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the calorie! NOW YOU KNOW [May. 27th, 2009|07:29 am]
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I got a bunch of emails about the calorie yesterday! It is a ridiculous system of measurement and I did my best with it in the comic, but here's the deal. Unlike every other system of measurement ever, the word "calorie" refers both to itself and a unit of measurement 1000 times greater (or smaller, depending on your point of view)! It's like this: "calorie" can refer to the amount of energy needed to heat one giant kilogram of water by one degree celsius OR it can also refer to the amount of energy needed to raise one tiny gram of water by one degree celsius. Plus, there's the term "kilocalorie", but as Wikipedia's calorie page notes, the term "kilocalorie" and "calorie" are interchangable when dealing with food energy.

Nice.

This is compounded by the fact that some (but not all) people use a capital-C "Calorie" to refer to the kilocal, while others don't. On food labels in Canada, capital-C "Calories" are listed, but so are capital-F "Fat" and capital-S "Sodium", where it has no special meaning, so that's not really much help.

In the comic, I went with lower-case "calories", as having everyone capitalize it every time looked weird, especially in panel 2. Most people wouldn't notice anything wrong, and for those that did, I had Utahraptor clearly define his terms in panel 5, so that folks would know what we were talking about. Unfortunately, unless you have just spent a few hours researching the calorie, it's easy to get confused and think that the numbers are 1000 times too big - or too small.

It gets worse! It turns out that the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of water depends on the initial temperature of the water you're dealing with. There's the 4 degree calorie, the 15 degree calorie, the 20 degree calorie, the "1/100th of the energy required to move water from 0 degrees to 100 degrees" calorie, the "this is the amount of joules we've just decided upon and that's THAT" calorie, and so on. All are around the same amount, but of course, there are times where you want specifics.

In conclusion, the calorie is dumb and we should all deal in joules which are precise and which map to every form of calorie anyway. Besides, replacing "I'm counting my calories" with "I'm judging my joules" sounds way more like something we should be saying in the year 2009! You know it's true

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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: llamarines
2009-05-27 11:40 am (UTC)

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Judge Jules is a British trance DJ, Ryan! Was I to try and say that over here there would be misunderstandings
[User Picture]From: qwantz
2009-05-27 11:41 am (UTC)

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There already are!! At least this way there'd be misunderstandings about British trance DJs, which I think is an improvement
[User Picture]From: ravenworks
2009-05-27 11:43 am (UTC)

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hello

and welcome to our community theater puppet show

aimed at helping YOU with the transition in this EXCITING new way of measuring how FAT you'll get!

i'd like you to meet our little friends

mallory calorie

and julius joules.
[User Picture]From: rebelliousuno
2009-05-27 12:31 pm (UTC)

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Now you know how I feel about the definitions for Loudness, Pitch and Tibre.

Horrible horrible perceptive measurements.


[User Picture]From: qwantz
2009-05-27 12:32 pm (UTC)

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Interesting! What makes them so terrible? I know nothing about them.
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[User Picture]From: pierreispierre
2009-05-27 12:34 pm (UTC)

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I am also in favour of jpules, and in favour of the metric system and in favour of adding 'u's to words.
[User Picture]From: chezmax
2009-05-27 03:56 pm (UTC)

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wourds? :)
[User Picture]From: somerled
2009-05-27 12:56 pm (UTC)

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Many problems are solved by using SI units! We should also use centimeters for height and shoes, kilograms for groceries and our own weight, and the A series sizes for paper... oh, and also in construction materials, tools, and so on. Just saying.

Oh, on the coefficient of temperature to the calorie? I hear the definition often given that the calorie is based on one degree change at (from) standard temperature and pressure. But this is fun, because STP can mean 18 C, 20 C, 15 C, 0 C, or a few other, rarer possibilities, depending on whether you are a chemist, physicist, engineer, American, European, or so on. At least the pressure part is pretty consistent?
[User Picture]From: carsmilesteve
2009-05-27 03:47 pm (UTC)

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[User Picture]From: eruditebaboon
2009-05-27 02:48 pm (UTC)

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I just checked my drinks can and the energy value is printed as 42 kcal - no room for confusion! But better still it also shows it as 180kJ - here in the UK our nutritional information has all your bases covered!
[User Picture]From: qwantz
2009-05-27 02:49 pm (UTC)

