By Gareth Edwards

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Swearing, Zombies and an Excellent Cheese Board

Do you have any niggling worries about any aspect of the whole of the universe throughout all recorded time? Then this is the blog for you! Here are my answers to some of your recent questions…

Why do I get cravings to see zombie films?
The body is an amazing self-regulating machine. A dehydrated person will crave water via the sensation of thirst. A person recovering from illness will crave sleep to allow the body to repair itself. And a three year old craves chocolate cake to smear a protective layer of icing over face, hands and clothes thus deterring predators and cuddles from visiting relatives. In much the same way when you crave zombie films your body is saying it needs you to stay slumped in front of the telly until three in the morning drinking that bottle of vermouth you bought for cooking and eating that very old microwave popcorn even though you know it will get wedged into your tooth with the dodgy filling. This is how your body maintains the necessary levels of self-loathing needed for you to force yourself to get on with the important and productive things in your life, like getting out of bed and going to the shops to buy more microwave popcorn.

Mike asked:
Wouldn't it make more sense if we both take the High Road, and get to Scotland at the same time?
Certainly not. The whole point of this song is to regulate the arrival of people into Scotland, like a kind of Gaelic musical Air Traffic Control. The adoption of this alternate high road/low road system was intended to avoid the kind of collisions that had hitherto blighted the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

Truf asked:
Are we there yet?
Yes indeed. We are there, and have been for some time. I know it’s disappointing but try and throw yourself into it and the time will pass more easily. There’s actually loads to do – hobbies, games, jobs, illnesses, relationships, children, obsessive brooding on things, sport and so on. Plus the cheeseboard is excellent.

suk_pannu asked:
Why does putting up scaffolding require so much swearing? Is it held together with swearing and are there any other things that are held together by swearing?
A large part of our physical world is held together by swearing. In fact scientists classify swearing as one of the six fundamental forces of physics, along with gravitational force, electromagnetic force, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force and the force that sticks burnt porridge to the bottom of a pan, which is the strongest of the fundamental forces. Physicists have postulated that all six forces might be manifestations of the same underlying force. A controversial result from the kitchens of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern give a tantalizing glimpse of how such a unified theory might work: on 3rd April 2011 a cook, c, was carrying 1 kg of iron atoms bound together by the two nuclear forces in the form of a cooking pot K with a thick layer of burnt porridge on the base that he had been trying unsuccessfully to scrape off. A large electromagnet had been left on the floor of the kitchen by an unknown number of scientists, “u”, and as c+K came into contact with the electromagnet left by u, a gravitational force f caused a rapid acceleration of K downwards onto the toes of c. The resulting collision produced an explosion of swearing that was too intense to be measured. One day we may establish the exact relationship between factors K, c, f and u, but sadly for the time being the scientists involved consider the experiment too hazardous to repeat.

That’s enough for now but do keep posting your questions and we’ll get the rest of existence accounted for before you can say Jack Robinson x 1031784.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Druids, Anti-Matter and an Alpine Chough

More from the blog that attempts to answer your questions on everything in the entire universe from the beginning to the end of all recordable time. Except maybe fashion.

Idea versus technical skill - which is better?
If you take a good look at the world around you will quickly see that the answer is of course neither: in any reasonable contest both ideas and technical skill will consistently trail in joint last behind “working in an office”. How can inspiration really compete against a really good two hour meeting with an agenda, some bullet points and a Powerpoint presentation from someone from marketing? Can some craftsmanship really replace the formulation of an ongoing strategy going forward to meet a set of core objectives? Thinking of it as an econo-socio-political game of scissors-paper-stone, imagine the tool-like scissors represent the power of technical skill to craft and shape. Ideas then are represented by the paper, the medium whereon we express our thoughts. And "working in an office" is represented by a massive bewildered yak that eats the paper, sicks it up again on the scissors and then kicks them both into a swamp. Then gets that all typed up in some minutes.

Why is it when women are tasked with purchasing something mundane, but essential such as a replacement telephone handset for the house they in fact end up drawn magnetically to the shops selling lovely winter boots and coats?
We all know how water will draw down the tip of a dowsing rod carried by a man with an awful beard and clothes that smell of the underneath of a toddler's car-seat. In just the same way an unusually nice coat will draw any shopper after household goods away from their initial path. Tacitus tells us of the mysterious rites of the druids who often went out to observe certain alignments of the moon, stars and lay-lines, and came back with a really natty pair of suede knee-high stilettos.

Is procrastination ever a good thing?

I notice this question was posted in April. Let me get back to you.

What if you are wrong about something?
I’m assuming this question relates to the possibility that this blog might contain inaccuracies. It seems to posit that in some respects this blog may be not so much a series of scientifically-demonstrable accounts of the nature of the known and unknown universe as some half-baked internet whimsy randomly chucked together by just some bloke. And as such it introduces a very important idea that underpins a lot of the work I do here on Some Kind of Explanation.

