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October 2003

A Question about The Man Who Tasted Shapes

I sent the following email to Richard Cytowic, the author of The Man Who Tasted Shapes, but it occurs to me that someone who reads my weblog might know the answer to my question:

Dear Dr. Cytowic:

In your book The Man Who Tasted Shapes, on page 146 you say that the brain "consumes 25% of all the energy used by the body." Elsewhere in the book -- I can't find the reference right now -- you suggest that this is some kind of upper evolutionary limit, that as a species it is not possible to survive a brain that uses more than 25% of our engery.

This reminds me somewhat of the limits on brain size of the newborn and the size of women's pelvises. That there are ranges in the size of newborn heads and women's birth canals is obvious, as is the consequence of too large a head or too small an opening.

Is the brain's energy usage subject to similar limitations? What problems would a person have if his or her brain demanded too much energy or if a particular part of the brain consumed too much? What are the practical consequences of this limit?

How was the 25% figure arrived at? Is there much variation among individuals? How is it meansured?

Anyone know the answers?

UPDATE: Cytowic replies:

The limits you cite have to do with physical scaling, which is exponential, after which things just "fall apart" (in simple terms). So a google search on "Brain energy metabolism" for a variety of articles and resources on this topic.

FURTHER UPDATE: Having read around in the various things his suggested search turned up, I think the one word answer to my question is OXIDATION. If the brain metabolizes more than a certain amount of oxygen, it sustains too much free-radical damage.

Looking for God?

Every once in a while, I check the logs of Movable Type to see what words my readers are searching on. Yesterday, in the midst of queries for big bang someone came looking for god.

Reader, if you are still tuned in, I wish you luck in your search for a higher power. I don't imagine that my weblog was much help. Try James Morrow. Let me know if you attain enlightenment.

Some Day You Too Could Top a Google Search on a Popular Subject

Today it's my turn. My dad's Big Bang sound is all over this morning's news cycle. A commentor tells me that he was on the radio in the UK this morning. In addition to being in the New Scientist (and on the Aljezeera web site, as mentioned yesterday), the story of his sound has been picked up by the Telegraph (UK), Ananova, (Australia), the National Post (Canada), EurekaAlert!, News 24 (South Africa), The Mirror (UK), The Australian, The Daily Telegraph (Australia), the Brisbane Courier Mail, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine (Germany).

If you then google John Cramer big bang to try to find his marvellous sound, the #2 listing (and the first actually about the sound) is my blog entry Daddy, what did the Big Bang sound like?

And HERE's the sound in question. (Since it's all over the news, you may not be able to get it. I woke him up and suggested he post mirror sites.)

NEW: Also mentioned on Slashdot.

The University of Washington's Nuclear Physics Laboratory's web site has received so much traffic from people trying to find the sound that it is unreachable. I was about to post it and supporting material on my web site, but thought better of it since no server on which I have space can really sustain the kind of traffic at issue. I can email people the sound, the Mathematica application and the supporting data. If you can't get through on the NPL site, ask for the files in the comments here, and I will send them to you.

The sound is now available through Kazza, a music filesharing site, thanks to Alex Randall:

Hi Kathryn,

I've made it available for those who use Kazza (which is a file sharing program).

All they have to do is type "BigBangSound - (c) John G. Cramer, 2003" (or any of those words) in the Kazza search engine to find it.

The more people that upload it, the more available it will become, which is the beauty of Kazza!

UPDATE: Here's a new URL for the Big Bang sound.

Trackbacks: There Is No Cat, Amygdala, and taliesin's log. (Anyone know why my trackback feature never works?)

My Dad on Quoted on Aljazeera

Aljazeera: Big Bang not so big:

The explosion that assuminglyÝgave birth to the universe sounded not so much like a Big Bang than a Deep Hum.

The New Scientist, a British weekly, has said a computer model of the likely audio frequencies generated by theÝBig BangÝhas been created by physicist John Cramer of the University of Washington in Seattle.

"The sound is rather like a large jet plane flying 100 feet (30m) above your house in the middle of the night," he said.

Hal Clement Died

Moshe Feder just called to say that Hal Clement has died. We had dinner with Clement a few weeks ago at Albacon. He seemed in pretty good shape for his age.

Also, Greg Benford called. He said he's heard from Larry Niven, who had been evacuated because of the fires, that Niven house was intact, but that the whole area around it was black.

10/31/03, Gerald Jonas in the NYT: Harry Clement Stubbs, Writer of Classic Science Fiction, Dies at 81.

Whole Short Stories Accessible via Amazon's New Search Capabilities

Yesterday, we asked that Tor get in touch with Amazon to object that entire short stories in three of our anthologies (two edited by David, one jointly edited) are accessible via Amazon's new full search feature. Having gotten in touch with our publisher's legal department, I can now tell you the crux of the problem: page headers are part of the searchable text and the titles of stories are usually in page headers. Links to individual pages give access a page or two in each direction from the target page, so images of all pages are easy to get. Nevermind that our contracts with our publisher probably don't permit such a use -- we could decide to be easy about that -- our contracts with our contributors for the books in question certainly don't!

