How much is a homer?

Did you know that the homer is a way to measure volume?  No it’s nothing to do with The Simpsons.  It’s an ancient Hebrew way of measuring liquids or dry goods, like the modern gallon or liter.   The Bible says that God brought the Israelites many homers worth of birds to eat when they were starving in the desert.  Sometimes it’s fun, not to mention educational, to look deeper into what has been written.   Lets do that for this bit of the bible.  How many birds did god send these hungry people get and how many did they take?  Far too many, and God got angry about it, but more about that later.

First of all what kind of bird are we talking about here.  When I think of quails I picture the silly little thing in Warner Brothers cartoons that’s always waddling along with it’s chicks in a line behind.  It has a top knot of feathers that sticks out of the top of it’s head and falls forward into  it’s eyes that it has to constantly blow out of the way so it can see where it’s going.  That is a California Quail.  Or course the Israelites were a long way from California.  They were crossing the Sinai Peninsula, in modern Egypt.  It splits the northern end of the Red Sea into the Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba.

In this part of the world there is the Common Quail (Coturnix Coturnix).  It’s a member of the pheasant family so it’s probably pretty good eating.  However it’s not very big, a little over 7 inches long on average and generally only weighs about 4oz. Thankfully this isn’t an endangered species, it’s a very widespread bird that you can find anywhere in  Europe, Asia, and Africa.  There is no shortage of these birds to eat, but as you’ll see below there must have been a lot more of them around in Moses’ day then there are today.

So we know what kind of bird we’re talking about and how big they are.  But how many birds are in a homer?  My pocket reference guide says that a homer is 220 liters, that’s about 58 gallons.  So “he that gathered least” gathered 580 gallons of little birds, 18 garbage cans full.  That’s about 3 cubic yards of birds, or enough to fill the bed of a full sized pickup truck to overflowing, mounded high with little dead birdy bodies.

So how many birds is that?  Well we have a bit of data on our side.  As you probably know airplanes and birds don’t get along.  When one hits the other bad things can happen.  Engineers who design planes need to account for the fact that a bird is going to smack into the plane from time to time.  And design the plane in such a way that birds won’t break it.  Of course to do this they need to know the density of a bird.  It’s all about density.  You can imagine how a plane hitting a 1 pound brick is a lot bigger deal than if it were to hit a 1 pound bag of feathers.  The different between the two impacts is that a brick has a very high density and a bag of feathers has a very low density.  Our birds should be somewhere in the middle of those density extremes.  If we can figure out the density of the birds we can figure out how many birds and how many pounds of birds would fit in a 10 homer container.

The Bible, King James Version, Numbers 11:31-32; “And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. -- And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.”

However the aerospace industry doesn’t use quails, California Animated or otherwise, for it’s testing.  They use an even more common, and flightless, bird, the chicken.   It might not make sense at first thought to use a flightless bird in designing airplanes.  But In testing they use frozen chickens, heck if a plane can stand up to a frozen chicken from the grocery store it shouldn’t have problem with a 4oz quail.   Thankfully a lot of other types of birds have been studied over the years, many with airplane strikes in mind, and so density measurements were taken. Lucky for us in 1967 a couple of researchers measured the density of 70 quails of the same type that God brought to the israelites.   We’re in!  They got an average density of 0.98gm/cm3.   They had some other birds in their study too but nowhere near as many other species as there were common quails.   This number should be close enough.

If we do a bit of math we see that 10 homers is equal to about 220,000cm3, and at 0.98gm/cm3 that works out to about 1900 birds, weighing about 475 pounds.   You might assume that “he who gathered least” would be the sick, the wounded and the old.  However this part of the bible pretty much ignores everyone except the able bodied soldiers.  Twice in Numbers God tells Moses to perform a census of, “all the congregation of the children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, throughout their fathers' house, all that are able to go to war in Israel.”  So we’re going to do like Moses and assume that all the women are making cook fires, plucking feathers and dressing birds. And that all the kids are busy playing games on their iSlates. And not count them.  We’ll assume only the warriors are gathering birds.

The bible doesn’t tell us who got the record for most birds gathered, it only gives of the lowest number.  So for simplicity we’ll just use with that 10 homers per soldier estimate.  How many soldiers are there?  Each census came up about the same at 600,000.  Yes, six hundred thousand able bodied men.  That’s a city the size of Las Vegas full of nothing but men over 20 able to fight.  If we assume that able bodied man made up about ¼ the population then we’re talking about 2.4 million people, or a little less than the population of Chicago, marching across the desert.

600,000 men times 1900 birds per man works out to 1.14 billion birds!  That would fill well over 525 olympic swimming pools.   The bible goes on to tell us what they did with these birds, “they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.”  One person’s birds would cover the floor of a square room 15ft on a side.  These 600,000 men would have had to cover 3195 acres with little bird corpses laid side by side.  If you laid these birds beak to tail they would go around the earth five times.  And the bible tells us they did it all in a day and night!

