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Wherever you go, your plume is sure to follow

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Question: Traveling with you to work, to the airport, to the doctor — everywhere you go — is your "human thermal plume."

It's got a tale to tell about you. Know what it's saying?

Answer: Streaming upward off your head and shoulders — and sucking along myriad particles of you like a gaseous signature — is the excess body heat you need to dump off, or risk overheating, says Gary Settles, Penn State professor of mechanical engineering and director of their "Gas Dynamics Laboratory."

This airborne quintessence of you rises 6 feet or more above your head, until you start moving along, when your plume now becomes a trailing wake. Either way, the marvel is what this contains, such as skin flakes that float and settle to become 70 percent to 90 percent of house "dust," plus hundreds of bioeffluents ranging from moisture, to carbon dioxide, to salts and not-so-bio perfumes and colognes. And it gets far more personal than that, carrying aloft clothing fibers, any traces of drugs, explosives and lots more.

As for diseases, "signs of diabetes, gangrene, some skin disorders, tuberculosis, some cancers and many others appear in a person's thermal plume." Most amazing, the plume can be aerodynamically sampled and screened non-invasively, by sucking it into a special chamber. Even skin flakes for DNA analysis are there, raising privacy issues. "All warm-blooded animals have plumes," says Settles.

"I've seen the very impressive plume coming off a horse led back into the barn after a brisk ride. To see your own plume, just step out of a hot shower or bath into chilly air. The moisture condensation will reveal it to you."

Question: What are marriage's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelations) that signal THE END IS NIGH? Watch for these during arguments, and pray you see them not.Answer: CONTEMPT — lead horseman — includes rolling one's eyes, ensnarling the upper lip, scrunching the nose — all dismissing the partner as too unreasonable or stupid to be taken seriously, says University of California-Davis psychologist Phillip R. Shaver.

CRITICISM refers to "character assassination," such as "You're always late, always inconsiderate, etc."

DEFENSIVENESS includes repeatedly saying, "Yes, but . . . " or "You're the one who's a slob."

STONEWALLING — a favorite of guys — equals communication shutdown, loudly declaring, "You're not worth listening to."

"A relationship doomed by the four horsemen must be improved — possibly with counseling — or escaped before it ruins both partners."


Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com