Walruses, Turtles, and Alice B. Toklas

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June 15, 2018 by libroshombre



“The time has come,’ the Walrus said, To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings.” My column fodder file occasionally overflows, so today we’ll explore the world of science, and our borough library stands ready. We can freely walk in, phone in, or link in to the best human knowledge has to offer.

The library owns, “Salt, Fat Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat, and it’s the sort of reference book every cooking household ought to own (along with the “Food Substitution Bible”). “Salt Fat” is where I learned how lemon juice makes scrambled eggs better. “It helps me to picture proteins as coiled threads floating around in water,”Nosrat wrote. “When the protein coils are exposed to acid, like lemon juice, “the threads first denature, or unwind, and then clump together more tightly, or coagulate, entrapping pockets of water.” She cites Alice B. Toklas for adding the lemon and cooking eggs longer at low temperatures, as now do the Hills.

Some hesitate to go out on a limb and agree that trees have heartbeats, but an IFLScience.com article, “It Turns Out That Trees Have a ‘Heartbeat,’ Too,” reported that studies have shown that “some trees raise and lower their branches several times in the course of the night, indicating a cycle of water and sugar transportation, like their own version of a heartbeat. We still don’t know why, however.” It’s believed that the observed nightly branch movements and shrinking and expanding of trunks could be related to trees pumping water to their extremities.

The science behind squeaky basketball shoes was covered more definitively in a NYTimes.com article last year by John Branch that is accessible through the library’s microfilm collection. Shoes squeak “when two relatively smooth or flat surfaces become repeatedly stuck and unstuck by the forces of friction, creating a vibration that becomes a noise … It is why a finger sings on the rim of a wine glass or screeches on the outside of a balloon.” The stick-slip squeaks are vital to basketball pros, who rely on knowing just when and how much they’re slipping. The gridded patterns on their shoes’ soles are engineered to chirp, especially when stopping or cutting sideways quickly. Shoes that are too grippy can blow a knee or ankle, and slippery soles are just as dangerous.

Plastic surgery for fish and a memorably odd turtle were in two other NYTimes articles I acquired from a recent Sunday edition. Amy Qin wrote that the Asian arowana fish, also “known as long vu, or ‘dragon fish’ in Chinese,” can grow up to 55 inches and cost fanciers $300,000 for a real pretty one in China, where fish, and especiallyarowana, are considered lucky. Qin described a Singapore veterinarian making a fish look better: “Using a pair of forceps, Mr. Ng … worked quickly, loosening the tissue behind the fish’s eye and pushing the eyeball up into the socket.” Ng explained he was doing the fish a favor, “because now the fish looks better and its owner will love it even more.” You can get more run-down arowana for “anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.”

Owning a turtle with a green Mohawk is even harder since they’re endangered. “Turtle That Uses Genitals to Breath is Threatened” was the catchy headline of the NYTimes article by James Gorman, who wrote that this Mohawk-sporting Australian reptile split from other turtle species 40 million years ago. Even more remarkable than its green hair is how the beast respires. It breathes air, but can stay submerged for up to three days by using its cloaca to extract oxygen from water.

Winston the turtle lives in the Noel Wien Library Berry Room and has worked longer in the library than anyone else. She (it turned out after her naming) loves visitors, so stop by. Registration’s underway in the Berry Room and North Pole Branch Library for the “Libraries Rock” summer reading program, where kids discover that, as Hamlet claimed, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”




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