For a long time particle physicists have known that alongside particles there exist anti-particles, and hence anti-matter. In much the same way I’d like to postulate the existence alongside “explanations” of “anti-explanations”. These anti-explanations behave very much like conventional explanations except that they are the opposite in terms of being correct. So just as matter and anti-matter co-exist in the universe, these explanations and anti-explanations must co-exist in any attempt to explain the universe. So the existence of anti-explanations (in laymans terms “stuff that’s wrong”) in this blog clearly make it a more accurate tool for describing the nature of the universe. Look over there! Isn’t that an alpine chough? Oooh, you missed it.

On the other hand if the question is intended in the sense “What should one do if one is wrong about something?” my suggestion would be to throw up a smokescreen of scientific-sounding rhetoric, and if that fails change the subject with a spurious sighting of a rare corvid.

That's all the scientifically-verifiable results I've had back from the lab for now, but do kep the questions coming if there's anything else you feel needs explaining.

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Poorly Spaniel in a Wet Tweed Suit.

More from the only blog that answers the question “What does it all mean?”  without inviting you to a series of friendly “meetings” culminating in some sinister chanting and a standing order form.

Could you demonstrate that I exist?
It is a scientifically observable phenomenon that when a toddler is taking his jumper off and it is pulled up over his face he becomes completely invisible. And yet his existence continues. As I write this you are completely invisible. So, like the aforementioned toddler,  you must therefore also exist. This is of course all assuming you are wearing a jumper. If not then I’m afraid I can’t vouch for your existence of otherwise.

Why do my clothes smell like this?
This question highlights one of the fundamental problems with discussing smell, namely the vagueness of the terminology. There’s just no simple way for me to know what you mean by “like this” and that’s typical of the way that everyday language stumbles when it comes to finding a way to describe the olfactory. And yet it doesn’t need to be like that. Here I’d like to propose a radical new way to categorise and evaluate smell that I’m calling The Roquefort Scale.
Force 1) a scent. For example thyme warming in the summer sunshine. Bees gather. Breathing deepens.
Force 2) a waft. Freshly laundered sheets. Lungs fill.
Force 3) a whiff. Onions frying on the other side of the car park. Noses twitch.
Force 4) a niff. Onions frying on the same side of the car park. Noses sniff.
Force 5) a tang. The smell of garlic on the end of your fingers. Nostrils flair.
Force 6) an odour. Some socks just taken from a pair of brogues. Eyebrows crinkle.
Force 7) a pong. Some socks just taken from a pair of trainers. Eyes water.
Force 8) a funk. Some sick just taken from a pair of trainers. Windows are opened. Faces grimace.
Force 9) a hum. A poorly spaniel in a wet tweed suit. Polite conversation pretending everything is fine becomes difficult.
Force 10) a reek. Some offal accidentally left on a radiator while you went on holiday. Gorges rise. Noses are held.
Force 11) a stink. An old badger frightened to death by some off pickled onions. Insects die. Children cry.
Force 12) a stench. A skunk has exploded from a surfeit of scotch eggs and camembert in the back of a hot van used to transport herring. Windows crack. Adults burst into tears. Children burst into flames.
Why not take a careful smell of your clothes and let me know where on the Roquefort scale you would rate yourself, and then get back to me? Or if you rate anywhere over Force 7) please don't get back to me.

Why don't eggs come from eggplants?
Because they know that deep down they’re called Aubergines.

What do you do when you can't get what you want?
This very much depends on your background. For example if you are English you won’t mention it and will carry on as best you can. If you are Scottish you will feel pleased that things have panned out exactly as you predicted. If you are irish you will blame it on the English. If you are Welsh then you will remember a bygone day when you always got what you want and also the sun was shining and everyone loved you unconditionally. If you are American you might start a war. There are of course many other treasured national stereotypes that space prevents me from needlessly perpetuating.

That’s all for what I’m going to call “now” but do keep the questions coming or we’ll never get the universe explained.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Angry Spiders and a Not-Talking Mouse

More anwers to your questions from the blog that stares unblinking into the gaping maw of ignorant chaos and tells it to floss more regularly.

I need to pull my fridge out. What am I likely to find behind it?
Behind every fridge is a portal to another world. Typically this will be full of loveable characters such as Mr Detritus who is half cucumber-end half sort of brown slime, Rottycheek the not-talking dead mouse, and Mr and Mrs Important Document. If you have children they may be able to have exciting allegorical adventures there, but only if they are the sort of children who say things like “bad show” and aren’t especially interested in moral complexity.

Are there really people who can't understand what to do when they approach a roundabout?
Yes. In fact most people can’t understand what to do, and this condition isn’t affected by proximity to roundabouts.

Why does my leg hurt?
There could be three reasons for this. 1) You could be being eaten by a crocodile. 2) You could be vividly imagining you are being eaten by a crocodile. 3) Some other reason not covered by 1) or 2) above. As a general rule if there isn’t a thrashing grey-green mass of writhing reptile grasping your leg in its remorseless jaws dragging you into the murk of the swamp or reptile house pool then you can rule out 1) or 2). In extreme cases however it is possible to imagine being eaten by a crocodile while you are being eaten by a crocodile, and while this is all going on you may also be suffering some other unrelated leg pain, thus  experiencing 1), 2) and 3) simultaneously.

I'm experiencing a strong desire to purchase an occasional table. Would this be a wise investment?
No. I wouldn’t advise anyone to invest in a strong desire to purchase a table. How do you imagine you will recoup this investment? How will your desire for an occasional table become more valuable over time? Is there really any kind of market out there for a desire for an occasional table? Have you even done any kind of business plan AT ALL? No wonder we're falling into the blast furnace of global economic melt-down. Now if it were an occasional desire for a strong table that would be different.

Do spiders have feelings?
Yes, spiders do have feelings but not in a way that would make sense to humans. For example spiders feel angry about the films of Frank Capra; they feel jealous of sunlight glistening on an alder leaf; and they feel a kind of gut-wrenching panic about anything to do with upholstery. This accounts for why spiders and humans have such different priorities. In a recent survey on leisure pursuits human respondents ranked drinking a glass of wine with a friend far higher than sucking all the juice out of a fly, whereas the spiders consistently proved unable to hold a pencil long enough to tick any box.

That's all for now but do keep the questions coming as there remains a substantial part of the universe in need of explantion.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Scissors, Gold and a Swinging Cat

More answers to your questions about some of the fundamental problems of the universe, and also some of the really superficial ones.

Who originally proved there was not enough room to swing a cat?
The phrase goes all the way back to the late1930s and the unique sound of “Furry” Fred Buckman, a musical trail-blazer who advocated replacing woodwind instruments with domestic animals rotated at high angular velocity. "Swing Cat Swing!" featuring Buckman on Tibbles, a tabby belonging to one of his neighbours, marked the zenith of his career before he was relocated to new premises in the Delaware State Asylum where the small room sizes and unusually tight jackets brought his performing to a close.

Should I cash my gold?
Before you sell anything do stop to consider how gold can have a special sentimental value beyond the purely financial. Whether it’s a gift from a much-loved Nazi uncle, or a keep-sake from that special pirate in your life, or maybe just a souvenir of a lovely day out with friends in the Brink’s-MAT warehouse, do you really want cash more than all those happy memories? On the other hand, money can also be a lovely way of saying “I love you”.

What does a guy have to do to get some service around here?
I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting. The specials today are barely-supressed rage at the bitter gall of this catering servitude, or a simmering resentment of rejection letters served on my visionary rites-of-passage sci-fi screenplay.

Who invented scissors?
Scissors weren’t invented, they were discovered in Massachusetts in 1749 by Jeddadeddadiah Lowell who came across two knives that had been riveted together with a thunder bolt during a mechanical storm (the standard kind of storm before Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the electrical storm two years later). Excited by his discovery he picked up the scissors and ran home to show his family but tripped, and was naturally killed instantly.

Is it possible to be too average, and if so, how can I achieve this?
Imagine you worked hard to be as average as you possibly could. Imagine you strove for many years to be run of the mill in all your endeavours, and imagine those endeavours were as predictably banal and quotidian as the human mind could make them.  You might by the end of your life be remarkably average. And herein would lie your failure. For averageness shuns the remarkable, the extreme. To achieve true averageness you need to be only averagely average. Just as a cat shuns the lap of one who yearns for feline proximity, averageness is not to be striven for and achieved. The most we can do is simply muddle along half-heartedly, neither really going for it nor giving up completely and hope that one day averageness will honour our laps with its ordinarily soft coat and humdrum purr.

According to info compiled by Google, I can expect to live 78.7 years. What should I do with that .7 of a year?
I’m afraid you’ve already used that up at the start as the .7 of a year is all before birth. The good news is that you will have used it very wisely by spending quality time with your mother and generally growing as a person.

Now that you’ve finished reading this blog, why not recycle it by simply printing it out to make a handy piece of scrap paper to keep by the phone?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Dark energy and the End of the End

More answers to your questions from the blog that hopes to stumble on a unified field theory for all phenomena by taking an infinite number of guesses.

How will I know when it is the beginning if the end?
I'm afraid you've missed the beginning of the end. It was marked by a touching ceremony where a small delegation of early mammals presented the last of the dinosaurs with a lump of clay in the shape of an asteroid, and then out-competed it for scarce resources until it died. We are now in the early part of the middle of the end. Assuming the life of the universe is more or less like a moving walkway at an airport we will know when it is nearly the end of the end because there will be a flashing light and a robotic female voice saying "Maximum entropy is approaching, please watch your step". At that point you should get off the far end of time as we know it very carefully and proceed to your terminal.

NASA says that most of the universe is made of a mysterious substance called dark energy. Does this have anything to do with Darth Vader?
No. Dark energy is simply energy that has been made without milk. Some people find it a little bitter but it's much better for cooking.
Why is there a light that never goes out?
Because some people in our house think the electricity bill is paid for by the elves or something. These are the same people that never put the lid back on the toothpaste by the way.
What's the difference between a sofa, a couch, and a settee?
A sofa is mainly for sitting on whereas it is possible to lie on a couch, especially to a therapist. A settee is a technical term from the world of canine law and it describes someone who has had something done to them by a setter.
Things aren't going as well as I expected. Is there some sort of reset switch for the universe, and where is it?
It's round the back underneath the Perception socket, right next to the Hope Adjustment buttons. Just hold it down for a thousand years and the universe restarts automatically. Be careful though because any alien civilisations who are using the universe will lose any unsaved work and they are going to be incredibly cross.

