Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

The Worst Sounds In The World: Part II

The man up top here might be hearing one of the worst sounds in the world.  I think maybe a bee flew into his ear. Anyway, whatever is going on, he doesn’t seem too stoked about it.  But the question is: are we talking about a Type I or a Type II sound here?  A bee buzzing in your ear may very well be a Type I sound.

Remember how in Part I  I talked about how I think the worst sounds in the world can be categorized into Type I (Neurological/Hardwired) and Type II (Situational/Generally Ominous)?  And remember when I told you that Type I sounds fall somewhere in a specific range of frequencies?  You don’t remember, do you?  You didn’t even read Part I, did you?  OK whatever.  Go read Part I.  I’ll wait here…

Type I sounds have frequency components ranging between 2000 and 5000 Hz.  Right?  And while you were refreshing your memory I found out that bee buzzing doesn’t go higher than about 1000 Hz.  That’s 1000 wingbeats per seconds, which is a lot of wingbeats, even for a bee.  So bee-buzzing can’t go on the list of Type I sounds.  But I agree that hearing an angry bee buzz inside your ear canal isn’t all that great, so I’m putting it on the list of the worst Type II sounds.  Meanwhile, here are the rest of my worst Type II sounds:

Driveway Crunch:  This is not the name of a new kind of chocolate bar.  It’s the hideous crunch you hear when you’re in a hurry and you back your new car out of the garage into another vehicle. Trust me, I know.  I backed straight into the the driver’s side front bumper of my ancient Honda Civic, now being driven by a teenager who wasn’t supposed to be parked on the driveway in the first place, not that I’m bitter.

’99 Civic now referred to as “Hubert” by its current driver.

You can tell by the expert repair job just where my rear bumper impacted Hubert’s front bumper. (That tape used to be red, by the way.)  The tape doesn’t seem to detract from the cred that the driver -whom I’ll call Andrew for the sake of argument-earns with his friends.  Apparently it’s way cool to be able to drive stick these days.  Anyway, like I said, Andrew wasn’t supposed to be parked on the driveway but in my defense, I think a bee or something flew into my ear just as I was backing out.  Either way, I will never forget the sound of  that crunch.

Cap’n Dave Swears Up A Blue Streak: This is the sound of a man I’ll call Dave swearing his head off as he hops around his back yard on one foot.   This sound happens to have been triggered by another sound, which was the sound of a nail being driven laterally into Dave’s right pinkie toe, when he stepped on the air-nailer lying in the grass.



air nail protruding from pinkie toe
See that little thing sticking out of the side of “Dave’s” pinkie toe?  I’m talking about the thing that looks like it could be the head of a nail.

Now I’m sure that there are a host of questions buzzing (!) around inside your head at this point.  What’s an air-nailer?  How in the heck did this happen?  Is it in any way remotely possible, I mean just even a teensy little bit possible that this man is wearing a flip-flop?  If so, why in heaven’s name would a man wear a flip-flop when he’s working with an air-nailer?  Especially if he’s had about 40 years experience in the construction industry.  Hypothetically.

Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you.

Actually, I do know what to tell you.  This is a perfect segue into the next sound on my list.

The Next Sound On My List:  This is the sound of a person you might be married to saying, “I told you to put on your work boots!  Why in heaven’s name were you rushing around the back yard in your flip-flops, trying to nail those boards back on the fence before it rains?”  This sound is also called: “I told you so.”

I hate that sound.

The “You’re an idiot” Sound:

Note: if you’re not from Ontario you can skip this sound.  No one from outside of Ontario seems to know how to play Euchre.

Sweet Euchre hand. If spades are trump.
If spades are trump, and this is your Euchre hand, you are laughing my friend.

Picture this: You’re playing Euchre (like watered down bridge but with fewer cards).  You and your partner are down nine points to six.  (The game goes to ten.)  You’re dealing and the nine of spades is up.  You hold the ten of spades and in desperation you pick up the nine, hoping that your partner has a hand something like the hand in the picture above.  Why did you make it spades?  With the nine and ten.  You should never do that! Even a baby chimpanzee knows you should never do that.  Anyway, spades are now trump.  You say, “I’m going alone.”  That’s even worse.

You’re probably an idiot.

Your partner Tim has no spades so when he hears your declaration, he immediately makes a distinct choking sound, indicating that you just blew the game.  For the third time in a row.  That choking sound is the “You are definitely an idiot” sound.

