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One mistake out of a 320 page book doesn't sound too bad to me.

And I agree that a life lived in fear is a life half lived. I understand T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" now in a way that I wasn't capable of at sixteen when I first read it. It took some inner work, but now I do dare to eat peaches and I'm working on getting those mermaids to sing to me, too. And physics was the gravitational slingshot that helped me to get to a more authentic place, too.

This will be off-topic, but I was just listening to your interview on kqed online, and I heard you talk about the golden ratio. I think you'd like to hear the counter argument to the golden ratio, its sightings in nature (starting with how one spots an irrational number to begin with, etc.) and its aesthetic value. Even the wikipedia entry has a few paragraphs on this.

Yeah, if the book of my life only had one error per 3 hekapages, I'd be walkin' on sunshine.

The Physics FAQ which grew out of the sci.physics Usenet group has a pretty good explanation of "centrifugal force" and all that, under the question "Does centrifugal force hold the Moon up?" It's mirrored in several places on the Web, of which one is the following:

This is via the website of mathematical physicist John Baez, who (before you ask) is indeed the cousin of folk singer Joan Baez. Small world.

My old roommate grew up in Houston. He and some friends won a science competition in high school and got to ride the KC-135. The hypoxia training -- where they put you in a chamber and cut down the oxygen percentage -- was apparently lots of fun. They also got big doses of scopolamine before boarding the plane; an active ingredient in witches' brews of earlier eras, scopolamine is today an anti-nausea treatment. They took a picture of my roomie on two scopolamine tabs and two hours sleep, and one day, we posted it to It got rated 9.7. Who knew the secret to romance was an anti-nausea agent?

Gravity has been the bane of theoretical physics for decades, so don't beat yourself up! As everybody who has bought a Stephen Hawking book in an airport has learned, one of the biggest open questions in physics today is how to reconcile Einstein's General Relativity -- which includes gravity and is a darn good description of the Universe on large scales -- with quantum mechanics and the "Standard Model", which work very well on the small scale. Try to put them together, and foom! the Universe implodes in a flash of vacuum energy, or something even worse. One reason this problem has been taking so long to solve is that gravity is so weak, compared to the other fundamental forces. From one standpoint, that's good, because we can neglect gravity in figuring out what happens when we smash particles together in the big accelerators at Fermilab or CERN. On the flip side, it's bad, because that means we can't devise an experiment to test what effects gravity actually has on the sub-atomic level. Without experimental data to discuss, theorists tend to flail wildly. ("Loop quantum gravity!" "Superstring theory!" "Math fight!")

My favorite gravity story comes from James Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman, entitled **Genius**. Back when the study of "quantum gravity" was just getting rolling, Feynman attended a conference on the topic. He gave a talk, saying in his characteristic way, "The force of gravity is weak. In fact, it's **damned** weak." At that moment, a loudspeaker broke loose from the ceiling in the back of the lecture hall and crashed to the floor.

"Weak, but not negligible."

Well, there was one other error we did manage to correct in the second printing: the wrong psalm number in Chapter 2 (about Copernicus). And the nice thing about the blog is, I can keep exploring and maintain a dialogue on issues like gravity and the Golden Ratio.

Blake, where the heck do you find out this stuff? If scopolamine was used in witches' brews, from whence does it derive? I assume it's plant-based. Inquiring minds need to know! :)

Where do I hear these things? I guess I just have interesting friends. The eye-of-newt and toe-of-frog stuff came up a couple years ago when a buddy of mine wrote an e-mail asking why he might be having dizzy spells. Another friend replied, "Stop eating the moldy rye bread!" The joke being, of course, that a few historians have implicated ergot mold (which infects rye) in making Salem teenagers go loopy and start the witch hysteria; Albert Hofmann was working with ergot alkaloids when he synthesized LSD and accidentally got a little on his fingers. From there, we started talking about witchcraft in general, and the interesting plants involved.

Cecil Adams on why the ergotism theory of witch mania is probably overblown:

On Erowid, the Web's standard reference for all things mind-altering, one reads, "Scopolamine is a naturally occurring deleriant found in many solanaceous plants such as datura and belladonna." Datura (a.k.a. Jimson weed) is the real one of interest: it contains atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. The reports of people who eat it are fascinating, in a morbid way.

"Scopedex" (scopolamine/dexedrine cocktail) at NASA:,2697,64980,00.html

Deliriant alkaloids and witchcraft:

The bit in that page about mandrake and Shakespeare's **Romeo and Juliet** is interesting. I hadn't seen that comparison before.

That should be enough links for now, I think. (-:

Oh, yes, I forgot about the Golden Ratio. Here's an article by Keith Devlin, a pretty dependable writer on all topics mathematical:

I followed the link in Blake Stacey's comment, curious about the Romeo and Juliet reference. The really amusing parts are:
Although these women were not familiar with chemistry they discovered the potent tropane alkaloids, atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine

and the amazed comment that Shakespeare described the effects of mandrake.

It's a pretty fair bet that the witches and monks who explored the pharmacopeia were well aware of the value of experimentation, and repeated said experiments to make sure they got consistent effects. I remember doing similar experiments in my long-ago student days.

Any notes from those times were pretty unreadable, though.

Oddly, when I google 'mandrake', it now appears to be a version of Linux. That gives a whole new meaning to John Donne's "Get with child a mandrake root."

I always associate Donne with mandrake too. :) Had no idea about it being a version of Linux. And while I haven't yet had time to explore Blake's list of links, there's tons of good stuff there and I suspect the various tidbits I learn will work their way into future posts...

Don't forget Shakespeare's "loathsome smells / And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth" (R&J, IV, iii, 46). One can find all sorts of dubiously appropriate sayings by hopping over to a Shakespeare concordance and plugging in a word whose meaning has shifted or augmented in the intervening years. Here's one to play with:

"Ecstasy" brings back some good hits.

Hmph. A perfectly good Unix pun with literary pretentiousness gone to waste.

Sorry, David, computer puns are lost on me, although like the entire Thalenberg clan, I appreciate a good bad pun as much as the next person. :)

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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.