There Are No Transitional Fossils

Rubbish. Some people claim evolution isn't an accurate picture of how life developed because there aren't any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance. That's simply not true.

There are many detailed examples of intermediate fossils. Perhaps the most famous fossils are from Archaeopteryx, which has the feathers and skeletal structure of birds and also features of dinosaurs.

There's a whole (ahem) flock of other feathered fossils, more and less like birds. There's a whole sequence of fossils spanning the evolution of modern horses beginning with the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus made the transition. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.

And if all that isn't enough, there's definitive supporting evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but just as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species just as you'd expect from their evolutionary relationships. In fact, geneticists even have a technique that produces what amounts to a "molecular clock" that shows when various organism split off from earlier branches to form new species.


PS. This just in. Another transitional fossil between reptiles and mammals found. Stay tuned for more news as it happens. Film at 11.

You're Shaped Like A Donut

Really. Your topological shape is the same as a donut. Granted, you have what our British friends call "dangly bits" hanging off here and there, and—to be accurate—a few extra holes too. But basically you're a lump with a hole through the middle.

There's a hole that starts at your mouth and ends at your, well...other end. A donut has a hole through it too. And while a cup has that funny container part on one side, it still has just one hole through it.

Letters of the alphabet can be classified by their topology too. a, b,d, e,o, p, and q are letters with one hole; c, f, h, k, l, m, n, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, and are letters without a hole; and a i and j are letters consisting of two pieces. Depending on what font you use g may either be a one holer or the only letter that's a two holer, depending on whether or not the tail is closed.

So? What we're talking about here is topology, a branch of mathematics and an extension of geometry, sometimes referred to as “rubber sheet geometry.” Two objects are considered the same if they can be continuously deformed into one another by bending, twisting, stretching, and shrinking, but not tearing or gluing. Some geometry problems depend not on the exact shape of the objects involved, but rather on the way they are put together. For example, a square and a circle are similar in that they separate a geometric plane into two parts, the part inside and the part outside the figure.

As a kid, our co-conspirator here, Paul, discovered the topology of animals for himself. He'd heard that geese would quickly pass a piece of pork fat through their system. Always the skeptic, he tied a piece of fat to a string, and took it out back to the pen where his Mom kept a flock of geese. Sure 'nuff, before long he had the whole flock on a string. Mathematics in everyday life.


Evolution Is Just A Theory

Foolishness. Evolution is a law of nature and a fact.

You probably learned (incorrectly) in elementary school that a theory is better than a hypothesis but not as good as a law. And you probably have heard people use the term even more incorrectly, as in "The police have a theory the murder culprit is...", in the sense that someone has a hunch that may or may not be right. Wrong, and wrong. And two wrongs, as you correctly know, do not make it right.

Here's a dose of reality--a theory is actually an explanation of something that combines facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses. If something is a theory it's repeatedly been shown to be an accurate picture of Reality.

But--and here's the part a lot of people don't get--no amount of validation can ever prove a theory. Scientist, dog love their little pea-pickin' skeptical minds, are always willing to say "we're certain this is the way it is...until we learn there's more to the story than we thought." New knowledge seldom makes old laws wrong (well, okay, sometimes...but very, very rarely); usually ideas refine old ones. Better understanding, a step closer to clearly seeing Reality, is the whole point.

So when someone talks about the theory of evolution--or atomic theory, or the theory of relativity, or theory of gravitation--they aren't expressing reservations about its truth. They aren't saying, "I have this theory about gravity that...." They're saying that, as best is known today, this is the way evolution and atoms and reality and gravity work.

But--and here's the part almost everyone doesn't get—while we can talk about the theory of evolution, we can also talk about the fact of evolution. A fact is an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is 'true.' The fossil record and abundant other evidence including genetics, for example, testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one was there to see those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling—it's indisputable. In other words, you don't have the choice of believing evolution or not; you have the choice of understanding it or not. Reality is what it is; if something is hard for you to believe that doesn't make it wrong. It just means you don't understand.

We all frequently rely on indirect evidence. We can't see subatomic particles directly, for instance, but we can verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain. We don't have to see a live dinosaur to know they existed.


A Man's Nose is Connected to His Penis

Really. A direct brain pathway connects a guy's olfactory bulb to his septal nucleus, where penile blood flow and erection are controlled. In fact, research has shown that almost 1/5 of men who lose their sense of smell also lose sexual function.

Experiments show that a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie produces the most arousal in men, increasing penile blood flow by an average of 40 percent. A combination of licorice and doughnuts finished second, increasing blood flow by 31.5 percent.

Women, on the other hand responded most strongly to a combination of licorice and cucumber. The combination increased vaginal blood flow 13 percent. Women had a negative responses to charcoal smoke which caused a 14 percent reduction. Interestingly, the study found that women aren't turned on by male colognes; they actually caused a 1 percent reduction in vaginal blood flow.

So guys, if you want to turn your honey on, skip the barbecue and forget after shave. Go buy some Good & Plenty candy. The licorice, for some reason only your brain knows, will arouse you both.


PS This just in, film at 11...

A familiar scent wafting in the bedroom may help your memory.

Scientists had medical students play a computer version of a common memory game: They turned over pairs of cards to find each one's match. Some played in a rose-scented room. Later that night, while they were in a deep stage of sleep known as slow-wave sleep, researchers gave them another whiff of roses. The next day, the rose-scented sleepers remembered the locations of those cards better than people who didn't get a whiff — they answered correctly 97 percent of the time compared with 86 percent.

What happened? Anyone who's ever gotten a whiff of a particular odor and flashed back to an emotional memory — grandma's apple pie, say — knows that scent and memory can be intertwined. With the card game, the odor reactivated the day's new memories of object placement, allowing a now-resting brain to consolidate them, the researchers wrote. But because different parts of the brain are involved with different types of memory, the odor didn't play a role with the more numerical finger-tapping test.

The Bible is (Not) a Guide to Moral Behavior

My Dad, a former Presbyterian missionary, used to tell amazingly creative and entertaining tales when we were kids. They were called Abbagadygooguss Stories. The main characters were Abba, Gad, Goo and Gus. Recently he went to the trouble of writing some of them down for posterity.

In one story titled 'Way Out,' Dad tells how Abba, a fictional character with an Aramaic name that sorta means 'papa', was conversing with Biblical character Gad (Gen. 30:11) who had been allotted the land east of Jordan (Num. 32). Gad, Dad wrote, was the son Jacob fathered by Zelpah, his wife's maid. And he included a biblical passage as reference (Gen. 29:24).

Good grief, I though when I read the story, my Dad made a terrible mistake. He seemed to be writing that Jacob was screwing around with his wife's maid. Not exactly a kids story. So I did a little digging,'s in The Book!

It seems Jacob and his Uncle Laban had a deal where if Jacob worked for 7 years he could have his Uncle's daughter, cousin Rachel, for his wife—pay before play, as it were.

But Uncle Laban wants to unload his ugly oldest daughter Leah instead of letting his younger beautiful Rachel go, so he bribes Leah into going along with the gag by giving her a slave called Zilpah as a handmaid. (In a modern version she'd get a sports car, but whatever).

So Uncle Laban tricks nephew Jacob, and secretly puts his old daughter in the wedding bed instead of the beautiful younger Rachel that Jacob had worked for 7 years to earn. Jacob (an 'only with the lights off' kinda guy, apparently) doesn't discover the old switcheroo until the morning after the honeymoon night. Of course, he's furious when he discovers he's been had, so to speak, by a bait-and-switch tactic.

But it gets weirder. Uncle Laban, shrewd negotiator that he is, calms Jacob down by agreeing that Jacob can have Rachel now—and Leah later—if Jacob works another 7 years. The beginning of time payment and direct deduction from wages programs, presumably. So Jacob (who apparently really has the hots for Rachel) ends up with two wives.

Leah has lots of kids (including Levi and Judah), and Rachel has none. Why? Because God sees that Leah is despised by Jacob, and makes her fruitful and makes the more desired Rachel barren. A mean trick on Rachel, especially for a supposedly loving God, since she's an innocent bystander and guilty only of being beautiful.

