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Avoid Being Spaghettified

Quote of the day so far: "Knowing things is very 20th century. You just need to be able to find things." -- Danny Hillis [on how Google has changed the way we think]


Brian Greene, who hangs his hat at a physics institute next door, says he has a book coming out in September titled "Icarus at the Edge of Time." It's a retelling of the Icarus fable, only this time there's a kid who invents a spaceship and flies it around a black hole. He's careful not to cross the event horizon, beyond which there'd be no turning back.

I asked Greene if it's possible to see the event horizon. Nope: There's no sign-post, no visual cue whatsoever. You have to calculate the mass of the object to know where the boundary is. But you can't see the boundary.

"You and I could have just crossed over the edge of a black hole just now, and not have noticed it," he said.

And what happens then?

Well, then it would be inevitable that we'd fall all the way into the hole. Which would not be good. The tidal forces would rip us apart. If we were falling feet first, the gravitational forces on our feet would be so much greater than on our upper body and head that things would get really gruesome.

"You'd get spaghettified, is how we call it. You get stretched to the breaking point."

I asked him if he just made up the word "spaghettified."

"That's the standard parlance in the field," he said.

Sneaky black hole edges: Just another thing to worry about.

[More on spaghettification from Wikipedia.]


A bunch of Atlantic Monthly staffers are blogging the Ideas Camp, including Ross Douthat (who is tired of narrow Supreme Court decisions) and Matt Yglesias, who seems to be live-blogging everything and who may have scooped me on the Chevron water bottles.

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 1, 2008; 1:41 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: At Ideas Camp
Next: Our Creepy Future


spaghettified doesn't leave much to the imagination, that's for sure.

Posted by: Kim | July 1, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

With my waistline I should be so lucky.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Reposting from the last temporal knot... er, kit. Kinda sciency, but not nearly as funky-cool as the instant "get taller and thinner" guarantee for all event horizon tourists.


Mo, one would wish that a poison ivy vaccine would be invented, but alas, because it's an allergy, it'd make people really, really hyperallergic.

By the way, I found a possible "rationale" for separating milk and beef dishes anyway. Milk and beef protein have different major allergens, but minor allergens in one may also be present in the other, so in theory, beef with gravy might increase your risk of becoming allergic to beef (which is still a really rare allergy-- chicken allergies, although very rare, might be slightly more common). Even so, it can cause anaphylaxis when it does occur.

In one family with beef allergy, the incidence was 2/3 of all tested, which shows it has a strong genetic cause.

The FDA mentions that milk allergy often precedes beef allergy in this letter analyzing whether a proposal to use a wash with lactoferrin (derived from milk but found in beef in larger amounts) is after all safe.

The FDA states it has no authority to regulate how meat products are made (the USDA does), but they can indeed regulate labelling.

Gotta love that histamine magic, no? I'd hate to be one of the unhappy few who truly are allergic to beef, as they can crossreact to other meats, and they may well have to be vegan for their overall health.... and I do believe I have known a couple of people who had such sensitivity to meat from childhood.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 1, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Spaghettified is okay as long as you also get sauced. And cheesed.

Posted by: TBG | July 1, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't the Flying Spaghetti Monster keep one from getting spaghettified? My boodle-theology is a bit rusty.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | July 1, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

But-but... I lost my poor meatball, TBG.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 1, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Actually, you attain nirvana with grated parmesean when you get sphagettified. His noodly appendage will then join in yours as you attain the divine state beyond the universe, Don.

Or so the Macaronian Mysticalists claim, although the Ravolian Rationalists say that you will simply become a pasta-and-cheese covering over the event horizon.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 1, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I happen to know quite a few things (only a few useful ones), but I agree that the ability to locate knowledge (and know what to do with it) is much more useful than being a walking reference manual.

As a programmer, I was never good at remembering syntax or details -- that's what reference manuals and dictionaries are for. What I *was* good at (and still might be) was being able to see the forest and not just the trees. I may have spent extra time trying to find a particular function or how it is used, but I knew what *type* of function I needed and had a reasonably good clue as to what it was and how it would work.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to translate that skill set into daily life, but there you go.

I bump into trees all the time 'cause my eyes are focused on the sun filtering down through the leaves.

