One winter day, not too long ago, I found myself at the edge of a small bay on Lake Ontario. The night had been still and so the bay had frozen as smooth as if Zambonied. There was no snow on the ice. Prompted by some childhood impulse, I picked up a smooth stone from the shore and fired it to slide out along the frozen surface. To my amazement the ice sang under the caress of the stone. Disbelieving, I tried it again. And again. Each time an uncanny sound returned to me, something like the whine of a . . . [more]
Archive for ‘The Friday Fillip’ Feature
Nothing works the way it’s supposed to. At least it can seem like that sometimes. And the things in our life have been fractious long before they were also chip-driven.You can bet that the homo erectus who carved this lovely pattern into a shell more than half a million years ago had more than one shark tooth scribe split or crack or just plain resist the plan. And it doesn’t bear thinking how many stone axe heads have flown off at critical junctures over the millennia.
Things, as we all know, have minds of their . . . [more]
Here, north of the equator, November is the Thursday of months. (Just as Thursday is the November of days.)
It stands between you and a big holiday stretch, with nothing to offer but accumulating weariness and the irritating jingling telltales of better times to come — but not yet.
Worse, November is dark, and when it’s not dark it’s grey. In fact, thanks to the increasingly contemned daylight saving time, November hosts the darkest morning of the year, a treasure that you might think would belong to the winter solstice. However, just before DST ends, which happened this year on . . . [more]
The world is a great deal bigger than we know, bigger than we can even imagine. This, at least, we understand, albeit at one of those unhelpful meta levels in our culture’s epistemology. It is the task of science and religion, I suppose, to toil away perpetually at the ever present rockface of the unknown. But somewhere between the physics and the metaphysical we ordinary folk can catch occasional glimpses of the extraordinary, the glint of something unconsidered.
I don’t mean to make it sound as though these insights are always numinous or portentous. They may be, of course, but . . . [more]
We are all rhetors. Lawyers more than most, using words to persuade, which is to say arguing. Most people think of arguing as a negative thing, emphasizing the fact of disagreement, disharmony. But, of course, just as it takes two to tango, so it takes two to have an argument, and the latter, like a tango, needs the pair to engage and stay responsive to each other. A good argument is, in fact, an exercise in careful cooperation. It’s a duet.
Most duets in music don’t display the aggressive edge that arguments can have, opting to explore the harmonious side . . . [more]
I’ve long thought that law and poetry share a number of interesting features, or, to put it another way, live on the same language axis. Look at what’s valued in both:
- concision: indeed a parsimony, a precisely “shaped charge,” if you will, brought about in law’s case by the notion of relevance and the wish to do as little harm as possible, and in the case of poetry brought about by the poet’s wish to capture and express something real and true and specific.
- precision: by this I mean taking very great care, word by word, to choose
Ever since things were invented, which is to say ever since the dawn of time, we’ve needed to take these things from one place to another. Using wheels to shift our stuff was a smart but later development and one that even now isn’t always available to us. So a great deal of the time we carry.
This business of carrying is so fundamental that we use the term in a large number of metaphorical ways, too: we “carry” tunes, conversations, genes, resentments, and legal cases, among other things. But I thought we’d take a look today at how in . . . [more]
Verbs like “heave” or “shove,” “endure” or “conquer”?
Nope. More like “be” and “do” and “let.”
I chanced on the word “gat” recently. Not the gun slang, though; rather, a past tense of “get.” It came in a passage from the King James version of Ecclesiastes (the “there is no new thing under the sun” book; a short, well-written, skeptical blast worth reading in full):
. . . [more]
2:8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as
Too fast, too slow, too big, too small, too quiet — most of what there is lies beyond our senses, which is intriguing, if also more than a little humbling. So ever since Galileo spotted the moons of Jupiter and van Leeuwenhoek watched his animalcules wriggle around, the rest of us have been fascinated by this invisible world made present for us by clever scientists and engineers.
Photography has played a huge role in gratifying our appetite for the imperceptible. There’s the obvious but now taken-for-granted ability to see aspects of the otherwise lost, invisible past, of course. And shots . . . [more]
Remember school physics and the whole business of learning the difference between mass and weight? Weight is what you gain as you get older and what the Beatles were singing about; mass is, well, a much heavier concept by far, given that it remains constant no matter where you are — here, on the moon, or in deep space.
And constancy is the thing. At least it is if you’re to swap measurements with others or carry measurements over time. Think only of the Chancellor’s foot, as John Selden did four hundred years ago:
. . . [more]
. . . what
Emergent phenomena aren’t really predictable. They’re the result of the interaction of complex forces that don’t combine in a simple or linear fashion. So you don’t know what you’ll get until it arrives.
Certainly no one predicted — or could predict — that the combination of a large number of online photographs would be a formless blur of orange. Jim Bumgardner, “a senior nerd at Disney Interactive Labs,” happened to be puzzled when his summations of a lot of Flickr photos all produced this bronzy, beigey orange each and every time. Since his original observation way back in 2005, . . . [more]
Folding is fairly nifty.
For one thing, it lets you increase surface area without increasing volume. Which is why radiators are folded into sections or have multiple fins, allowing heat to escape maximally into the surrounding air via convection off the expanded surfaces and why ostriches fold their wings and legs against their bodies at night to cut down on heat loss. Our lungs pack a lot of oxygen transferring surface — 2,400 kilometres of airways! — into a comparatively modest volume thanks to a kind of folding. And our “little grey cells” find themselves on folds surrounding unfolded . . . [more]