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Balloon Car

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Balloon Car

My 12-year-old daughter is proposing an interesting project. She is planning to attach a number of helium balloons to a chair, which in turn would be tethered by means of a rope to a Ferrari. Her 13-year-old friend would then drive the Ferrari around, while she sits in the chair enjoying uninterrupted views of the countryside. Leaving aside the legal and insurance difficulties, my daughter is keen to know the maximum speed that she could expect to attain, and how many helium balloons would be required.

Phil Rodgers, Cambridge, UK

Thanks for getting your dad to send in this question! He said not to worry about the "legal and insurance difficulties," so I think it's safe to assume he's taken care of all that.

Note to police: If you've recently taken into custody two unidentified underage drivers, a stolen Ferrari, and a bunch of helium balloons, the person you're looking for is Phil Rodgers in Cambridge, UK.

Okay, on to your question:

Have you ever run with a balloon? It doesn't point straight up. The air rushing past you pushes it down:

How high the balloon goes depends on which force is stronger--the balloon's buoyancy pulling upward, or the wind dragging the balloon backward. If the drag is too strong, the balloon will stay low to the ground and you won't get a good view.

To figure out how fast you can go, let's first figure out how big our cluster of balloons (or one big balloon, which is probably easier) needs to be to lift you.

People your age weigh an average of 43 kilograms, which means you need a balloon 4 meters wide to lift you—that's about the size of a car. (If you don't weigh 43 kilograms, you can put your weight into this formula.)

A 4-meter balloon will be large enough to cancel out your weight. But that's not enough. It just means you wouldn't fall or float—so you'd be towed along the ground behind the car.

To float upward, you need a bigger balloon. A 5 meter balloon will produce 71 kilograms of lift[1]Usually, physics people will make a big deal about how weight and force are different from mass, but in this case, I'm going to resist the urge, because it's easy to just think of everything in terms of weight.​ (here's the formula!). That's enough to cancel out your 43-kilogram weight, plus a few kilograms for the chair and balloon itself.

The balloon will be dragged backward by the air. The faster your friend drives, the more the air will drag the balloon back. You can use this formula to figure out how much "weight" will pull backward on the balloon for different speeds and sizes. Just change the "20 mph" (driving speed) and "5 meters" (balloon size) in the formula.

If the upward pull from the helium is stronger than the backward pull from the wind, the balloon will float at a high angle. If the backward pull is stronger than the upward pull, the balloon will float at a low angle. If you're using a 5-meter balloon, even if you drive only 10 mph, the balloon will float pretty low behind you.

Fortunately, there's a solution: You can make the balloon bigger. As you make the balloon bigger, the buoyancy starts to win out over the drag.[2]The reason is that the buoyancy equation uses diameter^3 but the drag equation uses diameter^2, so if you make diameter bigger, the buoyancy equation grows more.

If you use a 10 meter balloon, the buoyancy is strong enough that you can drive at 20 or 25 mph and still stay pretty high off the ground. A 15 meter balloon is even better; it would let you go 30 mph while still getting a good view.[3]You could make the cable longer, so that even a low angle still gets you high off the ground. But the cable won't be straight; it makes a curve called a catenary. At a low enough angle, making the cable longer would just mean part of it would drag on the ground.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with using larger and larger balloons.

A 15-meter helium balloon plus a 12-year-old can lift 1,895 kilograms. But a Ferrari 458 (plus a 13-year-old) only weighs 1,532 kilograms.

The solution to all this is to ditch the helium. You don't need a balloon. All you need is a kite or a parachute—a surface to act as a wing and redirect that incoming air to push you upward.

In other words, see if your dad will take you parasailing.

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korg250
1543 days ago
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I saw the author interview the other night on Colbert. Boy, he does speak a lot better here.
Brazil
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skittone
1544 days ago
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Cute question, cute answer.
rclatterbuck
1545 days ago
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Kids come up with awesome ideas that often just need a tiny bit of tweaking.

Cannibalism

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Cannibalism

How long could the human race survive on only cannibalism?

Quinn Shaffer

There are about 500 trillion calories of human in the world. If it could be frozen or otherwise preserved, that would be enough—at least in terms of raw calories—to keep a tiny breeding population alive for millions of years.

Eating nothing but meat sounds bad, nutritionally, but the lack of vegetables wouldn't necessarily kill you. People can survive on high-meat or all-meat diets, especially if they eat things like organ meat and bone marrow; there are more vitamins and nutrients found in those which are missing from the narrower range of mammal skeletal muscle and fat in the typical western diet.

The US experienced meat shortages during World War II because so much food was being diverted to soldiers and allies overseas. In response to this, the US government decided to encourage Americans to eat more organs and other animal body parts. They employed some of the world's best anthropologists, psychologists, social scientists, and food scientists to figure out a way to change American eating habits.

One of the ideas the project had was that these foods should be rebranded as variety meats. [1] [2] More on this in the hilarious Mary Roach book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal A Google Books search shows the phrase appearing suddenly in US books around that time (a pattern not seen in British books.) When the war ended, many of these research efforts were dropped, but this 2002 article tries to piece together what they learned.

