by Timothy J. Jorgensen, Georgetown University
The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the home microwave oven. The ovens were first sold for home use by Amana corporation in 1967, but they had actually been used for commercial food preparation since the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1967, however, that technology miniaturization and cost reductions in manufacturing made the ovens small enough and cheap enough (a still steep US$495; US$3,575 in 2017 dollars) for use in the kitchens of the American middle class. Now, it would be hard to find a U.S. home without a microwave.
Amana, a subsidiary of Raytheon corporation, actually called their first model the “Radarange” – a contraction of radar and range (as in stove). What do microwave ovens have to do with radar?
Radar is an acronym for “radio detection and ranging.” Developed prior to World War II, the technology is based on the principle that radio waves can bounce off the surfaces of large objects. So if you point a radio wave beam in a certain direction, some of the radio waves will come bouncing back to you, if they encounter an obstruction in their path.
By measuring the bounced-back radio waves, distant objects or objects hidden from view by clouds or fog can be detected. Radar can detect planes and ships, but early on it was also found that rainstorms caused interference with radar detection. It wasn’t long before the presence of such interference was actually utilized to track the movement of rainstorms across the landscape, and the age of modern radar-based weather forecasting began.
At the heart of radar technology is the “magnetron,” the device that produces the radio waves. During World War II, the American military couldn’t get enough magnetrons to satisfy their radar needs. So Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, was tasked with ramping up magnetron production. He soon redesigned the magnetron so that its components could be punched out from sheet metal – like sugar cookies are cut from dough – rather than each part needing to be individually machined. This allowed mass production of magnetrons, raising wartime production from just 17 to 2,600 per day.
One day, while Spencer was working with a live magnetron, he noticed that a candy bar in his pocket had started to melt. Suspecting that the radio waves from the magnetron were the cause, he decided to try an experiment with an egg. He took a raw egg and pointed the radar beam at it. The egg exploded from rapid heating. Another experiment with corn kernels showed that radio waves could quickly make popcorn. This was a remarkably lucky find. Raytheon soon filed for a patent on the use of radar technology for cooking, and the Radarange was born.
As time passed and other companies got into the business, the trademarked Radarange gave way to more generic terminology and people started calling them “microwave ovens,” or even just “microwaves.” Why microwaves? Because the radio waves that are used for cooking have relatively short wavelengths. While the radio waves used for telecommunications can be as long as a football field, the ovens rely on radio waves with wavelengths measured in inches (or centimeters); so they are considered “micro” (Latin for small), as far as radio waves go.
Microwaves are able to heat food but not the paper plate holding it because the frequency of the microwaves is set such that they specifically agitate water molecules, causing them to vibrate rapidly. It is this vibration that causes the heat production. No water, no heat. So objects that don’t contain water, like a paper plate or ceramic dish, are not heated by microwaves. All the heating takes place in the food itself, not its container.
Microwaves have never completely replaced conventional ovens, despite their rapid speed of cooking, nor will they ever. Fast heating is not useful for certain types of cooking like bread-baking, where slow heating is required for the yeast to make the dough rise; and a microwaved steak is no taste match for a broiled one. Nevertheless, as the fast-paced American lifestyle becomes increasingly dependent upon processed foods, reheating is sometimes the only “cooking” that’s required to make a meal. Microwave ovens’ uniform and rapid heating make them ideal for this purpose.
Over the years, there have been many myths associated with microwave cooking. But the truth is that, no, they don’t destroy the food’s nutrients. And, as I explain in my book “Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation,” you don’t get cancer from either cooking with a microwave oven or eating microwaved food. In fact, the leakage standards for modern microwave ovens are so stringent that your candy bar is safe from melting, even if you tape it to the outside of the oven’s door.
Nevertheless, you should be careful about microwaving food in plastic containers, because some chemicals from the plastic can leach into the food. And, yes, you shouldn’t put any metal in the microwave, because metallic objects with pointed edges can interact with the microwaves from the magnetron in a way that can cause electrical sparking (arcing) and consequently damage the oven or cause a fire.
The microwave oven has definitely transformed the way most of us cook. So let’s all celebrate the 50th anniversary of the home microwave and the many hours of kitchen drudgery it has saved us from. But if you want to mark the date with an anniversary cake, best not to cook it in your microwave – you’d likely end up with just a very hot and unappetizing bowl of sweet mush.
Timothy J. Jorgensen, Director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program and Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine, Georgetown University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
by Timothy J. Jorgensen, Georgetown University
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Every fandom has its gloriously diverse and vast fan-fiction with theories that range from the plausible to conspiracy. Star Wars, through the former Expanded Universe (dubbed “Legends”) and the official Canon, is ripe with opportunity for fans to write, speculate, and imagine. My three younger brothers and I constantly engage in this activity, debating the merits of Emperor Palpatine as the murderer of Padme Amidala and the like. But while all of this is fun and engaging, it seems to lack a certain gravity of importance. I asked this question a few weeks ago: if it lacks importance, why do so many love to think and talk about Star Wars? What brings millions to engage in such an activity?
The Hero’s Journey through Space
In order to understand this question, we need to understand the definition of a key word: mythos. A mythos is a common set of stories that can be used to explain the world, and more often provide a foundation for a cultural morality. A mythos is not the equivalent of religion. Religion tends to provide an explicit and prescriptive morality. A mythos provides more of a cornerstone worldview, a basic layer for others to build upon with morality.
Any discussion of mythos has to include the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces elaborated on what’s called the “hero’s journey.” Essentially, the hero’s journey is a basic story structure where a seemingly boring individual rises to become a hero with the aid of mentors and friends, and must brave great adventures and villains. Campbell identified the hero’s journey across all cultures. The same basic myth-narrative is repeated in nearly all geographies and ethnicities. The hero’s journey is, at heart, the common human story repeated everywhere.
This monomyth, as it is called, has been studied and examined ever since Campbell’s work was published in 1949. It’s changed here and there, with different scholars adding different things, but it remains more or less the same. The monomyth can be clearly seen through the Star Wars saga, but it is especially clear in Episode IV: A New Hope.
Luke, a seemingly unbecoming farm boy, is called to the adventure of saving a captured princess from black-cloaked villain, and initially refuses. With the help of a wizardly mentor and a band of equally unbecoming allies, he becomes entrapped in the belly of the beast (the Death Star), from which they escape with their reward (the Death Star plans), but not before Luke endures the pain of watching his mentor (old Ben Kenobi) die. The final trial, destroying the beast, is Luke’s great transformation from the boy on Tatooine to the next generation of warriors (the Jedi Knights).
This is fascinating stuff, and very exciting. Not only was the 1977 cinematic experience great, but the entire saga’s story is wonderful, however much it may be masked by poor dialogue and acting. Film critics have never been a fan of the movies, even for their stories. They say it’s too easy, made for children, cartoonish, etc. I read that as, “This isn’t morally ambiguous, and therefore, it’s not a good story.” Such nihilism is apparently cool, but I don’t buy it. No, the stories aren’t all that complex, but that’s the point. Remember, a mythos is supposed to aid us in developing an understanding of the world from a certain point of view.
Through stories, we lay a foundation to build an ethical code founded in morality. The purpose is to get us to think about how we act and why we act. If we get bogged down in Inception-class complexity, we lose that powerful purpose.
The story in Star Wars is intentionally simple. The characters aren’t stereotypical, but archetypical, and resonate a certain set of traits we can easily identify. It can sometimes feel like a children’s story, but again, that’s the point. The essence of a mythos should make us wonder in awe, tap into our imagination, bring out our inner child. When I watch these movies, I’m like a giddy boy, relishing in the narrative. When the movie is done, it’s almost as if my inner child, having finished the adventure, returns and consults with my adult on what just happened. That’s mythos: the dialogue between wonder and reason.
The Great American Mythos
The master of this myth-creating process was J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He saw that England lacked a true mythos, one separated from reality (thus eliminating anything relating to King Arthur and Beowulf). He set out to create an entire universe he could populate with stories; thus was born Middle Earth. His goal wasn’t necessarily to write great stories (which he did), but to provide an epic universe with histories, a genesis (see: The Silmarillion), and languages with dialects. LOTR has a distinctly English feeling to it, one his countrymen could understand. He wrote it so others could think about the world in a certain way. Some of these stories, like The Hobbit, are so relatable they feel like a children’s story.
