Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Kepler and Calories

A report made the news this week from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), concluded that "people's weight, and not just population size, should be taken into account when planning how to deal with increasing pressure on the planet's dwindling resources."

In a little-reported footnote, we also learn that orbital computer algorithms and GPS receiver firmware worldwide have required updating over the past six months.  This has happened because the mass of the earth, once considered a universal constant, is now a variable.  And, one that's proving quite difficult to calculate.

Various organizations are taking different approaches to calculating the new mass of the earth.  One obvious way is to factor in the population of the earth, and account for the increasing average body weight.  The problem is this data lags the "true mass" by years, due to the time it takes to collect and tabulate the data.  Others are using more indirect factors, such as customized "fast food" stock market indices or proprietary production data from worldwide belt manufacturers.  Dr. Oliver Heaviside commented "we had heard about this effect, but didn't appreciate it fully until our calculations of the recent Transit of Venus were off by 8-1/2 seconds". 

NASA has been sending algorithm updates to it's various probes and satellites currently in space. Tracking stations worldwide are modifying their software accordingly. Individual owners of GPS navigation systems worldwide should contact the manufacturer and request a firmware upgrade.

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