My wife and I attended a beautiful Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Bethesda, Maryland. As the ceremony was beginning a bourgeois, middle-aged volunteer (you know the type) appeared and asked with her snooty “I’m more socially important than you,” attitude “Do you have any questions?” I couldn’t think of anything unanswered about the tree lighting ceremony so I asked: “Why is the sky blue? Is there a God? And, what is the true meaning of life?” Needless to say the snooty bitch left us alone to enjoy the holiday festivities. This prompted me to worry about some of these really hard questions in life. I don’t know the answer to most of these things, but for what it’s worth here’s what’s keeping me up at night:
Is yawning contagious and if so, why?
Ever yawn in public (at the theater or in a restaurant for instance) and immediately look around to find someone else yawning too. What’s up with that? Scientists tell us yawning is definitely contagious but they don’t have a clue as to why. We know what it isn’t however. It isn’t an unconscious response to other people’s behavior like all of our others. Apparently the urge to yawn bypasses the brain circuitry we use for consciously analyzing and mimicking other people’s actions.
It seems like somebody should be able to figure this out.
Why is the sky blue?
Okay, most of you know the answer to this but I’m not sure I believe it. My junior-high science book says: As light moves through the atmosphere, most of the longer wavelengths pass straight through. Little of the red, orange and yellow light is affected by the air. However, much of the shorter wavelength light is absorbed by the gas molecules. The absorbed blue light is then radiated in different directions. It gets scattered all around the sky. Whichever direction you look, some of this scattered blue light reaches you. Since you see the blue light from everywhere overhead, the sky looks blue.
Do you really buy this “absorbed by gas molecules” baloney? If this effect were based upon the shorter wavelengths the sky would be violet not blue.
Why can’t we cure the common cold?
We’ve cured polio, small pox and most of the childhood diseases that plagued us as kids but we haven’t made a dent in the common cold. Why is that? Science tells us what we already know: The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract — your nose and throat. A common cold is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way. If it’s not a runny nose, sore throat and cough, it’s the watery eyes, sneezing and congestion — or maybe all of the above. In fact, because any one of more than 200 viruses can cause a common cold, symptoms tend to vary greatly. Does this sound like we’re on top of this important health concern?
How should we cope with this incurable ailment? Here’s the best advice I could find: Colds are caused by viruses, which are notoriously difficult to treat. Despite massive efforts to find a cure, the best treatment is to avoid infection in the first place.
That’s great! The best way to deal with a cold is don’t catch it in the first place. Thank you medical science.
Who dreamed up this hat size thing and why do we put up with it?
So your hat size is 6 ¾. Do you know how that number is derived? It’s the diameter of your head if your head were a perfect sphere. If it were you’d look like Charlie Brown but that aside, there’s no easy way to measure the diameter. You can measure the circumference and divide by pi. That’s 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288… if you’ve forgotten. Okay, now your size of 6 ¾ is really a circumference of 21.205750411731104359622842837133… inches.
Why do the Brits and the Japanese drive on the wrong side of the road?
You’d think progressive countries like the UK, Australia and Japan would get with the program and drive on the right side of the road. Forget about India they drive mostly on the shady side. Here’s the propaganda they’re putting out trying to justify their being wrong: In the past, almost everybody traveled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard further from him. Furthermore, a right-handed person finds it easier to mount a horse from the left side of the horse, and it would be very difficult to do otherwise if wearing a sword (which would be worn on the left). It is safer to mount and dismount towards the side of the road, rather than in the middle of traffic, so if one mounts on the left, then the horse should be ridden on the left side of the road.
Okay, if you apply this logic then the people in Detroit, MI, a feudal, violent society, and Tombstone, AZ, an old horse and buggy town, would all be driving on the wrong side too.
How do the airlines calculate fares?
Have you ever found out how much the guy sitting next to you paid for his airline ticket? Probably less than half of what you paid. How can that be, you’re a consummate shopper? The price of a seat on an airplane is determined by whatever the airline thinks they can get away with after screwing the business traveler. Some expert tried to appease me with this: Airlines determine the price of most airfares through computer programs that calculate how many passengers are likely to book seats on any given flight. In addition, airlines might offer discount fares to avoid flying with empty seats, and they charge more for flights and schedules that are likely to be used by business travelers. Ticket prices may also be affected by competition with other airlines that offer discounted prices. The result of all of these things is that passengers on the same flight could be paying as many as a dozen different fares.
It’s easier to buy a carpet in a Mid-East bazaar for a good price than find a decent fare to Philadelphia.
The moon, tides and other gravity related stuff
We were all told that the moon’s gravitational pull on large bodies of water creates the tidal effect, but do you really believe it. This whole gravity thing is like religious faith; you just have to believe it. I know some really smart guys like Galileo, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein spent restless nights worrying about and trying to explain this gravity stuff to smucks like us. I think they couldn’t figure it out either so they just made this up. My textbook says: Isaac Newton defined gravity as a force—one that attracts all objects to all other objects. And we know that Albert Einstein said gravity is a result of the curvature of space-time. These two theories are the most common and widely held (if somewhat incomplete) explanations of gravity.
Is this the best we can do?
If gravity has you buffaloed look into how shoes are sized
I wear a men’s size 10 in the US, that’s a 9 in the UK, a 43 in most of Europe and a 28 in Japan. Here’s a serious international issue that needs to be addressed. I have enough trouble converting Pounds, Euros and Yen to dollars without having to deal with this shoe size nonsense. Of all of the sizing systems ours here in the US seems to be the dumbest and least understood. Shoe size in the United Kingdom is based on the length of the last, measured in barleycorn (approx 1/3 inch) starting from the smallest practical size, which is size zero. An adult size one is then the next size up (8⅔ in or 22.01 cm) and each size up continues the progression in barleycorns. The calculation for an adult shoe size in the UK is thus: adult shoe size = 3 x last length in inches – 25. Our US system is similar to English sizes but we start counting at one rather than zero, so equivalent sizes are one greater. So the calculation for a male shoe size in the USA is: male shoe size = 3 x last length in inches – 24. Got that?
What’s up with a barleycorn being a unit of measurement. No wonder the British Empire has fallen on tough times.
How big a problem is Erectile Dysfunction, anyway?
Okay, it’s a really big problem if it affects you but how about the rest of us? If you watched the last Super Bowl or damn near anything else you’d think that America is in the throes of a major epidemic, an epidemic of seriously limp peckers. Viagra, Levitra and Cialis commercials domainate our air waves. I can’t believe that this ED thing is as predominant as the number of commercials would suggest. And what’s up with that holding hands in two separate bath tubs scene all about?
©2009 by Bob Rockwell