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Physicists Gone Wild

What a fun physics convention. Yesterday, learned about extra dimensions, warped geometry, the GravityBrane. Talked about Lord Kelvin, Einstein, Maxwell, Kaluza-Klein particles, the LHC, Gravity Probe B, and on and on -- lots of good stuff for someone whose attention span is roughly equal to the Planck Length. Heard from Diandra Leslie-Pelecky all about the Physics of NASCAR. To be a good NASCAR driver you have to have an implicit, instinctive understanding of physics. Also you must remember during the race to keep turning left.

I had a chat wiith George Smoot, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Somehow we got onto the Fermi Paradox and the possibilities of intelligent life elsewhere. He said he's been working on a theory that intelligent life could have existed in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang -- at, like, 10 to the minus 12 seconds, around the time of the quark-gluon phase transition (coincidentally the last time I had a different hairstyle).

Back then, the entire universe was only a hundredth of a centimeter in diameter, he said. The things you need for intelligence, he said, are some kind of binding agent; complex structure; the ability to store information; and time for processing that information. All of that existed even in that initial phase of the universe. The sentient beings would have lived much shorter lives (from our vantage point) but would have processed information much faster.

He said he hasn't quite been able to make all the calculations work. Perhaps he should take that as a sign.

I asked him how big the universe is.

"It's very likely we see only a very small fraction of the universe," he said. He pointed to a speck of dirt on the white tablecloth between us. "Imagine you're an ant..."

(He didn't realize how easily it is for me to do that.)

The radius of the universe we see is about 14 billion light years and by his reckoning the true radius is at minimum 10 times that size and is probably vastly greater yet. The odd thing is that the net energy of that very big universe may be zero. Gravity is a negative entry in the energy budget. Take all the matter and energy and subtract gravity and you might have a bit fat zero.

"Imagine you're God, and you're on a budget..."

(Again, easy!!!!)

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 16, 2007; 8:53 AM ET
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Next: Virginia Tech


We're #1!

Posted by: dbG | April 16, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Morning, everybody! Hey, Cassandra.

This physics stuff keeps me humble, while reading about it broadens my knowledge and world view. It's nice to be reminded that I don't know or understand everything.

Yoki, per your last post on the previous Boodle, amen.

Posted by: Slyness | April 16, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse

And #2 and #3, apparently. Hello?

Posted by: dbG's dogz | April 16, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse


We talk about albedo a lot in the frozen north, the first definition anyway. One of the reasons our very cold, cold, sub zero string of 21 days in Jan/Feb was so miserable was that even though the days were already longer the snow cover was reflecting much of the sun's light. Or so says the Uof MN climatologist who visits Mn Public Radio every Friday.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 16, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Okay, where's Tom fan, oh yeah she's on the other side of the Earth, where the sun's not shining now.

Second paragraph, wiith
Seventh paragraph, how easily
eighth paragraph, bit

"keep turning left"--that's funny.

Posted by: kbertocci | April 16, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Yoki, re. last entry on last boodle. I'm with you on that. Fungi, born Nov. 1, did the early entry thing while Witch no.1 born Dec 12 did the late entry. Much better outcome with the late entry. She got the additional year back too as she will enter college next year in Ontario, skipping the dumb CEGEP system altogether.
I hope the weather is better in your neck of the woods than here. It is brutal. 3 in. of wet snow on the ground and it is raining and snowing at the same time. More snow to come tonight. Downtown, the snow blocks the storm sewers and water accumulates in the streets for the buses to splash on the pedestrian. Really lovely morning in Ottawa.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | April 16, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Even I can't conjure up that imagery, God on a budget, no way? But you can rest assured it is probably not the first time someone wanted to put God somewhere, other than where He is already. Need coffee.

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Martooni, hope it is a good day for you, and many more good days to be.

This business of getting old, hurts. Do we have some physics on getting old and being old? I can honestly say that I hurt everywhere this morning. I think even my toenails and fingernails hurt. And the sad part about all of this, there is no cure.
Well, yeah, there is, but let us not talk about that this morning.

