The Unreliability of Our Rulers

December 13th, 2019

We muse these days, many of us, on the unreliability of our rulers.

But that has been the state of things for quite a while now:

Complimentary small plastic rulers, being imprecise, inaccurate, flimsy and defaced with advertising, draw only a measured amount of respect from metrologists. In 1994, two metrologists took measures to see just how much respect the rulers deserve.

Metrologists are the people who come up with more accurate, more precise ways to measure things….

The Bavarian Pickle-Juice Experiment

December 12th, 2019

The Bavarian Pickle-Juice Experiment is using salty waste-water from pickle-making to keep roads from becoming icy. Ig Nobel Prize winner Elisabeth Oberzaucher alerts us to this, with the comment “Waste from the food industry keeps roads ice-free – I’m curious to see what comes out during the testing phase.”

The publication Geo reports [in German, which we have machine-translated here into English] details, with the headline “Why the winter service in Bavaria now uses cucumber water instead of road salt“:

The company Develey Senf & Feinkost GmbH, based in Dingolfing in Lower Bavaria, processes 17,000 tonnes of cucumbers into gherkins every year. The cucumber water from the main plant, which was created during this process, will help to free the streets from ice and snow in the future.

For this purpose, the salt water left over from food production, which until now had to be laboriously clarified after production, is to be converted into salt brine. Subsequently, road maintenance companies are supplied with the recycled brine, which they use for winter service. By recycling the leftover salt water from the cucumber production, the total amount of salt that enters the environment is reduced and thus relieved.

Up to now, the road maintenance companies had specially prepared the salt brine required for winter maintenance in complex processes. For the pilot project, the cucumber litter will now be delivered to road maintenance companies within a radius of one hundred kilometers after numerous tests, reconciliations and chemical analyzes.

The Bavarian State Ministry for Housing, Construction and Transport expects to save 700 tons of salt and 4.9 million liters of water this winter through the locally prefabricated brine . The company Develey saves in return the tedious clarification.

The Bavarian State Ministry’s documentation uses the lovely word “Gurkenwasser”.

Earlier Pickle Brine, Elsewhere. Cheese, too.

The technique has been used experimentally in other places. A 2015 report by tells of the experimental use of brine in Lincoln, Nebraska:

The city equipped 10 tanker trucks to carry and apply the brine using pumps and spray nozzles. In addition, trucks that spread granular material were equipped with saddle tanks to spray the granular material as it was being spread…. Additional food processing byproducts such as cheese, pickle, potato or beet juice were often incorporated into mixtures depending on the region.

In 2014, a news report in Polk County, Wisconsin announced “Cheese brine discovery honored with Gladfelter Award“. (Thanks to Chris Toney for alerting us to that.)


“The Elements” song, added-to-incrementally, sort of

December 11th, 2019

Helen Arney, and the magazine Chemistry World, and a whole bunch of friends, have added new bits to Tom Lehrer‘s song “The Elements.” The tune was written long ago by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and…). Here are videos of that version, and an earlier version in Japanese by relatives of Ig Nobel Prize winner Theo Gray (who won his Ig Nobel Prize for inventing the four-legged periodic table table), and the original version by the master, Tom Lehrer.

A look back at a look back for Murphy’s Law

December 10th, 2019

Is it possible to track down the actual detail of a single historical fact? Nick Spark tried. He published his discoveries first in the Annals of Improbable Research (volume 9, number 9), then in expanded form in a book. Three people he discovered—Murphy is one of them—shared an Ig Nobel Prize in 2003 for (probably) giving Murphy’s Law its name.

The Decoder Ring podcast takes a new look:

Nick Spark fell down a rabbit hole tracking down the origins of Murphy’s law, the ubiquitous phrase that says, “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” On this episode of Decoder Ring, we follow spark on his journey while taking a few detours of our own to find out how Murphy’s law was (maybe) born out of the rocket sled experiments of the dawning jet age. We talk to Spark, hear some of the recordings he collected during his own research, and speak to researchers who are skeptical of Nick’s hypothesis, all to try to find out how an obscure engineering aphorism spread to become a world-conquering philosophical observation. Some of the voices in this episode include Nick Spark, Craig Ryan (author of Sonic Wind, a biography of John Paul Stapp), George Nichols, David Hill Sr., Fred Shapiro, and Steven Sorenson.

Stapp is the fellow riding the rocket sled in this photo:

The Three Legged Pogo Stick (an abandoned patent)

December 9th, 2019

If you’re an enthusiast of Pogo Sticks, you may have been wondering whatever happened to the 2002 US patent application from inventors John Hackworth, Kirk Hackworth and Mark Soderberg for their tripodic Pogo Device .

A more stable pogo stick device, which may or may not be steerable, employs multiple spring legs, at least one of which can have an alterable spring rate. To steer in a direction, the alterable spring rate is employed, whereupon the pogo will move in the direction of the softer spring. Further, a pogo stick with enhanced stability and safety is provided by employing multiple, vertical springing legs. A pogo with enhanced stability and widened foot platform provides the ability for a single rider to perform tricks and/or to allow multiple riders to jump together at the same time. “

For reasons that are not expanded upon in the official documentation, the application was : ABANDONED — FAILURE TO RESPOND TO AN OFFICE ACTION.

Bonus Assignment [optional] Determine, with explanations, the optimum number of legs for a pogo stick.

Research research by Martin Gardiner

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