God, evidently, is trying to make a point with Jacob about the unfairness of favoritism. But remember, Jacob was tricked into having (in the Biblical sense) the wife he doesn't particularly like to begin with! Kinda hard to blame him for not being wild about ugly old Leah, when he wanted foxy young Rachel!

Anyway, Rachel is so devastated by God's magical contraception program that she talks hubby Jacob into screwing her maid Bilhah so she can have (in a distorted way of thinking) her "own" kids. The original surrogate mother experiment and the first direct deposit program. (Don't believe all this? Read Genesis 30.)

But if all this isn't weird enough, now ugly but previously fruitful Leah, who has since apparently become menopausal, talks Jacob into screwing her slave Zilpah in a misguided and unnecessary attempt to get even (she's already had six kids to Rachel's one). Jacob jumps into bed with another maid, apparently happy with all this kinky sex, and we (finally) end up with Gad.

Later, (and mind you this is not my Dad's fiction, this is right out of Genesis) in a repeat performance by Jacob and Leah, er...Zilpah actually...we also end up with Joseph, the one with the fancy coat, who becomes his father's favorite kid (here we go again).

His brother's are jealous so they beat him up, steal the coat of many colors, and sell him to slave traders. So God, who evidently doesn't have much else to do, starts meddling with things again and makes Joseph successful and handsome.

Now, in a surprising but not too unexpect plot twist given all the other hanky-pankey, Joseph's master's wife starts hitting on him...throws herself at him. He resists, good slave that he is, but she literally yanks the clothes off him and goes running around the neighborhood screaming and waving his underwear claiming he tried to rape her. Her husband., Joesph's master, buys his wife's story and has Joseph thrown in jail.

But there's a happy ending. The jailer gets to know Joseph (apparently in the Biblical sense, believe it or not, although it depends on what translation your read) and Joe ends up in charge of all the prisoners. He's shooting the bull with them one day, and they ask him if he can interpret their dreams. He says no, only God can do that, but goes ahead and does anyway, and—like any good psychic—gives them an answer they want.

Joseph gets a reputation for being a pretty darn good dream interpreter, (and now we depart slightly from the Biblical version—but only updated a bit) he hits all the morning talk shows, and becomes quite the celebrity. The Pharaoh sees him on Oprah and calls him in for a private dream interpretation session. The Pharaoh really likes Joseph's answer, and makes him Assistant Pharaoh in charge of the whole country, with all the perks. That part is in the Bible; by the way. Perhaps the first rags to riches plot line.

Anyway, the whole soap opera ends with a tender scene when Grandpa Jacob is dying, son Joseph shows up at his bedside with some of the grandkiddies Gramps has never seen (there were 70 altogether!) and makes the old man very happy. Joseph eventually dies at the ripe old age of 110 with 32,500 offspring, no less. (They don't call the fourth book of the Bible 'Numbers' fer nuttin'!)

So the "Way Out" Abbagadgygooguss story is just as it says in the Bible and certainly is way out.


Sniffing Makes You Smell Better

Really. Researchers have finally found out why sniffing the air makes you detect odors better.

And its not just that your increase the volume of air through your nose. It turns out that there are two different kind of detectors in the nose. One, the olfactory nerves, as you would expect react to the chemicals in the air, the ones that characterize the smell - almonds, roses, wet dogs, whatever. When these neurons respond to odor molecules, they transmit chemical energy into electrical signals signaling that it's smelling something.

But, here's the key finding. When odor free air was puffed through the nose, the same electrical signals to the brain were generated, apparently reinforcing the message to the brain "I smell something!"

"This mechanical sensitivity increases the overall sensitivity of our nose, especially when stimulated by weak odors," said a researcher. "It helps the brain make better sense out of odor responses when it integrates the airflow information. We still don't know how it happens, but sniffing is essential for odor perception."

Well, maybe not an earth-shaking finding, but nothing to sniff at.


Hummingbirds Consume As Much Fuel as a 747

Foolishness. Hummingbird's metabolism is notoriously high, and somehow the story started going around that they use as much energy as a 747. But pound for pound they don't consume nearly as much fuel.

