More Things Destined to Remain a Mystery (to Us, Anyway)

dunno2

More Infrequently Answered Questions We Cannot Answer

  1. Do people ever sneeze in their sleep?
  2. Why are they called odd numbers when half of all numbers are odd, which makes them very common and not so odd?
  3. Why do eyebrow hairs grow really long when we get older?
  4. If volition comes from the brain, how does a chicken run around with its head cut off and a decap­itated cockroach live on for weeks?
  5. How do we get Jack from John?
  6. If chemistry is about atoms sharing and swapping electrons, and moving electrons is electricity, is chemistry electrical engineering?
  7. Why do men grow beards when apes, chimps, and women don’t?
  8. Why is the big toe so much bigger than the other toes while a thumb is smaller than fingers? And why isn’t it called a foot thumb?

Just as before, the staff here at terry colon dot com have no good answers for these questions. Perhaps they are not even good questions, which might account for it. On question seven, we don’t mean to imply women are to be likened to apes and chimps. If you thought that, that’s on you.

Filed 12/19/16

World’s Longest Trucks

semi

Infrequently Answered Question #103: Why is a big rig truck called a semi? It looks like an entire truck to me.

A: The whole rig is a tractor-trailer with the tractor being something like a railroad locomotive, which actually carries no cargo but provides motive power. As a locomotive isn’t a train unless it’s towing cars one might ask, is the big rig tractor without a trailer even a truck?

So, without a trailer perhaps the tractor is only half a truck, a semi truck. Actually, the term semi comes from the trailer part rather than the tractor part. Normally a trailer is towed and stands on its own front and rear wheels. That would be a full trailer. A trailer that’s supported in back on its own wheels and in front on the tractor is a semi trailer.

Put the bits together and you have a tractor-semi trailer. Which is easier simply to call a semi. Or a big rig. Or call it a truck, we don’t imagine truckers really care what the public calls them.

Big rigs can also tow full trailers behind the semi trailer. They call this a road train, appropriately enough. The biggest and baddest of these run in Australian, called a body and six. That’s a tractor, one semi trailer and five fully towed trailers. They pretty much only traipse through the outback on long, flat, straight roads with scant traffic. After all, you wouldn’t want to try maneuvering one of these beasties through city streets. Or even backing up for that matter.

The World’s Longest Truck - Road Train in Australia

What you didn’t ask is why truck drivers are called Teamsters. This goes back to the days when the motive power for pulling trailers was a team of horses. We reckon you can figure it out from there.

Filed 11/15/16

Accents Are Accidents

accents

Infrequently Answered Question #102: Why do we have accents?

A: I’ve heard it suggested accents are a sort-of tribal defense mechanism, a way to spot strangers, a strategy to tell friend from foe. While it’s true you can spot a non-local by their accent, this seems more an effect rather than a cause of an accent.

Thing is, songbirds and whales can have accents, so to speak. A species of songbird’s calls can vary slightly by region. Whale vocalizations can vary by pod. So, you can identify them by tribe, as it were. Still, is it cause or effect?

Allow me to speculate. How do people and animals develop vocalizations? By imitation mostly. Have you ever tried imitating a famous person’s speech, done an impression of, say, Cary Grant for instance? Not so easy to get it down perfect, is it? Now then, what if you tried an imitation of an imitation without ever hearing the original? Or how about with six degrees of separation? Is it any wonder local people imitating other local people will be different from place to place?

There can be personal variations within a local accent. I recently watched a video on the history of mid 1960s Glasgow Celtic, the “Lisbon Lions.” All the players interviewed came from the same area of Glasgow and spoke with a thick Glaswegian brogue. Yet to me, some were readily understandable and others we virtually indecipherable.

All the same, are we asking why or rather how folks have accents? The question ‘why?’ can be somewhat confusing. Sometimes it’s about motivation, purpose, as in “Why did you do that?” Other times is can be mechanistic, such as “Why is the sun so hot?” Obviously the sun doesn’t have to think of some reason to be hot, motive and purpose don’t apply in such a case. So, “why is the sun so hot” and “how is the sun so hot” are the same question.

I suggest accents are really a question of how and not why. There is no motivated scheme for them, they’re a result of folks not being perfect mimics. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter why.

Btw, sorry for the feeble attempt at Scots in the word balloon. Not only can’t I speak with a Scottish accent, I can’t write with one either.

Filed 10/21/16

Mirror rorriM

mirror

Infrequently Answered Question #101: Why does a mirror flip the image right to left but not top to bottom?

A: Because if a mirror flipped your image top to bottom it’d be really confusing to shave or put on makeup and mirrors are there to help, not hinder, our daily ablutions.

Try this: Lie down on your side and look in the mirror. Your image is flipped from your left to right, but your left and right is now top and bottom in the mirror. Is the mirror flipping your image left to right or top to bottom?

Standing upright you see your right side on the right and the left on the left of the mirror. Is it flipped or not? Wouldn’t flipping put your right on the left? On the other hand, someone facing you sees your right side on their left. So to them you’re turned front to back. Is this making any sense?

Think of using car rear view mirror. Sure, if you stop and think about it the driver looks to be on the wrong side of the car, but if you see the car going to your left in the mirror you know its going to pass you on the left. So, the image is flipped left to right but still correct left to right. Or something.

How do we make sense of all this? Do we even need to? We know how a mirror works, there’s no confusion to it. It’s only confusing if you try to explain it. Forget about that, just chalk it up to its being the Devil’s work and let it go.

Filed 10/10/16

Keeping Descriptions in Order

rockeater

Infrequently Answered Question #100: What’s big and red and eats rocks?

A: A big red rockeater.

Yes, an old gag you might recall from childhood. Yet notice, it’s a big red rockeater and not a red big rock­eater. It’s also a grumpy little old man and not an old little grumpy man. To follow the train of thought, which of the following sounds right?

One of those ugly little day-glo English police cars.

One of those English day-glo ugly police little cars.

Though the adjectives are the same in both cases, the second sentence just sounds wrong, even illiterate. That’s because there’s a rule of syntax English speakers use without ever formally learning that such a rule exists. Which is, adjectives generally appear in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose noun. At least, according to one source. A second has it: quantity-opinion-size-temperature-age-shape-color-origin-material noun.

Whatever the case, you can sometimes get away with changing the order a bit. It could be a little old gray-haired man or a gray-haired little old man. You can also have an ugly big green metal box or a big green ugly metal box. Still, you can’t switch adjectives up too much, there’s no such thing as a metal big green ugly box.

Then again, if you’re keeping inventory you’d pretty much put everything in reverse order, including putting the noun first. The noun is the real gist of the item so you organize and alphabetize by that. In which case you’d have: box, metal, green, big. Opinions of its ugliness, being subjective, are usually not included.

Filed 9/8/16

You Can Wallpaper These Paper Walls

cardboard

Infrequently Answered Question #99: Paper or plastic?

A: Something of a vague question, but for my money it’s paper. Not so much for shopping bags, but for another container, the cardboard box.

Corrugated cardboard is one of the greatest, if least celebrated, inventions of all time. Strong, light, versatile, cheap, ubiquitous. How much damage has been spared goods by shipping and storing in corrugated cardboard? How much time, energy and space has been saved by replacing wooden crates with cardboard boxes? Forget plastic, corrugated cardboard is the modern wonder material.

I came across the following and figured there wasn’t much I could say about the wonderfulness of cardboard to beat it, they’re making houses out of the stuff. I’m not talking about the homeless sleeping in cardboard boxes, real homes.

This Tiny Cardboard Home Takes Only 1 Day To Build & Lasts 100 Years

Folks like to make claims about things that haven’t proved out yet, so you’ll understand if I don’t take the “lasts 100 years” as fact. Remember Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion house? How about Thomas Edison’s concrete house?

For a little backstory on the origins of corrugated cardboard, there’s this from Gizmodo:

How the Cardboard Box Was Invented

Filed 8/10/16

One Take on TV

Infrequently Answered Question #98: Has TV made us lazy and stupid?

