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Upside-Down Map

11 Comments and 20 Shares
Due to their proximity across the channel, there's long been tension between North Korea and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Southern Ireland.
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tomazed
1726 days ago
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I love how Japan is so close to spain and that UK must now fear for Kim Jong Un nuclear alert :p
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9 public comments
lyssandcrossbones
1724 days ago
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I love crazy maps so hard.
Portland, Oregon
PromWTX
1726 days ago
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Test
jtgrimes
1726 days ago
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I really want to play Risk on this map.
Oakland, CA
Covarr
1726 days ago
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Heh, this one reads like a Clickhole article.
Moses Lake, WA
fancycwabs
1726 days ago
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The folks in Vancouver and Seattle taking a ferry over to Cuba is distinctly unfair.
Nashville, Tennessee
sjk
1726 days ago
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ZOMG! Imagine the "Global Climate Change" (tm)! The cold places are warm. The warm places are cold. Polar bears swimming in equatorial waters! The stone heads of Easter Island pointing the opposite direction!
Florida
alexjurkiewicz
1726 days ago
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Alt: "Due to their proximity across the channel, there's long been tension between North Korea and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Southern Ireland."
Sydney, Australia
alt_text_bot
1726 days ago
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Due to their proximity across the channel, there's long been tension between North Korea and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Southern Ireland.
bobbymhr
1726 days ago
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What happens to the undersea cables!
jtgrimes
1726 days ago
They become such a tangled mess that they are indistinguishable from the cables under my desk.

Heartbleed Explanation

27 Comments and 116 Shares
Are you still there, server? It's me, Margaret.
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tomazed
2061 days ago
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crystal clear
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Jerom
2059 days ago
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Я больше шар не видел. Супер пост.
Moscow, Russia
josephwebster
2064 days ago
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This is actually a very good explanation.
Denver, CO, USA
Tobiah
2064 days ago
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XKCD explains heartbleed
San Jose, California
Lacrymosa
2065 days ago
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good simple explanation of heartbleed
Boston, MA
jchristopherslice
2065 days ago
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Computer Science 101
Clemson, SC
expatpaul
2066 days ago
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The best explanation of Heartbleed I've seen.
Belgium
chrisminett
2066 days ago
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xkcd does it again!
Milton Keynes, UK
katster
2066 days ago
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Simple is good.
Sactown, CA
mitthrawnuruodo
2067 days ago
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Best explanation, yet.
Wherever
mrnevets
2067 days ago
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Heartbleed: a simple explanation. It affected a huge number of websites. Be safe and change your passwords!
macjustice
2067 days ago
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Best explanation yet.
Seattle
jkevmoses
2067 days ago
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Great explanation of Heartbleed that is causing internet security issues all over the place.
McKinney, Texas
srsly
2067 days ago
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You know I'm only sharing this because I've never seen a story this shared before. 56 people! 57 now.

I should get back to work.
Atlanta, Georgia
grammargirl
2067 days ago
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Clearest explanation I've seen by FAR.
Brooklyn, NY
smadin
2067 days ago
yeah, I think this does a very good job of making clear JUST HOW BAD this is.
glindsey1979
2067 days ago
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If you aren't a techie, this will explain the Heartbleed bug to you super-simply.
Aurora, IL
chrispt
2067 days ago
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Perfect explanation of how Heartbleed works.
37.259417,-79.935122
aaronwe
2067 days ago
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Perfect.
Denver
sfringer
2067 days ago
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In a nutshell!
North Carolina USA
JayM
2067 days ago
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.
Atlanta, GA
adamgurri
2067 days ago
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nice
New York, NY
bgschaid
2067 days ago
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You can’t explain it simpler and more to the point
bogorad
2067 days ago
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Умеет!
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Covarr
2067 days ago
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Ah, now I understand.
Moses Lake, WA
rohitt
2065 days ago
Yes. Clear as a day
revme
2067 days ago
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This actually makes it really clear.
Seattle, WA
teh_g
2067 days ago
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Alt text: Are you still there, server? It's me Margaret.
Roseville, CA

Rocket Golf

4 Comments and 10 Shares

Rocket Golf

Assuming that you have a spaceship in orbit around the Earth, could you propel your ship to speeds exceeding escape velocity by hitting golf balls in the other direction? If so, how many golf balls would be required to reach the Moon?

