AirVents: Exhalations from our Readers

AIR Vents

Exhalations from our readers

NOTE: The opinions expressed here represent the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of those who hold other opinions.

Big Deal

I am the the former therapist for the until-you-published-his-name pseudonymous "Patient X" mentioned in Dr. Taplow's article "Too Fat to Scan" (AIR 3:3) about patients who are too large to fit inside a standard CAT scanning machine. I disagree with the gentleman's physician, Dr. Taplow, and with the gentleman himself on whether it was wise to use his name (yes, I know that the gentleman insisted you use his name). Like the gentleman, I am a member of the Big Pride organization. Being a big person is a matter for pride. However, I wish that you had not published the gentleman's letter (AIR 3:5)-in which he detailed his experience with the zoo's CAT scanning machine for all the world to see. That little adventure was as thing in which no one-whether stout or slim-ought to take pride.

Dr. Solomon Krautkopf
Ossining, New York

Complimentary Subscription

I am told that Oscar Wilde once said "One should always be a little improbable." Was he an early subscriber to your journal?

Patricia Yu
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illionois

Fixated on Bulbs

Like many energy and dollar-conscious universities, we have miles of fluorescent light fixtures. Unfortunately, when one bulb "dies" in these fixtures, the other enters a dark period of "morning" producing no light until the carcass is replaced. As budgetary cutbacks have reduced the number of qualified "bulb-changers," we are often forced to wait 2-3 weeks for full enlightenment.

This evening while exchanging "dead" fluorescent light bulbs from our fixtures with functional ones from an unsuspecting neighboring laboratory, I replaced one of "dead" bulbs in the neighbor's fixture and was surprised to see both bulbs illuminated.

We soon realized that we were observing non-interchangeable mating types (A and Alpha). We theorize that only an appropriate pair of compatible bulbs will form a glowing relationship. With only a small population size of incompatible mates to observe, we seek input from your readers who may have encountered similar phenomena, especially those who might have anatomical observations of primary or secondary sex characteristics among fluorescent bulbs.

Dave Graham
Department of Microbiology
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois

Get the Small Things Right!

Although I appreciate news from the anti-it-matters world of science, I was surprised at your ungross underestimate (1200) of attendance at the 1996 Ig Nobel prize ceremonies (AIR 3:1). Based on recent studies proving that many more people claim they wash their hands than actually do so, plus the wisdom of Kate Eppers [spokesperson for the Committee for Bacterial Rights], there were actually "billions and billions" more attendees than you admitted.

Committee for Statistical Correctedness
John Gardenier, founder
Address unstated

Homeopathic Health Food

Regarding your article on the anniversary of the founding of homeopathy ("A Stamp of Vanishingly Small Value," AIR 3:4): The modern variant of homoeopathic medicine seems to be homeopathic dining, in which vanishingly small quantities of healthy ingredients are prominently advertised and incorporated into otherwise dreadful foods. Based on this success, I hope to develop and sell my one minute a month homeopathic exercise program.

Arthur Lewbel
Dept. of Economics
Brandeis University
Waltham, MA

The Honourable Coote Molesworth

You are unlikely to be interested to know that one of the seminal papers in the subject of Bayesian statistics is that of the Reverend Thomas Bayes, which appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, volume 53, 1763, pages 370-418. The article is inspirational for two reasons:

1. The following article in the journal (pages 419-35) is entitled "An account of the Sea Pen, or Pennatula Phosphorea of Linnaeus; likewise a description of a new species of sea pen, found on the coast of South-Carolina, with observations on sea-pens in general. In a letter to the Honourable Coote Molesworth, Esq; MD and FRS from John Ellis. Esq; FRS and member of the royal academy at Upsal."

2. The journal is old enough to write certain 's' letters as 'f.' The letter substitution renders Bayes's paper as dull as ever, except for the first sentence, which reads "I Now fend you an effay which I have found among the papers of our deceafed friend Mr. Bayes..."

The sea pen, however takes on a new dimension as Mr. Ellis explains that it is covered in suckers, which suck and suck at any opportunity. We are also told that it "floats or fwims about freely in the fea..." and that it "...fupports itfelf by thefe fuckers...".

Would it be forward of me to recommend Mr Ellis for an award of some sort, even though he is evidently at least 250 years old by now?

Phil Garner
Defence Research and Evaluation Agency (DERA)
Malvern, Worcestershire, UK

Mel1 Mel2

About Mel: Well, Well, Well

I am incensed. How dare you publish my letter (AIR 3:5) complaining about your incessant use of that hideous photograph of Mel the Clone-and then put TWO copies of the photo right next to my letter? Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Or at least get a picture of a cuter bearded man.

Dr. Anne Hutchison
Potted Sheaf, Iowa


I used to date Mel Clone when I went to high school, but the guy in AIR 3:3 (on pages 14-15) doesn't look like him. Also, Mel Clone always wore a yarmelke. Are you sure you have the right guy? (Mel lived in Brooklyn.)

