mini-AIR Nov. 97 -- More on Microbes; Sibling Rivalry, etc.

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 20 Nov 1997 14:40:13 -0800

[The radio broadcast of the IgNobels is always a hoot. Recommended to all...]

From: Marc Abrahams <>
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: mini-AIR Nov. 97 -- More on Microbes; Sibling Rivalry, etc.

The mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR")
Issue Number 1997-11
November, 1997
ISSN 1076-500X
Key words: improbable research, science humor, Ig Nobel, AIR, the
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A free newsletter of tidbits too tiny to fit in
The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR),
the journal of inflated research and personalities

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1997-11-01 Table of Contents
1997-11-02 mini-Housekeeping Notes
1997-11-03 What's New in AIR
1997-11-04 Million Microbe March - UPDATE
1997-11-05 Time for Swimsuits
1997-11-06 The 1997 Ig Winners Update
1997-11-07 More About Bites
1997-11-08 Tower of Babel Project 2000: Korean Language Plea
1997-11-09 Toe Inquiry
1997-11-10 Under the Lash
1997-11-11 Stir up the AIR
1997-11-12 Barney: Sibling Rivalry?
1997-11-13 Porcine Time & Space; Flies Across Germany
1997-11-14 The Best of George: PO'd
1997-11-15 AIRhead Project 2000
1997-11-16 May We Recommend
1997-11-17 AIRhead Events
1997-11-18 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)
1997-11-19 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)
1997-11-20 Our Address (*)
1997-11-21 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Items marked (*) are reprinted in every issue.

This is mini-AIR, a free monthly *supplement* to the print
magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR).

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1997-11-02 mini-Housekeeping notes

1. IG ON RADIO NOV 28. This year's Ig ceremony will be broadcast
(in editred form) on Nov 28 on National Public Radio's "Talk of
the Nation Science Friday" program. For details (and an eventual
audio archive!) see the SciFri web site

2. VANISHED EMAIL. Due to a mini-El Nino event in mini-cyberspace,
about a week's worth or incoming email disappeared before reaching
our editorial address < If you sent
something in late Oct/early Nov that ought to have gotten a reply
but didn't, please re-send it.

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1997-11-03 What's New in AIR

Here are some further alluring abstracts from volume 3, number 6
(the Nov/Dec 97 issue) of the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR).
3:6 is a special Parapsychology Issue.

Features in the issue include:
"Reverse-Phase Astrology as a Predictive Tool for Observational
Astronomy," by Simon Petrie. The author explains how results
obtained by astrologers -- in particular from a certain Madame
Zoltar -- can be used to help astronomers make new discoveries.
Properly interpreted, Madame Zoltar's predictions can be used to
point telescopes at regions containing the hitherto uncharted
stars, planets, and other celestial ojects.

"The Half-Lives of Past Lives," by David C. Nobes. The author
points out a flaw in one leading theory of reincarnation. He
demonstrates mathematically that if past lives are restricted to
human forms only, there may not be enough past lives to go around.
The paper clarifies the problem, and suggests a resolution.

"Molecular Genetic Analysis of a Christmas Carol," by Jym Mohler.
A tonal sequence analysis of the wewish gene encodes the WEWISH
Christmas Carol ("We Wish You a Merry Christmas...") suggests that
the carol has had a simple evolutionary development.

"ASK SYMMETRA," by scientist/supermodel Symmetra. In this edition
of her regular column, Symmetra analyzes the resistance of one
element of a romantic couple.

"THE HMO BLACK NEWSLETTER." This edition of the regular newsletter
describes how traditional health care placed too much emphasis on
"best outcomes." Managed health care providers are encouraged to
shift the emphasis to "good incomes."

And much, much more...
Full text and illustrations of these and many other articles and
citations (including the full citations for "Some Problems of
Water Leaks in Bathrooms of the University Staff Flats in Riyadh"
and "Prediction of Heating Times for Cubes of Beef During Water
Cooking") appear in the above-mentioned issue of AIR.

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1997-11-04 Million Microbe March - UPDATE

The Million Microbe March is drawing heavy political fire. The
organizers are being accused of gender discrimination. The
organizers have responded with the following statement:

"The Million Microbe March is a gender-free
event. The March is both anti-discriminatory and
anti-disinfectant. The March is organized by
unicellular individuals for the benefit of all
unicellular individuals. People of gender (males,
females, and the like) already have their own events.
It is our deeply held belief that people should just
say no to sexual reproduction."