Now, George Lucas is no Tolkien. He is a controversial creator, one who nearly destroyed his saga. His storylines can be disjointed, almost contradictory, and he can seem self-serving. Nevertheless, his universe is a fountain of myth, and one that resonates with millions of Americans. Why?
America, at its core, is part of Western Civilization, and relies heavily upon its philosophy and religions. As such, it is greatly influenced by the moral idea that there exists objective good and evil. But we are also a multicultural nation, one that has accepted and welcomed many Eastern philosophies as well. As Americans, we are intrigued by the initially exotic beliefs of the East, and we find a certain tranquility in them. We are drawn toward the idea of a Buddhist monk devoid of personal possession and at peace with everything. We see his balance, and we desire it.
Star Wars seeks to establish a clear dynamic between good and evil: the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, the Jedi and Sith, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. There is great conflict between these easily identified sides (I mean, for crying out loud, the lightsaber colors reveal it all). Yet, the theme of balance is always present. Luke literally balances Yoda on his foot upside down while balancing rocks. C’mon. The Chosen One was to bring balance to the Force, a Force which is at once an inanimate energy field made up of microorganisms, and yet also a personal, willing thing. Is this a contradiction? No, it’s the basis of a mythos worldview.
Americans love a good cops and robbers story, the cowboys and Indians conflict. But we also seek a peaceful tranquility of balance. Star Wars gives us that battle, but simultaneously breathes of a harmonious spirituality. Destiny must be fulfilled in this universe, but personal choice never disappears. Americans, historically, believe they have a duty, a manifest destiny, in the world. But liberty is at our heart too, and we can choose to reject this perceived duty. We are drawn to Star Wars because it mimics what we feel in the first place.
Why does this matter? I believe it is very important for great societies to have a basic cultural commonality. For America, we used to be fairly homogenous in our Protestant religion. That’s not the case anymore, and even when it was, there was no unified denomination. Religion doesn’t make the cut to act as our cultural unifier, and politics certainly doesn’t either. We need a myth, one with an acceptable starting point, a Square One. Star Wars is arguably one of the only viable mythos for America. It has such a wide arrangement of characters and messages that different people can gain different things from it. It embraces our Western-Eastern dichotomy, and, quite frankly, it’s pure fun.
We need Star Wars not because it is a masterfully created cinematic experience, has great dialogue, or anything like that. We need it because the story, much like the Force itself, can surround and bind us together.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on February 22, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.
Author Charles Murray argues same-sex marriage is ‘not a big deal’
February 22, 2012 8:15 PM MST
Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington is the author of What It Means to Be a Libertarian and the current release, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, which was the focus of the discussion with talk-show host Rob Schilling.
Collapse of an institution
In their on-air conversation, Murray noted that in 1960, for the age cohort from 30 to 49, the “white working class was married at well over 80 percent and the white upper-middle class was married at very high rates.” Fifty years later, however, among the white upper-middle class, “84 percent of those ages 30 to 49 are still married in 2010. In the white working class, that had dropped to 48 percent."
That, he said, is “essentially the collapse of a major social institution.”
Because married men and women are better able to participate in civil society – being Little League coaches, attending PTA meetings, running charity drives – Murray explained that “a breakdown of marriage” essentially becomes “a breakdown of community, and it’s focused on working class.”
Schilling asked Murray about the effect of the current debate over the definition of marriage, which differs from the cultural environment in 1960.
‘Not a big deal’
Murray replied that “the advent of the gay marriage movement and the rest of that, I’m inclined to think, is not a big deal.”
He pointed out that, “for one thing, a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the advocacy for gay marriage has been that here are people who want to make a solemn commitment to each other. Writers like Jonathan Rauch and others have made very compelling cases for [how] gays want to engage in this very important social institution.”
A person, he said, does not “have to agree with that to think that, in a way, the visibility of marriage has been raised by that movement, not necessarily denigrated.”
Calling in to “The Schilling Show,” the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner posed a question to Murray about a recent appearance he made on the Charlie Rose television show. In that TV interview, Murray had said how his own opinion about same-sex marriage had changed.
