Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Great Corn on the Cobtroversy!

Summertime is corn on the cob time. This generates some controversy around the dinner table since some of us eat the corn across and some of us go around. As with all religious schisms each side is convinced of the rightness of their cause and the heresy of their opponents.

Help settle this controversy by participating in the poll below.

Do you eat your corn...

...around the circumference, eating one ring at a time before proceeding, or ...

...across the long way like a typewriter, completing each row before going on the next;

... some other way?

If you eat your corn different even from the options shown in the poll, I am very concerned, but please leave a comment describing it.

Next corn on the cob controversies, butter or margarine? Salt only, or salt and pepper?

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Go vote for the Hottest Babe in Science Fiction

SF signal points to GoofyBlog's poll to vote for the Hottest Babe in Science Fiction on TV and the movies. It is important that you participate to avoid the possibility of Ruth Buzzi running away with the title.

The choice is difficult, and I think there will be a brutal three way contest between: Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun on "Farscape"”, Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9 on "“Star Trek: Voyager"”, Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye on "“Firefly/Serenity"”. We all know that Jeri Ryan will be the winner, she is currently in the lead with 25% of the vote.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

I am Iron Man

I am Iron Man.

I prefer the Cardigans version of this song the best (at Amazon).

Your results:

You are Iron Man
Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

(via Metaphor Voodoo)

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Cliched Star Trek License Plate in Delaware

This Star Trek fan knows no shame and actually chose this license plate. I am sure there will be other Trekkies out there that would kill for this license plate. (BMEUP - Beam me up!)

As long as it isn't a holodeck episode, right?

My favorite show is Futurama, and they have many references to Star Trek throughout the series, including one whole episode as an homage to Star Trek and its extremely scary fans.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How do you learn?

VARK provides an online questionnaire measuring your preference for learning. Self-knowledge is always good, but even better would be to get people you interact with often to fill in the survey so that you could understand their learning preferences. This is only if you want to teach them something.

The VARK Questionnaire Results

Your scores were:

  • Visual: 5
  • Aural: 3
  • Read/Write: 10
  • Kinesthetic: 5
You have a strong Read/Write learning preference.

I expected my visual score to be higher, but I definitely read (instructions, books, anything) before starting a new and unknown task. The exception would be physical activities, you have to play baseball, or dance to learn to do those things.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lorem Ipsum isn't Spanish for anything

While searching the aisles of the local hardware chain for a light for my closet, I found that the maker of this package may know English but they don't know Spanish. The translation of Fast Attach Safety System is certainly not Lorem Ipsum. How do I know?

Lorem Ipsum is the start of the famous 500 year old dummy text traditionally used to demonstrate the graphic elements of page layout. The text isn't English or something readable so as not to distract the proofreader from the graphical layout. Some proofreader used it too well, and they forgot to replace it with whatever translated Spanish text belongs there. Lorem Ipsum is from latin and Spanish is a romance language, so maybe the mistake is understandable.

This is a more interesting and subtle mistake than the poorly translated English you sometimes get with products made in the far east. I didn't purchase this particular light so I didn't get to look for more Lorems and Ipsum in the instructions.

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Parrot head license plate in Delaware?

Careful readers will remember that my powers of license plate interpretation sometimes leave a little to be desired. I myself blame the personalized license plate creators.

BUPHETT in Delaware had me in mind of Boba phett's (actually Boba Fett) twin brother (get it - clones?) but it turns out that someone must already have BUFFETT and this tardy Jimmy Buffett fan took what they could get (actually, that's Bachman-Turner Overdrive). The Key West Parrot head license plate frame should clue you in.

I have never seen the fascination with Jimmy Buffett. I do see the fascination with Key West, a really nice place with good food. My favorite are the stone crab claws when they are in season (October). They go nicely with a cold beer and baseball playoff season (especially when the Yankees are losing).

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Judging the Crazy Delaware Blue Hen

Judge not lest ye be judged.

It's Delaware State Fair time, and that means chicken judging! There is subtle discrimination against the Delaware Blue Hen in the judging as all of the chickens must meet the current industry standards. From the article.
"There were no fancy birds here with colorful feathers, wild head dresses or an excess of plumage.

