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Monday, June 4, 200740 -Ton Teaching..................
Blasting out of the water like a giant torpedo, this was the astonishing moment when 40 tons of humpback whale decided to give an air show.
Its flippers stretched out like wings as it hurled itself towards wildlife photographer Ray Alley - who fortunately had his camera at the ready.
Mr Alley was on board a tourist whale-watching boat off the coast of New South Wales when he caught these shots of a lifetime.
In the latter half of 1998, a small clutch of researchers and students at the University of Texas embarked upon a groundbreaking experiment. Within a large outbuilding marked with a slapdash sign reading "Center for Quantum Electronics", the team powered up a makeshift x-ray emitter and directed its radiation beam at an overturned disposable coffee cup. Atop the improvised styrofoam platform was a tiny smear of one of the most expensive materials on Earth: a variation of the chemical element hafnium known as Hf-178-m2.
The researchers' contraption– cobbled together from a scavenged dental x-ray machine and an audio amplifier– bombarded the sample with radiation for several days as monitoring equipment quietly collected data. When the experiment ended and the measurements were scrutinized, the project leader Dr. Carl B. Collins declared unambiguous success. If his conclusions are accurate, Collins and his colleagues may have found the key to developing fist-sized bombs which can deliver destruction equivalent to a dozen tons of conventional explosives. Despite considerable skepticism from the scientific community, the US Department of Defense has since spent millions of dollars probing the physicist's findings.
Hafnium-178-m2 is a nuclear isomer– an atomic state where the particles of the nucleus are "excited" by higher than normal amounts of energy. Most such isomers are unstable and extremely short-lived, instantly ejecting their excess energy as gamma radiation in order to return to the ground state. But a handful of varieties such as hafnium-178-m2 have a constitution which prevents this release from occurring immediately, which places them in the category of nearly-stable.
This interesting property causes nearly-stable isomers to act as "energy sponges", allowing them to absorb a massive amount of energy which bleeds out very slowly. Hafnium-178-m2 has a half-life of thirty-one years, meaning that it takes a little over three decades for half of the isomer's stored energy to be emitted as gamma rays. Hafnium is also notable for having the highest excitation energy among the nearly-stable isomers; half a teaspoon of pure Hf-178-m2 contains about the same amount of potential energy as one ton of TNT.
The purpose of Dr. Collins' experiment was to explore the possibility of wringing all of the energy from these isomers on demand. He theorized that properly applied x-rays might prompt the nuclei to dump all of their energy at in a short amount of time, a process referred to as induced gamma emission (IGE). To test this theory a few of Collins' enterprising students procured a second-hand dental x-ray machine, married it to a commercial-grade stereo amplifier, and trained the radiation-emitting apparatus upon a precious smudge of hafnium-178-m2 for several weeks. Dr. Carl Collins in his laboratory at the University of TexasDr. Carl Collins in his laboratory at the University of TexasDr. Collins then digested the data and logged his conclusions.
According to the paper Collins published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters, his experiment successfully "triggered" the hafnium isomers into an enhanced decay rate. His sensitive instrumentation had apparently registered a small yet unmistakable increase in gamma ray levels during the test. The implications were clear: if one can accelerate the energy release rate of an isomer to a small degree, it follows that there is probably some set of conditions where the atoms can be coaxed to belch all of their energy very rapidly.
Dr. Collins' credibility was soon battered by a storm of skepticism and ridicule. Many scientists were uncomfortable with his outlandish claims and his experiment's large margin for error. Indeed, his findings were somewhat at odds with the laws of physics given that nuclei are thought to be practically unaffected by electromagnetic radiation. However a small minority of researchers were moved to curiosity by the unorthodox idea, prompting a series of independent efforts to reproduce the findings.
The concept also piqued the Pentagon's interest. Since an isomer bomb would represent a new class of non-fission weapons, it would neatly circumvent the limitations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. Furthermore, a working hafnium device would tend to deluge its target area with absurd amounts of penetrating gamma radiation during the explosion, liquefying the flesh of any persons nearby– even those protected by bunkers. But the most appealing aspect of isomer triggering was its potential to shoehorn yet more death and destruction into convenient "fun size" packages.
Look for little, inexpensive ways to be romantic, and it will pay off for your relationship in innumerable ways.
Why inexpensive? Well, you could rent a limo and take your love to a snooty French restaurant, or whisk him or her off to a trip to the snow-capped Alps, or rent a stadium and have the Three Tenors sing love songs for you while the New York Philharmonic plays in the background. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to do that kind of stuff more than a few times a month. The rest of the time, I have to resort to cheaposity.