(The Million Microbe March is scheduled for December 29, 1997, a
crowd of one million microbes will converge on Bethesda, Maryland.
They will meet there on the lawn of the National Institutes of
Health, and spend the entire day expressing solidarity, atonement,
and genes. For further details, see last month's mini-AIR.)
We remind you to please remember the official slogan of the
Million Microbe March:
Small is beautiful. Small is beautiful. Small is beautiful.

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1997-11-05 Time for Swimsuits

Swimsuit time is approaching in the southern hemisphere. No matter
what hemisphere you live in, please submit your *en swimsuit*
photo for AIR's annual Swimsuit issue. This is a chance to publish
your entire body of work. Please send the photo (with a stamped,
self-addressed envelope, if you've got one, for a reply) to:
AIR Annual Swimsuit Issue
PO Box 380853, Cambridge MA 02238 USA

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1997-11-06 The 1997 Ig Winners Update

It has been a busy month for some of this year's new Ig Nobel
Prizewinners (for a complete list of winners, see our web site

Entomology Prize winner Mark Hostetler appeared on the Tonight
Show, where he helped host Jay Leno and guest Drew Carey identify
bug splats.

Physics Prize winner John Bockris sent a letter to Nobel Laureate
(and Ig Nobel Ceremony participant) William Lipscomb. Bockris won
his Ig for wide-ranging achievements including cold fusion and the
transmutation of base elements into gold. He urged that Lipscomb
nominate cold fusion pioneers Pons and Fleischmann for a Nobel

Medicine Prize winners Carl J. Charnetski and Francis X. Brennan
issued a press release about their discovery that listening to
elevator Muzak stimulates immunoblobulin A (IgA) production, and
thus may help prevent the common cold. Charnetski and Brennan will
present their work at the Eastern Psychological Association
Convention, which takes place in Boston on February 8, 1998.

Peace Prize winner Harold Hillman announced plans for a lecture
tour of the US late next Spring. Hillman, recently retired from
the University of Surrey, England, won his Ig for the lovingly
rendered report, "The Possible Pain Experienced During Execution
by Different Methods." It is likely that one of the events will
involve Dr. Hillman officially receiving his Prize from some of
the Nobel Laureates who presided at the recent Ig Ceremony (Dr.
Hillman was unable to attend that ceremony).

We are now accepting nominations for next year's Ig Nobel Prizes.
Please send your entries to <>.

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1997-11-07 More About Bites

Investigator E. Berg writes in reaction to our report about
medical case histories involving bitten-off body parts:

"This isn't a medical report, but it pertains. This is from Irving
Stone's "Clarence Darrow for the Defense". The wording is a little
Clarence Darrow once witnessed the trial of a man accused
of biting off another man's ear. The lawyer asked the
sole uninvolved witness, "did you see my client bite
the man's ear off?", to which the witness replied,
"No, sir." The lawyer continued "You mean to tell me
that you didn't actually even see the man's ear getting
bitten off?" "Yes, sir." "Then how can you be so
all-fire sure he did bite it off?" The witness calmly
answered, "Well, sir, I saw him spit it out."

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1997-11-08 Tower of Babel Project 2000: Korean Language Plea

The Universal History Translation Project (UHTP) is seeking a
Korean Language translation of "The History of the Universe in 200
Words or Less." The History has now been translated into more than
20 Languages. Contact Eric Schulman <eschulma@NRAO.EDU>, the UHTP
project manager. The UHTP homepage can be found at

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1997-11-09 Toe Inquiry

Would the person who successfully bid on the set of five plaster
casts of toes of Scientist/Supermodel Symmetra please get in touch
with us? We want to include you in our Registry of Pedal Objects.
The toes were auctioned off, together with plaster left feet from
three Nobel Laureates, at the recent Ig ceremony.

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1997-11-10 Under the Lash

Investigator Betsy Caruso (who says she "just happens to have
naturally long and hefty lashes") has sent in a novel analysis of
the product name "2000 Calorie Mascara." Here is Caruso's report:

1. Mascara is worn to make one's eyelashes appear as long, dark
and thick as possible.

2. Calories are associated, especially among women who prize a
slender figure above all others, with the production of fat, bulk,
thickness, "more-ness". (See #1.)

3. Calories are also associated with forbidden pleasure, since
many of our favorite foods are high in calories, but must be
avoided in order to achieve the physiological ideal. (See #2)

4. Therefore, a decadent-sounding name on a non-food product that
implies that it imparts extra dimension only where it is wished
for, is an effective and powerfully attractive way to create
desirability in that product.

I think the advertisers are going for the idea that wearing 2000
calorie mascara is a way of "cheating" (as on a diet) without
"getting caught" (i.e., getting fat where you don't want it).
That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

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1997-11-11 Stir up the AIR

One or more AIRheads will be presenting lectures, slide shows,
etc., at various places at various times. Many are in connection
with the splendid new book "The Best of Annals of Improbable
Research," edited by Marc Abrahams (New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997;
ISBN 0-7167-3094-4).