This would seem extreme to anyone.  It seems doubtful even the most ambitious family could clean and cook (or otherwise preserve) 1900 birds before they went bad, especially when 599,999 other families are trying to do the same thing all around you.  I imagine that firewood would have been at a premium in the desert even before it was time to cook a billion birds.  God seems to have felt the same way and things soon turned bad for the bird hoarders, “And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.”

Even if you are a devout christian you probably have some trouble believing the above numbers.  For instance 2.4 million people crossing the desert probably isn’t possible, there would be no way to feed and water them.  The Persian Army was said to have 220,000 soldiers and Herodotus tells us that they drank the rivers dry.  Also 1.14 billion birds, that’s 7 times how many common quails are thought to be alive today.

Most biblical scholars believe these numbers to be either a mistake or a literary fiction.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  The Bible is trying to teach a lesson here, and it’s using exaggeration to do it.  Exaggeration, simile and metaphor are great teaching tools.  Most countries have a long history of tall tales.  And while few of us believe that Johnny Appleseed is responsible for spreading the apple in the west all by himself, or that Pecos Bill tamed the west, they are still good narratives that teach what an individual person might do if they work  hard enough.  Most parents have said, “Don’t put your fingers in your mouth, you don’t know where those fingers have been.”  Of course the child knows exactly where their fingers have been.  After all the fingers are part of his or her body. It’s a metaphor and one that works.

So I for one will give the bible break on this one.  Still it’s fun to do the math.  It’s not as fun to think about what 500 swimming pools worth of dead birds would smell like, in the desert, surrounded by people experiencing a great plague.  I ever get a time machine I don’t think I’ll be visiting Kibroth Hattaavah (the graves of gluttony),  no matter how hungry I am for pheasant.

Why Use Kerosene In A Rocket?

You may have heard of the Antares rocket that blew up recently (video link at the bottom).  You may have also heard that this rocket was fueled by kerosene.  Well if you’re like me, and I know I am, you might have thought to yourself, “Why, in this day and age, would you fuel a rocket with kerosene?”  Well the answer is rocket science, but it’s still pretty simple.

Most rockets now days use liquid hydrogen for their fuel.  But that’s not really a modern invention.  Even back in the 1960’s when we went to moon we used liquid hydrogen in a lot of rockets.   The upper stages of the big Saturn V that took us to moon used liquid hydrogen.  So why use RP-1 now?

In fact back in the 1960’s the first stage of the Saturn V did use kerosene (which rocket scientists call RP-1).  If you watch the video of a moon rocket lifting off you’ll see those same orange flames and black sooty smoke coming out of the Saturn V, just before liftoff, that you see from the Antares rocket explosion.  The reason they used RP-1 in the first stage is that it’s perfect for low altitude rocket flight.

The reason RP-1 works so well low down is how much energy you get from each gallon of it.  For each gallon of RP-1 you burn you get over 4 times the energy you get from burning a gallon of liquid hydrogen.  When you’re building a rocket the more gallons of fuel it has to carry the bigger it has to be.  The bigger the rocket is the more air it has to push aside as it speeds up, and that uses up valuable energy that should be used getting the rocket up higher.  

So why not use RP-1 for the whole rocket?  Remember that Saturn V only used RP-1 for the first two and a half minutes or so.  Because RP-1 is heavy stuff.  11 gallons of liquid hydrogen weigh less than one gallon of RP-1.  Of course once you get high enough there isn’t as much air to push through so you don’t mind if your rocket is big and fat to carry all that low energy, but lightweight, liquid hydrogen.  Up high you care more about how much your rocket weighs.  After all it’s easier to speed up a lighter rocket.  So once you’re up above most of the air your best bet is to switch to liquid hydrogen.  Once you’ve gotten up that high it’s all about getting up to the 17,000mph speed you need to achieve orbit.

Of course there is more than one way to skin a cow (and make lovely wallets).   The Space Shuttle had this same problem but solved it with solid rocket fuel instead of RP-1.  It burned liquid hydrogen in it’s engines and so needed a huge tank to hold it all.  To get that big Space Shuttle and that huge tank up above most of the air it needed those two big rockets on either side.  They didn’t burn for long (only about 2 minutes) but in that time they shoved the Space Shuttle and it’s big tank up to 150,000ft.  Which is above most of the air.  That’s above 5 times higher than a jet airliner flies.  Once the Shuttle was up there the remaining liquid hydrogen fueled engines on the back were perfect for the job of getting up to speed so it could reach orbit.