—Dan (Kanta, Ontario)

It depends how good your swing is.

That sounds glib, but it's sort of true. The answer to this question hinges on exactly how fast you can hit a golf ball.

Sometimes, exact numbers don't matter that much. If my baseball, car, dog, or Zamboni goes a little faster than yours,[1]$20 says they will! it will go a little farther. But that's not how it works in rocket golf. The design of our spaceship turns out to involve an equation where the speed of the golf ball is in the exponent. That means a small change in speed can make a big difference.

The equation in question—which might be my favorite in all of physics—the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation:

\[ \Delta v = v_\text{exhaust} \ln \frac{m_\text{initial}}{m_\text{final}} \]

This equation comes up a lot in What If calculations. I like it both because it says something fundamental about our ability to explore the universe, and because you can use it to get really good at Kerbal Space Program.

With some rearranging, can help us for how much of our ship's weight has to be golf balls:

\[ \frac{\text{Mass of ship plus golf balls}}{\text{Mass of ship alone}} = e ^ \left ( \frac{\text{Ship's change in speed}}{\text{Speed of golf ball}} \right ) \]

Someone who, like me, has never been golfing before, might—after swinging and missing a few times—manage to hit the ball at 120 mph (50 m/s).[2]See Trackman's page on ball speed To get to the Moon from low Earth orbit, you would need enough fuel to add 5,300 m/s to your ship's speed. By putting those numbers into the rocket equation, we can find out how large a sack of golf balls would have to be for the average golfer to reach the Moon. If we plug it in to Wolfram|Alpha ...

... we find that the bag of golf balls will have to be just about exactly 100 billion miles in diameter. That's much, much bigger than our Solar System.[3]As a Fermi rule of thumb, planets in the inner Solar System are 100 million kilometers away and planets in the outer Solar System are a billion kilometers away. Or miles; either one works.

It would also promptly and violently collapse into a black hole.

Fortunately, we should be able to avert that disaster by making relatively small changes to the "120" in that equation. If we increase the golf ball's speed from 120 mph to 150, it shrinks the answer dramatically, and the required number of golf balls would fit snugly between the Sun and Mars. Still too big to avoid a catastrophic collapse, but we're getting somewhere.

Tiger Woods can hit a golf ball at about 180 mph, which means that if he were powering our spaceship, the bag of golf balls would be only twice the diameter of the Sun!

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the record for fastest golf drive is 211 mph, set by Maurice Allen in 2012. This corresponds to a bag of golf balls only 100,000 kilometers across—smaller than Jupiter, but still (obviously) not practical.

However, golfer Ryan Winther claims to have beaten this record, though without Guinness observers there.[4]And, obviously, it doesn't count unless it's overseen by people from a beer company. If you want to set a world record, hit a golf ball at a radar gun and get it certified by the Mike's Hard Lemonade people. His ball speed was measured by something called the "Titleist Performance Institute" to be 226.7 mph, and he claims a personal best of 237 mph. If he could consistently hit 237 mph, we could shrink our fuel container down to the size of Earth[5]Although it would still be large enough to partially collapse under its own gravity, similar to what happened to the mole of moles.

This still wouldn't work; even in a high orbit, the massive tides from your ship—which is much more massive than the Moon—would be highly disruptive.

We could probably shrink the fuel tank further by using "illegal" equipment. There are Superball-style balls and "trampoline face" clubs which can hit much farther, and which would not be permitted in tournament play.[6]On the other hand, we're talking about a sport that brought whites-only clubs with it into the 21st century, and Agusta, host of the Masters, admitted its first woman in 2012. So maybe we shouldn't worry too much about their traditional rules. A hypothetical 270 mph drive would allow a fuel tank the size of the Moon.

At this point, why are we even using a club?

According to research from the US Air Force Academy and BTG Research,[7]Oddly, both researchers have the name "Courtney". There are probably about 200,000 people in the US named Courtney (first or last); maybe we should recruit them to all build potato cannons. a potato cannon fueled by acetylene can launch a potato at 140 m/s (310 mph). If it were capable of launching golf balls at that speed,[8]We're not factoring in the weight of the acetylene—but then again, we also weren't factoring in the weight of the hamburgers the golfer would need to eat to keep hitting those drives. our ship would have a diameter of only 150 miles!

