Salty tears are good sign you won’t explode

November 17, 2006

OK, OK, calm down.

So, maybe 30 million cubic meters per second isn’t the same as 8 million gallons per second. It’s a bit more. It’s, um, quite a bit more. So let’s all just relax, OK? I’ll never trust another online measurement-conversion site again.

So take a deep breath and we’ll talk about something else.

Why are my tears salty?

That’s easy. It’s because you are a bit salty yourself. If you weren’t, you would explode, sort of. Or shrivel up.

There is a little bit of salt in all the cells in your body. This, in case anybody asks, is called osmolarity. And the fluids surrounding your cells have the same amount of salt, known as isotonic.

This is good, because if those fluids had more salt, they would suck the water out of the cells, and the cells would shrivel up.

If the cells had more salt than the fluids around them, the water would pour into the cell until it burst.

OK, 1 cubic meter of water is about 264 gallons of water. You do the math. I am never doing math in this column again. In fact, I may never even use numbers again. They’re nothing but trouble. I’ll just write stuff like “a lot,” or “some” or “not so many.” That might be a good idea.

Do blind people see stuff in their dreams?

It depends. People who are blind from birth don’t see things in their dreams. Mostly, their dreams are made of sounds or emotions.

However, it is possible that someone blind from birth could see something in their dreams that had been very vividly described to them – a construct of that item, so to speak.

People who lose their sight later in life see things in their dreams, but as they were when they lost their sight. I am told, for instance, that if your brother was 15 (drat, a number) when you lost your sight, you might see him in your dreams years later as he looked when he was 15.

When we are not using our laptop computer, my husband says it should be turned off completely. A friend whose career has been in computers says to just close the lid and let it “hibernate.” Which is it?

As I understand it, when your computer hibernates, it saves whatever you were doing at the time in a special file on the hard drive and then shuts down. When you start up again, you’ll be right back where you were.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to


Needing plan for disaster is no fish story

October 30, 2006

My masters have just put out a disaster plan, a blueprint for what we at The Republic are supposed to do if the Valley were to be hit by some natural or man-made disaster that would hamper our ability to publish the funnies.

Sorry, that was unnecessarily snarky. This is pretty somber stuff and shows a lot of serious and thoughtful planning on the part of those of my masters who are capable of such things. No kidding, really. It kind of gives you the heebie-jeebies to think about stuff like this.

And just to show I am taking it seriously, I am going to buy an extra emergency bathrobe and maybe even some real shoes. After all, I might be called upon to help, and you can’t show up to cover a disaster in your flip-flops. And I can always put them on my expense account.

I read the disaster-plan staff assignments and, oddly enough, my name didn’t turn up. Maybe, in the event of disaster, I’m supposed to just bake some brownies and take them to the real disaster people down at the office.

Or maybe my masters understand that if something really awful happened, I’d either be cowering under my covers or headed out of town with the dog and the cat, if I could find it, and three or four cases of water and canned chili. And a can opener. And some plastic spoons for eating the chili.

Anyway, let’s hope the plan never has to be used. It might interfere with coverage of important issues such as this:

My husband and I were bike riding next to the canal in Chandler and noticed many large fish. What kinds of fish are living in the canal?

You’d be surprised. There are all sorts of fish in the canals: catfish, bass, trout and so on. During last year’s annual cleanup of the canals, during which fish are herded into nets and taken to local lakes, they found 15 species of fish.

And they netted a 25-pound version of something called a bigmouth buffalo. It’s pretty homely, even for a fish.

You can fish the canals, if you like, but be careful. The water in the canals looks like it is just flowing placidly along, but it’s really full of all sorts of treacherous currents.

And you can keep what you catch, with the exception of white amurs, also known as grass carp.

Salt River Project stocks the canal with these fish to keep the weeds down.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to

Experienced hopers root for the Cards

October 24, 2006

I have decided to become a fan of the Cardinals. Our football Cardinals, not the baseball Cardinals. I was raised from the cradle to believe that God himself invented the National League. But the baseball Cardinals are fallen angels, Satan’s agents on Earth.

Anyway, I have followed our football Cardinals somewhat lackadaisically and sort of off and on over the years and never really cared about them much one way or another.

However, on Sunday, I watched the only team in the NFL that may be even worse than them hand the Cardinals their lunch, and I’m just going to be on the Cardinals’ side from now on. I don’t know why for sure. Maybe it’s because I feel sorry for them.