Posted by: martooni | July 1, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The potent visual image of spaghettified and the event horizon problem remind me of the classic 3-D Simpsons episode, which ends up with Homer walking down a street in LA. Great stuff.

These Big Idea types are pretty thinky. Be careful, Joel, or you will be thinkified.

My Happy Canada Day wishes are languishing unread at the bottom of the last Kit but one. Here they are again.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 1, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

That's true enough as far as computer programming goes, Martooni.

I'd argue, though, that you need a minimal base of knowledge to think effectively, and only a fraction of it is book learning. Google won't replace that at all. Try googling how to use a hand saw while chipmunks run by, for instance...

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 1, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I always told my law school students that law school is a glorified trade school which teaches two things: how to think and where to look things up. I preferred to concentrate on the thinky part, since it is easy to learn where to find things.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 1, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Re the quote of the day: I'm happy to hear that. I don't know anything anymore but I'm an expert Googler.

Old fogey moment: Our web-based server hiccupped or something and suddenly nobody in my office could access our applications. I figured it was system-wide, that would mean it was affecting hundreds of people. I called IT (that's one of my job functions, oh joy) and I said to the guy, "Is your switchboard all lit up over there?" (He is 2,000 miles away from me) He gave me the phone equivalent of a blank stare, " ". I realized later that he is probably too young to know what I was talking about, never having seen a telephone switchboard that lights up when calls come in.

Posted by: kbertocci | July 1, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I thought spaghettification was the FSM's version of proslytizing...


We should be relatively on-time to the BPH, so that would account for one "out-of-towner," but mo, I think you meant the "out-of-country" BPHer... ;-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 1, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

You are absolutely right, Ivansmom. I'm finding that I'm far more efficient (and, well, *smug*) to be able to do research on the Internet. Finally getting too proficient for my taste in Westlaw, but there's a lot of stuff out there more easily accessed in the legalsphere. The "how to think" part is the hardest part for some. Effective strategizing comes from experience and the flexibility to see things you (in your heart of hearts) may not want to see. Not everyone has the emotional wherewithall to get that far.

Even though I can't remember (nor do I care to) the nuts and bolts of advanced calculus or matrix theory or the imaginary number system (*ouch* -- just got a brain cramp merely thinking about it) -- I do remember enough of the theory to help me parse my cases and find solutions, temporary though some may be. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the scientific method of reasoning: as circumstances change, so does the benchmark system. Gotta move with the times, ya know?

Gotta go -- the spaghetti's boiling over . . . .

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | July 1, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

can i be spaghettified with pesto?

*alert* we are on the home page... put away all the naughty magazines and beer bottles! mudge - ready the bunker door!

Posted by: mo | July 1, 2008 3:18 PM | Report abuse

It occurs to me time and time again as I'm trying to drive as efficiently as possible:

There's one step that is relatively easy to undertake, is more than symbolic, and would (if followed) immediately reduce the rate of consumption.

*drum roll*

Have Congress re-impose the 55 mph national speed limit on the interstates via amendment of the highway funds law.

Of course, no leader would dare tell the public they can't drive as fast as they like, now would they?


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 1, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

For any Paul McCartney fans out there, he has announced a free concert on the Plain of Abraham for July 20.

Posted by: dmd | July 1, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Good news for those of whom like expanding their minds, thinking big, or whatever you want to call it.

Study finds long benefit in illegal mushroom drug;_ylt=AvG.d.CRTRAQcYgAFkvepNKs0NUE

Posted by: DandyLion | July 1, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, Schwarzschild Brand Spaghetti. Now being served at the Restaurant at the End of Universe.

Isaac Asimov once made the argument that the entire universe could be within the Schwarzschild radius, and hence we are all living in a big black hole and just haven't figured it out yet.

But then, Isaac had issues.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 1, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I'm rereading a book of C.S. Lewis's letters and just read one where he relates taking a walk with a man who did nothing but spout facts at him. Google is wonderful in its own way, but it doesn't do synthesis or analysis well. For that, we need human beings who can think and write. I've found those two processes to be closely related. I have to think through what I have to write, and I have to write out what I'm trying to think, so I can understand it.

Posted by: slyness | July 1, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Hate to Boodle and run, but wanted to send my best to all attending the BPH this evening. I am *so* sorry I'm missing it!