There's the small problem that manufacturing that many golf balls would cost quintillions of dollars. You could bring the size down further by making the potato cannon more and more powerful and efficient, but at that point you're simply building a rocket.

And the potato cannon scenario has an extra perk. If you somehow made the balls durable enough to survive atmospheric entry, and you set up your maneuver so the ejected golf balls covered the middle latitudes evenly, then over the course of this maneuver you would be statistically likely to hit a hole-in-one ... at every golf course in the world.

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tomazed
2112 days ago
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Hole in one! awsome!
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mikejurney
2110 days ago
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"over the course of this maneuver you would be statistically likely to hit a hole-in-one ... at every golf course in the world."
New York, New York
llucax
2111 days ago
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"On the other hand, we're talking about a sport that brought whites-only clubs with it into the 21st century, and Agusta, host of the Masters, admitted its first woman in 2012. So maybe we shouldn't worry too much about their traditional rules."
Berlin
rclatterbuck
2112 days ago
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That is a lot of golf balls. I'm a big fan that he used a packing factor in his equation, rather than just the density of golf balls.

Frequency

13 Comments and 45 Shares
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
FrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequencyFrequency
This comic shows estimated average frequency. I wanted to include the pitch drop experiment, but it turns out the gif format has some issues with decade-long loops.
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tomazed
2119 days ago
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Awsome!
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jchristopherslice
2110 days ago
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amazing
Clemson, SC
Chachafance
2116 days ago
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Genius!
Eufaula, AL
chrisminett
2117 days ago
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Superb
Milton Keynes, UK
brico
2118 days ago
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What universe does he live in that has so few bike thefts?
Brooklyn, NY
shamgar_bn
2119 days ago
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You had me at the blinkers...
Wake Forest, North Carolina
rgsunico
2119 days ago
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Wow.
Quezon City
thelem
2120 days ago
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That's taught me that nearly every time someone edits wikipedia, someone dies. I'm going to be much more careful with my wikipedia edits!
Brighton, UK
joshhsoj1902
2120 days ago
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nicely done!
Ottawa
dc3
2120 days ago
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brilliant
Carlsbad, CA
traggett
2120 days ago
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Title: "This comic shows estimated average frequency. I wanted to include the pitch drop experiment, but it turns out the gif format has some issues with decade-long loops."
Hong Kong
colaco
2120 days ago
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Note: this should be a grid of animated GIFs. To see it you must go xkcd.org.
Amora, Setubal, Portugal

Star Sand

7 Comments and 22 Shares

Star Sand

If you made a beach using grains the proportionate size of the stars in the Milky Way, what would that beach look like?

Jeff Wartes

Sand is interesting.[Citation needed]

"Are there more grains of sand than stars in the sky?" is a popular question which has been tackled by many people. The upshot is that there are probably more stars in the visible universe than grains of sand on all of Earth's beaches.

When people do those calculations, they often dig up some good data on the number of stars, then do some hand-waving about sand grain size to come up with a number for the sand grains on Earth.[1]From a practical point of view, geology and soil science are more complicated than astrophysics. We're not going to tackle that issue today, but to answer Jeff's question, we do need to figure out what the deal with sand is.[2]"i like sand because i don't really know what it is and there's so many of it"

@darth__mouth
Specifically, we need to have some idea of what grain sizes correspond to clay, silt, fine sand, coarse sand, and gravel, so we can understand how our galaxy would look and feel if it were a beach.[3]Instead of just containing a bunch of them.

Fortunately, there's a wonderful chart by the US Geologic Survey that answers all these questions and more. For some reason, I find this chart very satisfying—it's like the erosion geology edition of the electromagnetic spectrum chart.

According to surveys of sand,[4]There are apparently lots of them. the grains found on beaches tend to run from 0.2mm to 0.5mm (with the finest layers on top). This corresponds to medium-to-coarse sand in the chart. The individual grains are about this big:

If we assume the Sun corresponds to a typical sand grain, then multiply by the number of stars in the galaxy, we come up with a large sandbox worth of sand.[5]I mean, you come up with a bunch of numbers, but imagination turns them into a sandbox.

However, this is wrong. The reason: Stars aren't all the same size.

There are a number of widely-circulated YouTube videos comparing star sizes. They do a good job of getting across just how staggeringly large some stars are. Although it's easy to get lost in the videos and lose track of scale, it's clear that some of the grains in our sandbox universe would be more like boulders.