If you want more morbid proof of this go watch the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.  You’ll see that, unlike in the Antares explosion, the cloud that’s left over is a nice clean white one.  When Challenger's left solid rocket booster failed it burned a hole in the hydrogen tank.  All that liquid hydrogen dropped out of the tank and into the rocket exhaust and ignited.  When you burn hydrogen and oxygen you get H2O, or water.  Water vapor in this case, water vapor takes up a lot more space than liquid hydrogen does.  The expansion made enough thrust to break up the vehicle in a bunch of ways.  The solid rocket boosters, freed from the rest of the shuttle, flew on out of the cloud.  So what you see is pretty much just burned up hydrogen, a.k.a. water.  And also one of the saddest days in space history.

TLDR: Kerosene has a lot more energy per gallon than liquid hydrogen.


Antares explosion:

Slow motion Saturn V liftoff:

Challenger explosion:

BMW Cabin Air Filter

My BMW 745Li has filters on it's HVAC intake.  Pretty nice, keeps the dust out of the car and, more importantly,  keeps the evaporator clean.  You should have seen the handful after handful of leafs and pine needles  I pulled out of the evaporator on my truck.  It doesn't have a filter. 

Anyway you can buy two different types of filters.  Regular paper filters ($35.50 for 2, the car needs two, one for the left and one for the right) or Activated Charcoal filters ($50.75).  I always but the Charcoal ones, since I like the idea of strange smells being reduced before they come into the car.  I thought it'd be interesting to cut open one of the old Charcoal one to see how it's made.

Pretty neat.  Looks like they roll the filter paper in some kind of glue and then roll it again in Charcoal.  Then put two pieces of of filter paper together in pleats to make the filter. 

Vanc Clinic has Online Urgent Care Scheduling

Pretty cool, I needed to take my little girl in to urgent care for an ear infection.  Of course I called the pediatrician's office first but no appointments were available until next week.  However the scheduling person said, "You can schedule an appointment with urgent care on the web site."  So I tried it out.  You can only schedule a day or so in advance it looks like.  Which makes perfect sense to me.  It was quick and fairly easy.

When we got there and told the person at the desk that we had an appointment she said, looking at her computer, "Oh yea, here you are.  Good thing you scheduled because the wait is pretty long right now.”  She was right.  The waiting room was full but about 10 minutes after sitting down to wait we were called in.  Nice setup.  Of course that’s the good side of the story.


Here’s the rest of the story:  This year we got new healthcare from work.  An HRA.  Which apparently means that they put money in an account for you to draw from when you go to the doctor.  So that means no copay, which is great.  Well apparently not for prescriptions, since I had to give $10 for the $70 prescription.  But I’m sure an HRA is great, because my HR people told me it was.

The problem was, when this all started and I sort of needed to get into urgent care within the next few hours I realized that I had a problem.  I had never looked to see if my preferred local doctors office, The Vancouver Clinic, was covered under my new insurance.  A quick call to Vancouver Clinic got me the answer, "There's know way for us to know that.  Is there any other way I might help you?"  OK fair enough.

So why not check the website of the health insurance company.    Except I don't know what that web site is.  So I connected to the network at work.  Well first I had to go into the other room and fish around in my laptop bag for a while to find the RSA key which would allow me to login to work.  Seventeen clicks and a few “Please wait while we install software’s” later.  I hit the main corporate network.  Looked around a bit until I found the HR web site.   Looking at the HR page, and even searching for the words "health" or "insurance" found no good info.   But looking closer I found a button labeled "benefits."  OK we're in business!

Well maybe not.  Lots of data on that “benefits” page, found something about health care coverage pretty quick.  Clicked that link.  It's a PDF, so we'll wait for that to load for a bit.  Start skimming, scroll-scroll-scroll.  On about the last page of this 30-something page thing there are some URL's.  One is to the insurance company's web site!

Now we're on the home stretch, "Welcome to Anthem!" said the web site.  "Find a Doctor" that looks promising.  OK enter my zip code, within 20 miles, yep that'll work.  Question four; what type of insurance do you have?  I hit the pulldown and nothing on that list matches what my insurance card says.  Of course I am on the Anthem web site and my card says BlueCross BlueShield, so maybe I’m in the wrong place.  Open a new tab and a bit of google revealed that Anthem and BlueWhatever are the same thing.  Yay!  Back to Question four; what type of insurance do you have?

Since nothing is listed here I select PPO, since my card does have a logo on the bottom that says “PPO” right under where it says “HRA”.  That opens a new question.  PPO, or PPO Basic.  I select one at random and hit submit.  Yay a list of doctors and a map showing where they are … But wait a minute, this really is a list of doctors!   Dr. John Smith at such-and-such address and Dr. Jane Doe and other-and-such address.  This does me no good, it doesn’t list the names of the place where they practice.  Nowhere would it say, “The Vancouver Clinic.”