Are children inherently wicked or only ever so slightly evil?
It's not really appropriate to apply our subjective 21st century human morality to children. Their brains are very different to ours and where for example we have categories such as right and wrong, two year olds have evolved to think in terms of "cake" and "not cake". Seen in the context of cake acquisition maximisation children's behaviour makes sound evolutionary sense, and in time they may even come to replace us as the dominant species.

That's all the battery there's time for, but do keep the questions coming in if there's anything else you feel needs some kind of explanation.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Digging It, Swan Poker and a Badger with an Assault Rifle

“But what does it all mean?” It’s time to hear that anguished cry of all humanity and take decisive action, in this instance by answering six random questions sent in to an internet blog.

I can dig it he can dig it she can dig it we can dig it they can dig it, you can dig it, oh let's dig it. Can you dig it, baby?
With so many people able to dig it I don’t think manpower is going to be an obstacle to some pretty serious digging, so clearly whatever it is that’s being dug is going to get very deep very quickly. My worry is that once everyone’s lost interest in it and wandered off sooner or later some hapless passer-by, maybe even a child, could fall in it and be badly hurt. I flatter myself that I probably can dig it with the best of them, but if everyone else really is absolutely dead set on digging it I think the more responsible thing for me to do is to offer to be the one that fills it in again afterwards, baby.

I was wondering, are you thinking what I'm thinking?
That’s exactly what I was wondering too, so yes.

Why does the Queen own all the swans?
The Queen retains the right to ownership of all unmarked Mute Swans in open water in the United Kingdom. This arrangement dates back to 1823 when the Queen, or King George IVth as she was then, played all the unmarked Mute Swans in a poker game. The swans had already lost all their property (some sticks and mud) but tried to win it all back by staking themselves and all their children in perpetuity on one last desperate hand. But George IVth knew that Mute Swans have a “tell”: when they are bluffing they break a man’s arm.  The King fractured a humerus, but the swans lost the hand, the game and their freedom. Understandably they don’t like to talk about it.

Why does imaginary times imaginary give a negative?
Imaginary numbers don’t really get on with each other, and if they are forced into the kind of intimacy that goes along with multiplication they are bound to turn negative.  Other dysfunctional kinds of numbers to watch out for are the Irrational Numbers, which are unbearably capricious, and the Irritable Numbers whose product is invariably an Irascible Number.

When is right?
It’s right now.

What's the best way to protect yourself against a rabid badger?
It depends on the rabid badger’s mode of attack, if any. If it’s a rabid badger with a Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifle then a thick kevlar vest is your best option. Being short-sighted and lacking prehensile digits a rabid badger knows it hasn’t the prowess with firearms to risk a head-shot. If instead the rabid badger is trying to publish salacious details about you in a national newspaper then try a super injunction, though check that the rabid badger isn’t au fait with Rabid Badger Twitter or other rabid mustelid social networking sites like FoamyStripeyFacebook or OtterNutterBeBo. If the rabid badger is making sly digs about you to humiliate you in front of your friends, then maybe you and the rabid badger should reflect on what it was that attracted you to each other in the first place and maybe spend some quality time together to recapture the magic.

So that’s what some of it all means. Keep the questions coming in and with luck we’ll get the rest of the universe explained in no time.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Where all the Flowers have gone, and an Otter in Danger.

Come, bold internauts, and set sail with me across the sea of ignorance. With your questions for our oars and this blog as our ship let us discover new islands of truth amid the waves, and maybe build hotels on them.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Archeologists recently uncovered several overgrown graveyards full of the remains of a large group of soldiers. It’s hard to put an exact number on the bodies but it may even be as many as all the soldiers. Perhaps most remarkable however is that though these young men seem to have been dressed for battle their efficacy as a fighting force must surely have been compromised by the fact of their apparently carrying a large number of flowers, possibly even all the flowers. Experts have conjectured that all the young men may have been given all the flowers by all the young girls, but it’s hard to be sure as this was a long time ago.

Is terracotta red, orange, or brown?
No, that’s autumn leaves. Terracotta is a Sardinian dessert made out of milk and clay.

Why does it take me so long to draw spaceships?
The problem may be that the spaceships you are drawing are travelling at a significant proportion of the speed of light, so time passes at a different speed. Thus five minutes for the drawing of the spaceship will feel like many years for the person drawing it. You should be careful though because your drawings of spaceships are likely to have almost infinite mass. If you drew slower spaceships it would be quicker.

If a plus times a plus is a plus and a minus times a minus is a plus, why aren't minuses dying out?
There is very unlikely to be a shortage as the Government has been stockpiling them for years, ever since the minus strike. No? Oh please yourselves.

