Hot on your tail

Q. I read somewhere once that every human has a “plume,” a sort of invisible trail that follows you. Is this true, and if so, what’s it made of? –Not a peacock Paul
A. Streaming upward off your head and shoulders– and sucking along myriad particles of you like a gaseous signature– is the excess body heat you need to dump off, or risk overheating, says Penn State professor of mechanical engineering Gary Settles, director of their "Gas Dynamics Laboratory."
This airborne quintessence of you rises six feet or more above your head, until you start moving along, when your plume now becomes a trailing wake. Either way, the marvel is what this contains, such as skin flakes that float and settle to become 70-90 percent of house "dust," plus hundreds of bioeffluents ranging from moisture, to carbon dioxide, to salts, and not-so-bio perfumes and colognes.
And it gets far more personal than that, carrying aloft clothing fibers, any traces of drugs, explosives, and lots more. As for diseases, "signs of diabetes, gangrene, some skin disorders, tuberculosis, some cancers and many others appear in a person's thermal plume." Most amazing, the plume can be aerodynamically sampled and screened non- invasively, by sucking it into a special chamber. Even skin flakes for DNA analysis are there, raising privacy issues.
"All warm-blooded animals have plumes," says Settles.  "I've seen the very impressive plume coming off a horse led back into the barn after a brisk ride. To see your own plume, just step out of a hot shower or bath into chilly air. The moisture condensation will reveal it to you."
Q. My husband and I are having terrible marital woes. Are there definite signs– a la the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelations– that signal the end is nigh? –Should I stay or should I go
A. CONTEMPT– lead horseman– includes rolling one's eyes, ensnarling the upper lip, scrunching the nose–all dismissing the partner as too unreasonable or stupid to be taken seriously, says University of California-Davis psychologist Phillip R. Shaver.
CRITICISM refers to "character assassination," such as
"You're always late, always inconsiderate, etc."
DEFENSIVENESS includes repeatedly saying, "Yes, but..." or "You're the one who's a slob."
STONEWALLING– a favorite of guys– equals communication shutdown, loudly declaring, "You're not worth listening to."
"A relationship doomed by the four horsemen,” Shaver says, “must be improved– possibly with counseling– or escaped before it ruins both partners."
Q. How many people would you estimate are in your
personal "clan"– family and friends with whom you interact on a regular basis? Is there an upper limit?–Family man
A. One hundred to 200 is the absolute upper limit because that's about the population of a prehistoric village, which is near the "design limit" for human relationships– the maximum number of individuals with whom a human being can interact at more than a superficial level, say Robert Ornstein et al. in New World, New Mind.
Beyond that, overload sets in. For it's not just the 100-200 you have to keep in mind, but their relationships as well. Think just of your immediate family of say six: A B C D E F.  In addition to the five others (you're A), you need to keep in mind how B relates to C (B-C), also B-D, B-E, B-F, C-D, C-E, C-F, D-E, D-F, E-F. Among six family members, that's (6 x 5)/2 = 15 two-person relationships to know.
You can see where this is headed. Make that an office of 20 and there are 190 possible relationships to worry about. In a village of 100, there are 4,950. For a modern big-city school of 3,000, there are 4,498,500! This is way beyond anything even remotely conceivable, "yet much of humanity today lives in cities of 10 times that population and more."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at