A Jerk and a Creep / Lighting Up / Live Long? / Unfunneled Superpower

This week’s Feedback column (that I write) in New Scientist magazine has four segments. Here are bits of each of them:

  • A jerk and a creep — “Hidden jerk in universal creep and aftershocks” may sound like the name of a Hollywood movie – and maybe some day it will be. But for now, it is exclusively the title chosen by Vikash Pandey at Krea University in India for a mathematical physics write-up that involves earthquakes, avalanches, landslides and bamboo chopsticks. And, indirectly, spaghetti. It was published in Physical Review E. Allan Harvey brought it to Feedback’s attention. Jerk, as most calculus students are amused to learn, is the technical word for the rate at which acceleration changes….
  • Lighting up… The researchers behind the study, perhaps realising that people outside their fields might feel intimidated, provide a quietly charming graphical abstract (below). The artistically overwhelming power of the whole thing derives from the striking proximity – and similarity in size and colour – of the rat’s eye and the glowing tip of the cigarette. The rat’s head and the cigarette each float in space, compelling the reader’s attention.

  • How long you will live — … They take from this a cheerily dour assessment: “We find that none of these algorithms are able to explain more than 1.5% of the variation in age of death. Our results point towards the unpredictability of mortality and underscore the challenges of using algorithms to predict major life outcomes.” Do remind yourself that a few seconds ago, when you began to read this item, you were making the prediction that you would live long enough to read the item all the way through to its end.
  • Unfunnelled powers — Clive Teale confides having a trivial superpower that is rarely mentioned in polite or other company, maybe because it is rare. His confession adds to Feedback’s growing list of such superpowers….