I Want The World To Stop

So sings Stuart Braithwaite in Belle & Sebastian’s 2010 hit… er… I Want The World To Stop as he laments the mundanity of modern life, the all too rapid passing of time, and the moments that are now but memories.

I’m not sure whether he means the spinning of the planet or the orbiting of the planet around the sun, but it doesn’t really matter. Either would be absolutely catastrophic.

Let’s be very clear right now: Stopping the world would be a terrible thing to do.

And because of that, whatever your personal reasons for this – even if it is the melancholic and introspective desire to relive fleeting reminiscences – we should probably avoid doing it.

The world only works because it’s moving, both round and round, and round and round the sun.

If you stop the spinning, in a best case scenario in which this is done gradually, one side of the earth would be constantly facing the sun and the other would be constantly… not. Humans, animals, plants, and indeed THE EARTH wasn’t made for this. While the hot side would be extremely uncomfortable until everything eventually died from being too hot, the cold side would likely die more quickly, with no sunlight to keep plants alive and the animals warm. I’m giving us a few weeks or maybe a couple of months at best before we’re all gone. Joy.

Of course, if you instantly stop the world spinning, bad things will happen a lot more quickly. At the poles, you might be fine for a short while, but anywhere else, you’re immediately in a lot of trouble. Stuff at the equator is moving at about 1,670 kilometres per hour (1,037 mph). Bringing that to an abrupt halt would be like a driver putting on the brakes in a car and you getting held back by your seatbelt as your inertia wants you to keep moving forward.
The problem is that everything on earth isn’t wearing a seatbelt and it’s braking from anything up to [checks notes] about 1,670 kilometres per hour (1,037 mph). Basically, everything – including humans (and including Belle & Sebastian) – will be wiped off the face of the planet.

Anything left even vaguely unscathed will then be subject to the constant (but brief) summer or winter situation described above.

And it’s really not much better if we take Stuart’s words to mean the orbit of the earth around the sun.

Again, if we stopped immediately, inertia would come into play again and we’d all be hurled off the face of the planet (or into the face of the planet, depending on which side we happened to be on when the stopping thing happened). We’re doing 108,000kph (67,000 mph) through space, so we’re all moving at about 30km each second. Stop the world immediately (this would take a ridiculous amount of energy, but hey, I’m not the one that wrote the song) and within one second, your body will want to be 30km from where it is now: that could be 30km towards the sky, sideways across the face of the earth, or it could be 30km into the earth. Sadly, you’re only really about 0.0015km above the earth, so the remaining 29.9985km will just be substituted by your body being driven into the now stationary planet at just under 108,000kph.


And if it the world gradually stopped? Well, we’re lucky enough to be treading a very fine line in terms of the livability of our orbit. Even our closest neighbours – Venus and Mars – are far too hot and far too cold respectively to support life. And it’s that distance from the sun and the gentle tug-of-war between our orbit and the gravitational pull of the big yellow thing that keeps us there. Take away the orbit element of that equation and we plunge into a fiery death like one team has left go of the rope.

It would likely take about 8 weeks before we actually hit the surface of the sun – our speed increasing all the time as the gravitational pull got stronger – but happily, we’d all be gone long before then, as we slowly started our approach, falling out of our fragile little habitable zone and being thoroughly cooked on our way down towards certain doom. Lovely.

Look, perhaps I’m taking the lyrics a bit too literally, but wanting the world to stop just seems like a very bad idea. Maybe rather just reflect over some old photos, relive the memories and smile because those moments happened, rather than killing us all in some horrific manner just because you miss some nights out at club 30 years back.

Day 49 – The nextension

The President was only 22 minutes late for his address last night. In it, he said that there would be some relaxation of the lockdown at the end of the month and a gradual re-opening of the economy, but not for those areas with high and/or increasing transmission rates.

The next extension. The nextension.

The nextension means at least another 18 days at Level 4 before we even get considered for any sort of parole.


But as you can see, Cape Town is very much one of those red areas (it’s right at the top of the South African Covid tree, in fact), but then so are all the major metros to some extent. And Port Elizabeth.

And so it seems unlikely that we’ll get any lockdown relief any time soon. In the meantime, the economy will have rely on the 27 people who work outside Cape Town and Joburg, including the 2 guys in the Northern Cape.

