Thursday, April 2, 2009

46 - Answers

Q: Bill Jeffers - Where do babies come from? OK but seriously folks...what makes diapers so absorbent? How can my Oops I Crapped My Pants hold that much?
A: Well when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much...wait, what? Seriously? You just had your first kid. You know more about this than I do. And by the way, congratulations to you and Lisa on the arrival of Evelyn Shannon Jeffers. I hope she grows up to look like her mother. I mean, nothing personal here, but Lisa's a lot more attractive than you are. I'm just saying.

As to your real question, diapers are absorbent because of the materials that are used. I found a very good article on the subject at, which can be read here. Normally I don't like to plug the competition but in this case their knowledge far outweighs mine. I recommend the whole article to anyone who's even remotely curious about the subject, but the relevant portion of their article follows:

The single most important property of a diaper, cloth or disposable, is its ability to absorb and retain moisture. Cotton material used in cloth diapers is reasonably absorbent, but synthetic polymers far exceed the capacity of natural fibers. Today's state-of-the-art disposable diaper will absorb 15 times its weight in water. This phenomenal absorption capacity is due to the absorbent pad found in the core of the diaper. This pad is composed of two essential elements, a hydrophilic, or water-loving, polymer and a fibrous material such as wood pulp. The polymer is made of fine particles of an acrylic acid derivative, such as sodium acrylate, potassium acrylate, or an alkyl acrylate. These polymeric particles act as tiny sponges that retain many times their weight in water. Microscopically these polymer molecules resemble long chains or ropes. Portions of these chemical "ropes" are designed to interact with water molecules. Other parts of the polymer have the ability to chemically link with different polymer molecules in a process known as cross linking. When a large number of these polymeric chains are cross linked, they form a gel network that is not water soluble but that can absorb vast amounts of water. Polymers with this ability are referred to as hydrogels, superabsorbents, or hydrocolloids. Depending on the degree of cross linking, the strength of the gel network can be varied. This is an important property because gel strength is related to the tendency of the polymer to deform or flow under stress. If the strength is too high the polymer will not retain enough water. If it too low the polymer will deform too easily, and the outermost particles in the pad will absorb water too quickly, forming a gel that blocks water from reaching the inner pad particles. This problem, known as gel blocking, can be overcome by dispersing wood pulp fibers throughout the polymer matrix. These wood fibers act as thousands of tiny straws which suck up water faster and disperse it through the matrix more efficiently to avoid gel blocking. Manufacturers have optimized the combinations of polymer and fibrous material to yield the most efficient absorbency possible.

In addition to information about why diapers are absorbent I also found several sites dedicated to comparing absorbency of diapers. My personal favorite is this study done by a young woman named Vanessa W. back in the year 2000. It's not the most up-to-date study, but I was amused by the vintage Internet website layout. You can also try this site done by the folks at DiaperWare.

Since I don't know how what material "Oops I Crapped My Pants" is made of I can't say how they can hold that much. But thanks for giving me an excuse to link to a YouTube of this fabulous commercial.

Q: Jarsh Beckstein - How do YOU feel about GM?
A: General Motors is a car company. I don't know if I have any "feelings" about it. At least not the same way I have feelings about, say my friends and family. Or the Boston Red Sox. But I do have some admittedly uninformed opinions about how they run their business, and also some ideas about how they could recover and return to profitability.

One problem I see for GM is their reliance on Unionized labor. As I understand it the United Auto Workers (UAW) have an agreement with GM that covers medical costs for all retired GM employees, as well as generous pensions for those same employees. The way I look at it no company can possibly succeed when it pays for people who no longer work for them. Yes, many companies offer pensions and health benefits to their retirees. But employees are retiring earlier and living longer than the people who set up those systems ever planned. The bottom line is that GM is having to pay a substantial percentage of money per car manufactured just to support workers who no longer work for the company. Now, I hold GM responsible for this problem in the same way that I hold other corporations responsible for the way they overcompensate their managers and CEOs.

A second problem for GM is the fact that they are still structured as though they are the biggest fish in the pond of automobile manufacturers. Their business model is built on the assumption that they will have and maintain a certain percentage of the automobile market. What they must do is adapt to the fact that that percentage is now much smaller than it used to be. There's no reason that GM can't be profitable with a smaller piece of the pie, but they first must recognize and accept the fact that their piece is smaller. That means fewer divisions and fewer models, and a focus on profitable cars. It also means that they should be spending more on research and development of new technologies, something I know that you're involved in, Jarsh. Personally I'd like to see them focusing more on better batteries, and the new Chevy Volt is going to help direct their attention in that direction. And that's a very good thing for them.

