Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Scatology and lug nuts

You know, I haven't done a long meandering, stream-of-consciousness kind of blog in a while. How about I start off by talking about poop? After all, everyone likes scatology. 


There was a study published this past week in the ironically named journal Soft Matter entitled "Hydrodynamics of defecation". Now that caught my attention. And another thing that really cemented my attention was this quote from the abstract:

Despite the length of rectum ranging from 4 to 40 cm,
mammals from cats to elephants
defecate within a nearly constant duration of 12 ± 7 seconds (N=23). 

Wow. My first reaction was: "Well, none of them have cell phones or tablets!" The article went right down into the bowels of the physics that makes this happen. The findings are really quite unexpected. I mean, elephant dung is ejected at an astounding 0.075 MPH, but mouse dung is only going 0.0075 MPH. They explained the lack of variation on the stopwatch by saying that it was all about mucus. Larger animals have a longer transit system, but also have a lot more mucus to keep the trains moving.

I have 12 seconds to answer the age-old question

But my thoughts went more to "why"? As in, "why would Evolution design elephants to have more mucus?" Of course, that reminded me of another article about animals pooping that I read recently. A vet was asked about why dogs look at their owner when they poop. The explanation given by this vet is that animals are vulnerable when they assume the poopsition. They look to their pack mate (that is, you) in order to be alerted about danger.

So, my explanation is that animals are designed to fit the 12 second rule so as to avoid becoming some other animal's poop.

Pit stop

I started wondering... what else takes 12 seconds? My wife gave me a flippant answer about certain quick activities, but her answer was a bit embarrassing. So I went to Google to find a different answer. Here is an interesting factoid: animals and NASCAR drivers require a 12 second pit stop.

The pressure is intense when you're up against a bear in the woods!

Here is a quote from Greg Morin, who is the coach for a whole passel of pit crews:

Our goal is to hit a 12-second pit stop,
hit five lug nuts off, five lug nuts on (on each wheel) ...
get it full of fuel and ship it down pit road.

Left-handed lug nuts

Which brings me around to lug nuts. Here is a very interesting factoid about lug nuts. Back in the 1960's and into the early 1970's, the wheels on a car were held on with nuts with both left- and right-handed threads. Again, why did Evolution create such a silly design?

Keeping you regular since 1897

I found the answer in a well-written blog post on the MoparMax website entitled "The Mystery of Left-Hand Lug Nuts". The writer of this blog has the clever idea to use clever humor to engage histreader. Wow. I wish I'd thoughta that!

Anyway, here's the backstory. 

When a car is moving forward, the wheels on the right side (passenger side in the U.S.) will rotate clockwise. The wheels on the left side (driver side) will rotate counter-clockwise. When I first articulated that sentence my dog said "Huh? How can they be rotating in different directions?"

I went to the garage to look at my car and it hit me. Not the car, I mean the explanation hit me. The wheels rotate in the same direction, but your point of view changes. If I stand on the driver side and look at the front wheel, and then go on the other side and look at the other front wheel, I actually turn around 180°. Factoid: If you look at a clock from behind, it is running counter-clockwise. Words to live by.

When you accelerate a car, there is a torque applied to the lug nuts because of momentum; a clockwise torque on the passenger side, and a counter-clockwise torque on the driver side. If that torque actually makes the lug nut move with respect to the bolt, then it will tighten the passenger side lug nuts and loosen the driver side ones. Yikes! That don't sound so good.

In 1965, a non-profit firm by the name of the Motor Vehicle Research Center did the seminal study on lug nuts. (No pun intended.) (Well, maybe it was intended.) They hand-tightened some lug nuts and did a little test driving. They found that the lug nuts on the driver side were loosened during the test drive, and eventually fell off. Note that the nuts hand-tightened the nuts.


Chrysler, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac all caught wind of the nutty story and bolted to make a design change. Reverse threaded driver side lug nuts became all the rage from 1955 to 1961.

But they don't do that no more. Why did they change? It's about a little thing called stiction. This is like friction, only it's a frictive force between two objects in contact that makes them resist moving until the force is big enough to overcome the stiction. If I have a book on a table, and I lift one side of the table, the book is initially not inclined to move. As I further incline the table, the book will eventually slide down and drop on my foot. I will say "ouch", which is an equal and opposite reaction, just as Newton would predict.

But the book initially not sliding runs counter to one of Newton's other laws, the "force equals mass times acceleration" law. The book should move a tiny bit when the table is slightly inclined. But stiction is a little thing that lives in the world of non-linear mechanics.

