Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Pandemic pasta proofs

There is a fabulous investigative piece on the bucatini shortage (did you notice?) by Rachel Handler in Grub Street. It's a great read.

Bucatini gets its name from the Italian for hole, buco. It's basically spaghetti with a hole drilled through it. (That's not actually how it's made, I realize. It's extruded with the hole built in, but I am enjoying the image of special drill bits hollowing out thick spaghetti and given the pandemic, I'm letting my imagination run rampant, since I can't.) Anyway, Handler suggests the appeal of bucatini is how much sauce each strand can take up, about 200% more she asserts than its thinner, topological genus zero counterpart, "due to math."

I wondered about that math, so I did it. The surface area of a cylinder is π x d x h. Where π  is π  (3.1415928....) and d is the diameter of the cylinder and h the height (not Planck's constant, the first thing. I think of when I see h in an equation). For a 260 mm length of bucatini with an outer diameter of 2.9 mm and an inner diameter of 0,8 mm, the surface area of the outside is 2370 mm2 and inside is 650 mm2. For the same length of spaghetti, it's 1570 mm2. So assuming the sauce penetrates to the center of the tube, the bucatini has 192% of the spaghetti's surface for sauce. Or about only about 100% more. Math!

Now, of course, I want to know how much the sauce does penetrate down the center shaft. Will there be bucatini at the grocery store tomorrow? Stay tuned for further pandemic pasta proofs.

Photo is from Wikimedia by Popo le Chien and is used under a Creative Commons license.

Objects with a topological genus of zero have no holes in them, e.g. a solid sphere. Objects with one hole — bucatini, donuts and coffee mugs — are genus one. This is the source of the mathematical joke that to a topologist, a donut and a coffee mug are the same.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A stranger and you welcomed me

Crash Kid is looking to establish a base in another country. He and his brother have reclaimed the German citizenship the Nazis stripped from their grandmother, which makes this easier, though in no way was it easy. It took them three years to work through the process to get to this point. Details took on an outside importance, and a lack of attention to them could have derailed the process at any time. But in the end, all the umlauts fell into place and they went to the German Embassy in Washington, DC to collect the paperwork that said they were German citizens (and very snazzy challenge coins). They said they felt welcomed!

A couple of days later I got a package in the mail, my copy of A Stranger and You Welcomed Me, the latest in the Homilists for the Homeless series that Deacon Jim Knipper launched in 2012. This cycle I have homilies for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and one for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Both are Ignatian inflected, particularly the one for January 1 which sketches the Examen. I note that I'm not the only chemist in the collection, Mags Blackie has two homilies in there as well, including a beautiful reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time which wonders at the Eucharist through the eyes of a chemist — what happens to the molecules of the Eucharist?

All of the proceeds from the sale of this volume go to organizations that help immigrants, all of the authors donated their work. There are homilies from James Martin SJ and Nadia Bolz-Weber, from Fran Szpylczyn, Dan Horan OFM and Phyllis Zagano. So many different voices. 

A cool 99% Invisible podcast about challenge coins.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Modern Reliquaries


Most Decembers at this time, I wouldn't notice if aliens had landed in front of Philadelphia's city hall. News takes a back seat to the flames of semester's end. But sabbatical means a different rhythm, a chance to read the paper (not that it's on paper) and listen to a few podcasts. Last night I ran across this article about iPhones with bits of Steve Jobs' iconic black turtleneck embedded in them. 

As it happens, I have an item much like that. It's a reliquary containing a fragment of the bones of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. (It's that round object at the feet of the statue of St. Thérèse that's on my home altar.) It came from a friend who inherited it, I have a folder with paperwork in Latin attesting to its authenticity. (There has always been a brisk trade in fake relics.)

The relic on my altar is a so-called first class relic, an actual piece of the saint's body. Second class relics are clothes or other items that belonged to the saint. You can "create" a third class relic by touching something, usually a piece of cloth, to a first or second class relic. There are rules about relics, including that the faithful may not buy or sell them. 

Relics are typically sealed into reliquaries, which can be quite elaborate. Like those iPhones with pieces of Jobs' turtleneck or the Beatles' suits or — like a bit of the True Cross, also a first class relic — a small piece from the first Mac. Secular reliquaries. 

Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue at PrayTell also noticed these secular reliquaries. And should you be wondering if there are still those hawking pieces of the True Cross, just as they did to medieval pilgrims, browse (which I hasten to say is not associated with the Holy See) which links to relics on eBay. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020


If you look closely, you'll notice that the Delft mug on my desk features not pastoral images of the Netherlands but robots and pterodactyls and aliens invading. Catastrophes. It seems like an apt choice for these pandemic days. Besides, it holds heat nicely and it works with the splints holding my finger joints in place. 

The other day I brought up a mug of hot tea to start the day. Fluffy decided to join me. Afraid she'd knock over the tea and hurt herself, I opted to remove her bodily from the desk. 

This worked. She didn't knock over the tea. I did. With such vigor I sent the tea flying a full six feet and left my phone in a puddle of (alas) sweet tea. I grabbed the phone and rinsed it. Washed the floor. Thrice. Because sugar. 

But I didn't break the mug and the phone still works.

So how's quarantine going for you?


Sunday, December 06, 2020

Tangled up with God

One of my friends is posting brief (and beautiful) Advent reflections each day on Facebook. A couple of days ago she wrote a bit about what might ensue if we get tangled up with God. I loved her image of us entangled with God, of God choosing to become entangled with us. Not God serenely dwelling within Mary, or within us, but God mixing it up with his people. Not God in a tabernacle, but out and about where the paths can be muddy, the ways steep, the risks many. 

The reflection I wrote for yesterday in the little Advent book talked about how Jesus is rather literally entangled with the physical world. The atoms and molecules he breathed and ate and drank, the very stuff that made up his body, is now entangled in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the wood of the cross I lift above my head and carry into the church. It's a staggering reality, I said. But so too is the reality that we are tangled up in God in our hearts, our minds and our souls. We cannot extricate ourselves from this tangle.