Contents of This Page
All the Contents of "Surely I'm Joking!"
5. Do They Sell Canned Yukawa Particles?
"Pion." The Yukawa particle?|
These days we see a product named
"Pion" on the shelves of vending machines here in Japan (see the photograph).
Pion is a particle, which is the lightest among hadrons that feel the strong
force. Its existence was predicted by the Japanese physicist Hideki Yukawa in
1935. Do they sell canned Yukawa particles now? -- No, it is a soft (not strong)
drink sold by Coca-Cola Company. In fact, the soft drink Pion is pronounced in
our country not as pie-on like the Yukawa particle but as pi-on, where "pi"
represents the sound of "pi" in "pit."
26 Aug 2000
6. "I Was Destined to Write . . ."
The cover of Marcia Bartusiak's book, "Einstein's Unfinished Symphony." Clicking
the image leads you to the buying information page of the book at Amazon.com web
have been submitting customer reviews on books to Amazon.com since August
2000 (see "Book Reviews by tttabata"). The 21st
review was on Marcia
Bartusiak's "Einstein's Unfinished Symphony." This book elegantly portrays the
hunting for gravitational waves, the existence of which was predicted by
Einstein's theory of general relativity. Immediately after my review had been
posted at the Amazon web site, I received unexpectedly an e-mail message of
thanks from the author.
I found it interesting that the author uses "bar2siak" for her e-mail account.
The original detector invented by Joseph Weber for directly catching gravity
waves consisted of a big aluminum cylinder surrounded by piezoelectric sensors
and suspended in a vacuum tank. This type of detector is called "bar."
Further, a pair of bars is commonly used to cancel noises out by the
coincidence method. Thus "bar2" can be interpreted as two bars used for trying
to detect gravity waves and described in detail in "Einstein's Unfinished
Symphony." Wondering if she had noticed it herself, I wrote this finding of
mine to the author.
Ms. Bartusiak wrote me back:
I never thought of my e-mail address in that way. You're right! I guess I was
destined to write on gravitational-wave bars
It is again interesting that the science journalist used the religious word
The writer acknowledges Ms. Bartusiak's kind permission for citing the above
passage from her e-mail letter.
24 Aug 2001
7. Two Kinds of Joy: About Hawking's Birthday Talk
British physicist and astronomer Stephen William Hawking is considered to
be the greatest theorist of the latter twenties century. He is especially
known for his theories on black holes and the origin and evolution of the
universe.1 To celebrate his 60th birthday,
a workshop and symposium were held in Cambridge from 7 to 11 January
Hawking delivered the final talk of the meeting. The title of his talk was "60
Years in a Nutshell," a humorous modification of the title of his recent
book.3 The talk
consists of four parts:
- Student Days
- Expanding Universe
- Black Holes
- Ultimate Theory?
At the end of the talk, the great cosmologist says, " There's nothing like the
Eureka moment of discovering something that no one knew before. I won't
compare it to sex, but it lasts longer." While saying that he would not do so,
Hawking compares the two kinds of joy. Surely, the joy of discovering scientific
truth would last long. However, there would be a different theory about the time
length of the other kind of joy, wouldn't there?
- "The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference," P. Barnes-Svarney ed.
(MacMillan, New York, 1995).
- G. W. Gibbons and E. P. S. Shellard, Science, Vol. 295, 1476 (2002).
- S. Hawking, "The Universe in a Nutshell"
(Bantam, New York, 2001).
9 Mar 2002
8. Narcissus and Immunology
cover of the "Science" magazine issued on 12 April 2002 shows Narcissus
gazing at his reflection, as depicted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
(1573 - 1610). This picture is used for the special section "Reflections on
self: Immunity and beyond." The following explanation is given on the contents
page of the issue:
As the story from Greek mythology reminds us, and as discussed in this issue,
effective recognition of self is important to general survival and to
successful immune surveillance, reproduction, community structure, and
philosophical integration of the individual.
Reading the above explanation, I thought that "effective recognition of self"
meant narcissism, because Narcissus highly valued his own reflection. Then the
special section seems to say that narcissism is good for biological a reason. Is
this right? The introductory article of the section, "Self-discrimination, a
life and death issue" written by Stephen J. Simpson and Pamela J. Hines, however
made me notice that my thought was wrong.
Narcissus could not notice that his reflection was his own image, and fall in
love with it. However, he was unable to be loved by it, was exhausted and
died. So what he did was not the effective recognition of self, but
non-recognition of self as such. To work well the immune system has to know
which are the cells of own body and which are not. This is what is meant by
"effective recognition of self." -- Caravaggio's painting was not cited to praise
21 Apr 2002
9. The Spinning Egg Rises
theoretically explained the paradoxical behavior of a hard-boiled
egg: if it is spun with its axis of symmetry horizontal, this axis will rise
from the horizontal to the vertical, raising the center of gravity. -- This is
not a joke. See the reference.1 -- They
traced the essential mechanism to the
action of the frictional force between the spinning object and the table.