There are a lot of things we don't understand about nutritional deficiencies, and—to put it mildly—a lot of dispute over what kind of diets are healthy or aren't healthy. But no matter what nutrients we would or wouldn't get in Quinn's scenario, we'd face a bigger problem: contaminated food. Even if you cooked your meat, it would be hard to avoid all kinds of disease exposure as you worked your way through the remains of the human population.

In a small enough population, every outbreak is a pandemic; it wouldn't take long for something to wipe you out.

There are also some obvious practical problems. Unless you're one of a small handful of people, you have no way to kill the majority of living humans without some of them killing you first.

Let's consider a different scenario, one probably more in line with what Quinn was imagining: What if half the population ate the other half? [2] [3] On second thought, I really have no idea what specific scenario Quinn was imagining, and I'm not sure I want to know.

If the average human weighs 50 kilograms and eats a couple thousand calories per day, then—according to Ryan North—then one person contains enough meat to feed another person for about a month.

If, every month, half the population eats the other half, we could go for 32 months [3] [4] Which should make sense to the computer science students out there, since "7 billion" is just barely too big to store in a 32-bit integer. of cannibalism before the second-to-last person was eaten by the last.

Eating people who have eaten other people is a bad idea. For starters, it's a bad idea because you're eating people. Why are you eating people!? But it's also bad because it's an effective way to transmit prion diseases.

On the other hand, most prion diseases have lengthy incubation periods, so it might be a lesser concern in a world where you have a 50% chance of getting eaten every month.

Lastly, we'd have to decide who got eaten in which round. We could fight it out, or—to be fair—we could pair off and flip coins. If we did, the result would be, literally, ...

... the tournament bracket to end all tournament brackets.

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korg250
1597 days ago
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" In response to this, the US government decided to encourage Americans to eat more organs and other animal body parts."

This is a great example how this is world is fucked up. Why not use this shortage to promote healthy-vegetable-based meals?
Brazil
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rclatterbuck
1608 days ago
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Cute. But that is a terrible use of the bifurcation diagram of the logistic map.

Temporarily mute sites

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You can now temporarily turn off sites by going to Manage > Mute Sites. This is for those feeds you want to keep but ignore for a while.

I use this to mute craigslist feeds that I no longer want to see in my unread stories list, but I want to keep just in case I need to perform a specific craigslist search without having to go through the whole process of recreating the RSS feed.

It’s also useful for subscribing to high volume sites and only reading them when you want to know what’s happening but without having to remember to re-subscribe. Such a simple feature but with a ton of utility.

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korg250
1636 days ago
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I have -2 mute sites.
Brazil
steelhorse
1631 days ago
Go to Manage > Mute Sites? Great! Wait...where is Manage? I don't see that word anywhere and none of the controls have tool tips. No idea where Manage is. Ironically, the only way I could figure out how to post this comment was to reply to someone else's post.
peruincatrail
1623 days ago
Great! Wait...where is Manage?
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mcabrams
1637 days ago
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My most desired feature for NewsBlur finally arrives! Thanks Samuel!
Los Angeles
wmorrell
1637 days ago
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I... I had no idea how much I needed this.
Rob W
1637 days ago
i agree, this is one of those features i never new how much i wanted it.. awesome, thanks
adamgurri
1638 days ago
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Good call
New York, NY

Alternate Universe

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As best as I can tell, I was transported here from Earth Prime sometime in the late 1990s. Your universe is identical in every way, except for the lobster thing and the thing where some of you occasionally change your clocks for some reason.
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korg250
1905 days ago
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This is how I feel about meat.
Brazil
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adamskt
1891 days ago
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ROFL!
Spokane,WA
Cuetzpallin
1900 days ago
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What do you have against spiders?
Monterrey, Mx
MaryEllenCG
1904 days ago
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EXACTLY!!
Greater Bostonia
brico
1904 days ago
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EXACTLY
Brooklyn, NY
sjk
1904 days ago
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Actually, lobster is most closely related to cockroaches. If you have no problem dispatching a cockroach, you should have no problem dispatching a lobster. The difference is that the lobster is larger and tastes delicious.
Florida
CarlEdman
1905 days ago
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So true. Too bad I only figured out how disgusting they are after I'd become trapped by the deliciousness.
Falls Church, Virginia, USA
endlessmike
1905 days ago
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Same, except also crab
bibliogrrl
1905 days ago
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SEA BUGS. #gross
Chicago!
sjk
1904 days ago
Land bugs. Gross. Sea bugs. Delicious but not Kosher.
boredomfestival
1905 days ago
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Exactly. Shrimp, too.
jhamill
1905 days ago
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The clock changing thing needs to go away.
California
mithrandir
1905 days ago
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Alt text: "As best as I can tell, I was transported here from Earth Prime sometime in the late 1990s. Your universe is identical in every way, except for the lobster thing and the thing where some of you occasionally change your clocks for some reason."
adamgurri
1905 days ago
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lol
New York, NY

Comic for July 2, 2013

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korg250
1988 days ago
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Brazil
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MourningDragon
1987 days ago
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LOL

If the Earth were 100 pixels wide

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korg250
2077 days ago
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Brazil
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iross
2077 days ago
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Very cool.
Madison, Wi
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