Wrath of the Math

The Balloon Mission was first inspired by a picture from an old Ripley's Believe it or Not! book. Some tiny little kid was strapped into a harness connected to a giant helium balloon. According to the caption, the little guy spent the day jumping over buildings and other tall things. It takes special parents to do something so insanely dangerous with their child- bless them and their creative, glue-saturated minds.

Then I heard the story of Larry Walters, a truck driver from Long Beach, CA. In 1982 Larry tied 45 weather balloons to a lawn chair, grabbed a six pack and a sandwich, and floated slowly up 16,000 feet into the air. He stayed up for about two hours, fucked up all the flight patterns around LAX, and then drifted back to earth and landed in some power lines. Larry enjoyed a brief taste of fame, and finally committed suicide several years later. Immediately after his adventure, reporters asked him why he did such a crazy thing. His reply:

"Because you can't just sit there."

Oh boy, did he say a mouthful. Larry Walters was a genius, and this LOP is dedicated to him.

Anyway, I figured I would set myself up with a few weather balloons and see what kind of trouble I could get into. I didn't want to float 3 miles up, or even over a building- I just wanted to be able to jump real high and bounce down the street. Money is tight around the Crash Site, so I needed to figure out exactly what I would need to accomplish my goal. How many balloons do I need to lift me up enough to have a good time? It was time to bust out the calculator.

Most people do not enjoy doing math problems. Most people declare, "I'm never going to use math in the real world" when they are in high school, and stick to their claim. Most people are quite happy being dumb. Good for them.

Don't be dumb. Math, physics, and numbers are about the only absolute thing in the world. Mountains crumble, governments fall, people change their minds, but distance always equals rate times time. It solves a lot of problems, and geeks be damned, it can actually be satisfying and enjoyable. Math may not help you meet girls, but with sense and ingenuity, it can put an airplane in the air. Shit, it would have put me in the air, if it weren't for the most depressing applied math: economics.

If you want to see why I'm not hopping down Wilshire Blvd, jumping on top of cars, check the numbers. Basically, I'm a few dollars short of a good time. Damn. So, the Balloon mission hasn't worked out yet. It will soon, I just need to raise some cash. When I get it together, you will be the first to know. Don't be shy: send money, send your old weather balloons, send support. Thanks.

EPILOGUE: I really like jumping over things and flipping around, so I was pretty bummed that the Balloon equation didn't work out, at least not yet. To make up for it we went to the Holiday Inn pool in Santa Monica, and I jumped off the wall a few times. Slow it down with the frame by frame, and try to determine the height of the wall. Hint: the video is at 15 frames per second.


download 1MB quicktime file if you don't have ViewMovie plug-in

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