Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ask Xerxes

It’s not widely known, but besides this blog, I also have a syndicated advice column that runs in hundreds of local papers across the country. My nom de plume is “Xerxes” and people write to me with their problems. People have problems with their relationships, with their careers, with their finances, with their physics homework: whatever it is, I can help them. Or at least baffle them.

So if your local paper does not carry “Ask Xerxes” please write and ask them to get with the program. Thanks. Here’s a sample from recent columns:

Dear Xerxes:

I have a problem: my tax adviser recommended that I make some charitable contributions before the end of the calendar year to reduce my tax burden, but I’m not sure what non-profit agencies would make the best use of my money. I’ve read that some of the best-known non-profits have huge overhead expenses, such as officers who make up to half a million a year. Where is there an organization that would use 100% of my donation for the stated purpose? (signed) Wondering in Woodstock

Dear Wondering:

I’m glad you asked that question! As it happens, I know of one quite close to you there in McHenry County. The Illinois Railway Museum is run by volunteers, so the Board of Directors and other officers serve on a volunteer basis. And I happen to know all of them, and can tell you they are as honest as the day is long. 100% of your contribution to a designated fund will be applied to the intended purpose. And your name will appear in genuine print in the nationally-distributed newsletter. What more could you ask?

Dear Xerxes:

I have a problem: my wife says I’m lazy and useless. She says I just lie around all day watching TV and drinking beer. She says I need to exercise more, but I just hate that stupid treadmill and things like that. She says I need to find something to do, or I’ll have to live in the garage. She says I’d better do it soon, or else. What would you suggest? Nagged in Niles

Dear Nagged:

That’s another good question. Obviously, you need a hobby. I've talked to experts, and they all recommend a hobby that combines healthy exercise, learning new skills, working with people, and doing something that benefits the community. If there's a volunteer-based railroad museum near you, they probably have just the program you need!

Dear Xerxes:

I have a problem: a block of mass M is placed at the top of a frictionless hemisphere of radius R and given a slight impulse. At what height above the ground does it leave the surface of the hemisphere? Stumped in Steubenville

Dear Stumped:

First, I hope you understand the basic principles involved. Obviously, the mass will pick up speed as it slides down the surface. Its speed at any height can be found using the conservation of energy, since we’re assuming friction is negligible, and non-conservative forces do no work. So the kinetic energy is equal to the change in gravitational potential energy. The block will remain in contact with the surface as long as the normal component of the gravitational force is greater than or equal to the radial force needed to keep the block moving in a circle of radius R, which is just Mv^2/R. I’m not going to solve the problem for you, but the answer is a simple fraction of the radius, independent of the mass.

Dear Xerxes:

I have a problem: I have more money than I know what to do with. I need to find something useful to do with all this wealth I have lying around. What would you suggest? Midas in Midlothian

Dear Midas:

By now, the answer should be obvious. IRM has many worthwhile projects that need serious financial support. Just off the top of my head, there’s the Land Acquisition Fund, the Carbarn Fund, the Infrastructure fund, the Mortgage Fund, the various departments…. the list goes on and on. You could do a great deal of good!

Dear Xerxes:

I have a problem: I just can’t figure out who to support for President in the upcoming election. There are so many issues, and it’s all so complicated! Baffled in Berwyn

Dear Baffled:

And you’re asking me? What, are you crazy?!?


Anonymous said...

Dear Xerxes,

To your physics answer, you refer to the normal component of gravitation, yet make no mention of the mass of the orb. That has to be major factor in the resolution of the answer. And we would have to be in the vacuum of space with no other interfering gravitational forces. Your answer makes no mention of the fact that no one could survive the environment, thus making the problem trivial for most humans who would never encounter this.

Maybe you should for a new question about a ship called the Xebec and forces on the rigging and masts. But that might be an Xception to your usual fare. All of this is very Xasperating. Who made you Xpert? You do seem to Xagerate often. You often seem to be a Xenophile. Maybe after all water leaves the earth due to global warming, you will advise us how to live in a Xeric environment. What Xactly are you trying to say? Do you have a file of stock answers and merely Xerox them? Time to make my Xit. Yet I continue to read your daily column even though much of what you say is foreign to me.

Merry Xmas

Xenophobe in Xanadu.

Randall Hicks said...

Dear Xenophobe:

You're wrong. The answer does not depend on the magnitude of the gravitational field, and therefore the "mass of the orb," which I take to mean the mass of the earth, does not matter. And there's no reason you couldn't do such an experiment in a vacuum chamber.

And by the way, we do not endorse xenophobia, either.

David Wilkins said...

Dear Xerxes,

I have a friend, let us call him Randall, who has quite a bit of free time on his hands. What can you recommend he do that is productive?

Scott in St. Louis