Ominous Mechanical Sound:

This sound can also be called the “You’re an even bigger idiot than I thought” sound.  This sound is the sound that the motor in your treadmill desk makes when its bearings are giving out.  Again.  You heard this sound two years ago before you had to replace the original motor.  It’s an ominous grating/rumbling sound, in case anyone asks.

It’s also the sound that makes you realize that you ignored the fact that after you replaced the original motor, your treadmill was still generating massive amounts of static electricity because you had been neglecting to keep the deck underneath the belt you walk on for 6-8 hours/day properly lubricated-which wrecked the bearings of the second motor.  That was definitely a run-on sentence, but who cares at this point? In your defense, the people who sold you the treadmill in the first place neglected to mention that little detail about lubrication.

Still and all, you are at least a Class A Dunderhead.

diagnosing a bearing problem with a stethoscope
Never throw away your stethoscope.  Even if you’re a dunderhead.

Penultimate Bad Sound (#5 if you don’t count the bee):

This is the absolute worst sound in the world.  I mean it.  It’s the sound that your dog Mickey makes at 3 A.M. when he has what I’ll call a: “G.I. Event” beside your bed.  In other words, he’s pooping on the carpet.  Again.  For about the fourth time.  Why did you feed him those old Shitake mushrooms for supper?  He nosed them suspiciously.  That should have been your first clue.

I tried to tell you I didn’t like those mushrooms

Anyway, that sound means that you will spend the next three days applying every detergent/enzyme/powerful oxidant concoction in the known Universe to the stain in an attempt to remove it.  If your carpet could talk, you know what it would be saying.

You should just get a new dog.  Or a new carpet.  Or both.

And earplugs.  Because…

“Is there an echo in here?”




Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Static Electricity

I was at a medical conference in Toronto recently and one of the speakers cited the work of a physician named Dr. Hu in her talk.  After the talk was over, the moderator thanked the speaker and then said, “We have to get Doctor Hu here.”

Unbidden, the following conversation immediately popped into my head:

“We have to get Doctor Hu here.”

“Doctor Who?”

“Yeah, Hu.”

“Doctor Yahoo?”

“No. Doctor Hu.”

“Ohhh… Doctor Hu here!”

“No, not Doctor Huhear.  Doctor Hu. Here.”


“Now! And then we need to dispense with these ridiculously short sentences and get on with the main topic of this column.”

“Is there ever a main topic?”


Now that I have that off my chest, I have to talk about a book by Bill Bryson that I’ve been reading lately entitled: At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York. Doubleday, 2010.  Like all Bryson’s books, At Home is written with wonderfully dry, witty humor, and it’s packed with fascinating trivia.


In Chapter 11, which is in no way bankrupt(!) of trivia, Bryson launches into a discussion of mousetraps, mice, bedbugs, bats, rabies and last but not least, rats.  He cites this example of their ingenuity:

“Rats are smart and often work cooperatively. At the former Gansevoort poultry market in Greenwich Village, New York, pest control authorities could not understand how rats were stealing eggs without breaking them, so one night an exterminator sat in hiding to watch. What he saw was that one rat would embrace an egg with all four legs, then roll over on his back. A second rat would then drag the first rat by its tail to their burrow, where they could share their prize in peace.”

I really, really wanted to believe that story, but at the same time, the urban legend warning light in my brain started flashing, just like it did when I read about the intoxicated Marine who was supposedly arrested after a failed attempt to foil his car ignition interlock by having a raccoon breathe into it. (Craggy Island Calculus Problem)  I knew that one wasn’t true.  Turns out both the Marine AND the raccoon were drunk.

Anyway, back to the pilfering rats. I did what everybody does these days when we want to find out if something is true: I Googled “rats carrying eggs” and sure enough, I came up with that sketch you see up top, which was penciled by English naturalist and sportsman Charles William George St. John (b.1809-d.1856). Various webpages have reproduced that drawing including one in which a guy named Michael claims that his Aunt Mavis told him, “That’s exactly how rats steal eggs in England!” (What Aunt Mavis said)

But I was still suspicious.  After all, in Charlotte’s Web, the spider Charlotte had to move heaven and earth to get just one rat named Templeton to cooperate with her in saving Wilbur’s life.  I just couldn’t picture three rats  teaming up and then amicably sharing the booty.  Plus, I thought surely if rats really use one of their mates as a sort of travois during criminal activities, someone would have caught it on video by now, posted it on YouTube and it would have 83 million hits and counting, as I type.