Maybe it’s because they remind me of some of you. No, never mind about that. That can’t be it.

I think maybe it’s because they seem to be such a pathetic mix of ineptitude, goofball-ness, and promise that all those shortcomings somehow make them a symbol of hope. A hope that somehow things might get better. Or at least that things can’t get any worse. A hope that a bumbling bunch of losers might somehow redeem themselves, perhaps even in some spectacular fashion.

Look at this way: Many of us moved to Arizona with hopes that things would be better than they were. We are experienced hopers. So we should hope for the Cardinals.

I’m wondering if I might be able to help by coming out of retirement from my high school days as an offensive and defensive lineman.

I had a crafty tactic in both positions. When the ball was hiked I would fall down and curl into a fetal position and whimper like a girlie boy. This seemed to disconcert my opponents, who often tripped over my quivering form before they could get to the ball-runner, who usually had fallen over by then or slipped past in all the confusion.

Back to the original point: Do the Cardinals suck? Shaa. Should we still root for them? Maybe so. Where are we without hope?

Hope that the drought will end soon. Hope that our kids turn out better than us. Hope, especially, that we won’t see Matt Leinart’s head rolling across the field.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to

This league is chock full of nice folks

October 23, 2006

Hey, I’ve got a tip for you because as you know, I am always looking out for the best interests of you people. If I don’t, who will?

If you get a chance, speak to the Historical League. It’s some sort of support group for the always-interesting Arizona Historical Society Museum. I’m not quite sure what the members do. They laid out a pretty good buffet, and I was busy stuffing food into the plastic bags in my pants pockets when they were explaining all that. Remember: When you go to something like this, always line your pockets with plastic bags. You can’t recycle them anyway, so you might as well get some use out of them.

Anyway, these people are just great. They all seem to live in nice houses, and they dress really well, and they have chocolate fountains at their meetings. Or at least they had a chocolate fountain at the meeting I was at the other night. I had never seen a chocolate fountain before, have you? One thing: A chocolate fountain isn’t quite like the water fountain down at the bus station. It can get a little messy until you get the hang of it.

Nonetheless, I’m telling you, you should think up some reason to talk to these people. They are just as sweet and polite as can be, and they ask good questions, they laugh at all the right things and they will buy your books. I sold my books like they were going out of style, which they probably are.

You haven’t put out any books of your own? Don’t worry about it. Just grab some paperbacks off of your shelf and sell those to them. These people are so nice and so eager to do what they can to preserve Arizona history for the rest of us that they’d probably buy them anyway.

And they seem to have some kind of Arizona cookbook involving recipes by historic Arizonans coming out in November. You should buy one. Again, I sort of missed the details on this, being busy stocking up on tamales while they were talking about it, but I bet if you called the museum sometime next month they could tell you all about it. Here’s the number: (480) 929-0292

Oddly enough, they didn’t ask me for my chili recipe, which I shall share with you now for free:

Buy a can of chili. Open it up and put it in a dish, heat it up. Eat it. Yummers.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. To read his column, go to

X-rays once used to give good shoe fit

October 18, 2006

What an aggravating morning.

First I discovered I was out of real coffee and had to make decaf. Then I sat down and pushed the button on the computer, and nothing happened. So I checked all the connections and unplugged stuff and plugged it again, and still nothing happened.

So I had to take a shower and put on pants – pants, mind you – and take it down to the office and show it to the tech guys, who plugged it in and of course it worked just fine. They were nice enough about it, but I felt like an idiot.

And I was in such a rush to get out of there that I forgot to steal any office supplies.

So then when I got it home and started checking my e-mail, I almost wished the computer still wasn’t working. I got a note from some woman who said she and her friends had been sitting around watching their kids play Little League and started talking about men’s underpants. Now they want to know “the purpose of that hole in the front.”

You people.

When I was growing up in the 1950s the shoe stores all had X-ray machines that let you see the bones in your foot. When I told my husband about this, he said I was crazy. Would you please verify that I am right?

You may be crazy for all I know, but you are right about the X-ray thing.

They were called shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, and they took X-rays to help you get a good fit.

I found an article about them in a 2000 edition of Isis, which is a journal about the history of science: “Baring the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope” by Jacalyn Duffin and Charles Hayter.

