Have you noticed what silver’s been doing lately? The price of silver is literally on fire!

silver is literally on fire

Because of the price of silver being literally on fire, they will not be buying and selling troy ounces of metallic silver when the markets open in New York tomorrow morning. Instead, they will be selling “oxide ounces” of silver oxide, in sealed-plastic capsules of this black powder, with an oxide ounce of silver oxide being defined as that amount of silver oxide which contains one troy ounce of silver.

silver oxide capsule

A troy ounce of silver is 31.1 grams of that element, which has a molar mass of 107.868 g/mole. Therefore, a troy ounce of silver contains (31.1 g)(1 mol/107.868 g) = 0.288 moles of silver. An oxide ounce of silver oxide would also contain oxygen, of course, and the formula on the front side of a silver oxide capsule (shown above; information on the back of the capsule gives the number of oxide ounces, which can vary from one capsule to another) is all that is needed to know that the number of moles of oxygen atoms (not molecules) is half the number of moles of silver, or (0.288 mol)/2 = 0.144 moles of oxygen atoms. Oxygen’s non-molecular molar mass is 15.9994 g, so this is (0.144 mol)(15.9994 g/mol) = 2.30 g of oxygen. Add that to the 31.1 g of silver in an oxide ounce of silver oxide, and you have 31.1 g + 2.30 g = 33.4 grams of silver oxide in an oxide ounce of that compound.

In practice, however, silver oxide (a black powder) is much less human-friendly than metallic silver bars, coins, or rounds. As you can easily verify for yourself using Google, silver oxide powder can, and has, caused health problems in humans, especially when inhaled. This is the reason for encapsulation in plastic, and the plastic, for health reasons, must be far more substantial than a mere plastic bag. For encapsulated silver oxide, the new industry standard will be to use exactly 6.6 g of hard plastic per oxide ounce of silver oxide, and this standard will be maintained when they begin manufacturing bars, rounds, and coins of silver oxide powder enclosed in hard plastic. This has created a new unit of measure — the “encapsulated ounce” — which is the total mass of one oxide ounce of silver oxide, plus the hard plastic surrounding it on all sides, for a total of 33.4 g + 6.6 g = 40.0 grams, which will certainly be a convenient number to use, compared to its predecessor-units.  

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[This is not from The Onion. We promise. It is, rather, a production of the Committee to Give Up on Getting People to Ever Understand the Meaning of the Word “Literally,” or CGUGPEUMWL, which is fun to try to pronounce.]



When We Build Our Dyson Sphere, Let’s Not Use Enneagonal Antiprisms

Before an undertaking as great as building a Dyson Sphere, it’s a good idea to plan ahead first. This rotating image shows what my plan for an enneagonal-antiprism-based Dyson Sphere looked like, at the hemisphere stage. At this point, the best I could hope for is was three-fold dihedral symmetry.

Augmented 9- Antiprism

I didn’t get what I was hoping for, but only ended up with plain old three-fold polar symmetry, once my Dyson Sphere plan got at far as it could go without the unit enneagonal antiprisms running into each other. Polyhedra-obsessives tend to also be symmetry-obsessives, and this just isn’t good enough for me.

Augmented 9- Antiprism complete

If we filled in the gaps by creating the convex hull of the above complex of enneagonal antiprisms, in order to capture all the sun’s energy (and make our Dyson Sphere harder to see from outside it), here’s what this would look like, in false color (the real thing would be black) — and the convex hull of this Dyson Sphere design, in my opinion, especially when colored by number of sides per face, really reveals how bad an idea it would be to build our Dyson sphere in this way.

Dyson Sphere Convex hull

We could find ourselves laughed out of the Galactic Alliance if we built such a low-order-of-symmetry Dyson Sphere — so, please, don’t do it. On the other hand, please also stay away from geodesic spheres or their duals, the polyhedra which resemble fullerenes, for we certainly don’t want our Dyson Sphere looking like all the rest of them. We need to find something better, before construction begins. Perhaps a snub dodecahedron? But, if we use a chiral polyhedron, how do we decide which enantiomer to use?

[All three images of my not-good-enough Dyson Sphere plan were created using Stella 4d, which you can get for yourself at this website.]

My Centripetal Force Joke: A True Story


In the Summer of 2014, with many other science teachers, I took a four-day-long A.P. Physics training session, which was definitely a valuable experience, for me, as a teacher. On the last day of this training, though, in the late afternoon, as the trainer and trainees were winding things up, some of us, including me, started getting a little silly. Physics teachers, of course, have their own version of silly behavior. Here’s what happened.

The trainer: “Let’s see how well you understand the different forces which can serve as centripetal forces, in different situations. When I twirl a ball, on a string, in a horizontal circle, what is the centripetal force?”

The class of trainees, in unison: “Tension!”

Trainer: “In the Bohr model of a hydrogen atom, the force keeping the electron traveling in a circle around the proton is the . . . ?”

Class: “Electromagnetic force!”

Trainer: “What force serves as the centripetal force keeping the Earth in orbit around the Sun?”

Me, loudly, before any of my classmates could answer: “God’s will!”

I was, remember, surrounded by physics teachers. It took the trainer several minutes to restore order, after that.

Silly U.S. Map Puzzles #4a and 4b

First, for puzzle #4a, what are the meanings of the colors on this map?


For puzzle #4b, what do the colors mean on this second, similar map?


To find the answers, simply scroll down.







Keep scrolling….







In the first map, consider the number of letters in the name of each state. Is this number prime or composite?

In the second map, consider the number of characters, rather than letters, in each state’s name. This number is different for states with two-word names, due to the single character, a blank space, needed to separate the two words. Again: prime, or composite?