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Dear Matthew Alice: I learned in school that the air moves like water. We were studying airplanes and how they stay up in the air and how the air moves over the wing like a stream of water. Since weather comes out of the air, I was wondering if there is weather in water too. — Jared B., via email

The elves lobbied for this question just because it seemed so goofy. I mean, somewhere are there sharks in earmuffs during a marine snowfall? Schools of codfish under umbrellas, lounging around the hot-water current? Yes, water currents do bring “warm spells” and “cool spells” under the ocean, but hail? Lightning? Night and morning low clouds and fog? Ixnay, of course. But you’re right in that big ocean currents and eddies do mimic atmospheric weather systems in shape and movement. And they’re both driven by differences in temperature and density, whether air or water.

The ocean has huge eddies of water — currents that swirl around a vortex, just like hurricanes. These eddies stir up organisms from the ocean bottom and swirl them around to the top the same way hurricanes flip trailer parks. One big difference between air and water phenomena is that a hurricane might live for a week or two. An eddy can live for years. This is because ocean phenomena move much more slowly than air events. While a hurricane might have winds of several hundred miles an hour, the fastest water current, the Gulf Stream, only moves about five miles an hour. Water has a larger heat capacity than air, so it doesn’t change temperature as rapidly. And water is about a thousand times denser than air, which also slows down the differences in density and temperature that drive ocean currents.

Strong surface winds can affect the path of water currents, but ocean currents have a big effect on weather. Consider El Niño, when warm currents head north and bring downpours of rain to arid areas and no rain to typically wet areas. About the only marine event that even vaguely mimics an atmospheric event is the “rain” of deep-water organisms stirred up by eddies to the benefit of fish, sort of like rainfalls to the benefit of plants. I hope this satisfies your curiosity, Jared. About the only thing air and water have in common is fluid mechanics, the laws that drive both.

Hiya, Matt: I want to employ a child/teen as a fancy (and by fancy I mean cheap) ball racker on the pool table. See, sometimes I want to work on my break but don’t want to have to rack 100 racks in a row. How do I do so without resorting to child labor and having groups go after me for preferring dextrose little hands racking a game of nine-ball? Is there a minimum age? Minimum wage? Can I just “borrow” a friend’s kid, or do I have to pay? And by pay I mean pizza. — Anonymous by Request, San Diego

Well, scratch that “teen” idea, since I doubt that you’ll find anybody over the age of 12 willing to rack 100 games of nine-ball when he could be playing Warcraft or something. And I doubt that you want “dextrose little hands,” since dextrose is sugar. You’d end up with pretty funky felt that no perfect break could overcome. I think you mean dexterous — skillful, yes? Okay. All that out of the way, you’re in pretty good shape, assuming you can find a bored tween willing to do the job.

California, of course, has a mess of kid work laws that cover every living human from age one month to 18 years. By law, you can be a butler at age 14 or work some jobs on the family farm, but you can’t be a rodeo clown. Age 6 is the minimum age for a door-to-door salesman (yikes!). No permits needed for lemonade stands, paper routes, or babysitters. Eight-year-old stock-market entrepreneurs don’t need permits. And when your mother yells at you to go clean your room, you can’t get out of it by saying she needs a work permit for you. But she does if she employs someone else’s 5-year-old to come in regularly and vacuum the carpet.

The best way around this work-permit stuff is to employ a child on an “irregular” basis. No weekly work schedule, like, from three to five every day except Sunday. That makes the kid an independent contractor, not subject to work-permit laws.

The one big snag in the deal is that you can’t employ any kid 13 and under on a school day, just weekends and holidays. Child-labor laws and permits are often designed to ensure that kids go to school and stay in school. So, if racking pool balls sounds like more fun than geography class — tough luck, kid. As for pay, I guess it’s whatever the kid will fall for, since, without a work permit, he’s negotiating his own contract. Kids have done a lot worse things based on the promise of a pizza.

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Josh Board July 29, 2009 @ 3:53 p.m.

I would offer to pay the kid $100,000 a day, but I'd make him play me double-or-nothing for his pay check. In a game of pool, of course.

M.A...Interesting answer and examples of the various child labor laws. But I am curious about two things. I heard something on the news about 16-year-olds being allowed to strip, in some U.S. state. And I don't see how that is possible, if you have to be over 18 to attend strip clubs (so I've heard).

The second thing is, in your answer, you write that no permits are needed for lemonade stands. Yet, it seems every 10 years or so, there's a story that makes the news, about some police officers that bust kids for selling lemonade. And it always comes out that the children didn't have a permit, and it becomes this big PR nightmare for the police, who were enforcing such a silly law with kids, who were making a few dollars on a Sunday afternoon.


Matthew_Alice Aug. 16, 2009 @ 6:51 p.m.

That lemonade stand thing is California law. Things might be different in other states. The news items are probably from Nebraska or somewhere like that.


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