As I wrote about before, I went on a cross-countries trip last summer, exploring ruins, swimming in oceans,  and chasing hurricanes. Or maybe the hurricanes chased me. Who can remember? I’m pretty sure there was some chasing and running away involved.  At the end of the trip, I got my ear pierced. Twice, in fact. I did it because….

….

… hmm. That’s a good question.

Well, I don’t drink or use drugs, so that probably isn’t the reason.  However, I am a bit of an idiot, and that often influences my decisions. Yeah… lets go with that.

Obviously I don’t hate my piercings; after all, I’m writing about them instead of hiding them in a deep hole and pretending they never happened. That’s how I handle my taxes, and they need a much bigger hole than earrings would.

Growing up in the 90’s I literally only learned two things from school(Yes, I do mean literally. I wasn’t a good student).

1: Sunglasses are cool.

2: A pierced ear is cool.

Sunglasses aren’t really an option for me, as I need real glasses for my daily life and don’t want to spend the extra for prescription sunglasses. I do have flip-ups, but they have been measured and found to have a negative coolness factor. However, if a pierced ear makes you cool, two piercings must make you twice as cool; that’s how multiplication works(correction: I learned three things in school). Therefore, a double-pierced ear equals a pierced ear and sunglasses. That’s just science!

Anyhow, I don’t usually write about myself, as I’m not really the focus of this blog. I’m also not that interesting, or friendly, or smart, or good looking.  That’s why no one will be my friend. Okay, four things from school.

No, I’m writing this because it connects to my last post, about Death Valley. How is a US national park and a pierced ear connected? Are they connected at all? Very, very, loosely, but I’ve never been good at segues.

Death Valley is a region of extremes. It is the deepest I’ve ever been, but also the hottest. (Maybe also the driest, but that’s hard to judge). As I wrote last time, the temperature passe +45° C(113° F) in the valley. I also mentioned that I’m just not used to that heat, and am much more comfortable in -40°(C or F; it’s the same either way). After all, we get temperatures below -40° a couple times a year, and as long as I dress up for the weather and keep active, I can be out in it for a while without feeling cold.

However, during this year’s cold snap, I wondered if having metal embedded in my skin was a good idea. After all, metal gets cold quickly, and absorbs body heat just as quickly(Fine. Five things, although this I learned from licking the flagpole at the school, not in class. does that count?). The best way to answer this question is through science, so time for an experiment!

As a bonus, I’m including transcripts of my unedited audio notes(except for censoring profanities; that mostly comes into play towards the end of my experiment).  Any rumors that releasing them was a part of my settlement with the hospital are entirely unfounded. No, providing access to the raw data is vital to help others replicate the experiment. According to the hospital legal team, I’m providing this data so that other people don’t replicate the experiment.  DO NOT DO IT. That’s nice; they think I did it so well that no one else needs to attempt it!

Okay; the methodology is simple; stand out in the cold and take pictures of my ears with my thermal camera. If there is any noticeable difference between my ear temperatures, than maybe it isn’t a good idea to have exposed metal in my ears; you might even say that it is a bad idea. Or my ears just have different circulation on each side, or my camera isn’t sensitive or high resolution enough. Or one of the many other problems that I didn’t find out about until a few paragraphs down/

To measure my ear temperature, I’m using Photoshop’s magic wand tool; if I click on a colour or shade, it will select all examples of that colour/shade in the photo. to make sure I’m clicking on more of an average temperature, I’m setting the magic wand tolerance for 5; basically, all the shades of grey between white and black are divided into 256; I will be selecting a range of ten… gradients? Shades? I’ll measure that against the temperature bar, which should also be selected. These are the earrings I’m using:

IMG_0809
I’m not going to post a photo of them in my ear; you’ll be seeing enough of my ear as time goes on.

For my pierced ear, I’ll measure the earlobe in between my two piercings; I’ll try to measure my unpierced ear in the same place.

11;20-05-L

I’ll put the temperature range on the left in colour below the main photo… maybe an icy blue would be a good colour. No reason, I just like blue. THERE IS NO OTHER REASON.

