Lesson #305: Shuffled cards

I love being reminded of how small I am in the grander scheme of the universe; I find it oddly reassuring.* So when I learned today’s lesson, my brain kind of exploded in a totally awesome way.

It is highly improbable, to the point of near impossibility, that any** standard decks of cards have ever been or will ever be randomly shuffled to come out in the same configuration. Ever. In the history of the entire universe.

When you look at it mathematically, it seems kind of impossible that this is the case. I remember algebra; it’s just 52 factorial. I busted out the calculator; it turns out, though, that 52! comes out to 8 x 1067. I don’t actually know what that means on the larger scale, so I went to the interwebs and asked it to tell me what that looks like in a number.  It looks like this: 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824, 000,000,000,000

Just for a little bit of perspective, assuming science is correct in its assertion that the universe is 13.77 billion years old, there have been roughly 434,538,871,020,000,000 (give or take a few trillion) seconds in the history of the universe. Even if you convert that to nanoseconds, you still don’t even come close (434,538,871,020,000,000,000,000,000) to the number of possibilities that exist in shuffling every deck of cards that has ever and will ever be made.

To recap: there are 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,070,902,012,257,824, 000,000,000,000 more ways to shuffle a single deck of cards than there have been nanoseconds in the entire 13.77 billion year history of the ENTIRE EFFING UNIVERSE.

So…yeah. Science.

*I find I’m not in the majority on this. One of my closest friends refuses to talk about it because it makes her feel like she doesn’t matter. Nihilistic as it is, I think that’s kind of the point.

**Serio, any standard deck of cards ever.


Lesson #190: Earth’s Heights and Depths

I found this website while browsing today. Nothing spectacular or mind blowing…it’s just neat. But I did learn the highest flying bird (Ruppell’s Vulture*) and that sunlight penetrates water to about 3900 feet (900m).

*As an aside, even the BBC links to Wiki. I’m not sure how to take that.

Lesson #169: What the Americans Drink

This is completely independent of last week’s post on the Canadians’ awe-inspiring juice guzzling abilities, I promise. I just happened to stumble on this map of the distribution of American drinking today.

Montanans drink the most per capita. I only know one Montanan and he’s a good drinker, so I guess I can go with that. Utahans drink the least per capita, which should surprise exactly no one. I don’t know any Utahans, though my Montanan friend currently lives in Utah.

Oddly, New Yorkers drink very little on average. And apparently the no tax thing in New Hampshire has a lot of people boozing it up there (though I wonder how much of that purchased beer is actually consumed by New Hampshirites  — -ians? -ans? New Hampshans? — and how much of it is taken back down to Massachusetts.) The Nevada number is sort of a misnomer given that Vegas is in Nevada and we all know about Vegas.

Not surprisingly, much of the bible belt falls under the less alcohol consumed than the more. Also not surprising is the tidbit that  Reno has the highest rate of alcoholism. I’ve been to Reno, I get it.

A little surprising…under Kentucky law, most of the lushes I know are still sober! Under Kentucky law, I’ve been drunk twice.

Lesson #115: Maple Syrup Production

I am a fan of maple syrup (the boiled down from maple sap kind, not the maple flavoured corn syrup kind, which is not maple syrup). It, along with mustard and mayo, is one of the condiments that I couldn’t live without.

Anyway, I learned today that apart from its health benefits and being generally tasty and awesome (both of which I knew), the vast majority of maple syrup (about 75% of the world’s production) is produced in Quebec.  Canada produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup and the US produces the rest. A few more interesting facts about maple syrup…which is more about numbers than how to actually make it; I know how it’s made.*

It takes 30-50 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup (which weighs 11 pounds). Sugar makes up about 2% of maple sap (the rest is water), but maple syrup is at least 66% sugar. Generally speaking, trees are at least 30 years old and at least 12 inches in diameter before they’re tapped. They can be tapped up to four times and tapping does no permanent damage to the trees. The average output of a tap is 10 gallons of sap per season.** The season runs about eight weeks, but the highest production is over 10-20 days in the early spring.***

*My paternal grandfather taught my brother and me how to make it one spring when I was 8 or 9. Not that I have ever had the opportunity to put this knowledge to use in the intervening years, but in a pinch,# I’m pretty sure I could replicate the feat.

#Read: some tragic alternate reality wherein I survive a nuclear holocaust a la By the Waters of Babylon and knowledge of maple syrup production is lost or, you know, it gets outlawed. I would totally break the law for maple syrup.

**Basically, one fully tapped tree will produce a gallon of maple syrup.

***More information here and here.

Lesson #96: Hydroelectric Power

I stumbled on this video today and it is fascinating. This guy’s job is to keep 1.5 million housewives from shorting out all of Britain after EastEnders airs. And probably other stuff too, but that’s what the video covers. Now, go watch the video and I’ll wait.

Back? Good. How awesome was that?

Anyway, a propos of this guy having to keep Britain from sinking into complete darkness, a lesson on hydroelectric power. The first house ever to be lit with hydroelectricity was Cragside House in Northumberland in 1878. In 1882, the first buildings (two paper mills and a house) in the US were being lit with hydroelectric power drawn from Wisconsin’s Fox River. Today, hydroelectricity accounts for about 20% of the world’s power usage and 88% of it’s renewable energy usage.

This video is a good short explanation of how hydroelectricity works. Basically, rain and snow melt and run into rivers. The dams on these rivers funnel the water through it into a powerhouse, which is where the turbines are. The water turns the turbines, which in turn sets a shaft into motion that rotates a series of magnets past big copper coils in a generator. The electricity gained from this process is then sent along power lines and into your house. Or flat. Or whatever. In situations where more power is suddenly needed, water stored at the top of the dam is released to create extra electricity.*

For more, see here** and here.

**While the note this site makes about hydroelectric power being more reliable than other natural sources (specifically wind in this case), is generally accurate, I find that’s not necessarily true depending on the geography. Where I lived in Texas has the second highest average wind speed (according to the National Climatic  Data Centre, 13.5 MPH) in the United States and very little water. As a result, it makes sense that one would erect wind farms (there are several in the area) to supply renewable power.

Lesson #10: The Roswell Commute

Relax, it’s not what you think. I’m not about to go all alien conspiracy on you, I promise.

This is going to be a short post today. I’m packing and doing laundry and cleaning up my room and other assorted things one does when one is preparing to fly 6 hours over an ocean in 18 hours.

Autobiographical note: I once drove to Roswell in the middle of the night (and got lost) and the next afternoon was subjected to a rant from a townie over a generally awful diner lunch about how Louisiana is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. This is actually a true, scientifically proven issue, but it was one of the more confusing moments of my life. Apparently, my grandchildren are going to be sorry I didn’t write to my congressman.


According to the US Census Bureau, in 2006, Roswell had a population of 45,582 (of whom at least one is a little bit crazy and likes to shout at girls minding their own business in diners.) There are a whole lot of other boring statistics, but I like this one…the average commute for the people of Roswell is 16.2 minutes. The average American commute? 25.5 minutes.* For the states I’ve lived in, the average commutes in four are significantly higher than the national average, one is .1 minute under the national average and the other is three minutes below it.

Side note on New Mexico: There are 15 people for every square mile in New Mexico. The nationwide average? 79.6.

*US Census Bureau information on Roswell can be found here.