Before we get into the list, let’s look at a few notes on how to use the list:
1. Weekly dates. I recommend you have a date at least once a week with your partner. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one, but at least find some way to spend a couple hours time together. If you’ve got kids, like I do, find a babysitter.
2. Communicate. Romantic gestures don’t take the place of real communication. Take time to talk about your goals, your dreams, your plans for the future, your current lives, things you’re happy about, things you love about the other person, things you’d like to work on, things you’re grateful for.
3. Inspiration. This list contains a lot of obvious stuff — you could probably come up with twice as many good ideas yourself. But the list doesn’t aim for originality — it aims to be an inspiration. Pick and choose some good ideas, or use it to spark some of your own. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.
4. Forget Valentines. Boycott Valentine’s Day, as it makes people think they should be romantic on special occasions. Instead, pick one of these ideas and do it any day of the week — no need for a special occasion.
OK, enough talk. Let’s look at some ways to be romantic without breaking your budget (note to my mom: don’t read this, as there are a couple of sexy-time things later on):
1. Write a poem.
2. Cook a romantic dinner.
3. Give a full-body massage.
4. Pack a sunset picnic.
5. Pick wildflowers on the way home.
6. Burn a CD with love songs.
7. Give dark chocolates.
8. Read poetry together.
9. Prepare strawberries with fondue chocolate.
10. Snuggle together on a rainy day.
11. Leave little love notes everywhere.
12. Send a love email every day.
13. Take a moonlit walk on the beach.
14. Snuggle together while watching romantic movies (Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn are my favs).
15. Get good wine, watch shooting stars.
See and enjoy it .
A local charismatic church has decided it's a good idea to send their families into the surrounding neighborhoods to "invite" people to their church. They do this on Saturdays, trying to get people to go to their church the next morning. The families dress up like they're going to a nice backyard party - the men in Dockers or Docker shorts with nice shirts, women in nice shorts (not too short now!) or dresses, girls in summer dresses, etc. They've bothered me the last several Saturdays, ignoring the large NO SOLICITING sign on the door which, as I explained to two groups of them already, goes for churches as far as I'm concerned regardless of the wording of the relevant city ordinance.
This past Saturday I decided to trim the dog's nails. I don't do this very often because I have to do it by myself and the dog hates it. She would rather be whipped with a bullwhip than have her nails trimmed. I don't know why...that's just one of her quirks. The dog is a min pin, black, and about 16 pounds of wiry frame and pure muscle. I start, as I always do, with trying to use treats to get her to comply. I take her into the bathroom and give her a treat. I put a treat in the bathtub and put her in there. So far so good. I tell her to sit and gave her a treat. Textbook...up until this point.
Now comes the fun part. The dog and I go through the sit - grab paw - stand game. The dog sits. I grab a paw and lift it up to try to trim the nails. The dog stands, which allows her to gain leverage to pull against me. I push her rear down and she sits again. Start over. The problem is that the dog has infinite time in which to play this game and I have other things to do. The offer of treats is irrelevant...the dog knows that if she complies the nails will get trimmed, which is tantamount to torture for some reason. Twenty minutes of this and it's time for plan B. Oh well, at least I can say I tried.
Plan B involves putting the dog in various wrestling holds that still allow me to hold each paw with one hand and trim the nails with the other. Unfortunately this has two drawbacks. One is that the dog can still twitch her legs enough to cause me to trim the nails either too close or not close enough. The other is that the newly trimmed nails are extremely sharp, so that the dog gains weaponry to use against me as the process continues.
After a wrestling/trimming session that could have headlined as a grudge match on any WWF program, the dog finally has trimmed nails. Unevenly trimmed, but trimmed none the less. At least one nail on each paw is trimmed too close, so during the match my white t-shirt has become covered in blood. My arms and legs are scratched up like I've been in a fight with a rabid bobcat, I'm covered in dog hair, and I'm sweating profusely. The dog is none the worse for wear except for the fact that she can now walk properly. I've had enough of her for the day, so I pick her up to take her out to the back yard. As I'm about to put her out, the doorbell rings, which causes her to start barking and writhing around in my arms, giving me a few extra scratches just for good measure. Out she goes.
I head back to the bathroom to start cleaning up, and the doorbell rings again. The dog starts barking and jumping on the back door, leaving bloody streaks in the process. Having already had enough of whoever is at the door, I decide to ignore it. The doorbell rings again. Fine. Anyone but Ed McMahon is going to be sorry.