I've heard the term "spaghettified" for a long time as an accepted term in the field.

On the other hand, it could also be a long lost remake of "The Black Hole" as done by the late Serigo Leone...


Posted by: bc | July 1, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

SCC: Sergio.

RD, Dr. A may have had issues, but I remember him as one of the funniest people I've ever met. Granted, I was a kid at the time, but the guy knew how to laugh and to have others laugh with him.


Posted by: bc | July 1, 2008 3:54 PM | Report abuse

bc is our very own Forrest Gump.. or Zelig. Haven't decided which yet.

Sorry you won't be there, bc. It won't be the same withoutcha.

Posted by: TBG | July 1, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

As I recall, we were talking about ties the other day, and were going to wear some to the BPH tonight. I hope that I don't get laughed off of K street for the one I'm wearing. And, if I get spaghetti on it, my wife will kill me.

Seriously, I got on the Metro one night, wearing this tie, and somebody from the opposite end of the railcar yelled at the top of his voice, pointing at me, "Hey look at *that* tie!!!" All I could do was look back at him blankly as if to say, "You talkin' to me?"

Posted by: Don from I-270 | July 1, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Don... looking forward to meeting you... and the tie!

Posted by: TBG | July 1, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

bc - when I said Asimov had issues, I didn't mean it in a bad way. All the better people do.

Seriously, it is awesome that you got to meet the good Doctor. I based my "issues" comment on his penchant for off-color limericks.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 1, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

DARN! i forgot about the necktie!!

Posted by: mo | July 1, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I suppose being spaghettified or linguinied is OK for you thinner folks, but I'm afraid the best I'm likely to do is get fettuchinied or, worse, lasagnaed.

Running out the door to go see my "doctor"; I seem to be having a sudden attack of the scurvy and must have antiscorbutics, stat!

I left the key to the bunker under the welcome mat doily, if anyone should need it. The veggie platter and ranch dressing are in the fridge, and I've laid out the crackers, sliced pepperoni and salami, and other noshes.

Will report in tonight.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Wait, Mudge, what about the beverages?

I hope you all have a wonderful time, and I look forward to pictures.

Posted by: slyness | July 1, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

As long as I'm not "ziti-ed" (or even worse, "rigatoni-ed") I should be okay (unless there's clams and marinara sauce involved).

Wilbrod... I agree entirely that one needs to have a base set of knowledge, but only because that gives you the tools to *find* stuff, whether it be through Google or Wiki or the Achenblog or -- Jesu forfend -- resort to a library.

I programmed primarily in PHP (both web server and command line stuff) that had to run on Windows, Linux, Unix, Macs, you name it. Typical apps had to interface with everything from SQL to PICK (now there's an oldie for the IBM types out there -- last I heard, they call it "UniVerse"). I had enough data in my head to know what was what and what needed doing, but my best ability was knowing where to look for what I didn't have in my gray-matter filing system.

But I've turned my back on all that. Making sawdust has freed me from the cubicle farm so I can smoke as I work, drink beer, take a nap, catch things on fire (including myself) and be bossed around by a six year old.

Posted by: martooni | July 1, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Martooni.

If you got the nose, why bother with remembering yesterday's news?

Posted by: WIlbrodog | July 1, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Don't expect the next big things to come from those over-the-hill fogeys, Joel.

Finding/knowing is the old thing. Info/disinfo ratios are the new paradigm. In spite of wikipedia's errors, it's increased my ratio. Snopes helps, too, of course. I guess I'd better look up Snopes in Wikipedia now.

Posted by: Jumper | July 1, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Jumper... for real info, you gotta go to or watch John Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

(am I a cynic? yes!)

Fark has all the skinny on Florida (no offense to kbert or Dave for your neighbors) and John and Stephen (once you parse past their personas) got it on everything else (IMHO anyway).

I watched "Meet the Press" this past Sunday with Tom Brokaw hosting and to be honest, I thought he was drunk or on meds. He didn't do a terrible job, but I could swear his words were a bit slurred. Of course, I'd be the pot calling the kettle black on that matter, but still. He seemed to pull it together towards the end, but I was thinking he wasn't all there, so to speak.