Here, it is sunny and bright, but just a tad chilly. But so beautiful, it is like a page out of a good coffee table book. It is unspeakably beautiful, and it's like if I talk about it too much, it is will go away. It's so beautiful one wants to lie down in the air and just enjoy this beauty. Need coffee.

NASCAR does physics? I know what they do involves physics, but they have someone that talks about this? Going around in a circle needs explaining? Perhaps I'm missing something here, probably.

Have a great day, folks. I'm going to try and find the coffee, and the pain medications.

Hope the weather where you are wasn't too bad. We just got a lot of rain and some wind.

Morning, everybody.*waving*

Posted by: Cassandra S | April 16, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, kb. I'm waiting for the day when a driver or crew chief launches into a full blown explanation of centripetal acceleration following a wreck caused by a cut tire. Or better yet an explanation of unbalanced heat loads and forces leading to delamination of the tire just prior to a catastrophic failure.

Posted by: jack | April 16, 2007 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Working from home today due to a commute which would have expanded to almost 3 hours each way (weather. Gotta love it). I'm building a new server, far, far away.

Jack, don't use the words *catastrophic failure* again and I'll fax you some of the cookies I plan to bake later. Funny post, though!

Posted by: dbG | April 16, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Good catches, kbert!

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

This morning I found a beautiful rose on the bush in my little space. It was hidden under the leaves of the rose bush, which is more than likely the thing that saved it from the cold. And it smelled so good, I just wanted to wrap myself up in that scent.

Good morning, Tomfan. I do enjoy reading your posts. You just seem to have a wealth of knowledge stored up. I love who I love, Jesus Christ, not meant to offend, trying to be more like Him, and mean that in a good way.

Posted by: Cassandra S | April 16, 2007 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra what a wonderful way to start the day.

Posted by: dmd | April 16, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Anyone have a recipe for Chicken Albedo? I think it starts with a beurre blanc (you skip the roux, a.k.a rue the roux, also known in certain Weingarten circles as "first, a little rue roux"). But after that I'm lost.

Time to shorten sail to the storm jib and scandalize the main, and batten down the hatches. We're undergoing the hangover from that nor'easter here--got wind gusts in 50s and maybe to 60, got 40,000 homes out of power, three schools closed in my county (no power)(I don't see the big deal; I went to school in the dark ages).

I dunno, Wilbrod; in the last boodle weren't you a wee tad harsh on Tom Wolfe? I don't mind that you didn't like his book--but comparing him to Melville, with Twain and Dickens as the back-ups? When my novels are published I kinda hope you don't review them: I can tell you right now I'm probably not quite as good as the authors of the two greatest American novels ever written (Moby-Dick and Huck Finn). I'd agree that Wolfe's last few novels aren't much, but his early non-fiction stuff was legendarily good.

(I'd also agree that Sinclair Lewis's "Babbit" was kinda dull, but I loved "Arrowsmith" and read it about six times when I was young--and Lewis deserved his Nobel Prize, in my view. This is the guy who gave us the eerily prescient "It Can't Happen Here," as well as "Elmer Gantry" and "Main Street.")

What did people think of last night's Soprano episode? I thought it was "just OK" but I think I know how the next episodes are going to go until the climactic last show: last night Johnny Sack went to "Stage Five" (the title of the episode, referring to the "last" stage of cancer, death), dying in prison. There was a lot of talk about the leadership vacuum at the top of the organization, with four or five possible candidates mentioned, several of whom don't want it. None of the candidates was Tony--but I'm wondering if that isn't how the series is going to end--not with Tony getting whacked, but with Tony reluctantly taking over as head of the entire shebang. Which isn't going to help his anxiety problems any.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

The Mass. Ave/Harvard Bridge that connects MIT to Boston is measured in Smoots. The bridge is 364.4 Smoots and One Ear long to be exact. See the photographic evidence:

I had heard the MIT Bridge reference measurement had been a student at the time. I'm just curious if this is the same Smoot that Joel talked to. How many can there be?

