What-If 0126: "Stairs"

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What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby The Moomin » Fri Jan 23, 2015 9:09 am UTC

Slinky linky

Would air pressure have an effect of the motion of the slinky down the stairs? Would it move faster to begin with?

Also, obligatory mention of Stairway to Heaven.
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Klear » Fri Jan 23, 2015 9:12 am UTC

House of Leaves reference! =D

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Higure » Fri Jan 23, 2015 9:42 am UTC

Usually, Randall Munroe is good at using SI units, but this time he failed with the butter (a stick of four fluid ounces isn't standard in my part of the world). So here's a conversion for you all: daily dietary allowance of 2000 calories: 3 sticks = 323 grams

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby leeharveyosmond » Fri Jan 23, 2015 9:58 am UTC

Combining that with the 72,000 calories just from climbing the stairs, and you'd probably need to upgrade to a more serious 16-liter backpack. If you fill that backpack with butter, it will let you carry around 110,000 calories,[3] which should be enough to get you to the top if you're really dedicated.


Yes, but wouldn't you burn more calories carrying a bigger backpack? And need more butter?

For a moment I was expecting to see something like the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation appear.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Thorbard9 » Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:37 am UTC

Higure wrote:Usually, Randall Munroe is good at using SI units, but this time he failed with the butter (a stick of four fluid ounces isn't standard in my part of the world). So here's a conversion for you all: daily dietary allowance of 2000 calories: 3 sticks = 323 grams


Which makes the "stick" seem a stranger unit. Where I am, butter comes in blocks of around 250g.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby rhomboidal » Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:46 am UTC

"And she's buying a stairway to heaven -- with a bookbag full of butter."

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby The Little Tiger » Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:57 am UTC

The most calorie dense food is lard at ~256 calories per ounce with butter coming in at a paltry 203 calories per ounce. Most liquid oils (olive, canola, etc... ) also have higher calorie densities than butter. Not that I would want to eat pure lard, or even butter for that matter.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby azule » Fri Jan 23, 2015 12:51 pm UTC

title text of first image wrote:ſtairs! We haue found ſtairs!
I don't understand this. Why the use of the archaic "s" (ſtairs = stairs) and v (written as 'u')?
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Mikemk » Fri Jan 23, 2015 1:33 pm UTC

Does this what if take into account the lower gravity as you go up making the stairs easier to climb?
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby sotanaht » Fri Jan 23, 2015 1:56 pm UTC

The Moomin wrote:Slinky linky

Would air pressure have an effect of the motion of the slinky down the stairs? Would it move faster to begin with?

Also, obligatory mention of Stairway to Heaven.


Check the first note [1]

Some people may not know this, but the notes on What Ifs are actually spoiler tags and usually jokes, NOT a link to bring you to a huge list of references like wikipedia.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby eviloatmeal » Fri Jan 23, 2015 2:03 pm UTC

Unsalted?! Won't you need electrolytes?!
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby BrianK » Fri Jan 23, 2015 2:33 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:Unsalted?! Won't you need electrolytes?!

And water, too. Can't forget the water. I wonder how many gallons (US)/liters/pints (UK)/acre-feet of water a person will lose through exhalation and perspiration per hour of strenuous exercise?

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Febrion » Fri Jan 23, 2015 3:10 pm UTC

This is definately one of my favorite "what-if"s to date1. It's a good thing I'm alone at work today, because I laughed so many times it would probably have worried someone. The notes were superberb, as well, although I AM now craving butter...

For the record, ifwhy we build a stairway to the heavens, complete with airlocks and (one would presume) staging areas for the climbers to rest, wouldn't it be safe to assume that these points would also be stocked with food and supplies? Why carry all that butter with you, when you could just raid the butter supplies at the various staging points.