A: There is a common notion we’ve become a species of sedentary sloths listlessly goggling our TV screens at the expense of all else. This seems to be accepted as obviously true. Is it? This assumes two things: One, if there were no TV people would be doing something active; Two, before there was TV people were more active in their leisure hours.

What were people doing in their spare time that was all so very active before the gamma ray mesmerizer invaded our homes? For one, they listened to the radio. Unlike many folks today, they didn’t do this while jogging. Radios then were the size of a microwave tethered to the wall jam-packed with glowing hot vacuum tubes, so they listened nestled in comfy chairs and on couches. They also went to the movies which then, as now, involved a lot of good old sitting.

What did they do before radio and movies? Well, they read books and periodicals, wrote letters, knitted, did needlepoint, played piano, attended lectures and performances, collected stamps, whittled, chatted on the front porch or parlor, played checkers, chess, dominoes and cards, smoked, and drank a lot. Pretty much all sitting down. Chairs and lounging in them are hardly a new phenomenon. Besides, don’t they also say the pace of life in the olden days was slower?

Can you imagine cavemen after a day’s hunting and gathering doing sit-ups, pilates, or jazzercizing? The idea of running to go nowhere probably would smack your average caveman as the height of absurdity. Has TV really turned us into tube tubers, or simply given us something different to do in our off hours when we’d be loafing around anyway? I wonder.

Nobody really knows how active folks were in the past, but the English compared kids in rich schools with lots of extracurricular activity to kids in poor districts offering little. They found no difference in total activity, kids found things to do regardless of their environment. Maybe folks are as active or inactive as they want to be, whether there’s something on TV or not.

As for TV making us stupid, yes.

Filed 6/17/16

Hard and Easy Foreign Tongues

thai

Infrequently Answered Question #97: What’s the easiest foreign language for an English-speaking American to learn?

A: The U.S. State Department has five categories of difficulty for learning foreign languages based on how long it takes to learn. A category five language takes roughly five times as many hours to learn as a category one.

In category one are the western European languages, Dutch, French, Spanish and so on. These are also easy to read and write since they use the same alphabet as English. Of these, French might be the easiest because English is already full of French words thanks to the Norman Conquest. Some say Dutch is the easiest to learn to speak. Though there’s not much need for an American to learn Dutch because practically every Nederlander speaks English. And French and German, if I have my facts straight.

There is only one category two language, German. Even though English has Germanic roots, the two have diverged so much they aren’t much alike these days. What makes German hard is its complexity, such as having three genders. If I knew more about it I could explain, but I don’t so can’t. You’ll just have to take the State Department’s word for it.

Within category five are east Asian languages like Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Of course, there is no one Chinese language, except to read and write where there is because they all use the same pictographic system. Korean is the easiest of these to read and write because it is written by combining syllable symbols rather than ideograms or letters. There are less than thirty different Korean syllables, making it the simplest writing system in the world.

At the other extreme is Thai which has an insanely complex writing system. I can’t even begin to explain it, but here’s a short video that will give you an idea of the complexity of it all:

World’s Most Complicated Writing System

Filed 5/13/16

Hidden Taxes That Tax Us

in-out-boxes

Infrequently Answered Question #96: It’s April. Have you done your taxes yet?

A: What did you have to go and bring that up for? From our perspective we don’t do taxes, taxes do us. All year round and for more than some might think: income tax, sales tax, property tax, gas tax, liquor tax, tobacco tax, and so on. Plus hidden taxes such as business tax. You think businesses just eat that tax and don’t pass it along as a cost of doing business?

On top of that are taxes that aren’t called taxes. Filling out government forms and complying with regulations is work done for the government. Which the government does not pay for. When businesses do that they pass the bill to the consumer with higher prices.

How long did it take to fill out your income tax forms? Or did you pay to have them done? Was it for yourself or for the government? So, how high are taxes really? More than they let on, that’s for sure.

