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June 21, 2007

'The Shadow Goes' — Margaret Wertheim explains why light is pedestrian when it comes to the speed of nothing


On yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed page appeared a passing strange piece by Margaret Wertheim about shadows.

Long story short: I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read it last evening, and probably won't for the foreseeable future.

Her essay follows.

    The Shadow Goes

    On Thursday, on the summer solstice, the Sun will celebrate the year’s lazy months by resting on the horizon. The word solstice derives from the Latin “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (to stand still). The day marks the sun’s highest point in the sky, the moment when our shadows shrink to their shortest length of the year. How strange to think that these mundane friends, our ever-present familiars, can actually go faster than the sun’s rays.

    I remarked on this recently to my husband as we sat on the porch with our shadows pooling by our chairs. Nothing can go faster than light, he insisted, expressing what is surely the most widely known law of physics, ingrained into us by a thousand “Nova” programs.

    That is the point, I explained: Nothing can go faster than light. A shadow isn’t a thing. It’s a non-thing. It’s the absence of light.

    Special relativity dictates that we cannot move anything more quickly than the particles of light known as photons, but no law says you can’t do nothing faster than light. Physicists have known this for a long time, even if they generally do not mention it on PBS documentaries.

    My husband looked troubled, as did my sister and some friends I regaled with the story that evening. Like the warp drive on “Star Trek,” faster-than-light travel is supposed to be a science-fiction fantasy. Isn’t it?

    They are right about the travel: According to relativity, no physical substance can exceed the speed of light because it would take infinite energy to accelerate anything to such a velocity.

    Yet the laws of physics pertain only to that which is. That which isn’t is not bound by relativity’s restraint. From the point of view of relativity, a shadow (having no mass) is a non-thing, an existential void.

    It’s quite easy to conjure up a faster-than-light shadow, at least in theory. Build a great klieg light, a superstrong version of the ones set up at the Academy Awards. Now paste a piece of black paper onto the klieg’s glass so there is a shadow in the middle of the beam, like the signal used to summon Batman. And we are going to mount our light in space and broadcast the Bat-call to the cosmos.

    The key to our trick is to rotate the klieg. As the light turns, the bat shadow sweeps across the sky. Round and round it goes, projecting into the void. Just as the rim of a bicycle wheel moves faster than its hub, so too, away from the source our bat shadow will fly faster and faster, a consequence of the geometry that guarantees the rim of a really big wheel moves faster than a co-rotating small wheel.

    At a great enough distance from the source, our shadow bat will go so fast it will exceed the speed of light. This does not violate relativity because a shadow carries no energy. Literally nothing is transferred. Our shadow bat can go 10 times the speed of light or 100 times faster without breaking any of physics’ sacred rules.

    My sister leapt to the heart of this apparent paradox: Why isn’t the light itself traveling faster than the speed of light? Isn’t it also rotating in space? Actually, no. The bulbs that produce the light are spinning, but the light particles leave the source at 186,000 miles a second, the vaunted “speed of light.” Once emitted, the photons continue to travel at this speed directly away from the source. Only the shadow revolves around the great circle. The critical point is that no object, no substance, defies light.

    My husband was right to object that you’d need one spectacular klieg to produce a detectable shadow thousands of miles out in space. Still, the theory is sound.

    The anthropologist Mary Douglas noted that all systems of categorizing break down somewhere, unable to incorporate certain forms. By standing beyond relativity’s injunction, shadows suggest the limits of all classification schemes, a tension that even modern science cannot completely resolve.

    In the terms recognized by relativity, shadows are non-things. Yet before the invention of clocks, shadows were the most important means for telling time. Weightless and without energy, shadows can nonetheless convey information — though they cannot, despite our giant klieg, be used for faster-than-light communication. That’s because the shadow’s location cannot be detected until the light, moving at its ponderous relativistic pace, arrives.

