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Do They Take Their Brollies With Them?

The Cocktail Napkin: A look at some current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

Oh, the British! They're always drinking their tea, eating their minced pies, talking in endearing accents about the Queen, showering ...

Yes, it's true: A new report from the U.K.'s Royal Society of Chemistry indicts the British as a bunch of wasteful, contaminating shower takers. Respondents in Great Britain, France, Germany and Spain were asked how long they typically ran the water during a shower and whether they were concerned about contaminants from gels and soaps washing down the drain. The French and Spanish showed the greatest restraint in water conservation, while British women, in particular, reported the longest shower times. The survey's most vivid juxtaposition showed that only 35 percent of British men worried about contaminants, while almost two-thirds of Spanish women reported concern.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, was not exactly chuffed, as they say across the pond, by the survey results. "It's an embarrassment that the British appear to be a right shower when it comes to caring about water," he said. "We are an island surrounded by water and crisscrossed by rivers but also highly and densely populated." And he wasn't done yet. "We hear stories of people staying in the shower for half an hour at a time, which is absurd and self-indulgent. They say that it helps them relax," Pike fumed. "Well, if we had a population of 5 million and not 60 million, such self-indulgence might be tolerable. But today, with the world facing water shortages, that simply doesn't wash."

Sounds like Mr. Pike could use a long, hot shower.

San Francisco's Office of Contract Administration is accepting competitive bids on the chore of brush clearing and lawn mowing at the city's Laguna Honda Hospital. Here's the bid document describing the job:

"Clear brush, shrubs, plants, weeds from 22 acres of property at Laguna Honda Hospital, 375 Laguna Honda Blvd. Clearing must be performed by goats and supervised by goatherders who will stay on site with the goats to monitor cutting activity, moving fences and goats. This price to include all transportation, fencing, monitoring, herders, and all other charges pertaining to proper care and handling of these animals. The city to be held harmless for any loss of goats, theft or otherwise. Open space, there are no electrical fencing or enclosures."

The most amazing part is we made none of that up. So grab your hooked staff, march your herd across the Golden Gate Bridge and tell those billies to get a-chompin' on the hospital lawn.

When we were in college, we always tried to convince our professors that we were going to the bar to "do research," but now some French academics have actually pulled it off. They visited two bars over three Saturday nights in a medium-sized city in western France and observed 40 males, aged 18 to 25, who ordered a glass of draft beer. Given the blessing of the establishment's owners, the researchers randomly manipulated the sound levels (from the normal level of 72 decibels to 88) of the Top-40 tunes blasting through the bar; without informing the patrons of their study, the researchers selected a beer drinker for close scrutiny. Surprise, surprise: Louder music led to increased drinking, within a short time frame.

"This is the first time that an experimental approach in a real context found the effects of loud music on alcohol consumption," said Nicolas Guéguen, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud and corresponding author for the study that appears in this month's issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. "We need to encourage bar owners to play music at more of a moderate level ... and make consumers aware that loud music can influence their alcohol consumption."

"But when we look at the resonator with our qubit, we see that the amplitude does come in steps, but that the resonator is actually in several such states at the same time, so that on average it looks like it is not limited to the quantum states." — Max Hofheinz, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on a breakthrough in experimental quantum mechanics that we're prepared to take his word on.

The Cocktail Napkin appears at the back page of each issue of Miller-McCune magazine, highlighting current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

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