Posted by: martooni | July 1, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Just landed back on the planet. Couple of things:

-- gnocchi'd would be so much better than spaghettified, no? You'd end up a little shorter and stouter, but with a nice fluffy pillow consistency, and all in one piece (even though you'd end up with fork marks on one side).

-- saw S'Tim's video. Thought of B. Spears (watch out S'Tim, you could find yourself under some sort of conservatorship). Also thought of Don Quixote, and how they kept trying to stuff him into an insane asylum for less.

Sorry I couldn't make it to the BPH tonight, but I'm in the wrong state. Hugs and kisses to all, with an extra-tight hug to S'nuke, a glass-clink with omni, and a shoe-shot to bc. (S'nuke, quit bogarting the mussels!)

Hope it's been a happy day for all!

Posted by: LostInThought | July 1, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

I am being Ziti-fied tonight. I just wish I had a little salad to go with it. Ziti is great and this is some of the best I have ever had,but just not too good for the diet.

Posted by: greenwithenvy | July 1, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The quote greatly worried me until I recalled the library stack lesson. But what really put me at ease was watching Bloggingheads on the NYT "Tyranny of the Old." I was ROFL at these two kids, one at an "esteemed" institute, dissing "Old People" who move to Arizona. Between the International Nose Check and the persistence of the Web, I cannot wait until they face an age discrimination lawsuit, and this blog is played. And given their fervor to "have their day" I secretly hope their Moms get to see that and chime in on Hillary's treatment. I would think they might have read some recent SCOTUS opinions, and done the match. But, I'm not counting on much. I sense that Obama's "netroots" base has delusions of grandeur. Sort of like Achen whatever. But, we like him. Old Smelly Type Out. Old Age and Treachery will always Overcome Youth and Enthusiasm.

Posted by: Lurker BHTV | July 1, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Just wow.

Posted by: Bunkerbound | July 1, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm already guarding the bunker, folks! Feel free to come right in.

Posted by: Wilbrodog | July 1, 2008 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Anyone else creating acronyms out of errant capitalizations? Brain actively trying to create some sense of order, I guess.

Posted by: Bunkerbound | July 1, 2008 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Achen whatever? delusions of grandeur? Maybe you misunderstood. "The Grand Idea" isn't about JA, and that's not his pic on the cover. He just wrote it. Crack the'll see.

Then again, you pop in, stray off-topic right at the get-go (and then a couple more times for good measure), and then wrap up by slamming the boss without any stated reason. Maybe the thought disorder is yours, and one of derailment. If so, seek help.

Posted by: LostInThought | July 1, 2008 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I guess I should have worn a bib while eating the ziti. Time to head for the laundry room for some stain lifter.

Posted by: GREENWITHENVY | July 1, 2008 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Martooni -- To me, Tom Brokaw *always* sounds like he's slurring his words. He's been like that for years and years. Now, whether that's due to "enhancements" or it's just his nature, I haven't the faintest idea.

Just a thought. Time to go. . . .

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | July 1, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Hey Martooni! Much like Dylan I've gone electric! I finally broke down and bought a power miter saw. It's just a little Craftsman, but I am delighted with it so far. Of course, I am also a bit afraid of it as well. But that's fine. I figure a healthy fear of moving blades is a good way to keep from becoming, well, Spaghettified.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 1, 2008 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Although I have never been Spaghettified I did once get pretty seriously extruded. But I was a lot younger then.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 1, 2008 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorry I missed the BPH; I've been traveling for the last 2.5 weeks for pleasure: a weekend in Marblehead, MA, then a week in Martha's Vineyard with Darling Dot #1, then a week with a dear friend on an island off the coast of Portland, Me.

Doesn't that sound special? To me, it sounds "Freeloading."

I left Portland at 1 pm yesterday and arrived home in Southern MD at 9:30 or so. Such a speeeeed deeeemon!

But today, I am just exhausted.

I haven't finished backboodling, and I have lots to say, I just can't remember what.

Posted by: Maggie O'D | July 1, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

I have returned from the BPH, and what an occasion it was, what with guest appearances by Dreamer/Tomfan, Alexey, and Don from I-270, wearing, as promised, his necktie (a thing of beauty, of dash, of panache, of...but I digress).