In the end I guess the main feeling I have for GM is sympathy. They made a deal with the devil, as it were, by taking loans from the government in order to avoid bankruptcy. Now they're living with the consequences of that deal. Their CEO has been forced out, and they're soon going to face pressure from the government to do things that will not help their return to profitability. I wish them luck, I really do. It would be a shame if Ford were the only US car company left standing after the dust settles.

Q: Brad Pettengill - Out of the 4 games at the ECAC championship, which one was the best?
A: Of the four games I think that the Friday night game between Cornell and Princeton was the best. A full recap of the game can be found here and the boxscore is here. The main reason for this choice is the crowd rather than the hockey. The tickets I had for the game placed my friends and me in the right-hand section of the Cornell fans.

Before I go on let me just say for the record that Cornell fans are among the least original, most rude, and least subtle fans in the ECAC. Every single one of their chants either involved the word "sucks" or some variation of that theme, and were often incoherent. It was a joke when I was in the Clarkson Pep Band that all of Cornell's cheers were basically "Blah blah blah, SUCKS!" I always thought that it was just because we were across the arena from their fan section when we visited Lynah. Having just spent eight periods of hockey in the middle of their fan section I can report that even close up it's still just "Blah blah blah, SUCKS!"

One more thing: My biggest regret of the tournament is that neglected to wear my "Clarkson is Gorges" tee shirt that my sister had printed for me on my birthday a few years ago while she was attending Ithaca College. For those not in on the joke, there is a popular saying in Ithaca that "Ithaca is Gorges", playing on the fact that there are some nice gorges and waterfalls in the area. It's a dumb saying, but one that you can find on shirts, coffee mugs, and bumperstickers.

Anyway, even though the Cornell fans are obnoxious pricks they were numerous and enthusiastic, which made the atmosphere of the game better. They cheered loudly during the pre-game ceremonies, right down to the usual amplification of the word "Red" during the national anthem. Then the game started and Princeton scored almost right away, taking much of the wind out of the Cornell fan's sails. That wind was restored once Cornell finally scored, but then Princeton tacked on one more at the end of the first period and the wind died. The wind died even more at the start of the second period when Princeton scored again. Seeing the pain in the eyes of the Cornell fans was enjoyable.

Cornell decided to start playing during the second half of the third period. Actually it was one player named Evan Barlow who decided to start playing. He took the puck from coast-to-coast during a four on four and scored one of the prettiest goals I've seen in a long time. It was enough to wake the Cornell fans from their slumber. Then Cornell pulled their goalie with a minute left in the game and rather than give up an empty-net goal was actually able to score on Princeton. This happened twice in the tournament, which is remarkable since this move usually backfires in the ECAC (and all throughout hockey, now that I think about it).

When overtime began, even as one who really hates Cornell, I found myself getting swept up into the excitement of overtime hockey. It was hard not to. The Cornell fans were on edge and it was infectious. As overtime progressed I decided that I wanted Cornell to win if for no other reason than the fact that the championship game would be much better with that many Cornell fans there. Princeton/Yale would have been just depressing. Especially with the two sub-par bands that the teams brought with them.

When Cornell finally scored the winning goal in the second overtime the place erupted into a sea of joyous red cheering fans. And I felt happy for them, even as I wished for their utter and complete downfall in the championship game. Which came true, so everyone won, in a strange way.

Q: Todd Nielson - So who do you like in the Frozen Four?
A: I am not going to pretend to know much about the four teams playing, which are Boston University, Vermont, Bemidji State and Miami of Ohio. I don't follow college hockey closely enough to render an informed opinion on the subject. But you asked me who I like, not who I think will win, so I'll give that question some treatment.

Vermont: I can't possibly root for Vermont, both because of the 2001 ECAC playoff debacle and because, well, they're Vermont. [Ed: I thought you liked and admired hippies. You are sadly misinformed.]

Boston University: Boston University has been a rival of the University of Maine for many years, and since the University of Maine is the reason I exist in the first place (it's where my parents met) I can't root for them.