Boeing 747s burn kerosene, about 5,000 gallons of the stuff every hour. Each gallon of jet fuel contains 34 million calories, so the big silver bird is consuming fuel at the rate of 170 billion calories per hour. A typical 747 weighs 750,000 pounds (including roughly 250,000 pounds of fuel) so it burns 226,667 calories per hour per pound.

Hummingbirds burn fat. Experiments with hummingbirds in metabolic chambers showed that the little colorful birds consume fuel at the rate of about 1200 calories per hour. A typical hummingbird weighs not much more than a penny, about 4.5 grams of which 2 g is fat. That's about .01 pounds, so a hummingbird burns about 120,000 calories per hour per pound—about half that of a 747. Humans burn about 500 Calories per hour per pound, if you were wondering.

If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that thermochemical calories and food calories are different. Food Calories (big 'C'), also known as kilocalories, are 1000 times bigger than engineer's calories (small 'c').

Humans Got Pubic Lice From Gorillas

Really. Humans acquired pubic lice from gorillas several million years ago. We know what you're thinking, but that doesn't mean that humans and great apes were monkeying around.

A recent study shows that humans most likely got the gorilla's lice from sleeping in their nests or eating the giant apes. About 3.3 million years ago, lice found on gorillas began to infest humans. They took up residence in the pubic region largely because humans lost hair on the rest of their bodies and lacked of any other suitable niche.

Here's a head scratcher, though: humans are unique among primates as host to two different kinds of lice: one on the head and body (Pediculus), which has become the bane of many schoolchildren, and pubic or crab lice (Pthirus). In contrast, chimps have only head lice and gorillas only have pubic lice. Why that would be, and how the beasties distinguish the difference between a noggin and a crotch remains to be discovered.

Understanding the history of lice is important because the tiny insects give clues about the lifestyles of early hominids and evolution of modern humans. If you look at emerging infectious diseases that affect humans all over the world, most have their origins on some other host before threatening humans.

It is not unusual for lice to switch hosts, it occurs in both birds and mammals. Lice that lived on the passenger pigeon before it became extinct, for example, survive because they switched to another species of pigeon.

The host switch of pubic lice from gorillas to humans did not require sexual contact. Human pubic or 'crab' lice get transmitted between people on bath towels all the time. So it is easy to imagine that gorilla lice could have moved to humans via shared sleeping quarters, or predation.


A Sugar Pill Can Be Great Medicine

Really. Sugar pills have been shown in many tests to treat a variety of conditions as well as "real" medicine.

Actually, its not the sugar. Its a weird phenomenon called the placebo effect. Essentially, if someone says they're going to give you an aspirin and substitutes a sugar pill, you're likely to feel better anyway.

There are thousands of examples. For instance;

- Doctors successfully eliminated warts by painting them with a brightly colored, inert dye and promising patients the warts would be gone when the color wore off.

- In a study of asthmatics, researchers found that they could produce dilation of the airways by simply telling people they were inhaling a bronchiodilator, even when they weren't.

- Patients suffering pain after wisdom-tooth extraction got just as much relief from a fake application of ultrasound as from a real one, so long as both patient and therapist thought the machine was on.

- Fifty-two percent of colitis patients treated with placebo reported feeling better -- and 50 percent of the inflamed intestines actually looked better when assessed with a sigmoidoscope.

And the placebo can even make you perform better. Well trained runners were told that they were involved in a study to measure the effects of super-oxygenated water on performance. They were really given only tap water but 84 percent actually ran faster under the influence of the non-existent "super water."

Can someone please give me a sugar pill and tell me it's going to make me richer?


Military Budget Lowest % GDP Since WW2

Really. The Chinese character for "crisis" is comprised of the calligraphy for "danger" and "opportunity." That's probably what USAF General Michael Wynne had in mind when he told a House Armed Services Committee that China had become "awesome investors," and that "...we need to work with them, because I would not like to be their opponent."

Reviewing the USAF $111 billion FY 2008 budget request, the officers and congressmen contemplated the 14.7% increase in Chinese defense spending in 2006.

General Michael Moseley, USAF chief of staff, said, "I would say it may be time for discussion about percentage of GDP on defense budgets," adding that the US percentage is at its lowest point, at 3.8%, since World War two.


The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming

Really. Robot advances are occurring faster than you may realize. Robots have been working in factories for years, and they're becoming more lifelike all the time.

