Monday, July 24, 2006
Officionados of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy will remember the Total Perspective Vortex which shows its victim the entire unimaginable infinity of the universe with a very tiny marker that says "You Are Here" which points to a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot.
Let's get things into perspective by considering the ratio 1:1,000,000:
- an average adult (1.7m) is about a million times bigger than a large bacterium (upto 2 microns);
- a 5-storey building (17m) is about a million times bigger than the width of the finest human hair (17 microns);
- the height of Big Ben or the length of a football pitch (about 100m) is a million times the thickness of paper (0.1mm);
- 2km is a million times wider than a grain of rice (2mm).
If I were as tall:
... as Mount Everest (8848m), then an adult would be as tall as the thickness of 3 pieces of paper;
... as the Earth is wide (12,756km), then Mount Everest would be smaller than a grain of rice;
... as the distance from the Earth to the Sun (150 million km), then the Earth would be a little bigger than the thickness of paper;
... as the distance from the Sun to the nearest star (4.22 light years), then the distance from the Earth to the Sun would be about the size of 3 large bacteria side by side;
... as the Galaxy is wide (100,000 light years), then the distance from the Sun to the nearest star would be less than the thickness of a piece of paper;
... as the Universe is wide (20 billion light years) then, the Galaxy would be half the thickness of the thinnest human hair.
[See Orders of Magnitude and Physics Factbook]
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Neptune would be at your knees, Saturn at your nipples, Jupiter on your chin and Mars at the level of your eyebrows; the Earth would be in the middle of your forehead. Of course, on that scale the Sun would be smaller than a grain of rice (about 1/5th of the width) and the Earth would be much smaller than the width of a human hair.
Friday, July 21, 2006
"The Earth was created by God 10,000 years ago and its largest natural satellite, the Moon, was orbiting it shortly thereafter, around 10,000 years ago."
Which just goes to show that you can't rely on it as a authoritative source of information. Some people believe in a god who you could only describe as a trickster (or perhaps a joker), knocking together a planet just a few thousand years ago but making it look billions of years old; how we laughed.
You can get an idea of the relative sizes of the Earth and Moon quite easily: hold your arm out so the shoulder to the elbow is horizontal and the elbow to fingers is vertical. If you were as tall as the Earth is wide then the Moon would be as wide as from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger.
Now you just need to make your upper arm ten times longer and you'll have got the relative distance, although it would then be quite hard to pick up a cup of tea.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Monday, July 17, 2006
Whilst rumpology looks like a case of the extremely gullible being parted from their money, this BBC news item about Malaria is more tragic: people have been taking homeopathic remedies instead of anti-malarial drugs whilst travelling and consequently catching malaria.
The basic idea behind Homeopathy is that, if someone is ill, you should find a substance that produces similar symptoms and then dilute it so much that none of the original substance is left - and that's your medicine. In other words it is utterly stupid.
Real medicine can be shown to work by placebo-controlled double-blind testing - patients are given either the medicine or a placebo (e.g. chalk) but neither the patient nor the doctor knows which as it is randomly determined by someone else - this gets rid of the many effects that obscure whether or not the medicine works especially the placebo effect but also confirmation bias (giving greater weight to evidence that supports your belief than contrary evidence).
As with so many alternative medicines, its adherents claim that homeopathy can't be tested in this way (see last quote in this BBC item); in other words its effects are so subtle that they can't be seen. You'll note that other medicines that actually work, such as Asprin or the anti-malarial drug Lariam, can be tested in this way - and that this methodology also allows us to look for side-effects attributable to the drugs.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
For comparison the moulded plastic garden chair you can see is the normal size for fitting a comfortable western bottom:
...and here's a close up:
Monday, July 10, 2006
It was at this point that the dishwasher repairmen arrived, they were going "oh, it's a Bosch" and telling me that it wasn't worth fixing (they didn't charge me anything, so that's alright) - don't get one with a digital display the steam corrodes the solder connections, apparently.
Meanwhile, the squirty man squirted more stuff up the drain pipe and then down the pipe (see picture). This lead to thousands of wasps tumbling out of the bottom of the pipe and the drain is now heaving with them.
When I went outside to look at the nest, I saw two wasps flying together with one on top of the other and I thought "oh no, their mating!"; then the uppermost one dropped the other one on my head - so I guess those wasps that are still alive are removing the bodies of their fallen comrades. I await the return of the wasp-finder general.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
So we called in a pest control company to get rid of it. This consisted of a very talkative old fellow squiting poison into the nest from inside our loft. Apparently the poison they use is in tiny balls that are coated in a substance that humans can't break down but that the pheromones of wasps do break down; it then gets into the wasp through glands at the back of its head which the wasp rubs continually to make sure it has the right smell to be accepted into the nest.
We stood in the driveway chatting as the wasps spiralled down out of the sky; then we noticed a tremendous buzzing noise coming from nearby and realised that the wasps were coming out of their nest and then falling immediately down the drain pipe and collecting in big heap of dying wasps.
The man said that there would have been something like 18,000 wasps in the nest and that they look for food more than 2 hours flight away, so it would take a couple of hours or more for them all to come back to the nest and be poisoned. He said that a nest doubles in size every 7 days and it used to be very unusual to get such big nests before the end of summer (September), but the weather is so mad nowadays that the season for wasps is starting earlier and lasting longer. He showed me a ping-pong ball sized nest in the loft in which he said the queen had hibernated during the winter.