Midway during the interview with Charlie Rose, he explained, the host asked him about that issue.
‘Loving, faithful relationships’
“I have never,” he said, “made a public statement about that before, but the fact is this: My wife and I have maybe half a dozen friends who are gay and are in couples. I mean they’re marriage-like situations. Some of them are guys and some of them are gals. In all of those cases, they’re acting like married people. They appear to have loving, faithful relationships that they take very seriously.”
More than that, he added, “a couple of them have kids that they are as attentive [to] and loving of as any other parents, and so I say to myself, I still have real problems with using the word marriage for anything except a union which has as its main purpose child-bearing and so forth.”
Still, he explained, “on the other hand, it’s really made me rethink the nature of my opposition, because let’s face it: Heterosexuals have made a mess out of marriage in the last couple of decades -- the last half-century, actually -- in ways which leave us in a weak position to suddenly say, ‘Oh, this wonderful institution that we’ve done so well with, you’re trying to interfere with.’”
As a result, Murray said, “I have backed off from leading the fight against gay marriage or even participating in it, and I’m willing to say that this is one instance in which [a new idea is] working out better than I would have expected it to, as I see it.”
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
by Mark Maslin, UCL
Humans have a much longer and wider penis than the other great apes. Even the largest of gorillas, more than twice as heavy as a human, will have a penis just two and half inches long when erect.
However our testicles are rather small. A chimpanzee’s testes weigh more than a third of its brain while ours weigh in at less than 3%. The relative size of our penis and testes is all down to our mating strategies, and can provide some surprising insights into early human culture.
Primates exhibit all sorts of mating behaviour, including monogamous, polygynous – where males have multiple mates – and multimale-multifemale. One indicator of which behaviour occurs in a species is the size difference between males and females. The greater this sexual dimorphism, the more likely the mating is either polygynous or multi-male to multi-female. This can be shown by observing chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest living relatives.
Male chimpanzees are much larger than females, and they have a multi-male to multi-female mating system. Essentially, male chimps have sex all the time with any female and with any excuse. A female therefore may contain sperm from multiple partners at any one time, which puts the sperm itself – and not just the animals that produce it – into direct competition. For this reason, chimpanzees have evolved huge testicles in order to produce massive amounts of sperm, multiple times a day.
Male gorilla are also much larger than females, but they have a polygynous or harem-style mating system where many females live with a single male. With little or no competition actually inside the uterus, gorillas have had no need for a testicular arms race to facilitate the production of more and more sperm. Their testes, therefore, are relatively small. This is similar to modern humans, whose testes are also of very modest size and produce a relatively small amount of sperm. In fact human sperm count reduces by more than 80% if men ejaculate more than about two times a day.
The human penis is large when compared with those of our closest relatives: chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. However, primatologist Alan Dixson in his wonderfully detailed book, Primate Sexuality, suggests that if we look at all primates, including monkeys, this is just wishful thinking.
Comparative measurements show the human penis is not exceptionally long. The Hamadryas baboon, for instance, a native of the Horn of Africa, has an erect penis that is five and half inches long – slightly shorter than an average human male, but they weigh only a third of our weight.
The human penis is in fact extremely dull – it does not have lumps, ridges, flanges, kinks or any other exciting feature that other primates have. In primates, this lack of penis complexity is usually found in monogamous species.
This observation clashes with the fact that men are significantly larger than women. This suggests our evolutionary background involved a significant degree of polygynous, rather than exclusively monogamous, mating. This is supported by anthropological data showing that most modern human populations engage in polygynous marriage. Anthropologists Clellan Ford and Frank Beach in their book Patterns of Sexual Behaviour suggested that 84% of the 185 human cultures they had data on engaged in polygyny.
However, even in these societies most people remain monogamous. Polygynous marriages are usually a privilege reserved only for high status or wealthy men. It is worth noting that hunter-gathers around the world practice only monogamy or serial-monogamy which suggests that our ancestors may have used this mating system.
At first sight, however, it would seem sensible for males to reproduce with as many females as possible. Human monogamy has long puzzled anthropologists, and lots of effort has gone in to working out what keeps males hanging around.