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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby keithl » Fri Jan 23, 2015 3:28 pm UTC

Temperature regulation is important, too. If the tower temperature was allowed to equilbrate with the surrounding atmosphere, it would be as cold as -66C at 15km altitude, then warming to -3C at 50km altitude, then plunging to -83C at 85km (1962 US standard atmosphere model). So the air must be heated as well as repressurized as altitude increases.

An airlock at every landing is too much. An airlock every kilometer will cause ear-popping (12%) pressure changes. Without evenly spaced heating, the temperature change at each airlock will be around 7C, somewhere between the dry (9.8C/km) and wet (5C/km) adiabatic lapse rate.

The gravity reduces only 3% ( (6471/6371)2-1 ) from bottom to top. Not noticeable, compared to your aching muscles.

The butter supply might last until you get to the top, but you also need to get back down, which will take a while. I can hike a kilometer of vertical change with effort, but the descent rips the hell out of my knees unless I descend slowly.

You don't want to do this with black hat guy.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Febrion » Fri Jan 23, 2015 3:38 pm UTC

keithl wrote:<snip>
but you also need to get back down, which will take a while
<snip>

Well, there is a faster way down, if you don't want to take the stairs...
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Jan 23, 2015 3:54 pm UTC

Febrion wrote:For the record, ifwhy we build a stairway to the heavens, complete with airlocks and (one would presume) staging areas for the climbers to rest, wouldn't it be safe to assume that these points would also be stocked with food and supplies? Why carry all that butter with you, when you could just raid the butter supplies at the various staging points.


But how much butter would you need in the ground-level stockpile in order to supply the expeditions that create (and restock) the staging point caches?

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Febrion » Fri Jan 23, 2015 4:10 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
Febrion wrote:For the record, ifwhy we build a stairway to the heavens, complete with airlocks and (one would presume) staging areas for the climbers to rest, wouldn't it be safe to assume that these points would also be stocked with food and supplies? Why carry all that butter with you, when you could just raid the butter supplies at the various staging points.


But how much butter would you need in the ground-level stockpile in order to supply the expeditions that create (and restock) the staging point caches?

Well, it depends - are you talking African1 kilogram or European1 pound butter?


1000 gramsMetric
16 ouncesImperial
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby ftr » Fri Jan 23, 2015 4:21 pm UTC

I'm confused by the opening. Why would the elevator need to be 100,000km tall, but the tower only 100km?

I am idiot, I'm sure.

Also, what's with the weird "s" in the first image alt text?

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Jan 23, 2015 4:24 pm UTC

ftr wrote:I'm confused by the opening. Why would the elevator need to be 100,000km tall, but the tower only 100km?

I am idiot, I'm sure.

Also, what's with the weird "s" in the first image alt text?


The elevator needs to be anchored in geostationary orbit or higher otherwise it's less an elevator and more a giant whip that comes crashing down to the west of its base because the top end is moving too slowly to stay up...

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Febrion » Fri Jan 23, 2015 4:28 pm UTC

ftr wrote:<snip>
Also, what's with the weird "s" in the first image alt text?


The "weird s" (as well as the u's instead of 'v's) is from an older way of writing. It's basically an 'f', but only used at the start of a word. I have no idea why the [alt/title] text is written that way, but I'm sure someone here can tell you.
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby mathmannix » Fri Jan 23, 2015 5:00 pm UTC

For the people who aren't in America (for whatever reason): a box of butter (as most commonly sold) has four sticks in it. (Each stick has a cross section of a square. Going from the total volume of 1 pint = 28.875 in³, I would guess that each stick is roughly 1.1 inches x 1.1 inches x 6 inches.)
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The contents of one box = 1 pound of butter = 1 pint of butter (so, 1 stick weighs ¼ pound, and fills a volume of ½ cup.) For those who want to use non-American measurements, this means 1 stick has a mass of 113.4 g, and fills a volume of 118.3 mL or cm³.
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Patteroast » Fri Jan 23, 2015 5:08 pm UTC

Febrion wrote:
ftr wrote:<snip>
Also, what's with the weird "s" in the first image alt text?