Filed 4/5/16

Keyboards in China

mandarin

Infrequently Answered Question #95: How do the Chinese type Chinese characters on computers? Do they have giant keyboards with hundreds of characters or what?

A: It’s actually quite simple to type Chinese pictograms on a computer. Almost as easy as typing English words. In fact, pretty much the same, it’s done phonetically. For instance, the Chinese symbol for big is the character shown in the top toon, which in Mandarin is said, da. The Mandarin writer types “d-a-spacebar” and the computer renders that as the pictogram for da, big. Exactly how you’d type da in English, if da were an English word.

Some Chinese words can be said almost the same as another. For example, there’s dà, dá, and dǎ. If the wrong da character is rendered the typer hits spacebar again and the pictogram for another da appears. You hit spacebar as many times as needed to get to the correct symbol, which is rarely more than three or four.

This does mean the Chinese writer must learn two systems, Chinese pictograms and the phonetic Roman alphabet. On the other hand, a Chinese writer doesn’t have to bother with capitalization. Whether there is any punctuation in Chinese, I don’t know.

One slight misnomer about Chinese writing is that it expresses ideas or concepts rather than words. That’s not accurate, the concept/symbol is always a particular word. The characters are both ideas and words. Written English is composed of phonetic symbols for sounds that make words, which are ideas. In both written languages, you wind up with a words which are ideas which are words.

Source: Metatron

Filed 3/12/16

Some Things Are Just Destined to Remain a Mystery (to Us, Anyway)

dunno

Six Infrequently Answered Questions We Cannot Answer

  1. Why do cats and dogs look you in the eye when you talk to them?
  2. Why do telephone number keypads have the low numbers across the top and calculators have them at the bottom?
  3. Why is a grapefruit called a grapefruit when it’s nothing like a grape, doesn’t grow in bunches on vines, and makes dreadful wine?
  4. When we feel drops of rain why do we look up as if we didn’t know where they came from?
  5. Just what is the exchange rate of dollars to donuts?
  6. Why is an elevator going down not a descender?

We at terry colon dot com have no good answers for these questions. Though the last reminds us of a joke, which we don’t remember exactly, but will reconstruct as best we can. Did you hear about the (your choice of type of idiot here) who was two hours late for work? Their excuse, the power went out and they got stuck on the escalator.

Filed 3/10/16

OK Is Okay, All Right Already?

OK

Infrequently Answered Question #94: Should you write OK, okay, or what ?

A: Definitely not “what,” but either OK or okay is all right. Though neither is alright. That’s because alright, though widely used, is not quite accepted usage in written English. Now we have two things to follow up on.

OK versus okay is one of those things some folks like to argue over. Some like to think one or the other is correct, but most style manuals say both are good to go. What you don’t want to write is ok all lowercase. Most accept O.K. as well.

People also like to argue about where OK comes from. Some claim it comes from illiterates or jokes about illiterates spelling all correct as “oll korrect” or some such nonsense. There’s no evidence for this deriva­tion. A second hypothesis is it comes from Greek signal flags. The flag for “all’s well” is Ola Kala in Greek. Yet, OK is an Americanism, not a Greekism.

Then there’s the Old Kinderhook origin we won’t develop because it’s also unsupported by evidence. A more plausible theory is okay is an African Wolof word that entered the language during the slavery period. But then, why spell it with initials, OK? What’s the truth? I don’t know.

Alright is a one-word spelling of “all right” which has a number of meanings we won’t go into. Perhaps folks use alright because they figure it’s like already which seems to come from all ready. “Alright already, Keep your shirt on.” Anyway, that’s not right. All ready and already are both acceptable, but mean different things.

All ready means prepared. Already means pre­viously or so soon? For instance, “I’m all ready to go. I was already packed. Is the boat here already?”

OK, back to alright. The 60s tune The Kids Are Alright by The Who shows the informal alright is gaining traction. Still, the creators of the 2010 film of the same title couldn’t bring themselves to use the word. So the film was released as The Kids Are All Right.

Filed 2/23/16

Sugar Addiction Sort-of Explained

addict

Infrequently Answered Question #93: Is junk food addicting?