My hypothesis is that it might be good idea for a person to cover their ears when the temperature is approaching -40° C.  -30° C…  that’s all fine; wear a T-shirt and go for a swim, but -40° C, maybe cover your head.

Note that I said approaching -40°. The night before, the temperature had dropped to -45° C( -49° F), but by the time I was ready, it had warmed up to a balmy -38° C(-36° F), and close to a sweltering -36° C(-33° F) on black clothing in the sun.

What a waste of effort; how could I get accurate results in such warm weather? I decided to press on anyways.

To set a control, first lets look at my ear temperature when I am warm and inside. Left ear:

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Temperature range

and right ear:

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(I’m keeping my school count at five things. I did not learn the terms methodology, hypothesis, control, or t-minus in school; I learned them from a childhood on the mean streets of my hometown. Science streets!)

Audio transcript: “Okay, that photo is off centre. That one too. Wait; How can I get a selfie of my ear when I can’t see the screen?  Can I look out the side of my head? What am I doing? Is there any point to this?”

Problem: My thermal camera is a smartphone attachment; for some reason, smartphones weren’t designed for taking side-on selfies. Sorry, the photos might be a little off-center this post. Here I am head on:

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I considered doing this instead of each ear, but as the camera is low-resolution, and I’m focusing on my ears, I wanted to get them in as much detail as possible. They’re hard to see head-on, and also smaller(when I say low-resolution I mean that my right ear is less than 50 pixels high in the raw photo).

The thermal image is easy to read; The gradient on the left edge(for a landscape orientation) or the bottom(for a portrait orientation) matches the temperature in the body of the photo. the numbers show what temperature the shade corresponds to. The smartphone app automatically adjusts the contrast; the warmest object will always be white, and the coldest will always be black. I was hoping that I cold take a series of photos showing me get darker and darker over time, but no luck. It also means that when there is a small range of temperatures, the scale on the left is much smaller and more accurate than if there is a large difference… such as, for example, a warm body outdoors in -40°.

These photos are still from the indoors. At -40°, the house walls get cold even with good insulation. In fact everything does, and not only things you expect. Sure, most people know the car might need to warm up when it gets cold, but at -40,the grease in the doors, the locks, and even electronics start acting funny. LCD screens become sluggish, buttons might take a fraction of a scond to register being pressed, and batteries pretty much die as you watch. Problem #2- I don’t think I should be leaving my camera/smartphone outside to cool off.  It can come out with me, and come back in when I do. I’ll probably die before it does.

That came out wrong.

Okay, one more photo of my ears before I go out.I never though I’d write that sentence.

 

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Audio Transcription:”Starting recording…indoor pictures taken, and headed outside at 11:17:20…. and.. oh C&@* The doorknob is freezing! C’mon, open… Is it frozen shut? Are you kidding me? Okay, outside at 11:17:30. Should I have taken a jacket? Too late now. Lets get a photo of the snow to get the temperature.”

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Temperature range: -36° C… I’m not sure if I had to write that.

Audio transcript: “This isn’t so bad; I kind of like the cold. It’s so brisk and clear! Okay; initial pictures now that I’m outside.

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… That seems a little cold. I don’t think my ear should be dropping 15° in 30 seconds. I might be wrong…

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No, I’m definitely not wrong; There’s no way my ear is below freezing. Proof: I don’t have frostbite. Frostbite is literally when your body freezes, and the ice destroys your cells.  I know what happens in the cold. To be serious for a second(sorry everyone), Frostbite is a very real risk, but I had no plans to be outdoors for long enough to get it, and someone inside watching me if I had any problems.

In the cold, the body has to prioritize where the heat goes. The circulation is restricted to the important organs. Blood flow is reduced to the extremities; they cool down quicker, but the blood stays warm deeper inside the body. Ears, fingers, and toes are the first to cool off.

No, there was another problem I forgot about. My thermal camera needs to reach an equilibrium with the outside temperature to measure objects. The accuracy just isn’t there until it reaches the same temperature as the environment. The camera still works well for determining relative temperatures, but cannot accurately tell the absolute temperatures until they warm up/cool off. (for the records, it if the temperature is colder, it lowers the temperature reading too much, if warmer, it raises it). It’s a big problem; I should be leaving it out to cool it off, but I’m not sure how well the equipment will work in the cold. Still, science!

