20 May 2011

Jumping out of a bus: A physics challenge!

If you have studied Physics at least upto Higher Secondary level, you will be well aware of inertia and its plays. And here goes a popular question; why do we run forward after jumping off a running bus? You should notice that 'forward' is highlighted. When I asked this question to a post graduate in physics, he felt it insulting!
'Who doesn't know that it is inertia? Don't you treat me like a school boy!'; that was his reply.
Well, after asking this to a lot of people I feel this is not a school-time question. If you also say 'It is obviously inertia', you should answer this question;"Then why do you jump forward?" Let me explain this question a bit: Here, what you mean by inertia is your inability to come to rest by yourself, since, before jumping out you were moving forward with the velocity of the bus. If you don't nullify the effect of that velocity you will fall forward, right? I hope you don't disagree upto this point. But the crucial question here is, if you jump forward, how will you nullify that effect? You are just adding extra velocity to that forward velocity! In order to cancel the effect of a forward velocity, you have to introduce a backward velocity, not a forward one. So it means if you jump off a bus and run forward, you cannot cancel the effect of inertia.
Most of you may not agree to this because your experiences tell the reverse. But I didn't say you have to jump backward next time while jumping off a running bus. I just said, you cannot cancel inertia by jumping forward. Actually, the answer to that question is not purely physics but at the most physiology! If you are to cancel the inertia effect, physics tell you to jump backward. But the physiology of your body is not suitable for that. As long as you cannot jump back with a velocity greater than that of the bus' forward velocity, your resultant velocity will be along the bus' direction and you tend to fall back. Now because human body cannot prevent a backward fall, you should not do that. Human body is well equipped to prevent a forward fall (that is what we do while walking and running) with two legs and that is why we jump forward although it increases the effect of inertia.
Still don't agree? Suppose you throw a glass bottle from a running bus to the road. When will it break more easily, when you throw forward or when you throw backward? The answer to this question will solve our first question well.

18 May 2011

The most expensive beverage in the world!

'Beverage' is one of the most popular terms in our society. So it can be interesting to know about the most expensive beverage in the world, right? Its name is Kopi Luwak. It is basically a coffee bean and it costs between 200 to 1,200 US dollars per kilogram. Then it should be something very great, isn't it?
But then you should know how it gets this value. Kopi Luwak is also called civet coffee (Civet or Luwak is a small mammal found on certain regions of Asia). It is made from a type of coffee bean berries. What civets do here is to eat these berries first, for their fleshy pulp. Then these berries go  through the digestive tract of civets, gets mixed with various enzymes and digestive juices there and finally gets defecated! Now we have to collect it. Yes, I mean it, we have to collect shit! After gathering, washing, sun drying and brewing, these excreted beans yield a highly aromatic coffee. And there it is, the most expensive beverage in the world. Looking at the size of a civet, you can imagine how difficult the production of this coffee can be,

Kopi Luwak is produced mainly in the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and also in Indonesia and Philippines.

16 May 2011

Pseudologia Fantastica

Funny term, ain't it? Doesn't it seem like a scientific term? Yes, it is. You may find it interesting to know that telling lies can be a disease!
Pseudologia fantastica is the scientific name of the disease 'pathological lying'. That is the state in which you tell lies as a habit or as a compulsion. While ordinary lies will be aimed at certain purposes like making profit, escaping punishments etc, pseudologia fantastica is characterized by lies without purposes.
It is a mental ailment usually reported in youth, typical onset age being 16. Most of the reported patients were found to have abnormalities in the central nervous system and this is not a kind of serious psychosis. A typical characteristic is that the lies told by the 'patient' may not be completely improbable, but may have some element of truth. If you force him, he may admit that it is a lie, although unwillingly. Also the tendency to make lies is long lasting, and most of the lies told will be in favour of the liar himself. E.g, telling a brave thing he had done, telling that some very famous person is his relative etc. This disease can also be present as a false memory syndrome, i.e., the sufferer actually believe that fictitious things have happened.

15 May 2011

Going to Milan? Smile Please!!

You ever propose to go to Milan in Italy? You will suffer if you are a serious person. Because, in Milan if you ever appear in public, there should be a smile on your face! The law in the province of Milan requires every citizen to wear a smile. If arrested for violation, the fine can go unto $100. You are exempted from this law only if you are visiting a patient in hospital or you are attending a funeral.
Italy has got many strange laws, some nationwide and some pertaining to towns or provinces. Here are a few examples;
* In Italy, a man can be arrested if he’s wearing a skirt!
* In Turin(a city in Northern Italy), dog owners can be fined heavily unless they walk their dogs at least three times a day!
* In Lerici(another northern city in Italy), it’s illegal to hang a towel out of a window to dry it!
* In Rome, groups of three people or more are not allowed to sing, drink, dance, or eat in the streets of the city, lest they want to face a €500 fine!
* In Eraclea, it’s illegal to build sandcastles on the beach!

