Interview: Aaron Santos on sports estimations

In episode 57 of Critical Wit podcast, I interviewed physicist, author, and former meet-up guestAaron Santos, about his new book, Ballparking: Practical Math for Impractical Sports Questions.




Aaron Santos: “My Obstetrician Was in Virgo”

In chapter 61 of How Many Licks, Aaron Santos estimates what causes more tidal forces on a newborn, the moon or the obstetrician?

Astrologists often argue that because heavenly bodies control the ocean’s tides and humans are made of water, the positions of the starts at the time of our birth must control our personalities.  These soothsayers neglect the fact that tidal forces are not specific to water, but come about because gravitational forces on an object vary at different location on the object.  What causes more tidal force on you at birth: the moon or the obstetrician?

1) The tidal force due to the obstetrician is about 4,000 times greater

2) The tidal force due to the obstetrician is about 40,000 times greater

3) The tidal force due to the obstetrician is about 400,000 times greater

4) The tidal force due to the moon is greater (the #1 answer picked by astrologers!)

Aaron Santos: “Mightier Than the Sword”

In chapter 24 of How Many Licks, Aaron Santos estimates how long of a line could you write before one pen ran out of ink?

The beginning of the school year can be a fun time.  Ignoring the uneasiness that comes at the though of another exam-filled nine months, there are the fresh new supplies of pens, bags, and Trapper Keepers that you get every September. But inevitably, the pens run out, get lost, or are stolen so that by the time June rolls around, you’re left with a completely different gaggle of pens than you started with.  What if you could maintain your original supply of pens?  How long of a line could you write before one pen ran out?

1) 1 km (~0.6 mi)

2) 3 km (~1.8 mi)

3) 5 km (~3.1 mi)

[Helpful Hint: Factoring in losing pens and using up pens, assume that a pen lasts about two months (60 days).  And assume you take about 10 pages of notes per day, with 20 lines per page, and about 0.25 mi (~10 in) of ink written per line = 50 m (~160 ft) of ink used per day]

Aaron Santos: “Eat It, Spider-Man!”

In chapter 32 of How Many Licks, Aaron Santos estimates how much food Peter Parker would have to eat in order to produce an equivalent amount of web each day.

When it comes to superhero movies, one must always maintain some suspension of disbelief.  For instance, in the Spider-Man series, it’s perfect natural for audiences to believe that getting bitten by a radioactive spider gives you super powers, but are we really expected to believe all of that web came out of one body?  Isn’t there some physical law that says matter can’t be created on the fly? How many pounds of food does Peter Parker have to eat to produce an equivalent amount of web each day?

1) 4.6 pounds

2) 46 pounds

3) 460 pounds

[Helpful Hint: In the movies, it appears that webs can be about 20 m (~66 ft) long.  If each web takes him about 20 m (~66 ft) long, then he needs to shoot about 80 webs to travel a mile, which is reasonable distance for him to travel in a day.  In the movies, Spider-Man's webs appear to be about 1.0 cm (~0.39 in). And the density of spider silk is about 1.3g/cm cubed (~0.58 oz/in cubed).

Aaron Santos: “The Next Great Wall”

In chapter 25 of How Many Licks, Aaron Santos estimates how long will it take before the United States shares a border with China?

While much of the talk in Washington today concerns sealing up the border between the United States and Mexico to deter illegal immigration, in the future we may be talking about sealing up the American-Chinese border. Due to continental drift, the Atlantic Ocean gets about 2 cm (~0.8 in) wider every year.  Consequently, the Pacific Ocean gets 2 cm (~0.8 in) smaller ever year.  How long will it be until the United States and China share a border?

1) 500 million years

2) 1 billion years

3) 5 billion years

[Helpful Hint: Looking at a map, you can see that the Pacific Ocean is about 10,000 km = 1.0 x 10 (to the 9) cm (~6300 mi) wide.]

Mathematical Questions for Aaron Santos

At our next meet-up, Aaron Santos will be talking about how mathematics can be a tool for applying skepticism.

Over at his blog, A Diary of Numbers, Santos states he “likes solving geeky Fermi problems.”  For example, Santos has tackled questions such as:

  1. How much gas do you waste by turning on the headlights of your car?
  2. How sensitive would a shark’s nose have to be in order to detect a drop of blood from one mile away?
  3. How many people spinning anti-clockwise would it take to counteract the Earth’s spin, assuming that the premise is sound.
  4. Assorted Death Statistics

So what other good hypothetical questions could Santos try and solve?  Here’s a few that came to mind:

  1. How much hair throughout the entire world is grown in one day?  I wonder if it would cover my driveway?  Or the Eastern Michigan University Water Tower?  Or the University of Michigan Football Stadium?
  2. According to wikipedia, it took over three years, two months, fourteen days and sixteen hours, for Forest Gump to run coast to coast across the country several times.  What was his average speed?
  3. If the sun disappeared, how quickly would the temperature drop on Earth?  And how powerful of an artificial heat source would you have to have in order to compensate for the decreased temperature?

Are there any others?  Post them in the comments section.