Tag Archives: physics

Valid (and Silly) Questions

Hello, dear reader.  How are you?

Today’s blog is a bit of a random one, based entirely on my realisation that there are some very simple questions in life that I just don’t know the answers to.  So on behalf myself and anyone else who is baffled by the universe, I’ve done some very (very, very) basic research and investigation into a few random wonderments.  Enjoy.

  • Why can’t we see stars during the day?
    One of my favourite weird things about nature is that sometimes we get to see the moon during the day.  I love the moon.  It’s such a maverick: “I know it ain’t night time yet, but screw you guys!  I’m coming out now!!”  However, it seems a bit unfair that stars, which are after all the basis of many wishes being made and songs being written, do not get to show off whenever they feel like it.  I am reliably informed (by a guy who is training to be a physics teacher, no less) that this imbalance is because the moon is perspectively much bigger than stars are, so it reflects enough of the sun’s light to be visible during daylight hours.  Clearly bigger is indeed better!
  • Why do we have earwax?
    No, seriously, what the heck is it for?  It’s gross and weird and does not – despite what the movie Shrek tells us – make good candles.  Having done a bit of (reluctant) research, I can tell you that earwax is similar to tears, mucus and other joyous bodily fluids, which actually serve a cleansing purpose even though they’re pretty disgusting themselves.  Let’s move on…
  • Why do the English pronounce “lieutenant” “leftenant”?
    The word “lieutenant” comes from two French words: “lieu” meaning “place”, and “tenant” meaning “holding”.  Thus, a lieutenant is someone who holds the place of a superior officer, should said superior officer die or go to the loo at an inopportune moment or something.  The confusion over pronunciation derives from the fact that the Modern French “lieu” was occasionally written as “luef” in Old French.  As far as I can tell, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth armies tend to say “leftenant” (whereas the Americans stick to the more modern pronunciation) purely because we’re a pretty old-fashioned bunch.
  • What the heck is a mint julep?
    Whenever my flat mate and I are pretending to be Southern belles (which is a lot more often than we’d like to admit), we inevitably claim that we need a mint julep.  It occurred to me yesterday that I don’t actually know what a mint julep is, but thanks to the good people of Wikipedia I can tell you that it is a cocktail traditionally comprised of bourbon, mint leaves, sugar and water.  Fascinating, no?
  • And last, but by no means least:
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I genuinely don’t know.  Have a gorgeous Wednesday.

Looming/Loving Deadlines

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Good morning, dear reader!  If you are struggling with the whole “oh God where did that entire weekend just go?” feeling, remember that you are at the start of a mere four-day week.  You can absolutely handle that.  I have utter faith in you.

Like most people, I have a very love-hate relationship with deadlines.  On the one hand, it’s nice to be given a sense of structure that will lead me to plan my time effectively, and discipline myself accordingly to ensure that my work is finished in time.  On the other hand, deadlines also bring out the adolescent, “you can’t tell me what to do!  I hate you!!”, stomping-off-to-my-room-and-slamming-the-door side of me.  We may not like to admit it, but I think that that’s the case for a lot of us.

When we are teeny tiny, the deadlines are our parents’ to worry about: “shouldn’t he be walking by now?”  “Was your daughter talking at this age?”  “How long has he been stuck in that dustbin?”  And so on.  As we get older we take some responsibility for ourselves, most notably for the interminable GCSE coursework deadlines.  (I’ve just remembered: I never handed in my Physics coursework.  I just didn’t do it, on the grounds that I freaking hated Physics.  How did that work?  Why do I have a GCSE in a subject I didn’t do the coursework for?  Worrying.)

By the time we reach the grown-up world of work, university and real life, we have supposedly learned to work to any deadline that gets thrown at us.  Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of uni students everywhere to say that module conveners really, really need to communicate better: having all of our essay deadlines within two days of each other is just not cool (although the managing directors of Red Bull and Nescafe must be very pleased with this state of affairs).