Even a trace of black feathers -- a throwback to a breed that was used in the 1950s -- is enough to make a bird end up as a cull rather than a keeper..."
The competition was less about judging the chickens as it was about judging the judges. Students participate to learn how to judge chickens just like Napoleon Dynamite judging the milk and Pedro judging the cows from the 4H scene in the eponymous movie.
"The task of judging chickens isn't always pretty -- birds spit water, scratch and try to wrestle away, and sometimes nature calls at the most inopportune times.."
How do I get into this competition?

I am also sad that I will miss Larry the Cable Guy and the demolition derby at the Grand Stands.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cats and Dogs living together!

As a follow up to the hypoallergenic cat story, here's a cat and dog quiz. 60% cat is more cat than not.

You Are: 40% Dog, 60% Cat

You and cats have a lot in common.
You're both smart and in charge - with a good amount of attitude.
However, you do have a very playful side that occasionally comes out!

(via Exploding Aardvark)

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Attack of the Giant Sunflowers

These sunflowers are supposed to get 12 feet high and they are well on there way. This bloom is almost 10 inches across. I don't even like sunflower seeds, but I grow these for the finches that do. They also look impressive, especially in my tiny garden.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Game Theory and the Princess Bride

The game theory site has reviews of movies which illustrate principles from game theory. One of my favorites is about a favorite movie of mine, The Princess Bride. The comments especially center around an actual game, to the death, in the movie. The battle of wits illustrates the concept of common knowledge, and a shocking lack of it at the end. From the website:
An item of information in a game is common knowledge if all of the players know it and all of the players know that all other players know it and all other players know that all other players know that all other players know it, and so on.
In the battle of wits scene from the Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts has just put poison (iocane powder) into one of the wine cups in front of himself or in front of Vizzini:

Dread Pirate Roberts: Alright. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right. And who is dead.
Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You've made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You're just stalling now.
Vizzini: You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You're trying to trick me into giving away something. It won't work.
Vizzini: It has worked! You've given everything away! I know where the poison is!
Dread Pirate Roberts: Then make your choice.
Vizzini: I will, and I choose. What in the world can that be?
Dread Pirate Roberts: What? Where? I don't see anything.
(Dread Pirate Roberts looks around while Vizzini switches the cups)
Vizzini: Well, I, I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. First, let's drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You guessed wrong.
Vizzini: You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha (Vizzini keels over dead in mid laugh)
Buttercup: And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.
Dread Pirate Roberts: They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.
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Crepe Myrtle in bloom

My crepe myrtle (lagerstroemia indica) is blooming. These trees really seem to like the heat, so now that we are fully into summer it is showing its true colors. Having a crepe myrtle allows me to pretend I am a southern gentleman, even in Delaware, the extreme northern south.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Major advances in geriatric baseball sports medicine

In a probably not so coincidental manner, the record for oldest baseball player in major league baseball was broken twice in two weeks.

First 83-year-old Jim Eriotes played in a minor league game in South Dakota, swinging at four pitches and striking out, though he did manage to foul one off. The article pictured him as pretty feisty. He had previously practiced against pitching machines hurling 100 mile per hour pitches and was excited to go up against some real pitching.

The next week, Buck O'Neil, former negro league player and the first black coach in the major leagues (for the Chicago Cubs), was awarded an intentional walk in the northern League All Star Game. Since he is 94 years old, he captured the title from short-lived "oldest man in baseball" Eriotes. (his title was short-lived, he is long-lived)

Obviously, both are marketing stunts, and I wonder if O'Neil's was planned before Jim Eriotes' or not. I don't know whether to give two marketing guys credit or one, and the second is just a copy cat.

With Kevin Costner depicting an aging pitcher in "For Love of the Game"and Dennis Quaid starting his baseball career late in life in "The Rookie" and the senior citizen examples above, maybe I can still be a baseball player someday, there appears to be no rush. If only I was any good at it.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rules and hoops

I don't make the hoops,

I just jump through them.

(dog hoop picture from the British Library)

Science Fiction Anthologies are like...

... a multi-course haute cuisine dinner, so you can try a little bit of everything, each with deliciously different flavors.

... a mix tape lovingly prepared by the editor with the best tunes he or she can find, you just need to figure out what the message is.