Here's how the main-sequence[6]The stars in the main part of their fuel-burning lifecycle. star-sand grains look:

They mostly fall into the "sand" category, though the larger Daft Punk stars cross the line into "granules" or "small pebbles".

However, that's just the main sequence stars. Dying stars get much, much bigger.

When a star runs out of fuel, it expands into a red giant. Even ordinary stars can produce huge red giants, but when a star that's already massive enters this phase, it can become a true monster. These red supergiants are the largest stars in the universe.

These beachball-sized sand stars would be rare, but the grape-sized and baseball-sized red giants are relatively common. While they're not nearly as abundant as Sun-like stars or red dwarfs, their huge volume means that they'd constitute the bulk of our sand. We would have a large sandbox worth of grains ... along with a field of gravel that went on for miles.

The little sand patch would contain 99% of the pile's individual grains, but less than 1% of its total volume. Our Sun isn't a grain of sand on a soft galactic beach; instead, the Milky Way is a field of boulders with some sand in between.

But, as with the real Earth seashore, it's the rare little stretches of sand between the rocks where all the fun seems to happen.

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tomazed
2125 days ago
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Woohoo, I did get the SandCastle reference ;)
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aaronwe
2125 days ago
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Randall Munroe is a national treasure.
Denver
sleepgoblin
2125 days ago
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Most interesting 99% visualization I've ever seen.
satadru
2125 days ago
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Since when have the images in What If posts all had clever Alt Text?
New York, NY
imightbebill
2125 days ago
Since the beginning. I didn't discover it until fairly recently, and then went back and reread all of them looking at the alt-text.
CallMeWilliam
2125 days ago
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look, its a star size comparision!
gms8994
2125 days ago
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The alt text on the last image is the best!
40291
rclatterbuck
2125 days ago
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Just to be clear, the bottom picture doesn't update every hour.

Automation

21 Comments and 72 Shares
'Automating' comes from the roots 'auto-' meaning 'self-', and 'mating', meaning 'screwing'.
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tomazed
2148 days ago
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Best definition of automating!
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19 public comments
Jadepearl
2137 days ago
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True, true, true.
USA! USA! USA!
Skotte
2141 days ago
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"Automation" is in my job title.
Rochester, Earth
jmoodie
2142 days ago
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I got to be pretty decent at spotting this curve while at UMB, and then avoiding it. But there is no doubt about its existence.
danatnr
2143 days ago
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Yes.
Ohio
yashimii
2146 days ago
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oh so true
linny
2146 days ago
it's really true.
claysmith
2147 days ago
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This is my weakness. I'll gladly write a script or macro to accomplish a repetitive task even though doing the task by hand would take half the time. Coincidently, this is why I use Vim, because it reduces the distance between manual and macro editing. Of course, it took me weeks to set up and learn to use Vim. That's time I'll likely never recoup.
Escondido, CA
devicenull
2147 days ago
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Too often true...
RTP, NC
lrwrp
2148 days ago
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So painfully true.
??, NC
Satri
2148 days ago
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Ah.. The things you own end up owning you...
Montreal, Canada
bsag
2148 days ago
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Horribly true. Been there, done that.
satadru
2148 days ago
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The multi-axial solution is to delegate your yak-shave. Alternately optimize using the "has somebody automated/done this in a good enough fashion" algorithm.
New York, NY
stefanetal
2148 days ago
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How the boss views most projects. And how I view his project proposals...
Northern Virginia
adamgurri
2148 days ago
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Yup
New York, NY
steingart
2148 days ago
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sigh, yes.
Princeton, NJ
JayM
2148 days ago
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Ha. :) For some folks this is definitely true!
Atlanta, GA
taglia
2148 days ago
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Best definition of automation I have ever seen...
Singapore
Jaryth000
2148 days ago
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Related comic: http://xkcd.com/1205/
Canada
amijangos
2148 days ago
My thought exactly, you have a threshold of how much time to invest
oliverzip
2148 days ago
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Explaining the productivity paradox.
Sydney, Balmain, Hornsby.
traggett
2148 days ago
reply
Title text: 'Automating' comes from the roots 'auto' meaning 'self-', and 'mating' meaning 'screwing'.
Hong Kong
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