By now we have also reached the stage where we give ourselves deadlines in our personal lives: I want to be married by this age, I want to have been travelling by this time, and I want to have saved x amount of money before y happens.  This is all very well and good, since it shows that we have learned that structure can be good for us and we have taught ourselves a sense of purpose and direction, but it’s also pretty scary.

Last night my friend Harry and I were having dinner in a Wetherspoons (obviously) and I made a sweeping declaration, ala Marshall Eriksen in How I Met Your Mother.  

Me: I swear by THIS pepper pot…
Harry: Why the pepper pot?
Me: I dunno.  Anyway, I swear by this pepper pot that if x has not happened by the time y occurs, I will no longer do z!
Harry: Good.  Put the pepper pot down.

What Harry knows (and the poor pepper pot probably knows now, too) is that personal deadlines are all very well and good, but that we have to use them to grow and develop, not to limit ourselves.  If we want to go travelling, we need to set ourselves a deadline for the trip that reflects the reality of our financial situation, visas and so on, not a deadline that will make us feel like a failure in twelve months’ time.

If we don’t manage to meet our personal deadlines, it doesn’t make us failures.  It just means giving ourselves a bit more slack next time.  The countries you want to visit and the things you want to save up for will still be there when you’re ready.

Have the kind of Tuesday that is worthy of folklore.

Weird and/or Wonderful

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Hello, dear reader!  How’s your week going so far?

Today’s blog is about how we respond to weird and/or wonderful things that happen around us.  (Don’t panic.  I’m not on a mission to convert people to anything, I’m just curious.)

We live in a very peculiar world where strange things happen all the time, but we call them different things: some would say “miracle”, others would say “coincidence”, a few could say “fate” while many would say “bollocks”.  People respond to phenomena in very different ways based on their upbringing, religious background and even the extent of their experience with strange stuff.  For example, an atheist might be  inclined to convert to a religion that included miracles in its doctrine if he or she had a near-death experience and felt “saved” from a perilous situation.

Some people ascribe inexplicable events to aliens, others to an undefined set of spirits, and some think that we are responsible (but that our horoscopes are essentially dictating our movements).  I find it fascinating that there are so many ways for human beings to react to the illogical things that happen around us.  I have my own (fairly  strong) opinions on some of the interpretations, but I think it’s more interesting to consider why we feel the need to have so many different options in the first place.

Firstly, if something odd happens to you, it’s an incredibly personal thing.  It will be very memorable, emotional and probably quite disconcerting.  Miracles/coincidences/moments of destiny will stay with us for the rest of our lives, and they might even change how we look at the world.  A couple of years ago, I was travelling home via the Circle line when I remembered that a friend of mine worked in High Street Kensington.  I hadn’t seen him for a while and it was lunch time, so I popped in to surprise him and take him out for food.  As it turned out, his grandmother had died the previous day and as I walked through the door he had just been thinking about how much he wanted to talk to someone about it.  He believes that his grandmother was watching over him and making sure that he had a friend that day.  I don’t know whether that’s the case, but it really doesn’t matter what I think.  This was my friend’s experience, and the person who needed to adjust to it  was him, not me.  When the weird experience is so personal, of course people come up with their own explanations: how could anybody else completely understand what you went through?

The second reason that we have so many interpretations is that we are all only human, and nobody trusts anybody else to know more than they do about the universe.  How can they?  None of us have super powers, a time machine or have been to the afterlife (except Bill and Ted, obviously). We don’t even trust people who are experts in their fields, such as historians, religious leaders, physicists and psychologists.  They might have perfectly sound explanations up their sleeves for why the world is weird, but they don’t get complete support from us because how can they possibly know (or indeed prove) that their explanation is the right one?

So our emotions and our sense of intellectual equality prevent us from agreeing, as a species, on just what the heck is going on in the universe.  Thank goodness.  Can you imagine how awful it would be if we conclusively found out what the source of coincidences/fate/miracles is?  That would just ruin it for everyone.  There’d be no mystery left, and no need for science fiction or fantasy writing.  There’d be no Bill and Ted!  Now that’s a disturbing thought.

