The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee


Happy 82nd Birthday, Carl Sagan!


We humans are one species and this is our world — Carl Sagan, 1934 – 1996


What disqualifies a Priority Mail flat-rate envelope?

A USPS Priority Mail flat-rate envelope will ship for a fixed price, regardless of its weight, "up to 70 pounds".  Neat.  But hold on:  seventy pounds?  How much can those things hold?

I checked the Domestic Mail Manual.  You are allowed to reinforce the seams and the seal with tape, but unless the envelope is slim enough to seal with its own adhesive, it is ineligible for flat-rate service.  So what's the maximum volume you can fit in there?

I estimated with a stack of copy paper.  The envelope will close around a 1.9cm stack.  Any more than that, and it's too thick.  But Priority Mail envelopes are slightly longer than a sheet of copy paper.  As a rough (but generous) estimate, if you are constrained to a rectangular prism, you can maybe fit something that is 1.9cm x 22cm x 30cm into one.  That's 1250cc, or 0.00125 cubic meters.

That's 0.00125 m3 that is allowed to weigh 32kg, mind you.  This means that the item you are mailing can have a density of 25,600 kilograms per cubic meter and still be permissible.

So I turned to The Engineering Toolbox, copied the alloy density table, pasted it into Google Sheets, and sorted it.

A slab of solid aluminum has a typical density of 2712 kg/m3.  But forget that.  Aluminum is light.

How about steel?  7850 kg/m3.  That's more than a factor of four.

Copper?  8940 kg/m3.  Still a factor of four.

Fine, let's pull out the big guns.  I want to mail you a slab of lead in a Priority Mail envelope.  That would be 14kg, or 31 pounds.

OK.  Gold.  A hefty 53 pounds.

Let's scroll to the bottom.  There we go:  iridium!  I want to mail you a 1.9cm x 22cm x 30cm slab of prone-to-shattering iridium in an unpadded cardboard-and-plastic-tape envelope.  So I go out and pay the seventeen thousand dollar spot-price for a slab of iridium, stick it in a Priority Mail envelope, add some packing tape to reinforce the seams (better safe than sorry), insure it for the maximum $500 (because I'm not an idiot, obviously), and take it to the Post Office.  They place it on the scale.  And it would weigh ... under 62 pounds.  It's mailable.  I could even include a little thank-you-for-your-business note and it wouldn't take it over the seventy-pound mark.

So watch your mailbox.  It's possible that you'll be getting a seventeen thousand dollar slab of iridium in a Priority Mail envelope from me.

I mean, it's not likely.  But it's definitely possible.


Happy Birthday Carl Sagan!

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. — Carl Sagan

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. — Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)



Progress: No area of knowledge is exempt

Update, late evening, 2014-01-29:

This post went pretty insane on Google Plus today.

As of this writing, 26 people have reshared it, and there are 132 likes of, and 368 comments on, my direct post, with hundreds more on the reshares.  The numbers are still growing, especially now that the post is trending.

I haven't read all the responses, but I've occasionally dipped my toe in.  I've (obviously) been called a Satanist and told I'm going to Hell.  I've had someone suggest that he and his buddies strip me of my tech and send me out to live with the nomadic herders of Mongolia and see how an "intellectual" fares without his computer.  I've read serious claims that Noah's ark was a true historical event and that, before it, humans had engineered flying machines; that people could not have built the pyramids; that humans are not animals; that dinosaurs are in the Bible; that the existence of the Sanskrit language proves the existence of God; that Newton didn't believe in Darwinian evolution so no one else should; that all atheists secretly believe in God but try to evangelize because they know their lives have no purpose (and Jesus doesn't want them anyway); and ... something about OSHA and environmental impact studies?  I'm not going to try to figure that one out.

In response to an atheist complaining about the problem of not even having the original versions of the texts, comes my second-favorite line: "The original manuscripts (autographs) are indeed lost, no doubt providentially and with good reason. Had they survived, they would almost certainly have attracted idolatrous interest and been the focus of superstition."

But my absolute favorite:  "How many of have actually been to a pyramid? better yet How many of you have actually traveled outside the U.S. ??? Talking about science does not make anyone a Scientist, and arguing with 'facts' you find on google just makes it worse. This post would have a valid point if it had came from a Doctor, Mathematician, Geologist, Engineer and well you all get the point."  (To this my response would have been "I've visited the pyramids and been inside one; I've traveled to about 20 different countries and am outside the U.S. as we speak; I'm an engineer with a degree in mathematics; and you are still a moron.")

Update, early morning, 2014-01-30:

Google Plus closed comments automatically after my post reached 500 comments.  By pure serendipity, these are the first two and the last two comments on the thread.  In online debates, it seems, everything comes full-circle:



Here are the original comments at Google Plus:

GDE Error: Error retrieving file - if necessary turn off error checking (500:Internal Server Error)


Climate Change

Climate Change: A left-wing conspiracy so vast that even the atmosphere is in on it

Climate Change: A left-wing conspiracy so vast that even the atmosphere is in on it