APS News


More on Alternate Theories

I have some additional information regarding "An alternate theory of perpetual motion" (Zero Gravity, APS News, October 2000), some of which was explained by Julian Griffiths in the August/September 2001 issue. The buttered cat theory did indeed originate with a magazine contest. He had no way of knowing this. No versions of the emails I have seen have properly acknowledged the source of this ingenious theory. But I recalled reading the article in OMNI magazine in the July 1993 issue (Vol. 15, No. 9, p. 96). The true originator of the theory is also the winner of the contest: John Frazee of Kingston, New York.

Further curiosity led me to the November 1992 issue of OMNI, which first announced the competition. It should not come as a surprise to most readers that the inspiration for the contest was The Journal of Irreproducible Results. Some of the theories of the runners-up and honorable mentions are quite amusing.

Jason C. Verley
Albuquerque, NM

Editors' Note: The other theories were amusing indeed. Our favorites:
Clothes dryers produce a tunnel effect that throws socks into an alternate universe. Scientists should use this effect to dispose of nuclear waste: just put chunks of it into socks and set the timer for 40 minutes. (Thaddeus P. Rosen, Bakersfield, CA)

If an infinite number of rednecks, riding in an infinite number of pickup trucks, fire an infinite number of shotgun rounds at an infinite number of highway signs, they will eventually produce all the world's great literary works in Braille. (John A. Banker, Show Low, AZ)

When subjected to extreme feminine heat and pressure, male hydrocarbons will often produce a diamond. (R.E. Swap, Fairview, UT)

In the spirit of the original OMNI competition, we invite our readers to submit their own alternate scientific theories: Editor, APS News, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD, 20740, letters@aps.org.

No Plurals

In the August/September issue, which only reached these distant shores towards the end of September, one of your readers points out that there is no such thing as a "degree Kelvin". The unit named after Lord Kelvin is simply 1 kelvin = 1 K. He then goes on to claim that the correct way to specify the temperature of the uniform background is 2.73 kelvins. But an international system of units obviously cannot be based on the grammar rules of one particular language. Therefore, one does not add s'es to make plurals of SI units. The background temperature is thus 2.73 kelvin = 2.73 K.

Arne Reitan
Arendal, Norway

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette