The Science of Hubba-Hubba


Infrequently Answered Question #82: Why is it when your shirt gets wet, like with sweat, the wet bits are darker than the dry bits? Water is clear, how does it make it darker?

A: Basically, water is refractive. Some of the light reflecting off the cloth gets refracted back into it. Less reflection means less light gets to your eye. Less light is darker.

The same sort of thing happens when you put a glossy clear finish on wood or paint. In fact, a clear finish on raw wood makes the grain pop, as they say. It increases the contrast. The dark tones get much darker, and the light tones get slightly darker.

Not only do clothes look darker when wet, they become less opaque. As the refractive agent penetrates deeper into the material, more refracted light penetrates deeper, too. That’s also why the contrast increases, the penetrating light reflects off what’s deeper in the wood and the darker grain is darker below the surface, too.

If the cloth is thin enough some light gets all the way through and reflects off what’s below. Presto, see-through. That’s the whole idea behind wet T-shirt contests. That, and wet cloth clings more.

Filed 10/21/14

You’re Outta Here


Infrequently Answered Question #81: If you’re free­lance and don’t have an actual boss or job, can you be fired or collect unemployment?

A: Well, I’ve had jobs cancelled. Is that being fired? Being self-employed, when out of work you become self-unemployed and collect self-unemploy­ment from yourself.

Anyway, I’m curious about the phrase “getting fired” to mean losing your job. Did your job burn down? Or burn up? Same thing really. Where’d that come from? Then we have “getting canned” for the same thing. What’s that allude to exactly? You’re crammed in a can? Like you’re in the garbage can, maybe?

Then there’s “getting the sack,” or “getting sacked.” Huh? You don’t get crammed in a can you get stuffed in a sack instead. Then thrown overboard? Or is it like when a town is sacked? Does that have something to do with ransacked? I suppose it could be worse, you could get the ax.

So when they let you go, you’re shown the door, eased out, crammed in a can, stuffed in a sack, lit afire, then they take an ax to you. I know losing a job is bad news, but that’s a bit drastic, don’t you think? Just give me a pink slip. Don’t know why it’s pink, but at least the worst physical injury you might suffer is a paper cut.

Filed 4/15/14

NuSA? Novamerica? We Rename the States


Infrequently Answered Question #80: I don’t get the names of the states. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Kentucky. What do they mean anyway?

A: There are fifty states and fifty stories behind their names. I won’t go into all of them. In fact, none of them. Though if you really want to know, like most everything these days, there’s a web page for that.

On the other hand, why stick with all these outdated, obscure state names? Why have a new millennium if we can’t have some millennial newness to go with it? Maybe a little rebranding will perk things up. Think of all the work created replacing road signs and updating atlases, maps and books. Should boost GDP better than Martian invaders, real or imagined, breaking windows all over the place.

So, let’s give the states names we can understand. Meaningful names that might tell you something. Of course, people still have to live there so I tried not to be mean about these new names. Maybe these work, maybe they don’t. Maybe you have better ideas. For what it’s worth…


Click to enlarge

Might as well adopt new state mottos while we’re at it. None of that fussy, old Latin stuff. “Excelsior” What’s that? Sounds like a brand of laundry soap from the 1930s. There could be new state animals, trees, and flowers, too. Though the benefit of them escapes me. Are they selling points somehow-or-other?

What could really stand a makeover are some of the unimaginative state flags. At least the ones which are dark blue rectangles emblazoned with the state seal. This is where we could get really creative. A season’s worth of episodes for Sheldon Cooper’s Fun With Flags. Or it could be an idea for another article. Maybe I’ll get back to you on that.

Filed 3/19/14

The Spin-off Recycle

Infrequently Answered Question #79: Seems everything today is remakes, reruns, and spin-offs. Doesn’t Hollywood have any new ideas?

A: Perhaps you’ve heard there’s only five basic plots all stories are based on. Or is it seven? I forget. So every­thing is kind-of a redo anyway. Now then, reruns and remakes are more-or-less the same thing. A remake is a rerun with different actors rewritten by rewriters. Let’s forget about that. All this is a lead-in to what I really want to talk about: spin-offs.

The topic of spin-offs is pretty frivolous trivia. Let’s call it frivia, to coin a word. For those willing to wade through the frivia, there are three basic kinds of spin-offs: the growed-up spin-off, the son-of spin-off, and the zombie spin-off.

The classic type is the growed-up spin-off. This is where you take a beloved minor character or popular skit and expand it to a full show. Or even a movie. The earliest example I know of is The Honeymooners which began as a semi-regular skit on Jackie Gleason’s variety show.

The son-of spin-off is pretty much franchising a show into a whole series of shows. Think CSI, Star Trek, and Law & Order. You could say these are new-ish shows with same-ish stories, only different actors, different locals, and sometimes different time periods.

While many spin-offs are lame attempts to frack the creative well, the zombie spin-off is often the most pathetic, fracking a dry well. Basically what happens is a show has run out of gas, but some of the team just won’t quit and so a new show is created out of the sorry remains of the old show. When it works you get Frasier. When it doesn’t you get the likes of Joey or After-M*A*S*H.

While Star Trek might be king of the son-of spin-off, Make Room for Daddy can claim a special distinction: two spin-offs of a spin-off. A single episode of Make Room for Daddy wherein Danny Thomas is arrested in a small town in North Carolina begat a growed-up spin-off, The Andy Griffith Show. From that we have a further growed-up spin-off, Gomer Pyle, USMC. When Andy Griffith called it quits from his self-named show, we got the zombie spin-off, Mayberry RFD.

And that, dear reader, is frivia.

Filed 2/11/14

There’s Just No Rhyme or Reason to English


Infrequently Answered Question #78: Why Doesn’t move rhyme with love? Or cove either? Who came up with these spellings?

A: Try to explain English spelling. I dare you because I certainly can’t. Sorry. Figure out how these pairs don’t rhyme: to go, has was, sew few, but put, how low, have cave, boot foot, mown down, come home, what that, could mould. How about these triplets: bomb comb womb, bone done gone.

Is it the spellings or the pronunci­ations that are goofy? These dissimilar spellings rhyme: boo cue do few flu queue shoe through two view who you. These similar spellings don’t rhyme: bough cough dough rough through.

Part of the problem might be using the Roman alphabet but not speaking Latin. There’s only six vowels, Y working part-time, for over a dozen vowel sounds. Perhaps we could use some Greek or Cyrillic letters to flesh things out. Or maybe use diacritical marks, breve, circumflex, macron, etc. Though I want added keyboard keys if we do. Don’t want to option-shift-whatnot all the time.

Then again, English syntax can be confusing, too. There’s a sign on a fence near my house reading: “Beware of vicious biker’s dog.” Well then, is it the dog or the biker that’s vicious? What a language. A language where a sentence like this is correct: John, while Jim had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the reader. And why doesn’t wad rhyme with had?

I suppose I should have used commas and semicolons in some of the above lists, but I thought it’d look messy. Besides, it’s English. The rules are made to be broken. Which must be the answer to the original question. Though probably not.

Filed 1/12/14

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