... all the colors of the rainbow, no let's just stop this.

Last week I got The Year's Best Science Fiction Twenty-third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois. I have 1 through 22 and a Best of the Best. Each July (it used to be June, but it has drifted) I hunt the stores to find a copy of this anthology the instant it is available. I could use the internet these days but for this book purchase my habits are set. I don't want to imagine the horror of missing one of these after more than two decades of collecting and reading them.

I needed to piece together three pictures to get the full expanse of the two shelves which carry these. I will read any collection that Gardner Dozois puts together, he really has excellent taste and editorial acumen.

Over the years there have been some other anthologies which I have collected or kept up with. The Year's Best SF edited by David Hartwell and the now defunct Annual World's Best SF that was edited by Donald A. Wollheim.

Though I tend to see some of the stories when they are first published, I do enjoy having them gathered into these collections. Gardner Dozois in the introduction to his excellent series always exhorts his readers to subscribe to the various science fiction magazines, Asimov's, Interzone, Fantasy and Science Fiction, so I did. I haven't picked my favorite from the collections this year yet.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Evidence Detection Unit on the job - live in Wilmington

Why was there an abandoned looking green van parked out in front of my house on Sunday? Why was there a policeman dusting it for fingerprints? A Wilmington police car and the Evidence Detection Unit truck were bracketing a car in front of my house on Sunday afternoon. They peered into the van and dusted it for fingerprints. I was fearing what they would find, with the recent propensity in Delaware for vans showing up with bodies in them.

I combined my crappy Treo camera with binoculars and a steady enough hand to prove that it was in fact the Evidence Detection Unit. After some investigation, another police car arrived with a civilian in it. He consulted with the police and looked around the van before getting in. Apparently, it was his van.

The owner looked very Puff Daddy getting in and out of his van while talking on the cell phone. This picture shows the roof of the van was rusted and the van was in generally poor shape. Not sure why anyone would try to steal this one, maybe it was a joyride.

After the police left, the owner looked confused as he tried to start "his" vehicle and drive away. He did finally accomplish this. I was unable to find any police report in the News Journal related to this, so I have to assume it was simply a recovered lost, or stolen vehicle.

I am glad that we have Wilmington police presence in the neighborhood, even if it appeared that they were investigating a crime at the time. At least it was non-violent.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Superman's Metropolis is in Delaware!

During Superman Returns, a map of the east coast almost shows the location of Metropolis and it certainly places it on the east coast. I had always thought of Metropolis as Chicago because it seemed to need to be near Smallville Kansas, and New York City is taken (as Gotham).

Imagine my surprise when Metropolis is placed in Delaware. From Wikipedia: "However, a map onscreen portrays it as possibly near or taking the place of Dover, Delaware." I am looking for the a wider area picture of the map from the movie. Wikipedia also mentions a role playing game placing Metropolis in Delaware as well. The DC atlas (excerpt shown left) has it around Lewes, but my vote is for Wilmington.

Being so close to Metropolis, I need to start looking up for a bird, a plane, no, for Superman!

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Fireworks at the Ice Cream Festival

Last night amid the biting bugs and 1000% humidity we watched the fireworks go off from Rockwood park during the Ice Cream Festival. They really provide a nice presentation though I miss the years when they have the orchestra play the 1812 overture with cannons.

Even with my crappy Treo camera I got some good pictures of the fireworks. The trick is to not click too soon or too late. Too soon and it floods the picture with light, too late and you have a picture of nothing but very faint spots. The camera seems to take some time to take the picture, so it makes the timing even trickier. Thank goodness for digital cameras where the memory costs nothing. That way I can take a bunch of pictures and only show you the good ones. Thus only 10 of the 44 pictures were judged "just right", the rest failed by being too bright, too dark or were almost good enough.

Let's look at the statistics.

Some more pictures of the fireworks. Red like the devil and white like the angels.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Superman returns to philosophical discourse and the imaginations of science fiction fans

Because I had conscientiously avoided trailers and spoilers for the Superman Returns movie, I wasn't sure how the newest installment would mesh with the earlier movies or if it would even try. Certainly the Batman franchise has been completely reinvented in the movies at least twice. The movie picks up in modern times where the others left off, but after a long absence by Superman. The premise works and was updated a little. At least he doesn't look for a phone booth to change in. What would he do, change in front of a cell phone? The movie seemed to know there was a tremendous amount of history before it. For instance, Lex Luthor is suitably maniacal but he even seems to know he exists in a cliche, and milks it for what it is worth.

In one scene, Superman performs a lifesaving rescue in Germany and the German speaking announcer calls him Zuperman. We turned to each other and said, "shouldn't that be Üœbermensch?" Or would that be a mistranslation? What were the writers thinking. He is a superhero, not soup!

The superman myth has collected a huge amount of science fiction arcana around it. I can't explain further without spoilers, but now I know why everyone was referring to the Larry Niven Essay, "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" about Superman's prospects for love on this planet.

The german lauguage in the movie reminds me of another story, "Üœbermensch!" by Kim Neumann (Year's Best Science Fiction, 9th annual collection), where superman lands in the forests of Bavaria in Germany instead of the farmlands of Kansas and becomes Üœbermensch (with a secret identity, Curt Kessler) and helps the fascists fight against the enemies of fascism. It is written to be jarringly opposite the "Truth, Justice and the American Way" myth built up around an American landing. He ends his days in a war crimes prison a la Rudolf Hess. Perhaps upbringing makes all the difference for superherodom. Is it still called alternate history if you change history in a science fiction myth?

The greatness of the Superman myth lies in musing about what you would do with that power. Thomas Cahill in "Desire of the Everlasting Hills : The World Before and After Jesus" (Hinges of History) comments on two types of "supermen", Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, and Jesus Christ. Our comic book hero Superman myth seems to combine the power of Caesar or Alexander with the sacrifice and sensibility of Jesus. perhaps it is exactly that which makes this myth so powerful.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

At least one other person with Cthulhu on the brain

Exploding Aardvark suggests we all go to Hotsoup, which is developing a "community of influence", and express that our largest concern is

The impending rise of Great Cthulhu from the vasty deep

How does she know that Cthulu's rising is an important concern of mine, remember "Who will be eaten first?"

On a similar note she notes that the Department of Homeland Security has issued lifejackets to every American. Perhaps in anticipation of his rising.

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Natural asbestos deposits affecting residential areas

The industrial asbestos story continues with the defeat of the national fund to compensate workers harmed by the presence of asbestos and now a new asbestos risk due to naturally occurring deposits of asbestos may be rearing its ugly head. Recently Science News reported about a town in California plagued by naturally occurring asbestos as they dug into ores while building new residential housing. Asbestos contamination is so scary because it can cause Asbestosis (lung scaring) Mesothelioma (a lung cancer), and other types of Cancer. These diseases also have long latency times so exposure can result in illness 20 years down the line.

From the introduction to the USGS report,
"Natural asbestos occurrences are of concern due to the potential exposures that may result if the asbestos-bearing rocks are disturbed by natural erosion or human activities."
The map centered on Delaware above is excerpted from a larger USGS map of naturally occurring asbestos on the east coast. Are any of these sights near where you live? Do you think some clever lawyer defending a company responsible for exposing its workers to asbestos might try to use naturally occurring asbestos exposure as a way to dodge responsibility?

The map and much more information can be found in the USGS report, "Reported Historic Asbestos Mines, Historic Asbestos Prospects, and Natural Asbestos Occurrences in the Eastern United States" authored by Bradley S. Van Gosen. (the map in a large .pdf is here, and the text portion of the map in .pdf is here)

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Integrity" costs Archmere a half mil, while crafty Capano slips parents' names onto a plaque for $200,000

After the recent controversy over putting the Capano family name on their student life building in return for a $1 million donation. Archmere has decided to name the building the McLaughlin/Mullen Student Life Center in honor of two former headmasters.

Capano has reduced his gift from $1 million to $500,000. There are now three plaques for the front of the building that can be reserved for gifts of $200,000. The Capano name will still appear on campus on the plaque for a $200,000 donation in honor of his parents given by Louis Capano, Jr. I wonder if the Archmere parents and alumni realize this. Do they object to the name in lights on a large building on campus, or to it anywhere? Possibly we can finely divide the acceptability of this gift by font size of the name on a building or plaque.