    “Here there be monsters,” said the medieval maps, signaling the limits of reason’s reach. As a map of being, physics is flanked by the monsters of non-being whose outlines we glimpse in the paradoxes of quantum mechanics and in the zooming arc of a shadow bat going faster than light.

    In Christian theology we are told, “God is that which nothing is greater than.” The scientific corollary might be, “Light is that which nothing is faster than” — a statement true both in spirit and fact.



Margaret Wertheim, the director of the Institute for Figuring, a science and mathematics education organization, is writing a book on physics and the imagination.

June 21, 2007 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack



Above, the headline


of a




that appeared in the


June 17, 2007


New York Times


about the everyday look of Venice


during the current 52nd Biennale.


The wonderful photos are by


Librado Romero.

June 21, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Up Shot Overhead Stain Sealer



If your house or apartment is more than five minutes old, you've got a stain on your ceiling — maybe more than one.

Sure, you could buy special paint and a brush and make a big mess and not solve the problem — but you (and I, let's not be cute here) don't because we know it's just a big pain in the butt that probably won't make the stain disappear.

So why not try this clever alternative?

I am.

Faster, cheaper, easier and a lot more in control.

From websites:

    Kilz Up Shot Overhead Stain Sealer

    Original formula Kilz primer/sealer for sealing, blocking, and covering stains

    Uniquely packaged with a vertical spray tip designed primarily for use on acoustical ceilings.

    The slightly tinted spray matches most aged ceilings for quick and easy coverage.

    Designed to block water and cover and seal smoke and grease stains.

    Can be topcoated after only 15 minutes of drying time.

    Just aim Up Shot Stain Sealer at the ceiling and spray.

    It has never been easier to cover ugly ceiling stains.

    May be used on any overhead surface.

    10 oz. aerosol.


$4.47 at Amazon.

June 21, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack



From Colleen Daly, bookofjoe's Ketchum, Idaho correspondent, comes this search engine site made for fashionistas.

June 21, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Can Bengay kill you?


Up until eleven days ago I would have said, "Of course not."

I mean, I make a living in a specialty that a former chairman of mine called "controlled poisoning," so you'd think I'd at least have heard of the possibility.

Not so.

On Sunday, June 10, 2007, I read in the New York Times a story that taught me something I didn't know.

Here's the article.

    Muscle-Pain Reliever Is Blamed for Staten Island Runner’s Death

    The sudden death of a 17-year-old Staten Island high school track star was caused by the accidental overuse of an over-the-counter remedy routinely used by millions of Americans to treat sore muscles and joints, the New York City medical examiner ruled after a two-month investigation.

    The athlete, Arielle Newman [above], a cross-country runner at Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island, died after her body absorbed high levels of methyl salicylate, an anti-inflammatory found in sports creams like Bengay and IcyHot, the medical examiner said Friday.

    The medical examiner’s spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, said the teenager used “topical medication to excess.”

    She said it was the first time that the office had reported a death from use of a sports cream.

    Ms. Newman, who garnered numerous track awards, died on April 3.

    Methyl salicylate poisoning is unusual, and deaths from high levels of the chemical are rare.

    “Chronic use is more dangerous than one-time use,” Edward Arsura, chairman of medicine at Richmond University Medical Center, told The Staten Island Advance on Friday. “Exercise and heat can accentuate absorption.”

    Dr. Ronald Grelsamer, of Mount Sinai Medical Center, said Ms. Newman had a very abnormal amount of methyl salicylate in her body.

    “She either lathered herself with it, or used way too much, or she used a normal amount and an abnormal percentage was absorbed into her body,” he said.

    Ms. Newman’s mother, Alice Newman, said she still could not believe that her daughter’s death had been caused by a sports cream.

    “I am scrupulous about my children’s health,” she told The Advance. “I did not think an over-the-counter product could be unsafe.”

    Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Bengay, expressed sympathy for the family in a statement.

