The Wonder of Chocolate

Thanks to Jesus Diaz for sharing this amazing video of cacao farmers in Côte d’Ivoire actually tasting chocolate for the first time!

Jesus adds:

Watching them marvel about this sweet food that comes from the beans they harvest is amazing to me. First, because it’s a joy to see their faces. Then, because it’s a stark reminder of how amazingly lucky we are.

For us westerners chocolate is just one more thing. It’s inconsequential. We like to eat it, sometimes we get delighted by it for a minute. But more often than not it’s just one more snack to stuff our fat faces with. We don’t think about it and the incredible effort and resources that are required to make it. We take it for granted along with the other billion foods and the other billion other technologies and privileges we didn’t fight for.

I’m not posting this to be preachy. This comes from a place of true wonder, to remind myself about my own comfortable numbness and the hundred things that I take for granted every day. One day something fatal will happen and then you will realize how much time you wasted whining about this or that rather than enjoying the infinite amount of awesome (yes, everything is awesome!) stuff that exists around you.


Quantum Cheshire Cats

Scientists have created an effect comparable to a subatomic Cheshire cat. Rather than a grin that has been separated from its cat, they have created a property of magnetic moment (I’ll not pretend I understand what that is) separated from its neutron. As Stephen Luntz explains,

In the classical world we are familiar with the idea that a property like magnetic moment cannot be separated from its object – it would be like taking the taste away from a chocolate bar so that the bar produced no sensation on the tongue, but a disembodied taste could be detected somewhere quite distinct.

However, things work differently in the world of the very small. In the 1990s, Professor Yakir Aharonov of Tel Aviv University proposed the properties could indeed be detached from particles (his book explaining it is delightfully subtitled Quantum Theory for the Perplexed). The idea develops on Schrödinger’s famous feline thought-experiment. However, instead of ending up with a live and dead cat, you have a cat without its properties, and properties without the cat. The naming after Carroll’s Cheshire moggy was inevitable.


Denkmayr and his co-authors…temporarily removed the magnetic moment from the neutrons using an interferometer. They used a silicon crystal to split a neutron beam and reported, “The experimental results suggest that the system behaves as if the neutrons go through one beam path, while their magnetic moment travels along the other.” The beams were then reunited, leaving no disembodied magnetic moments prowling the universe.

It’s a Good Thing She Didn’t Just Blow Up the Place

Check out Aaron Goldberg, “Powering Disney’s Frozen with a Carnot Refrigerator,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics 3 (19 Feb 2014). Here’s the abstract:

Frozen is Disney’s latest film, in which the character Elsa unleashes winter on her entire kingdom. This paper quantifies the amount of water frozen and the amount of work required by a Carnot refrigerator to do so, arriving at values of 5.49772788 x 10^2 moles and 5.8 x 10^15 Joules, respectively.

You can read about how a Carnot refrigerator works here. Basically, it is possible to harness a temperature difference between two reservoirs to generate work (a Carnot engine). But you can turn the equation around and harness work to create this difference of temperature. This effect is called a Carnot refrigerator.

In layman’s terms this means

It has been shown that in Frozen, Elsa froze approximately 5.5 x 10^12 moles of water. To accomplish Elsa’s feat, a Carnot refrigerator would require 5.8 x 10^15 Joules of energy. This amount is equivalent to the energy released by the Hiroshima nuclear bomb 115 times over, or that released by 63 Nagasaki nuclear bombs. This immense number puts Elsa’s power into perspective, implying either that the Snow Queen has enormous strength, or that Disney underestimated the ramifications of their animated fantasy.


I’m going with the second option on this one, but it would still be pretty cool if Elsa could generate enough energy to basically hold her own with the likes of Superman or the incredible Hulk. That’s a movie I’d go see.

(H/T: io9)

If Amazon Goes Bad…

I’ll be the first to tell you that my fiction writing is a hobby that (somewhat) pays for itself. I’m not trying to make a living doing this, just sharing a little bit of my craziness with the world. If that changes in the future, I’ll let you know. (Not the craziness: that’s not going to change.)

A rather significant conversation among those who are trying to make a living as an indie author has to do with Amazon and what happens if the company gets too big (if it isn’t already) and decides to use its monopolistic power inappropriately.

On that front, my friend Jennifer Becton has some helpful words. If anybody knows the indie author beat, it’s Jennifer. Listen to what she has to say.

Sunday Inspiration: Books

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of magic.
—Carl Sagan

Five Little People from the American Southeast

George Catlin, "Tchow-ee-pút-o-kaw," 1834

George Catlin, “Tchow-ee-pút-o-kaw,” 1834

The indigenous peoples of the American Southeast lived alongside one another long enough that many of their beliefs about the little folk have at least partially blended together. Carolyn Dunn has written a short article on Southeastern little people that draws from several cultural sources. The picture that emerges from such a cross-cultural survey of the little folk is more often than not quite coherent. If we think of little folk as a species, then we are dealing with a number of closely related subspecies that generally display the following characteristics:

  1. These creatures are very good at not being seen. They are selective about whom they permit to see them at all—generally only children or medicine people.
  2. They are more often mischievous than truly evil, although their pranks can be quite destructive. It is unwise to speak disrespectfully even of those who are well-disposed toward humans, however, as they are quick to take offense.
  3. They are often more kindly hearted toward children, often leading them home when they get lost in the forest.
  4. They live deep in the forest or in other out-of-the-way natural settings.
  5. They are often (but not always) associated with the healing arts. Many of these groups, in fact, serve as spiritual helpers to healers and herbalists and are often instrumental in initiating youngsters into the healing arts.

