Dial 'B' for...: 007's phone can be yours


Q. Just how amazing was the Erickson mobile phone used by agent 007 James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies? Could one of these be in our techno-future? –A. G. Bell

A. Besides being a phone, it was a remote control for Bond's BMW 750iL, had a fingerprint reader, a key duplicator, and a laser beam capable of cutting steel, says physicist Barry Parker in Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film's Most Celebrated Agent.

 By tapping on a pad in the phone, Bond could start his car from afar, then bring it to him by drawing his fingers across the pad. Via video screen, he could even steer the vehicle from a concealed position in the back seat. "The device was also a 20,000-volt stun gun. Quite a phone in anybody's book," Parker says.

But forget techno-future! "We at Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Complex Engineered Systems have already built a phone more sophisticated than Bond's," says Director Asim Smailagic of the Laboratory of Interactive Computer Systems. It won't interrupt if you're talking and will remind you to return an important call.

With four sensors– a microphone, light and temperature gauge, and accelerometer to detect walking, running, or sitting– the phone can sense if you're in a theater or out on the go. A PDA-based device can also direct you to your car in a parking lot. Acting as position pilot, it will steer you– "go straight, right," etc.

Only the laser cutter and stun gun are a stretch, requiring considerable power, says Berkeley's Phil Marcus. "Our current battery technology for electric cars and so on is not that advanced. Just to remind you, our lap-top batteries are still so pitiful we can't even enjoy a good double-feature DVD on them when we fly across the country."

Q. Did the Adams and Eves of the human race have navels? –Cher

A. Why not? In light of modern biology, there were no two originally created humans from which all others were descended, says University of Chicago evolutionist Jerry Coyne. Rather, Homo sapiens came from an ancestral species of apes around six million years ago, so the question becomes, Did these apelike creatures have navels?

The answer to this is "yes," because navels are the remnant of the attachment of the umbilical cord to the fetus, and all our apelike relatives have umbilical cords. In fact, all placental mammals are attached in this way, with the navel being the scar left over from the severing of the placenta, says University of California-Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian.

Dogs, cats, mice, elephants, horses, whales, gorillas, and chimps are also placentals, with navels to show for it.

Q. Baseball stadium power outage at night: A full moon would probably be enough light for you to still read your scorecard. But how many full moons would it take for the game to be able to continue? –Europa G. Callisto

A. Seeing features by moonlight is more a testament to the eye's amazing adaptability than to the moon's reflectivity, which returns only about 7 percent of the light falling on it compared to the Earth's 39 percent, reports Australia's Melbourne Planetarium.

Given our eyes' adaptivity, even the moon's dull gray color can seem dazzlingly bright as the sky darkens. The Sun, 14 magnitudes brighter, sends out about 400,000 times more light to us. Meaning that even if we could manage to fill the sky with full moons–100,000 of them!–leaving no dark part "unmooned," it would still radiate only 1/4th as much light as our one Sun.

In other words, trying to hit a baseball by moonlight, even by moon-moon-moon... light, would be lunacy indeed. Nocturnal basketball, anybody?

Q. Ever hear the tale of the clever jailbird (clever enough?) who was to be hanged, but the jailer refused to specify the day, saying only, "It will happen on one of the next five days, and it will be on the day you least expect." –S. McCue

A. Hearing this, the jailbird smiled wryly and asked: "Are you an honest man, my good jailer?"

"Indeed I am among the most honest."

"Then you cannot hang me at all, for the following reasons: You certainly cannot hang me on day 5, because if I have not been hanged by the end of day 4, I would expect to be hanged on day 5. But you said the event will occur on the day I least expect. By the same reasoning," continued the jailbird, "you cannot hang me on day 4, for if by the end of day 3 you have not come for me, then I will know day 4 is the day, since it cannot be day 5.

"For similar reasons, neither day 3, nor day 2, nor day 1 can be the day. So I can relax," he smugly concluded.

Yet the next morning, the jailer appeared again, with gallows crew in tow.

"This cannot be happening! I was led to believe you are an honest man who keeps his word."

"Indeed, I am, my good fellow. But since you convinced yourself through your clever musings that your hanging could not occur– as I knew beforehand you would ingeniously do– it follows that any day would be a least expected one. And that is all I gave my word to."

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