Little Bee

I meant to post this a couple of days ago, but time still has a habit of getting away from me. Still, even I can recognise a bumblebee when out walking.

That said, I hadn’t realised that there were over 250 species of the things.


There is an urban myth about the laws of aerodynamics proving that bumblebees can’t fly. This is, of course, nonsense and the origin of this myth is somewhat unclear.

I did hear an anecdote some time ago (which after a bit of digging, I should note is probably wrong) claiming that an engineer at a dinner party performed some rough calculations and concluded that, according to his equations, bumblebees cannot fly. He later realised that he’d failed to take into account of the fact that bumblebees don’t have fixed wings.

Or, as Karl Smallwood puts it for Today I Found Out:

Basically, if you calculate it all assuming bumblebees fly like airplanes, then sure, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. But, of course, bumblebees don’t fly like airplanes.

Smallwood also notes that the fact that scientists are still having to repeatedly prove that bumblebees can fly in order to counter such an obviously nonsensical myth says a lot about the gullibility of people.

Another Five Things

It isn’t easy being a troll. Hand Me Downs is a short story by Maria Haskins.

“We Handed A Loaded Weapon To 4-Year-Olds.” Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. He tells Buzzfeed why he regrets what he did to this day.

Rosie Fletcher at Den of Geek suggests the 2 hour 45 minute running time for It Chapter Two indicates that the horror genre is moving into the mainstream. And that’s a good thing.

Over at Aeon, Matthew Stanley recounts British astronomer and physicist, Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s attempt to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s worth reading not just for the challenges Stanley faced, but also the way in which he managed to craft the subsequent narrative into a symbol of post-war German-British solidarity.

And finally, Alastair Campbell has left the Labour Party and asked Jeremy Corbyn to seriously consider whether he’s really up to the challenges ahead.

How many balloons would it take to launch a flightless duck?

The kids and I were watching an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse the other day, and I found myself wondering how many helium-filled balloons it would take to get Daisy Duck airborne.

It all comes down to buoyancy, of course. Helium is lighter than air and the difference in relative weights will give us the lift needed to launch the duck.

The University of Hawaii’s Chemistry Department provides some handy gas constants:

Standard Temperature and Pressure = 20 degrees C and 760 mm Mercury

STP = 760 mm pressure and 20 C

Weight of air per liter at STP = 1.20 gr/l
Weight of helium per liter at STP = 0.18 gr/l
Net lift per liter of helium at STP = 1.03 gr/l

The volume of a sphere is (4/3)πr3, so a perfectly spherical balloon with a 30cm diameter would have a volume of 14137.166941154 cubic cm, or 14.137 litres. That gives us a lift of 14.56 grams.

The next question is: How much does Daisy Duck weigh?

I’m going to assume that she is a normal size for a duck and, being completely white, probably a pekin which, Wikipedia reveals, grows to a weight of between 3.6 and 5 kilos. Taking the mid-point gives me a weight of 4.3 kilos for Daisy. Or 4300 grams.

That means we would need 296 helium balloons to launch Daisy Duck.

An ode to the father of the electric age

The Oatmeal has an utterly superb cartoon devoted to Nikola Tesla: The greatest geek who ever lived. Normally at this point I would clip a bit of the cartoon to give you a taste of what I mean but this one really does need to be seen in it’s entirety. So go read it now.

One bit I do want to draw some attention to, though, is a remark near the bottom of the cartoon mentioning that July 10th is Nikola Tesla Day. This is the date of his birth and a date worth celebrating.

So geek out on July 10th and make something awesome.

Or, just keep an eye on Wikipedia.

Research Paper of the Day: Religion and Science

The Flying Spaghetti Monster: Impact of magnetic fields on ram pressure stripping in disk galaxies

Not being an astrophysicist, I am relying on The Register’s summary, according to which the researchers suggest that certain combinations of gravity and magnetic fields can cause galaxies to leak long strands of gas.

That’s just the kind of thing one would expect of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), a deity revealed in 2005 which uses a “noodly appendage” to perform its works.

So finally, a deity for which some scientific proof exists.