Roomba (Roombae?) built by iRobot were perhaps the first robots to be sold specifically to work around the house. They do a great job sucking up cat hair, finding their nest when they need to eat (electricity), and they even bleat "oh-oh" when they get stuck under the couch. But they look like UFOs.

The University of Tokyo has demonstrated a robot that will pour tea from a bottle if you hold up a cup, and eventually it'll wash dishes; but it looks pretty geeky. Honda has created a humanoid robot programmed to walk, go up and down steps, and even sorta run; but it looks, well ... like a robot trying to look like a human.

If you want to see the future check out this humanoid robot from Anybot—it learned to walk. It wasn't programmed to do it, it learned. Sure it had software that let it learn, kinda like a baby when it's born comes with some software already installed, but it learned how to walk on its own. (The cables don't hold it up, they're data cables that connect to computers.) And while it has a vague 3CPO family resemblance, it moves like a human. A drunk one, perhaps, but human.

The most lifelike robot yet, called BigDog and built by Boston Dynamics, resembles a pack animal of some sort with human-looking legs—disturbingly like two skinny guys grappling, ready to wrestle. It (they?) can navigate autonomously over uneven terrain, and keep its feet in slippery snow, soggy mud, and uneven rocks. When pushed hard, kicked even, it hops sideways and stays on it's feet.

Remember that IBM-PC with square black 512k floppy disks, a black and green 40 line monitor? That was just 20 years ago. Technology is progressing at an accelerating rate, so consider what these guys will look like and be able to do in 20 years.

Betcha they won't tolerate being kicked. Heck, the ACLU will probably be on your case if you do!


Air-to-air Refuleing...Unmanned!

Really. The Israeli Air Force will soon unveil a new long-range unmanned aircraft called the Eitan that can be used for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, launcher for anti-ballistic missile missiles, and is also being considered for aerial refueling. Also known as the Heron II, the big bird has the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Last year Boeing announced it had successfully completed automated air to air refueling tests using an Air National Guard tanker and a Learjet. The Boeing flight control system allowed the Lear to autonomously fly in pre-contact, contact or observation positions around the KC-135R. During one flight the Lear was hand flown to the refueling (contact) position behind the tanker, its flight control system was then engaged, and it autonomously held position for over 23 minutes while the tanker flew two full air refueling orbits.

Northrop Grumman is working on UAV air-to-air refueling too, and is considering the high-flying Global Hawk UAV (shown above) as an aerial refueler. Aviation Week & Space Technology (aka Aviation Leak) speculates that the unmanned tanker would fuel other Global Hawks and "other high-flying aircraft that haven't ... made their debut in the unclassified world" (AW&ST 3/5/07 page 19).


More Galaxies In Universe Than Stars in Milky Way

There are more galaxies in the visible universe than there are stars in our own galaxy.

While, you can only see about 1000 stars on a clear, moonless night from an open spot, there are about 9000 stars that your eye is incapable of perceiving. But drag out a telescope and the number skyrockets. Use the Hubble and a really long exposure, and you can see even more.

But get this: virtually every star you've ever seen, even in pictures, is in our galaxy. Stars in other galaxies are just too small to be resolved individually. And there are no stars floating around between galaxies.

The Milky Way is home to 200-400 million stars; and as galaxies go, it's a pretty big one at something over 100,000 light years across. We live in an outlying, decidedly middle class neighborhood, about 25,000 light years from the center. There's absolutely nothing special about our little corner of the Universe, except that we know that—intelligence is a peculiarity that, so far at least, appears to be unique in the Universe.

The observable universe, by comparison, contains at least 80 billion galaxies. The Hubble Deep Field image above shows about 3000(and no stars), but the field covers an area of sky only about 0.04 degrees on a side (the same as a dime 75 feet away). It would take 27,000,000 such patches to cover the whole sky. Ignoring such factors as absorption by dust in our own Galaxy, which make it harder to see outside in some directions, the Hubble telescope is capable of detecting about 80 billion galaxies.

In fact, there must be many more than that since the most common kind of galaxy in our own neighborhood is the faint dwarfs which are difficult enough to see nearby, much less at cosmological distances.

