the show 123 Avenue B, after the Alphabet City area of the Lower East Side and East Village.

So the exact location is undetermined.

My 12-year old self would be able to relate to that.

This Is What Inspired Today’s Post About Roadblocks

Every now and then I will get the following question:

Where do you come up with ideas for your blog posts?”

Sometimes it is said with appreciation — like how did you come up with that gem. Other times it is said with abomination — like what part of your brain is missing that made you come up with that dud.

In order to let the readers into the parts of my brain that are missing, I came up with an idea that will show how I came up with the idea for certain posts.

On certain days I will post two items. One will be the regular article, story or recap. The second will be an explanation about how the first post came about. I will try to break down where the idea originated, why I wanted to write about it and how it all came together.

Here’s the first one about today’s post Looking For Roadblocks:

The idea all started when I was watching a YouTube video of Dave Ramsey interviewing Mark Cuban. Cuban was talking about Shark Tank and how the show demonstrates that anyone can start a business and achieve the American Dream. From there he said the following:

Ideas are easy…What good is an idea if you don’t believe in it and you have to believe in it enough to take those first steps…When you have an idea and you get some confirmation of the idea you start looking for roadblocks because people are afraid to do the work or they are afraid to take those steps.”

That quote resonated with me. Probably because I am in the middle of working on a new book and am filled with all those fears that Cuban mentioned.

I figured that if two millionaires are talking about it, maybe us regular folk could learn from it. I can’t be the only one who has those thoughts.

That convinced me that the topic was post-worthy so I started thinking about how I could write about this topic (actually, I first had to Google if roadblock was one word or two words. Once I had that answer I was ready to begin). One way was to just post the video. That would have been fine, but I wanted to write a little more that that. So I had to find a way to tell a story in which I could incorporate Cuban’s idea.

Right around that time, I nearly crashed my car into a roadblock. Yes, that is an actual story. Maybe it was perked up a bit to get your attention — like the part about wiping the sweat off my forehead. Chances are I was already sweaty prior to the roadblock because it is summer in Arizona and I am a generally sweaty person. But the point remains the same.

So I had my overall point. Then I had my way to convey the point. Now all I needed was the ability to get past the roadblocks that were trying to convince me that the post would be no good.

I figured if I couldn’t get past that for this post then I would never be able to.

So here we are. That is how that blog post came about.

 

Side note: You can watch the entire Ramsey & Cuban interview here.