The "weird s" (as well as the u's instead of 'v's) is from an older way of writing. It's basically an 'f', but only used at the start of a word. I have no idea why the [alt/title] text is written that way, but I'm sure someone here can tell you.


It's the previously noted reference to House of Leaves.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby chris857 » Fri Jan 23, 2015 6:18 pm UTC

"A more serious 16-liter backpack" indeed.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby azule » Fri Jan 23, 2015 6:57 pm UTC

azule wrote:
title text of first image wrote:ſtairs! We haue found ſtairs!
I don't understand this. Why the use of the archaic "s" (ſtairs = stairs) and v (written as 'u')?
Klear (not in reply to me, this was written previously) wrote:House of Leaves reference! =D
(Ack, I got ignored and someone else's query on this text was replied to.) Sorry, Klear (or other willing to answer), but I've never read this book, nor will I be reading it any time soon. What is the exact reference? I see that there are multiple narrators, does one speak in this olde ſtyle? Secondly, it must have to do with stairs (or some other aspect of the image), no?
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby marsilies » Fri Jan 23, 2015 7:58 pm UTC

The Little Tiger wrote:The most calorie dense food is lard at ~256 calories per ounce with butter coming in at a paltry 203 calories per ounce. Most liquid oils (olive, canola, etc... ) also have higher calorie densities than butter. Not that I would want to eat pure lard, or even butter for that matter.

Thank you. I figured lard had to be more calorie dense, since butter contains a fair amount of water.

The link in the what-if to the Arctic Explorers mentions that they were adding the whole stick of butter to their oatmeal. So they weren't as concerned about calorie density as this what-if is, and maybe chose butter over lard for the flavor difference.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby jonbly » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:22 pm UTC

My God, it's full of stairs!

...I'm going to need more butter...

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby DarkKerrigor » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:30 pm UTC

Anyone else catch what appears to be a Bayonetta reference?

Spoiler:
Specifically, the mention of a motorcycle ride up a tower, into space.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Reecer6 » Fri Jan 23, 2015 9:56 pm UTC

This what if was basically just a reminder to me to finish reading House of Leaves, because I am so disappointed to have not gotten that reference. :(
Also, the actual what if was cool, I guess.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby azule » Fri Jan 23, 2015 10:29 pm UTC

Reecer6 wrote:This what if was basically just a reminder to me to finish reading House of Leaves, because I am so disappointed to have not gotten that reference. :(
Also, the actual what if was cool, I guess.
This. If someone in the midst of reading the book didn't get the reference, then your reference is too obscure and needs to actually be explained! I got the answer from elsewhere, you jerks, btw. For others, the titular house may be quite old so something something old style of writing. (I learned just enough but I don't know the direct reference.)
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Rombobjörn » Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:26 pm UTC

This what-if answers the wrong question. Ethan didn't ask about a staircase in a tower to the border of space. He asked about a staircase as high as the elevator to space that is mentioned in Billion-Story Building. That what-if has a couple of paragraphs discussing a scalability problem with elevators in skyscrapers, but the only elevator to space it mentions is an actual space elevator, so the goal is to climb 100 000 kilometers, not 100 kilometers.

leeharveyosmond wrote:Yes, but wouldn't you burn more calories carrying a bigger backpack? And need more butter?

For a moment I was expecting to see something like the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation appear.

Yup. Whether you use rockets, stairs or motorcycles, you always have the problem of lifting the fuel you need to lift the fuel needed to lift the fuel. And let's not forget the weight of the fuel tank/backpack. You might be able to keep the starting weight down by using multiple backpacks. You would then drop the first-stage backpack when it's emptied and start eating from the second-stage backpack, and so on.

