Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Matters of the heart

Book: Vital Circuits: On Pumps, Pipes, and the Workings of Circulatory Systems

Author: Steven Vogel

Published: 1992 (Oxford University Press)

Pages: 269 (not including glossary or index)

This is the first hard science book I’ve tried reading in a long while, and I liked it, but I won’t pretend I absorbed all of it and now have a perfect understanding of how circulatory systems work. But that’s not Dr. Vogel’s fault.

He’s good at explaining and keeping interest through metaphors, personal opinions (which are blatantly labeled as such so as not to slip into the undisputed facts), and antidotes gained through his own teaching career and biomechanical experience. Those parts read easily, until I smacked up against walls of scientific text that I had to work through at about half speed. Most of that was about the pure biomechanics of circulatory systems, so I retained more of the sideline stuff than the main subject.

Here are the peripherals of what I learned:   

  • Squid and octopuses have three hearts, a central one and one for each set of gills. 
  • Biology is essentially a feminist, putting way more care into the structure of females and using males as sort-of useful afterthoughts. 
  • Narrowing a pipe increases the speed of flow of liquids going through it and that widening a pipe decreases the same thing, an effect you can also achieve by making a branching system from your original pipe. 
  • Speed is distance over time, area is distance squared, and so volume flow rate must be distance cubed over time. 
  • Chickens have white-meat breasts and wings because those muscles are only used for brief movement and don’t need the oxygen supply that the breasts and wings of real fliers like ducks need.      

Not really science!
  • Collagen is too fibrous in a ropey way to roast or grill but makes a heart good eating meat if you soak it in cool water, then hot (he includes a recipe). 
  • Don’t make your pet iguana dive.
  • There’s such thing as the Antiacrimonious Acronymical Accreditation Association. 
  • I’m never using swizzle sticks again because some are made from the os penis bone of raccoons.

I’m also proud of myself for getting through an entire book about blood and veins without going squeamish. Onward!

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