Their paper was referred to in a column of a Japanese newspaper.2 A
non-scientist friend of mine read the column, and told me that she wished to
experiment. I noticed the original paper before, but did not think to
experiment by myself. She had more of a scientist's mind than me.
Being stimulated by her words, I tried to rotate a boiled egg on the floor. It
seemed difficult to make the egg rotate fast enough around its axis of
symmetry put horizontally to cause rising. Starting from rotation around the
axis a little off the vertical, however, I could see the axis rising and
becoming just vertical. This is wonderful enough. I heard that the friend had
also succeeded in observing the odd motion of the egg. She added that she had
been quite thrilled when the axis became vertical.
The scientists also write why a raw egg does not show the same behavior. It is
because the angular velocity imparted to the shell diffuses into the fluid
interior; this process dissipates most of the initial kinetic energy imparted to
the egg, making the remaining energy insufficient for the condition of
gyroscopic balance to be established. This is a type of research Torahiko Terada
(Japanese physicist, astronomer and essayist. Professor of Tokyo University.
1878 - 1935; see
a portrait) would have liked.
- H. K. Moffatt and Y. Shimomura, "Spinning eggs -- a paradox resolved,"
Nature Vol. 416, pp. 385-386 (2002).
- Y. Uchiyama, "Self-rising boiled eggs," Asahi-Shimbun, 22 Apr., p. 23,
25 Apr 2002
10. A Mathematician's Desire
the 15-Aug evening issue of Asahi-shimbun, the mathematician and essayist
Masahiko Fujiwara writes a comical essay entitled "Odoriko Motomu (A dancer
wanted)". When his
mathematical work comes to a difficulty, he goes on a trip as he pleases.
During those trips he wishes to meet such a lady as the heroine dancer in the
Nobel-Prize winning writer Kawabata Yasunari's novel, "Izu-no-odoriko (The
dancer of Izu)". The hero of the novel, a high school student, found the
dancer crying without being able to say him "Good-bye".
Prof. Fujiwara writes that the lady whom he wishes to encounter is not
necessarily be a dancer but that it is important for her to cry without being
able to say "Good-bye." His desire was intensified because his wife got love
letters from an English gentleman. However, the desire has never come true, and
thus he has lost hope for its realization a little.
Everyman possibly has a similar desire of having a romantic adventure on a
trip, but no one can write about it with an excellent sense of humor like
Prof. Fujiwara. I am only afraid that as a result of that essay he might get so
many letters from ladies who want to be a dancer for him.
I have memories of some young ladies with whom I talked on the train during my
trips in younger days. A physics student going to get an exam for the grauate
course, an office lady of Hiroshima, a mysterious lady who majored in English
literature, . . . I do not think that they remember me. Each one of them
and I enjoyed our conversation to some extent, but said simply "Good-bye" to
each other when we took off the train.
18 Aug 2002
11. Young Ladies' Conversation
day in early autumn about 20 years ago, I was on a bus. Then a conversation
between two young ladies was heard. One of them said, "I went camping this
summer with our group." The other said, "So, you were seen naked by lads,
weren't you?" The first lady replied, "Maybe. In the morning a lad pointed his
front side and said to me, 'Look at this. This is the proof of my vigor.'" And
both of them chuckled.
Having no experience of camping, I do not know why lads can see ladies naked in
camping. Anyway, I thought that this was not the kind of talk to be made
in the public vehicle. The ladies' voices were however so fresh and innocent
that I liked their conversation after all. When autumn comes, I often
remind myself of that private talk between the nymphets.
24 Aug 2002
12. The Logic of Love
that the statement
A is B.
is true. Then the statement
‘not A’ is ‘not B.’
is called the obverse of the original statement. The obverse is
not always true. Interchanging the subject and the predicate of the obverse, we
get another statement
‘not B’ is ‘not A.’
This statement is called the contraposition of the original
statement. The contraposition is always true.
I learned the above logic from a young lady teacher of mathematics in the
first year of senior high school. So I remember it well. However, you can
understand it easily by drawing a small circle enclosed in a large circle and
supposing that the inside of the small circle is A and that the inside of the
large circle is B.
In the previous story A Mathematician's Desire, I
mentioned about a comical essay written by the mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara.
I found another short essay1 of his that
treated the obverse to be quite funny. The essay is entitled:
Is “‘not A’ is ‘not B’” true?