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I approve of this development in our mother country.
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joule - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-27 02:50 pm (UTC)

biweekly

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another measure word with more than one meaning: biweekly. it can mean twice a week or once every two weeks. dumb, huh? (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biweekly)

jennifer
From: mustgowhee
2009-05-27 03:59 pm (UTC)

Re: biweekly

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"Inflammable means flammable? What a country!"
[User Picture]From: spicedrum
2009-05-27 02:51 pm (UTC)

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This comment deviates from all of the scientific gobbledygook above to exclaim, "Curse you, Ryan North!"


(I have Milli Vanilli stuck in my head now, thanks to your after-comic closing line.)
[User Picture]From: lucky_otter
2009-05-27 03:07 pm (UTC)

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I'm metering my energy intake.
I'm gauging the potential stored in my CHON-based personal fuel.
I'm quantifying the moxie that my alimentary consumption generates.
[User Picture]From: ravenworks
2009-05-27 08:00 pm (UTC)

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"Quantifying The Moxie" needs to be an album title.
From: melissareplies
2009-05-27 03:09 pm (UTC)

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The suggested diet has a daily joule level of 8368. Speaking of which, I'm still waiting for the Unites States to switch to the metric system. Myanmar and Liberia are too busy with extreme violence to upgrade to the metric system, but the US isn't there yet.
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-28 01:16 pm (UTC)

metric adoption

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What we USAmericans should do and what we will do are two totally different things. We can't even agree to teach evolution in our schools, so I think the metric system will have to wait its turn. I have begun the transition as I bought a car thats all in metric, I now go 100km per hour and use 12.6l per 100km!

PS - why isn't there a metric time system?
[User Picture]From: tommusic
2009-05-27 03:30 pm (UTC)

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I'm watching out for my family joules.
[User Picture]From: westacular
2009-05-27 08:29 pm (UTC)

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Damnit I wanted to be the first to make that joke.
From: mustgowhee
2009-05-27 03:57 pm (UTC)

THINK OF THE CONSEQUENCES

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I was in China last year, and they do label their food energy in kJ (and in English, conveniently for me). However as I was at a restaurant drinking a Coca-Cola, I thought "Hmmmm, with this Coke alone, I should be able to easily lift that bus over my head." As an American Physicist (in-training), I'm all for the complete switch to the metric system. I'm just afraid this will lead to all sorts of machismo.
[User Picture]From: chezmax
2009-05-27 03:59 pm (UTC)

Re: THINK OF THE CONSEQUENCES

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Wha? Where does the machismo come in?
[User Picture]From: pantsie
2009-05-27 05:28 pm (UTC)

girl with pants on her head.

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off topic: I'm adding you to my friends list because I adore Dinosaur Comics. Feel free to add back, but certainly don't feel obligated to do so!

Cheers,
pantsie
[User Picture]From: kingkibble
2009-05-27 05:50 pm (UTC)

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I just don't understand how PURE ENERGY makes us fat.
When I see someone fat I don't go "LOOK AT THE ENERGY"
[User Picture]From: stagknight
2009-05-27 06:52 pm (UTC)

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You would if you'd ever tried to burn people as fuel.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-27 06:10 pm (UTC)

Misunderstanding

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OH oh oh! I read "I'm judging my joules" as "I'm juggling my joules" which sounds a lot more fun.
[User Picture]From: daleof
2009-05-27 06:24 pm (UTC)

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I remember having an argument with an american friend about celsius/farenheit, (not what you're talking about I know) the point I made was that celsius may be arbitrary but it's less... a-arbitrary? At least it makes sense I guess.