Phew. Recession and economic disaster averted.

Not really – unless we are going to become a sand-based economy.
Still, I’m past ruling anything out at this stage.

Today, I’ve mainly been walking a grumpy beagle, putting the finishing touches to a quiz I’m hosting tomorrow evening, and helping out with school science projects. We’re delving deeply into Physics: my favourite of all the Sciences (assuming you exclude all the good ones first). I’m knee-deep in frequencies and wavelengths. I thought I’d left this all behind at school. That was always the plan, and indeed the intervening n years have been blissful – at least in their lack of physics.

(I admit that I have used gravity quite a bit, if I’m honest.)

My brain hurts and I need a beer. But even those have become much more valuable given the guaranteed extended time before I’m able to buy any more.

Learning about the universe

I’m learning about the universe via this tasty Xmas gift:


It’s really interesting stuff, but it’s also rather complicated.
Here’s a quick taster:

But the angular power spectrum also had something to say about the nature of the matter comprising our universe. Because it contains charged particles, ordinary matter will have interacted electromagnetically to some degree with the photons in the microwave background. Contrast that with dark matter, which – being dark (and so by definition not interacting electromagnetically) – can have influenced the CMB only through its gravity. These fundamental differences manifest themselves in the power spectrum, through the positions and relative heights of the observed peaks. Reverse-engineering this data showed that 95 per cent of the critical density of the universe does not interact with radiation and so must be composed of something other than ordinary atoms. Primordial nucleosynthesis confirms this too.

I’m on page 114, which coincidentally is also the number of times more powerful my brain would have to be to catch this all first time around without having to flip back a couple of pages every now and again to reinforce knowledge I only gained 60 seconds ago.

I can’t blame author Paul Parsons. He’s doing a great job of spoon-feeding me an extremely complex subject without belittling me in any way. That said, even he is clear that the next bit is going to be:

a quick ramble through the altogether baffling science of quantum mechanics…

I tried once before to understand the basics of quantum mechanics and it didn’t end well. Even seeing the title of Chapter 6 brought back memories of vodka-fuelled late nights in the lab trying to find a quark, and the months of therapy that followed my failure.

Fingers crossed that Paul can help me find my way a little better than last time.

Depressing physics…

It’s not just South Africa. Everything slowly descends into chaos.

Seriously. Whenever atoms are in any given structure or arrangement, they are displaying unnatural organisation. The universe doesn’t like that and it fights back by reducing everything slowly and surely into chaos.
That’s not such a difficult thing to consider when you’re thinking about a radioactive isotope, but then someone goes and makes this (equally valid) observation:

Depressingly, it’s all true.

Snoopy is rapidly disintegrating and so am I.
And before you start feeling all superior, so are you.

Physics Demo

The best branch of science is microbiology. I can say this for certain because I’m a microbiologist, so I should know. There are other sciences that are quite good as well, and then there are some that are OK, and then somewhere deep into the lower half of the list of good sciences is physics. Physicists would probably argue with this, saying that “without physics, there would be no gravity”, but this is plainly untrue. Without microbiology, there would still be bacteria, and it’s not like we’d all go floating off the surface of the planet if physics was suddenly abolished as a science.

Anyway, this isn’t their list.

I did see some physics demonstrated the other day though, and I was impressed. Not impressed enough to move it above anthropology, but impressed nevertheless. And so, I’m going to share the video with you, right here, right now.

What happens in the video isn’t unexpected – physics tells us what to expect and what physics tells us to expect, occurs – but it is still a bit weird and tough to get your head around. Allow me to demonstrate – bring forth The Coxmatron!

The lead in is actually really interesting too, but if you just want to skip to the mentally confusing bit, jump to 2:30.

Galileo hypothesised that falling objects would fall at the same rate regardless of their masses, and so yes, the only reason that a bowling bowl falls more quickly than a bunch of feathers is because of the added air resistance on the latter. And yes, you know that, but because you have never seen a bowling ball and some feathers dropped in the absence of air (until now), it’s properly weird to actually see happening, isn’t it?


* It’s nowhere near as good as microbiology, but still much better than biochemistry.