Hey, Bob, isn't it about time for another Mr. Santa Fe Science Dude column? We've all got lots of technical questions for you. The last time, you made a pathetic attempt at getting invited to the prestigious Santa Fe Institute. Did anything come of that?

Yes, indeed it did. The folks at the Institute graciously invited me up to their Hyde Park Road location for lunch and a chance to help them out with some of their more perplexing math and science problems.

You got lunch there? What did they serve?

Indian food. Tandoori chicken, naan, stuff like that.

No way! So brilliant scientists eat Indian food for lunch? That's awesome! Anyhow, here's my question…

That WAS your question, pal. Next caller?

Hi, Mr. Science Dude. I live in Santa Fe and my house has radiant heat—you know, it comes up through the floors. Is there any way I can have fun with that?

Hmmm. What's the temperature range on your thermostat?

Looks like 60 degrees to 90 degrees. The usual.

There's your problem, right there. You should install the state-of-the-art Hotfoot 4000™. It raises your floor surface to 180 degrees in 30 seconds.

Yikes! What's that good for?

Playing practical jokes on unsuspecting houseguests. It's been endorsed by Daffy Duck. Next?

Science Dude, winter is coming. Is this going to be a cold one or a mild one?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's winter forecast for New Mexico predicts warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average precipitation.

What a bummer! I love skiing and other winter sports!

Why didn't you say so? Then you'll want to opt for the Accuweather.com forecast, which calls for a wetter, cooler season for the region.

Huzzah! I had no idea I can CHOOSE my own weather-belief system! What are my heat options for next summer, then? 

I guess that depends on if you have the Hotfoot 4000™.

Let's back up for a minute, Science Dude. I want to know more about your visit to the Institute. Did you meet anybody famous?

You mean besides Dr. Zen, the Institute's resident cat?

Yes. Besides Dr. Zen.

Well, I met Murray Gell-Mann, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. I was able to help him out with some new theories he's working on. I think he was very grateful for my insight.

Wait. He was grateful? He said that? What were his exact words to you?

He said, "Hey! How did you get in here?" 

That sounds about right. Did you get to go in every room at the Institute?

Most of them, but there was one locked door. I think that's where they're studying those aliens that crashed down there in Roswell.

They wouldn't let you see that?

Nah, something to do with that government shutdown, I think.

I know there's a lot of math and serious number-crunching at the Institute. Did you get to play with their super-massive mega-computers?

I didn't see any computers at all. The Institute is built around a large, glassed-in courtyard, and the scientists do detailed calculations with abundantly available colored marking pens on the window glass. I am not making this up.

Markers on glass! That's so cool! Can you remember any specific math problems these brainiacs wrote up there?

Yes, I have one here in my notes. "If a train leaves Chicago at noon going west at 72 miles an hour, and another train leaves Albuquerque at 2:30 pm going east at 64 miles an hour…"

So you really DID see their work! Did it look to you like they're close to some kind of a major break-through?

Well, it did seem like that until I changed some of their numbers. I can use colored markers as well as the next genius…

Robert Basler worked for Reuters in the US and Asia. He now lives in Santa Fe with his wife, and way too many rescued dogs and cats. Email the author: bluecorn@sfreporter.com