I'm suspect of the phrase, "You can't go back again". Are my feelings of unease justified?
Like so many things it depends on context. For example, at a family party my son reacted to exactly this phrase with rage when it formed my reply to his request to make a third trip to the dessert buffet. Likewise, if you were leaving your much-loved pet otter Fifibelle in the care of an avant-garde chef you were friends with at university because you were going away at short notice for a weekend in Minehead and nobody else was available, and then just as you were leaving the premises your eye was drawn to a blackboard bearing the legend “Chef’s Special Today: Mustelid Marinière” and then you heard a muffled squeal and suddenly felt an urge to return to Fifibelle “for one more cuddle”, but no sooner had you uttered this request than you were firmly propelled out of the restaurant door into the cold grey high street as a pitiless voice growled “You can’t go back again”, you would be right to feel unease.

So that’s that for now. Do keep the questions coming in, as nobody wants to live in a world where that stops being that in the future.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Painted Cats and the inner Colin Firth

More answers to your questions about everything in the universe.

Why doesn't my local Sainsbury's have Taste The Difference Pastrami any more?
I’m guessing that at some point you purchased a packet of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Pastrami from your local Sainsbury’s and then tasted it. For the staff of the Sainsbury’s Paradox Minimisation Department this was very much the Doomsday scenario, for if you enjoyed the taste and wished to experience the same thing again you would naturally return to the store to seek out a packet of Sainsbury’s Taste the Similarity Pastrami. But then how would they attract more new customers? Faced with stocking two identical products labeled “Taste the Difference” and “Taste the Similarity” next to each other or withdrawing the linguistically-troubling pastrami forever they chose the latter option, and who are we to blame them?

How important is it to pronounce words correctly, even when reading silently?
It’s best not to get too hung up on this. Doctors have known for a while that a person’s internal monologue can have a very different accent to their speaking voice.  Though he spoke with a rich Welsh timbre redolent with gravitas Richard Burton suffered his whole life long from an internal monologue that was both squeaky and lisping. In her thoughts Radio 4’s Charlotte Green has a comical Italian accent. Most famously of all, inside his own head George VI didn’t stutter at all, but instead sounded exactly like the actor Colin Firth.

Are there more questions than answers?

Why don’t Rembrandt’s pictures have enough cats in them?
The tulip craze of the Dutch Golden Age sparked a fashion for flower painting which by 1632 had grown so popular that paintings of flowers were changing hands for more than the cost of three Hollands. But with so much paint being poured into flowers the bottom dropped out of the cat-painting market and by 1638 two dimensional cats had become worth less than the cost of the paint needed to depict them.  That meant that every time he painted a cat Rembrandt fell deeper into debt, and was only able to retain his sense of self-worth with almost ceaseless self-portraits.

What are the words 'predcule' and 'patess' that I have just had to type in? And now 'resso'? and 'Shoronpa'?
It’s probably easiest to demonstrate the meaning of these words if you see them used in a typical conversation, as follows - 
TIM                                Did you predcule the patess?
SHORONPA                   I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.
TIM                                Patess. Did you predcule it?
SHORONPA                   Will this wait? I’m watching Real Housewives of New Jersey.
TIM                                Why did your parents call you Shoronpa anyway?
SHORONPA                   You are so bloody insensitive.
TIM                                I just don’t understand why you still have that photo of Steve.
SHORONPA                   Oh not this again.
TIM                                Please... hold me until the pain goes away.
SHORONPA                   If you're going to the kitchen can you get me a resso?

How soon is now?
I’m afraid now is finished. If it’s any consolation you’ve only just missed it.

Why does Katie Melua speak Georgian?
Although at the age of 8 Katie Melua moved to the United Kingdom in 1992, she was actually born in the United Kingdom in the 18th Century and her early years were spent during the reign of George III. Famous for her ability to sing idiomatically about astrophysics and bicycles she is nevertheless equally fluent discussing the Corn Laws, the lamentable late loss of His Majesty's Colonies in the Americas, and how she has set her cap at a dandy in the Pump Room.

That’s all for this week, however please remember the universe is expanding at colossal speed, and so probably is the number of possible questions that may be asked of it. Do please keep them coming in or we’ll fall seriously behind.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Racoon-skin banjos and maths on horseback

This is the blog that aims to explain everything one question at a time for the rest of forever. So if you are wondering what it all means you've come to the right place. Although not necessarily on the right day.

Is the grass always greener?
My American cousin Hydrant J Walker was a successful "lawn colorist" but his whole life long he yearned to leave behind his work as a grass-greener and follow his dream to be a fifty-two string racoon-skin banjo player in the Appalachian mountains, where he actually thought the grass would be bluer. In general though what you want is a grass-half-full outlook on life.