Here are five types of Southeastern little folk arranged roughly from north and east to south and west.

Yunwi Tsunsdi

There are two prominent groups of faery-like beings in Cherokee legend. There are the nunnehi, tall “spirit warriors” who are indistinguishable from ordinary humans (except for their magical powers), and the yunwi tsunsdi (yoon-wee joons-dee) or “little people,” child-sized beings who live in the rocks and cliffs.

Like the nunnehi, the yunwi tsunsdi prefer to be invisible, although they do sometimes appear to humans. Seeing them, however, is sometimes taken as an omen of impending death. They are well-proportioned and handsome, with hair that reaches almost to the ground.

Yunwi tsunsdi are depicted as helpful, kind, and magically adept. Like many faery creatures, they love music and spend much of their time singing, drumming, and dancing. For all this, they have a very gentle nature and do not like to be disturbed. Even so, they are said to harshly punish those who are disrespectful or aggressive toward them.

In Cherokee lore, the yunwi tsunsdi are divided into three “clans” with varying attitudes toward humans. The Rock clan is most malicious, the Laurel clan is merely mischievous, and the Dogwood clan is most benevolent.


These Catawba little folk, whose name can be translated roughly “the wild people,” are about two feet tall and usually depicted as hairy. They are trickster spirits that live in the forest. They often live in tree stumps and eat a varied died including acorns, roots, fungi, turtles, tadpoles, frogs and bugs.

These little folk are said to behave in ways very similar to the faeries of Europe. They kidnap children, for example, and like to braid the manes and tails of horses. Like the elves of northern Europe, their magical arrows are deadly to mortals. They are said to attack anyone who gets too close to them.

One of their favorite tricks is to prowl around after dark and place spells on any children’s clothing that had been hung up to dry. This bewitched clothing would give babies colic. Therefore, conscientious Catawba mothers would bring in their infants’ clothes at dusk, wet or dry.

Yehasuris are sometimes used as bogeymen to impress upon children the importance of good behavior. Indeed, they do seem to target children more than anyone else. The only way to stop them is to rub tobacco on one’s hands and recite a particular incantation against them.

Este Lopocke

As with the Cherokee, the Muskogee people (Creeks and Seminoles) distinguish between two sorts of little people, one taller and the other shorter. And among the shorter, some are more benign and others are more harmful to humans. George E. Lankford reports the observation of A. S. Gatshet in the 1800s that

The Creek Indians…call them i’sti lupu’tski, or “little people,” but distinguish two sorts, the one being longer, the others shorter, in stature. The taller ones are called, from this very peculiarity, i’sti tsa’ptsagi [i.e, este cvpcvke, “tall people”—DJP]; the shorter, or dwarfish ones, subdivide themselves again into (a) itu’-uf-asa’ki and (b) i’sti tsa’htsa’na…. The i’sti tsa’htsa’na are the cause of a crazed condition of mind, which makes Indians run away from their lodges. (Native American Legends of the Southeast [University of Alabama Press, 1987/2011] 133)

I don’t know if this tracks perfectly with the Cherokee distinction between taller nunnehi and a number of clans or tribes of shorter yunwi tsunsdi, but it at least seems plausible. I certainly welcome any insight readers might be able to give me!

The este lopocke or este lubutke (ee-stee loh-poach-kee) live in hollow trees, on treetops, or on rocky cliffs. Their homes can be identified by an extra thick growth of small twigs of branches in the trees. Despite their small size, they appear strong and handsome, with fine figures and long but well-kept hair. They might let their toenails grow long, however.

These beings are especially known to appear to medicine people and guide them in finding the herbs they need. Encounters with the little people are considered sacred and not to be shared.

The Muskogee sometimes speak of the little people simply as “Gee” (“Ce” in normalized spelling), meaning “little,” so as to avoid using their full name. Even the helpful ones object to being mentioned in a negative or disrespectful way.


The little folk of Chickasaw lore are sometimes identified as tribal ancestors who now take up residence in the forest. They are said to be about three feet tall. Although they might help those who are in trouble, they are also likely to play tricks on those who have offended them. They allow themselves to be seen only to a few, mostly hunters or medicine people.

They do, however, interact with children. Sometimes they choose a child to live among them for a while to be given special powers of healing. When this child grows up, he or she becomes a healer or herbalist. They might teach other children how to pursue game, as they are accomplished hunters themselves.

Even so, it is considered ill-advised to live near the iyagȧnashas. The Chickasaw would move away from an area if they thought there were little people there.

The worst enemy of the iyagȧnashas is the wasp, the sting of which is fatal to them.

Hatak Awasa

There are several types of little folk among the Choctaw. One, the kowi anukasha, serves much the same role as the Chickasaw and Muskogee little folk in initiating young children into medicinal lore.

Another type, simply called hatak awasa (or hutuk awasa), “little men,” are similar to both the bogeymen and little folk of European myth. Children are warned to be good lest the hatak awasa snatch them away. Although their role can be sinister, they also preserve otherworldly knowledge handed down from olden times.