The Befouled Weakly News

15 October 2006

While some of you may be delighted to find this week’s edition of the Befouled Weakly News arriving in your mailbox a day early, others of you will no doubt despair to discover that not only is it a day early, but that it’s just as tiresomely useless as always.

We are off in a few moments to our friends Sue and Stuart on the south coast for a weekend of fun and excitement so the news, such as it is, has to be dispatched today or not at all. Sorry – I opted for the “today” choice.

Autumn, I think, has arrived. We’ve had two mornings in a row with mist and fog, the temperature is definitely on the downward slide and the leaves, similarly, all seem to have a downwards tendency at the moment. Ms Playchute asked for the central heating to be turned on yesterday evening and for once I didn’t argue with her and suggest that she try another sweater or two. Still, I am holding out on the electric blanket for a few more weeks yet!

We had unbelievable torrential rains on Wednesday the likes of which I haven’t seen in this country before. I was due at a meeting in the centre of Oxford at about 11.00 so I spent a couple of hours working at home and then set off in plenty of time to get into town, park the car and get to my meeting. As I departed the heavens opened; by the time I reached the motorway, about eight miles down the road, visibility was down to about 26 inches and the traffic was crawling at about four miles an hour. Even with the wipers on high speed, it was very difficult to see and I guess they were shipping about a gallon of water with each pass over the windscreen. The usual half hour trip into Oxford took about an hour and a half and then, of course, once I got there I found that each of the roads which I needed to travel down in turn was closed as there were floods everywhere. So, I was able to enjoy seven diversions along with every other car which was on the road. To add to our pleasure, numerous cars had conked out with the floods and rain and were simply abandoned in the middle of the road. I suppose the only good news was that the rain had knocked out the internet access at the school I was due to run a session at on the Wednesday afternoon so I had a “free” afternoon. It’s a good job too because it then took me all afternoon to get home again through the rain and floods. I suppose we all have days like that when it would have been much better simply to have stayed in bed.

I have to confess to being somewhat surprised that the Nobel Peace prize announced yesterday hasn’t recognised the achievements of George and Tony in the success they are having in the war on terror. Still, if the Nobel committee continues to ignore their undoubted success, perhaps they could have a chance in next year’s Ig Nobel prizes which were announced last week. From the Guardian:

Electronic teenager repellant and scraping fingernails, the sounds of Ig Nobel success

  • Harvard awards celebrate quirkier side of science
  • 7,000 new nominations a year as popularity grows

Alok Jha, science correspondent

Friday October 6, 2006
The Guardian

It's a device with a variety of practical applications; an ingenious gadget that disperses gangs of loitering teenagers by emitting a piercing shriek only they can hear. Not the pinnacle of science, perhaps, but high enough to win the Welsh engineer who designed it an award from Harvard.

Howard Stapleton today receives the 2006 Ig Nobel award for peace, joining a prestigious group of previous British winners of prizes that are becoming nearly as coveted their more high-minded Nobel cousins. The Ig Nobels celebrate the quirkier side of serious scientific endeavour, according to Marc Abrahams, the man behind them, honouring "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think".
For Mr Stapleton, of Compound Security Systems in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales, the accolade came for his electronic teenager repellant, called the Mosquito.

The Mosquito exploits an ageing effect that sees our ability to hear high frequency sounds dwindle as we get older. In our teens, we can typically hear sounds ranging from 20Hz to 20kHZ, but with age, the highest frequencies we can hear drops, sometimes to 18kHz or less.

"We discovered that, even at relatively low volumes, the right frequency noise would only be heard by 25s and below and it was highly annoying after five minutes," Mr Stapleton said. "The Mosquito was born."

Tests of the £580 unit at a local Spar shop in Barry, south Wales, last year were declared a success when teenagers that congregated outside the premises pleaded with the owner, Robert Gough, to turn it off. Older customers were reported to be oblivious to the high-pitched shriek. The box, mounted on a wall outside the shop, was programmed to emit an 80-decibel pulse of high frequency sound that cleared an area up to 15 metres away.

A second Ig Nobel went to US scientists for their work on the mystery of why fingernails being dragged down a blackboard produces an excruciating sound. The team, which was led by D. Lynn Halpern at Northwestern University in Chicago, found the noise topped a list of annoying sounds and revealed that it remains deeply unpleasant even if the high-pitched squeals are digitally silenced.

The study, entitled Psychoacoustics of Chilling Sound, was published in the journal Perception and Psychophysics but failed to answer the pressing question of why the sound is so shudder-inducing: "Still unanswered, however, is the question of why this and related sounds are so grating to the ear," the authors wrote.

In all, 10 winners were honoured with awards, including Ivan Schwab of the University of California, Davis, who received the ornithology prize for his paper on how woodpeckers avoid headaches.

His research, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, followed studies of head injuries in woodpeckers from the 1970s. The answer lies in how a woodpecker's skull and brain are arranged: the muscles around the sensitive brain tissues make the woodpecker's head function like a perfect shock absorber.

Dr Abrahams said it was classic Ig Nobel territory. "It epitomises what the Ig Nobels do every now and again - the moment they hear the question, they're happy that somebody has put the question into words and they're even happier that someone's begun to answer it," he said. "This prize will give new meaning to the old phrase, to rack your brains."