I’m going to keep on including the temperature range, but know that they are inaccurate. Maybe compare the two ear temperatures, or just enjoy the pictures and ignore the numbers.

 

Audio transcript: ” It’s getting a little nippy now. It’s fine. Just a bit colder than I thought. It’s all good. It’s fine… My ears are tingling. It’s fine.”

 

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The temperature is rising, but still much lower than it should be.

The earring has dropped in temperature quickly, but looks warmer at the bottom. I think it is actually reflecting the thermal radiation from my body, and isn’t warmer at the bottom itself. It was the first to cool off in my photos.

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Audio transcript: “Oh %*$&!@ it’s cold! How long is this going to *#@^$ ing take? “

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Audio recordings from 11:19:37 to 11:20:30 consist mainly of profanity, with the occasional undecipherable word(probably also profanity). As these recordings are of use only for certain etymologists, this period of recording has been redacted in its entirety.

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Audio Transcript: “I can’t feel my fingers! How can I take pictures? Is the touchscreen even working?”

At around this time, the touchscreen had become much less sensitive to my touch; I had to press it much harder, and it still would sometimes miss my touch. I don’t know if this was an issue with my fingers, or with the screen reacting poorly to the temperature.

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Audio Transcript: “How long have I been out here? An hour? Two? Is my clock working?”

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Audio Transcript: “ALL I CAN HEAR NOW IS PAIN!”

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Audio Transcript is not included here as in consists entirely of screaming

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Audio Transcript: “I don’t feel cold anymore… I don’t feel anything anymore.I’m completely numb. Can’t give up… MUST SCIENCE!”

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Audio transcript: “Hey look, it’s …. wait… aren’t you dead? What? Go into the light? That doesn’t sound like something I should be doing. Okay, good point. Lets go into the light.”

Long story short, the light turned out to be the door I forgot to close. It’s a good thing, too; four and a half minutes was long enough; any longer and I would have risked frostbite. I’m good in the cold, but I also usually am dressed for it.

In the last few photos, the quality seemed to be lower; there is more noise in the photos, and they were slower to take photos. The smartphone wasn’t very sensitive to touch, and the screen started to… smear? If the camera moved, there was some ghosting for a half-second or so on the display. The cold was really getting into the phone by this time.  I might have made it to five minutes, but I’m not sure if my camera would have.

So inside, how do my ears look?

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The temperature was off with the camera when returning indoors, reading as several degrees higher than real life.  Like I said, the temperature differential problem works both ways. Still; I’m not interested in the absolute temperature as much as the temperature of each ear relative to each other. They’re both about the same temperature. The ears are clearly the coldest things in the room, but they’re similar.

Looking at my ear temperature throughout the experiment, they both seemed to be about the same range. The metal cooled down and heated up much more quickly than my lobe, but if I had to guess, there is so little metal in contact with my skin, and the ear temperature is  dropping so quickly in the cold that the difference from the piercing is minimal. Perhaps if I attached more metal, like a bigger earring or more piercings The legal team says do not attach more metal. Do not go outside in just a T-shirt. Dress warm. I should have learned that in school.

Anyhow, before a short unrelated stay at the hospital for absolutely nothing related to the cold, and before certain threats to assess my competency unless I make a public service announcement on the risks of frostbite, I took a few photos inside the house while I warmed up.

At the end of my 4 and a half minutes outside, I looked like this:

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Is that me? I look…

There’s no way around it; I look dead. I definitely don’t look cool. Cold, but not cool.  The cold weather has caused my body to restrict circulation to my ears, cheeks, and nose, and they’re a lot colder than my eyes or where my breath protects my face. I look awful. Thankfully, I remembered my first lesson: Sunglasses make everything cooler.

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And in the thermal range, all glasses are sunglasses.

 

 

 

The above photos were taken with a Seek Compact Pro camera.