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February 15, 2004 Odds and Ends

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Quite minor stuff...

A Valentine's Day Item Presented Without Much Comment


Chocolate Obsession Leads to Physics Discovery
Fri February 13, 2004 06:11 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Princeton physicist Paul Chaikin's passion for M&M candies was so well known that his students played a sweet practical joke on him by leaving a 55-gallon drum of the candies in his office.  

Little did they know that their prank would lead to a physics breakthrough.  

The barrel full of the oblate little candies made Chaikin think about how well they packed in.  A series of studies have shown they pack more tightly than perfect spheres -- something that surprises many physicists and Chaikin himself.  

"It is a startling and wonderful result," said Sidney Nagel, a physicist at the University of Chicago.  "One doesn't normally stop to think about this.  If you did, you might have guessed what would happen, but you'd have guessed wrongly."

The issue of how particles pack together has intrigued scientists for centuries and has implications for fields such as the design of high-density ceramic materials for use in aerospace or other industries.  

Chaikin and his colleague, chemist Salvatore Torquato, used the candies to investigate the physical and mathematical principles involved when particles are poured randomly into a vessel.  

Writing in Friday's issue of the journal Science, they said they found that oblate spheroids -- such as plain M&Ms -- pack surprisingly more densely than regular spheres when poured randomly and shaken.  

When poured in, they said, spheres occupy about 64 percent of the space in a container.  

M&Ms manage to pack in at a density of about 68 percent.  

"We just stretched a sphere and suddenly things changed dramatically," said Torquato.  

"To me, it's remarkable that you can take this simple system with common candies and probe one of the deepest problems in condensed matter physics."

Mars Inc., which makes M&Ms, did not help sponsor the research although it donated 125 pounds of almond M&Ms to Chaikin, Princeton said in a statement.


It's not about love, but it will do.   Needless to say, I'm not big on this Valentine's Day stuff.  That was yesterday, anyway.

Of course, when this was posted on the web log As Seen from Just Above Sunset (see the link in the top menu) Rick-the-News-Guy did drop off a comment:


But it IS about love!  I love stories like this!  Just when I'm wondering about my own self worth, I read crud like this and feel like a freaking genius!

I'm sorry, but was this guy's finding not obvious from the start?  Does flat paper not pack more tightly than beach balls?  Next, someone will do a study with the surprising result proving that soap bubbles weigh less than cannon balls!

Is this stuff put out by that same practical joker who, years ago, started a non-profit dedicated to buying trousers for farm animals?

I've got to stop buying lottery tickets and start tapping into grant money.


Yep.  Grant money.  Chocolate.  Good deal.

What a wonderful world


Jon Bonné on MSNBC reviewed these data for us, from the new Statistical Abstract of the United States - so they must mean something.

Things to know?

Family net worth in 2001 was at an average $395,500, up from $230,500 (in 2001 dollars) in 1992.  Median net worth didn't jump quite as much, but still rose to $86,100 from an inflation-adjusted $61,300.

And we gave some of it away.  In 2000, we gave an average of $1,623 to charity, about 3.2 percent of household income.  That was up from 2.2 percent in 1991 and 1995.

And this odd thing - Dogs lived in 36 percent of households, where families owned an average 1.6 canines.  Just under 32 percent of Americans had cats, but 2.1 cats lived in the typical cat lover's home.  Which means my cat Harriet should really have a friend. I guess she's lonely.

And this: We picked up $485 billion in food to eat at home, and $415 billion to eat away from home.  That included 6.9 billion pounds of citrus fruit and 20.6 billion pounds of other fruit, 48 billion pounds of vegetables and 12.8 billion pounds of potatoes.

And we consumed $59.2 billion in packaged beer, wine and liquor and spent another $53.2 billion drinking in bars and restaurants.

In parallel drug stores sold $182.7 billion worth of prescription drugs in 2002, more than double the $72.2 billion spent in 1995.

And America had 23,900 supermarkets in 2001, about 600 fewer than in 1990.  But the number of "superstores" grew to 8,900, and the percentage of markets offering delis (80 percent), bakeries (72), seafood (43) and pharmacies (34) all grew significantly.  The number of convenience stores shrank to 56,200 from 93,000 in 1990.

Alaska's shopping centers were the most profitable, at $344 in sales per square foot; Nevada's were the least, at $148.

Sex?  Utah was by far the most fertile state, with 21.8 births per 1,000 people, followed by Texas, at 17.6.  Birth wards were a bit quieter in Vermont (10.6) and Maine (10.9).

Sanctioned sex?  The chapels in Nevada averaged more than 75 weddings per 1,000 residents.  Hawaii came in a distant second, with just over 20.  Nevada also led the nation with 6.8 divorces per 1,000 people, followed by Wyoming's 6.6. (Not all states reported divorce statistics.)

Cars?  Sales of new cars and trucks grew to $680 billion in 2002 from $316 billion in 1990.  Car registrations grew to 230 million, up from 189 million.  And that happened despite having fewer car lots: We had 21,725 franchise dealerships in 2002, down from 24,825 in 1990.

Being bored in cars?  Here in Los Angeles we spent an extra 62 hours per year our cars due to traffic delays.  In San Francisco it was 41 hours.  But if you were in Bakersfield, or Boulder, Colorado or in Buffalo, New York - or in Spokane for some reason - you spent five hours or less in traffic during the whole year.

What does it all mean?  Who knows?