Miriam Bloom, PhD
Jackson MS

Motherly Musings

As I enter the final stages of pregnancy, my brain has been fast evaporating. Last week I walked out of a pharmacy after collecting a prescription and didn't pay! No-one chased me and when I realised and phoned to check whether I had paid or not they told me that they "make allowances for pregnant ladies." I am now planning a bank robbery. I have been warned that lactation brain is even worse than gestation brain, so look out.

Wendy Cooper
Australian National University
Canberra, Australia

Blowhard Dryer

Last week I was involved in a workshop with Professor Lenny Pitt here at the University of Illinois. We taught various topics in discrete mathematics to elementary and secondary school teachers, using fun games and activities that they could use to bring the same material to their kids. It was tons of fun.

One of the topics of the week was finite state machines. one of the examples we used was a FSM model of a hair dryer, with a couple of different input switches that moved the dryer through several possible states/outputs. searching for a whimsical name for the blow dryer, for purposes of a kid-oriented handout, lenny-who (forgive him) had never heard of AIR or your collection of factoids-named it the "Airhead 2000."

I explained to him how amazing his choice of names was, but I do not think he quite realized the gravity of the situation.

Tom Magliery
University of Illinois
Champaign, IL

On Cement Trucks and Side-Chosis

In Centerville, folks mine their business, pretty much, and don't get too turned around in the celebrity whirl. But with my (letter) writing career taking off and the togshow surrogate not far behind, I guess it's natural that when people do want to hear the latest from the world of science and improfitable research they turn to me, Resident Airhead.

One thing I've been hearing a lot of these daze-be it in the barbershop or just wondering on Main Street—goes something like this: "What's up with that cement truck?" The question has baffled me to known ends. I try to answer politely, but have little to say other than: "Ya' got me, there."

Finally, it donned on me that they were talking about "Symmetra," not "cement truck." With that realization, all the talk about a cement truck finally made sense. The way I see it, people were figuring that I had the inside scope on Symmetra-given my longstanding assassination with the Annals-but if truth be known, I barely know the gal (which is not to say that I know the gal barely.) That all could change, of course, when I go to Harvard to except my long overdue Ig Nobel prize—an award that could be stowed in any number of innumerable areas.

Speaking of Symmetra, I swear I saw her on TV one night with Deon Warwick on that Sidekick Hotline. I got a hunch you'll be seeing me on that show one day—perhaps as head of the whole operation—but maybe I'm just sidekick.

Harold P. Dowd [with a "w," not a "u"]
Centerville, U.S.A. of America

A Wonderful Offer

The authors of "A Five Minute Wonder" (AIR 3:4) missed the real point of the whole stock offering. 200,000 shares at 3,100 pounds per share comes to 620,000,000 pounds, of which only 20,000,000 pounds was to go toward the company.... Personally, I find the idea of six hundred million pounds quite interesting...

Craig A. Finseth
St. Paul, MN

Self-Serving Statement

E. Robert Schulman's self-serving self-citations ("How to Write a Scientific Paper," AIR 2:5) from selected sequels spots several suspicious scientific serials. Why would anyone publish in the journal "Minor Planet Circular"? Is Schulman's planetary work not up to major scientific standards? This is curious. It would seem to me that, having published in "The Soft X-Ray Cosmos," Dr. Schulman is one of a very select few who have indeed "touched the stars," for how else would he know that they are soft?

Earle Spamer
Academy of Natural Sciences
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A Man of Standards

One minor correction to my author credit in your July/August issue ("The Kokko Collection of Fine Patents"). I am a patent agent, not a patent attorney. I have a Ph.D in Chemistry (Organic) from the University of Michigan. Wouldn't go to law school if your paid me (and my corporate masters have offered).

Kent S. Kokko
St. Paul, MN

A Questionable Question

I was disconcerted to discover that you are still providing a rating of dining facilities based on the number of photos of bearded men. Why should our bearded women colleagues be excluded from this rating?

James Scheirer
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD

Genuine Reality

On the subject of reality, you may be interested that in the course of my investigations I discovered something surprising... Some years ago, President Reagan would say something in public and his advisores would spend days going around saying "the President ACTUALLY said.." or "the President ACTUALLY meant that...." Soon they established an 800 number at the White House so that reporters could call up and find out what the President ACTUALLY meant to say. One day I called the White House Press office when there had been no speech, or no misunderstanding, and received the reasuring message..."Today there is no actuality ."

Donald Dobbin
Maine Maritime Academy
Castine, ME

Pent-Up Demand

I have long diligently scanned issues of AIR, and note that very few of the authors' citations are references to other papers in AIR. Surely you must insist (as another journal has apparently done [1]) that authors include many more references to other AIR articles, and so inflate the important citations/article ration which is used to rank journals. It is otherwise clear that AIR is a rank journal.
[1] "Journal accused of manipulating impact factor," R. Smith, The Lancet, 1997, p. 467. I failed to note the volume and issue, but readers will have fun tracking them down!

Leonard X. Finegold
Physics Department
Drexel University

Negotiation Tactic

I would be very happy to be be a volunteer photographer at the Ig Nobel ceremony. However, I live in Johannesburg, South Africa so I presume I will be reimbursed for my transport costs. I will do the filming and processing of the photos free of charge.

Mike Sarakinsky
South Africa

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