Frost

We love to see it on trees, we hate to see it on our cars, and we fear it when our tomatoes are ripening: frost. Frost forms when water vapor in the air freezes onto cold objects. The Oxford English Dictionary defines three kinds: “hoarfrost,” the thick, crystalline stuff that makes your backyard look like …

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Scientific hoaxes, Part 2

Last week’s column on Piltdown Man was supposed to be about scientific hoaxes in general, but my prolixity defeated me: I had a bunch of left-over hoaxes. In the spirit of Hollywood, therefore, I now present Scientific Hoaxes 2: Lost in My Research. Piltdown Man wasn’t the only fossil hoax. Faking fossils is a tradition …

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Scientific hoaxes, Part 1

Science progresses not only when scientists have brilliant ideas, but also when they’re wrong. A wrong idea faces testing through experiments, and those experiments sometimes not only disprove the wrong idea, they uncover the truth. Because of this, science has always been susceptible to hoaxes. A well-executed hoax appears to have solid evidence behind it, …

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Tea

  I think my first experience with culture shock came as a small boy when, shortly after we moved here from Texas, a woman we were visiting for supper asked me what I wanted to drink and I said, “Tea.” To my horror, she brought me steaming-hot tea in a small china cup, a beverage …

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Insects

You know, if I were an aphid or an ant, or even a cockroach, I’d be pretty annoyed. Over the summer, as usual, mosquitoes got all the press. They were even featured in Jurassic Park. When was the last time you saw an aphid in the movies? In an effort to redress this injustice, I offer …

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The science of pitching

I’m lousy at baseball. Fly balls fly right over me, line drives make me duck, and I can’t run the bases worth a darn–but that’s all right, since I seldom hit the ball. So to write this column about the science of pitching, I turned to an expert: Robert K. Adair, Sterling Professor of Physics …

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Boats

Boats fascinate me. I think it’s because some of my favorite books as a kid were the Swallows and Amazons novels by Arthur Ransome, which are full of boats. So, “Jibbooms and bobstays!”, I said to myself, “Why not write about them?” The one characteristic you really, really want in a boat is the ability …

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Opinion polls

If you’ve been paying special attention to the news recently, it’s just possible you may have heard or seen one or two items relating to a peculiar recurring phenomenon called a “national election.” Like the Capistrano swallows, elections return at regular (more-or-less) intervals, and attract a great deal of attention when they do. Some of …

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Cheese

Remember Joey and Scott, the cute little kids in that cheesy old commercial…I mean, that old cheese commercial? In the remake, they should cast me, because I’ve always loved cheese. For good reason: it’s one of the most nutritious foods ever created. Just 100 grams of Cheddar supplies 36 percent of the protein, 80 percent …

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Sunburn

Summer, contrary to recent evidence in this part of the country, is usually considered the time for fun in the sun. But although some sun is nice, too much sun isn’t, because only 60 percent of sunlight is visible, and only 25 percent is heat. The remaining 15 percent falls in an invisible part of …

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Wheat

The most amazing thing about this week’s topic isn’t the topic itself (though that’s pretty amazing); the amazing thing is that I haven’t written about it before. “It” is wheat, and how I’ve managed to go more than three years without mentioning it I can’t imagine, in view of the fact it’s as inescapable a …

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Alternative fuels

Having written about fossil fuels, it behooves me to also write about alternatives, lest I neglect my environmental duty. Besides, I have all these left-over notes … We use fossil fuels primarily for power generation and transportation. Huge strides have been made in reducing emissions, but scrubbers and catalytic converters don’t change the fact that …

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