If you are at least vaguely near one of them and would like to
host an event at around one of these times, please get in touch
ASAP < 617-491-4437). Here is a partial
schedule. (For more detail, see the EVENTS section below.)

Philadelphia area, Feb 14
Ohio, March 12
Southern California, April 4
New Mexico, April 17

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1997-11-12 Barney: Sibling Rivalry?

Last month we reported on one woman's peculiar reaction to the
sight of a large glass jar containing a specimen of Barney in
formaldehyde. Now come press reports about a squabble involving
the alleged dinosaur and the San Diego Chicken. The San Diego
Chicken is a man who wears a chicken suit. The chicken has been
"beating" on a Barney-like character at sports events across North
America. In retaliation, Barney's handlers have filed suit against
the chicken. What is one to make of this?
Consider the well known theory that birds -- and in
particular, chickens -- are descended from dinosaurs. Clearly this
is a family matter and the courts should stay out of it.

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1997-11-13 Porcine Time & Space; Flies Across Germany

Investigator E. Mason informs us that:

a) a pig can run a mile in about 10 minutes; and

b) If the total offspring of a single pair of flies survived to
the end of summer, they would cover an area the size of Germany to
a depth of 47 feet.

We would be interested in hearing from anyone with hard data
pertaining to either of these contentions.

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1997-11-14 The Best of George: PO'd

We now introduce a new, and strangely ongoing, feature in mini-
AIR. The feature is called "The Best of George," and this first
installment is called "PO'd."

George is George Scherr. George, as regular readers will recall,
has filed a lawsuit against our editor, Marc Abrahams, and against
AIR. George wants us to (a) stop publishing AIR and (b) pay him
$4.2 million. George's lawsuit contains twenty (20) pages of
accusations, including conspiracy, fraud, trademark infringement,
and (still our favorite!) racketeering. We have posted George's
entire complaint in our web site (

George, acting as his own lawyer, has spent two days (and plans on
more) taking a formal deposition from Marc. Here is one typical
passage from the official (405 pages so far) transcript:
* * *
GEORGE: I want the address of the post office box?
MARC: It's in there, Cambridge.
GEORGE: I see a number, but I want -
MARC: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238.
GEORGE: Mr. - Mr. Abrahams. I want the address of that post office
MARC: You want the street address -
GEORGE: Yes, sir.
MARC: - of a post office box?
GEORGE: You bet.
MARC: I don't know the street address of the post office.
GEORGE: You picked up the mail there almost on a daily basis, did
you not?
MARC: Yeah.
GEORGE: And you don't know where that - where that post office is?
MARC: I know where it is. I don't know their specific address. I
can call.
GEORGE: Tell me where it is exactly so I can find it.
MARC: It's in Harvard Square. 02238 is the zip code for the
Harvard Square Post Office.
GEORGE: Mr. Abrahams, do you still go to that post office to pick
up mail?
MARC: Yes. I still go to that post office to pick up mail.
GEORGE: Then it would be a simple matter for you to get the exact
address of that post office, wouldn't it?
MARC: It would be a simple matter for me to get that address.
GEORGE: I'm going to ask you to do that.
* * *
George did not, in fact, ask Marc to get the address.
Instead, he had a subpoena served on the post office.
George has a long history of taking legal action against
many and varied parties, including (as he explained to Marc) one
of his own children.
If you would like to help us defray the legal expenses of
fighting this absurd, improbable lawsuit (and receive a nifty
certificate of thanks!), please send donations (whatever you can
contribute -- $25, $50, or $100, will help) to the following

Strategic AIR Defense Fund
c/o Robert Dushman
Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer
One Financial Center
Boston, MA 02111

Honorary co-chairs of the Defense Fund are Nobel Laureates Dudley
Herschbach, William Lipscomb, and Richard Roberts. If you have
questions, please get in touch with Marc.

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1997-11-15 AIRhead Project 2000

Since June, 1994, we have been compiling a list of everything that
has 2000 as part of its name. Here are some randomly selected

ITEM 9033 (submitted by investigator Renate A. Wesselingh)
"LIGHTSHIFT 2000," a synchronized universal meditation to raise
the consciousness of all humanity.

ITEM H-509 (submitted by investigator Jon Green)
"ATOMIC MOOG 2000," a song by the band Coldcut about nuclear
power, weapons etc.

