Lethal Logic

The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments challenging the use of lethal injections to carry out executions in the United States. The case under consideration comes from Kentucky, where two death row inmates argue that the three-drug-injection-method used widely in executions across the country can cause unnecessary pain and suffering.

Now let me make sure I have this straight. The same country that defends its right to waterboard prisoners is worried that killers it sentences to death are going to suffer first? So prisoners we expect to live can suffer, but those who we’re going to kill anyway should be spared any agony?

There are lots of good reasons to oppose the death penalty, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume that as a people we are intent to kill bad people.Why are we concerned that their final moments might be in agony? I’m sure their victims didn’t get 3-drug cocktails and die painless deaths. Isn’t the whole eye-for-an-eye mentality the death penalty is based on founded on the notion of making criminals suffer in retaliation for their crimes?

And while I’m on a rant, something else about this doesn’t make sense. I’ve (unfortunately) been to the vet on several occasions where I had to have a beloved pet put to sleep. The animal gets a single injection and within seconds passes peacefully. The physiology isn’t so different that this same procedure can’t work on a human. If humanely dispatching criminals is the real goal here, why not just take them to the vet?

Santa Tech

The following has been roaming the Internet since before the first web browser was built. It examines why Santa doesn’t exist from a hard science point of view.

How Engineers Spoil Christmas

There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist (except maybe in Japan) religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the population reference bureau).

At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming there is at least one good child in each. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stocking, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him to get back up the chimney, into the sleigh and get onto the next house. This, of course, would explain why no one has ever seen him.

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks.

This means Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second or 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a pokey 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized LEGO set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the “flying” reindeer can pull 10 times the normal amount, the job can’t be done with eight or even nine of them – Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

A mass of nearly 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance, which would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 mps in .001 seconds, would be subjected to acceleration forces of 17,000 g’s. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrous considering all the high calorie snacks he must have consumed over the years) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Therefore, if Santa did exist, he’s dead now.

Merry Christmas

Also, back before the dawn of modern computing, I wrote a rebuttal to this which was posted on what was then “net news”. It too has been roaming the Internet ever since, and was even printed by the San Jose Mercury Sun Times newspaper back around 1993. For the sake of completeness, or maybe just old times… I’ll reprint it here:

– Tim Nichols

I feel it necessary to respond to the attack on the existance of Santa circulating the net lately. The attack argued using Newtonian physics that Santa couldn’t exist given the sheer volume of gifts to be delivered in the time allowed. I find that view myopic.

What if Santa were in fact a time traveller from the 24th century? What if he wound up on our present day Earth by having his shuttlecraft fall through a temporal distortion? (This is a very probable happening as television tells us space is just rife with this sort of plot device.)

Our traveller chose to land and live at the North Pole as he didn’t want to risk influencing the present and hence disrupt his own future. But boredom set in as it will, and based on his extensive knowledge of history he decided to bring the myth of Santa to life.

In an effort to look really cool, he gave the shuttle a rag-top conversion and a red paint job and called it his sleigh. The National Geographic photographers in the area bought this, but then they’d been out in the cold for a very long time. “Santa” explained the warp nacelles as magic runners on his sleigh. (After all, as the Paclids say, “They make him go.”)

Now, with his Warp 2 capable sleigh he was more than able to visit all the children in one night. Force fields explain away all the heat dissipation difficulties, and the inertial dampers solve all those nasty acceleration problems. (My nephew calls them “inertial dampeners” but I think that’s just another name for your bladder.)

Of course he doesn’t haul all those toys from the North Pole. He simply replicates them using the on-board matter replicator. This makes more sense than trying to justify how elves make Nintendo cartidges anyway.

I’m not certain of the point of the reindeer. Perhaps they are just 8 plastic lawn ornaments he’s using as dashboard clutter. Kind of the 24th century equivalent of the plastic Jesus. I’ve never really understood geezer-cool anyway.

The only remaining hole is trying to figure out how Santa knows what you want for Christmas. Hmmmm… Well judging by the reported girth of Santa and the well known beard, I might speculate that Santa is really Commander Riker. This could make Counselor Troy Mrs. Claus. With her empathic abilities she could sense whether you’ve been bad or good and know what to get you in either case. The fact she’s only half empath could also explain why sometimes Santa’s insight is a little fuzzy and you get socks when what you really wanted was Hot Wheels.

So you see, Santa can exist. He just needs better technology.

Waking the Monster

We took our annual getaway weekend sans kids this past weekend. Just a quick trip to Niagara Falls to walk among the Christmas Lights and feel the icy mist on our faces. We stayed at the Fallsview hotel with a beautiful room overlooking, not surprisingly, the Falls.

The hotel was connected to several adjacent buildings containing shops, restaurants, an arcade, an indoor waterpark (why didn’t we bring the kids again?), and of course, Casino Niagara.

The first day there we walked through the casino to get to the comedy club’s box office where we got tickets for the following night. On the way through, Kim went on explaining how she didn’t get the whole gambling thing. Why did people think it was fun? And how could all these people possibly be having a good time. So I popped $5 in a slot machine and had her sit. She pushed the buttons and pulled the lever over and over, but there were no bells and lights so she left non-plussed.

So the next day, after touring Ripley’s museum and a collection of the world’s most notorious criminals… A side note… With the exception of Jack the Ripper apparently all the world’s most notorious criminals are Americans. None are Canadian. Just an interesting tidbit I learned in Canada. It was also a bit odd to see all the shop signs saying “US money accepted at par”. My how far we’ve fallen. But I digress.

We had a lovely dinner and headed toward the comedy club for the show. We were a bit early so I popped $10 into a video poker machine and she watched as I played. I hit a couple of good hands and was soon up to $22. She was aglow. I cashed out and we went to the show. But only after assuring her we could come back out and play again afterwards. We did. And she cheered out loud every time she won more than a $1, much to the delight of the people sitting near her. We finished the evening up a total of $2, which I consider a pretty good evening, providing you exclude my bar tab.

Now back home, as we parted, she made a point of saying that maybe we could go to the casino again sometime. Oh what evil have I done?