Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Letters from the Mailbag: How Healthy is Santa Claus? Why Does Rudolph Have a Red Nose? And Other Holiday Minutiea.

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Dear Jim,

Is there a Santa Claus?  Scientifically speaking, that is.

Confused in Duluth

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Dear Confused,

Yes.

Jim

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Dear Jim,

Yes?  Is that all you have to say?

Confused in Duluth

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Dear CID,

Yes.

Jim

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Dear Jim,

Can you give more than a one word answer?

Confused in Duluth.

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Dear CID,

Yes.

Jim

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Okay, dumb a**.  What is it?

Confused in Duluth

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Dear CID,

From personal experience, I know that Santa Claus lives. Probably across the street from me.

The other morning I was lounging on my deck when I spotted an Elf, undoubtedly from Santa's Workshop, putting presents under the Christmas tree in an apartment across the way.  I know she was a elf because she was decked out in nothing but bright red thong panties. How does this make her Santa's Elf?  Who but Santa or his helpers wear bright red this time of year?  (Do you know how hard it is to get fog off the lenses inside binoculars?)

If this is not proof positive that Santa exists, I don't know what would satisfy you.

Best wishes,

DA

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Dear Jim,

You're a dirty old man.

Confused in Duluth


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Dear CID,

And your point?

Best wishes,

Jim

P.S.  If this incident doesn't convince you, then consider this bit of scientific research published in December, 2013 from a really, truly scientifical institution:

How healthy is Santa Claus?

Children around the world look to Santa Claus as a model of good behavior. But can this sleigh-riding bearer of goodies also be a model good health habits for adults?

"Because Santa is probably more than 550 years old, a lot of people would say that growing older hasn't been a problem for him,'" said Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, dean of the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. "But aging successfully means more than adding years to your life. Successful aging means you are adding life to your years."

Cavalieri is a geriatrician and the founder of the medical school's nationally acclaimed New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging. Although he has never personally examined Santa, his expertise allows him to draw the following remarkably specific conclusions about the "jolly old elf" and his naughty and nice health habits:

Naughty: The 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, describes Santa as "chubby and plump" and, 190 years later, he still looks like he could lose a few pounds. Skipping some of those sugary snacks that children leave for him would help Santa avoid the weight gain that could lead to conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Statistics show that half of adults older than 65 has diabetes or prediabetes.

Nice, but used to be naughty: Santa used to be seen with the "stump of a pipe…held tight in his teeth" while the smoke "encircled his head like a wreath." Fortunately, he appears to have given up this habit. No matter how old you are, quitting smoking immediately improves your health.

Mostly Nice: While late-night snacks can cause heartburn, the milk Santa drinks is a good source of bone-building vitamin D and calcium. Santa should stick to low- or non-fat milk, and combine it with vitamin fortified foods and weight bearing exercises to keep his bones strong and limit his risk of osteoporosis.

Nice: Despite his size and age, Santa probably sticks to a regular exercise program throughout the year. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to remain so "lively and quick" while delivering gifts around the world. Carrying a sack full of toys strengthens his muscles, which improves balance and helps prevent falls. Climbing up and down chimneys -- while not recommended -- is likely good cardiovascular exercise, similar to the kind of workout you get with a brisk walk, a bike ride or walking up and down steps.

Probably Nice: Santa is "…making a list and checking it twice." This may be a sign of some age-related difficulties with memory, but making lists is an excellent way to compensate for this sometimes vexing problem. Keeping active -- by making toys with the elves year round -- will help, too. Regular exercise improves heart health and a healthy heart means a healthy brain.

Nice: Santa keeps a herd of reindeer. Though not for everyone, caring for a pet can yield several health benefits. Pet ownership can help lower blood pressure, ease anxiety, reduce social isolation and even boost the immune system. Having a pet can also provide opportunities for exercise.

Nice: Santa and Mrs. Claus have been married for a long time and marriage appears to be strongly related to successful aging. Newly published research shows that married people were more likely than others to survive cancer. Marriage also provides psychological benefits. The social connections that are part of married life go a long way toward helping limit the effects of depression and stress.

"When you add it all together, Santa's health habits definitely put him on a successful aging path that others can follow," Cavalieri said. "He appears to be in pretty good shape and should be able to continue filling Christmas wishes for many years to come."

Story Source: Rowan University. "How healthy is Santa Claus?" ScienceDaily, 13 December 2013.

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Dear Jim,

Why is Rudolph's Nose Red?

Bewildered in Yonkers

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Dear Bewildered,

One might think it's because Rudolph drinks too much, but no, a 2012 article published in the prestigious medical publication, the British Medical Journal, explained that Rudolph's nose is red because it is richly supplied with red blood cells which help to protect it from freezing while regulating his brain temperature. Here's the article:

Research Proves Rudolph's Nose Maintains 
Optimal Nasal Climate During Changing 
Weather Conditions and Extremes of Temperature
as well as Being Responsible for 
Fluid Transport While Acting as a Barrier

Researchers analyzed a reindeer's temperature while on a treadmill (video link below). In the arctic, reindeer have evolved to keep warm - but like all animals, sometimes they need to cool down. Unlike humans, they cannot sweat, so have to use their nose for heat exchange.

