Letters

Friday, September 01, 2000
They Do Make Them Like They Used To, Sort Of
I must clarify at least one technical misrepresentation of the Cremona puzzle, as presented in "Stradivari's Secret" [July]. At the top of the list of critical ingredients is the filler that penetrates into the wood of the white violin before the varnish is applied. The composition of the filler is the major determinant of tone quality. Its omission may annoy the savants and leave others unenlightened.

As for the tenor of the article, I must correct the impression that I am making exclusive claims. Many violin makers can occasionally make violins as good as the average Stradivarius, and they may even apply the same materials I do. What separates my work from that of the best violin makers is a better understanding of materials science: Knowing not only what works, but why. I have offered an attractive rationale in the form of educated guesses, which is being tested worldwide. There is no such thing as a definitive solution.

Joseph Nagyvary
College Station, Texas


Michael Lemonick responds: As a scientist, Nagyvary is naturally sensitive to the idea that he may be perceived as making outright claims where he's actually making reasonable inferences. In this case, I think the article makes it clear that he's doing the latter.

The Spraying Next Time
As a Californian whose community has been sprayed aerially with malathion, I read "Silent Summer" [July] with interest. However, I am disappointed with your East Coast myopia, as if malathion has been used only in the East, and only when it is used in New York does it rate the attention of Discover. In 1983 to 1984, malathion was aerially sprayed over populated areas of Santa Clara County in Northern California, and in 1989 to 1990 it was aerially sprayed over much of densely populated Greater Los Angeles over a six-month period. Although the Santa Clara victims rose to protest, they largely suffered in silence and without redress.

When the victims in Los Angeles struck back, however, the groundwork was laid for the acquisition of the knowledge upon which you based your article. Virtually every city that was sprayed sued the state and USDA to stop the spraying. Neighborhood protest groups organized into umbrella organizations that function to this day.

When other communities were later sprayed, Southern California anti-malathion activists provided vast bodies of knowledge, established legal precedents, and offered organizational aids. In spite of subsequent medfly sightings in Los Angeles and in spite of the USDA's reservation of the right to do so again, aerial spraying of malathion has not resumed in Los Angeles.

If the East Coast populations insist that "mild neurotoxins" (your oxymoron) not be an option for pest control, I assure you that the authorities will find safer alternative means of control. Richard Sigler
Los Angeles


Beauty at 70,000 Feet
I enjoyed your article about the aurora borealis ["Seeing the Light," July]. During 34 years as an Air Force pilot, I have been privileged to witness many outstanding views of this phenomenon while flying over the Arctic. However, there were none like those I experienced in the fall of 1962 while flying the U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane on night missions out of England, proceeding around the northern perimeter of Norway. At altitudes of more than 70,000 feet, I felt like I was immersed in the most beautiful, flowing light show I'd ever seen. It was terribly vertigo-inducing, and if it hadn't been for good autopilot, I would have been hard-pressed to fly the plane. As it was, I had to periodically force myself back onto the instrument display to keep my head on straight. It was a sight my fellow pilots and I saw many times during such missions. Too bad we couldn't carry cameras in the cockpits with us. Patrick Halloran
Colorado Springs, Colorado


Queens at War— Unintentionally
In the solution to Problem 1 in "Queens at Peace" [Bogglers, July], the white queen second from the right at the bottom of the board should have been placed on the white square directly above.

 
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