Archive for 'Arts and Science'

A nice appreciation (what could go wrong?) of Murphy and Stapp

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

The Today I Found Out blog has a nice appreciation of two—really three—people who shared an Ig Nobel Prize for (probably) giving Murphy’s Law it’s name. The appreciation is called “WHO WAS ‘MURPHY’ IN ‘MURPHY’S LAW’ AND THE AMAZING DR. JOHN PAUL STAPP WHO GAVE US THE EXPRESSION.”

The 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for engineering was awarded to the late John Paul Stapp, the late Edward A. Murphy, Jr., and George Nichols, for jointly giving birth in 1949 to Murphy’s Law, the basic engineering principle that “If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, someone will do it “(or, in other words: “If anything can go wrong, it will”).

By pretty much all accounts, John Stapp was the central figure. That’s him, undergoing extreme decelleration in a rocket-powered sled, in this series of photos:

At the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University, the prize presentation involved: Author Nick T. Spark , on behalf of John Paul Stapp’s widow, Lilly; (2) Edward Murphy’s Edward A. Murphy III, on behalf of his late father; and (3) George Nichols, via audio tape. You can watch video of that historic happening.

For a deep and fun exploration of the history (and slight mystery, still) behind that, see “The Fastest Man on Earth,” Nick T. Spark, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 9, no. 5, Sept/Oct 2003. Spark expanded that long article into a delightful book called A History of Murphy’s Law.

Here’s a US Air Force documentary film about some of John Stapp’s work:



Baseball mud deglossing machine: A Quixotic quest?

Friday, August 9th, 2019

“This application claims benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/066,848, entitled ‘Baseball Deglosser Machine For Mudding a Baseball‘ and filed on Feb. 22, 2008, which is specifically incorporated herein by reference for all that it discloses and teaches,” says US patent application US 2009/0214792 A1, filed in 2009.

The application describes a machine that attempts to replace, mechanically, the traditional rubbing of special (and single-sourced) mud on major league baseballs.

The mud and its history get star billing in Emma Baccillieri’s article “Mud Maker: The Man Behind MLB’s Essential Secret Sauce,” published in Sports Illustrated. (Thanks to Mark Dionne for bringing it to our attention.)

Here’s a little video documentary on baseball mud rubbing:

Flavouring fruity booze with a stinky gas [patent]

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

If you’re trying to make an alcoholic drink with the flavour of passion fruit and grapefruit, an obvious method would be to ferment passion fruit and grapefruit juices. But that’s not the only way. You could, for example, get hold of a fermenting New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc as a base, and then bubble hydrogen sulfide (H2S) though it. If you’re not familiar with hydrogen sulfide [that’s hydrogen sulphide in the UK] here’s what Wikipedia’s entry says about it:

“Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula H2S. It is a colorless chalcogen hydride gas with the characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs. It is very poisonous, corrosive, and flammable.”

A less-than-ideal chemical, you might think, to use in flavouring alcoholic drinks. Nevertheless, a 2014 US patent from the drinks makers Pernod-Ricard suggests that bubbling H2S though a fermenting grape juice / wine – particularly Sauvingnon Blanc from New Zealand – might be a good way of producing a drink with the flavour of passion fruit and grapefruit.

“It is an object of the present invention to provide a useful alternative for producing an alcoholic beverage having a fruity flavor, in particular being reminiscent of grapefruit and passion fruit, which is easily carried out and which provides a better control of the level of the aromas in the obtained alcoholic beverage than other known methods of producing alcoholic beverages.”

“The inventors have surprisingly found, that due to the bubbling of a gas stream containing hydrogen sulfide into grape juice, the volatile thiol content of 3MH and 3MHA in the finished wine had been increased, in some cases tripled, in relation to the volatile thiol content of wine derived from the same grapes obtained by standard methods without bubbling.”

See: Method of producing an alcoholic beverage having a fruity flavor, 9758752 Sep. 12 2017

Note: The image depicts an historic ‘stink bomb’ – which were sometimes based on H2S in solution.

PhD Fellowship in Meal Detection by Analysis of Bowel Sounds

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

On March 14, 2019, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) posted this ad:

PhD Fellowship in Meal Detection by Analysis of Bowel Sounds

We have a vacancy for a PhD fellowship within analysis of bowel sounds for meal detection in diabetes patients at the Department of Engineering Cybernetics (ITK), Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The position is affiliated with the Artificial Pancreas Trondheim (APT) research group….

Job description—This PhD project aims to analyse recorded sounds from the upper body (mostly targeted at the intestines/bowel) in order to detect meals in patients with diabetes….

Applicants are required to justify their candidacy by explicitly explaining their personal motivation and academic aptitude for pursuing a doctoral degree within this research field.

The time for this has, however, passed. The ad now bears the advisory: “This job is no longer available.”

(Thanks to John Culvenor for bringing this to our attention.)


Prize-winning underwear that traps bad smells

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

A quick video visit with the winner of the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for biology:



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