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SYSTEMIC STUFF ( + occasional nonsense ) IN THE NEWS . . . .




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Eiron Foyer responds to your technical, scientific and philosophical queries :

You can send a question via our contact form.

Dear Klift0Ngad

Yes, I couldn't agree more. The voguish practice of ' always being contactable ' when ' out of the office ' is counterproductive, retrogressive, and, above-all, boring.

My advice to you is to book yourself in for a couple of weeks at one of my favourite resorts � The Blackout Hotel in Porto Cervo.

The hotel has no wi-fi � indeed no internet connection at all. It has no telephones, no TV, no radio, and they don't accept telegrams. Furthermore, the entire building is encased in what is called a Faraday Cage - which is a form of electromagnetic shield. Therefore, inside the building, no cellphones will work either. Even incoming mail is delayed in a seven-day quarantine buffer by the concierge.

It is a simply wonderful place to stay. The management guarantee that your employers will not be able to bother you during your entire stay. ( Unless, of course, they happen to be staying there too . )

Dear Clup34rt

I am sorry ( though not in the least surprised ) to hear that your Shiny New Electronic Device - which was ' flavour of the month ' a mere ten weeks ago - has now been superceded and is considered obsolete. But honestly, what did you expect ? How on earth are the manufacturers to make yet more cash if consumers like yourself become content not to constantly upgrade ?

If I can be of assistance though � I suggest that you take your recently purchased SNED to my friend and associate Klaud Heipper who runs a what he calls a ' tommorowizing ' service in Lucerne. He tells me that, with the requisite expertise, almost any electronic device can be tommorowized.

To be perfectly honest though I have never quite fully understood exactly what it is that he does - but several devices which I have had prenovated with him are now very satisfyingly modernistic - and are waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.

Dear Hinkly42333

If I may be candid with you, I am rather loathed to believe that the so-called ' shark suits ' which competitive sports-swimmers are now using make any real measurable difference whatsoever. After all, the ' hundredths-of-seconds ' advantage which the makers ( and users ) claim, could, of course, be attributed to psychological , placebo-like effects. The competitor tries just that little bit harder because he/she has a ' hi tech ' suit � and a ' slipperier than thou ' attitude.

I propose instead a more subtle, considerably cheaper, and, for my part, an altogether more satisfying approach.

I have noticed that about half an hour after eating a nice buttery croissant, one can plainly detect the smell of butter oozing out of ones palms. And one's nose becomes greasier. ( Don't believe me - just try it. ) I suggest that the excess animal fats are being quickly mobilised towards the outer layers of skin where they can be utilised as an emollient ( or, if you prefer � ' got rid of ' )

Thus I maintain that, were an Olympic swimmer to eat, say, half-a-dozen nice buttery croissants before a match, the extra lubricating effect that would necessarily follow would be at least as effective as a ' shark suit '. ( Though admittedly less decorative ).

Dear j4zzyH4ndler

Regarding urban apiary. There are a now a considerable number of urban beekeepers. In central London for example - though few people notice them. There are even some hives atop the Bank of England ! And Hamburg hosts more than 2000 bee colonies. Some urban beekeepers go as far as to sell their produce - take for instance a favourite of mine, Rooftop Magic Honey, made in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan, NY. It has a highly distinctive taste – maybe it’s all the [ deleted ].

Oddly perhaps, the bees seem more than at home in the concrete jungle. At present, it might almost be said that they are thriving better than their country cousins.

In fact I like to imagine them oneday developing into the pigeon of the insect world – though considerably more productive of course.

Dear DeeCreach889

I very much enjoyed your simple yet poignant query ‘ Where did all the water come from ? ‘

Most people will never have pondered such a question, and, if they have, I am confident that that they will not have been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. The puzzle is all the more intriguing in that it is evident that the early life of planet Earth was very hot indeed. Hot enough to melt granite for example. For many millions of years. I need hardly point out that any quantity of water would have felt most uncomfortable in such an environment.

And yet it is here. 1,460,000,000,000,000 tonnes ( or so ) of it.

If you, or anyone else, can work out a provable explanation as to its origin(s), the scientific community ( and I ) would love to hear from you.

Dear Cart0r10

I warmly recommend that you continue your independent researches into ‘ randomness ‘ and ‘ perturbation theory ’.
You have probably discovered by now that a certain amount of random ‘ noise ‘ is crucial to the correct functioning of many systems. That is to say, mechanical, computational, biological, social, and even political systems. It is noticeable though, that in the majority of cases the degree of noise has to be just right. Too little and the system stalls, too much and it is overwhelmed.

That is the basis of my Goldilocks Dither Theory, which I am currently consolidating.

As an aside, I have an acquaintance who puts random perturbations to artistic use as well. He produces crayon-drawings, but always seated at the back of a bus – preferably navigating a bumpy road. Over the years he has produced quite a ream of his ‘ bus drawings ‘ – made during his travels in several different countries ( interestingly, with significantly different results ). They remind one of Pollocks.

Dear Motzerall4

I regret that I am unable to answer your question. I am comforted though, in my view that no-one else will be able to answer it either.

To hedge your bets and be on the safe side, perhaps you should purchase a fire-proof suit and start learning the harp ?

Dear LostTribeofBayswater

Had you tried, perhaps you might even have been able to deduce the answer to your question yourself - simply from the name. A Spark Plug  is designed, of course, to plug sparks. Would you want high tension electrical discharges leaping about all over your manifold ? That would be positively dangerous don’t you think ? Thankfully, if your car-engine has the plugs correctly installed there won’t be a bright spark anywhere in your vicinity.

Dear Abricojh3

Yes, yes, of course I have heard the old chestnut about which is heavier, a kilo of lead or a kilo of feathers. Smug as the jokesters might be, the two ‘ kilos’ will almost certainly differ in weight ! Depending on various factors.

For example, according to their global latitude. The ‘ pull ‘ ( away from the Earth’s surface ) caused by the planet’s spinning motion is considerably stronger at the equator than it is towards the poles. Further complicated though by the fact that the globe itself is rather ‘ fatter ‘ at the equator too ( for the same reasons ) , thus there is more ‘ mass ‘ under one’s feet there, and so of course gravity is stronger.

The weight would also depend on the ‘ height ‘ at which one’s kilo is stored. A ‘ kilo ‘ stored at sea level will weigh more than the same ‘ kilo’ on a mountain top. If you find this hard to grasp, imagine that the mountain is extraordinarily high – so high in fact that the top is in space. I’m sure you will appreciate that the Earth’s gravitational pull will be far lower there.

I could go on at some length – for there are other reasons too for weight discrepancies. In short though, remember this – weight – like so many other things <sigh . . .> is not nearly as precise as most assume, and as one might wish. . .

As an aside, if you are like me, you will probably find it both amusing and enlightening to replay a similar discussion with your local greengrocer on your next visit . . .

Dear JohnoThe12th

I don’t quite see what one has to do with the other. But yes, I do think that eight double espressos per day is perhaps overdoing things a little. In response to your supplementary question, I suggest that you make it a golden rule to wear carpet slippers at all times. This will ensure that any caving activities are next to impossible, or at the very least extremely uncomfortable.

[ I think he might have meant to say ‘ how can I cut down on my craving ? ‘ Ed. ]

Dear ac37hh3796

I hope I am not going to disappoint you, or disuade you from possible future business endeavours, but money laundering certainly is considered a crime in most cilvilised countries.

Though I am sure it will not have escaped your notice that money soiling, as a general rule, is not.


Dear wUchu66

Yes, you are quite right to be concerned about the energy wastage incurred by imbibing cold drinks.

My calculations have revealed that you will use something in the order of 8 kcal to raise your body temperature back to normal after downing just one chilled drink.

