Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Minding our P's and Q's - conversational intervention for the Holidays

We all have relatives and family friends who disagree wildly on those hot topics of politics, economics and religion at large social gatherings, and that is never more true than holidays like Thanksgiving.

In anticipation of the upcoming holidays, I was always encouraged to prepare for such social occasions by stocking up on conversational tid bits that can be uncorked if conversation gets more heated than the Thanksgiving turkey or pumpkin pie.

Such topics, to be effective in defusing intense conversations with a change of topic, usually need some novelty aspect to distract and amuse. But to be effective, they also need to have the legs to offer also some serious facets for discussion.

There is really no other way to put this, what works well often involves body parts or bodily functions. For some reasons, THAT is something over which people can find common ground for safe, neutral conversation.

The image to the right is from IFLS on facebook, which features science news and topics. I post it here because it amused me to come across not one, but TWO examples of biology and physics research intersecting with such a mundane topic in one week. I post it here, for our good readers to save up in preparation for the coming holidays, should a conversational intervention related to politics and/or religion be necessary.

Here is the rest of the story via the IFLS story, from National Geo:
New Law of Urination: Mammals Take 20 Seconds to Pee
Call it the other Golden Rule: Scientists have found that all mammals weighing more than 2.2 pounds (a kilogram) empty their full bladders in about 20 seconds.

Like many new parents, David Hu, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has changed a lot of diapers. Unlike many new parents, however, these soggy diapers caused Hu to think about the physics of urination.
“While I was changing these diapers, I was wondering how it would be different for different animals. How much fluid would they create and how long would it take to leave the body?” Hu said. (Also see “Growing Teeth and Four More Odd Uses for Urine.”)

“The physics of urination—what the forces are and how they affect how quickly urine comes out, is not totally understood, even though it’s a really old problem.”

Although it might sound silly on the surface, urination is actually serious business in the medical and veterinary worlds, especially during the aging process. Many men get enlarged prostates as they get older, which can narrow the urethra and impede urine flow. Veterinarians have been looking for a quick and easy way to identify problems with animals’ urinary tract.

Pee Cam

First, Hu wanted to know how urination varied from species to species. The bladder of a large domestic dog can hold 1.4 liters (about 0.4 of a gallon) of fluid, or roughly the amount of a large bottle of soda. An elephant’s bladder, however, can hold 160 liters of fluid, or enough to fill three large garbage cans. Hu wanted to know how this size difference affects the urinary tract and urine flow.

Enter the pee cam. Three of Hu’s graduate students at Georgia Tech used high-speed cameras to record peeing animals at Zoo Atlanta and elsewhere.

They also measured how much pee was produced by each of these animals, which ranged from rats to jaguars to elephants. The scientists supplemented their research with YouTube videos from zoo visitors. Last, the researchers obtained measurements of the animals’ bladder and urethra widths and lengths from other researchers.
You can read the rest of that science here -- and it IS interesting. This is about real science, including important medical research, even if it might sound a little silly at first blush. And of course, there is a Youtube video for it:

But then via the CBC - the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program, As It Happens and Popular Science - I coincidentally happened last week on this little gem on the same general topic. If you have even the most minimal social skills at all, this will give you the necessary topic for a conversational intervention before .......well... before someone gets p*ssed off.

Science Addresses The Problem Of Pee Splashback
Brigham Young University's Splash Lab looks into the dynamics of the male urine stream.
They call themselves "wizz kids." Todd Truscott and Randy Hurd of Brigham Young University's Splash Lab, a research lab studying the physics of fluids, have been using high-speed cameras to examine exactly what happens to a stream of urine when it hits the toilet.
They're on a quest against "splashback," simulating male urination in the lab (using this apparatus) to see how exactly you can go about getting it all in the bowl. For the sake of clean bathrooms, clean pants and happy subsequent bathroom-goers. According to Hurd, part of the messiness caused by male urination is due to a phenomenon called Plateau-Rayleigh instability, which causes streams of falling liquid to decompose into droplets. When a guy pees, the urine stream breaks into droplets about 6 inches away from the urethra exit. "So by the time it hits the urinal, it's already in droplet form," he told the BBC. "And these droplets are the perpetrators of the splash formation on your khaki pants."
The best way to avoid unwanted urine splash seems to be sitting on the toilet, a technique that has been advocated by certain restaurants, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration minister, and one Swedish politician, and shouted down by many corners of the Internet. You're about five times farther from the bowl when you stand as when you sit, creating a bigger splash, but if standing to pee is essential to your manhood, Hurd says that you can also switch the "angle of attack," so to speak. Smaller angle between stream and toilet water, less splatter. Even better, hit the porcelain instead of the water, which Hurd says makes the process "a lot less chaotic."

The Splash Lab will be presenting its research at the American Physical Society Meeting later this month.
You laugh (I hope) -- and that's the whole point -- but on a more serious note, someone somewhere is going to build the bathroom plumbing equivalent of a better mousetrap from research like this, and get very rich. For myself, given the problems outlined in the As It Happens interview with the additional problems of an unavoidable aerosol spray that occurs every time a toilet flushes, and how that spreads all over bathrooms, the next time I have an opportunity to engage in either building a new house or a bathroom renovation, the porcelain throne is going behind a wall and a door in its own 'throne room'. Just sayin.

And now you are prepared for the worst conversational crisis of the approaching Holidays.

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