There seems to be some confusion about who invented this contraption, but Duffin and Hayter think it was a Boston physician named Dr. Jacob Lowe. He came up with a similar device during World War I, and around 1920 adapted it for selling shoes.

They were all the rage into the 1950s when doctors and radiologists and the like started to worry about their safety and lobbying to have them brought under control.

In 1957, Pennsylvania was the first state to ban them, and by the early 1960s they were pretty much history.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. To read his column, go to

Caterpillars on the move, shrinking ice

September 16, 2006

They got Gonzo.


This is discouraging news, especially for old guys. If they got Gonzo, they can get you.

Pretty soon that kid with an MBA and a skinny necktie is going to be coming by your cubicle and hinting that even though you sold 5,000 widgets this year he wants a younger guy who can sell 5,001 widgets and work for less.

The next thing you know you’re sitting in the doughnut shop drinking coffee and reading the help-wanted ads.

This is depressing. Let’s talk about something else.

This is pretty interesting. I’ve been getting a bunch of calls and notes in the last couple days of vast waves of green and black caterpillars migrating out of the hills around Shaw Butte. Apparently some of the streets in the area are just slick with them.

Do not be alarmed. These are the larvae of the white-lined sphinx moth, and they come in peace. They are not even very hungry.

When we get a good rainy monsoon, as we did this year, these things appear about now, and when they are fully grown they set out in vast waves looking for a place to hunker down and pupate.

The ones that don’t get squished by cars or eaten by predators will find a spot to their liking and dig down a few inches and settle down to turn into white-lined sphinx moths.

My refrigerator has an icemaker and from time to time a cube or two falls out of the catch bin and gets lost in the bottom of the freezer. When I eventually find them they still hold their shape but they have shrunk. Why?

Water, unlike other liquids, expands when it freezes. It has to do with the way its molecules line up when they get cold. But why do ice cubes eventually shrink?

Class? Anyone? Hands up. Yes, you out there on your patio in your underwear reading the paper and drinking coffee?

Yes, that’s right. It’s a matter of evaporation. Actually it is a matter of something called sublimination, or a solid converting directly into a gas.

The molecules on the surface of an ice cube are always hopping around hoping to break free. But in a frost-free refrigerator those molecules that do jump ship get sucked away by a stream of air. And that stream of air also exposes another layer of molecules on the surface of the cube yearning to be free. So the cube slowly just gets smaller and smaller.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to

How to play to pigeons’ slothfulness

September 14, 2006

Remember the one the other day from the woman who wanted to know how she could feed quail and doves and wrens and so forth without attracting pigeons?

My ideas were admittedly lame, and I suggested that perhaps some of you people might have some thoughts. As always, you did.

And, as always, a few of you thought she should bring firepower to bear. People, people, people. We’ve been over this before. You can’t just go around shooting things all the time.

However, some of you had some pretty good ideas for pigeonless bird feeding.

A gentleman from Phoenix sent this note:

“We have a lot of quail, doves, grackles, etc. but almost no pigeons. Maybe it’s because we don’t put out avian fast food. The backyard is full of ironwood, hopbush, saltbush, paloverde, globe mallow and other native plants that bloom and seed all summer. The less lazy birds have been all over the seeds since spring, but the pigeons don’t seem to bother.”

Now, that’s a pretty good idea, don’t you think? It does sound like you would have to spend quite a bit of time in your gardening bathrobe to pull it off, but I bet this guy has a really nice backyard.

Along the same theme of pigeon sloth is an idea from a guy in Gilbert who said he scatters seed for the birds on a ground cover of small rocks. He said the pigeons are too lazy to scratch for it, while birds with stronger work ethics dig it out.

A couple of you suggested that instead of just scattering eats for the quail you could try one of those quail blocks instead. Apparently, pigeons can’t be bothered with them.

And this was the most common suggestion that came in and one I wish I had thought of myself: If you’re going to scatter food for birds, put it under the bushes or in a somewhat confined area, such as a spot between the house and a nearby tree or fence. The idea is that pigeons don’t like getting cooped up in places like that.

Last but least, quite a few of you were of the opinion that this lady shouldn’t be feeding the birds at all because the spillage attracts rodents and the rodents attract snakes or other unwelcome predators.

I am not unsympathetic to this point of view, but, on the other hand, I always like seeing different birds in the yard. My compromise is to feed the hummingbirds but not the others.

Let them get jobs like the rest of us. That’s what I say.

Reach Thompson at or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. To read his column, go to