Not only that, but creating the chilled drink in the first place - by the use of a mechanical chilling apparatus - will have also consumed a considerable quantity of energy.

It should be remembered though that the same energy inefficiency calculations can be leveled against hot drinks too !

To sum up, you should always strive to drink liquids at ambient temperature – where, in the best possible scenario, the ambient temperature is at 36.8 °C.

Dear Garahe347

The answer to your question “ Why doesn’t my [ deleted ] spreadsheet work properly ? “ is very straightforward.

Humans are next-to-hopeless when it comes to constructing software. Hardware though, we are very good at. Take for example, an antique piano, built by mankind, with humblest of tools, a couple of hundred years ago or so, and yet the intricacies of which are truly amazing. Or perhaps an 85 storey hotel block in Kuala Lumpur - the chances are very high that there will be very little wrong with it. It works, it looks good, and it’s safe.

Now ask you self the following question - the logic of which is so trivial that even the most modest of computational systems, an abacus, could solve it in a few seconds.

If Arnold mows Bill’s lawn on the condition that he has already mowed Christine’s, but Bill won’t mow Chistine’s lawn unless she’s already mowed his, and he only mows Christine’s providing Arnold’s has not been mowed, will any mowing get done ?

Figured it out yet ? Me neither. D'you see ?

Pianos and buildings are constructed one simple step-by-step at a time. Software, however, requires the use of recursive conditional logic loops – and sadly, we’re just not wired-up for them ( no matter what your  snake oil vendor  software supplier may try to tell you ).

Dear PicZeeD

I am delighted to respond to your enquiry : “ How should I go about making a really good cup of tea with [ major tea-bag manufacturer name withheld ] tea bags ? “

You will appreciate I’m sure that the fine art of teamaking has been refined over many centuries in mainland China. In the teahouses of Shanghai the aficionados never drink the tea that comes from the first infusion - instead this first-soaking is seen simply as a ‘ washing ‘ procedure, and the results are thrown away. The second infusion is considered to be far superior.

Now, I need hardly point out that the tea which arrives in your [ major tea-bag manufacturer name withheld ] teabags is very unlikely to be of the finest quality. Thus I would venture that it may well require considerably more ‘ washing ‘ . And knowing, as I do, the tea concerned, I would suggest that perhaps 20 or so washing cycles may be sufficient ?

Unfortunately, you still won’t be left with a tea up to YuYuan’s  standard – but you will at the very least have a nice cup of refreshing and predominantly harmless tepid water.

Dear AlfreadOncea

In reply to your question : “ My house is built on an ex-industrial ‘ brown-field ‘ site which I have reason to believe may be contaminated with poisonous heavy metals – should I grow potatoes in my garden ? “

I see no reason at all why not. I am quite sure that growing potatoes there will pose absolutely no risk to your wellbeing whatsoever. In fact, you may garner considerable psychological benefit from the almost ubiquitously satisfying procedure of gardening - and indeed horticulture in general. Eating them, however, is another matter entirely.

[ Perhaps best not to then. Ed. ]

Dear Sje44Igb

Yes, probably, I expect so. Perhaps you could ask a vet ? Or a lawyer ?

Dear InbriPorfil

You enquired “ Have you noticed that everytime you break a popadom, one piece always ends up in the shape of the Map of India ?

I readily confess to have been somewhat skeptical regarding your ‘ discovery ‘ at first, and no, I had not noticed. Happily, I have now had the opportunity to test your theory – and find it quite remarkably accurate !

I am greatly puzzled, and am looking forward to the opportunity of investigating further, several more times – preferably with some lime-pickle and raitha.

Dear ShoofaForte

You ask the appealingly simple question “ Why is leafs green ? “

Rather than respond with the stock ‘ chemical ‘ answer ( explaining the quantum photo-absorption properties of chlorophyll ) could I draw your attention instead to an oft-overlooked anomaly ?

It should not be green. Its predominantly green colour means, in practice, that it reflects just the green part of the optical spectrum ( and thus back to us, the viewer ) that is wantonly wasteful is it not ?

It should be black. It would be considerably more efficient that way. Also, golfers could more easily spot their lost golfballs.

Dear Tanplagen8

Yes, I am familiar with the famous cartoon depicting a elderly lady concerned that electricity might be ‘ leaking ‘ out of the power points in her house.

Unlike you, however, I do not find it all that amusing – as the lady concerned was perfectly correct – apparently having a considerably more solid grip on the laws of physics than yourgoodself.

Electricity does ‘ leak ‘ from power points. Electrons will habitually jump from any charged metallic object into the surrounding air. The higher the charge on the object ( compared to the surroundings ) the more will leak away from it.

Electricity supply corporations are very well aware of this - they lose quite a percentage via ‘ leakage ‘ into the air. In fact you can clearly hear the highly charged electrons leaking-out if you stand underneath a high-voltage power line on a dry still day. Don't get too close though, or you will feel them too.

Dear Pastarafice

Yes, you are absolutely correct, Pythagoras was indeed the inventor of the triangle. His flash of insight totally revolutionized early Greek mathematics, orchestral percussion sections and the paper napkin industry.

If I may go on - we should never underestimate the benefits to society which the greatest-of-scientific-minds can contribute. Ask yourself where would we be, for example, if Sir Isaac Newton had not invented gravity ?

[ Eiron, would you mind not . . . oh it doesn’t matter. Ed. ]

Dear Trychlophial

I am sorry to hear that your pet cat has recently been suffering from sneezing fits. I would suggest, however, ( hoping to alleviate your worries ) , that this does not necessarily  imply ( as you fear ) that your house is being infiltrated by highly poisonous radon gas.

For reassurance, you could always take your cat to the vet for a radiation check ?

If I could I point out an alternative ( and considerably more likely ) hypothesis – since it is now known that many humans are allergic to cats, I see no reason why it should not happen the other way around.

Dear Khdbreu989

In reply to your query “ What should I do if bitten by a poisonous jellyfish ? “  I would say that speed is of the essence. You should get yourself out of the water as quickly as possible, dry yourself off, and immediately begin writing a report while the event is still fresh in your mind. When you have finished, contact the relevant scientific journals without delay, because it will almost certainly be the first time that such an attack has been reported.

Of course, countless thousands of people have been stung by jellyfish, but, as far as I am aware, no-one has ever been bitten by one. I am not even sure they have the relevant apparatus.

Dear VolE33x

I was somewhat shocked to read that you believe I am a ' Bourgeois  [ deleted ] [ deleted ]  '. So much so, that I almost choked on my lychee soufflé.

Now, I must tell you that, bearing in mind the strict definition of bourgeois means ‘ the inhabitant of a town ‘ then, yes, I am guilty as charged.

With regard to the second part. May I point out that it is entirely legal across nearly all of Europe – and, I am lead to believe, is even encouraged in some parts , e.g. Sardinia.

Dear HD77ArchyB

Actually, I am rather surprised that the professor at the university which you contacted could not ( or would not ) explain to you the origins of the phrase ‘ pinned down ‘.

Perhaps next time, switch departments, and contact ‘ entomology ‘ rather than ‘ etymology ‘.

Dear KraKtter

Many thanks for reminding me of the practice of [ deleted ] [ deleted ] [ deleted ] via [ deleted ] [ deleted ] [ deleted ] which the Hagahi  tribespeople of New Guinea allegedly undertake every 34th new moon.

I admit that, had you not sent that quite extraordinary photo, I would probably have still believed that it was not anatomically possible. However, please do not make the mistake ( as so many do ) of assuming that just because something is ‘ possible ‘ that does not, by any means, imply – let alone ensure - that it’s also a ‘ good idea ‘.

I must insist too, that the practice should not be dismissed as a solely physical process. The Hagahi spend many months of psychological preparation for such an event, believing ( in my view correctly ) that the relevant mental poise should be perfected before even thinking about doing it.

I suggest, then, that you don’t.

Dear OlkA4Ish

You asked “ How long should I cook chicken to make sure it’s perfectly done ? “
I think that you could get the basics in the first couple of days. To become an expert perhaps a month or two. And to achieve perfection ( like, for example, Bruno at La Galetto, Firenze ) then almost a lifetime.

Dear KatB0ll

No, your philosophical tenet that “ One should live every day as though it were one’s last “ is highly questionable.

You mean to spend every day in bed hooked up to plastic tubes and drifting in and out of lucidity ?

Not for me I’m afraid.

Dear Leftrigg

You may be surprised to learn that the Hippopotamus, far from being the, ahem , ‘ cuddly creature ‘ which you describe – is actually fearsomely dangerous. I would have thought that one look into the mouth of a yawning hippo would be quite enough to convince one of their truly formidable jaw-power. And this is very strongly coupled with what a management guru might call ‘ focussed assertiveness ‘ ( or, if you prefer social-psychology-speak, an ‘ attitude problem ‘ ) . In short, perturb them at your peril. Let sleeping hippos lie Leftrigg, let them lie. [ shouldn’t that be umm . . . ‘ semi-float ’ ? Ed. ]

Dear Drive77Pen

Yes of course there is a scientific way to identify forged paintings. Bearing in mind that it is estimated that more than one third of all the ‘ grand masters ‘ in blue-chip galleries across the world are in fact fakes, it beggars belief that the technique is not ( to my knowledge at least ) in use yet.

I am of course speaking of DNA.

How likely would it be that a famous artist would work away for days, weeks, or even months on end - covered in paint, varnish, gesso etc etc - without at least one hair, eyelash, or even a speck of his/her dandruff sticking to the work in question ? Now, all that is required is for the galleries / authorities to carefully examine the old masters to retrieve such cellular detritus and have it analyzed – viz. DNA ‘ fingerprinted ‘. Thus, with relative ease, a database could be built of the ‘ DNA fingerprints ‘ of all the master artists. And so, whenever a new ( or suspect ) work turns up, it would be scrutinized, a fleck of skin-flake or hair found, which is then matched against the artist’s DNA profile.

By the way, I strongly suggest that current high-profile artists deliberately stick a few of their cells ( a cotton-bud cheek-swab will do nicely ) to the back of every work they produce. Far more secure than a signature.

Dear MaskTroutReplicant

I’m not sure whether someone may have put you up to this, so I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, and inform you politely that I will not give any further information whatsoever on the breeding of minnows. And that is my final, last, ultimate, and definitively concluding word on the subject.
[ Oh good. Ed. ]

Dear Cicadallowed

You asked “ I can transfer money from one account to the other straight away using my internet bank account. But when I pay my credit card, it takes three days to arrive – why’s that ? ”

The answer lies in the physical distance that the accounts are away from each other. When you transfer money between different accounts at your own bank branch, the accounts are actually very close to each other – almost touching in fact. But the credit-card company is often an entirely different department – sometimes situated many miles away. Now, the electrons which the banks use for initiating and maintaining long-distance financial electronic connections are special ‘ secure electrons ‘ - which are necessarily much heavier and more cumbersome than ‘ordinary’ ones - and hence travel far less quickly. So, of course, time delays can become much more significant when the transaction is operating over a large(ish) distance.

That is why the electronic message - from your bank to the credit card company - can take up to three days to arrive, and then be unpacked, decrypted, checked, verified, confirmed, and operated upon.

Either that, or your bank just instantly transfers your money to one of their own accounts for three days ( with all the other millions of payments ) and earns a nice juicy fat interest on it ( without your permission ).

Dear OpenSauce24

I like your question regarding where one should live ( given the choice ) in order to minimize one’s carbon footprint.

It goes without saying that living in a very cold climate is very carbon-heavy due to all the heating that is required. Living in the tropics also carries a substantial carbon-penalty ( unless you can live without air conditioning ). Thus a compromise is suggested. My own rule of thumb is that you won’t go far wrong if you can choose as your domicile an area where the locals routinely produce olive oil.

Dear 3254hsyk77

Enquired : “ What is the ratio of male comodo dragons to female dragons? “  What ratio ? Length ? Weight ? Number of legs ? IQ ? I need more data. Please resubmit your query.

Dear pLanFatson

You want to know : “ What take stomik acid away ? “  I am not at all sure if I have understood you correctly, but could I point out that without ‘ stomik acid ‘ you would find that digesting your favourite [ deleted ] burgers, fries, and double latte smoothie would ( likely ) be very troublesome indeed.

Dear Tommy_notacult

I am rather concerned to hear of your discovery that “ Mt. Etna in Sicily is actually a cover for a squadron of alien spacecraft which is awaiting orders to ‘ sanitize ’ the entire planet. “

I had assumed that it was just an ordinary volcano. May I say though that your idea to build an alien-proof bunker under your house could prove to be an expensive inverted folly ?

My reasoning runs thusly. Do you think that any alien civilization, sufficiently advanced to construct and hide fleets of über-tech killer-craft inside a mountain might not have thought about the possibility of what to do about pesky little people who try to hide away in home-made bunkers ?

I am not trying to cause you alarm, or induce feelings of futility, I am simply endeavouring to save you a great deal of time, trouble and expense in ineffective bunker-constructing.

Bearing in mind that, if you are correct, ‘ they ‘ must have been hiding there for several hundred years ( at a minimum ) – you could perhaps take refuge in the laws of chance rather than in the thickness of concrete ? and ask yourself – why now ? then go back to your sofa, open a nice bottle of bubbly, and forget about it.

Alternatively, you may as well [ deleted ] - please don't feel offended if I don't join you.

Dear NUYoika_33

Yes, you are absolutely correct in your observation that ( apart from some rather attractive local anomalies ) the universe is  becoming more disordered as time goes by.

Cups of tea cool down, mixed paint cannot be un-stirred etc etc. But you should not make the silly mistake – as so many prominent cosmologists do – of thinking that this necessarily implies that, at some time in the distant past, the universe must have been perfectly ordered. ( viz. Big Bang, Singularities and other such dribble drabble )

Let me explain with an example.

Imagine that one day you happen to come across a large sandpile whilst walking on a beach. On a subsequent visit you note that it has flattened-out considerably ( due to wind, rain, footprints etc etc ). And, when you return a month later, there is almost no trace of it left. Would you then deduce that, projecting backwards in time, there must have been a moment when the sand grains were all stacked up one upon the other in a gigantically high thread one grain thick ?

I rest my case.

Dear Raaaathu

Your question “ How much water should I drink ? “ opens up a veritable cask of controversies. Depending on the source, ( ha ha ! ) recommendations vary from one, to two or even three litres per day.

The excessively large differences - up to 300% or so - in the so-called experts’ opinions richly underlines the misunderstandings surrounding the question - the answer to which is actually disarmingly simple.

On a daily basis you should drink exactly the same amount of water as your body loses.

I am sure that I do not need to go into details to describe for you the various ways in which your body can lose fluid – and of course the amount will vary from person to person and according to local atmospheric conditions etc. I can tell you though, that accurately gauging-it entails a good deal of equipment, high expenses and some not inconsiderable unpleasantness ( as I discovered during the course of my personal experiments ).

As a fallback then, could I suggest that ( given the opportunity ) you should drink when you feel thirsty ?

I will go further still, and say that you must necessarily have been carrying-out this exceptionally fine-tuned balancing act for many years - perhaps without even realising it. If not, you would long-since have either shriveled-up or burst. Since you just recently contacted me, I am fairly confident that neither has occurred, and will confidently predict that if you follow my advice, neither will.

Dear limPette

No, offhand I cannot think of any group of living organisms which humans do not willfully eat. We feast on mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, insects, crustaceans, plants, fungi, algae, lichens and even bacteria – though in the latter case it’s only in the last few hundred years that we’ve known about it ! . . .

Nowadays, I’m told that it is in vogue to consume special tablets laden with millions of carefully cultured bacteria to regulate gut ‘ flora’.

Indeed, it seems to me that the only DNA-based construct that we do not currently deliberately eat is viruses. ( Though some may say they are not really alive, and so do not fit your question. )

In any case, I daresay that time will soon come when people will eat pills full of billions of them too – in the form of macrophages [ viruses which destroy specific bacteria. Ed ] to eradicate harmful microbes.

Take my advice and start up something along the lines of Macrophage Biotic Stabilizers Inc. straight away. Hurry, because I may well do the same.

Dear MillBanksy

Many thanks indeed for sending me a copy of your latest poem ‘ If Then Else ‘ ( written to emulate the look and feel of the 1970’s Fortran computer programming language )

I have forwarded it to my editor, who, I can tell you, is as keen an appreciator of modern poetry as I am of 16th century Sicilian marble bird-baths.

By coincidence, I once tried my hand at ‘ computer poetry ‘ myself – but unlike you, I chose to write it in a lower-level language, binary in fact : perhaps you would like to see it ?

It concerns a gambler, Juan, who is unwell, but who nontheless undertakes another casino session – and wins – or does he ?

Oh ! Wan Juan won one !

                                    “ One won, Juan ! “

                                                                 Owe ?

[ ummm . . . that’s enough poetry for the moment, thanks, Ed. ]


Dear MarryVieloso

No, you are mistaken. There can only be one universe. If there were more than one they could not be called a uni verse could they ?

Dear MimRoth

You asked “ What is the stickiest material known to humanity ? “

One of the stickiest is the substance exuded by shellfish – especially clams and mussels etc – enabling them to adhere to rocks. It is phenomenally strong, and very water-resistant of course. It is proving of great interest to those involved in developing adhesives. There is however an even more tenacious material, one which is nigh-on impossible to prise apart under any circumstances – it is traditionally used to glue together the pages of lawyers’ chequebooks.

[ Could you try to keep personal issues out of the column Eiron ? Many thanks, Ed. ]

Dear Versio733

Why in the name of [ deleted ] would you want to ‘ sanitize crocodiles ‘ ? What an absurd notion. Like trying to wing-clip birds or de-bark dogs. Have you no thoughts at all for the poor crocs’ feelings ? There can be little more horrifying a concept to a crocodile than the idea of becoming sanitary.

I can only say that if you insist in getting involved with such tomfoolery then for goodness sake keep it at arm’s ( or better still two arms’ ) length.

Dear FellowPages_AC

Yes. Of course I have heard of ‘ gravity waves ‘. I have also come across rogue waves, hair waves, and casual waves ( and on one occasion, all three simultaneously ). What do you want me to do about it ?

Dear St1ckyS3ct

You raise a very engaging ( and topical ) philosophical puzzle with your query regarding :  

“ When does a ‘ fence ‘ become a ‘ wall ‘ and vice versa ? “.

After considerable pondering, I have come up with my own definition – which, though perhaps not quite the last word on the subject, will, I believe, serve us reasonably well for the time being.

A ‘ fence ‘ is a ‘ wall ‘ that you can kick a hole in.

Dear GigtonRok

No, I cannot answer your question as to the reasons for mankind’s fascination – some say obsession – with all things spherical. As you point out, the media ( which can be viewed as an alarmingly accurate fine-tuned reflection of the public’s interest ) is simply packed chock full with balls of all kinds. Especially at weekends. Even the most erudite newspapers have whole supplements devoted to analysing spherical exploits.

Why this should be I cannot say – all I can provide is the information that I, like yourself, was evidently sidelined at some evolutionary bifurcation in the past, and that I have not the faintest idea why anyone would find knocking, throwing, kicking, or whirling balls around on strings of anything but passing minimal concern.

It may be of interest to you though that an old colleague of mine – who also suffered from ( or should I say was gifted with ) the same evolutionary bypass, once tried to orgainise a national counter-event which he was planning to call No Balls Day. Sadly, it was a complete flop.

Dear Bslfoe5555_I

You asked “ Should I drink milk ? “

Let me first assume that since you contacted me via a rather well-formed e-mail, you are ( or at least should be ) already weaned.

And next, can I also assume that by ‘ milk ’ you might mean cows’ milk ? Then I really wouldn’t think so. Have you seen where it comes from ? There are plenty of other mammals on the planet, and I don’t see at all why we should be obsessed with the lactational products of slobbering inbred cattle.

Don’t you realise you could even be inheriting their one-fencepost-short-of-a-paddock personality by some as yet undiscovered biochemical route ?

Now, at the risk of offending all and sundry ( including my editor ) can I suggest that you try [ deleted ] milk instead ? And, may I take things a step further. If my guess is correct, and that idea does indeed offend your sensibilities, I urge you to ponder, with all your concentration, as to why that should be – if you cannot come up with a realistic answer, then stop drinking it.

Dear QuinCycle

I am substantially puzzled by your question “ Is faster-than-light travel an untested theory ”

How can something be untested ? That is like saying ‘ un-sawn-in-half ‘ It has either been tested or it has not.

Dear ClueDoh

Yes, as it happens, I have a failproof method of preventing burning in the eyes whilst chopping onions. Forget all that nonsense about chewing gum, wearing swimming goggles and other such tomfoolery. The trick is to disconnect yourself from the acrid source of sulphurous fumes in the kitchen – and I guarantee my method will work with 100% efficacy. It’s called a restaurant.


Dear TrofiLigure

I regret that I cannot answer your question because I have no idea what you mean by “ clockwise ”.

The word is of course derived from the direction in which clocks run – and that in turn comes from the direction in which the shadows on sundials ( humanity’s first clocks ) rotate.

I’m sure that I don’t need to point out to you that they only rotate in ‘that’ direction in the Northern hemisphere. If you build a sundial in the Southern hemisphere you will rapidly [ shouldn't that should be ‘slowly’ ? Ed. ] see that it rotates the other way.

We urgently need another word to represent ‘that’ direction – and in my opinion it should not be at all clock-related. I admit that I am temporarily at a loss to come up with better definition though.

Dear Defenistractor

No, I do not see why “ ‘ Better safe than sorry ‘ is a reasonable strategy by which to approach life in general. “

Allow me illustrate with a practical example.

When I arrived at my office this evening I took the lift ( elevator if you must ) to the nth floor as usual. Now, if the lift had suffered a catastrophic failure I would have plummeted to the ground ( and, much as I should like to experience weightlessness, I would prefer that it would last longer that a second or so, and not be followed by a possibly fatal bone-crushing jolt ). Clearly, I am well aware of this risk, but am reassured somewhat by the fact that I happen to know that there is a regular maintenance contract on the lift equipment. Unfortunately though, I do not have routine access to the maintenance logs – so how can I ensure that the job is being performed to a satisfactory standard ? Perhaps I should ask to see them ? But, even if I do gain sight of them, how do I know for certain that some lackadaisical individual in the firm hasn’t been forging the results – to save money and/or time ? Perhaps I would be better off considering undertaking my own independent inspections ? Although I am not an expert in elevator machinery, I am confident that if I attended a course I could soon . . . [ Sorry to interrupt Eiron, but I think we probably all get the point by now – thanks Ed. ]

Dear Tunn3lPillar

I am sorry to hear that you are ‘ a compulsive gambler ’  and, though I am not a qualified therapist, I can perhaps offer you my non-expert thoughts on the subject, in the sincere hope that they may be of assistance.

Would I be correct in guessing that maybe you are finding that on average, you are losing more than you are winning ? Am I wrong ? I will be most surprised if I am – because I am quite convinced that you would not have contacted me if the opposite were true.

No, compulsive gambling is not the problem. It’s compulsive losing  that you need to look out for.

Dear TracListless

You asked “ Is there a scientific method to prevent snoring ? “ .

I would like to begin by asking you to imagine a primeval scenario - where a small group of protohumans has decided to bed down at some favourable spot on the Savannah. Now, assuming that these folk suffered from snoring in the same way that we in the present-time do, we can be sure that this appallingly trenchant and loud cacophony will have attracted the attention of all and sundry : viz. birds, mammals and reptiles in the environ – especially those of a predatory nature !

It seems clear to me that this din would have been the equivalent of an advertisement – screaming ‘ I am asleep and semi-comatose – please come and devour me.’

Thus, the snoring ‘ defect ‘ would have been very rapidly bred-out of the population by a quite literally brutal method.

As we know though, it was not.

I can only think of one possible explanation for this. The advantages of snoring clearly must have outweighed the disadvantages.

I admit that up to this point I have been unable to fathom exactly what the advantage is – but I am utterly convinced that there must be one.

Dear Harr_daHulk

Your question “ What chemical compound can I use to waterproof my gloves “  seems perfectly reasonable at first glance – but it is not.

For all practical purposes, there is no such thing as ‘ waterproof ’ – just water resistant. Given sufficient pressure, water will find its way into almost any object.

Now, if you wish to make your gloves water resistant , can I suggest butchers tallow – or, if you are vegetarian, Vaseline™. ( if you do so though, I recommend against driving, operating heavy machinery, lifting cups of hot drink, or shaking hands with strangers ).

Dear TrilBnoit

What is the point of asking me “ How can I make an alcoholic still ? “ Now honestly, haven’t you discovered G**gle yet ? They’ll know I’m sure.

If not, try shouting “ Bar's closed ” very loudly.

Dear NlisT_nuff

Yes you are absolutely correct. The scientific advances achieved in recent years have allowed huge strides in terms of the comfort provide by footwear. Sadly though, the progress has been matched by a corresponding, and unnecessary, degradation in visual appearance. If you don’t object to wearing shoes that have all the stylishness of a polyester tracksuit from a thrift-shop on the Isle of Sheppey circa 1980, then so be it. But, since you enquired, I can offer some advice as to how to circumvent this sad state of affairs.

I buy a pair of the sharpest Oxford Cap brogues made-to-measure by my favourite outfitters in London’s Jermyn St. I also purchase a pair of the most supremely comfortable – though truly hideous – trainers from an upscale sports retailers. Next, I take both pairs to the most expert gentleman’s bespoke cobbler that I know of ( which happens to be in Ordina, [ deleted ] ).

I get Giuseppe to remove the polyurethane sole-assemblies from the trainers, and surgically graft them - invisibly - into the brogues. The result - both literally and metaphorically – is walking on air ( though, in reality I know it’s just pressurised nitrogen )

Dear F37s9jj

Emphatically no : ‘ fad ‘ diets – like the [ deleted ] one which you mention – are rather bad idea for your ( or anyone else’s ) long term health. If you insist on pursuing such poppycock on a regular basis then I must strongly urge you to at least adopt the following strategy – which will help – a little at least – towards maintaining a reasonably healthy diet. You must create a dietary regimen which incorporates a balance of fad diets over, say, one month. I call it Fad Combining.

So, for example, Monday you could follow the [ deleted ] diet, Tuesday the [ deleted ], Wednesday you could be a [ deleted ] etc etc . Provided you follow a sensible blend of fads like these you should be reasonably OK dietary-wise.

Dear YupImin

You asked ‘ Why do human beings have finger and toenails ? ‘. The answer is straightforward. Nails are DNA’s way of reminding us that we are still animals.

Dear wAffleIronHook

Could I surmise that, until now, you were unaware that the Hagahi peoples of New Guinea have ( or should I say ‘ had ‘ ? ) fourteen different words for ‘ tree-kangaroo ’ ?

Now . . . d'you see what I have done ? Although very little is known about the way that memories are stored in the brain, it’s a fairly safe bet to guess that since they are semi-permanent, they are probably based on a physical, chemical, or electrical ‘ hard-wiring ’ mechanism of some sort.

I have no idea who you are, or even where you are, but I can be rather confident that I have just performed, ( without your permission, I should add ) a small, but significant, hard-wring operation upon your brain . . .

Like-it-or-not, you now have a memory regarding the Hagahi’s vocabulary - and try-as-you-might, it will be difficult to erase. I‘ll even wager that by trying to un-remember it you’ll very likely wire-it-in even more firmly !

I do admit to a certain frisson associated with such actions. Thus, in answer to your perceptibly sardonic question - yes, I do enjoy my work.

Dear Keef_hoppper

Well, it’s not a new question I admit, but one that’s worth answering nonetheless. As you point out, many have labeled the mosquito as ‘ the most dangerous animal in the world ‘ – bearing in mind the many millions of people who die from malaria each year.

And you asked “ Why did Noah take mosquitoes on the Ark ? “

Three possible answers spring to mind :

Scenario 1)   He didn’t. I am informed by experts who study such things that he was only required to take aboard animals which breathe via nostrils ( Genesis 7:22 ). As I am sure you are aware, mosquitoes, like other insects, are nostril-less – they breathe instead though through tiny pores in their exterior skeleton called spiracles.

Scenario 2)   He didn’t. They were not officially on the guest list, but hitched a ride anyway.

Scenario 3)   He didn’t. It’s all [ deleted ]

Dear GocHezech

Well, an unusual query – be-that-as-it-may one which I shall endeavor to answer. You asked “ If I had to eat just one type of fruit or vegetable for the rest of my life – which should I choose ? “

I could perhaps recommend that you to try the fruit of the [ deleted ] plant. I have heard that they are divinely, supremely, wonderfully, exquisitely delicious. Should you do so though, I couldn’t vouch for the absolute length of ‘ the rest of ’ in your question.

Dear UidgBarr_44

As you may know, I cannot deal with individual medical queries via this column. I can, nonetheless, divulge my own ‘ health tips ’ – with no guarantee of course, other than to say that I have been completely free of Nachtlicht-Königsflammen syndrome for several decades now - from which I urge you to draw your own conclusions.

Firstly, I make sure that I get substantially ‘ out of breath ’ at least once every day. ( The modus operandi is entirely optional. )

Secondly - and I cannot recommend this too highly - I advocate that one should contrive to get ‘ goose pimples ’ on a daily basis too. This is not as easy to arrange as my first recommendation, but I find, for instance, that listening to favourite musical passages on my radiogram usually works rather well.

It may interest you to know that I have been painstakingly researching for some years now in order to come up with a strategy which will reliably combine both results at the same time - but it is considerably more difficult to arrange than you might imagine.

Dear XymalGumm

Yours is one of those questions which reminds me of a Russian Doll – layers within layers of intriguement. The question, and its answer(s) cross refer with physics, biology, and could even serve as a existential-philosophy metaphor. Wonderful. Allow me to extrapolate.

XymalGumm asked : ' I live on a street which is paved with old granite cobbles. At what speed should I drive my car for the least-uncomfortable ride ? '

The answer is that there are two ideal speed-bands. If you were to drive extremely slowly – perhaps around 1 Km per hour, then you will suffer very little bone-jangling discomfort. Alternatively, you could drive devilishly fast, 80 Kph minimum, in which case the ‘bumps’ caused by the cobbles would tend to ‘smear out’ into to a somewhat noisy, but fairly comfortable, ride.

Now to the metaphor : You should strenuously avoid any mediocre, middle-range, neither-here-nor-there speeds – which, I’ll warrant, will shake you to the very bones.

Now, I expect you are wondering about the physics-based explanation for this rather odd meta-dualistic outcome ?

Firstly, let us consider how your own mass ( i.e the mass of your body ) which I will call [Mb], interacts with the speed of the vehicle [Vv] in the equation . . .

[ regrets Eiron, lack of space prevents. Ed. ]


Dear NullHypofesis

Much obliged for letting me know that your ‘ favourite smell is the smell of ironing ‘. I’m quite fond of it too. Though I think I should specify it slightly more tightly. I like the smell ironing when it’s done by someone else.

Dear BulliHubli

Yes, an interesting quasi-conundrum indeed.

BulliHubli said : ' I live near a public park, and recently a large oak tree blew down during a severe storm. ( thankfully, no-one was injured ) Does the GDP of the country go up, or down, as a result ? '

The local authority will probably be responsible for removing the tree – a work which could well incur rather substantial costs. However, a contractor will probably undertake the job completely free of charge. Why ? Because the tree itself will be worth many thousands. Oak is a protected wood in much of Europe – it has to be protected because it is so wonderfully durable, attractive, hardwearing and easily workable – so much so that every last tree would very soon be cut down if it were not.

Thus, the tree’s wood will undoubtedly be sold-on and utilised by manufacturers of various products - who, along with the tree-removal-contractor, will certainly make a tidy profit from their undertakings. D’you see where I’m headed ?

At length, the local council will no doubt stage a photo-op and replace the tree with a new sapling ( a.k.a. ‘ an acorn ‘ ) that will in due course attain all the might and grandeur of its predecessor – and in the meantime will assist with carbon-dioxide sequestration running into hundreds of tonnes.

All-in-all a great boon for the economy and the planet as a whole don’t you think ?

Dear BlueG4ll

You asked whether I tend to regard “ – a glass as being half-full or half-empty “

Before I could make such a judgment I would be asking myself how sure I was about the size of the two halves. In other words, was either the full part or the empty part unmistakably identifiable as a ‘ large ’ half - or a ‘ small ’ half ?

If one or the other was obviously the greater, I would clearly have no difficulty in deciding. But, if the two looked indistinguishably similar, then how could I possibly know which was the most significant ? Would you like me to do a scientific measurement ? But to what level of accuracy ? Would the nearest cubic millimeter satisfy you ? It certainly wouldn’t be good enough for me. So, where then would you like me to stop ? Perhaps I should count the number of molecules in each half ? And what of evaporation ? Might not some of the liquid molecules evaporate during the measurement process – and flee to the ‘empty ‘ portion ? And, at the quantum level, wouldn’t my very act of counting affect the number of subatomic particles involved ?

I do not want to seem pessimistic, but, in short, your proposition is a nonsensical one, and I have absolutely no intention of carrying it out – let alone making a habit of it.

Looking on the bright side though, I may perhaps consider conducting some less non-unequivocal experiments – with glasses which at least start-out emphatically full.

Dear Vdlpurwhay

With regard to a definition of ' hallucinations ' . May I direct you instead towards the surrealist art-movement of the early part of the last century ? And ask, which would you find most disturbing – the fact that you may see a telephone with a lobster attached to it – or the likelihood of discovering a telephone floating in your bisque ? I am told that great exponent Dali himself asked this very question ( or something quite like it ).

Dog tiles strawberry sofa.

Ant sandpit.

[ Muy divertido – but that’s enough reader-goading for the time being. Thanks, Ed. ]

Dear 0pr4_Sidn3y

Many thanks for alerting me, via your question, to the ‘ vagueness ‘ regarding where one’s body begins and ends. I confess that I had never considered it in detail before – and find the idea(s) quite intriguing. So, in answer to your question(s) – yes, if part of my thumb was sliced off and presented to me on a platter, then I would certainly consider it mine – very definitely part of me - and I should want it returned at the very earliest opportunity.

But, as regards dandruff flakes – then, if I had dandruff ( which I don’t ) I must say that I would truly feel quite challenged about conjuring-up feelings of me-ness about the flakes – which is quite an unsettling and illogical prospect, considering that, given the budget, an entire clone of me could be reconstructed from them by amplifying the DNA which they would contain.

And yes, I see your point too that there are other body parts which are decidedly indeterminate with regard to their degree of me-ness – and which I am still pondering with considerable effort.

Toenails, teeth, and of course [ deleted ].

Dear V1L0Kha

Let me assure you that it is by no means a necessity to be a member of a learn’ed institution to perform your own quite valid scientific experiments.

By way of encouragement, perhaps I can describe some research which I am currently undertaking in the field of psychology.

A while ago, I purchased a job-lot of surplus umbrellas from an auction of manufacturers’ overruns. Each day, when there is even a hint of a cloud in the sky, I saunter down to my local café to have my morning espresso. I contrive on each occasion to ‘ accidentally ’ leave my umbrella behind. But, on my next visit I never mention the loss. And neither do the café staff. So far, I have left 27.

We shall see who cracks first.

I admit that, as yet, I have not worked out exactly how I should frame my scientific conjecture – but it is most enjoyable and entertaining, and I am quietly that confident my study will receive all the attention which it deserves from the scientific establishment when I finally submit it for publication.

Dear ES_goto

The ‘ information ’ which your neighbour has volunteered for you is a myth. Cheese which has gone moudly does not ‘ simply turn into another type of cheese ’ .

I can assure you that if you were to purchase a thoroughly downmarket cheese from your most abysmal local supermarket, e.g. [ deleted ] , and leave it wrapped in plastic film on a hot windowledge somewhere, then you would wait a very long time indeed for it to turn into the finest Roquefort.

Are you sure he/she isn’t trying to poison you ?

Dear DubyaDubyaDubya

With the greatest of respect, your question ‘ Why do roses smell so lovely ? ‘ has a definite whiff of anthropocentric arrogance about it.

Allow me to put you in the picture. The scent which roses emit is not for the benefit of humanity. Through the process of evolution, it has emerged over countless millennia to become a perfect match not for our noses, but for those of insects – bees in particular.

We can be sure that the perfume of a rose is more-or-less perfectly tuned to a bee’s idea of a wonderful smell. The fact that we find it pleasant is merely a coincidence. ( Admittedly an extraordinary one bearing in mind the very different way in which our olfactory organs function. )

I do concede though that it is a wonderful stroke of luck on our part. If the dice had fallen another way, and our smell-preferences were more in line with, say, houseflies, then I daresay the cover images on our valentine’s cards would be very substantially less wholesome.

Dear TrenAmend asks :

‘ What did people use insted (sic.) of TV when we did not have power ? ‘

In the old days – books. And in the very old days – each other, and [ deleted ].

Dear GranplusterFax

You asked :

‘ I recently heard someone mention Dendrochronolgy – what is it ?

May I point you in the direction of the internet, currently an effulgent expediency for lexical deixis. Find a good online dictionary and, over time, I’m sure you’ll be able to trace the word's roots and branches.

[ A little less of the obscurantism please Eiron. Ed. ]

Dear kJD82AHf66 enquires :

‘ Does the honey-bee population decline mean an end to humans ? ‘

No, but they might well become substantially more hungry – especially those with sweet tooths. ( my spellchecker refuses to accept that word – but I’m almost sure it’s correct in this context )

Dear BlinkAndFox

Yes, of course one can. But then again, there are not many things one can’t get addicted to – are there ?

Dear IncLewsieve

‘ Is the thumbs up gesture offensive Australia ? ‘

Well, if I were French, I might shrug my shoulders. If Belgian, I may well twiddle my moustache. And if of Chinese descent I could even stomp my right foot. That being said, I might caution that, just as in spoken language, the manner in which a communication is presented can often influence its meaning to quite a degree.

By the way, another perfectly acceptable ( in Australia ) gesture of satisfaction is the ‘ bulls-eye ’ - form a small circle with the index finger and thumb. ( If you happen to be ambidextrous though, I would strongly advise against using this at the same time as the thumbs up. )

Dear OrgoneDona

No, I don’t think that there is a scientific term for ‘ The Sense of Having Forgotten Something ‘ . Perhaps we could come up with one ? Such as Ephemeramnesia ? Personally, I often find myself thinking that I’ve forgotten something – only to find out later that I hadn’t – this must be Faux-ephemeramnesia I suppose.

Dear Klof34rz

Yes, but don’t overdo the agar jelly.

Dear Yposode

I regret to inform you that although you have been fed entirely on organic food since birth ( as you have described ) you yourself would not, if tested, rate as 100% organic.

Even if you have no tooth-fillings or nail varnish, your tissues will certainly be habouring a whole swathe of man-made chemicals ( pesticides, solvents, plasticisers, etc etc ) which are, regretfully, present in ever increasing quantities throughout almost every region of the planet. To say nothing of various trans-uranic isotopes which are entirely man-made, and, since the H-bomb tests of the 1950’s can now be detected in the cells of all living organisms.

By all means get yourself tested though – if you pass ( 100% mind ! ) , let me know and I will be absolutely delighted - and will of course issue a public retraction.

Dear La0anleatsaaIT

Sorry, my editor no longer permits me to give advice on criminal matters. But I am aware that the word ‘ bung ’ does not always refer to the stoppers of laboratory glassware.

Dear Tsdfgoop

You are quite right. It is high time that exercise-gyms design and instigate truly wide-ranging routines that exercise all the bodily muscles with equal rigour. I have yet to see, for example, a gym which pays attention to the temporalis muscle – Responsible ( in part ) for opening and shutting the jaw. Yes, it is perhaps true that certain individuals like [ deleted ] , already get enough jaw-specific exercise during their daily routine – but what of those who do not ?

For those interested, I have devised my own temporalis exercise which involves rhythmic chewing on a thick rubber wedge for half an hour every day. I would be pleased to provide details ( and can suggest an accompanying music CD ) on request.

Dear TrKasdhy

You asked : “ What are the effects of an x-ray machine scan on parrot eggs ? “ Now let me see – are you by any chance thinking about parrot eggs that might be, for instance, inside a suitcase perhaps ? If so, then yes, like any other living thing, their DNA will suffer dose-dependant ill-effects caused by the ionising radiation. Have you considered transporting them in your coat pockets ? Either way, I’m sure that the relevant airport authorities will be delighted if you contact them for advice.

Dear KlopperHoof

You enquired : “ What is a strech (sic.) of water joining 2 bodies of water together ? “. This is a tricky one. If the bodies are very large, let us say, sea-sized, then I imagine the word ‘ strait ’ might be applicable. Lexical usage also depends though upon the relative height of the two bodies and the distance between them. If one is much higher than the other, then you should use the word ‘ waterfall ’ – unless they are a very long way apart, in which case the word ‘ river ' may be more applicable. ( For smaller bodies, as for example, two puddles, I am not at all sure that a suitable word exists. )

Dear trackLev

Your query : “ What are some quick clues that would give away if someone had an addiction to nicotine ? “

The smoking of tobacco products ( viz. cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookahs, etc etc ) would be a strong clue. As would be the regular use of tobacco snuff. But there are other, less publicly overt methods of absorbing nicotine, some of which have ritualistic histories going back hundreds of years - a clue would be frequent visits to the bathroom with a small bag ( probably brown ).

Dear CupHalftring

You asked about : “ Suppressing the gag-reflex while drinking beer “. At fist I thought you might be enquiring for the purposes of gaining ground in some grotesque drinking competition – but then I realised that you might instead be referring to the very understandable reaction induced when in the unfortunate position of unwittingly imbibing certain brands of common ale. Ubiquitous and popular though they are, my opinion is that they are generally disgusting and only suitable as bait in slug traps. Rather than trying to perfect your gag-reflex control, why not just switch to a good real-ale instead ?

Dear FortoPino

Thank you for asking your question – and giving me this opportunity to expand upon the idea of Parasitism.

My dictionary defines a parasite as :

‘ an animal or plant that lives on or in another animal or plant of a different type and feeds from it. ‘

But, is it not the case that all animals depend for their very lives on devouring some other creature ?

So, it would appear, would it not, that the crucial part of defining parasitism must be the ‘ on or in ’  clause.

I insist then that at this point we must ask : Why is the physical distance between the host and the parasite considered so relevant ?

From unfortunate host’s point of view, is it truly such an important factor ? If the host finds him/herself in the unfortunate position of being eaten, I put it to you that he/she will not find the distance from which it is done all that engaging a concept – and will focus very much more intently on the time which it takes.

D’you see ?

Thus, I feel it is my duty to propose an entirely new botanical / zoological / philosophical / systemic category :

The Remote Parasite.

This new category necessarily encompasses all animals – you and I included of course - and [ deleted ] !

Dear PolyUnS4T

No, you should take the concept of ‘ economies’ of scale ’ with a wholesale pinch of salt.

Allow me to give an example ?

Can I surmise that you prefer to use clothes which have been recently washed ? If so, then I contend that we could calculate – within a reasonable margin of error – that, during your entire lifetime you will use a not inconsiderable quantity of washing powder. It will quite probably runs into the low thousands of kilograms.

Now, given the fact that one can command a very substantial discount when buying such a quantity, would it not have been prudent for you to have obtained a loan to purchase the entire lifetime’s supply at, say, the age of 18 or 21 ?

My rough calculations show that, even allowing for interest on the loan, you could still economise at least 60 - 80% on the purchase price – and vastly more if you happen to live through a period of moderate or high inflation . . .

I could continue, but I am confident that by now you will have spotted the Achilles’ heel of my scheme – viz. where will you securely store several tonnes of washing powder for an entire lifetime ? It may come as surprise to you to find out that a large percentage – as much as 15% per month on some items - of the retail cost of general goods comes from warehousing expenses.

Bearing that in mind then, it is not all that outlandish an idea to trek to the store every couple of weeks to buy a moderate supply of the stuff. And of course the nearer you are to your source of supply, the more often you should go, and the smaller quantity you should purchase.

I buy mine every day or so by the cupful - from my neighbour, whose parents provided him a lifetime’s supply as a ' coming of age ' present.

Dear ScroffOthen12

Well ! How right you are. It seems a coincidence indeed that the century in which Global Warming really took-off was the very same one in which the air-conditioning unit was invented !

Now as to your question – are the factors connected ? – I would certainly say yes. Though I hope you will not take offence if I deflate somewhat your accompanying suggestion. If only we could manufacture an airconditiong unit which was 100% efficient, then that might indeed go some way to alleviating the current global problem. Sadly, the laws of physics utterly forbid it.

Try leaving your fridge door open for a few days and see if your kitchen gets any colder.

Dear Gare]denIspecta

You asked ; “ Why do migrating geese always fly in a V formation ? “. What an odd question.

Clearly they do not. It simply depends on one’s point of view. It may look like a ‘ V ’ to you – but for another person, looking from the opposite direction, the first letter to spring to mind may well be an ‘ A ’.

And, on days with a very strong headwind, more like a ' C '

From an oblique side-view, another observer will probably think of a ‘ 7 or perhaps an ‘ L ’.

Of course it also depends greatly on the number of birds involved. For example, three might resemble an ellipsis     two a colon :   and one very much like a full-stop .

As an aside, I did once see a wake of vultures forming a distinct ( and rapidly descending ) ' o ' , or perhaps an ' O ' . Luckily, I fully recovered and made my escape before they got close enough for me to find out.

Dear HighBr33d

I am sorry to hear that your PTFE non-stick frying pan has begun to stick. Unfortunately, the fact that it was sold to you with a ‘ Lifetime Guarantee ’ will probably not afford you much in the way of legal leverage towards obtaining a refund.

Did you enquire, at the time of purchase, what the ‘ lifetime ’ of the pan would be ? If not, then how can you be sure that it’s allotted span has not already been exceeded ? Worse still, I hope that you did not assume that the guarantee was for your lifetime ? Such a proviso would put your relatives – who may oneday inherit your pan - in a very tricky legal position on the day following your demise.

My advice is to shun such novelties anyway. Buy an untreated cast-iron pan and never wash it – instead, just heavily burn it after each use. The carbonised coating that it will eventually accrue works quite admirably, imparts a pleasing taste, and is perfectly harmless to parrots.

[ Eiron is referring to a conjecture – as yet disputed by manufacturers - that PTFE coated pans sometimes give off fumes which can kill domestic avian pets. Ed. ]

Dear xanthangumm

Your question “ What are Quarks made of ? “ scintillating with naïveté  though it does, is nonetheless a perfectly valid one – but I hope that it will not come as surprise for you to hear that no-one has the faintest idea.

There is, however, already a growing list of proposed names for such a possible particle – should it ever come to light. The favored one is currently ‘ Preon ’.

Though personally, I much prefer two other proposals ‘ Quink ’ or ‘ Tweedle ‘.

In the end, the final choice will probably come down to the person who ‘ discovers ’ it - or at least proves its existence. Convention has it that they should not name the particle after themselves – though of course there's nothing to prevent them giving it their father’s surname !

Dear Jadkore624hh

Since you ask, no, unlike you, I do not find it particularly offensive to be required to fill-in a box marked ‘ Race ’ on various official forms. I always put ‘ Featherless Biped ’.

( and for the ' Religion ' box, I generally use ' Orthodox Agnostic '  )

Dear LymBiz

You asked how the apothegm ‘ Less is More ’ can be applied to scientific study.

I’m not sure that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had science in mind when he coined the phrase, and, I must say that I personally find two ( slightly reworded ) alternatives much more useful.

‘ More is More ’ , and

‘ Less is less ’.

( oh, and ' The Same is The Same ' )

Dear NiuLfloaT

As always, it is refreshing to have a question on sociological / psychological issues. Though I find your question  “ Why does everybody hate us ? “  perplexing and vexing in equal measures.

Please note that for legal reasons ( as painstakingly explained to me by my editor ) I am not permitted to disclose here who the ‘us’ actually refers to – but I shall do my very best to answer your question nonetheless.

Two important factors are logically implicit by your use of the word ‘us’ - conditions which I shall now examine in turn.

Firstly, the ‘us’ implies that you and your colleagues consider yourselves somehow ‘ different ‘ to the rest of society – plainly, if you were exactly the same, it would be impossible for you ( or anyone else ) to distinguish the boundaries of the group.

That given, and bearing in mind that through science’s vastly expansive investigations into genetics we now know that the DNA from any two humans anywhere on the planet is, to all intents and purposes, identical – this proposed ‘different-ness’ would seem rather unconvincing.

I put it to you then, that the ‘group’ does not, in fact, exist – except in the minds of its members.

Now onto the third point – your concerns that the rests of humanity ‘hates’ your (erroneously) perceived group.

Why would this be ? The only possible objection which I could imagine that anyone could hold against you would be that you and your colleagues steadfastly persist in calling yourselves members of a ‘group’.

Have you considered this could be intensely trying for others – who can quite plainly see that you’re not ?

Dear XSLoadsa

After considerable lucubration, and with some lamentation, I have come to the conclusion that there is little compensation in the ‘ study of information ‘. On reflection ( after accubation ) it is my observation that if you examine the erudition ( despite extensive accumulation ) there is little cause for celebration - I am not sure that it is worth the exertion.

[ that’s enough homoioteleuton thanks Eiron. Ed ]

Dear HogalHobbatt

I am very glad indeed that you asked your question, as it is not all that often that I receive queries in the field of philosophy and logic. And yes, you are quite right that it was Friedrich Nietzsche, the Prussian-born 19th-century philosopher, who first coined the phrase :

‘ God is Dead ‘ ( Gott ist tot ) back in 1882.

In order to clarify the situation for you, I should like to explore the implications of this highly controversial pronouncement in some considerable detail.

Chapter 1.

Let us begin by examining . . .

[ Due space constraints, the following eight chapters have been deleted. Ed. ]

. . . and so then, in summary, should we not also contemplate the following alternatives ?

' God is unwell ' or even, to bring Friedrich’s ideas right up to date
' God is in rehab '

Dear Domgymn

The function of headaches is to remind you of how agreeable things can be on days when you don’t have one.

Dear viGlerHepp

No, until your letter, I was not aware that “ Koala Bears are so-named because ‘ Koala ‘ means ‘no drink’ in several Australian aboriginal dialects. “ Many thanks. I would like to point out though that :
They’re not bears.
And they do ( occasionally ) drink.
Other than that, the information which you vouchsafed has proved most serviceable.

Dear JoK4Blok

No, although, in the light of certain very high profile recent cases we should not detract from the obvious benefits to society of auctioning celebrities’ bodily discards – e.g. hair – I feel that we should certainly not in any way encourage such behaviour. What next ? [ name deleted ] ‘s [deleted] ? Or [ name deleted ] ‘s [deleted] ? Agreed ?

Dear NIllPlatter

Your question, trite though it may appear at first glance, is, if I may say so, replete with profound implications.

NIllPlatter simply asked “ How can we determine the correct price for something ? “ I am not at all sure how to give a definitive answer. There are various auction methods which get close to the truth. One such technique involves selling the auctioned item to the second highest bidder. This, to some extent, discourages buyers from bidding too high – fearing that they might lose the item if they do.

Perhaps I can suggest another method which I used for some years whilst in New Guinea ?

When you show interest in buying an item, the vendor will name his/her price – which is always vastly inflated. You then offer the seller between 1% and 5% of their asking price. They will of course indignantly refuse your offer. You then feign a complete lack of interest and walk slowly away from them. They will then begin to shout out prices – which get lower the father you walk away ( turn your back by all means ). At some point though, they will stop their downward bargaining. Now, carefully remember the last price you heard. Next, find another vendor of the same product, and start the proceedings by offering him/her 50% of the price you have remembered. The seller will immediately be impressed by your keen grip on the ‘correct’ price, and will treat you with respect. Keep bargaining – at length you will probably both agree at roughly the 75% level. On a local basis at least, that will be acceptably near the right price for the item in question.

Dear SFoCr0w

You are quite correct to point out that substantial efforts are underway to classify various psychological problems – previously considered simply as unwelcome foibles – as illnesses. Some current examples : ‘Addiction’ to coffee. A love of gambling. etc. etc. etc.

I probably do not need to point it out to you, but some of my other readers may be interested in the fact that the oodles of cash which is currently being funneled into ‘research’ of these various ‘illnesses’ is coming, in the most part, from the big pharmaceutical companies.

It has not escaped them that if such problems are indeed officially recognised as illnesses, then they will be able to sell drugs to ‘cure’ the problems.

Now, regarding your own particular troublesome ‘syndrome’ : Yes, I can quite well believe that one can develop a ‘pathological lack of patience’ – in fact, I admit that I myself have worrisome preliminary symptoms of this ‘illness’. And I have been in considerable anticipatory suspense for quite some time now hoping that the medical establishment will get on with things and define it as an illness – and, frankly, I’m utterly sick of waiting.


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