ITEM 83619-JJ-5 (submitted by investigator Stephen J. Riley)
"SENIORS 2000," a digital retouching system for high school
yearbook pictures. "Trim or add hair, close gaps in teeth, erase
nose rings, etc." Details can be found in "Photonics Spectra"
magazine, November, 1977, p. 200.

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1997-11-16 May We Recommend

Research reports that merit a trip to the library.
(These items are additional to the many, many which appear in the
pages of AIR itself.)

"Mixing of a 0++ glueball with a member of the excited scalar
nonet," Marco Genovese, "Physical Review D, Particles and fields,"
vol. 46, no. 11, Dec. 1, 1992, p. 5204. (Thanks to Barbara DeLand
for bringing this to our attention.)

"The Effects of Chewing Gum on Gastric Content Prior to Induction
of General Anesthesia," Petter A. Steen, Eldar Soreide, and Helge
Holst-Larsen, "Anesthesia and Analgesia," vol. 80, no. 5, May 1,
1995, p. 985. (Thanks to Petr C. Yarvel for bringing this to our

Why be a both-ways sex changer?" Y. Nakashima, T. Kuwamura, and Y.
Yogo, "Ethology," vol. 101, no. 4, 1995, pp. 301-7. (Thanks to
Wendy Cooper for bringing this to our attention.)

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1997-11-17 AIRhead Events

==> Updates of this schedule are available from
Want to host an event? E-mail to <>

NPR's "Talk of the Nation / Science Friday" program with Ira
Flatow. Annual broadcast of an edited version of the Ig Nobel
Prize Ceremony. INFO:

AIR Tour of America
Schedule to be announced. If you would like to host an event,
please email <>

AAAS ANNUAL MEETING Sat, Feb 14, evening
8:45 pm, Marriott Hotel, Philadelphia. AIR authors Marc Abrahams,
Earle Spamer, Len Finegold, Eric Schulman, et al. will present
their annual special session as part of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. (If you would like
to schedule another AIR event near this this time and place,
please get in touch with us.)

MIT, Special Event. Feb. (date/place to be announced)
Details TBA.

This is a special event for a group of scientists near Cincinnati,
Ohio. (If you would like to schedule your own event around this
time, please get in touch with us.)

Special improbable research seminar as part of the AWIS meeting.
INFO: Isabel Corcos <>. (If you would like to
schedule another AIR event near this this time and place, please
get in touch with us.)

ASSOCIATION JOINT CONVENTION Fri, April 17, 1988, 1:00 pm
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Albuquerque Convention Center, Albuquerque,
NM. (If you would like to schedule another AIR event near this
this time and place, please get in touch with us.)

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1997-11-18 How to Subscribe to AIR (*)

Here's how to subscribe to the magnificent bi-monthly print
journal The Annals of Improbable Research -- (the real thing, not
just the little bits of overflow material you have been reading
here in mini-AIR)
City and State: Zip or postal code:
Phone: FAX: E-mail:
USA 1 year/$23 2 years/$39
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[Copies of back issues are each $8 in the USA,
$11 in Canada/Mexico, $16 overseas.]
Send payment (US bank check, or international money order, or
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The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

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1997-11-19 How to Receive mini-AIR, etc. (*)

What you are reading right now is mini-AIR. It is NOT a tiny
version of AIR -- rather, it is overflow from the real magazine.
To subscribe, send a brief E-mail message to:
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To stop subscribing, send the following message: SIGNOFF MINI-AIR
To obtain a list of back issues, send this message: INDEX MINI-AIR
To retrieve a particular back issue, send a message specifying
which issue you want. For example, to retrieve the issue dated
950706, send this message: GET MINI-AIR MINI-AIR.950706

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1997-11-20 Our Address (*)

The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA
617-491-4437 FAX:617-661-0927

GENERAL INFO (supplied automatically):


We read everything we receive, but are unable to answer all of it.
If you need a reply, please include your Internet address and/or a
SASE in all printed correspondence.

A monthly column of improbable computer-related items appears on
the back page of Byte magazine.

a weekly column appears in

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1997-11-21 Please Forward/Post This Issue! (*)

Please distribute copies of mini-AIR (or excerpts!) wherever
appropriate. The only limitations are:
A) Please indicate that the material comes from mini-AIR.
B) You may NOT distribute mini-AIR for commercial purposes.

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(c) copyright 1997, The Annals of Improbable Research
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EDITOR: Marc Abrahams (
MINI-PROOFREADER AND PICKER OF NITS (before we introduce the last
few at the last moment): Wendy Mattson <>
CO-CONSPIRATORS: Gary Dryfoos, Craig Haggart, Deb Kreuze, Nicki
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, Sheldon
Glashow, William Lipscomb, Richard Roberts

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