30 August 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project



An Unanticipated Benefit of Tribology

I have a ritual.  I feel it's relatively benign because it doesn't require unscientific behavior.  In fact, both tribology and chronology are critical to it.   And, it concerns breakfast, a time for ritual if there ever is one.  It is my great good fortune to wake up pretty much every morning.  And on each occasion it is my practice to consume two food items:  A fractional banana and an aliquot of cereal.  The banana is a nourishing tropical fruit; it is grown rather than manufactured, and so the individual exemplars of Musa paradisiaca vary in size.  I normally select somewhat less than half a fruit, leaving a small fraction for the bunny, and the remanent moiety for the following day*.  I am sometimes thwarted if the banana is too large or small or if it has been unexpectedly consumed by others, but despite the more difficult mathematics under those circumstances I am able to cope.

But this blogitem isn't about the banana, it's about the cereal.  And about overcoming tragedy.

My cereal of choice is the Mini-Wheat.  More specifically, the subspecies styled

"Frosted Mini-Wheat Lightly Sweetened Whole Grain Wheat Cereal  Bite Size "

Each term in the description is fraught with meaning!  "Whole Grain Wheat Cereal" means it isn't instantly lethal, and may even be good for you.  "Bite Size" implies portability, valuable for those of us who don't have a convivial breakfast table.  "Frosted" means "Sugar!"  My kind of cereal.

Jar of bite-size Shredded Wheats My breakfast consumption ritual fully unfolds over a three-week period.  Assume an empty bowl.  Remove a plastic packet of wheats from the "2 Bags for Freshness" package and empty it into the bowl.  There is exactly the requisite quantity of individual bite-size Mini-Wheats to fill the bowl.  Kismet!

(This candid photo was taken after a couple of weeks of consumption.)

Bowl of bite-size Shredded Wheats almost depleted Here's a breakfaster's eye view of the Mini-Wheat container at its most vulnerable.  The lid to the right stands prepared to provide access to the day's ration while circumscribing its tendencies of exploration.
Bite-size Shredded Wheats in lid of bowl, ready for breakfastic consumption See?
Shreds of wheat left in bowl after consumption of bite-size versions After about three weeks, the Mini-Wheats are gone. 

But wait!  What remains in the bottom of the bowl?  Yes, it's residue, but it's very special residue! 

We are now prepared to progress to the tragedy, and the redemption.

Filling one's daily lid inevitably involves plunging a manipulative appendage into the mass and hoisting the selected biscuits out of their fungible anonymity.  Although I don't consider myself a cereal ruffian, this action does require a modest amount of energy, which dissipates itself largely in the surface-dwelling brittle strands of the individual wheats as they equilibrate at a new gravitational potential.  In other words, the wheats shed bits of their surface.  Being smaller, these bits in due course find their way to the bottom of the bowl.  More critically, although the wheats have largely homogeneous interiors, their ventral surface is preferentially invested with a "frosting."  Due to the differential composition of the wheats' surfaces, the frosting, i.e., sugar, becomes concentrated in the residue. 

Perhaps you're ahead of me by now:  Cereal bowl filled.  Cereal bowl depleted over a three-week period.  Final portion before beginning the cycle anewresidue with extra sugar.  Is it any wonder that I look forward to that day on which the cycle ends and is begun anew?

It was the end of the most recent cycle and the last intact wheat had been consumed.  The Reward of the Residue ceremony would commence the following morning!  But...I discovered that someone had in a spasm of cerevil refilled the bowl!  The residue was inaccessible and would remain thus for as much as three weeks.  Would I acquiesce to this new situation and delay my reward?  And would I be able to locate the perpetrator?

A little suspense

Yes, yes, and yes.  As dire as the above scenario seems, like a good detective story, the resolution is inherent in the logic of the situation.  The clue:  Someone had refilled the bowl.  Around here, bowls get refilled because someone plans on emptying them.  In this case the admitted perpetrator, although she knew of the Reward of the Residue ceremony, was overcome by her need for wheats and, without further thought wantonly refilled the bowl.  But, since there were now two wheatneedy denizens at the trough, the bowl would require more frequent refilling, and the three-week wait would henceforth be reduced by half or more!  An altogether desirable outcome; so much so that she wasn't forced to join the witless protection program and still has cereal privileges.

Special Science Sidelight

Triboluminescence, a perfectly good word that is unrecognized by my editing program, is the glow or scintillation produced by friction, usually within a crystalline substance.  I must report that rubbing two frosted wheats together in a darkened area did not produce the hoped-for phenomenon.  Perhaps my eyes were insufficiently dark-adapted, or perhaps the frosting is amorphous.  I will consider obtaining a photomultiplier system to continue my experimentation in this important area.

Sad note for eBay Fans

Try as I might, I've been unable to identify any numina or the face of any religious figure in this individual wheat.  Either I'm not sufficiently perceptive, I haven't examined enough wheats, or perhaps the preferred medium of Communication is Count Chocula.

*Zeugma alert.

Richard Factor