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« strange attractor | Main | much depends on dinner »


A man known only as Demarest? Holy Jebus, I think he's my cousin.

No joke. There are Demarests on my mother's side if you go back a few centuries. I think they originally sprang from an aristocratic house called De Maret, or something like that.

Carry on, carry on. . . .

"fellow of Trinity College and at Oxford, and in addition to his paper on the Giant's Causeway, he also presented papers on a self-propelling chariot of his own invention, and a scheme for improving Ireland by cultivating the planting of maize"

lol, talking about myths
You should see the advert for Jolly Green giant sweetcorn - yep advertising (myth) to get kids to eat their greens - or in this case yellow sweetcorn

"Penitentes arise when the sun's rays evaporate snow in such a way that the ice turns directly into water vapor, without melting into water first. The process is called sublimation. The snowy surface might start out smooth, but it gradually develops depressions as some areas sublimate faster than others, and the resulting curved surfaces concentrate more sunlight and speed up the sublimation even more, leaving behind a forest of towering spikes of ice. Penitentes are nature's ice sculptures."

Penitentes, are those guys who dress up like KKK - at Easter in Spain. Masonic brotherhoods, walking barefoot (or whatever) in procession for hours in the night, their long candles with molten max slowly dripping down the side are said to ressemble these towering spikes, or should I say viceversa.

On your visit to N Ireland, did you happen to get down to the Republic of Ireland? A few years ago we visited and ate in a few very local pubs, where we found people uniformly pleasant and friendly, if somewhat difficult for us to understand. One particularly friendly, slightly tipsy fellow was happy to learn that my mother's maiden name was Kennedy.

Mark, I only got down to the northernmost tip of the Republic of ireland, but yes, the folks were friendlier. So were the folks in belfast proper -- it was only farther north that the populace viewed outsiders with extreme suspicion... In Belfast, one day I gave a pound to a couple of guys in the park who were panhandling. They openly admitted they intended to use it to buy whiskey and I admired their honesty. They came back 15 minutes later with three bottles of the cheapest alcoholic beverage imaginable -- also the most potent. It was like drinking battery acid. Still, it's the thought that counts. Even the panhandlers will share their drinks with you. :)

Nice to see a blurb on glaciers. Yes, the Andes is the only place I have seen the penitentes. They can be quite an obstacle!

I believe that it was Isaac Asimov that said

'The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, "hmm.... that's funny...."'

Your cool welcome could have been due to the jerk you were traveling with, although I met the same sort of welcome in North Wales, in the company of someone who'd grown up there. Of course, she'd had the audiacity to leave town and go to college, AND go abroad to America! Not to mention bringing one of them back to visit.

Great post, Jen. This formation has always fascinated me. I always sort of envisioned it as an extrusion, like toothpaste, or those Play-Doh factories.

Basalt columns are also found at Tower falls in Yellowstone (you are looking at them from the side when you look across the valley to the North. Also in my favorite spot in the Hebrides the island of Staffa (Right by Iona) where in Fingal's cave on a nice day you can look at the bottom of the columns, and walking to the cave the "giants" footsteps are just as awesome as in Ireland. That cave also has such a great resonance that Mendelsohn was supposedly inspired to write the Hebrides symphony from being there, and in the 1800's I heard they would bring in strings to play (on nice days). Awesome volcanic forms all over that area of the world.

i love the Giant's Causeway I have a zillion cousins in Donegal, so it is a quick drive to the Causeway when I visit them) I hike all around and enjoy the beauty of the place. It is an amazing amazing place!

Oh I can explain your Bushmills pub experience / it is a very very common occurance.

Wonderful stuff!

Its a great problem, with a great history. I didn't know all that stuff about Sir Richard. Ironically, I have since learned that the history is more compicated. The Giant's Causeway was announced to the Royal Society in 1689 by Sir Robert Redding, although the first published paper was by Bulkeley.

Redding sent a letter to the Roy Soc, which was read out at one of their meetings, January 1689, and minuted accordingly. The original letter no longer exists, but the minutes read:

" There was read Sr. Robert Reddings Description of ye Giants Causey within
2 miles of Dunluce, to the north thereof, in the County of Antrim in
Ireland: where there are a vast quantity of Hexagonall Pillars of stone
about 8 Inches side, which stand pitch’t perpendicularly as in a Pavement
runing down obliquely into the Sea. These Columns are so regularly ranged
and fitted one to the other that it seems rather the work of art than
nature, and they are made up of pieces of about 8 Inches deep, the Convexity
of the bottom parts entering into a Cavity in the Top of [the] next under it
made to receive it."

Actually if you read Bulkeley's paper closely he hints at this letter which
he'd obviously heard of, or perhaps even read, and the minuted account of
Bulkeley's paper reading to the RS also cross references Redding briefly,
though not by name or date. Minutes freely available in the Royal Society.

I learned all this from an Irish geography student, Alasdair Kennedy, who is writing a thesis on this stuff.

Another oddity: You say "When the lava flowed into the sea, it quickly cooled...". This was in the APS press release, but they just made that up. There was no sea there to flow into 60 million years ago, as that part of the atlantic had not opened yet. So there you are. It was just a wet jungle environment. You can even see a red layer that marks the (burned, compressed) jungle between the basalt flows.

Keep it up!

My wife and I visited Northern Ireland in 1983 and got the same cold shoulder. But of course that was at the height of the Troubles. Today it's quite different. We were in Belfast and the northern counties twice this year and were warmly received, possibly because I was quick to mention that my great-grandfather emigrated from County Tyrone to the U.S. in 1852. The Giant's Causeway is indeed a sight to behold. If you go there, by all means pick up a copy of the illustrated "re-telling" of the Finn McCool story, by "Daniel Ferguson" (Stephen Hall). It's a hoot.

Really good article, but I have to argue with -one- point you made. Finn mcCool wasn't a giant. He was human-sized, if slightly taller than the average for those days. If you read the other legends/myths about him, you'll see they never claim him to be a giant. Son of a God, oh yes, giant? No.

Here's some more - on their side, so to speak - Karitane Beach, South Island, New Zealand -

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.