Amazing instances of stop and go

Sunday November 18, 2012

Q: Thinking of "the game of g's," what circumstances can create truly extraordinary accelerations or decelerations?

A: At Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., in 1958, Eli L. Beeding, Jr. took a rocket sled with nine rockets behind it to a speed of 72.5 mph, recounts Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics."

While the speed was rather unremarkable, its time of acceleration was anything but: 72.5 mph in 0.04 second, less than the blink of an eye.

"Beeding's acceleration of 83 g's remains the record in a controlled situation."

Then in Northamptonshire, England, in 1977, David Purley's race car crashed, dropping his speed from 108 mph to zero over a distance of only 26 inches.

"His deceleration was a seemingly lethal 180 g's but, although he had 29 fractures, three dislocations, and underwent six heart stoppages, Purley survived." Q: What's the scoop on dogs wearing collars?

A: Some 5,000 years ago, according to ancient Egyptian artifacts and wall paintings, dogs wore leather collars during training for hunting or guarding, sometimes labeled with names like "the brave one" or "the useless one," reports "Science Illustrated.Com" magazine.

The Greeks and Romans also used collars, but more for protecting the throats of guard dogs from wolves and other predators.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, small dogs became popular as lap dogs, serving as status symbols for the European nobility who adorned their pets with gem- studded silver and gold collars.

As the middle class grew during the Renaissance, more people could afford to have dogs, and the demand for cheap leather collars increased.

Q: Your own DNA is one of the most dense and stable media for storing information. So why not use DNA molecules to store computer files?

A: Actually, George Church and colleagues of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University encoded a 53,400-word book, 11 images and a JavaScript program into single-stranded DNA, beating the previous record set in 2010, says Douglas Heaven in "New Scientist" magazine.

They used DNA bases A or C and G or T to encode either a binary zero or binary one.

In principle, these four letters could encode two bits of information per nucleotide, providing an information storage density per gram of 455 billion gigabytes -- roughly the capacity of 100 billion DVDs! (It takes about 28 grams to equal an ounce.)

Given this enormous storage density and the fact that DNA is stable for thousands of years, it may be an attractive archival medium for computers of the future.

But currently there is no fast and inexpensive way to read out the data, so don't expect commercial applications any time soon.

Q: When does one lowly urine sample make the news?

A: When it comes from a 31-year-old bonobo named Kanzi at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa, and the veterinarian requesting the sample doesn't quite know how to go about getting it, reports "IEEE Spectrum" magazine.

"Well," a researcher told the vet, "you could just ask him." Then she pointed to the appropriate lexigrams -- abstract symbols that the bonobo uses to communicate -- for the words "please" and "pee."

Next thing, Kanzi went to the corner of his enclosure, took a plastic cup and peed into it, then handed it to the amazed vet.

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at


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