    The company reminded consumers about “the importance of reading the label on this and all over-the-counter medicines to ensure safe and proper use.”


    The label on Ultra Strength Bengay states that consumers should apply the product no more than three or four times daily and should stop use and see a doctor if the condition worsens or symptoms persist for more than a week, said Meghan Marschall, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman.


Then last Thursday, June 14, Steve Yanda of the Washington Post wrote about the untimely death.

Here's his article.

    Are Muscle Creams Worth It?

    Death of N.Y. Athlete Puts Spotlight on Products That Trainers Shun

    Mike Spooner smelled the distinctive aroma of muscle creams such as Bengay and IcyHot whenever he set foot on a track. The scent, he said, was nearly everywhere — and even more noticeable at indoor track and field meets — as the products were used by nearly every competitor, including himself.

    Spooner, an All-Met distance runner who recently completed his senior season at West Springfield High, is one of several Washington area track and field athletes who say using the wintergreen-scented liniments to treat muscle soreness is prevalent among their peers, despite the fact that team trainers do not recommend the products. Now, muscle creams have drawn attention because toxicology tests revealed last week that the April death of a 17-year-old in New York was caused by overusing such rubs.

    "Anyone educated [in athletic training] in the last 25 years doesn't advise kids to use that stuff," said Jon Almquist, athletic training specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools. "The demand is due to marketing. That's the only reason why [athletic] trainers even have it."

    Arielle Newman [below],


    who ran for Notre Dame Academy in Staten Island, was found dead at her home on April 3. Toxicology tests showed that her blood contained lethal amounts of methyl salicylate, an active ingredient commonly found in products such as Bengay and Icy Hot. The New York medical examiner's office reported Newman had used "topical medication to an excess," causing salicylate poisoning over time.

    Alice Newman, Arielle's mother, said her daughter used different muscle creams — often borrowed from teammates — in between races at track meets. The coaches and athletic trainers on Arielle's team did not advise her daughter to use muscle creams, Alice Newman said.

    "I asked her if she used [muscle creams] at practice, and she said no, because they don't run as fast at practice," Alice Newman said in a telephone interview. "I didn't smell it in the house. I didn't smell it on her clothes."

    Despite the medical examiner's report, Alice Newman said that her daughter "wasn't using any more than the recommended" dosage.

    Physicians contacted for this article said they had not heard of any other cases of salicylate poisonings connected with muscle creams.


    In January, Newman's high school coach told her mother that she was not recovering from races as quickly as she had before. Shortly thereafter, Alice Newman took her daughter to the doctor, and she was prescribed two inhalers used to treat asthma patients. The inhalers did not improve Arielle's condition, Alice Newman said, and the doctors could not pinpoint any other medical problems. Medical examiners said the prescribed medications did not contribute to Arielle's death, Alice Newman said.

    West Springfield's Spooner said he used muscle creams rarely, only to help soothe a tweak in his legs that was going to be a constant annoyance.

    "I used it to keep my mind off that and on the race itself," Spooner said. "It may be more of a mental thing. It's not advised, and it probably only half works."

    Tynita Butts, a rising junior track athlete at T.C. Williams, said she uses Bengay occasionally to treat muscle cramps. "We don't use it on a daily basis, just if our muscles are really tight. We do our warmups with all our [warmup] clothes on. It does the same thing."

    The marketing appeal of muscle creams is one of the few reasons the products still are popular today, Almquist said. He said they provide little more than a placebo effect for their users.

    "The chemical [in the rubs] is just an irritant to get the skin warm," Almquist said. "It doesn't do a whole lot physiologically. Physical rubbing [a muscle] is going to cause the most change."

    Adults and people with darker skin complexion are at less risk, said Bernard Griesemer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. He said young people with sensitive skin who apply a lot of muscle cream in one application (or lesser amounts in more frequent applications) are more likely to incur problems. Newman was white.