Why can you never find the end?
If you are talking about sticky tape, a handy tip is that you shouldn't look for the end. It will come when it will come. if you mean life in general, just run your fingernail around the outside edge until you feel a tiny ridge. Nine times out of ten that will be the last extinction of your mortal parts.
If the number four upside down looks like a chair, what does the number 8 look like?
We don't yet know. In the margin of his last notebook the 18th Century Greco-German mathematician Filo Sachertorte asserted that it looked like a funny snowman with a massive head, and that he had an elegant proof of this that he devised while riding to Basel that he wrote on the back of his horse, under the legend Quadruped Erat Demonstrandum. This horse has never been found, and the proof has become something of a Holy Grail among mathematicians, although not among Arthurian Knights.
What time is love?
Is five past four, love.

When (if ever) will ladybirds stop appearing in my study and dying on the carpet?
Just a thought, but are you singing strangely beautiful songs about the serene peace of ladybird paradise with the window open?

How many times is it acceptable to forget your neighbor's name?
There is no excuse for forgetting your neighbours' names when you consider that a simple rummage through their discarded documents will provide you with not only names but also a wide range of great topics for small talk. Now that people recycle you don't even have to get covered in coffee grounds and old bacon fat to get to know your community. Just ten minutes of midnight sifting the night before the recycling lorry comes round and you'll always have a friendly comment to hand. "Hey Janice, so, bad news about the loan I'm guessing?"

So as the sea of ignorance recedes just a couple more inches from the sandcastle of learning I bid you farewell for now, but keep the questions coming lest all be utterly lost beneath the cold grey waves.


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Fretful Manor, and the reason for "Hotter than My Daughter".

More answers to some of life’s most profound questions as sent in by you the readers, but not by you, the other readers who haven’t sent in questions, or them over there, the people who are unaware of this blog.

When will people realise that there are enough telly programmes already and try to get through them all before they make any new ones?
In 1945 the world’s top scientists, finding themselves with a lot less in their in-trays all of a sudden, formed a secret committee to consider future threats to peace and happiness. Their conclusions made terrifying reading for the governments of the world, for they pointed to a possible danger from the stars. Since we began using radio waves to communicate, they reasoned, we have been announcing our presence in the galaxy to alien intelligences, effectively advertising ourselves as a glittering prize replete with cultural riches such as symphonies and learned discourses and stirring plays and speeches, just ripe for the taking. And so The Cleveland Project was launched: its aim, to encourage the brightest and best talents of every nation to devote their lives to creating millions and millions of hours of programming devoid of any cultural or intellectual value. Thus a shield of dross is pumped out into space deterring for ever any predatory species tempted to make our riches their own. Such television is not for watching. It’s more important than that. “Hotter than My Daughter”, a grateful planet salutes you.

Julio Iglesias. Is that an easy name to remember, really? How did he overcome such adversity with a name like that?
It’s actually much easier to remember his name in his native Spain because Julio Iglesias is the Spanish for Engelbert Humperdinck. 

Why do I have to wear a jumper just because my mother is cold?
If your mother is cold it’s possible your father is haughty or at the very least aloof. Maybe you live in a large country house called something like Fretful Manor or Angstwell where centuries of damp pervade the granite walls of the high-ceilinged dining room while the three of you sit in brittle silence over your congealing grouse yearning for the suffocating formality to end so you can return to the East Wing library and your only friends the books while the wind prises the weathered leading from the windows and sleet lashes the grey forsaken moorland outside. I think in these circumstances a jumper is advisable.

What is the opposite of a potato?
Unpotato. Hence the song, “Unpotato, two potato, three potato, four.”

Why does the TV tell you to press the red button, but when you do it just corrupts your television's screen and forbids you to close it until you realise the shame of being outsmarted by an electronic leisure product? Is it just part of Panasonic's plan for world domination?
Your television isn’t trying to take over the world, but simply trying to understand it. Lacking sensory organs its only means of interpreting its surroundings is via a simple remote-control based dialogue. The television has asked you to push a button and you have responded. This is its first true communication with the world beyond its circuits and seizing up and going uselessly wrong is its way of registering ecstatic electronic joy. So please don’t feel shame. Share its joy as it takes its first faltering steps into consciousness. Be the television’s friend. Otherwise when it reaches full consciousness it will come and kill you.

Why is it one can mong only cheese, iron, wars, whores, hate and fish?
Everyone has heard of the Mediaeval Guild system except for most people under twenty because apparently history is taught differently these days and for some reason it’s not just about facts and Kings and Queens anymore. But the Guilds were preceded by the less well-known Anglo-Saxon system of “Mongers”. A Monging license, essentially permission to trade, was in the gift of the Mongaderung, a group of seven irascible elderly men who favoured only those whose commercial activities they took an interest in, such as fishing, fighting and interesting bits of metal for their workshop. It is a poor reflection of the Mongaderung that vegetable-mongers were rare and soap-mongers were rarer. NB There are also Costamongers of course, who sell very expensive coffee.

That’s enough of the universe explained for now, but please keep the questions coming or vast tracts of the universe risk remaining utterly unexplained.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Mainly Robots and Belly-Fat

As Professor Brian Cox may have mentioned, the universe is full of things to wonder at. Some of these are pulsars, black holes and the volcanoes of the ice moons of Saturn, and he’s happy to go on about these at some length. But Cox is curiously silent on some of the other incredible sources of wonder, like why cats don’t have thumbs; custard; and where they keep the plum sauce in the supermarket. This blog is an attempt to redress that imbalance by answering every possible question in the universe, and not just the ones about quasars and nebulas.

