Saturday, January 7, 2012

I can't escape the pebbles!

While I'm working on something new and original, I thought I would present one of my old articles, which I wrote as more of an exercise of style than anything.
` Back in 2006, when my life was only beginning to consist of more than just blogging, most of my "science-oriented articles" were the result of re-writing something I read on and then saying, "Look at what I read at!"

How creative, you may say sarcastically. Nevertheless, the resulting text was often a good example of my ability to put words together in a different way from other people.
` One example I keep remembering (for no clear reason) was the time I strove to make the erosion of small rocks seem interesting -- even more interesting than it had been presented to me.

According to my blog Science, Wackmobiles and Spurious Brainchildren, I dug up a Nature News article on the topic and passed along the information to my few loyal readers who otherwise may never have heard of such exciting and thrilling scientific wonders as pebble formation.
` This is that article, with minor edits, published not long after I had just begun to live (under a then-new slumlord) with superhero Lou Ryan, on Thursday, August 3, 2006, at 11:26 a.m.:

Here's something I am quickly extracting from the depths of my drafts and slapping together just for you. It may interest a few people:

This is the gist of what Philip Ball wrote in What shape is a pebble? Scientists head for the beach to find out.

Doug Durian of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues have found the pattern that makes a pebble look like a pebble: No matter its exact shape, after the sharp edges are worn away pebbles always have a near-gaussian distribution of curvatures, even as it is ground down into a speck.
` Curvature is the radius of a circle that matches the countour at a given point. So, a sphere has equal curvature everywhere. Pebble curvatures vary, in a specific way.

Durian's team examined over sixty hardened mud pebbles that were formed at Mont St-Michel bay on the coast of northern France. These pebbles went from sharp-edged to rounded as they become more eroded. The team calculated the distribution of curvatures around the circumference and plotted it on a graph.
` On this type of graph, the calculation of a circle would be one spike. The pebbles, on the other hand, showed a broad bell curve, and the more 'mature' the pebble, the more Gaussian that curve was. Basically, past a certain stage of erosion, all the pebbles showed the same curvature on the graph, no matter their shapes.

This also happens when pebbles are made in a laboratory by smashing clay polygons around in a square metal pan (in order to erode them). These laboratory pebbles, when their curvatures were plotted, were even closer to the ideal Gaussian curve. However, these pieces of clay had been bashed up fairly well; it is possible that a much gentler erosion would produce something more similar to the spike a sphere produces.
` With this information, it may be possible for geologists to figure out if a pebble has been worn away by a river, the wind, or a glacier, just by looking at its shape!
Hooray for new insights about why pebbles are so pebbly! Who knows how useful that might turn out to be?
` Anyway, it's lunch time. I shall have to eat now.

Hooray for lunch time!! Without lunch time, I might forget to eat! And hooray for warning colors: Without yellow stripes, I might forget not to eat bees!

One of my very few faithful readers, Galtron, had commented: "Oh, are you allergic to bees? I find them quite tasty."
` And I had replied: "Well, it's just that I prefer grasshoppers...."
` Another reader commented:
"Form is destiny --- of form?


At least I got someone's brain churning about it a bit! Anyway, that is a small example of my once-busy blogging life, even as the busy-ness of it all had begun to fade away.
` Before that time, I commonly wrote well-researched and original essays on a number of topics, including evolution (and its detractors), critical thinking (and similarly, its detractors), strange beliefs that people have, and any of a number of odds and ends. I am going to publish these here as well, but only after a thorough update, which will take some time.

Also in contrast to the short and unoriginal, I'm currently writing articles which tell the story of how I came to learn the critical inquiry I needed in order to question the complete insanity that surrounded me.
` Though I used to avoid talking about my own history as a credulous Kool-Aid drinker -- out of embarrassment -- I now think that my own life story as more of an instructive case. Also, one can't get any more original than writing about one's own life, so that takes care of that!

But first, I shall spend most of today making the house look fantastic and organizing my belongings. There's nothing worse than sitting in the middle of a disaster area and not getting up to clean because I'm busy writing! It makes me feel so lazy and oblivious!


  1. I appreciate it when people who are writing about things that have the potential to be quite ... um ... dry and do so in a juicy way. Well done, Spoony.

  2. Thanks, Morgy! Also, nice to see you over here, on The Dark Side, where the popcorn cheese doesn't smell like vomit!


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