Posted by: yellojkt | April 16, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Aw, Mudge, I'm happy to see someone sticking up for Sinclair Lewis; it doesn't happen often. He's one of my faves. One book you didn't mention: Kingsblood Royal--maybe it's not politically correct but it's a good tale about a guy who researches his family tree and finds something unexpected. I like Lewis's attitude. Maybe his prose isn't the most sophisticated, but he has his own voice and I appreciate that.

Boy, how did we get so far off topic so early in the morning? Where's bc to give us the NASCAR/physics summary?

Posted by: kbertocci | April 16, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Apparently, it was George Smoot's brother.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 16, 2007 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra wrote: "Going around in a circle needs explaining? Perhaps I'm missing something here, probably."

I'm laughing with you, here, Cassandra--and I don't think you're missing anything.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I think the racetracks are elliptical.

Posted by: Gomer | April 16, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

George Smoot denies that he was the reference measurement used and insists it was distant relative and fellow MIT alum Oliver Smoots that made that contribution to metrology.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 16, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

lagomorph revolt

my basic alfredo sauce: 1 triangle of romano cheese (the small ones in the dairy case), 1/2 pint of heavy cream, 1/2 stick salted butter, fresh chopped parsley, enough to pile up in the middle of your palm (about two tablespoons).

Grate the cheese. Simultaneously melt the butter over medium heat. Add the cream when the butter is melted and turn up the heat slightly, as to bring the temp. of the cream/butter emulsion to nearly boiling. Add almost all of the cheese, saving enough to apread over the top of whatever you intend to sauce. Add the salt, pepper and parsley last, save a bit of parsley to dash across the top of you plating. If it's fettucine, boil the noodle water and start cooking the noodles before you start the sauce, I'd recomment cooking the noodles about 8 min. before you satart the sauce. If you want to add chicken, boil and salt some water, drop your chicken parts in and bring back to a boil, let it cook for five min., turn off the fire and let it sit for five min., then refire and bring back to a boil, cooking again for five min. Then strain the water off in a colander, skin and shred, and sauce it. If you want chicken alfredo over fettucine, start the chicken first, then the noodles, then the sauce. My iteration of a 30 min. meal.

Posted by: jack | April 16, 2007 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Started unpacking boxes of books yesterday that I brought up from Tampa back in January. Only a few will stay, and Arrowsmith is among them.

I agree that Wolfe's nonfiction is exceptional. Perhaps hearing "reads like a novel" prompts too many writers of excellent nonfiction to think they can produce the same excellence in fiction.

Posted by: frostbitten | April 16, 2007 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, Cassandra.

I too have made some interesting discoveries in my garden of late. Several days ago I spotted a weird white moth attached to the fence, sporting what appeared to be tiny feathers. Several days later, I noticed a second moth attached to the white moth, upside down -- the first moth's mirror image. I guess they were "spooning," or something. Oddly, the second moth was the *exact* same color as the bamboo fence.

Now, I know about survival of the fittest, and how the white moth will probably be the first to get eaten if a larger insect swoops by, or a bird, but what I want to know is, How did that darker moth "know" how to be that bamboo-ish color in the first place? How did it get to be that color so quickly? The fence has only been up there for a few months. Maybe that's a long time in moth years, but still . . .

[I guess it's no weirder than the fact that a chameleon can change color to match its surroundings. But isn't *that* kind of shocking? These creatures are somehow assessing their surroundings and using that information to alter their own bodies.]

I think my question about the moth is a little bit like Tom's Dumb Question about dog evolution:

I also thought about this when I saw some stray dogs on a Bali beach that were the exact same color as the sand.

[My apologies for drifting from physics to biology.]

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Never read Kingsblood Royal, Bertooch; what's un-PC about it?

