Monthly Archives: March 2009

Medical Hypotheses about belly button lint

There’s an article in C&EN that led me to about this article in Medical Hypotheses about belly button lint. A real scientist, Prof. Steinhauser of Vienna University of Technology made a careful study of the stuff. I almost wrote serious scientist, but I think Prof. Steinhauser would agree that he is a funny scientist.

The upshot is that his hypothesis seems to be true: if you have belly hair, you are probably more prone to belly button lint.

The reactions to this 2+ year trial have been mixed. I certainly think he deserves an IgNobel award. That is mixed praise at best. But I will say this: there is a place for frivolous science. Frivolous is not the same as wasteful. A study that is funny, interesting and still rigorous and well designed constitutes a feat.

I would make the analogy of a serious columnist writing a humor piece. It’s still journalism and it’s still an opportunity for good writing. In a similar way, science with a spirit of levity still deserves to be called science.


Darth Vader's Work Ethic

It struck me this evening that we don’t really know much about Darth Vader’s work ethic. Does he work late? Weekends? It’s totally unclear. What are the hours like for a sith apprentice? For that matter, what about the Emperor, Himself?

It has a lot to do with a TED talk on glamour. By the old definition of the word, the Dark Side has a lot of glamour. It has a seductive, deceptive allure. But glamour has nothing to do with hard work. In fact, if it turned out that Darth Vader spent a lot of his time studying prospective spacecraft designs, thumbing through blueprints and tapping his chin, it clashes with his whole image. I find it strange to think that a character who represents ruthless effectiveness is not superimposable on the prerequisite behavior for effectiveness.

In fact, Vader fails at almost everything in the films. He has no self control. He loses the Death Star and his command ship. I think the films could have emphasized Anakin’s laziness more. I think that’s what got Vader into trouble. Always trying to take the easy way out and get everything at once. That’s what gets him in trouble again and again.

There’s a lesson there.


"Miracle" water for cleaning is probably not all that miraculous

Alert Reader Jason strikes again! About a week ago, the L.A. Times covered the following story.

Simple elixir called a ‘miracle liquid’

It turns out to be less miraculous than it might seem. What you have here is the electrochemical generation of dilute bleach and dilute hydrochloric acid. This is a process that has been done industrially for a century, and now you can do it at home. Or you could just buy a bottle of bleach and a bottle of vinegar.