Without using jargons, Professor Fujiwara teaches the reader that
the obverse is false in many cases, but can be true in some cases. He does this
by the use of interesting examples. Examples of the false obverse are given by
the original statements of daily observation, “The tulip is
beautiful,” “Snow is white,” and “What bothers others is
what you must not do.” An example of the true obverse is given by the
mathematical original statement, “If the polygon is the triangle, then the
sum of its inner angles is equal to 180 degrees.”
Finally the mathematician gives an example of the obverse that can be decided
neither true nor false. The original statement of this example is “If the
woman is your wife, then you may love her.” He writes:
As for the statement, “If the woman is not your wife, then you must not
love her,” the opinion of my wife and me are different.
I guess that Professor Fujiwara is actually a good husband as well
as a good teacher.
- M. Fujiwara, Asahi-Shimbun, Evening Edition, 17 Dec. (2002).
9 Jan 2003
13. Relay Composition
my childhood I played a word play, "Someone did something with some other
one . . ." It needs a plural number of participants. Each participant
writes "Someone," "did something," "with some other one," "at some place," and
"at some time" on separate sheets of paper by putting concrete expressions for
"some . . ." as he or she likes.
Then all the sheets of "Someone" are mixed, all the sheets of "did something"
are mixed, and so on. Each participant randomly choose a sheet of "Someone," a
sheet of "did something," and so on, and reads them aloud. A set of sheets thus
chosen often gives a wild story.
An extended version of the above play is "relay composition." I also played it
in student days. In this play, each of several participants reads only one
paragraph written just before and adds one paragraph. The story completed can
be quite funny.
When I played relay composition during a New Year vacation, a friend of mine
with the nickname of Sam wrote a good final paragraph. I still remember
its plot after more than 40 years. I do not remember earlier five paragraphs
written by participants other than Sam (including my own), but in essence those
must have been something like this:
Jack and Betty lived in K City and were good friends. After graduating from a
university, Jack got a job at another city. It was far from K City, and Jack
had to move there. Betty was going to be lonely.
What do you write after this, if you are requested to conclude the above
story? Sam's final paragraph was as follows:
On the day of his removal, Jack got a card from Betty. It read, "I'm going to
move, too. My new address is 1-2 S Street, T City." Jack wanted to take a
walk to relax from the work of removal. Outside the gate of his new house, he
looked back to see the nameplate. It read, "1-2 S Street . . ."
This is a very witty plot just for the play of a short time, isn't it?
Regrettably Sam died several years ago.
27 Jan 2003
14. Asymmetry in Kissing
found an interesting research report in Nature. It includes a photo of
Auguste Rodin’s masterpiece The Kiss, in which a couple is kissing by
turning their heads to the right. The author of the report is Onur
Güntürkün, a psychologist at the University of Ruhr. What do you
think is the theme of this report?
The title of the report is “Adult persistence of head-turning
Other authors found earlier that humans preferred to turn the head to the
right for the final weeks of the fetus and for the first six months after
birth. Güntürkün has found that this head motor bias persists
Güntürkün observed 124 kissing couples in public places in the
United States, Germany and Turkey. The result shows that 80 pairs (64.6%) turned
their head to the right and that 44 (35.5%) turned to the left. This indicates
the significant head-turning bias towards the right side, just like fetuses and
Which side do you turn your heads in kissing, to the right or to the left? Do
you want to check it right now?
- O. Güntürkün, Nature, Vol. 421, 711 (2003); addendum, ibid.,
Vol. 421, 711 (2003); See also
S. Graham, “Kissing the right way,” Sci. Amer. News 13 Feb (2003)
16 Feb 2003
15. Typo or True Value?
the evening edition of the Asahi dated February 27, 2003, an article about
the Akutagawa Prize appeared. This prize is the most prestigious literature
award in Japan. The article read:
The presentation ceremony of the 128th Akutagawa Prize (sponsored by Japan
Association for Literature Promotion) was held in Tokyo on February 21, and
Ms. Tamaki Daido received the main reward of a watch and the prize money of
100 yens. ...
Imagining the scene of Ms. Daido getting a 100-yen coin (about 80 cents)
respectfully, I laughed and laughed. The next evening’s Asahi carried a
correction to rectify the amount to 1 million yens. It is 100-man yens in
Japanese expression; man (ten thousands) is denoted by a single Chinese
character. So the dropping of that one character causes a large difference.
The article in the Asahi also told about the following words of Senji Kuroi, a
member of the Nomination Committee of the Akutagawa Prize, to praise the
Prize-winning work "Shoppai Doraibu" (Salty Driving):
The method of composing this work is stable, and the work has a firm
structure. It well conveys the feeling of the heroine I, who is attracted by
both a middle-aged man and the star actor of a local theatrical troupe. ...
