‘Unprecedented and inconceivable’: pylon falls over after nuts removed

by Pelican Press
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‘Unprecedented and inconceivable’: pylon falls over after nuts removed

New Scientist. Science news and long reads from expert journalists, covering developments in science, technology, health and the environment on the website and the magazine.

Nut deficiency

What would happen if you removed most of the nuts from the bolts on three of the four sides of a tall electrical power pylon? New data speaks to that question.

Newshub reported on 24 June that a pylon had fallen in Glorit, on New Zealand’s North Island, after a “maintenance crew” removed some nuts from bolts connecting the tower to a base plate.

In the news video, Alison Andrew, chief executive of the Transpower company, reads aloud a presumably carefully worded statement: “Our view is that the specifications and procedures for this type of work were not followed. All the nuts securing the tower to the base plate on three legs had been removed, which caused the tower to lift off the base plate and fall. It is unprecedented and inconceivable that so many nuts were removed at once.”

The consequence of the Glorit nuts removal might have been, but apparently was not, predicted by applying textbook engineering principles.

Hold on to your hats

The “poor availability in Ireland of hats” – a phrase featured in a paper in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology – refers not to all hats, just to some hats, specifically to sun hats.

Marion Leahy and her colleagues at University Hospital Galway stuck that phrase into the title of their 2022 study about the perilous state of men’s heads, especially older men’s heads, in the west of Ireland.

They warn that men there are demographically at high risk of melanoma, that these men traditionally protect themselves with hats, but that “most hats available to the male population in Ireland [do] not offer adequate photoprotection”.

Properly chosen and properly worn, a hat protects a head from the relentless assault of the sun. In 1992, B. L. Diffey and J. Cheeseman wrote a paean to the goodness of good sun hats and the badness of bad sun hats. Published in the British Journal of Dermatology, Diffey and Cheeseman’s paper, titled “Sun protection with hats“, is famous for – or should be famous for – its main photograph. To cap off your appreciation, track down a copy online.

This portrait of scientific equipment jars with the stereotypical array-of-test-tubes imagery that has, for decades, been inculcated into the minds of children. It shows, at a rakish angle, six plastic, bodyless, hairless artificial heads. They are outdoors, mounted at intervals along a rod 2.4 metres in length. Hats sit on five of the six. Nothing sits on the third head. Each head sports little squares of sunlight-degradable polysulphone film that are affixed with Blu Tack onto the forehead, nose, cheeks, chin and neck.

A second, less avant-garde photo shows “the 28 hats worn in the study”, arranged in four rows of seven hats or hatlike objects. The styles range considerably, and include a crownless green plastic visor, an “airline pilot peaked cap”, a “checked deerstalker cap” and a “Russian fur hat”.

Much of this is dermatological madhattery, Diffey and Cheeseman lead us to believe, on display under the blazing sun.

Spacey superpowers

Bruce Stavert sends a reminder to Feedback’s growing collection of trivial superpowers that talent by itself doesn’t guarantee success.

He says: “I thought I’d contribute to the discussion on spacey superpowers. My superpower sense of north becomes a superhindrance in the northern hemisphere, where I constantly find myself driving or walking in the opposite of my intended direction.

“Clearly the position of the sun plays a large role in these superpowers. I have to stop and think ‘the sun is in the south here’ before making any directional decisions. I was in the US at a conference dinner once and was telling an American participant about this problem. ‘Does it still rise in the east?’ he asked. Mind you, he also found it hard to believe that it was winter in Australia while we were enduring a terribly hot Boston summer.”

The Ghod Dam limit

Bapu Deokar and colleagues lay out some Ghod Dam water bookkeeping basics in a paper in the Asian Journal of Environment and Ecology, “Estimation of water utilized for washing vehicles in Shrigonda town, India“. They explain that as the water level behind the dam plummets, the region’s car wash businesses respond by sucking up increased amounts of groundwater. “As a result,” the study warns, “the groundwater level is decreasing, leading to a shortage in the volume of groundwater.”

Feedback boned up on some Ghod Dam basics by digging up a copy of a should-be-beloved-because-of-its-title study called “Volcanic vents of the Ghod Dam area”, published in 1997 in the Journal of the University of Poona. It confirms that the Ghod Dam is “near Chinchni, in the district of Poona, in India”.

Recently, in the International Journal of Advance and Applied Research, Hanumant Dattatray Shinde of Shri Padmamani Jain Arts and Commerce College calculated that, over the course of a year, “up to 1.56 TMC [thousand million cubic metres]” of water evaporates from the Ghod Dam. No matter how you describe it – “Ghod Dam” or just “dam” – the structure passes a lot of water.

Marc Abrahams created the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony and co-founded the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Earlier, he worked on unusual ways to use computers. His website is improbable.com.

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