Three main theories have been put forward. First is the need for long-term parental care and teaching, as our children take a long time to mature. Second, males need to guard their female from other males. Third, our children are vulnerable for a long time and infanticide could be a risk from other males. So to ensure that children are able to reach maturity the male is likely to stay to protect them, both socially and physically. This may be why males have maintained their larger relative size.
If we view the evolution of monogamy mating systems in humans through the lens of human society it is clear that it takes a huge amount of social effort to maintain and protect more than one mate at a time. It is only when males have access to additional resources and power that they can protect multiple females, usually by ensuring other males protect them. So monogamy seems to be an adaptation to protect one’s mate and children from other males. This monogamy is reinforced by the high social cost and stress of attempting to do this for multiple partners, and it has become supported by cultural norms.
So when living in complex human societies the largest and most important sexual organ is the brain. Somewhere in our evolutionary past how smart and social we are became the major control on our access to sexual partners – not how big or fancy a male’s penis is.
Mark Maslin, Professor of Palaeoclimatology, UCL
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on January 24, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.
Belafonte criticizes Barack Obama on civil liberties in Charlottesville
|Harry Belafonte in Charlottesville - January 2012|
In a discussion led by University of Virginia history professor Julian Bond at the historic Paramount Theatre, Belafonte reflected on his life and career, offered his thoughts on politics, culture, education, and other topics, and criticized President Barack Obama’s record on protecting civil liberties.
‘Critical of the president’
Replying to a question posed by a member of the audience, Belafonte prefaced his remarks by promising that he would vote for Barack Obama’s re-election and would campaign for him this year.
“But recent utterings,” he cautioned with a smile, “have unsharpened my dance card to come to the White House for the next ball.”
Turning more serious, he added, “I’ve been critical of the president and I’ve let that go public.”
Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which had been drafted by his friend, Eleanor Roosevelt, in the 1940s, Belafonte pointed out that the human rights record of any country “becomes the first litmus test of how we create policy in relationship to the country under examination.”
That litmus test, he suggested, has to be applied to the United States as well as any other country.
In that context, he said, Barack Obama had “laid out his mission, not with complete clarity” but with enough substance “for us to linger with hope.” Obama had promised, upon taking office, that he would end the wars – yet they continue.
In addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Belafonte identified something else of concern.
“More important,” he said, are “the homeland security laws, which were written to such extremes that they defied imagination that anyone could have thought of those laws.”
That those laws made their way through Congress and were signed by the President, he said, “was an absolutely stunning experience for all of us, and certainly for some of us who saw it in the depth of its villainy.”
Looking out over the audience, Belafonte painted a darkly dramatic picture of the effect of laws like the USA PATRIOT Act and the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed on December 31 by President Obama.
“Anyone who is sitting in this room tonight,” he said, “could walk out of that door and be whisked away by strangers, people who you’ve never met [and] don’t know, whose task it was to apprehend you and never tell you why you’re being apprehended, never tell you what you’re being charged with, never ever give you the right to make a phone call or get the benefit of a lawyer.”
If someone is willing to surrender his rights, he said, or “willing to surrender all that is precious” under the framework of the Constitution, then “something’s wrong. Something is deeply wrong.”
Belafonte then explained the importance of the system of checks and balances found in the American constitutional system.
“The House watches the Senate, the Senate watches the House, both watch the Executive, the Executive watches the House and the Senate,” and the Supreme Court is “the final arbiter” for what becomes “the law of the land.”
When that system is out of balance, however, it needs “a leader who is made of such moral courage and strength to step into this frame and put himself on the line.”
By his tone of voice, Belafonte implied that Barack Obama lacks that courage and that strength.
“It is said by some,” the activist pointed out ruefully, “that Barack Obama’s second term as President will reveal all these mysteries [and] will reveal all these good deeds. He just needs to get the second term.”
Unfortunately, Belafonte added, “I’m not quite that optimistic. I’m not too sure that what we saw in the first term will not be” much different from “what we see in the second term.”
Even with that note of pessimism, he concluded, he is “infinitely more prone to devote all of my resources into his camp” than he would be willing to support any of the potential Republican candidates seeking to unseat Obama.
With that, Belafonte left the stage so he could autograph copies of his new book, My Song: A Memoir, for several dozen local fans.