STRANGEBUTTRUE- Placid rein: Your ancestor's tomb may tell tales

Q. Why are geologists taking a closer look at gravestones these days? –B. Stoker

A. The Geological Society of America is pressing cemeteries into service as global climate monitors, with the volunteering public doing the measuring, says Constance Holden in Science magazine. White marble gravestones, it turns out, are highly susceptible to erosion from acid rain, and because of their clear dates, scientists get an accurate read of a region's climate and pollution history, says Gary Lewis of GSA. Marble headstones are mainly a Christian tradition, so their data likely cluster in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania.

Participants will need a GPS device to read a marker's coordinates and a micrometer to measure its weathering. This is straightforward in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia, where inscribed letters are often filled with lead that is flush with the stone until the marble starts wearing away. 

"Lacking this clue, weathering can be measured by comparing the stone's thickness at the top and bottom," explains Holden. Data can then be logged into the project's Website to create a special global map for climatologists. 

Says geomorphologist Thomas Paradise of Arkansas, "It's a great idea, long overdue."

Q. An estimated 20 percent of employees work at least some of their time at home, generating a whole new lingo. You hip? –R. Warfield

A. The granddaddy of this new vocabulary is "telecommuting," coined during the 1970s OPEC oil embargo, says Paul McFedries in IEEE Spectrum magazine.

"Closet telecommuters" or "guerrilla telecommuters" have only their bosses' permission to work at home. Perhaps managers' greatest fear about the "office-free" lifestyle is that "teleworkers" may be "teleloafing," but generally people put in longer hours at home than at the office, the "teleworkaholic syndrome." Or they may feel lonely and isolated, prone to "watercooler withdrawal."

As folks fit themselves into the "zero-commuting" lifestyle, many remodel their abodes in a "HOHO" setup, for "his office/her office." Eschewing both the office and the home are "digital nomads," who go on the road and network wirelessly, relying on Wi-Fi connections to become "Wi-Fi warriors." 

One journalist has even dubbed them "lippies," for location-independent professionals.

"I've worked out of my home since 1991," says McFedries, whose commute is 20 seconds up a flight of stairs unless there's a traffic jam when his wife is coming down. 

"It's a life that suits those of us who WFH (work from home) to perfection."

Q. It's said that when Galileo Galilei simultaneously dropped two balls of different weights 150 feet off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he famously overturned the Aristotelian notion that heavy objects fall faster than light ones. Was Galileo right in calling the drop a draw? –T. Pynchon

A. As right as can be, given the instruments available to him at the time– his eyes and ears. In a vacuum, all objects fall with the same acceleration, but air resistance

can cause either the light or the heavy ball to reach the ground first, depending on actual weights and densities, says electrical and computer engineer Paul J. Nahin in Mrs. Perkins' Electric Quilt. 

In fact, due to air resistance, Galileo's heavier 100-pound ball would have dropped about 0.016 seconds faster, making impact while the lighter 1-pound ball was roughly 20 inches up. 

But, surprisingly, under certain circumstances, the lighter ball can win. For example, if a smaller, denser 0.1 pound lead ball and a larger 0.2 pound wooden ball are compared in a 150-foot drop, the lighter lead ball with less air resistance will hit the ground while the wooden ball still has about 13 feet to fall.

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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.

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