Archive for category Science

Schrödinger’s Car

Hi Honey - today car park funny ... not get mad nah?

A car, along with a gender-neutral person of no particular ethnicity holding a Zippo and a can of gas, is placed in a sealed box shielded against environmentally induced quantum decoherence. If an internal handbag mirror detects a V-sign, the Zippo is sparked, igniting the gas that sets fire to the car. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the car is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when we look in the box, we see the car either alive or dead, not both alive and dead.


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It’s better to be going down the drain than coming up it …

To determine whether something is a gas, a liquid or a solid, apply the following test: place the test substance (X)  in a closed container (Y), which is larger than the substance (X). If (X) retains is shape and volume, it is a solid. If (X) retains its volume but assumes as much of the shape of (Y) as it can, then (X) is a liquid. If (X) retains neither its shape nor its volume and completely fills (Y), it is a gas.

All of which proves that water is air with holes in it.

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American Institutions #7 : The FAA

‘Welcome aboard Southwest Flight 666 to Hell and Below. To operate your seatbelt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seatbelt, and if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised. In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are travelling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.’

Whilst Americans are now totally aware of the many factors which can cause an


airplane to crash – e.g. Afghans OR Taliban OR Iranians OR Iraqis OR Cubans OR Communists OR Domestic Terrorists OR Africans

OR pilot error
OR computer failure
OR operator error
OR Air Traffic Control error / overload / meltdown (anywhere in the world)

... and those of you on the right of the aircraft, please look left!

OR weather balloons (military, civil, Mythbusters)
OR flocks of birds / skeins of geese
OR volcano ash
OR The Day After Tomorrow

What they might not know is that, all that aside, the ONLY thing stopping them from a fiery exothermic explosion

Isaac Newton produces a reaction

10 times worse than Napalm-with-fairy-liquid-extra-from-a-great-height type of death, is  an uneasy coalition of semi-proven British and Italian Science, to wit a “Law” of Newton and a “Principle” of  Bernoulli (you can tell which is which as Italians don’t have laws and the English don’t have principles)

The Law of Newton’s at work here (his third, for those of you who are sufficiently relaxed to count – or care), is what provides the forward thrust. It involves lots and lots of barely controlled exploding unstable chemicals, loosely directed towards the rear or the aircraft, which provide the action to which the forward thrust of the plane is the opposite (and equal, give or take), reaction. These explosions are courtesy of aviation “fuel” which is stored in those slightly curved longish structures left and right which are the only thing between you and an abject lesson in terminal velocity (remember the one with the cannonball  and the feather? – substitute fiery ball of molten metal and your head).


Of course, with all those pesky uneven surfaces between one place and another (rivers, mountains, freeways, cities etc.), some elevation is required. This is where the Italians come in. Those curved longish fuel tanks (a.k.a. “wings”),  are curved for a reason. The distance from the front of the wing to back is longer on the top (the curved bit) than the bottom, and if one thing travels a further distance than another in the same time, it follows that the first thing must be travelling at a faster speed. In this case, the first thing is the air above the wing, and the second is the air below it.

This causes a lower pressure region above the wing and a higher pressure below, which, in turn,  produces lift. There are other factors, but basically that’s it.

As scary as that may sound, the good news is that the science seems to hold good most of the time, and the laws of physics are more resilient than most laws you’ll fall foul of during the course of your day.

So there it is:  on the average flight all you’ll have to worry about are the drunken, bored, sensory+sleep deprived morons (the passengers), the fascist waitresses (‘Dinner’ – ‘What are my choices?’ ‘Yes or No’) excuse me hostesses excuse me “flight attendants”, the failed window-dressers who “like to pack” and the altogether too relaxed pilot  (‘Folks, we have reached our cruising altitude now, so I am going to switch the seat belt sign off. Feel free to move about as you wish, but please stay inside the plane till we land.’) …




.. and provided that none of the (vital) parts are non-genuine “economy” parts fitted by Big Mel in Manilla (or Seoul, or Mexico City or Toronto or …)

… and the navigation system wasn’t really designed by Microsoft …

… then

‘Thank you for flying Delta Business Express. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride and the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of us.’ .

I'm sure you'll be fine



in extremis

from everything to nothing

from heaven to hell

from hydrogen to uranium

from hot to cold

from mercury to uranus

from Aristotle to Gallileo to Newton to Hawking

from biology to maths to physics to black holes

from the body to the abstract to abstract bodies

from Omega Centauri to Alpha Centauri

from Red Dwarf to the Big Bang Theory (from Halley to Kaley)

from nothing to everything

sic transit gloria mundi – (maybe)

(but) Magister Mundi sum! (totally!)

(Tim Shreeve)


An Early Bath

William Herschel was a scientist (infrared radiation), linguist, musician (violin, cello, organ, oboe, harpsicord ), composer (24 symphonies, numerous concertos) and all-round technical expert. Feeling a little unfocused, he developed an interest in lenses, moved to Bath and decided to build a new type of reflecting telescope in his back garden (in the process becoming the best  mirror polisher on the planet).

In the spring on 1781 he upstaged himself and totally discovered a brand-new planet (not brand-new, of course, but you know what I mean). For this outstanding achievement, the King of England rewarded Herr Herschel with … a house in Slough (John Lennon said it best).

Herschel went on to discover several moons (which another William got to name) and invent the popular video game “Asteroids”.

[Tim Shreeve]


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