STRANGEBUTTRUE- Soft shoe: Elephants are surprisingly gentle walkers


Q. How does an elephant manage to move five tons of bulk, step after step after step? –M. Fats

A. To find out, researchers in Thailand had trainers ride 34 elephants down eight meters of force-sensing plates at different speeds, then combined the data with video to map out the forces exerted at each point along the way, explains Jocelyn Kaiser in Science magazine. 

While human runners exert peak force of three times their body weight, an elephant hits the ground with at most 1.4 times its weight, as reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Even at top speed, an elephant's center of mass moves up and down only a centimeter– not quite a "glide" but close, said the researchers. 

"It's mind-boggling that they were able to get data this good," concludes Duke University animal locomotion expert Daniel Schmitt.

Q. For "counting cards" at blackjack, you'll need some speedy math skills and a sound strategy. What is the strategy?–A. Einstein

A. You'll need to bet more when the dealer's shoe– advice for holding multiple decks– is rich with big cards, detail the editors of Wired magazine. Success takes time and a bankroll of at least 400 times your standard bet.

Using the classic Hi-Lo method, you start with zero at the shuffle. Then for every 10 or face card or ace that hits the table, subtract a point; for every 2 through 6 card, add a point (the 7, 8 and 9 count as zero points). 

When possible, let cards cancel each other out to save time. Before each hand, divide your count by the estimated number of decks left in the shoe (tip: guess the number of decks in the discard and subtract that from the total number used in the game– usually six). When your total hits +2, "bet like a big dog."

Words of caution: Be inconspicuous. Don't move your lips as you calculate or bet too many chips. Counting cards isn't against the law, but a suspicious pit boss will show you the door or just signal the dealer to shuffle, wiping out your boosted odds and setting the count back to zero.

"Granted, all this work will win you only a 2 percent edge at best, but what have you got to lose?" the writers say. (Oh, yeah, all that money.)

Q. Ever thought about having yourself turned into a human "corpsicle" at death (cryonically frozen) so you might be thawed out in some future century when medical science has conquered what ailed you? –M. Jackson

A. Cryonic suspension, or "solid-state hypothermia," involves freezing a fresh corpse in hopes of reanimating the person at a later time, says Kenneth V. Iserson in Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?

In case you haven't explored the options with your local Cryonics Society, you can have whole-body suspension for $120,000 minimum or cut-rate neurosuspension where only the head is frozen for around $50,000 (in which case your caretakers will need to find a suitable body for you later, or a mechanical contrivance for your hookup as a cyborg).

To date, there are several dozen "souls on ice," including pioneer Prof. James H. Bedford in 1967.

The freezing, as you can guess, is the easy part, though you need an intact cadaver (with free-flowing blood vessels for pumping in preservatives) and high-tech equipment at the ready within half an hour after death. A temperature around -320 degrees F must then be maintained using liquid nitrogen, for Lord knows how long.

In fact, nobody has any idea how long, because at present there isn't even the faintest glimmer of scientific know-how for bringing a frozen body back to life, emphasizes Iserson. Moreover, the freezing process itself does radical damage to the cells, for the same reason that frozen vegetables don't have the same texture as fresh ones– freezing water expands and blasts out the cell walls.

What you are preserving, remarked one critic, is not living tissue but meat. "To expect to bring it back to life is like believing you can remake a cow out of hamburger."


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