St. Edwards Academy remains unapologetic about accepting $1 million to put the Capano name on one of their buildings.

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Swinging a dead cat collects even more Crazy Delaware Blue Hen news roundup

I can't even begin to keep up with the crazy Delaware happenings.

Woman killed when her own car backs over her

This poor woman failed to take her car out of gear properly and received a capital punishment for her mistake. From the police report:
"At about 11:45 p.m. Sunday, Reader stopped a 1997 Astro van she was driving on the interstate north of U.S. 13 near New Castle. The vehicle was left in gear and as she walked away from the van it began to roll towards her. Richard Cutler, 37, of New Castle was in the van and attempted to stop the rolling vehicle. It accelerated, struck and killed Reader."
No explanation of why the car accelerated or why the person left in it didn't try to hit the brake, or emergency brake or something. These stories always sound suspicious and horrible to me.

116 dead cats and a body dead for a year at this smelly house of horror

Neighbors complained for months about the smell from this house, but only when authorities gained access to the inside did they find the 83 year old mother's body in a box and 116 dead cats. The two daughters disappeared for a while but then turned themselves in to face charges of abuse of a corpse. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting another dead cat in this house. Add 90 euthanized cats to the 116 dead cats that they pulled out of the house. The mother's body had been in the box for a year.

Fish get a lift out of draining lake, eels are on their own

Here is your dam lake, you should take as many dam pictures as you want because the dam is leaking and the lake will be gone soon. Delaware state fishery workers are capturing and saving all of the sportsfish in the lake, but they say they will not try to save the eels,

"We did not attempt to move the eels, because the eels will do just fine in the remaining water, or they'll move out on their own," Miller said.

I guess eels are not a protected class and can be discriminated against. Besides, they are slimy and icky.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ketchup on everything.

I like ketchup on nearly everything, except for eggs. The Utility Fog Blog points us to Ketchup World. So now I even have ketchup on my blog.

I must say that I am partial to Heinz, ketchup, it is the only true ketchup, all others are heresy. I may have spent too long in Pittsburgh and driven past the factory one too many times, and the ketchup brainwashing took. Don't even get me started on catsup.

Will someone please get me this t-shirt?


Will drinking heavy water (deuterated water) kill you?

Back in graduate school I used an experimental technique called Small Angle Neutron Scattering. Essentially, you take a beam of neutrons (say from a hole in a nuclear reactor, really!) and pass it through a test sample. A detector measures the scattering of neutrons by the samples. Analysis of the scattering pattern yields information about the microscopic structure of the sample.

It turns out that different nuclei scatter neutrons differently, and you can use these differences to good effect in your experiments. An especially important difference is that between deuterium (a hydrogen atom with a nucleus that contains a proton and an extra neutron) and hydrogen. Since we studied aqueous dispersions of colloids and surfactants we would replace regular water (with hydrogen), with heavy water (with deuterium). Long nights (sometimes all night) watching the experiments gave us time to think.

We often wondered if drinking a bottle of heavy water would kill someone, or how much of the water in our bodies we could replace with heavy water without ill effects. Unlike other isotopic substitution, putting in deuterium for hydrogen actually has a chemical effect because you double the weight of the nucleus. Heavy water isn't radioactive so it wouldn't hurt you that way. We figured it would disrupt the action of important enzymes because the dielectric constant and solvent properties would be different.

An article in the Candian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology referenced in Wikipedia actually explores some of these questions. Finally, answers for us, more than a decade later.
Bacteria and algae can handle 100% heavy water substituted for normal water.
Protozoa can live in up to 70% heavy water.
Mammals 50% heavy water kills, 25% sterilizes, but 20% is survivable.
It turns out the symptoms of heavy water poisoning still looks like radiation damage, but that is because the enzyme effects we hypothesized above show up as eukaryotic cell's inability to repair DNA damage. It is too bad heavy water is expensive, $65 for 8 onces.

It would be an expensive way to poison someone, since you would need almost a quarter of the person's body weight to do it. I should have bet someone back in graduate school that I could drink a bottle and have it do no damage, because now I know it wouldn't. Too late.

A recent article in Popular Science showing heavy water ice cubes (which are denser than normal water) sinking to the bottom of the glass reminded me of this discussion, and inspired the post.

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