I think the thing about Lewis is that he wrote in the earliest decades of the 20th century, so to some extent is "dated" (but then, by that standard, so are Melville, Twain, Dickens, Dostoevsky--who is dead, byt the way--and a couple of others). But I just see him as being a very good observer of his times and generation, and doing absolutely pioneer work on studying and writing about the Middle Class and middle class manners and mores of his day--that's what Babit, Dodsworth, Main Street, et al. were all about. Unfortunately that subject matter comes across as "dull" today, and maybe it is. But in 1930 when he won the Nobel (the first American to do so), he was spot on.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Very cool graphic of the expanding universe on the home page of The Smoot Group (why does that sound like a performance art ensemble instead of a cosmology lab?)

Posted by: yellojkt | April 16, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Chicken Alberto Mudge ? Let the chicken stew in hot water for a week or too. Then throw away the whole mess.

Chicken Albedo is highly reflective. It may involve shellac or urethane varnish. It may even be polished with Tung oil, you never know.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | April 16, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

SCC two, *sigh*

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | April 16, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Hey, I really like that "Chicken Alberto" thing, Shriek. One of the few dishes that are entirely self-basting. I heard somebody on the radio refer to Gonz as "A.G.A.G." (Atty Gen. Alberto Gonz, etc.), which immediately led in my mind to "A GAG."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Indeed, yellojkt -- a performance art ensemble of Muppets. Possibly introduced by the Swedish Chef.

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Yoki... to address your comment in the old boodle, I think a December brithday puts her right in the middle, no? That's where Son of G falls. Daughter is three weeks too young to be in 8th grade this year, so she is older than most kids in her class, but certainly not the oldest.

I was only addressing those parents who DO hold their kids back to give them an edge in the class (or they perceive that will happen).

That happens more often around here than you'd think. I think it's a terrible thing to do. (And it usually means that they have other problems that come from being the child of someone who would do that, don't you think?)

This is different from those who hold back a child because they are not ready--academically, socially or emotionally.

Posted by: TBG | April 16, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

This is probably going around the Internet and Cybersphere, but a friend just e-mailed it to me:

"A 2006 study found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year. Another study found that Americans drink an average of 22 gallons of beer a year. That means, on average, Americans get about 41 miles per gallon."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

yellojkt, thanks for clarifying the Smoot issue. Clearly, I should try less to rely on my memory, which apparently is failing me.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 16, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Okay, the guy in Kingsblood Royal goes looking in his family tree for distinguished ancestors, and finds that one of his grandparents was black. The ensuing complications are the basis for the kind of philosophizing that even today could ruffle feathers. What is the connection between genes and culture? In the book, the protagonist starts visiting the part of town where white people are usually not seen. He makes connections, he gets more and more interested in African-American culture. Since the town is strictly segregated, his increasing interest causes problems and the revelation of his genetic connection is even more problematic. Like "It Can't Happen Here," it is rather melodramatic, but raises some good questions and is, unfortunately, still somewhat relevant today.

Posted by: kbertocci | April 16, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

All I could think of when I saw Smoot was the character I seem to remember from Disney's The Rescuers, with a voiceover by Joe Flynn.

Posted by: jack | April 16, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Kbert, is "Kingsblood Royal" the name of the book? The book sounds interesting.

And how far does this search go back? As Bill Bradley said on Bill Maher's show, slavery is the original sin. I doubt many folks want to go back that far. All kind of stuff might show up or turn up, whatever your take is on that, the operative word being "up".

Posted by: Cassandra S | April 16, 2007 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Someone is shooting on the campus in Blacksburg... *sigh*,0,1190417.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Posted by: jack | April 16, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

TBG, here the age cut off is Dec. 31, so for my youngest born just before Christmas she is just about the youngest, started school at 3 (JK - Junion Kindergarten), I went back and forth on whether to hold her back, as I wasn't sure she was ready, she is a little behind currently in school, and the age difference I think is a big part of the problem, but I don't know that holding her back would have been the right solution - socially she was ready, I am hoping the rest will come in time.

Posted by: dmd | April 16, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

CNN is reporting bad news in Virgina. On the campus of Virgina Tech (?), multiple casualties?

Posted by: Cassandra S | April 16, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Virgina = Virginia(sp)?

Posted by: Cassandra S | April 16, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Good morning. I'm late here again, but I have to chime in on the Smoot Bridge, one of the most charming features of Harvardland. I knew it couldn't be Joel's Smoot because it is much too venerable (that is, he'd be too old to discuss physics with Joel intelligibly).

I think NASCAR is a great example of the practical use of physics in everyday life, though I'm relieved they don't have to discuss it as they go. Remember to turn left - Hah! Too much physics talk and someone might forget -- kinda like yesterday's magnet incident.

I am so impressed with Joel's reports from the pointy sciency crowd, since he obviously converses with them as if he understands what they're saying. And hey, that Cocktail Party Physics site is great.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 16, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Tom fan asks: How did that darker moth "know" how to be that bamboo-ish color in the first place? How did it get to be that color so quickly?

There is no "knowledge" here. Ana analog can be found in the black- and white-peppered moths in England around the turn of the last century. The white ones used to blend in with the white tree bark common to the area, while the black ones, which were always there, got picked off more often. Enter the industrial revolution and pollution that put soot on the trees, turning them black. This made being a black-peppered moth an advantage, and more of them survived to reproduce. The white ones were then picked off at a higher rate.

Your moth did not evolve an ability to change color chameleon-style during his lifetime, he was always that color (bamboo is not uncommon), and some of his offspring will be, too. Some won't, and if they choose to live in bamboo, may not live long.

Posted by: Gomer | April 16, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Link to peppered moths- scroll to the end and enjoy!

Posted by: Gomer | April 16, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Finds a gopher hole to stick head up and out. Says Hi!

== Listening to Faure Requium and trying to concentrate on work

Need to get a lot done before tomorrow's hearing with Gonzo. This thing is going to be scored on the 10 point must system.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | April 16, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that convention sounds like it would have been like going home to me.

Particle physics, cosmology, quantum and NASCAR mechanics. Sweet!

I've always said that I've always viewed auto racing as exercises in applied physics, figuring out what your equations and variables are and then trying to maximize performance over a given time or distance. Many folks would not believe the amount of time, money, scientists, computing power and other resources (how about 24-hour-7-day-a-week wind tunnel testing?) top-level auto racing consumes. CAD systems. Computational Fluid Dynamics flow models of engines, cooling systems, and bodywork. 6-axis 4-post shaker rigs to test chassis and suspension movement, and computer controlled engine and transmission dynamometers, all of which are capable of simulating entire races on a test stand in a race shop (run from data gathered via onboard data acquisition systems that collect and store everything from control inputs (steering, brakes, gear changes, etc.), intertial and aerodynamic forces, supension movement, tire surface temps and air pressure, engine and trans temperatures, you name it). A typical top-level NASCAR team spends $20-30M annually and the manufacturers (Ford, GM, Toyota, Dodge), spend an additional $150-200M each for their 15-20 or so cars each.

While that's scary, the top line Formula 1 teams (Ferarri, McLaren Mercedes, etc.)spend $200-400+ Million per year to field *two cars* for 18 races.

"Go fast, turn left," works great for NASCAR except at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

I like Smoot's idea that information can equal intelligence. In that entire tiny universe, there was a lot of information....

More later.


Posted by: bc | April 16, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of animals changing color, did anybody see that NattyGeo show "Devils of the Deep" about the giant Humboldt squid off Baja California, and that researcher who scuba-dived among them? That dude is nuts. The squid are as big as he is, and aggressive and mean as hell. I'm sure glad I never ran into one of those things during my vast seafaring years.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

We have noticed that our dark-colored cats seem to prefer to lounge on dark-colored backgrounds, whereas our white-and-gray kitty is indifferent to background (of course, he's also blind in one eye, we think, so he may not be good at evaluating camouflage potential). I wouldn't be surprised if there were an instinctual behavior to prefer surfaces on which the animal's natural coloring can blend. An interesting science fair experiment, perhaps...