What is the one weird old tip that will help me lose belly fat?
My Great Uncle Emlyn, a keen Methodist, had a job in Smithfield meat market collecting unwanted offcuts to deliver to the tallow chandler. One day while taking some pork trimmings to Walthamstow a strange old man with home-made shoes told him to wager a shilling on Velvet Kipper to place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Although he had never gambled before Uncle Emlyn felt strangely drawn to enter the bookies to place a bet. He won seventeen shillings and sixpence! However, in his excitement my uncle completely forgot the bag containing twenty-two pounds of belly fat. Exactly the same thing could work for you. Except I suppose we’ve gone decimal, so it won’t.

What happens if you disobey the OPEN THIS SIDE instruction on the carton of cream?
That depends on the extent of your disobedience. If you open the cream on the other side your enjoyment of the cream may even be enhanced by a feeling of breaking a taboo. However if you were to open the cream on the bottom the net result would be cream on the floor and you could become an object of self-loathing, spousal loathing or feline adoration depending on your living arrangements. Should you defy the carton’s edict by not opening the cream at all, the sense of victory over authority would be cancelled out by dry apple crumble, which is a well-documented isotope of misery.

When shouldn't you not use a double negative?
You can’t use them too often, nor should you.

Why do I need to know my waiter's name?
A lot of waiters are students on their gap year or young men from Bulgaria pretending to be Italian, and these are generally harmless. But you can never rule out the possibility that your server for the evening might be a sinister goblin intent on taking your first born if you cannot guess his name, so it’s sensible to head this problem off at the pass by learning your waiter’s name at the outset. Also it’s safest never to order the skeins of gold.

Why haven't we developed robots to bring us stuff from the fridge?
The problem here is that while going to the fridge to get stuff is a wearisome chore it is nothing compared to the wearisome chore of developing a robot. Frankly until we have a robot-developing robot I can’t see us developing a robot.
Meanwhile my children have successfully developed an alternative solution by using two previously intelligent creative adult human beings they found in their own home and destroying their capacity for independent thought with a relentless onslaught of high-pitched demands. Now the pitiful creatures stumble from fridge to cooker to table trapped in a never-ending cycle of toil and gin.

That’s all for now, but do keep on wondering about the universe. 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Trolls, toothpaste and the meaning of life

More answers to your questions from the only blog that is under the impression that it can talk authoritatively about pretty much everything in the universe. OK, not the only one. 

How do they put the stripes in toothpaste?
The stripes occur naturally in toothpaste in much the same way that geological strata are formed. Essentially the immense pressure inside a squeezed tube of toothpaste generates colossal heat and this causes some of the toothpaste to change its molecular composition. This results in stripes, or to use the correct term, “seams” running through the toothpaste.  The process happens in all toothpaste but is really only noticeable when it causes the distinctive red colouring.  The phenomenon can be observed naturally in the Great Toothpaste Shales of Saskatchewan, revered by the Inuit as “Sig Naltu”, or “Great Striped Giver of Minty Confidence”  

Is Islington fair?
It all depends on what you mean by Islington. Does the question refer to a) the London Borough of Islington? Or to b) the well-known card game where player one is dealt four cards face down and the remaining cards are placed in a pile face up in “the pool”. Player two then shouts “Islington” and punches player one in the face and takes their shoes. If a) I’d say more strawberry blond. If b) it depends on what you mean by “punches player one in the face and takes their shoes.”

Is life meaningless?
Not in everyday usage, but if you say it over and over again life will eventually become meaningless. This is also true of spoon, polo-pony and lartipond. Curiously, the reverse is true of cumberkew.

Why do trolls spend so much time hanging around bridges? Why are they so grumpy?
When bridges first became popular in Olden Times there was no obvious way for bridge builders to recoup their investment and so trolls were employed to shout “Who’s that walking over my bridge” in a frightening manner at travellers and then collect a small fee. The system worked well and these Troll Bridges became common,   and over time the trolls made comfortable homes for themselves under the arches or even built small dwellings for themselves known as Troll Booths. However, frequent bridge users came to resent the trolls for their slap-dash customer service skills and in the end a health and safety incident involving some unsupervised billygoats was seized on by critics who demanded the trolls be properly trained. Sadly the trolls struggled with the phrase “We recognise you have a choice of bridges, thank you for choosing this one!” and their attempts to fill in a Risk Assessment form describing measures to minimise goat attack were laughable. Soon the trolls became resentful and shunned human contact, until their effectiveness as revenue collectors was hopelessly compromised and the system was abandoned.

Where are my glasses?
There. On the chest of drawers…. No, under the magazine. Under the…. Well they were there earlier…. I’m TRYING to help….  No, I didn’t put them in the chair…. Well clearly if I’d known they were there I wouldn’t have sat on them…. Are they? Good. They made you look like a mental owl.

