Friday, January 10, 2014
1. I suspect that fellow fans of
Richard Feynman will enjoy reading this short talk about him by his colleague, Stephen Wolfram.
One thing about Feynman is that he went to some trouble to arrange his life so that he wasn't particularly busy--and so he could just work on what he felt like. Usually he had a good supply of problems. Though sometimes his long-time assistant would say: "You should go and talk to him. Or he's going to start working on trying to decode Mayan hieroglyphs again."There is also an amusing vignette about his suspicion that Wolfram had somehow intuited the solution to a problem he had actually used a computer to brute-force.
He always cultivated an air of irresponsibility. Though I would say more towards institutions than people.
2. Via HBL, I learned about a thoughtful and benevolent holiday message from Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office.
Why don't I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God?He eventually gets around to relating how he became an atheist, which reminds me a little of my own thought process, although he was much younger than I when he did so.
3. Speaking of active, independent, young minds, a couple of high schoolers figured out why the wounds of some soldiers in the Civil War glowed in the dark:
Based on the evidence for P. luminescens's presence at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow, the boys concluded that the bacteria, along with the nematodes, got into the soldiers' wounds from the soil. This not only turned their wounds into night lights, but may have saved their lives. The chemical cocktail that P. luminescens uses to clear out its competition probably helped kill off other pathogens that might have infected the soldiers' wounds. Since neither P. luminescens nor its associated nematode species are very infectious to humans, they would have soon been cleaned out by the immune system themselves (which is not to say you should be self-medicating with bacteria; P. luminescens infections can occur, and can result in some nasty ulcers). The soldiers shouldn't have been thanking the angels so much as the microorganisms.This work won the lads first place in a national science competition back in 2001.
4. Three cheers for my daughter's curiosity. During our descent on a recent flight, she told me her ear -- singular -- felt funny. We'd had grommets installed in her ear drums almost a year ago after months of ear infections, so I knew one must have fallen out. I made a mental note, which prompted us to have her checked when something that looked like garden-variety "daycare crud" (as her pediatrican calls it) took too long to clear. Sure enough, that ear proved not to have a functional grommet and was infected.