Little Bang Theory


Infrequently Answered Question #29: How long will the world last? Will it end with a bang or a whimper?

A: Doomsayers have been predicting the end of the world as we know it for a long time. Think of the gag cartoon cliché of a raggedy bearded man with a sign, “The end is nigh.” Personally, I wouldn’t listen to anyone who uses the word nigh.

Astro-physicists say the world will end when the sun expands into a red giant at a diameter that will swallow the Earth. This shouldn’t be any time soon, meaning not nigh. On the other hand, one of the greatest scientists ever, Isaac Newton, calculated the world will end in 2060. Whether this is supposed to be a bang or a whimper isn’t disclosed.

Science rarely uses the term whimper, but there was the Big Bang. Then again, like trees falling in the woods, since there wasn’t anyone around to hear it was it a bang at all? Since there’s a vacuum between the Earth and the sun it can’t transmit sounds. So would its expansion make a bang? It might expand faster than the speed of sound anyway.

So the answers to the questions are, quite a while yet and probably neither.

Rat Race Against Time


Infrequently Answered Question #28: Is it true time is money? I don’t get paid by anyone for most of my time.

A: Yes, time is money. This is obvious to any wage-earner being paid by the hour. And when paying a repairman by the hour, painfully obvious. Though we always say time is money, being equal means we could put it the other way round, money is time. (You don’t need to be a math major to see if a=b then b=a.) So, what’s the difference, you ask? Think of it like this, you work to get money, but if you had money you wouldn’t need to work. Money buys you leisure time, or retirement.

We tend to think about what some­thing costs in dollars and not in time. People don’t like wasting time, but they don’t mind wasting money even though the saying says wasting money is wasting time. Every dollar wasted today is a dollar less for retirement.

Think we aren’t wasting buttloads of money every day? A 16oz bottle of drinking water for a buck equates to eight dollars a gallon. For water, for crying out loud. A daily four dollar fancy coffee costs almost a thousand dollars a year. Fast food lunch, $6; home-made lunch, $1. Hey, they don’t call us consumers for nothing. We’re living a Will Rogers gag line…

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

Singularly Plural


Infrequently Answered Question #27: Why is it a pair of trousers and a pair of scissors when they’re both only one object? Can you have a trouser or a scissor? Would a scissor cut a trouser?

A: A pair of trousers is one of those odd bits of language that’s singular and plural at the same time. I mean, you can have a shirt, but you can’t have a trouser because they only come as pants. Pants are plural even though they are one thing. Pants without the “s” would be pant, which is something else altogether involving hanging out your tongue and breathing hard.

Glasses come in pairs to help you see 20/20. Or glasses come singularly when they are filled with liquor which can have you seeing double. Which I guess would be 20/20/20/20 vision. Then there’s monocles, but you don’t see those much anymore except on Mr. Peanut. As fruit, pairs don’t come in pairs even though they’re pairs. You can pare a pair, but not with a pair of scissors.

To put this nonsense to rest, why not ask if a pair of bifocals are a quartet of glasses.

Three Card Monte Math Which May Surprise You


Infrequently Answered Question #26: How many ways are there to skin a cat?

A: More than one. Beyond that, who knows? However, to strain this bit, one way for a cat to skin you is three card monte. Though there is one aspect to this which may surprise you.

Let’s say you’re trying to pick one winning card out of three offered face down. You pick one. The dealer turns over one of the unpicked cards, a loser, and offers you the chance to switch your choice between the two remaining face down cards. Should you do it?

Most people would imagine a switch doesn’t matter, figuring the odds are 50-50 either way. It might surprise you to know if you switch you improve your chances of winning. Given this scenario, the answer is, yes, you should always switch.

Here’s why: From the start there are three possibilities, you either selected the winner, you selected one of the two losers, or you selected the other loser.

Scenario one: You selected the winner. The dealer turns over one of the two losers and asks you if you want to switch your choice. You switch your choice from the winner to a loser. You lose.

Scenario two: You selected the first of two losers. The dealer turns over the remaining loser and asks if you want to switch your choice. You switch your choice from the loser to the winner. You win.

Scenario three: You selected the second of two losers. The dealer turns over the remaining loser and asks if you want to switch your choice. You switch your choice from the loser to the winner. You win.

By switching you improve your odds of winning from one in three to two out of three. That’s because two out of three times the dealer in turning over a card has a constrained choice, he can only turn over a loser. Since two out of three times you chose a loser, the two remaining cards are a winner and a loser. Therefore, the dealer will turn over the loser and the unchosen, unturned card will be the winner two times out of three. Switch and you win.

Of course, no three-card monte street dealer will offer you that choice. I can’t calulate the odds on win­ning such a game. It’s a scam. The odds on getting a good deal on swamp land are… Well, you can guess.

Starts With Two


Infrequently Answered Question #25: Why is there no channel one on broad­cast TV? Why does it start at two?

A: For the answer we must go back in the mists of ancient history before cable TV, before color TV, before UHF TV, when everything was analog and TVs were the size of a jukebox and packed with glowing vacuum tubes. In other words before most of us were born.

At first there was a channel one. Then UHF came along and they needed a place on the dial to switch the TV’s receiver to UHF which had its own separate knob. They wedged that into the channel one spot and whatever was there before moved up the VHF dial to another number. In many cases this was NBC going from channel one to four.

On TV sets these days there are no separate dials for UHF and VHF, or dials with fine tuning rings around them at all. With our push-button remotely controlled modern TVs we really don’t know we change from one spectrum to the other past channel 13. On cable there’s no difference at all. And with DTV we can get several signals on the same frequency if the broadcaster compresses the signal. So you can have channels 2.1 and 2.2 and 2.3.

All the same there still won’t be a channel 1, or 1.1 or 1.2…

Half the Bargain at Twice the Price, Or Something


Infrequently Answered Question #24: What’s the world’s greatest bargain?

A: There are so many, it’s hard to say. I might make the case it is mailing a letter. It costs less than 50 cents to send a letter from coast to coast. You might wonder, where’s the bargain in that?

Look at it this way, if the USPS didn’t deliver your letter you’d have to do it yourself. How long would that take? A week? How much would it cost you in gas alone? How about sleeping each night in a motel? So in time alone it takes a week to go there and back, plus whatever time working to cover the expense.

Now then, how long does it take you to earn 50 cents? There’s your bargain.

Email might be cheaper, but harder to figure. While you can get email service for nothing, you have to pay a monthly fee to have on-line access. So what is the actual cost per email? Who knows?

Nod If You Agree This is Dumb


Infrequently Answered Question #23: I see art, but no question. What gives?

A: That was a question, dude. Anyway, this is another entry that, frankly, sucked. But we like monkey art so that remains.

Folk “Wisdom”


Infrequently Answered Question #22: Is it really better to cook potatoes in their skins? Are most of the nutritional goodies in there?

A: The answer to part one of your question is, maybe or maybe not. The answer to the second part is, no. I’ll explain in reverse order.

It’s a common misnomer that potato skins are more nutritious in and of themselves. Not so. The reason potatoes cooked in their skins are better is because the skin acts as a barrier to keep the goodies in the white bit from leaching out during cooking. Like most plant foods, the skin, shell, rind, husk, whatever, is a protective layer comprising the plant’s natural defense. This defense includes natural toxins to discourage bacteria and whatnot. This makes the skins the more dangerous part, though the levels are too low to harm you.

On the first part, if you boil potatoes in their skins they’ll be more nutritious, but not if you cut them up first. You should always bake potatoes in their jackets because, well, they just don’t work without them as they fall apart. Which makes it something akin to cooking beans on a grill. I suppose you might manage it somehow, but the results likely won’t satisfy.

We Go to the Tape…


Infrequently Answered Question #21: Why do people call that ugly, gray tape “duck tape”? They aren’t taping up ducks with it. Shouldn’t it rightly be called “duct tape”?

A: Actually, no. This tape is not intended to be used on duct work, and really shouldn’t be. It’s rightly called duck tape because it’s supposed to be waterproof. You know, sheds water like off a duck’s back. I believe it was developed by 3M for the military around World War II. That’s where the name comes from.

Proper duct tape is silvery, metallic and quite different. Why duck tape is an ugly gray I couldn’t say. Maybe it’s camouflage, battleship gray. So the enemy, and maybe the crew, couldn’t tell the ship was held together with tape.

The Name’s Chuck, Wood Chuck


Infrequently Answered Question #20: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A: That depends on the size and strength of the woodchuck and what species of wood the woodchuck would chuck. Also, what the heck chucking wood would entail exactly. Like tossing a caber as Scotsmen would do in Highland games or what? While a big, burly MacGregor would chuck wood this way I would suspect a woodchuck wouldn’t or couldn’t.

On the other hand, how many pecks of wood would Woody Woodpecker peck if Woody Woodpecker would peck pecks of wood?

Call It Land and It’s Expensive


Infrequently Answered Question #19: What’s the most under-rated thing ever?

A: I’d have to say dirt. People hate it. They don’t want it in the house, on their clothes or in their food. Some­thing next to worthless is called dirt cheap. Someone next to worthless is considered lower than the dirt beneath your feet. Being a rat is bad enough, being a dirty rat is worse.

Where would we be without dirt? Farmers couldn’t farm without it. Your yard would be nothing but rocks and astroturf. After all, grass doesn’t grow on trees. Dirt makes the world go round, in fact dirt makes the world. We should all drink a toast to dirt. Here’s mud in your eye.

Fools For Love


Infrequently Answered Question #18: Why do fools fall in love?

A: Because they’re fools, obviously. Then again, non-fools also fall in love, too. So I guess both fools and non-fools fall in love because they’re people. Which I imagine means it’s all genetic. Would this make foolishness genetic? I couldn’t say. But foolish­ness seems all too human.

As a follow-up why not ask who put the wham in the whamma lamma bing-bang. This has puzzled philo­sophers for ages. Or at least has puzzled songwriters since the 50s. Another question might be whatever happened to the whamma lamma bing-bang since you don’t hear about it much any more. Or is that a foolish question?

Weasel Words


Infrequently Answered Question #17: My dad says in America anyone can grow up to be President. Is that true?

A: Perhaps in theory, but in practice presidents come basically in two types, career politician/lawyer/ bureaucrats and generals. Which I suppose makes some sense. Since the president has to work with a spraw­ling, impenetrable, bureaucratic organization it might serve them well that they’ve already paid their dues in some other sprawling, impenetrable, bureaucratic organization.

It doesn’t hurt to be a glutton for punishment, either. Actually punish­ment would hurt, wouldn’t it? Better they should be impenetrable to the slings and arrows of outrageous media and constituents. We don’t particularly desire our presidents to be sprawling, though I’m not sure how that even applies.

Inflate Away!


Infrequently Answered Question #16: Why does the Government encourage inflation?

A: They believe they can inflate our way out of debt. That is, repay loans with currency worth less than the currency borrowed. While this seems to work in theory, does it work in practice? The US saw double-digit inflation through­out the 1970s yet we were deeper in debt by decade’s end. Maybe we did it wrong, or maybe the theory is wrong.

Inflation results from increasing the ratio of currency supply to production. In our fiat money, fractional reserve banking system the currency supply increases by increasing lending, which is to say increasing debt. So the theory is you can get out of debt through inflation which you get by increasing debt. Or more succinctly, you reduce debt by increasing debt. Seems to be a disconnect there.

Maybe inflating away debt doesn’t work so well in theory after all. Or as Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

Filed 10/23/13

No Joke


Infrequently Answered Question #15: Why don’t more comedies win best picture Oscars? Why is it always long, boring epics? And what’s so great about Citizen Kane anyway?

A: I imagine it’s because entertain­ment value in art is undervalued. It’s much easier to be somber, dull, leaden and be thought a serious thinker than to joke around and be thought a wit, or half-wit as may be the case. Like they say, dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

If one of the classical goals of art is uplifting the human spirit, then some comedian cracking wise uplifts my spirits more than a preachy scold waxing interminably about man’s inhumanity to man. The rest of life is too darn serious, why drag it into our leisure time as well? So what if art isn’t always profound and deep. Is all of life that very profound and deep? Just try to enjoy it, you’ll live longer. Or at least you’ll want to.

As for Citizen Kane, it’s a mystery to me. It puts me to sleep.

I’ll Have to Sleep On It


Infrequently Answered Question #14: Why do they put flowery patterns on mattresses when they’ll just be covered with sheets anyway?

A: That’s a good, if extremely trivial question. Which is to say I have no idea what the answer is. Perhaps mattress manufacturers get a discount for buying up fabrics that otherwise don’t sell.

But here’s a bit of trivia to distract you from the fact that I can’t answer the question. When Raymond Lowey and company designed the seat fabric for Greyhound busses, they studied what things were often spilt on the seats. Among them were mustard, vomit and baby poopie. So they designed a fabric that wouldn’t show the stains from those things. In other words, so the seat would look clean when it wasn’t. Does that make you feel better riding the bus?

You Don’t Want to Know


Infrequently Answered Question #13: Why is ignorance bliss? Are stupid people all that happy?

A: Couple things, wise can mean two different things, and the quote you refer to is rarely cited in full.

wise (wīz) adj. 1.having wisdom. 2. knowing, informed.

With both meanings in mind, here is the full quote:

“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
From Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College by Thomas Gray

If you use definition 1 it’s saying ”Where it’s folly to have wisdom…” On the other hand, definition 2 means something else altogether, “Where it’s folly to be informed…” It’s the second meaning Gray is using. What we have is the literary version of plausible deniability. Or possibly something in the way Jack Nicholson is often imi­tated for saying, “You can’t handle the truth!”

You can also see that having the full quote, rather than the usual truncated, “ignorance is bliss”, makes a big difference as well. I rather imagine the Sir Thomas would agree with Dean Wormer from Animal House, “Son, fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”

Without the Gory Details


Infrequently Answered Question #12: They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Is there much demand for skinned cats? How many ways are there to skin them?

A: What with the anti-fur crowd and Peta these days, demand for skinned cats is at an all-time low. Which should mean a lot more cats, and there are. But only house cats as big cats, wild cats are sadly on the decline. Some house cats are skinned after they die and stuffed in the practice of taxidermy. The real question, to me anyway, is not how many ways are there to do it, but why.

Round and Round


Infrequently Answered Question #11: How come we say “Earth is part of THE solar system”? What about the planets orbiting other stars? Aren’t they also solar systems? Aren’t we terribly egocentric saying that?

A: Your question is mildly amusing, but wrong. Sure, other stars have planets orbiting them. Where you go off the beam is forgetting our star, our sun, is Sol. No other star goes by that name. Planets orbiting other stars are a planetary system just like ours, but only ours is the SOLar system. Just like no other planet is THE Earth. So, it’s THE one and only solar system.

Now we do somewhat incorrectly call it THE moon as other planets have moons, too. But this is a holdover from the days before people knew there were any other moons besides THE moon. Maybe THE moon should have a proper name. Like Luna.

As to humans being egocentric… compared to what? We don’t know of any other intelligent beings for com­parison. If there are beings on those other planets, I’m sure they have their own name for their planetary system. They needn’t defer to what we call it, and we don’t have to do the reverse. After all, we saw it first. Probably.

If you still think “the solar system” is too egocentric, call it the Sunal system. You’ll sound properly humble, and properly foolish as well.

Bread Wonder


Infrequently Answered Question #10: If the family breadwinner brings home the bacon, what happened to the bread and where did they get the bacon? Are they making sandwiches?

A: OK, you’re funning me. This is two figures of speech combined as a mixed metaphor you’re taking literally instead of figuratively. Something like “A blind man on horseback who doesn’t know the difference can’t tell the difference.” How many people have seen a blind man on horseback? And anyway, such a person astride an equine might have other things to deal with other than telling a difference in whatever it is you say he can’t tell a difference about. Plus, would that difference make a difference in such a case? In other words, who cares what a blind man on horseback notices, most people aren’t blind, nor on horseback either.

No offense intended to blind horsemen. More power to you. I imagine as long as the horse can see, it’s not a problem.

Junkfood or Junk Word?


Infrequently Answered Question #9: How can I tell what is and what isn’t junk food?

A: Hard to say. If you were served a small chuck steak, a dinner roll, and a salad of lettuce, tomato, onions and cucumber with thousand island dressing on a plate, that’s a regular meal. But if you grind up the steak, cut the roll in half and stuff the steak and the salad inside, you essentially have a Whopper. Which is junk food. So, as far as I can figure, junk food comes in paper and regular food comes on a plate.

What a Way to Go


Infrequently Answered Question #8: Can a person really die laughing?

A: Ever heard the expression, laughing in the face of death? Don’t try it. Death is pretty serious. Foks don’t call him the grim reaper for nothing. People who do laugh in the face of death are often dispatched from this mortal coil posthaste. They then die from laughing. How amused they are at being dead I’ll not venture to say. I will add this, I have never met a jolly ghost. Then again, I’ve never met a ghost of any particular disposition.

On the other hand, comedians seem to think there’s a connection between laughter and death. For instance, when their act goes over they say they “killed the audience.” But not literally. That wouldn’t be good for business. Hard to build a fan base of the dead. Of course, when the act goes badly it’s the comic who “died out there.” Like they say, humor is a serious business, deadly serious apparently.

You Could do Both


Infrequently Answered Question #7: Is it better to light a candle than curse the darkness?

A: In the darkness it is better to sleep than either of the above. Having lit candles strewn about while sleeping is a fire hazard and I recommend against this practice. There is no harm in cursing in your sleep, unless you live with easily irritated gun owners or homicidal maniacs, or worse, both.

Should you feel the need to move about at night, I suggest you “turn on a light” as the saying goes. The light control is usually found on the wall near the entrance, about 4 feet up. Find this device, generally rectangular in shape, and flip the toggle up (down in the UK) to “turn on the light.” If this doesn’t work, curse, and then light a candle.

Beam Me Up


Infrequently Answered Question #6: How does a tractor beam work?

A: A tractor beam converts light into gravity by creating a temporary unidirectional singularity inside a poiuyt generator lined with teflon. How is this done? Here’s the formula:

To readers who don’t know calculus this will be so much gibberish. To those who know calculus… this will be so much gibberish. What’s my point? There isn’t one. I just want to ask science fiction movie makers, if a tractor beam is some sort of artificial gravity, why would it light up?

Less Is the Same


Infrequently Answered Question #5: What’s with the legal phrase, “cease and desist?” Don’t both words mean “stop”?

A: It’s Legalese which, while it sounds a lot like English, isn’t. That’s why they say “party of the first part" instead of “first party” and things like that. Legalese is related to Adspeak, and so advertisers offer a “free gift” even though a gift by definition must be free or it wouldn’t be a gift.

But I digress. The real reason is after William the Bastard Conqueror took over England in 1066, the ruling classes spoke French and everyone else spoke English. So they would use a word from each language so every­one could figure out what the law meant. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

What I can’t explain is why people want a “duplicate copy.” Or why people say, “Use your PIN number at the ATM machine” even though the N in PIN is for “number” and the M in ATM is for “machine.” Which means the statement with the acronyms spelled out is, “Use your personal identification number number at the automatic teller machine machine.” Nor can I determine how much longer “forever and ever” is than just plain “forever.”

What can I say, some people are stupid idiots.

Blame Thomas Crapper


Infrequently Answered Question #4: Why do you never hear men complain that women “always leave the toilet seat down” only the opposite?

A: Apparently men have figured out the highly technical principle of the hinged toilet seat. When it is down and you need it up you put it up and vice-versa. Whether this is due to some innate mechanical ability in men I can’t say.

The obvious solution: urinals in the home. This has many advantages as anyone who has ever cleaned a bath­room can readily see. Urinals are easier to use and a lot less messy than a toilet. Plus it takes less water to flush a urinal thus delaying our water war with Canada in the years to come.

The Speed of Lightheartedness


Infrequently Answered Question #3: What would happen if a car were traveling at the speed of light, and then turned on its headlights?

A: You might suppose this question might challenge even the most advanced physicist, however the answer is quite simple. A car can’t travel at the speed of light.

Maybe It’s Full of Half & Half


Infrequently Answered Question #2: Is the glass half empty or half full?

A: Neither. On planet Earth, the glass would be half full of air and half full of liquid, therefor completely full. An answer which is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but scientific.

A Must Read


Infrequently Answered Question #1: Do we have free will or is everything predetermined?

A: We must believe in free will, we have no choice.

I once overheard a couple of guys in a bookstore arguing fate vs. free will. At some point one of them says, “If it were up to me we’d have free will.” All I could think was, “obviously.”

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