Also, how fast can Christian Riedl climb stairs while carrying 16 kilograms on his back? A slower ascent means that even more fuel is required.

rmsgrey wrote:
Febrion wrote:For the record, ifwhy we build a stairway to the heavens, complete with airlocks and (one would presume) staging areas for the climbers to rest, wouldn't it be safe to assume that these points would also be stocked with food and supplies? Why carry all that butter with you, when you could just raid the butter supplies at the various staging points.

But how much butter would you need in the ground-level stockpile in order to supply the expeditions that create (and restock) the staging point caches?

Yeah. Nobody could lift all the food that would be required to climb an actual 100 000 kilometer space elevator staircase, so I think building caches would be the only way to do it. It would take a lot of traveling up and down to build progressively higher-placed caches before you could eventually make it to the top.

Thorbard9 wrote:
Higure wrote:Usually, Randall Munroe is good at using SI units, but this time he failed with the butter (a stick of four fluid ounces isn't standard in my part of the world). So here's a conversion for you all: daily dietary allowance of 2000 calories: 3 sticks = 323 grams

Which makes the "stick" seem a stranger unit. Where I am, butter comes in blocks of around 250g.

I have seen butter in blocks of 125, 250, 500 and 1000 grams. The 125 g and 1 kg packages are the most stick-like, but I saw my first 125 g package only a few years ago, so I've always assumed that a "stick of butter" was similar to a 1 kg package.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Klear » Sat Jan 24, 2015 4:13 am UTC

azule wrote:
azule wrote:
title text of first image wrote:ſtairs! We haue found ſtairs!
I don't understand this. Why the use of the archaic "s" (ſtairs = stairs) and v (written as 'u')?
Klear (not in reply to me, this was written previously) wrote:House of Leaves reference! =D
(Ack, I got ignored and someone else's query on this text was replied to.) Sorry, Klear (or other willing to answer), but I've never read this book, nor will I be reading it any time soon. What is the exact reference? I see that there are multiple narrators, does one speak in this olde ſtyle? Secondly, it must have to do with stairs (or some other aspect of the image), no?


I can't actually help you with that. It comes up later in the book as an old report of someone encountering the house and its shenanigans in the past, as far as I remember, but I don't remember the exact context. I really need to read the book again, but my copy is currently lent for an extended time to a friend of mine.

In any case, I was really excited to get this, as it was the first House of Leaves I got since I read the book.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Olaf Klischat » Sat Jan 24, 2015 9:26 am UTC

Randall forgot to take into account the additional energy needed to carry the added weight of the butter! That would slow the climber down at the beginning, and it would decrease over time as you're ascending and eating butter (and taking a dump from time to time), so the total weight would decrease gradually and with it the energy needed to climb more stairs. So the system isn't linear; you'd need some variation of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation to describe the climbing time and attainable altitude as a function of the initial amount of butter.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby sotanaht » Sat Jan 24, 2015 12:39 pm UTC

Olaf Klischat wrote:Randall forgot to take into account the additional energy needed to carry the added weight of the butter! That would slow the climber down at the beginning, and it would decrease over time as you're ascending and eating butter (and taking a dump from time to time), so the total weight would decrease gradually and with it the energy needed to climb more stairs. So the system isn't linear; you'd need some variation of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation to describe the climbing time and attainable altitude as a function of the initial amount of butter.


Not to mention water. Kind of an important thing to omit. Maybe the tower has internal plumbing, but is that even feasible for 100km straight up? If you can get water that way, why not food too? If you needed to carry both the food AND water, how high would it even be possible to climb? I believe that at some point the added weight would start decreasing your max height instead of increasing it, to say nothing of the climbers ability to even carry who knows how many gallons of water at once.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby azule » Sat Jan 24, 2015 1:10 pm UTC

Are we missing that the water is in the butter? That's why butter and not lard.
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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Rombobjörn » Sat Jan 24, 2015 2:41 pm UTC

Normally humans don't get enough water from the food, so we need to drink. Eating that much more would also get you more water, both the water content of the butter and the additional water that is produced when you burn the fat. On the other hand it would be difficult to work that hard without losing a lot of water by sweating. The stairwell would have to be quite cold, and it might be tricky to wear just the right set of clothes to neither freeze nor sweat. You would also have to carry a good sleeping-bag, unless there were much warmer rooms where you could rest.