You may think, well, this is a pretty cumbersome way to ready a book. But it's not all that cumbersome when compared to a number of the commercially available ebooks sold in the past decade. You may think copyright is protected because only images of all the pages are accessible, whereas electronic text is not directly accessible. Anyone with OCR software can produce an electronic text copy fairly quickly once in possession of all the page images. This is a disaster for the longterm reprint value of the stories, especially in the foreign rights market. This is something that SFWA needs to take up with Amazon.

I am hoping that Amazon will be able to in some way block searching on page headers so that their system functions as intended and does not compromise the reprint value of stories we reprint. I applaud Amazon's innovative approach to promoting the works of authors to readers who might not otherwise have discovered them. I wish, however, that they had taken a more sophisticated approach to copyright before releasing this upon the world.

SEE ALSO: The article Fail-Safe Amazon Images, summarized by O'Reilly as:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) allow anyone with some coding skills to create applications using Amazonfs data, including its images. But relying on someone elsefs data on someone elsefs servers introduces some challenges. Paul Bausch, author of Amazon Hacks, shows you how to properly display Amazon product images in a dependent, distributed application.

An Amazon Experiment

Experiment: See if this link takes you to Charles Darwin on quaggas in The Origin of Species in the Amazon full text.

Consider the blog possibilities!

BY THE WAY: Wired's article on the new Amazon sytem says this is impossible:

There is no way to link directly to any page of a book.

Needless to say, this is not the only "impossible" thing that can be done with Amazon's new system.

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my father's 69th birthday. He was awakened at 5AM this morning by a policeman at the front door ringing the doorbell. It seems the policeman had been walking by when he found a man in the front seat of my dad's car trying to hotwire it. The policeman pursued, but the suspect got away. (occasionaly, police do turn up when you need them.) The ignition was sufficiently damaged that the car needed to be towed to the repair shop. It seems to me that Seattle didn't used to be like that. Or maybe I was just naive when I lived there.

Anyway, here's a fine picture of my father, John Cramer, circa 1940, taken at the Herman Park Zoo in Houston, Texas.

On another family note, Geoff Hartwell, my stepson, wants me to be sure to tell everyone that he is on page 94 of the December issue of Guitar Player magazine:

There is something incredibly satisfying about a guitar lick that gallops up the strings and tags every sweet note in its path.

Not for the "wimpy" buyer

Garondah_420,000 square feet for your books in a romantic mountain setting in Elizabethtown, New York, for under $200,000:


This main building is a turn of the century, 20,000 square foot mansion boasting 16 bedrooms, 16 full baths, and 14 fireplaces. Situated on 54.7 acres, on a mountainside above Elizabethtown, Garondah entertains a breathtaking view of rolling hills, mountains, and sunset views. Keep it a family estate, as originally created, or consider the commercial possibilities such as the location for a hotel, a bed and breakfast, a school, a clubhouse or a corporate retreat. Minutes from interstate 87, this property offers privacy as well as easy access to Lake Champlain (10 minutes to the east), the hiking trails of the Adirondack high peaks region (10 minutes to the west) and local amenities. The main building is partially gutted and in need of extensive rehabilitation.

An English sunken garden is waiting to be reclaimed.

Outbuildings include a large garage/shop (falling down), a gaming cottage (charming and in need of repair), and a caretaker's cottage, ready for occupancy.

Not for the "wimpy" buyer, this purchase requires a person with vision, financial resources, skill, and preservation expertise, to restore this estate to it's original rustic splendor . . .

Just think . . . then think again.

Kathryn Cramer at October 14, 2003 09:55 AM | Link Cosmos | Purple Numbers | Edit
Oh, my -- I can just hear my husband now: "But we're both good at DIY! And look at all the room for workshops! And it's in the mountains, Mellie!"

Oh, dear.

Posted by: Melanie Fletcher at October 14, 2003 03:59 PM
Maybe those folks from will finish their bungalow and need a new project...

Posted by: brian w at October 14, 2003 10:16 PM
It's an insurmountable opportunity.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at October 15, 2003 07:50 AM
Oh man. I just looked at this property and I think Kathryn put it exactly right an insurmountable opportunity. There is so much going on for this place and SO much more going wrong with it. There is not even a solid roof in the whole batch of buildings and mushrooms growing on the floor joists. :( very sad.

Posted by: Chris at November 19, 2003 10:56 PM
postscript - january 2004 - property going to closing - sold!

Posted by: eve at January 20, 2004 11:13 AM
I came across the discussion regarding the old mansion Garondah. I live near the old house and have just written the history of the property with old and new photos that will appear in the next issue (September Special Collectors Issue) of Adirondack Life Magazine.

Just thought you might want to see it up close.


Posted by: Margaret Bartley at August 16, 2004 12:04 AM
My husband has been there, once about twenty years ago. He is the former business partner of L. W. Currey who still operates his bookselling business from Elizabethtown. We get up there a few times a year.