Thursday, January 16, 2014

He Appeared to be a Lunatic

A nest for hibernating bears. Courtesy Tim Laske
Often I dream about being able to breathe underwater. It always comes to me as a kind of revelation, as if it’s actually really simple, and our whole inability to breathe underwater as humans has been a matter of just not doing it right. The trick is to just sip the air out of the water through pursed lips. That’s all.

Anyway, this breathing vision is common, for me, along with the dreams about clean, surfing-worthy waves breaking on the street outside my house, or an office building, but a new one has popped up recently as well. In this new scenario, besides the breathing, I can also see very clearly underwater, as if I’m wearing goggles, and all I have to do is just open my eyelids very slightly at first, to form a kind of air bubble, and then gradually open them wider so that this bubble spreads, forming a kind of natural lens of air over my eyes.

The dream is so vivid that I’ve tried it a few times in the pool. And no, it does not work. But I’ll probably keep trying.

Last week, I was deep into a conversation about computer simulations with a very smart German scientist when he unexpectedly paused. “Greg!” he said after a moment.

“Yes?” I replied. I was worried he’d caught me zoning out.

“Don’t worry, Greg!  This is very difficult!  Even many of my colleagues have trouble understanding this research!”

I thanked him; apparently he sensed my confusion, and I was very grateful.  Scientists aren’t always that patient or understanding when explaining the intricacies of their work.  He does some fascinating research, too, so I’m glad he took the time to explain it, and I’ll point to the story in a future post, after it has been published. In the past few weeks I also spoke with a few toxicologists, a sports scientist in Norway, an odd pair of inventive gentleman who conspired to build a very unusual car, and a brilliantly offbeat artist who designs crazy Rube Goldberg machines. I can’t really discuss all the stories until they’re published, but here are a few other recent ones:

Also, here’s an older one that I never linked to, and should have, since it does kind of pull together two of my passions, science and basketball. These scientists at Georgia Tech built a jumping robot and discovered that it’s more efficient for a robot to perform a short hop before a big jump. One of the engineers then noticed a video of the basketball star Kobe Bryant doing the same thing in a famous commercial. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to reference the NBA in a science magazine before. So I was pretty excited.

This is even older, from earlier last year, but it was just so cool. The story is all about hibernation, but I was particularly excited about the bears. Apparently, they hibernate in giant nests. Yes, nests.

Imagine walking through the woods in the winter and stumbling across a massive pile of fur surrounded by a huge pile of brush and sticks? I’d probably start worrying that I’d stepped into an alternate universe and that some giant predatory bird was going to blame me for knocking its nest over and then come and pick me up and take me away. Of course, there’s always the chance that this bird would turn out to be friendly, and offer to give me rides to different places in exchanges for jokes or funny poems or beef jerky, in which case I would always try to keep one or a few of each on me at all times, so that if I was ever stuck, or just wanted to go somewhere nicer, or warmer, I could call my giant bird friends and get a ride.

Sorry...I thought I was writing about science. Now I’ve wandered into fiction again. So, while we’re here, or there, I’ve got a few great quotes from recent readings: