March 23, 2004

If you've been paying attention lately, you will have undoubtedly come across the latest villainous scheme by the UN-lead, one-world global elite: they are tracking our money by putting RFID tags in them. How was this determined? Well, someone set off an alarm at a truck stop, and they assumed that it was the thousand dollars in cash that did it. So, what did they do? Well, what would anyone do? That's right - they ran home, and put a big stack of twenty-dollar bills in the microwave. And, as one would expect, they got all burnt up. So, obviously, it was the RFID tags exploding, and not the metallic ink, or the little ID strip, or, you know, the hot paper.

Wait, paper doesn't burn when you put it in a microwave, right? I mean, we heat up stuff in paper boxes and in paper plates and paper towels all the time, and it's never burst into flame! Well, yeah, but hang on. Microwaves work by agitating the water molecules in the stuff we're heating up, and even dry paper has a little bit of water in it. Usually, it's just a thin piece, though, so the small amount of heat generated dissipates pretty quickly, and there's no evidence of the reaction. If you put a big stack of paper in there, however, there's a lot more to heat up, and the pieces in the middle are pretty well insulated, and don't have anywhere to throw off. Thus, they start to brown, smolder, and eventually, catch fire.

Even though this is pretty basic science, there are still people who prefer the tinfoil hat theory. Now, I'm as suspicious of the government as anyone - probably more than your average citizen - but if there's one thing I hate more than a totalitarian shadow regime attempting to keep track of their herd, it's dumbasses who use bad science to spread their stupid theories to people who aren't willing or able to think for themselves. So, as a public service, I conducted an experiment - at great risk to myself and my kitchen - to settle the matter once and for all.

Stack of newly minted twenties

I don't have the good fortune to have an expendable stack of twenty dollar bills just lying around, so I did the next best thing. I took a few sheets of 20-weight all-purpose copy paper, and minted myself a fresh grand. They aren't the exact same size as standard-issue bills, but they should serve well enough for our purposes. Just to make things clear, I noted the denomination of each bill on the front of each slip of paper. I don't think that I'm violating any federal laws here, but if I am, well, this wasn't me - I just found these on the street, in an unmarked paper bag.

As you can see, these doubles are in nearly pristine state - there are no watermarks, hairline strips, and certainly no RFID tags. I'm not sure how flammable the Sharpie ink is, but I think I'm willing to live with that level of uncertainty. You will also note that they are relatively dry, so there should be no excess liquid to heat up and cause an unexpected super-heated steam jet to turn the radiation chamber into a deadly inferno of death. Just paper and the modern wonder of the microwave! Onward!

Microwave prepared, the experiment is a go!

So, there's a stack of fifty imitation twenty-dollar bills sitting in the middle of the rotating platform in the middle of the oven. I set the timer for three minutes, and let it go. For the first minute and a half or so, there wasn't a whole lot of action. Was I wrong? Did science abandon me? Was I going to have to pull the plug, break out the blowtorch, and fabricate some evidence? Wait - what's that smell?

Around two minutes, there was a distinct smoky odor emanating from the microwave. I didn't see any visible change, but I knew that something was afoot. I continued to snap photos of the spinning stack of bills, waiting for vindication. There! The edges were turning brown - which meant that the middle was probably already pretty well along the path to On-Fire City. Also, wisps of smoke were beginning to escape through the cracks of the door. It's entirely possible that I'd wind up with a bit more burninating that I'd counted on, but I just opened a few windows, and decided to tough out the full three minutes - for SCIENCE!

Just as Bernie came into the kitchen to ask what that smell was, the timer went off, I turned the hood fan to "high", and opened the microwave to survey the damage.

All burninated up.  Success!

Yep, those look pretty charred, all right. Looks like the experiment was a success - the stack of funny money started heating up and burning from the inside out, as expected. Actually, it was a bit more successful that I had anticipated - when I brought the smoking results out into the fresh air, they started smoking even more, and it looked like there were some glowing bits in there. I decided that it was time to take this show on the road, and moved the operation out to the front porch.

The smoking gun

There was a bit of a breeze, and the situation quickly began to escalate.

The.... burning gun?

I grabbed the top bill from the stack, tossed the rest into the chimnea, and let nature take its fiery course. When I went back in to clean up and air the kitchen out a bit, I noticed that there was a small rectangular smudge of brownish residue on the glass platter in the microwave. It was a bit sticky, but came off pretty easily. If you've ever done any reduction experiments, where you heat up a piece of wood enough to break it down, but not enough to catch it on fire, you know what I'm talking about.

So, what have we learned from this little adventure? Well, the obvious - don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Including this. If you don't buy it, grab some scissors, go to the kitchen, and try it out yourself. Or, you know, buy a high school science textbook, and learn a thing or two. But hey, burning things is fun, and setting stuff on fire is a big part of science. Another big part of science is telling people what big dumbasses they are when they start saying dumbass stuff. So get out there, and start preaching the good news - for SCIENCE!

This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.

(Examine the full gory details on xhibition. Ignore the squirrel. It is not part of the experiment.)

(March 23, 2004 08:03 PM)

I think we're gonna need a new microwave.

Posted by: Bernie on March 28, 2004 10:10 PM

Hmmm, and I was wondering what to put in a microwave besides CDs...

Posted by: Beau on June 15, 2004 04:15 PM
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