Great Moments in Pedantry: James and the Giant Peach needs moar seagulls


21 Responses to “Great Moments in Pedantry: James and the Giant Peach needs moar seagulls”

  1. sam1148 says:

    African or European seagulls? 

  2. L_Mariachi says:

    The larger barrier to seagull-hoisted transport than their carrying capacity is the fact that seagulls don’t form coherent directional flocks like migrating birds. Even if they were able to lift the giant peach out of the water, the lines would become hopelessly tangled almost immediately and the peach would go approximately nowhere.

    • Daneel says:

      Plus the logistics of connecting all the seagulls up before getting started, the presumably not inconsiderable weight of the spider silk cables (and how you’d mount them, even assuming there was room for them all, if you could get the spiders to make them), and the impact of wind on the performance of the peach. Plenty of opportunity for further study…

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      …seagulls don’t form coherent directional flocks like migrating birds.

      I have a small remnant of corn dog that says you’re wrong about that.

  3. Daneel says:

    A friend of mine works in that department!

    James and the Giant Peach wasn’t written in 1995, though. That citation is missing an edition number, at least. And an ISBN?

  4. jtropp1 says:

    @maggie — Where is the picture from?

  5. Christopher says:

    I always found it more suspicious than anything else that the seagulls went for the Earthworm. Yes, I believe seagulls will eat earthworms, but we’re talking about an earthworm that’s six feet long and wears a hat and tie. 

  6. penguinchris says:

    That is a great idea for grad students. Most grad students do something similar (and, well, I had a professor who gave us peer review assignments as an undergrad) but the way it’s set up there is far better than anything I’ve heard of.

    Of course, it’d be tough to do that outside of physics, which is inherently capable of analyzing random situations in what is essentially a back-of-the-envelope way (taken to something of an extreme here). Hence the xkcd what if? section, which is all physics, and the lack of anything similar in any other field.

    Perhaps, though, that’s missing the point – it still would have been exceedingly useful for me to do this as a grad student in geology even though there are almost no topics that can be approached in this way in geology (not even within geophysics). We could have just done physics since the point is learning the research methods and peer review and so on, and I would love a chance to dig in and brush up on physics with purpose anyway.

    I’m hoping to begin grad school again this fall, but maybe… imagine a social network of sorts, consisting of grad students across all disciplines and all around the world, set up to do essentially what these students do – collaborate on relatively silly research papers, peer review them, and everything. Add in some competitive aspects and so on. Could be fun.

  7. Matt Jones says:

    Am I the only one who feels certain that a magically enlarged peach is bound to have different peach flesh density than a traditional peach?  To me this creates a massive flaw in their math.  Additionally, I doubt traditional peach flesh would be able to provide the necessary structural integrity to support the size and shape described.  I think the more interesting physics question is to work backwards from the known size and 501 seagulls or measured structural integrity in order to determine the necessary peach flesh density after (or while continuously) being magically enlarged.

  8. Jonathan Dursi says:

    I think projects like this – both the paper and the journal – are awesome.

    Another really interesting journal, along similar lines but maybe even a bit more ambitious in scope is the Canadian Your Scientist Journal , which takes the very best high school students work across the world – think the very best in national science fairs, that sort of thing – and puts them through the same process (rather than having the project just end and then never be recorded anywhere). It actually has a paper rejection rate almost as high as Nature or Science, and attracts papers from all across the world (largely because we think it’s the only journal of its kind) and is sent to every secondary school across Canada for high-school “journal clubs”. It has lost its main source of funding, but the hope is it can keep going.

  9. cellocgw says:

    I hear what-if.xkcd calling…

  10. I designed a James and The Giant Peach cover that got shortlisted for a Penguin design award. I did not win. 

    Not enough seagulls, alas. Maybe next year I’ll try penguins… hundreds of them.

  11. david steinmuller says:

    I wonder how much the added wight of all the silk needed to harness the birds would change the bird count.

  12. cdh1971 says:

    Inertial Dampeners — How Do They Work? 

    Reactionless Thrusters – How Do They Work?

    Structural Integrity Fields – How Do They Work?

    Children’s Stories. How Do They Work?

  13. David Wilby says:

    I would have loved this in my undergrad physics degree! We had some similar units that got us to come at physics from a different direction, one of which involved us producing a treatise on the state of propulsion systems with a speculation on whether interstellar travel was likely (sadly it wasn’t, but we hadn’t heard about NASA’s warp drive then!).

    All the kudos to Leicester and Mervyn Roy, all physics departments should encourage some back-of-the-envelope speculation about the world. Physics can get pretty dry once you’re a couple of years in, it’s a good idea to remind students why they’re studying it!

  14. Alanna Coca says:

    The gulls were lassoed during flight, would this affect the lift needed? Another point to consider, how thick in diameter is a strand of spider silk and/or silkworm silk (silkworm was left out of the movie btw) and would that be strong enough? 

    Also, James should probably go into the rodeo or something if he can lasso 501 flying seagulls in such a short amount of time.

    I love Roald Dahl’s work.

  15. Michael Myhre says:

    Since pedantry is in the article title, I think it should be pointed out that “moar” should be spelled “more”.
    I can’t fathom how that misspelling occurred.

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