Then there's all the rest of the universe we can't (and never will) see because the nether reaches are expanding faster than the speed of light. And if you really want to be rigorous we probably should consider the number of galaxies in other universes that are part of the so-called megaverse.

"Twinkle, twinkle little star," takes on a whole new meaning, doesn't it!


Hubble Image Shows Planet Exploding

Nonsense. A new image of a planetary nebula taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera shows NGC 2440, a chaotic structure produced by the explosion of a dying star.

Our Milky Way Galaxy is littered with about 1500 of these stellar relics, but they're called planetary nebula because of their vague similarity in appearance to giant planets in old, less powerful, telescopes.

This image taken February 7, 2007 shows the colorful result of a star ending its life by blowing off outer layers of gas. Ultraviolet light from the dying star makes the material glow. The burned-out star, called a white dwarf, is the white dot left of center. Our Sun will eventually burn out and shroud itself with stellar debris, but not for another 5 billion years.

About 1500 years ago a star exploded in the constellation Lyra producing perhaps the most famous planetary nebula known as the Ring Nebula or M57, the 57th object in the Messier catalog.

The material expelled by the star glows with different colors depending on its composition, its density, and how close it is to the hot central star. Blue is helium; blue-green oxygen, and red nitrogen and hydrogen.

After the Big Bang the universe contained no heavy elements, but such explosions produced the elements that make up your body. You are, in a very real sense, a child of the stars.


Living People Outnumber the Dead

Foolishness. A meme going around claims the human population has swelled to the point that there are more people alive today than all those who have ever lived. But that's wrong; despite a quadrupling of the population in the past century, the number of people alive today is still dwarfed by the number of people who have died.

For most of history, human population grew slowly, if at all. From the time Homo habilis, the first more or less human, appeared two million years ago until they figured out how to grow their own food, Earth's population expanded to only about five million people and grew at less than .1% per year. It only reached 300 million by year 1 CE.

Then plagues killed off huge numbers of people, including 75 million wiped out by the "black death" in the 14th century alone. As a result, by 1650 the world population had only increased to about 500 million. By 1800, though, thanks to improved agriculture and sanitation, it doubled to more than one billion. Now Earth's population has exploded to over 6 billion.

Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau figured out the number of people that have ever existed. He assumed two people, as we know them today, existed in 50,000 BCE (which is obviously not quite right because the numbers blur between humans and our ancestors such as Neadertals, but that close enough for this kind of estimate). Then, using historical growth rates and population benchmarks, he estimated that slightly over 106 billion people had ever been born.

So the 6 billion people alive today are only 6 percent of those that have ever lived.

Recently, the population has been increasing by about 1.2 percent each year, down from the late 1960s peak of a 2.1 percent. In fact, some countries, especially France and Japan, have very low birth rates and their populations are actually dwindling,

U.N.projections predicts that by 2050 the world's population will be around 9 billion and will stabilize at 10 billion sometime around 2200.

At this rate, the living will never outnumber the dead.

A Universe of Monkeys Couldn't Type Hamlet

Really. There's an idea going around that a monkey typing for an infinite time would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. In fact the age of the Universe (about 14.7 billion years) is tiny compared to the time it would take for that tireless monkey to peck out Hamlet, never mind all the other great works of the Bard.

A monkey (or machine) picking random letters has one chance in 26 of correctly choosing the first letter of Hamlet, which happens to be an "A" (Actus Primus. Scoena Prima.) There's one chance in 676 (26 X 26) of choosing the first two letters. The probability goes down exponentially, so to get the first 20 letters correct there's already only one chance in 2620 or one in 19,928,148,895,209,409,152,340,197,376. That's about the same as buying four tickets in consecutive lotteries and winning the jackpot each time.

The text of Hamlet, even without punctuation and spaces, contains 133,874 letters which means the probability of a randomly picking them all in the right order is one in 3.4×10183946. That's a very big number. Consider that there are only about 1079 atoms in the observable universe and only 1017 seconds have elapsed since the Big Bang.

Even if the universe were filled with monkeys and they'd been typing since the Big Bang the chance that they would have produced Hamlet would still be less than one chance in 10183800.