After some more rooting around with Google, I didn’t find what I was looking for; however, I did find a clip in which a lone sumo wrestler-sized rat named Ossi  picked up an egg, bit into it, and then scampered up to its lair with the egg leading the way, impaled by Ossi’s front teeth. (Ossi the rat pilfering an egg)

But this really didn’t prove anything. For example, just because you see someone wearing a kilt, it doesn’t disprove that they couldn’t also wear a small patch of absorbent material on their forehead sometimes.  Because they could.  If they really wanted to.  No one would care.  Just saying.

Dr. McGillson
Don’t ask

Finally though, after more Google-rooting, I found a pretty definitive statement on this page (Rats aren’t as clever as we would like them to be) dedicated to the identification of British egg thieves .  Here is what it said about rats:

  • Rats prefer the large, cryptic eggs of colonial nesting birds and consume the eggs in the nest.
  • They make a hole in the side or end of the egg with characteristic chip marks, then lick out the contents.
  • Squirrel signs are very similar.
  • A common myth is that rats co-operate to steal hens’ eggs – one lies on its back, holding the egg to its chest, while another rat pulls out the content with its tail. This is not true.

Well I guess that’s that.  But at least I’m now at a place where I can talk about static electricity.  One of the reasons why I was a little suspicious about this whole rats-teaming-up-to-steal-eggs thing is that the sledge rat would probably accumulate some serious static electricity if it’s furry, egg-laden body was rubbing along on a wooden, glass or worst-case, rubber floor.

Now as kids, we all quickly learned to rub balloons against our clothes or heads, then stick them (the balloons) on a wall, a cat or each other.  We learned even more quickly that if we inflated the balloons first, it worked even better!  We asked our grandmas how that all worked.  Mine said, “How the hell do I know?  I’m eighty-three years old; I was born in a small village about 60 miles south of Sparta, in Greece; we moved to Detroit when I was about seven years old and it took me a long time to learn English, never mind Electrostatics.  Go ask your mother.”

But somehow we all eventually learned that static buildup is due to electron transfer between two different insulators such as T-shirts and cat hair, or leather and rubber.  The transfer is increased if the two materials rub together.  A big van de Graaf generator, which uses this principle (dissimilar things rubbing together), can build up an electric potential of hundreds of  thousands of volts.

Check this out. I think  these two people are standing on big van de Graaf generators.  I’m soooo jealous.


Here are some schematics showing how a van de Graaf generator works:



If you think that the schematic on the left looks an awful lot like a vertical treadmill, you are correct!  Alert readers know that I have a treadmill desk (Treadmill Desks).  Jimmie Kimmell apparently also has one.  He may  wear a kilt occasionally.  I don’t know for sure.  It looks like he has on a pair of shorts in the picture below.  It might be a skort though.  Again, just saying.


One thing I do know for sure is that my treadmill works exactly like a van de Graaf generator, and the reason I know this is that one day, when things got colder here in Calgary (and hence drier) I was talking on my desk phone as I was walking, and then I started getting zapped in the ear every few seconds.  The built-up charge was finding its way to ground by arcing across to the earpiece of the phone. Then the display screen on the phone blanked out.

Awhile later I got a pretty good lifter when a spark lanced from my fingertip into my computer mouse, right by the scroll-wheel.  After that the scroll-wheel quit working.

Then for some reason I decided to increase the speed of the treadmill and suddenly there was a loud SNAP! and my heart stopped.  Just for a few seconds though. I was fine.  Really.  Didn’t miss a beat! And  I’m getting way better range with my new all-electric car now, for some reason.

Tesla Model S

As soon as the grounded wrist strap  I ordered gets here, it’s all good.


Meanwhile, I have a grounded rod I can hang on to, need be.  It looks a little weird though, and another downside is that I can’t play the bagpipes if one hand is hanging on to a grounded rod all day. But the upside is that the friction (!) between me and my co-workers has diminished considerably.

My grandmother always told me you can’t stay grounded AND play the bagpipes.  And if you don’t believe her, just ask this physicist.  I’ll bet he knows a lot about Electrostatics.

Bagpipes in low-Earth orbit