Wednesday, 5th March 2008
Q. The police suspect there's been a murder but no body has turned up anywhere. Does this mean they have to give up on the case?
A. That's what 1949 London serial killer John George Haigh boasted to police after killing Mrs. Durand-Deacon, saying he had dissolved her remains in acid so the victim no longer existed, says E. J. Wagner in "The Science of Sherlock Holmes." "You will find the sludge which remains on Leopold Road. But," he smiled confidently, "you can't prove murder without a body."
Haigh was mistaken on this point, as many others have been. The law does not require a corpse but rather a "corpus delicti," or "the body of evidence that establishes the crime has taken place." Not understanding this, Haigh made a full confession of the killing, plus five others, claiming he was a vampire in dire need of their blood. The police pegged his motive as going after the women's valuables. When experts examined the sludge, they spotted small polished pebbles that turned out to be gallstones of the late Mrs. Durand-Deacon. Also found were her dentures bone fragments and part of a handbag. Later, the jury wasted no time in finding Haigh guilty and sentencing him to death.
Q. Here's one for the riotous road: the nose spoon- hang. What keeps the lightweight utensil suspended there, to the startlement or sarcasm of onlookers?
A. You'll need to clean the spoon and the tip of your nose, breathe lightly onto the interior surface of the bowl and then seat it against your nose, details Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics." When you feel the spoon hold, let it dangle. If it and your nose are free of oil, there can be enough friction to make this work. Condensation from your moist breath helps fix the spoon inplace. Although a thick water layer acts as a lubricant, a very thin layer acts like a glue because of electrica attraction between the water molecules and the nearb surfaces of spoon and skin. "My record for this stunt is 1 hour and 15 minutes, which I like to say was in a Frenc restaurant in Toronto. However, the truth is I was in a truck stop in Youngstown, Ohio, where a burly member of a motorcycle gang suggested that the spoon would hang better if he reshaped my nose."
Q. Are you sports fan enough to know who's in peril of encountering a life-threatening "burble"? Out of the clear blue sky, one might add.
A. That's the name skydivers give to the wake they generate as they fall, at maybe 200 kilometers per hour terminal velocity, with a vortex of air currents stretching a meter or so behind and pure turbulence farther back, says "New Scientist" magazine. Silent and invisible, burbles can play havoc with jumpers or their equipment. Under normal free-fall conditions, divers can change their orientation and rate of descent by adjusting their arms and legs to alter the force of the air on their bodies. Move into a burble, however, and the force changes suddenly, precipitating a tumble.
These risks are highest during formation dives with large numbers of divers. When two or more join together, their burbles combine into an even bigger problem for the divers above them. Especially when divers release their parachutes, they must be sure to keep them clear of burbles. In early 2007, Russian skydiver Kirill Samotsvetov died during an attempt to create a 200-person formation in free fall. After the formation broke up, Samotsvetov deployed his chute but flew into the burble of another canopy, collapsing his parachute.
Q. When it comes to romance, what's your "marketplace" value? What might a crassly unsentimental economist say?
A. Though it differs somewhat from culture to culture, there is a surprising overlap in what we all look for in lovers - large numbers of us prefer someone who is kind, compassionate, honest, loyal, healthy, intelligent, emotionally stable and physically attractive, says Robert Frank in "The Economic Naturalist." Women generally admit to being attracted to men who are financially successful and lately men too have been mentioning this one more in surveys. If you add up your 1-10 ratings for all these characteristics and then average them, this would be your "desirability index," and obviously the higher the better. Now an "assortative mating" pattern develops in which 10s pair with other 10s, 9s with other 9s, etc., providing at least a rough guide to the dating/mating scene.
The notion of deal-swinging in the world of love helps clear up another old mystery: why it's easier to find a partner if you already have one. Frank reports on a guy whose dating life had gone stale until a wise female friend invited him to a bar one night. There she fawned all over him, rubbing his arm and gazing into his eyes in full view of other patrons. Then she abruptly left. In no time, several other young women approached the guy. "I knew perfectly well this would happen," his friend later said. Attractive women are obviously in demand, and the fact that she, attractive herself, was paying such close attention to him signaled to other women that he was OK. His market value soared.
(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue(at)compuserve.com, co-authors of "Can a Guy Get Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So- Everyday) Questions," from Pi Press)
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Google AlertWhen a company which has it's European Headquarters here in Ireland is called 'evil' and 'immoral' by M.P.s in The House of Commons you tend to sit up and take notice. The particular company that was being referred to was Google and the reason it had enraged M.P.s in London was because even though it has a big operation there and conducts a lot of business there it pays no corporate tax. It does this by having all of its financial transactions finished here in Ireland. And the company here is …
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