Archive for 'Improbable Investigators'

Sound Pressures Generated by Exploding Eggs

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

The claims made in lawsuits – and the need to verify or disprove them – sometimes spark interesting research. The Acoustical Society of America’s Fall 2017 meeting included a report titled, “Sound pressures generated by exploding eggs”.

photo by D. Kessler

  Some eggs and some safety gear
  (photo by D. Kessler)

Investigators Anthony Nash and Lauren von Blohn began this research thanks to a lawsuit: A restaurant had hard-boiled an egg and then re-heated it in a microwave before serving it. When the customer bit into the egg, it exploded with enough force and heat to cause burns and, importantly for this research, possible hearing loss.

The court could not find data on whether an exploding egg might cause hearing loss, so it contacted acoustical consulting firm, Charles M. Salter Associates, where Nash and von Blohn began their research:

“An acoustical investigation was conducted using nearly 100 eggs that were re-heated under controlled conditions in a calibrated microwave oven. About a third of the re-heated, boiled eggs exploded outside the oven. For those eggs that did explode, their peak sound pressure levels ranged from 86 up to 133 decibels at a distance of 300 millimeters. The paper will describe the test protocols and discuss the results.”

Decibel Chart courtesy of dangerousdecibels.org

dB chart from dangerousdecibels.org (does not mention eggs)

Most claims of hearing damage come from noise experienced over a sustained period of time – longer than the milliseconds of an egg explosion – but in this case, the offending egg was considerably closer than 300 millimeters away when it exploded. Nash and von Blohn began a second round of research to study the possible effects of an “in-mouth explosion”.

The lawsuit was settled out of court, but the research it sparked remains for any future court cases.

(Thanks to D. Grodzins for bringing this article to our attention.)

HEARING BONUS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have articles on the sonic dangers of Vuvuzelas and also of being a NASCAR driver or pit crew member. The CDC has declared October to be National Protect Your Hearing Month.

EGG BONUS: Cooked egg-white is white because the heat has changed how its proteins are folded. The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.

COURTROOM BONUS: Another example of a lawsuit whose premise required original research received the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for investigating whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

A demonstration of the phenomenon

Keith Raniere’s inventive patents

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Keith Raniere, whose inventive uses of human beings are, some of them, profiled in the New York Times under the headline “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded“, has filed unusual patent applications. Here are three of those patent applications that relate to things other than branding women.

Determination of whether a luciferian can be rehabilitated [Application US20130281879A1, the current status of which is “pending”] sets forth “a method for determining whether a Luciferian can be rehabilitated. The method includes stimulating the Luciferian with a first stimulus and recording a first physiological response by the Luciferian to said first stimulus. The method includes determining, from the first physiological response, a first polarity of the Luciferian’s response to the first stimulus. The method includes stimulating the Luciferian with a second stimulus and recording a second physiological response by the Luciferian to said second stimulus. Further, the method includes determining, from the second physiological response, a second polarity of the Luciferian’s response to the second stimulus.” And so on.

That patent application contains this drawing, which perhaps summarizes the idea as clearly as is possible:

Rational inquiry sash [US design grant USD469594S1, now expired] included this drawing, which explains the concept of a rational inquiry sash as well or better than does the text that accompanies it in the document on file with the patent office:

Apparatus and method for preventing a vehicle from running out of fuel [application US20140277920A1, status “granted”] attacks a simple problem by making it into a complicated problem. This is the problem, as the patent application describes it: “A vehicle may run out of fuel if the driver is preoccupied or forgetful to refuel. An operator may be left stranded far from any location where he can obtain more fuel. Currently, vehicles contain a fuel gauge which displays the level of fuel for an operator to attempt to prevent this unfortunate scenario. However, a fuel gauge on a vehicle may read empty when there is still fuel remaining in the vehicle. This may condition the operator to disregard the warning and continue to drive the vehicle, sometimes to the point where the fuel actually does run out.”