Miami of Ohio: There is only one true Miami. It is the land of Dave Barry, Miami Vice, and the Miami Sound Machine. And hockey is not a part of that true Miami.

Bemidji State: Since they're the smallest, least-likely school to win this tournament, and since everyone loves the underdog, I guess I'll jump on the long-shot bandwagon and support Bemidji State, if only to keep my spelling skills strong.

Q: Adam Barnello - Address my comment from the last Mitssob, please?
A: Sure thing. I've printed your comments below, and I'll intersperse my responses and further thoughts between paragraphs.

"Drugs are something that should not be encouraged, even "harmless" drugs like pot. By allowing one but not others we're opening ourselves up for some negative societal trends."
What wonderful prose this is! So deep! So meaningful! Well done, Barn! Oh, wait, I wrote that. Sorry.

By the same argument with which you justify your position for maintaining marijuana as illegal, you could easily rationalize the return of prohibition. Or the criminalization of tobacco. Both of these are, in a realistic view, as bad or worse than marijuana in terms of health effects as well as deaths associated with their use, and yet no people on your side of the issue have a real problem going out for a beer on any given Wednesday night. If we're being honest with ourselves here, one is really no different than the other, except the prohibition on alcohol was repealed.

On your first point I will respond with two of my favorite words: "So what?" What is the problem with the return of prohibition? Or banning tobacco? Yes, it clashes violently with my libertarian side, which is even now shouting, "Tim, how dare you suggest such a thing!" while shaking its fist indignantly. But ultimately we live in a society where the people get to decide these things. If society decides that it once again wants to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol then I'm not going to stand in the way. There is a vocal portion of American society that rails against the evils of tobacco. If they had their way all tobacco would be banned. Should that be allowed? Personally I don't think so, but again, if society decides it then I'm not going to get in the way.

Random detour: Personally I think that a lot of the anger at tobacco companies is misdirected. I believe that, all things considered, alcohol is actually much worse than tobacco. Tobacco harms one person but doesn't change their behavior. Alcohol is a behavior-modifier, and that can be much worse. I've never heard a story of a person who smokes a cigarette and then goes and beats their spouse or child. But I'm sure we've all heard of or experienced first-hand the violence that alcohol causes when abused.

This concludes our random detour. Back to your regularly schedule answer.

Second, I have a problem with the tone of the second part of your comment, specifically the, "no people on your side of the issue have a real problem going out for a beer on any given Wednesday night." Really? You can speak for everyone who thinks marijuana should be illegal? Accusing ones ideological opponents of hypocrisy and/or inconsistency allows you to dismiss them without engaging their arguments, but it doesn't make your own arguments any better or worse. I can turn right around and say that people who think cigarettes should be illegal have no problem toking up every once in a while. Is it true? I'm sure that there are some people who fall into that category, albeit probably a minority. But putting that statement forward allows me to dismiss arguments against smoking without having to think. And that's not healthy for a debate.

On top of that I don't see the connection. Some people who think marijuana should be illegal drink alcohol. So? It's a non-sequitor. One is legal, the other is not. Yes, yes, I know that the argument is that marijuana is as harmless as alcohol. That doesn't change the fact that one is illegal and one isn't. That's the difference.

It bothers me that you've fallen back onto the party line of "Marijuana is a drug. Drugs are bad." Even as someone who has never used it, and has no interest in doing so, I'd hope you could differentiate between the myths and the truths about it.

I have "fallen back onto the party line" because it is a belief that I hold. Are all drugs bad? To me that's similar to asking if guns are bad. Drugs are drugs. One can cure disease, the other can get you high. I believe that the use of drugs to get a high is something that should not be encouraged by society. Period. Doesn't matter whether it's pot or alcohol or crystal meth. Are there degrees of "badness" to illegal drugs? Of course. And the laws reflect that. If we want that changed, then we need to change the laws, and by extension change society's point of view on these drugs. That's the right way to handle the situation.

Finally, as I said in my original answer, I'm not entirely rational on this subject. I'm allowing emotion to control me more than usual lately. It's something I'm aware of, and am trying to manage. This is because I see my beliefs on a wide range of issues being scorned and tossed aside by a vocal and increasingly powerful minority of society. And that bothers me much more than I let on since I know that nearly all of my friends and loved ones belong to that minority. It's wildly frustrating in a way that's going to continue causing me pain until I figure out what to do about it. And given my emotionally fragile state that's difficult to do.