Still out of breath from the fight, sweating, covered in scratches and blood and hair, and carrying a nail trimming tool in one hand, I fling open the door. The picture-perfect charismatic family has decided to let the little girl be the front man. She looks to be about eight years old. She's standing on the front porch, while Mom, Dad, and Little Brother - about five - are standing a few feet back on the walkway. I grit my teeth in my best Dirty Harry impression, look directly at the little girl, and say, "Yes?"
The boy isn't paying much attention, having found a stick with which to occupy himself, but the other three family members are frozen. The mom finally pulls the boy back against her leg, but they're too far from the girl to reach her without stepping closer themselves. The girl is unable to move. The dad, showing his true colors, is also petrified. The mom finally gives him an elbow and he tries to find his voice. I continue to stare at the little girl. "Yes, can I help you?"
The boy finally looks up and sees me. He starts with a low moaning noise and slowly works up to a scream. He scampers behind his mom and latches onto her leg so she can't easily move. Dad gets his voice back and says, "Mm-m-maybe this is a bad time, uh, Lindsay honey come on, let's go." Lindsay is as still as a stone. Still staring at the girl, I take a step forward onto the welcome mat. My jaw still locked, speaking through my teeth, I say, "Not at all. Would you like to come in?"
Lindsay's fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, except in her case it's fight-or-scream. She lets out a scream that would put Fay Wray to shame. Then another. And another. Dad, figuring he better do something, takes a careful step forward and pulls Lindsay back. She continues to stare at me and scream as he picks her up. Little brother is in full scream mode also, and attempts to climb up his mom's backside. She almost trips over him trying to get turned around, picks him up and starts trotting away. Dad follows with the girl. Bye now!
I go back in and close the door, then go to the window and watch. Mom and Dad do their best to jog all the way back to their minivan parked across the street a few houses down. Just as they get to the minivan, Lindsay, who is still looking back toward my house and screaming, pukes all down her dad's back. Mom tries to put the boy down, but he's clinging to her like a monkey. Dad fishes the keys out of his pocket and they all get in the van. After a minute Mom and Dad step back out. Mom's front is all wet. Apparently the boy peed all over her. Dad is covered in puke, and takes off his shirt and leaves it in the street. Mom and Dad finally get in the van and the family leaves.
I know what's coming, so I quickly go to the bathroom and jump in the tub where I was trimming the dog's nails. I turn on the shower and wash off all the blood and hair. I hide the wet clothes in the bottom of the hamper and put on an identical white shirt and similar shorts. My hair is very short, so it dries quickly with just a towel. I dry the bathtub with the towel as well. I then go to the back yard with a paper towel and wipe the blood off the back door. The dog has stopped bleeding by now. Perfect. Two minutes later the doorbell rings again.
"Yes officer?" I say after I open the door. "Can I help you?" He looks me up and down and says there's been a complaint of something strange going on in the house. He's being purposefully vague, so I ask for more details. He mentions a bloody shirt and points out the scratches on my arms and legs. "I just finished trimming the dog's nails and they're very sharp. We were playing afterwards and I got scratched up a little." I invite him in and he takes a look around. I take him to the back door and show him the dog. Then I say, "Oh, I know what they must have seen...come in here." We go to the kitchen and I pull the paper towel out of the trash can. "See? I got a couple of the dog's nails a little close, and I used this to stop the bleeding. I must have had it in my hand when I answered the door."
The officer asks if he can look around the house, and I say he can. He just kind of walks up the hallway and sticks his head in to give each room a cursory glance. Satisfied that he's seen enough, he starts to leave. I stop him and say, "By the way officer, I have a 'No Soliciting' sign, and although I'm aware that the city ordinance says it's for sales only, I have it there because I don't wish to be disturbed by anyone. I imagine other people with those signs feel the same way. Maybe you could say something to those people?" "Will do," he says as he leaves. "Thanks for your cooperation."
I watch out the window again as Mom and Dad, who have returned, gesture towards my house as the officer shakes his head. Dad starts to get a little hot, and the officer finally points his finger at him and says something. The officer then shakes his head as he gets in his car and leaves. It seems he has better things to do than field complaints from overreacting religious nuts. Mom and Dad get back in their minivan and leave, hopefully having learned their lesson.
So, if you've been bothered by people from this particular church the last few Saturdays, there's a good chance you won't be bothered any more.