Category Archives: Science

The Lady Eve

This movie is about a “scientist” who falls for a grifter.

There are some nice moments, like when Barbara Stanwyck’s character seduces Henry Fonda’s character on a swanky cruise:

This is a roughly 4-minute scene and it’s easy to imagine impressionable men of any era falling under Stanwyck’s spell.

The premise involves Fonda’s character repeatedly falling (yes, both literally and figuratively) for Stanwyck’s, echoing devices in at least two other movies: Random Harvest and Vertigo.

Unfortunately, unless one has a fondness for the actors, it’s difficult to see what more this one has to offer. The “comedy” consists primarily of Henry Fonda tripping over things or having various foods and beverages dumped on him.

Yes, here he is, slipping in mud. Yes, he is a grown man. He has supposedly spent time in many wilderness settings. Presumably, he has stepped in mud before.

Here is Eugene Pallette, portraying Fonda’s father, acting “comedically” (i.e., like a young child with moderate mental retardation):

He’s hungry, you see, and so he must violently slam these metal lids together and against the table repeatedly in order to let his servants know that he is hungry.

As a final insult, the only science the movie attempts, it doesn’t even bother to get right. In this example, Fonda’s character asks a servant if the servant has seen an escaped snake. The servant says that he happily hasn’t and the camera then, of course, pans down to his feet, one of which has a snake coiled around it, completing a gag that I imagine must’ve seemed very sophisticated to Pleistocene primates:

Jonathan Crowe, a fellow film aficionado (who also happens to be a snake aficionado) writes the following:

[O]nce Pike has returned home, he asks his butler whether he’s seen a Crotalus colubrinus. (“With pink spots,” Muggsy adds.) “I rejoice to say that I have not, sir,” the butler replies, walking away — with what appears to be a Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) wrapped around his ankle. Crotalus colubrinus is not only imaginary, it’s an oxymoron if you know your Linnaean binomials.


Now, as it happens that I do not know my Linnaean binomials, I visited a site where one can look up such things. There, I found that crotalus is a genus name meaning “clapper” that is used for venomous pit vipers and colubrinus means “snake-like.” I’m not sure why this is an oxymoron. I am hopeful, however, that some herpetologist will stumble across this essay someday and explain it.

Light from Andromeda to Earth

The nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way is the Andromeda Galaxy. Sometimes astronomers call it M31, by its number in the famous Messier catalog of fuzzy celestial objects. The Andromeda … Galaxy lies about 2 1/2 million light years from Earth. The light we see from it tonight left it more than 2 million years ago, when our species was just beginning to establish its fragile foothold on planet Earth.


Discussion Concerning Hurricane Sandy and the Environment

It’s odd that we get taken aback by things already predicted by scientists. As global warming progresses, the storms will also become progressively stronger and more frequent. As we pray for our brothers and sisters well-being, we should also think about the choices we make today and their effects on our children.

I’m surprised that Tracy Chapman says, “You know the sun shines hotter than ever before.”
People skeptical of human-caused climate change have argued that solar activity is the main cause (or one of the main, non-human, causes) of warming. I don’t think that many atmospheric scientists believe that, though:
Continue reading Discussion Concerning Hurricane Sandy and the Environment

Bad Salt?

Taylor tells the Health Blog that he doesn’t question the notion that salt consumption is linked to cardiovascular risk. But he says giving individuals dietary advice alone isn’t likely to cut it as a means of permanently lowering their salt intake, and therefore isn’t likely to have a long-term impact on health outcomes. “What’s not working is the advice,” he says.


On the other hand, many studies comparing how much salt people consume with their incidence of cardiovascular disease have come up with clearer links. A 2009 meta-analysis3 of 13 such studies, incorporating 177,000 patients, found that a high-salt diet increased the risk of stroke by 23%.


“Peddling Without a License”

The fall of 1956 temporarily separated Lynn and Carl. Sagan began work at the University of Chicago’s astronomy school in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. This is the home of the Yerkes Observatory. Completed in 1897, the forty-inch Yerkes refractor was housed in a brick-and-terra-cotta domed building. It was by then a storied relic.

Williams Bay had a population of barely 1,000. For city-bred Sagan, it presented a culture shock. For the first time in his life, Sagan encountered anti-Semitism. He also ran into trouble with the law. He attempted to raise funds for the Democratic party, asking householders for a dollar each. As Sagan told it,

I spent all morning going door to door. And I got the most amazing responses: “The what party?” or “Shh! the master will hear!” or “Wait right here, young fellow, and I’ll get my shotgun.” Finally I was arrested by the sheriff, who had had innumerable complaints, on the grounds of peddling without a license. They figured I was peddling receipts at a dollar each. And I was remanded to the custody of the observatory director, who I don’t think understood anything about it, but just said to me, “Be a good boy.”

Carl Sagan, 1999, by William Poundstone, p.33

Human Ova, Chicken Ova and Misinformation

From Useless Sexual Trivia: Tastefully Prurient Facts About Everyone’s Favorite Subject*:
“[T]he number of human ova necessary to repopulate the world could fit into a chicken egg.”

The human ovum appears to be roughly spherical:

The diameter of an ovum is ~120 µm. Continue reading Human Ova, Chicken Ova and Misinformation

WolframAlpha says the human ovum is 500 µm. However, several other sources give a number closer to 120:
  • 130 µm*
  • 150 µm*
  • 100 µm*
  • 140 µm*
  • 100 µm*