A possible experiment: Obtain populations of larval insects that are known to display a variety of color density, and release the little fellows into a sealed environment in which coloration plays no immediate survival role, then perform periodic counts of resting insects to determine whether they select their background based on color preference. Also, if you were to change the insect's coloring using some sort of paint, would it change its preferred background? -- responding to its actual coloration vs. a wired-in expectation of its coloration based on its genotype. That would probably be too sophisticated for science fair, as it would require delicate manipulation of a large number of insects in an unbiased fashion. Hard to do.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 16, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

bc, I don't follow NASCAR (although it's in the air around here) but you're right about the physics and the research. My husband and I had the opportunity to tour DEI a couple of years ago, and it was amazing. My alma mater now has an automotive engineering major to train folks for NASCAR and related local industries.

Posted by: Slyness | April 16, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

The dryer was repaired this morning. The machine turns out to have far more electronics than I would have guessed, but the problem turned out to be a broken belt. I was surprised at the number of collar stays among the lint.

On the other hand, the new more or less polyester golf shirts are comfortable in a way that their predecessors weren't, and they dry out nicely when placed on a hanger. Some of the nicer no-iron dress shirts, too. That leaves the dryer for things like baking the towels. It'd be fun if the washer had an "autoclave" setting for the truly fastidious.

Posted by: Dave of the coonties | April 16, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

A news story yesterday said NASCAR is suffering a slump. Maybe they need to provide NASCAR Physics training materials to high schools.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | April 16, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Ha, Dave! I'd bet there would be more kids signing up for physics if it were presented in those terms.

Posted by: Slyness | April 16, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Mudge... that 41 mpg figure would probably be much higher if not for me. My high level of consumption coupled with my chronic lethargy had a significant effect on dragging that average down (kinda like a Hummer H1 vs. a fleet of solar powered cars).

I also used to blow the grading curve out of the water when I went back to school a few years ago -- which doesn't say much for kids today. As a whole, they must be either really stupid or really lazy if a drunk middle-aged guy like me can ace an exam when the next highest score was 60 of 100.


Good meeting today. Nothing like an hour with a bunch of recovering drunks to help put things in perspective (I call it my daily does of sanity).

Now off to job site #2...

Posted by: martooni | April 16, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

>The Smoot Group

I believe Floyd Smoot was the name of the conductor on the CannonBall Express from Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

Believe it or not a some of the younger NASCAR drivers have degrees in mechanical engineering and probably understand plenty about the physics involved, even if their contract requires them to say things like "It's pushin' terrible bad."

Posted by: Error Flynn | April 16, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Gomer -- I know the moths that are the "right" color have a better chance of surviving, and therefore reproducing. I just don't quite get how the first bamboo-colored moth got to be that color originally. (It seems a little harder to explain than the white moth/black moth story.) I mean, the color is such a perfect match! It just seems to me that the theory is missing something -- that there's some unexplained quantum leap taking place. (Although, more likely, it's ME who's missing something. Because, really, how did *anything* get to be any particular color, or shape, or to have any particular function? As has been pointed out here before, if things didn't work out the way they did, we wouldn't be here to ponder them. Oh my Achen head.)

[And I'm not saying it was Intelligent Design that made the moth that color, because I think evolution involves life making itself up as it goes along. I just wonder if the moth made the moth that color, on some level.]

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I could tell you a story about How the Pumpkin Came to Have Its Own Particular Shape (and color, for that matter).

Posted by: StorytellerTim | April 16, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Tim -- that's interesting about your kitties' background preferences. Who'd have thunk cats would have such insight into their own coloring vis a vis their surroundings? And the idea of moths, lizards, etc. "knowing" what color they are, too . . . wow. Maybe we don't give these critters enough credit.