Also, rutabaga/turnip and zucchini/courgette
[User Picture]From: chewbeck
2009-05-27 06:56 pm (UTC)

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Rutabagas are not the same as turnips. They are a turnip/cabbage hybrid, and also have a distinct flavor from turnips.
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-27 07:25 pm (UTC)

They were big fans of mysterious liquids back in the day

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Worse yet, the word "calorie" itself comes from the old caloric theory of heat, back when people thought that heat was caused by an invisible massless liquid flowing around!
[User Picture]From: qwantz
2009-05-28 11:14 am (UTC)

Re: They were big fans of mysterious liquids back in the day

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That is an excellent point! It is SO CRAZY and also old
[User Picture]From: mandydax
2009-05-27 11:13 pm (UTC)

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Amacrians unite! We can kick out the (c/C/kiloc)alorie and watch our watt-hours while the Limeys bank their BTU's. As an Amacrian, what with our nukes, I wanted to measure it in megatons or at least kilotons of TNT, but at 2000 Cal a day, the average US citizen would consume the equivalent of only about 57 tons of TNT during their lifetime. :(
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-27 11:40 pm (UTC)

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My bag of delicious bread says that its contents contain 965 kJ per 100 grams.

MY BREAD WOULD NOT CONFUSE SCIENTISTS TO THE DEGREE THAT THEY WOULD CAUSE A MARS CLIMATE ORBITER TO MISS AN ENTIRE PLANET
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-28 04:12 am (UTC)

C/calorie

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I must say, I was very disappointed when I saw calorie defined as heating 1000 grams by 1 degree Celsius instead of 1 gram. I was hoping to see Utahraptor inform T-Rex that he needed to have 2000000 calories before clarifying that Nutritional facts generally refer to Calories which are actually kilocalories

Guess my expectations are to high... sad face
[User Picture]From: qwantz
2009-05-28 11:12 am (UTC)

Re: C/calorie

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But - this entire post was explaining why I did that, including the fact that capital-C calorie isn't really standard or used consistantly?
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-28 09:05 am (UTC)

Joules

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Just something to take in mind... When dealing with nuclear energy you don't go around saying 'dude, this Uranium atom creates 1,5 * 10^-16 joules if you split it...' no, instead, we simply use elektronvolts so you can say something like 'dude, 456 MeV'. I mean, joules are often either way to small or way to big to use (altough I don't even know how much joule the average candy bar or whatever contains) but still, it's probably easier to just use freakin' calories.
[User Picture]From: qwantz
2009-05-28 11:13 am (UTC)

Re: Joules

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Not really! A kCal is about 4.2 kJ, which is a pretty simple conversion. A gram calorie is about 4.2 J
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-28 09:41 am (UTC)

Calories

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Americans seem to be the worst for this. I'm studying Chemistry at university in the UK and my American lecturer always gives values for things like enthalpies in kcals rather than in joules. Extremely pointless as you just have to convert them back to joules before you can use them in any calculations.
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-29 03:35 am (UTC)

Re: Calories

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huh. I went to grad school in the US o' A and never even saw calories or kilocalories after the first lecture about calorimetery and why it was called that. Joules for sure, and watts, and electron-volts, depending on whether we were talking about mineral reactions, heat flux, or using an electron microprobe, but I didn't even realize there were different calories at different temperatures. That's bizarre - doesn't that imply that the heat capacity of water is different at different temperatures? How different is it? If it's more that 1%, I'm going back to grad school and kicking some profs asses, because I'm not okay with being lied to about this.
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Re: Calories - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-28 11:31 am (UTC)

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well, maybe panel 5 is confusing because slightly heating 2000 litres of water == 2000 calories. buuuuuut food labels are telling you to eat 2000 kilocalories, right? so aren't your energy needs really equivalent to heating 2000000 litres of water?

DARN am i inadvertently eating 1000 times as much as i have to
[User Picture]From: rossmay
2009-05-28 04:00 pm (UTC)

why the confusion

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I remember my high school chemistry teacher explaining this to us. According to him, the root of the confusion was food companies when they first needed to start providing nutritional information. They felt that the public didn't know what a calorie was, so they invented the Calorie (actually a kilocalorie) and tried to say their food gave you 1000 times more energy than it actually did. Later when calories got tied in with "this makes you fat" they've since gone all over the place, using calorie and Calorie and maybe lying to you by a multiple of 1000. Pretty big margin.
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-29 03:52 pm (UTC)

Re: why the confusion

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The American obesity epidemic *explained*. Now all they have to do is switch to the metric system and medical care costs will plummet.
From: (Anonymous)
2009-05-30 04:27 am (UTC)

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Gotta protect the family joules..
On a similar note: if someone is genetically predisposed to retaining/gaining fat, do we start calling the family their family joules? Because it's hereditary and all..?
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