    "If you add anything to the equation, such as dehydration, high sweat rate or a fair complexion, you can get into trouble," Griesemer said.

    Since young athletes are prone to both dehydration and high sweat rates, the vulnerability to salicylate poisoning will always be present if muscle creams are in use, he said.

    "It's not as much of a sports issue as it is a lack of knowledge by the public on how to evaluate and how to use over-the-counter drugs and medication," said Sam Seemes, the chief executive of the U.S. Track & Field Coaches Association. "The manufacturer doesn't know the complete circumstances in which the product is being used. We, as a public, tend to push those limits."

    Johnson & Johnson, which makes Bengay, released the following statement after Newman's death: "We feel it is important to remind consumers of the importance of reading the label on this and all over-the-counter medicines to ensure safe and proper use."

    Alice Newman believes the labeling and directions on muscle creams need to be changed. Newman said she would like muscle creams to become prescribed medications.

    Seemes, meantime, said he doubts that Newman's death will cause much change in the way muscle creams are used.

    "If there is a car crash, people will slow down to look," Seemes said. "But if the traffic is clear up ahead, then they'll probably speed on up to whatever they were going before."


When I initially saw the June 10 Times article my first thought upon viewing the headline — "Muscle-Pain Reliever Is Blamed for Staten Island Runner’s Death" — was that the athlete had taken an oral overdose of some anti-inflammatory drug like Motrin or Advil.

I was as surprised as you or any of the physicians contacted by the Post reporter that something like Bengay applied topically can kill.

So rare is severe toxicity that when it happens, it's reportable: witness this 2002 paper describing a single case, published in Emergency Medicine Australasia.

I just happened on the following warning, possibly based in part on the 2002 case reported above, posted on January 15, 2003:


Let's hope word gets out before another catastrophe happens.

June 21, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

June 21, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Breaking news: World's most expensive Timex watch costs $73,900 — but the face says 'Versace'


Long story short: You won't be able to prove it's a Timex 'cause the venerable maker of low-priced timepieces makes these ultra-luxe versions for none other than Versace and Valentino, whose name — but not that of Timex — appears on the watches' faces.

Above, a Timex ad from the 1950s next to its Versace DV One watch.

According to Stacy Meichtry's article in today's Wall Street Journal, which notes in passing that Timex has quietly been making and selling Versace-branded watches since 2005, "Timex can't trumpet its ties to fashion companies too loudly or customers might think twice about shelling out cash for watches that aren't actually made by the high-end brands."

Next thing you know they'll tell us the watches contain lead and were made in the Thomas and Friends toy train factories in China.

Here's the newspaper article.

    How Timex Plans to Upgrade Its Image

    Fashion House Deals May Help Watchmaker Break Into New Market

    Some of Italy's most exclusive fashion houses have found an unlikely business partner: Timex, the brand known for cranking out mass-market timepieces that "take a licking but keep on ticking."

    This morning, family-owned Salvatore Ferragamo SpA will open the doors of its medieval palazzo on the banks of the Arno River in Florence to Timex Group Chief Executive Joe Santana, who is expected to unveil a deal whereby the U.S.-based company will produce high-end watches for the Italian fashion house.

    Closely held Timex has similar partnerships with two other illustrious names in the Italian fashion scene — family-owned Versace SpA and Valentino Fashion Group SpA, recently taken over by private-equity firm Permira — to make watches in the $2,000 to $55,000 range. It inked the Valentino deal in February, and has made watches for Versace since 2005. Through these pacts, Timex, whose own brand of watches normally retail between $80 and $130, hopes to make its way into the higher echelons of the watch industry, where business is booming and rising prices are buoying profit margins. But the company will need to tread carefully in promoting its ties with the luxury labels, given its history as a mass-market manufacturer.

    It is an "assault on the high end of the watch market world-wide," Shannon Eis, a spokeswoman for Timex said in an email about the deals, without giving details.