But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). Kinda like how evolution selects for adaptive changes produced by mutations. On average, the program re-created the phrase TOBEORNOTTOBE in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days. Now that's the power of natural selection.

As Shakepseare wrote: Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.

Shakespeare Sucked And So Do You - The Same Air That Is

Really. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wrote:

O my love, my wife!
Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty

That's a lovely, even heart-breaking, sentiment if you think about it. But I'm not so sure the Bard's breath smelled like honey or that he was at all beautiful when he died. Still, the odds are good that when you suck in a breath you're breathing a molecule that he sucked in (and exhaled) with his last breath.


Dartmouth College mathematics professor J. Laurie Snell did the math and says the odds are good--nearly 2 in 3--that some of your next inhalation was part of the 16th-century poet's final exhalation.

Snell assumed the total number of molecules in the atmosphere (1044) and the total number of molecules in the average breath (1022) and performed a series of calculations to determine the probabilities. Even if you include only chemically stable nitrogen molecules in Shakespeare's final snort, the odds are better than 50-50 you're sharing his breath right now.

Which also means that you're probably breathing a used Atilla the Hun molecule too. And you know how advanced dentistry and oral hygiene were in those days.


Bottled Water Is "All Wet"

Really. Pricey bottled water is not demonstrably better than essentially free tap-water.

Ah, but it's purer you say. Well, a comprehensive review of the bottled water industry and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles concluded that bottled water isn't necessarily cleaner or safer than tap water. That's not surprising given that at least 25 percent of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle.

"Scientific American" referred to bottled water as Bottled Twaddle after finding that twenty percent sampled had bacteria levels higher than tap water. One reason might might be that bottled water plants must test their water only once a week while city tap water has to be tested at least 25 times more often.

Chemicals contaminated another fifth of the samples. One of these icky ingredients, the chemical Bisphenol A, has been associated with prostate cancer, chromosome damage, growth irregularities, a variety of behavioral changes and sex reversal in some test animals. Sex reversal! Holy Cow! I hope thats Bull!

Ah! But bottled water tastes better, you say? Well, that's hard to defend. Blind taste tests fail to prove that time and again. For instance in such a test ABC's Good Morning America participants preferred good old New York City tap water 2 to 1. The Cincinnati Enquirer discovered that
tap water rated at least as high as the best bottled water. In Yorkshire, England, the water company found that 60 percent of 2,800 people surveyed could not tell the difference between the local tap water and the highest rated bottled.

Maybe the most telling, certainly the funniest, taste test was conducted by Penn & Teller on T.V. They began with a blind test in which 75 percent of New Yorkers preferred city tap to bottled waters. They then went to a trendy California restaurant that featured a water sommelier who offered elegant water menus to the patrons. All bottles were filled with hose water (!) in the back of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the Angeleno Aguaphiles who were willing to plunk down nearly $7 a bottle for Eau Du Robinet (French for "faucet water"), Agua de Culo (Spanish for "ass water") and Amazon ("filtered through the floor of the Brazilian rain forest") declared them all to be far superior to tap water.

Finally, if you're "green" you'll turn on the faucet. A recent study showed that just making bottles for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 US cars for a year.

So, at best expensive bottled water can be as good as tap, at worst it's, well, Agua de Culo.

Come on people! "Tap the tap" and "Buck the bottle!"


Nobel Prize Winner Worked In A Strip Joint

Really. Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman enjoyed working in a strip joint...but not as a performer.

As described in his book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! while a professor at Caltech, he used a nude/topless bar as an office writing physics equations on paper placemats.

When county officials tried to close the place, all the regulars except Feynman refused to testify in favor of the bar, fearing that their families would learn of their visits. Feynman accepted, and in court affirmed that the bar was a public need, stating that craftsmen, technicians, engineers, common workers, "and a physics professor" frequented the establishment.

While the bar lost the case, it was allowed to remain open as a similar case was pending appeal.

Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, together with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, for developing a way to understand the behavior of subatomic particles using pictorial tools that later became known as Feynman diagrams.

In this Feynman diagram, an electron and positron annihilate producing a virtual photon that becomes a quark-antiquark pair. Then one radiates a gluon. (Time goes left to right.)