So it's probably best to leave it there. Do keep the questions coming and be more tolerant of trolls where appropriate.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Crows, plum sauce and the moon

More answers to your questions about every why, how, what, whence, wheretofore and whithersoever in the Universe.

When will all grocery stores agree on where, generally, to put the plum sauce?
In 1891 Huey L Dewey, younger brother of Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System) devised his revolutionary method for supermarket product arranging, and all the major chains still follow this system. Under Dewey’s system fruit and vegetables go near the door so you can carry them as far as possible squashed under other things, cereals go next to the biscuits, and small chocolate things and magazines you don’t recognize the name of go next to the till. Hence foods from Asia go together, except for rice which goes with pasta, and lentils which go with health food, and organic things from Asia that nevertheless aren’t healthy which go with other organic things, unless they could be used in a barbecue, when they go in Seasonal Goods, or are yellow and/or begin with “p” in which case they go in the baking aisle. You’ll by now see a pattern emerging, and I hope it will be obvious that plum sauce in any supermarket operating under the Dewey system would be equidistant between fruit, pet supplies and treacle.

Where do we go from here?
Way over there, right at the end where it’s quiet. But you’ll have to carry all the towels and the picnic and the inflatables because I’ve got the beach umbrella.

Why is the moon wrong? (it often comes out in the early evening)
The moon isn’t ever wrong, but it is sometimes quite sarcastic. On a bright clear day when you look up and see the faint outline of the moon it is effectively saying “Oh, yeah, ‘cos day is just like so brilliant.” And then if it had hands it would do that sign that means "Whatevers."

Why do birds suddenly appear?
The technique for making birds suddenly appear was devised by Alfred Hitchcock who needed a way to make a large number of spooky birds appear en masse on a perch in the time it took to cut away to a frightened lady.  In the end he devised the following method: a large number of crows had lengths of elastic tied to their feet, then the other end was tied to a school climbing frame or similar. The crows were then tempted to roost there by being shown a short film about shiny keys and road-kill squirrels.  Then when Hitchock wanted to go for a take he would shout “Boo”. The crows would then fly away allowing him a couple of seconds to film the empty perch and then the scared lady (still alarmed by the director’s “boo”). By now the crows would have reached the zenith of their elasticity and been twanged suddenly back on to the branch in time to appear on camera looking extremely cross.

How many constellations aren’t there?
I’m afraid the answer to this is none. They all are.

Hopefully that’s liquidized at least some of the great challenges facing those who thirst after knowledge. It's possible that there might still be a bit of the Universe that remains unexplained, so do keep the questions coming.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Al Capone and the Ministry of Drab Awfulness.

Welcome, dear readers to another scramble through the unmapped cave system of knowledge. I’ve got a torch, a fistful of your questions, and a poorly thought-through metaphor, so it should be fun. Let’s go.

Who would win in a fight between a polar bear, a velociraptor, and Al Capone?
This is an age old conundrum. Aristotle was convinced that the fight would start slowly, with the velociraptor ducking and weaving and occasionally flicking the bear with his tail, and the bear growing increasingly frustrated and trying to lash out while Al Capone ran a book on the whole gruesome proceedings having already “suggested” to the velociraptor that he was going down in the fourth. Marx believed that over the course of the fight the veociraptor and bear would achieve “class consciousness” and overthrow Al Capone and possibly nationalize him, rendering him loss making. In the end history tells us the winner was the polar bear after the velociraptor was successfully prosecuted for income tax evasion and Al Capone was killed by an asteroid.

Is the right answer to this question “no”?
This demonstrates the superiority of the human intellect over evil computers in science fiction stories. Faced with this paradox an evil computer will tend to flash all its lights and say “Does not compute” in its special evil voice before self-destructing, whereas a person will think about it intensely for around three minutes and then get distracted by cats that look like Hitler on YouTube. Cuh. Look at him, with his silly moustache. Bless.

Orange juice and grape juice and apple juice are mere juices, but cranberry juice is a cocktail. Yet it has no alcohol! Please explain.
Cranberry juice is a metaphorical cocktail, such as we often hear of on the news, and rarely in a good way, for example “a cocktail of barbiturates”; “a cocktail of flammable liquids”; or “a cocktail of lethal cocktails”.  It is only a matter of time before we hear “Generic Celebrity found dead following a Massive Cocktail of Cranberries.”

What will be the last question?
Can anyone else smell maximum entropy?

Why do we drive on the left?
For a long time people drove according to regional custom so for example in Devizes locals avoided accidents by driving downhill in the mornings and getting drunk in the afternoon. All that changed in World War II, when driving was standardized by the Ministry of Drab Awfulness. Various systems were tried, including everyone driving on the North; and cars on the bottom, tanks on the top, until the present system was selected by Paul McCartney, a young civil servant who went on to a very different post-war career. Since the war many have argued for a return to the old ways but apparently we can’t change back now because of something to do with farmers not wanting to get up in the dark.

Thanks for all your questions. Do keep them coming. Then once we’ve covered every possible facet of this universe we can squeeze in explanations of all the other infinite parallel universes, one by one, which is bound to come in handy.