Wednesday, 16th May 2012
Q. Do storks ever "bring" babies? What about Dr. Stork, obstetrician, who delivers babies?
A. Funny anyone should ask, because nearly everyone can call to mind crazy name coincidences - like two loud brothers named "Sones" (scientific unit of sound)! Got your own examples?
Brown University psychologist Lewis P. Lipsitt recounts trying to make the point to a class to beware "illusory correlations" - two things that seem related but truly aren't (like storks and babies, which in old Dutch villages both increased with more population, babies for obvious reasons and storks due to there being more nestable roofs).
Lipsitt brought up the subject of name coincidences, mentioning people he knew (all true), like Dr. Hawkes who heads the Audubon Society, Mr. Rowles is head of the local Automobile Assn., Prof. Fiddler was in the music dept., Ms. Record kept the alumni records, Dr. Fish founded a chapter of the Oceanographic Institute and hired two men named Saila and Seman (all with the marine lab).
He thought he had convinced his class they better be careful about false attributions of causation, until a student piped up, "You must be right, Professor, because you study sucking behavior in babies and your name is Lipsitt."
"I started to argue that with my name, I could have had several occupations, but by then we were all stuck, myself included, in believing there was something to it. And the end of all this is I now have hundreds of examples, because my students of many years keep sending them to me, even some unmentionables torn from the pages in hotel phone books."
Q. Even a dying person can talk, so it must not take much energy to utter those "famous last words." Correct?
A. We're a loquacious species to the end. So lucky it is, perhaps, that so little actual sound energy need go into everyday speech for it to be heard, as calculated by John R. Cameron et al. in "Physics of the Body." For instance, uttering "Joe took Father's workbench out" in normal voice takes about 2 seconds and generates power of barely 15-20 microwatts. "A person could talk continuously for 100 years and still not produce the sound energy equivalent to the heat energy needed to bring a cup of water to the boil."
Of the power generated, most goes into vowels, making them easier to hear and understand, such as the vowel sound intensity in "awl" compared to the consonant "th" in "thin" testing at 680:1 difference!
But without a voicebox, says Cameron, even this small talk energy can't be mustered. So some patients with voicebox removed are taught to swallow air and belch it back in controlled fashion to act as an artificial larynx to produce sound.
Q. What does it take for the world to disappear before your eyes? Think optics, eyeball jiggle, and Jurassic Park.
A. Start with the flip-flop optics of your eyes' lenses actually painting the world upside down on your retinas. To compensate for this inversion, your body's map on your brain is also upside down - keeps the map in synch with visual space - says State University of New York neurosurgeon James Holsapple. "In this sense, your brain is hanging by its toes in your cranium!"
Now do something bizarre and put on a pair of image-inverting glasses, so immediately the world seems to have done a 180-degree somersault. Not much fun. You stumble over everything, can't walk, shoot pool, read your e-mail.
But just wait. Within about a week - still with it? - your brain learns to adjust. Things still appear upside down, says Hope College psychologist David Myers, but you can walk comfortably, reach out and grasp objects. In studies, glasses wearers have even ridden a motorcycle and skied the Alps. The brain re-maps, so to speak.
Now take this one loony step beyond, poses Holsapple, and fit on gear that perfectly stabilizes images on your retinas, by compensating for your eyeballs' natural restless jumpiness. Now within just 10-20 seconds, the image simply vanishes, and you're left staring at a gray field!
So it is necessary for an image to be sliding around or changing all the time for us to SEE. "Like those dinos in Jurassic Park - that failed to see the troop of lost campers because everyone is holding very still - we too require some amount of motion in the visual world for it to be seen."
Q. How do you rudely cut in line and get away with it?
A. Get away with it maybe, just hope that Attila's not queued there. From the book "Cheap Psychological Tricks: What to Do When Hard Work, Honesty and Perseverance Fail," by Perry W. Buffington, Ph.D., you brazen up to cut in near the front, figuring folks there have almost made it and won't see you as a threat. Plus, the line-headers will likely be in a good, charitable mood by that time.
You'd think cutting in farther back would be easier, but this is the "worry zone," where queuers fear investing time only to be cut off near the ticket window, or whatever.
In one study, three-quarters of midline or later cutters drew complaints, compared to a quarter near the front.
Another tack, notes "Greta Garbage's Outrageous Bathroom Book," is to request to cut in BEHIND someone near the front-totally ridiculous since it's no skin off that person's nose, so on what grounds may this permission be granted you? Which is exactly why this might work, leaving the rearward folks flabbergasted.
Q. Grab a calculator and check this one out: Put in any three-digit number, say 639. Now repeat the digits to make it a 6-digit number, 639,639. Next divide by 7, then by 11, then by 13. OK, why'd you get THAT answer?
A. Right, you got back your original 3-digit number because, as explained by Edward H. Julius in "More Rapid Math Tricks and Tips," repeating the three original digits is the same as multiplying by 1,000 (3 additional 10s places to 639,000 in the example), then adding on the number again (639,000 + 639 = 639,639). That of course is the same as multiplying by 1,001.
And dividing by 7, 11 and 13 is the same as dividing by 7 x 11 x 13, or 1,001. So whatever your original number was, you in effect multiplied it by 1,001 and then divided by 1,001, leaving your original number.
Guaranteed to impress your boss or the neighbor's kid.
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