Knowing how important this regulation is for flying reindeer, who have to deal with extremes of temperature while pulling a sleigh, researchers in the Netherlands and Norway set out to test whether Rudolph's infamous red nose was due to "a highly dense and rich nasal microcirculation" compared with human noses.

Using a hand-held video microscope, they first assessed the noses of five healthy human volunteers and found a circulating blood vessel density of 15 mm/mm2.

When the technique was applied to two reindeer noses, the researchers found a 25% higher density of blood vessels, carrying a super-rich concentration of red blood cells.

They also found a high density of mucous glands scattered throughout the reindeer noses, which they say helps "maintain an optimal nasal climate during changing weather conditions and extremes of temperature as well as being responsible for fluid transport and acting as a barrier."

Infrared thermal images showed that reindeer do indeed have red noses.
"The microcirculation of the nasal mucosa in reindeer is richly vascularised and 25% denser than that in humans," say the authors. "These factors explain why the nose of Rudolph, the lead flying reindeer employed by Santa Claus to pull his sleigh, is red and well adapted to carrying out his duties in extreme temperatures."

Video: A Reindeer on a Treadmill

Story Source: Story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. C. Ince, A.-M. van Kuijen, D. M. J. Milstein, K. Yuruk, L. P. Folkow, W. J. Fokkens, A. S. Blix. Why Rudolph's nose is red: observational study. BMJ, 2012.

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Dear SNfW:

Are you for real?

Unsure in Ypsilanti, Michigan

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Dear UiYM

Is Ypsilanti real? The post office says it exists (Zip code 48197), and delivers mail there.  Also, the post office delivers mail to me, ergo. . .

Jim

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Dear Smart A**,

Okay. Does science have an answer for this question:  How does Santa deliver presents to boys and girls and retail executives all in one night?

Doubtful in Detroit

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Dear DiD:

Ha!  Science can answer any question you can pose, except, of course, how Quantum Mechanics works.  They're still trying to figure that one out.

Santa Delivers Toys Using Advanced knowledge
of Electromagnetic Waves, the Space/Time 
Continuum, Nanotechnology, Genetic Engineering 
and Computer Science

According to North Carolina State University's Dr. Larry Silverberg, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, "one can explain the plausible science and engineering principles that could allow the Jolly Old Elf to pull off the magical feat year after year."

With his cherubic smile and twinkling eyes, Santa may appear to be merely a jolly old soul but he and his North Pole elves have a lot going on under the funny-looking hats, Silverberg says. Their advanced knowledge of electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and computer science easily trumps the know-how of contemporary scientists.

Silverberg says that Santa has a personal pipeline to children's thoughts -- via a listening antenna that combines technologies currently used in cell phones and EKGs* -- which informs him that Mary in Miami hopes for a surfboard, while Michael from Minneapolis wants a snowboard. A sophisticated signal processing system filters the data, giving Santa clues on who wants what, where children live, and even who's been bad or good. Later, all this information will be processed in an onboard sleigh guidance system, which will provide Santa with the most efficient delivery route.

Silverberg adds that letters to Santa via snail mail still get the job done, however.
Silverberg is not so naïve as to think that Santa and his reindeer can travel approximately 200 million square miles -- making stops in some 80 million homes -- in one night. Instead, he posits that Santa uses his knowledge of the space/time continuum to form what Silverberg calls "relativity clouds."

"Based on his advanced knowledge of the theory of relativity, Santa recognizes that time can be stretched like a rubber band, that space can be squeezed like an orange and that light can be bent," Silverberg says. "Relativity clouds are controllable domains -- rips in time -- that allow him months to deliver presents while only a few minutes pass on Earth. The presents are truly delivered in a wink of an eye."

With a detailed route prepared and his list checked twice through the onboard computer on the technologically advanced sleigh, Santa is ready to deliver presents. His reindeer -- genetically bred to fly, balance on rooftops and see well in the dark -- don't actually pull a sleigh loaded down with toys. Instead, each house becomes Santa's workshop as he utilizes a nano-toymaker to fabricate toys inside the children's homes. The presents are grown on the spot, as the nano-toymaker creates -- atom by atom -- toys out of snow and soot, much like DNA can command the growth of organic material like tissues and body parts.

And there's really no need for Santa to enter the house via chimney, although Silverberg says he enjoys doing that every so often. Rather, the same relativity cloud that allows Santa to deliver presents in what seems like a wink of an eye is also used to "morph" Santa into people's homes.

Finally, many people wonder how Santa and the reindeer can eat all the food left out for them. Silverberg says they take just a nibble at each house. The remainder is either left in the house or placed in the sleigh's built-in food dehydrator, where it is preserved for future consumption. It takes a long time to deliver all those presents, after all.

"This is our vision of Santa's delivery method, given the human, physical and engineering constraints we face today," Silverberg says. "Children shouldn't put too much credence in the opinions of those who say it's not possible to deliver presents all over the world in one night. It is possible, and it's based on plausible science."

Story Source: "Science Of Santa Claus: Jolly Old Elf Really Can Deliver Presents In One Night, Says Engineer." ScienceDaily, 24 December 2006.

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More answers to your questions, whether inane or not, in future blogs.

Ho, ho!