Monday, December 31, 2007

Non-archaeological post Tied Up in Knots: Anything that can tangle up, will, including DNA
Call it Murphy's Law of knots: If something can get tangled up, it will. "Anything that's long and flexible seems to somehow end up knotted," says Andrew Belmonte, an applied mathematician at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Belmonte has plenty of alarming anecdotal evidence. "It certainly happens in my house, with the cords of the venetian blind." But the knot scourge is a global one, as anyone who owns a desktop computer can confirm after peeking at the mess of connection cables and power cords behind the desk.

Now, scientists think they may have found out how and why things find their way into knotty arrangements. By tumbling a string of rope inside a box, biophysicists Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith have discovered that knots—even complex knots—form surprisingly fast and often.

YES. I was thinking about this the last few weeks as I was getting extension cords unraveled to put up Xmas lights. I vaguely remembered something about a special mathematics that described knots and tangles forming. It always amazes me how you can carefully coil up a cord, flops it on the ground, plug it in and start dragging it away and THE FRICKIN' THING SPONTANEOUSLY KNOTS UP. Infuriating. A friend of mine and I spent like an hour in an Egyptian apartment untangling wires for some pieces of equipment and I remember him adminishing me that, whatever you do, don't pull on it. Hardest thing to do.

Anyway, it's a pretty good article. Via Insty.