Reader Alert: This was the column I was going to write before the Tighty-Whitey-Bomber messed up everyone's holiday week. If you're looking for blood-boiling rhetoric, this edition of MULLINGS isn't going to be it.
Back to blood-boiling rhetoric on Friday. Maybe.I have been thinking about scales. Time scales, temperature scales, even metaphysical scales.
We are now in the year 2010. I don't want to revisit the argument which states that, because there was no year zero, this is not the first year of the second decade of the 21st century.
When I turned sixty no one said, "You're in the last year of your 50's!" I was officially in my sixties.
The calendar scale which reads 2010 is not for everyone. For those who follow the Hebrew calendar we have been, since September, celebrating like its 5070. For Muslims, since mid-December this has been 1431.
If you are Chinese, on February 17 you will be celebrating the year 4707 according to most scholars.
If you are of Mayan extraction you are celebrating the impending end of the world which will occur on December 21, 2012.
That date also happens to be the date of my 65th birthday so the theory that I will never collect a dime of my Social Security, nor utilize a minute of Medicare will, if the Mayan calendar is correct, come to pass.
Even the end of the world is all about me.
In the olden times, under the Gregorian calendar, the year began in March - the vernal equinox - the coming of Spring and all the rebirth imagery which comes with it. The Julian calendar changed the beginning of the year to shortly after the Winter Solstice - the day of shortest daylight in the northern hemisphere.
Want a really different time scale? If we lived on Neptune, and used the same Julian calendar, this would be the year 12 because it takes Neptune a little under 165 Earth years to make one revolution around the sun.
Temperature scales are interesting as well. The Fahrenheit scale, with which we are so familiar in the U.S. has water freezing at 32 degrees and boiling at 212º. Actually the scale was changed slightly from Daniel Fahrenheit's original measurements so that the divisions between freezing and boiling (212-32 = 180) were even.
In his original scale, normal human temperature was 96º. After the scale was adjusted, normal became 98.6 degrees and also provided the title for a 1967 song by Keith.
Along came a guy named Anders Celsius and devised a new scale in which water freezes at zero and boils at 100. Hasn't caught on here, yet.
There are other scales of temperature, too. The most interesting is the Kelvin scale (named for William Thompson who, as luck would have it, was the 1st Baron Kelvin) in which zero is the point at which molecules have so little energy they can't transfer any - absolute zero. In thermodynamics this is called the point of zero entropy, but I only know that because I looked it up.
Absolute zero Kelvin is about -273 degrees Celsius.
Here's an extra credit question: What is the only temperature at which Fahrenheit and Celsius are equal?
You have to go to the Secret Decoder Ring page for the answer which I actually already knew as one of those "little known facts" which both Cliff Claven and I are eager to share with people who are largely not all that eager to learn about them.
Now to the metaphysical scale. The other day, NASA released another one of those Hubble photos which it claims sees farther back in time - in any scale - than anyone has seen before. The current photo is presumed to see back to 600 million years after the birth of the universe; after the "big bang" which occurred about 13.7 billion years ago.
The problem with the "big bang" is that it doesn't answer the question: What came before? The problem with our understanding of the universe is: What's beyond the farthest star, or planet, molecule, atom, or quark?
That's the ultimate problem of scale.
Here's a try: Everything we know in our existence is nothing more than a patch of fur on the cutest puppy you've ever imagined. That puppy exists in a universe which is a blade of grass on a perfectly manicured lawn. The lawn is in a universe which is … well, you understand where I'm going.
Maybe the "big bang" was nothing more than the puppy scratching an itch.
In my mind, God oversees the entire upward and downward scale of all existence.
I pray that you have a good year. Whatever good means to you, in whatever year it might be.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to Fahrenheit, Celsius, Keith, metaphysics and the answer to the EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION.
Also, a Mullfoto of the frozen Potomac River at Alexandria and a Catchy Caption of the Day.