Monday, October 26, 2009

On a Pencil's Kinetic Energy: Part II


Yet another Google search. Sometimes I think I am bringing these all on myself. This time someone searched for “how much kinetic energy does it take to write with a pencil”. I’m not too sure why they want to know that, or where they expected an answer. The simple answer (which is not my answer) is that it is approximately half the combined mass of the pencil and your hand, multiplied by the square of the pencil’s speed at that instant.

My answer is that it’s a pointless question, because it varies constantly. A more relevant question is “How much energy does it take to use a pencil, in which case, my answer is “Less than asking Google, now stop being so lazy and do something constructive”.

Unless of course you are into robotics and need to size a motor to move the arm of a drawing robot, in which case, you should have been able to work it out yourself.
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On Taps and Positive Feedback


Automatic taps in bathrooms are an interesting idea. Presumably, it’s to prevent the transfer of germs. Each tap has a little motion sensor that detects when something is placed underneath them, and then turns on. When whatever it was is removed, then the tap switches off.

Designing these taps and getting them to work properly must have been a real pain in the neck. They suffer from a serious problem of positive feedback (actually, it reaches a limit where it becomes neutral feedback). Yesterday, I came across one tap that had obviously had its sensor confused. Every time the tap switched off, the sudden change triggered the sensor, which started the tap. But, there was nothing in front of the tap, so it would switch off. It meant the tap was stuck in an infinite loop.

Its a waste of water, but it was amusing to watch.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Looking and Listening in the Modern Age


Is it not funny how, when there is a technical problem with sound (like an echo or feedback), the sound engineer always looks at the microphone when listening for the noise? And when people are listening to a person speak, they do not look at the speakers mounted on the walls, but rather watch the person? Thousands of years of evolution have made the ears most efficient at detecting sounds to the front, yet speakers are often mounted above, to the sides and behind. Why, when we hear better if we face the speaker, do we always watch the microphone?

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On Procrastination


I’ve always wondered why car companies show off these amazing “concept” cars, which are impractical and too expensive to build, and probably wouldn’t sell anyway. In the end, most new cars are only modifications of previous models, so surely it’s far more efficient to focus their energy on fixing up the current model? The car manufacturers say that it’s to encourage creativity, and thinking out of the box, and that thousands of new ideas on the concept cars get incorporated into production cars. I disagree. I think it’s a natural and necessary form of procrastination.

My final design project was due this week, and, like every project I’ve done since I started primary school, things seemed to drag out until the last minute, regardless of how much work had been put in before the deadline. Perhaps it’s a bit late to realize this now, but I’ve finally worked out why. It’s exactly what drives engineers to develop fancy concept cars. There are aspects of any project that are really boring (like paperwork), and then there are aspects that are enjoyable (like creative design work). It’s only natural that any work that takes place a long time before the deadline will be the more enjoyable work, i.e. the creative design work. That’s why, when engineers are told to come up with the next new model of car, a fair portion of their time goes into stuff that they know will never be used. Rather than waste this time, car companies release the results as “concept” cars, and make it seem deliberate, even though it’s really an unwanted byproduct of the thought process.
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

On the Faces in the Clock


I’ve never had a problem sleeping. I can sleep anywhere, at any time, in any position. It does, however, take two or three minutes to kick in. Every night, I lie in bed on my left hand side, and my digital clock stares at me from across the room. It may be weird, but in those last few moments before I fall asleep, I see faces in the clock.

It’s the colon in the middle that does it, I think. Especially since, normally, when I go to bed, the clock reads 21 something. The two little lines of the one make straight eyebrows above the little beady eyes, and the two forms a wavy hairstyle. Most of the time, the face just stares at me both noseless and expressionless, or has an open mouth, gaping in shock, possibly at its oddly shaped chin which twists its shape every minute.

What amazes me most is after half past, the way a face with huge flaring nostrils, sticking it tongue out at me at 21:36 can suddenly transform into a face with a long thin nose and a curly mustache and a neat collar by 21:37.

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On Promotions


Of products, not people, although I’ve never really understood why the same word is used for both when they’re completely different.

Anyway, I saw a poster in a store reading something like “Buy any two Coca-cola products and get a watch or squeeze bottle free.” The promotion itself is not that funny. What’s funny is the person who chooses the watch that’s as valuable as a squeeze bottle. Surely, it’s quite obvious that you should choose the squeeze bottle with the value of a watch. They’re not exactly going to be handing out a Rolex for the price of two cans of coke.

Or maybe I’m just missing out on a deal of a lifetime.
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Monday, October 5, 2009

On Pig Comfort


Despite the name, this blog was never meant top be about pigs, unless they were pigs wearing funny hats. Unfortunately, it's not a topic that's easy to avoid. Somehow, I landed up reading this article. Don't ask how I came across it - it's a long story, but it made me laugh.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

On a Slightly Small Apple Wearing Tree-Shaped Shoes and an Apricot-Coloured Hat


With three little blue eyes painted on. It sounds quite weird, when you first hear it. Its almost as weird as a rabbit laying chocolate eggs. Why an apple would want to wear shoes is beyond me. Don’t even ask why the shoes are tree shaped – you just wouldn’t understand. You weren’t brought up in the right culture.

I’ve never understood why people talk about being brought up in a culture. I thought that sort of thing only happened in labs. Mainly to bacteria. Unless the person grew up in a yogurt tub, but that’s not something I’m familiar with.

I’m more used to people who claim to have a long history of traditions and customs, which they like to use as an excuse for weird behaviour. The funniest bit is when there is no history to back it up. When the stories are distorted and only half carried, and a quarter dragged, from one generation to the next, while the remaining quarter gets left behind.

Funnier still is when someone believes that they are an expert on their own culture. Undeniably the best is when someone else comes along, and admits that they don’t know everything, but the so called “expert” is actually, um… a little bit wrong…
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On Begging


I don’t often give money to beggars on the side of the road, for a number of reasons. The fact that I don’t earn very much money myself does play a bit of a role, but I think the biggest factor is that I don’t get much out of it. People say you should do it to feel good, to get the “warm fuzzy feeling”. Unfortunately, I don’t get those feelings. Maybe it makes me a horrible person, but I really don’t care. They say I should do it to make a difference in the world. I agree, it is possible to make a difference, bit by bit. But do I really want to encourage the idea that you can make money by doing nothing? A world where those who earn lose everything and those who don’t get given everything for free is not really a world I want to live in.

I’m not trying to discourage you from giving. If you do, then good for you. Please carry on. I’d hate to see people starve because of something I’ve said.

A week or two ago, I saw a beggar that I had to give money to. It was a teenager wearing tattered clothes, and barefoot on the hot tar. He was carrying a worn cardboard sign, reading “No food, no job. Seven children to feed, and all my girlfriends and both wives are pregnant. Please help.” As he passed my car, I watched him in the rear-view mirror. The back of his sign read “My dog ate my brother’s soccer boots and got arrested. I need money for the bail. Please help.” Whoever he is, even if he's a multi-millionaire, he deserves every cent he was given.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

On Not Very Much On Luck Part II


We have a garden service that comes every now and then to spray our lawn to kill the weeds. First they spray a liquid fertiliser, which makes the weeds grow like crazy, and then they come back a week later, and spray poison on the weeds. It used to be really effective, but not so much anymore. They came three weeks ago, and the weeds are already coming back. Especially the clovers.

I’m starting to wonder; maybe the clovers are growing immune to the poison. Maybe the poison is just making them mutate. I hust happened to glance at the ground, and I found my second four leaf clover in the space of six days. Once again it led to something big happening that I guess could be attributed to luck. I thought that maybe all the clovers had four leaves, but they did not. The one I found was the only one. Maybe I’m just extremely lucky.

I wonder when the neighbourhood will start getting three eyed cats wondering around.

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