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Another study documenting the obvious.

Posted by: Boko999 | April 16, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Tell the pumpkin story, StorytellerTim, please tell it!!!!

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

bc, there is a National Research Council wind tunnel by the Ottawa airport that is reputed to be one of the best deal in North America for someone with US $ in hand. There is almost always a NASCAR or Champ/Indy team trailer parked there when I drive by. The NRC is partially self-funded now so a good deal of this NASCAR/Champ/Indy money is used for fundamental science. Ironic ain't it that NASCAR is funding pointy head science.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | April 16, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

They are now reporting 20 dead (including shooter) at Virginia Tech, heartbreaking.

Posted by: dmd | April 16, 2007 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I dunno, Tim. I've lived with lots of cats and dogs over the years. I've never observed the slightest self-awareness, colour-wise, in any of them.

However, we have seen some cats very rigid in their preference for a specific spot or piece of furniture on which to rest, and others who were much more flexible in their tastes. I think the individual's relative adaptability to the environment provided is more likely to explain those preferences than some sort of camoflage instinct.

Posted by: Yoki | April 16, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Here's the wind tunnel.
RD padouk will be pleased that they use LabView and LabMat.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | April 16, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Assuming George Smoot's theory that intelligent life could have existed in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang could be proved, one would hope that the life form has living descendents, otherwise the fact of its existence would now be, alas, a smoot point.

Posted by: byoolin | April 16, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Blacksburg shooting now up to 22 dead, plus the shooter--they haven't said whether police shot him or he shot himself.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | April 16, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Tom fan- Mutations, mutations, mutations. There are many of them, some beneficial, many more dinnerficial. There are probably moths out there that are houndstooth-patterned, but they get eaten pretty quickly, as that pattern is out of style.

Mudge- I saw the show about the squid, and I think the diver was a former Navy SEAL. Crazy, indeed. Saw a more recent Nova on PBS about cuttlefish. They can change color, pattern, even skin texture and shape themselves into myriad forms to get their meals or protection from predators. They even had "cross-dressing" males who would act like females during the mating season in order to get close and fertilize the females.

In short, animals and plants develop fascinating methods to spread their genes. Whatever one-ups the competition...

Posted by: Gomer | April 16, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

This is really bad at VA Tech.

I'll post anything that comes over the transom on a separate blog entry.

It sounds exactly like a Columbine situation at first glance but it's so sketchy at the moment.

Posted by: Achenbach | April 16, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

So I guess Smoot is saying that if we think of our location as a point on an expanding ballon we can only see back in time only far enough to when the ballon starting inflating, and from that it is hard to estimate the true size of the entire balloon. This makes sense, as long as I keep thinking of the Universe as a balloon.

But when I try to think about the way things really work, I get a most awful headache.

Cosmology never was my thing.

Posted by: RD Padouk | April 16, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

This looks like the worst campus shootings since the University of Texas many years ago. Virginia Tech must usually be one of the safer campuses in the country.

The police dealing with the Virginia Tech shootings, not to mention local medical personnel, must be having a terrible time. Best wishes to them and the rest of the university community.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | April 16, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, if your book is all I expect from you based on your finest moment so far, I'll give it a nice review.

"Light-hearted romp... excellent historical insight delivered with humor... amusing dialogue...considerable color, even apart from the blue bottom motif."

Now make it happen.

I had to read and analyze Bonfire of Vanities in college, which is a fate that should not be inflicted on the student or the book unless it's of superior quality. I didn't think the book made it that high. (I asked my teacher why he assigned it. "Oh, it's easy to analyze, with all the symbolism and allegories.")

What, and Moby-Dick isn't easy to analyze?

That is the true origin of my rancor... that and the fact I just happened to have one of my old essays I wrote on that dang book on my desk as I typed.

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 16, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Indeed -- mutations; cuttlefish changing color, pattern, and skin texture; animals and plants developing fascinating methods to spread their genes. How do they actually *do* that? There is some weird and wacky force driving these processes, methinks.