A few snippets: Dreamer has been here for nearly two weeks, accompanying her hubby on his business trip; they depart tomorrow. And this is the part that made me weak in the knees: their next stop is France for 10 days. You know, a little Paris, a little Provence, whatever. Alors. Then home to Hong Kong (which she loves). Since they came across the Pacific to get here, and are going home eastwardly, they are, yes, go ahead, say it: circumnavigating. Flying around the world.

Next, Alexey: born in Chile of Russian parents, held a handful of unbelievably interesting jobs (oh, pilot for the CIA, that kinda thing, guarding elephants against poachers in Kenya), and had a copy of his book ( ). He'll be signing copies at Borders in Gaithersburg in a week or two; I'll let him give you guys the details.

Then, Don from I-270, discussing his engineering work for the Navy and his years in the Coast Guard in Miami inspecting fishing boats and ocean liners and investigating the odd boating accident (which reminds me, Alexey was once shipwrecked, from a 40-foot catamaran, in the Indian Ocean. But that's another story; don't let me bore you).

Also in attendence: the three Nukes (Himself, Spouse and Spawn), omni, TBG and Son of TBG, and mo.

Note to bc: Yes, I was bussed. TBG caught it on film. Well, on electrons or whatever the he11 they stuff inside cameras nowadays. One assumes she will post it in due course, as will Scotty post his pix. And we had the new official Achenwaitress, Cherise, who did a bang-up job. (The former official Achenwaitress, Mara, we have learned, apparently decamped to the Big Apple where she is a forensic-type person, a real-life CSI type).

I see we have not yet concluded our musings on string cheese theory and the pastafication of all things that enter event horizons and find themselves rigatonied to death.

Carry on, then.

Slyness, you know where to find the bunker liquor cabinet, surely? Look under all the doiles; it was under there somewhere, last I saw it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Hello, Maggie. Sounds like you're one busy lady, and having fun too.

I hope you guys have a wonderful time at the bph. And tell Dreamer I said hello, and that I hope life is treating her better than good. Can't wait for the pictures.

Time for bed. The g-girl is here, and has my spot. Have a pleasant evening, folks.

Night, boodle. Sweet dreams.

Posted by: cassandra s | July 1, 2008 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Welcome back, Maggie. Sounds like a fabulous vacation. I've just been through Marblehead, and it seems to be a wonderful place.

Hey Bunderbound, do you understand what Lurker is talking about? I missed the whole point there.

GWE, I find that a good way to deal with stains is to get out as much as I can with detergent and cold water, then let the stain soak with more detergent till it's time to put the garment in the wash.

Posted by: slyness | July 1, 2008 9:00 PM | Report abuse

SCC; Bunkerbound. I SOOO wish I could type.

Thanks for the info, Mudge, I was hoping for OJ and tea. I went to the store for the juice and made my own tea. Now you can have mimosas on Saturday morning, but not before. The wine cellar looks to be in decent shape.

Posted by: slyness | July 1, 2008 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Oh, the previous link to Alexey's book was to the Kindle edition; here's the link to the dead tree version:

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 1, 2008 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Oooooh! Good BPH for sure. Me, I went walking the Puppy, fishing for a couple of hours, then I made lunch, drove W1 to her job, strolled around the Ornemental Gardens and Arboretum of the Ottawa experimental farm and then cooked dinner for four. Then made pizza for four. Different peeps.
I'm done for the day, but rising an adult beverage in a south-south-western direction.
Fishing on Canada day isn't good BTW. Lots of people on the water, most of them clueless on basic fishing etiquette. Bless them all, shall they stay home in the next few days.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | July 1, 2008 9:08 PM | Report abuse

I think "gnocchified" is what happens when you cross the Juliachild radius of one of the stars in the slotted spoon of the Big Dipper. Peppered by the Parmesean

RD & gwe - speaking of being extruded, being Zitified actually sounds pretty good.

On the other hand, RD, being extrude honed, not so much.

I think one of gwe's missing salads would be a lot less painful. [Note: I did *not* mention "extrude hone" and "Mianus" in the same sentence. Before that one, I mean.]

As far as being Zelig - well, I've never met Brian Greene or Walter Isaacson.


Posted by: bc | July 1, 2008 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Yet ANOTHER New Kit!

So many kits, so little time.

Posted by: Maggie O'D | July 1, 2008 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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