I guess I can look at the map, try to a find doctor with a number next to it that signifies it is in the correct place on the map and then call the number for that doctor to make sure that they are, in fact, at the Vancouver clinic. 

Have you forgotten why I was doing all this?  Because by this point I had.   At this point you could stop reading and skip to the end.  But I couldn’t, I’m stuck in this nightmare.  I have to soldier on.  I try to remember that the goal here is to figure out if Vancouver Clinic is covered under my insurance.  Meanwhile my daughter sits miserably in the chair behind me.  So, no pressure.

Time to call this doctor I’ve selected in about the right point on the map … wait, there are no phone numbers listed.  Maybe if I click on their names.  Nope, no phone numbers available for any of these doctors.  Is it hot in here?  Maybe the AC isn’t working properly.  If I die of frustration at this point at least somebody else will have the problem of taking my daughter to the doctor.  At least she’d be distracted from the throb in the side of her head by my frustrated corpse.

OK back button … back back back.  Oh look, there is also a “Find an Urgent Care Link”  lets try that.  Same problem.  Question four; what type of insurance do you have?  I still don’t know the answer to this, but this time I notice there is a radio button for, “Search for all insurance types.”  Lets use that and see what we get.   I get a list of urgent care clinics with a highlighted note at the top of the page saying, “Your insurance may not cover all of these locations.” subtext, “because you didn’t choose your insurance type,  Dummy!”

Examining the list I see that Vancouver Clinic isn’t on there, but the company names are.  No phone numbers, but at least I have a company name and address this time.  So that’s progress.  Still I have to know what is covered on my particular HRA-PPO-POS plan.  So I call the insurance company.  After about five minutes saying into the phone “Find a Doctor” and “Find Urgent Care.” And an automated system telling me, “I didn’t recognize that response.”  And reminding me that I’d really be better off graduating to the twenty-first century and doing all this via their web site. I finally say, rather urgently, “Agent!” 

The nice lady with the southern accent that comes onto the phone points out that there is yet another option for Question four; what type of insurance do you have? Which I hadn't noticed before now titled, “I am a current member and want to search using my plan.”  I’m not sure how I didn’t see this since it’s conveniently printed in light grey text on a white background and is placed ABOVE the default option.

So I think the lady on the phone, hang up and enter the data from my card into this new option on the web site.  It works!  Here are a list of all the urgent care places in my area that are supported by my particular HRA-PPO-POS-PITA.  Vancouver clinic isn’t on this list either.  In fact there are a total of three locations within the city where I live.  That’s OK only two hundred fifty thousand of us live here.  Three locations should be enough since they’re probably 24/7 operations.  I write down the location of the one nearest my house and we’re out the door!

Arriving at the location with miserable girl in tow we walk up to the entrance of this Family Urgent Care Clinic.  There is a sign taped to the door, not an official sign.  But something that somebody knocked up in Word in about 10 seconds, Calibri 72-point font at it’s best.  “Urgent Care Will Close Today at 2:00PM”  A quick look at my phone lets me what I have already guessed.  The time is now 2:14PM.  Not to be deterred we walk in anyway.  

A small Asian woman tells me, “urgent care closed!” 
“Yes I saw the sign.”
To which she responds, “urgent care closed!” and shakes her head.

Back in the car where the AC works hard to cool off my temper.  Thankfully before I embarked upon my quest for unlimited free energy … I mean my quest for insurance supported urgent care.  I had made an appointment, online, at Vancouver Clinic for 3:00PM.   “2:18 is close enough,” I think.  Followed by, “This is why I take care of my money.  I have a credit card with plenty of free spending power on it.  This is America.  In America the best insurance card is a credit card.”  And so we went to Vancouver clinic, and from there all went fairly well.

The lady at the counter copied the incomprehensible information from my insurance card into her computer.  This took almost 15 minutes.  How you can spend 15 minutes inputting the data from a mostly blank three inch rectangular card which your company doesn’t accept, I don’t know.  Maybe she was using the Anthem web site too.  I had to sign a document, which I didn’t read. But I felt confident assuming it said, “We’re probably going to bill you a fairly silly amount of money for this and you here-by agree that the bill should make no sense to man or beast.  In fact if you call us about this bill even we won’t be able to tell you what any of it means.”

So we have a diagnosis of “some fluid behind the ear drum but no infection.” A prognosis of, “If she spikes a fever bring her back in.” and a prescription for nasally administered steroids.  Presumably if you build up the muscles of the nose it will beat the ears into submission.

Social Media Aggregation

I’m involved in three major social media sites.  My problem is that various people who I would like to share things with might only use one or two of the three.  Maybe by posting here and pushing these posts to the various social media sites I can make things easier on myself.

Plus doing it this way lets me write long form when I feel the need.  This makes me happy.  Feel free to skim.