    Ferragamo confirmed the deal but declined to elaborate. Versace and Valentino declined to comment for this article.

    For fashion houses, entering the watch business is a fast way to boost revenue and profit — especially for companies like Ferragamo and Versace, which are considering public listings on the Milan stock exchange and therefore will have to woo investors. For watches, as with perfumes and sunglasses, designer brands justify a high premium for an otherwise mass-market product. Watchmakers also often pay lucrative royalty fees for the right to license high-end labels. Through license deals, fashion houses don't have to pour capital into setting up a watch-manufacturing business.

    "The [watch] market is very competitive," Versace CEO Giancarlo Di Risio said in an interview earlier this year. "You really need a specialist." Versace originally made its watches in-house, but as part of a wide-ranging restructuring plan for the Italian label, Mr. Di Risio in 2004 sold its Switzerland watch-making division to Timex, which now produces Versace watches under license.

    The partnerships carry risks for both sides, however. Seeking a higher-paying customer is a major about-face in strategy for Timex, which forged its image half a century ago as a producer not of finely crafted objects of desire, but of blunt machines that could withstand "torture tests."

    Timex has taken a number of steps upmarket. In October, the company acquired Vincent Bérard SA, a so-called haute horology brand that produces high-end, limited-edition watches with retail prices that start at about $13,400.

    Timex has also started making watch models with sophisticated functions such as "perpetual calendars" that track the days of the month for an entire year without having to be adjusted. Although many of these watches are still priced at the low end of the market at about $100, Timex is trying to appeal to a trendier audience by advertising them in glossy fashion magazines.

    It could take years for Timex to get its new higher-priced brands off the ground, says Rune Gustafson, chief executive of the British unit of Interbrand, a global branding consulting firm that is part of ad holding company Omnicom Group Inc.

    Timex, based in Middlebury, Conn., and tracing its history back to 1854, doesn't boast the Swiss watch-making legacy that helps elite manufacturers such as Rolex create an aura of exclusivity. Swiss watchmakers, Mr. Gustafson says, "are all marketing from a heritage of engineering excellence. I don't think Timex has that."

    Stepping into the image-obsessed world of luxury may also prove somewhat of a culture shock for Timex.

    Mr. Gustafson says Timex can't trumpet its ties to fashion companies too loudly or customers might think twice about shelling out cash for watches that aren't actually made by the high-end brands.

    The upside for Timex could be huge, however. By manufacturing watches for luxury brands, Timex gets quick access to the most lucrative end of the watch market without having to build a brand from the ground up.

    The Timex-made and Versace-labeled DV One watch ranges in price from about $6,700 for a basic model to $73,900 for a diamond-studded edition. Although the Timex name doesn't appear anywhere on these watches, some analysts say the company's links to the fashion labels will boost the cachet of its basic Timex brand.

    "If they've got a big marquee brand, they can persuade a retailer to take one of their smaller brands that they're trying to develop," says Jim Hurley, a luxury-industry analyst with New York-based fashion-retail consulting firm Telsey Advisory Group. "It means they can get more shelf space."


Now, aren't you glad you passed on that Cartier tank in favor of the Timex-made "Versace" you've been waving around?

My favorite line from the story above: "Versace and Valentino declined to comment for this article."

Tell you what — there are not a lot of happy campers over at those two companies' headquarters as they survey the wreckage of their formerly stealth approach to luxury on the cheap.

"Have you driven a Jaguar lately?"

June 21, 2007 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Teddy Bear Cleaner


Better late than never.

From the website:

    Teddy Bear Cleaner

    Keep your most treasured stuffed animals looking like new!

    Our Teddy Bear Cleaner removes stains quickly and easily without wear to fabric.

    Simply spray on and wipe dirt away.

    Safe for use on all plush toys.

    100% biodegradable.

    12 oz. spray.


$7.95 (teddy bear not included).

June 21, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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