Although these laws are mostly ignored by citizen in Italy (as is the case with public smoking in our place), there do are such laws there. It means, if somebody wants to give you a kick, there can be many ways of doing it in the form of fine.

10 May 2011

Go to Hell!

Have you ever shouted 'Go to Hell!' to somebody? At least, you must have heard someone shouting it so and the one to whom it is shouted is definitely insulted.
But in Norway many people may say this casually because they have a place named 'HELL' there! In Norwegian language, the word 'hell' means 'luck'. And due to this peculiar name, this place has now become a tourist attraction where the visitors wish to take photograph in front of Hell Railway Station.

09 May 2011

Before building your home in Switzerland!

One of my dear friends is very enthusiastic about Switzerland. Its her over-enthusiasm that made me have a skimming through a few details of Switzerland. I stumbled upon a strange law there,
"Every inhabitant in the country is by law required to have access to a bomb-shelter"
Quite funny, eh? For many Swiss citizens, this space is in a large civil defense shelter, but for others, and specifically non-Swiss, this shelter space comes in the form of a heavy-duty basement shelter. The bomb shelter isn't a nice-to-have or a government recommendation, but it's a mandatory requirement. That means, if you are to move to Switzerland and to build a house there, first of all you have to build a strong bunker beneath your basement. Don't think this is a simple thing. A heavy-duty bunker is very costly to build, having long and thick concrete walls along with carbon steel, vault-style doors, air filters etc.
This law is the proof that Switzerland is very serious about its civil defense and this tradition dates back to World War II, where bomb-shelters were essential against the fear of German invasion.

04 May 2011

Have you ever felt sulfuric acid in your eyes?

Question itself is a bit frightening, right? The most cruel chemical sulfuric acid falling into our eyes!
Well, if your answer to my question is a 'No', then that means you have never cut an onion in your life. Yes, sulfuric acid is the villain that makes you cry while cutting onions.
Let's talk some chemistry this time. When you cut onions, you are breaking the cells in it which releases a sulfur containing chemical called amino acid sulfoxide and some enzymes. These enzymes convert the sulfoxides into sulfenic acid, which is a highly unstable compound. It is suddenly converted into a gas called propanethiol S-oxide. It is a low density gas and so wafts up in the air soon. As you know, our eyes always produce tears necessary to prevent our eyes from going dry. When the propanethiol S-oxide reacts with the water in our eyes, caustic sulfuric acid is formed. Can our brain wait anymore? Before sulfuric acid burns our eyes, brain give order to wash off this villain and we start crying.

03 May 2011

Was Napoleon Really Short?

We all know that Napoleon Bonaparte was called the Little Corporal. And we often quote him as an example to illustrate that limitations can be overcome easily because Short Napoleon was one of the greatest of all conquerors. There is also a term 'Napoleon complex' to informally refer to the inferiority complex certain people have on being short.
But, the fact is Napoleon was not shorter than any average Frenchman! He was actually 1.686 meter tall. Is it really short?
The misconception that Napoleon was short came due to the difference in English feet and French feet. In French units, Napoleon's height was 5 feet 2 inches. But when we convert it to internationally accepted units, it is 5 feet 6.5 inches. So this french unit was misinterpreted by the English speaking world. The salutation 'Little Corporal' might have come from some affection towards him and not from his being short.

01 May 2011

Radio and Nikola Tesla

Once again, I want to talk about a school day question; who invented the radio? The answer is ready-made, isn't it? Marconi! But that is surely not the right answer. Fact is, no single person can be called the inventor of radio. There were many, including the familiar names Hendrich Hertz, Earnest Rutherford and even our own Jagdish Chandra Bose. 
When I went through the history of radio, I stumbled upon a name- Nikola Tesla. A name that we only hear during electromagnetism classes, as the unit for magnetic flux density. We don't often hear about him much. But, he is the highest ranked contributor to the invention of radio. The thing which had prevented the Nobel prize from being given to him was his clash with Thomas Edison, his former colleague and partner in radio related research.
He had a very remarkable personality. In almost all modern electrical inventions, you can trace at least one principle back to Tesla. It is said that he had photographic memory. He could byheart books by volumes and most of the engineering marvels he had done had no drawings! Drawing part were often done in his mind. He had so many revolutionary ideas like wireless power transmission, even in the 19th century. Many of his ideas seemed to be over-imaginative to his contemperories and he was often called a 'mad scientist'.[Read more about him] I believe he didn't get the recognition he deserved. Even our text books neglect him by confining that name to just a measuring unit.
He is, perhaps, the only real scientist who appeared as character in fictions! One of them was made into a movie, 'The Prestige' where Nikola Tesla is a character. It was that movie which made me read more about Tesla beyond that measuring unit.