The patent application includes this summary, in the form of a drawing, of the proposed solution to that problem:

These are just three of the many patent applications filed by Keith Raniere, whose interests and ambitions may be unique.

Keith Raniere has a company called NXIVM. The company’s name is a summary, perhaps clear in some way, of its activities. Many of Keith Raniere’s patents are assigned (in the filings with the US patent office) to a company called First Principles, Inc., which in its paperwork appears to be geared towards selling things to the US government. Another of Keith Raniere’s organizations says “Keith Raniere holds many titles to his name—scientist, mathematician, philosopher, entrepreneur, educator, inventor and author—but perhaps the most poignant among them is that of humanitarian.”

Keith Raniere is the subject of many popular YouTube videos.

Becoming with sheep (art project)

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Danish artist and researcher Charlotte Grumm explores (amongst other things) the constitutive relationship between subjectivity and materiality and the mattering and un-mattering of reality. With this in mind, the artist relates what she did in 2015 as part of this exploration :

“I, Danish artist Charlotte Grum, connected myself to a sheep for 5 weeks (5 hours a day, 5 days a week). The intention was to create a heterogenous relational and durational assemblage, intraacting and becoming-with the heath habitat, the other bypassing human and non-human animals, the changing weather and our fluctuating biological needs.”

A report about the project is published in the journal Performance Research, Volume 22, 2017 – Issue 2. See: Becoming with sheep – and with multiple others

Also see: The 2016 Ig Nobel Biology Prize which was awarded jointly to: Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.

Sad News: Daedalus (David Jones) is gone

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

We’ve just seen reports that our friend David Jones — best known in the science world as “Daedalus” — died. “Daedalus” was the name of the column David created and wrote, in which he did something that, as far as I am aware, was a unique way to make people laugh, then think.

Each Daedalus column would describe an imagined invention. Usually there would be something quite intentionally wrong in the details — a violation of some law of nature, typically — but in a way that was not immediately obvious. The greatest pleasure, should you the reader care to indulge, came in figuring out what exactly made that invention so very odd or impossible. (He waxed on, a bit, about one of his favorite specialties — perpetual motion machines — in a 1983 piece in New Scientist.)

The column ran for many years in New Scientist magazine, and then moved to Nature. Some of the best Daedalus columns were collected and made into two books: The inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes; and The Further Inventions of Daedalus.

David was fond of pointing out, later in life, that many of the ideas he presented in the column accurately foreshadowed things later honored with Nobel Prizes, and a few with Ig Nobel Prizes. That and other musings are in David’s book The Aha! Moment.

Wikipedia has a partial summary of some of the things David did. Better: Conor Lawless visited David in 2010, then produced a writeup with lots of photos.

The photo here shows David at the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. He was not in the best of health, having lost most his ability to walk — but said he would come to demonstrate to himself and the world that he could still do things he wanted to do. David traveled from his home in England to the Ig Nobel ceremony at Harvard University, in the US (and that was in the weeks just after the September 11 attack on New York — travel was not simple for anyone).

In the ceremony, David did one of the first 24/7 lectures. This photo shows that moment. You can read his words, and see video of his actual performance.

While David was in town, he and I and Jerry Lettvin and our families had dinner together. The meal featured a spectacular competition: David Jones and Jerry Lettvin — two of the most inventive, science-loving minds on the planet — gleefully shooting each other’s musings full of holes.

 

Nose-Raising, Nose-Lengthening and Grimacing (facial actions study)

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Researcher Paul Zeichner (artist, illustrator and educator) adds to the literature regarding the documented lists of human facial actions, with the observation that “Seldom-mentioned facial movements referred to here as nose-lengthening and grimacing should also be recognized in related patterns of expression.”

See: Nose-Raising, Nose-Lengthening and Grimacing : Expressions of Arousal, Vigilance, Confusion, Aversion and Aggression