It's not trivial to figure out whether there is a set of conditions under which it would be possible to climb without carrying water.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby rmsgrey » Sat Jan 24, 2015 3:05 pm UTC

Olaf Klischat wrote:Randall forgot to take into account the additional energy needed to carry the added weight of the butter! That would slow the climber down at the beginning, and it would decrease over time as you're ascending and eating butter (and taking a dump from time to time), so the total weight would decrease gradually and with it the energy needed to climb more stairs. So the system isn't linear; you'd need some variation of the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation to describe the climbing time and attainable altitude as a function of the initial amount of butter.


If you're only eating butter (low in dietary fibre) then how often do you take a dump, and of what?

sotanaht wrote:I believe that at some point the added weight would start decreasing your max height instead of increasing it, to say nothing of the climbers ability to even carry who knows how many gallons of water at once.


Provided your supplies are balanced - that is, you have enough food to last out your water supply, and vice versa - adding more supplies will never decrease your maximum attainable height: worst case, you camp at the foot of the stairs until you've consumed the extra and then set out as before (or, if you prefer, leave the extra supplies where they are).

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby inquestos » Sat Jan 24, 2015 6:06 pm UTC

Finally someone mentions the water issue.

Including water in the calculation would make this question a lot more interesting (and correct). If we assume a 2 week duration, 4/5 liters a day, we would need to carry 60+ kg of water on top of the weight of the calories. This would make it quite impossible to venture this in one trip.

Any comparison with rockets fails at the possibility that a stairway-ascencion has the possibility to set up 'base camps' and depots for water and food. Comparisons with ascention of mountains or arctic exploration seem a lot more interesting to me. Since these do have basecamps, and especially the previously mentioned butter supported Polar explorations (like Falcon Scott/ Amundsen) had a large amount of fooddepots (waterdepots are ofcourse a lot less usefull to set up on the artctic :) ).

I would be interested to read someones estimates of a full unsupported 100k stair ascension.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Bossi » Sun Jan 25, 2015 12:33 am UTC

Rombobjörn hit it spot-on above: this answers the wrong question. I'd be far more interested to know how long it'd take me (and what provisions I'd need, or how many encampments would be necessary) if I wanted to hike up a Tsiolkovsky-style compression structure built around a space elevator, I want to know how long it'd take me before I'd hit the point where I hit the point that the next step sent me floating away from the staircase.

...For that matter, I'm also curious how staircase design might change as the centrifugal force lets you take each step higher and higher. Would larger leg lifts, then hops, then jumps require less net energy than a constant rise the whole way up? If each riser remained the same constant height, I'd think I would spent more energy concentrating on each step as I got into those higher stages, lest I take a tumble due to my apparent weight disorientation.

P.S. I would surely annoy any climbing companions with constant mentions of "The enemy's gate is down", pointing out the windows, and laughing "All of them! They're all down there. All that there ever have been, all that there ever were!", out of exhaustion forgetting I'd already said that line several dozen times so far.

EDIT - I just imagined a spectacular video game: Tsiolkovsky Trail. Invest in provisions, push yourself from encampment to encampment, lose fellow climbers to faulty airlocks & window ruptures. HOW IS THIS NOT A THING.

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby Klear » Sun Jan 25, 2015 3:29 am UTC

Obligatory:

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Re: What-If 0126: "Stairs"

Postby SuperSteve » Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:48 am UTC

"If you made an elevator that would go to space (like the one you mentioned in the billion-story building) and built a staircase up..." you wouldn't need to carry the butter up with you on the stairs. You could send it up on the elevator. And you wouldn't need to rely on butter. Since you don't have to carry the food, its weight doesn't matter, so you could use something with a lower energy density.


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