The work was later published in book form, and the review of it appeared in
the Asahi of March 23, 2003. The reviewer Atsushi Onoya wrote:
(This work) has no climax, no surprise ending, nor any meaning. ... Readers
should not wrongly think that such is one of the top works of literature. ...
This is one of the most scathing book reviews I have ever read. If this were a
right appraisal of the work, the prize money of 100 yens would have been
appropriate. The evaluation of literary works seems to be a difficult thing.
25 Mar 2003
16. Another Statistical Study on Right and Left
Section 14 of this collection of essays, I introduced a
psychologist's statistical study on the side of a pair's turning of their head
in kissing. Amar Klar of the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, USA, made
another statistical study on right and left.
According to an article in Nature Science
Update,1 Klar secretly inspected
people's top of the head by spying on them in airports and shopping malls,
ignoring the longhaired and the bald. He found the
followings2: More than 95%
of right-handers' hair whorled clockwise on the scalp and that the locks of
lefties and the ambidextrous are equally likely to coil either way.
I write with the right hand, use a driver and some other tools with the left
hand, and have a pair of whorls curing clockwise and anticlockwise. This is
quite consistent with Klar's reuslt.
Klar is reported to have said, "A single gene with either 'right' or 'random'
forms might underlie the trend. People with one or two copies of the right
version would be right-handed, with clockwise hair; those with two random
versions would split 50/50 for handedness and hair whorls." He is now seeking
such a gene.
The article also says: Left-handed or ambidextrous people are more likely to
store language in the right side of the brain, are more prone to schizophrenia
and, anecdotally, are more often creative or even geniuses. -- Oh, I'm prone
to schizophrenia or may be a genius! --
- "Handedness equals
hairstyle: One gene might control both - and explain the divided brain,"
Nature Science Update, Sep. 4 2003.
- A. J. S. Klar, "Human handedness and scalp hair whorl direction develop from
a common genetic mechanism," Genetics, in press (2003).
9 Sep 2003
17. Physics of Stone Skipping
January 2004, my wife and I joined a 13-day travel to New Zealand organized
by JTB West. It included a two-day visit to Moeraki in the heart of South West
New Zealand World Heritage Area. In the morning of the second day in Moeraki,
the local guide Andy brought us to Monro Beach facing the Tasman Sea. There he
often played stone skipping picking up flat and circular pebbles.
I said to Andy, "To get the maximum number of bounces, you had better give
maximum spin to the stone and throw it so as to make the attack angle between
the stone and the water surface 20 degrees. Do you know the world record of
stone skipping?" He did not know the world record. I told him that it was 38
I learned all these things about stone skipping just before going on the
travel. It was from the article entitled "Secrets of successful
stone-skipping" and written by the French scientists Christophe Clanet, Fabien
Hersen and Lydéric Bocquet.1
However, a different set of experiments would be necessary to find the optimum
throwing for Andy's stone skipping. The wave of the Tasman Sea was rather
large, so that Andy was throwing stones not directly to the sea but to the
region of the wet sandy beach from which the wave had just retreated. The
stones rebounded five or six times on the sands and then on water!
- C. Clanet, F. Hersen and L. Bocquet, Nature Vol. 427, p. 29 (2004).
29 Jan 2004
18. Frogs or Flags?
Past April I made my first trip to
Shikoku, and found the street name "Hata" in the city of Kochi. "Hata" means,
"Flags (are) plenty (here)," and is expressed by two Chinese characters. The
faithful pronunciation of the characters would be "Hatata." Two ta's must have
been shortened to a single ta.
My last name "Tabata" is expressed by the same two characters as those of Hata
put in the reverse order. I say to the overseas friends of mine, "My last name
means many flags." The flags of Hata and Tabata are of a vertically long kind
(nobori-bata) such as used by samurai in wars. I suppose that many samurai of the
Taira clan (Heike) secretly lived in Hata after being beaten by the Minamoto clan
(Genji) in 1185 in a naval battle at Dannoura.
Possibly my last name comes from the fact that my father-side ancestors were
fishermen, not samurai, in a village facing the Japan Sea. They must have come
back from fishing with many flags on the boat when they got much fish.
On hearing my explanation of my last name, some overseas friends of mine ask me which I
mean, frogs or flags, because my English pronunciation is poor. I say, "Stars and
Stripes is the American flag. That flag!" Once I said this to a British friend of
mine. I should have referred to Union Jack on that occasion!
Modified from my comment on "Another Typhoon" posted at the website
31 Aug 2004