A: Depends. What do you mean by junk food?

Q: That’s not an answer, it’s a question.

A: That’s not a question.

Q: What is this, some kind of music hall crosstalk bit?

A: You’re failing to grasp my clever rhetorical device implying the question is unclear…

Q: Are you saying I’m not clever, rhetorical boy? Just answer the question.

A: Ah, sorry. Now then, some junk and whatever-the-oposite-o16-15unk-is foods are addicting, some aren’t. Addicting meaning they fiddle with your brain chemistry so the little voice in your head keeps crying for more and doesn’t know when to say when, so to speak. Opiates, caffeine and alcohol are all greedy little voice in your head enablers. They’re addicting.

You can think of foods as falling into three basic types: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Being chains of sugars, you can replace the word carbohydrate with sugar. So, stop thinking what I first said to think and think of foods as fat, protein, and sugar. Now then, is fat addicting? No. Is protein addicting? No. Is sugar addicting? Yes and no.

While there are all kinds of sugars, maltose, lactose, galactose, sucrose, et al, only glucose and fructose get out of your gut and get at the brain. Good old glucose is generally nice and better-behaved and not addicting, fructose is the naughty sugar, a bad influence on the little voice, it’s addicting. (Hey, if medicos can talk about good and bad cholesterol, why not nice and naughty sugar? All very sciency.) Naughty old fructose creates addiction identical to alcohol addiction, turning you into a sugar wino. Why might that be? Consider, alcohol is fermented sugar.

Now let’s look at what might be called junk food, a typical fast food meal. A Coke would be addicting since it has both caffeine and fructose. Fries might be addicting because of the potato, but not from the oil or salt. A burger might be slightly addicting because of the bun and ketchup, not the meat or cheese. A non-fat cookie for dessert, pure sugar, the little voice would latch onto it like white on rice and urge you to keep it coming.

Oh yes, being pure carbs, which is to say sugar, white on rice could be somewhat addicting, too.

Video: Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0

Filed 1/26/16

Our Language Can’t Keep up with Our Technology

phone

Infrequently Answered Question #92: Why do they tell us to hang up and dial again when there’s no dial or a hanging bit on my phone?

A: If you watch old movies you will see people dialing and hanging up phones. Though those phones and actors aren’t with us any more, the terms linger on. Just as old-timey phrases made sense to folks 200 years ago and not now, things change so quickly easily understood idioms you tossed about growing up are conundrums to kids today. If you’re a seasoned citizen like me, that is.

“Who cut the cheese? Crank open a window.”

“There’s a crank? I don’t get it.”

“Roll down your window.”

“It rolls? I don’t get it.”

“You sound like a broken record.”

“Broken record? I don’t get that, either.”

Filed 1/14/16

Power Outage!

me bg black balloon1 balloon2

Click pic to play animation

Infrequently Answered Question #93: What should you do if the power goes out?

A: As suggested in I.A.Q #7 you might light a candle and curse the darkness. Or do what I did yesterday when the electricity was off from 7:30am to 8:30 pm, curse the power company. Once you get that out of your system, which shouldn’t take too long as there’s only so many oaths you can sputter before you run out of steam, light a candle. At least while darkness persists, no point in having lit candles cluttering the place when the sun is out.

Then read, draw some pics, do a crossword. But first, put on a heavy sweater because the furnace doesn’t work without juice for the fan and ignition and it’s c-c-cold this time of year. Since I certainly couldn’t run the computer on candle power, I’m now a day behind on everything web-wise. There goes my extra leap year day. At least the toilet worked. What a relief. Ha-ha. A pun. Forget it.

Now, one might suppose with all manner of machines and whatnot being unpowered one might enjoy a little natural peace and quite. One supposes wrongly. I was subjected all day to a neighbor’s emergency gener­ator constantly cycling, R-R-R-R-r-r-r-R-R-R-R-r-r-r… I cursed him, too.

Anyway, restarting tomorrow, back to our irregularly unscheduled pro­gramming.

Filed 1/5/16

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