A science primer for any readers who richly deserve to get taught a lesson.

Posted by Richard Linney on Jan 15, 2002 at 04:57
apsn04.zeneca.co.uk (

Another article from Scientific American - Click Here.

News media revealed last November that notes and textbooks were found in an abandoned house in Kabul that indicated that a member of the Taliban was pursuing various lines of scientific exploration. His level of expertise was judged to be at best that of an undergraduate student in chemistry and physics, which is still good enough to make stuff blow up. (Trust me. I was a chemistry major. I know.) Particularly shocking to the staff here at Scientific American was evidence that the Talibaner apparently read this magazine: his discarded notes included references to the so-called plasma jet, a propulsion system designed for lengthy space trips that was described in detail in an article entitled "The VASIMR Rocket," in the November 2000 issue.

If his research goal was indeed to lead the Taliban on a voyage away from Earth, well, more power to him. (With the headline on the December day I write this being "Taliban Flees Last Stronghold in Afghanistan," it would appear that many of them already took the trip, courtesy of the U.S. military.)

We must conclude, however, that he was in fact interested in using the scientific information contained in these pages for nefarious purposes. That people with bad intent read this magazine puts us in an awkward situation. Despite the potential for applications we deplore, we must continue to disseminate the most current and accurate scientific information we can, for the greater good. Therefore, the rest of this space will be devoted to the presentation of various basic facts designed to bring nasty newcomers to the study of science up to speed, which is different from velocity (and from me, because velocity has a direction).

In Einstein's famous equation E = mc2, the mc stands for the introduction of his guests for the evening.

A watt is often the beginning of an interrogative sentence. Joules are what a nice sword is encrusted with. An erg is a desire.

A cotyledon was a late Triassic dinosaur with a brain the size of a seed.

3.14159 is a large piece of pi.

In computer language, binary code means that you owe one.

Greenwich mean time refers to four in the morning, when the bars close in New York City's West Village.

In electromagnetic energy, wavelength is defined as the speed of light divided by the frequency, Kenneth.

Entomology is the other one; you're thinking of etymology.

A Fourier transform is a mathematical manipulation by which a chinchilla turns into a coat.

The Bernoulli principle describes a flow of air that forces Mrs. Bernoulli to sleep in the guest bedroom.

Prime numbers are whatever Alan Greenspan says they are.

Continental drift is when your limo wanders into oncoming traffic.

The Nobel Prize is an award given for the year's best door knocker.

The sine is the guy who gets a loan. The cosine is the guy who pays off the loan. The tangent is the guy in Rio who actually spends the money.

Parthenogenesis is the creation of Greek architecture.

Anthropology is when your uncle has to say he's sorry to his wife. (This actually happens in some places.)

The hypotenuse is a type of syringe that holds 10 shots.

A ramjet is anyone who played football for the Rams and the Jets. The most famous ramjet is Joe Namath, who was an expert in field theory.

The force F with which you can pound something is equivalent to m, which stands for mallet, times a, which stands for the body part into which you should pound it.

The phalanges is a mighty river. The metatarsals are pouch-bearing mammals. And the humerus is working as hard as he can.

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