And speaking of mechanics, how do they make use of stiction? They tighten lugs nuts to 20 pounds of torque. That's enough to overcome the torque applied when we accelerate. If they promise to always give 20 pounds of torque, we can let them have all the lugs nuts threaded the same way.

Nuts who are left handed

One of my favorite words is sinistral, right up there with non-eucentric, defenestration, and funicular. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite sentences is "The sinistral man non-eucentrically defenestrated his friend from the funicular." More words to live by.

Sinister, sinistral -- Be careful to use the correct word

Sinstral has a dual meaning. First off, it means left-handed. But did you notice that the word sounds a lot like sinister? That's not a fluke. (Cuz a fluke is something that you don't want to have in your liver.) The two words have the same etymology. From the Online Etymology Dictionary entry on sinister we have this quote: 

Old French senestre, sinistre "contrary, false; unfavorable; to the left" (14c.)

Here we see the mixed meanings. There is an implication that left-handedness runs contrary to the normal order of things. And that left-handed people take too long in the bathroom.

The opposite of sinistral is dextral, or right-handed. Not surprisingly, the word dexterity comes from the same root as dextral. I mean, most people are more adept at tightening lug nuts with their right hand.

The sweet truth

Another word that shares a root with dextral is the word dextrose.

First let me say this. The end of the word (-ose) generally signifies sugar. The sugar in fruit is call ed fructose. The sugar in milk is called lactose. The sugar in malt is called maltose. And the sugar in french fries is called potat-ose. (Pause for groan...)

The Elmer's sauce really holds this gluecumber sandwich together -
an excellent source of glucose!

So dextrose is a sugar. What's with the prefix "dextro-"? It turns out that dextrose polarizes light to the right.

Dextrose, and other sugars really got a bad rap. My doctor tells me that sugar is associated with obesity, diabetes, and ants invading picnics. That's just silly. I have never witnessed an ant going into a diabetic coma at one of my picnics. I won't mention the behavior of any of my aunts at picnics.

High fructose corn syrup has gotten an especially bad rap. We find roughly 400 ounces of HFC in every 12 oz can of Coke. And it is really, really bad. Everyone knows that. It's all calories - no protein or fiber or nutrients. And it really messes with all that insulin stuff going on in our bodies.

(BS warning) But, don't believe any of that stuff. That's just fake science that is funded by the Aspartame Supplier Society. (BS warning) A lot of self-appointed health gurus are advocating that we should use "healthy sugars". While the sucrose that I shovel onto my Sugar Pops every morning may not be all that healthy, that sugar is highly refined. (BS warning) We know that anything that's refined has gotta be bad. The self-appointed health gurus tell us that unrefined sugars are actually good for us, since they contain nutrients. (BS warning) Thus, we should be drinking stuff with agave juice and baking stuff with honey. 

(Returning to my normal BS-free blog style) Honey, agave, turbinado, coconut palm sugar... these all have a minuscule amount of nutrients. But none of them are anywhere near being a health food. All of them are a zillion percent sugar, and too much sugar isn't good for you.

How about molasses?

There are a number of self-appointed health gurus who tout the benefit of molasses:

This is a link to a BS self-appointed guru site
Absolute claptrap on blackstrap
More advice for gullible people

Molasses had it's zenith as a health food with the book Look Younger; Live Longer, in which Gayelord Hauser promised us another five years of youthful life if we eat molasses. Here is a list of all the wonderful claims in the book, as recited in an FDA court case of 1951:


The court case? It seems a health food store was shipped a package containing jars of Plantation brand molasses along with copies of Hauser's book. The book specifically endorsed Plantation molasses. The health food store displayed them together in their window, and used the book to help sell customers molasses. The court found that this constituted misbranding of the molasses. They held that bringing the book and the molasses together constituted labeling of the product, and that the claims were just plain stupid.

Interesting point though... Hauser didn't lose the case, the health food store was on trial. Freedom of speech allows Hauser to sell books with flat-out lies and preposterous health claims, but one cannot be so free when labeling products.

Don't get me wrong—blackstrap molasses does have significant amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B6. But it has no fiber, no fat, and no protein. And it's 75% sugar. If you like the strong flavor, go ahead and indulge. But it's better to look toward yogurt, kale, broccoli, salmon, beans, whole grains, fruits, nuts, bananas, and poultry to get these nutrients.

Here is a YouTube video of some celebs of the time, poking fun at the whole "natural foods" movement:

Coming full circle

I should mention one of the audacious claims by one of the audacious websites pushing audacious health food remedies:

Blackstrap molasses has been
a sweet savior for more than a few sufferers of constipation,
be it chronic or occasional. 

I guess if you get enough molasses in your diet, you can get your pooping down to 12 seconds.

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