While this year's Nobel prize for physics went to two scientists who helped to prove that the universe began with a big bang, Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris won the Ig Nobel physics prize for tackling the conundrum of why dry spaghetti breaks into more than one piece when it is bent.

The prizes were handed to the winners by Nobel laureates Roy Glauber (Physics, 2005), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry, 1986), William Lipscomb (Chemistry, 1976), Rich Roberts (Physiology or Medicine, 1993) and Frank Wilczek (Physics, 2004).

Each winner was allowed 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech and will try to explain themselves further at public lectures tomorrow afternoon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Last year, top billing went to the award for fluid dynamics, shared by Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of the International University Bremen and Jozsef Gal of Lorand Eotvos University in Hungary "for using basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin". Previous years have honoured a centrifugal-force birthing machine that spins pregnant women at high speed and Britain's official six-page specification for how to make a cup of tea.

Dr Abrahams said the awards, now in their 16th year, are becoming increasingly popular, with up to 7,000 new nominations every year. "Some of those nominees are really intent on getting an Ig Nobel prize for themselves," he said. "Not only are individuals nominating themselves, we see companies nominating their employees, universities nominating their faculty and, in a couple of cases, governments nominating ... people."

Last night's ceremony ended with the traditional call from Dr Abrahams to researchers everywhere: "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight - and especially if you did - better luck next year."

And finally, I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” which, if you haven’t read, I’ve only one word of warning. Do not attempt to read this book whilst enjoying any sort of liquid refreshment – it will end up coming out your nose.

Love to you all,


Dorothy and Edna, two "senior" widows, get together for their regular weekly tea date.

Dorothy is always asked Edna advice. "That nice George Johnson asked me out for a date," she says. "I know you went out with him a few times, and I wanted to talk with you about him before I give him my answer."

"Well, I'll tell you the honest truth," Edna answers. "He shows up at my apartment punctually at 7 P.M., dressed like such a gentleman in a fine suit, and he brings me such beautiful flowers! Then he takes me downstairs, and what's there but a luxury car... a limousine, uniformed chauffeur and all. Then he takes me out for dinner... a marvelous dinner... lobster, champagne, dessert, and after-dinner drinks. Then we go see a show. Let me tell you, Dorothy, I enjoyed it so much I could have just died from pleasure! So then we are coming back to my apartment and he turns into an ANIMAL! Completely crazy, he tears off my expensive new dress and has his way with me -- two times!"

"Goodness gracious!" Dorothy says. "So you are telling me I shouldn't go out with him?"

"No, no, no," Edna replies. "I'm just saying, wear an old dress!"

For Sale

2006 Suzuki 1000. This bike is perfect! It has 1000 miles and has been adult-only ridden. I use it as a cruiser/commuter. I'm selling it because it was purchased without proper consent of a loving wife. Apparently "do whatever the f*** you want" doesn't mean what I thought.

Call me, Steve.

Two fellows stopped into an English pub for a drink. They called the proprietor over and asked him to settle an argument.

"Are there two pints in a quart or four?" asked one.

"There be two pints in a quart," confirmed the proprietor.

They moved back along the bar and soon the barmaid asked for their order.

"Two pints please, miss, and the bartender offered to buy them for us."

The barmaid doubted that her boss would be so generous, so one of the fellows called out to the proprietor at the other end of the bar, "You did say two pints, didn't you?"

"That's right," he called back, "two pints."

Two mothers were talking about their sons. The first said, "My son is such a saint. He works hard, doesn't smoke, and he hasn't so much as looked at a woman in over two years."

The other woman said, "Well, my son is a saint himself. He, too, has not looked at a woman in over three years, and furthermore, he hasn't smoked or touched a drop of liquor in all that time."

"My word," the first mother said. "You must be so proud."

"I am," the second mother replied. "And when he's paroled next month, I'm going to throw him a big party."

I have to confess, I thought this was going somewhere else. This will make sense to the Americans; anyone who doesn’t “get it” drop me a note and I will explain.

A Jewish businessman was in a great deal of trouble. His business was failing, he had put everything he had into the business, he owed everybody. It was so bad he was even contemplating suicide. As a last resort he went to a Rabbi and poured out his story of tears and woe.

When he had finished, the Rabbi said, "Here's what I want
you to do: Put a beach chair and your Torah in your car and drive down to the beach. Take the beach chair and the Torah to the water's edge, sit down in the beach chair, and put the Torah in your lap. Open the Torah; the wind will rifle the pages, but finally the open Torah will come to rest on a page. Look down at the page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer. That will tell you what to do."

A year later the businessman went back to the Rabbi and brought his wife and children with him. The man was in a new custom-tailored suit, his wife in a mink coat, the children shining. The businessman pulled an envelope stuffed with money out of his pocket, gave it to the Rabbi as a donation in thanks for his advice.

The Rabbi recognized the benefactor, and was curious. "You did as I suggested?" he asked.

"Absolutely," replied the businessman.

"You went to the beach?"


"You sat in a beach chair with the Torah in your lap?"


"You let the pages rifle until they stopped?"


"And what were the first words you saw?"

"Chapter 11."

Back to the Befouled Weakly News Index

Back to Greg's Temporary Home Page