Have a fantastic Wednesday, everyone.  If you’re wondering who on earth Bill and Ted are, click here.

Anti-Bucket List

Hello lovely readers. Hope you’re all enjoying your Thursday so far.

As those of you who’ve read yesterday’s entry will know, fear has been on my mind recently.  Today I’ve been thinking more specifically about fear as an obstruction: what (if anything) are you too afraid to do?  What are the things that you could be persuaded to do under the right circumstances, and the things that you will never ever do, really, stop asking, seriously, it’s not going to happen?

There are all sorts of reasons not to do something; fear is just one example.  There are things that we know we’ll never do because the right time has passed, or because it won’t ever come.  Money, geography, domestic commitments, embarrassment, sheer disdain and laziness are a few other examples of reasons not to do something.  With those in mind, here are my Top 5 Things I Will Never Do:

1) Go skydiving

I’m a wuss, I know.  The silly thing is that I’m sure once I was falling from the sky (aaaaaaaah) the experience would be incredible, but it’s the build up to the jump that I know I wouldn’t be able to handle.  The same thing applies to bungee-jumping, white water rafting, etc.  A friend of mine went to a university where they had a skydiving society (yes, really.  It makes the winter sports society from my university look like a chess club), and he absolutely loved going skydiving on a regular basis.  I have very clear memories of standing open-mouthed and horrified, phone glued to my ear as he gleefully described his most recent jump.  He also spent a lot of time explaining in great detail how safe the whole thing was, but I remain to this day mildly terrified that he did it and utterly convinced that I never will.

2) Learn how to boil an egg

This isn’t a fear issue; this is basic incompetence on my part.  There will be friends and family members of mine reading this one thinking, “But I’m SURE I’ve taught Vicki how to boil an egg at LEAST once!” You are all absolutely correct.  I have been patiently and kindly taught by all of you how to boil an egg.  Thank you for your efforts; you have all failed.  I have a bizarre mental block about boiling eggs.  I can make Sunday roasts for a dozen people, or whip up luxury chocolate puddings at a moment’s notice; I can make a birthday cake with my eyes closed and my cheesy leek bake is second to none, but for some strange reason, the mystical art of egg-boiling eludes me.  It’s a good thing I prefer omelettes.

3) Compete in the Olympics

This one will not come as a surprise to anyone, but unless “Speed Coffee Consumption” or “Most Accurate Gavin and Stacey Quotation” becomes a recognised sport, I will never be involved in this most glorious competitive tradition.  Ah well.

4) Understand physics

OH MY GOD IT’S SO BORING AND I DON’T CARE.  I have a mild interest in the more complex workings of chemistry, biology, astronomy and other branches of science, but physics to me is just the most monotonous aspects of existence made difficult to understand. Boring AND difficult?  Ain’t nobody, as a wise woman once said, got time for that.

5) Play drinking games

At the grand old age of nearly 25, I am definitely too old to play Spin the Bottle, Ring of Fire or Never Ever Have I Ever.  (Let’s not even think about this neknomination nonsense; it’s not worth commenting on.)  During my first year at university, my house mates and I unanimously decided to ban sambuca from our house after a particularly gruelling session of Gas Chambers; if you don’t know what that game is, I’m not telling you.  It’s a hangover in a glass, and the world just doesn’t need it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a pint and a natter.  On several occasions I have been known to enjoy several pints and an increasingly nonsensical natter; but drinking games are the playing field of younger, brighter-eyed and less inhibited people than I.  That ship has, thank heavens, definitely sailed.

In a way, it’s encouraging to think that of the five things I am most adamant about never doing, only one of them is down to fear.  True, ignorance and stubbornness are among the other reasons, but still.  It feels good to look at my anti-bucket list and see that I’m more stupid than I am afraid.  I think.