But it's late, and I must go and sleep the sleep of the tired. (But I'll wait just a few more minutes in case StorytellerTim's pumpkin tale shows up in time to be my bedtime story.)

Posted by: Tom fan | April 16, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Tomfan, I shall not post the pumpkin story, for two reasons:

(1) It's 1122 words long, according to MSWord. That's a bit much.

(2) Rule 6. That furshlugginer Rule 6. With most of my ephemeral effluvia, I am willing to take a chance, but I like this story.

Posted by: StorytellerTim | April 16, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Shocking, shocking, that shooting. I'm watching CNN right now and it looks like the people talking to the press are themselves depending on secondhand reports.

The U of Texas shooting-- In fact, Whitman requested an autopsy to locate any physical abnormalities, and a tumor was found in his brain. I don't know if they looked for brucellosis as well (This can cause homocidal ideation, and is still found as infections in Texas cattle herds).

On the other hand, the biggest mass murder of students in the US was caused by resentment-- similar to what happened in Russia.

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 16, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Bees get lost because of cellphones?

Posted by: Jumper | April 16, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

They're little critters and they depend on sun angle, and magnetic fields to navigate.

You think bees are bright enough to say "oh, that's just a cell phone, ignore it?"

This is the same general size and class of animals that produce moths that feverishly circle light bulbs at night, thinking they are moons.

Posted by: WIlbrod | April 16, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Well, if the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light, then we'll NEVER see the end of it...

Huckleberry Finn is an awful book. The first 2/3 is a great American classic. The ending is horrible; Tom Sawyer showing up acting as out-of-place as Mickey Mouse, if HE showed up.

Posted by: Jumper | April 16, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Daddy's doing Sister Sally
Grandma's dying of cancer now
The cattle all have brucellosis
We'll get through somehow

Sorry, this is how the twisted synapses of my free-associating brain work.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 16, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Jumper, many people agree with you this is a flawed ending. However, it's actually an allegory for Reconstruction and how black people were re-enslaved by Jim crow legislation as "of course you don't mind..." kind of stuff.

When you look at it that way, it makes perfect sense-- Jim being enslaved again even he's legally free and he could break free at any moment.

It's not a great ending, but then again, what happened after the emanicipation act and the civil war was a travesty.

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 16, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

For those who care about imported food... the news isn't very good.;_ylt=AmxAyRKSlyE_8Z7zLt_6oGBa24cA

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 16, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, make that a book only one person ever read..."Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals".

Posted by: omni | April 16, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Apparently, I'm not the only one that book put to sleep...

Posted by: omni | April 16, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I listened to the first half of Lila on tape...twice.

Posted by: Maggie O'D | April 16, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

There's a new kit on the VT shootings. So sad. I don't really wanna go over...

Posted by: Anonymous | April 16, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I think Joel is allowing this and the VT kit to run concurrently.

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 16, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm staying over here until the 2nd amendment absolutists run their course.

I have never made it to the end of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". I'll never get around to even picking up "Lila".

Posted by: yellojkt | April 16, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I actually liked the Zen book at the time I read it. Lila was just sad.

Posted by: omni | April 16, 2007 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I liked the Zen book too-- and I don't like motorcycles.

My pleasure was marred only by the previous reader's making notes in the margins. It appeared she had been forced to read it for class, and wasn't "getting" the book at all.

I do suspect it's one of those books that get loved or hated based on the reader's own background.

For instance, a lot of people adore Catcher in the Rye and I'm like "... well, so what?"
I've never been thrown out of school, been so blatantly aimless and confused. I don't understand that.

While on the other hand, I suspect I might reread Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance and like it more today. (I could be wrong, who knows).

Posted by: Wilbrod | April 16, 2007 6:50 PM | Report abuse

An intelligent big bang yet. Maybe the Gnostics had it right. On the other hand, as Tonto to Lone Ranger, "Who knows?"

Posted by: lowen | April 18, 2007 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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