Saturday, April 19, 2008

It Never Stops Moving

As you may recall, earlier this year I put to rest the antiquated notion that there are only five physical senses, thereby establishing "scientific education" as one of the many themes of this blog.

In keeping with that theme, this week I'd like to dispel the idea that there is no such thing as perpetual motion.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a long preachy lecture about the N-Machine or any similar device -- I'm talking about naturally occurring perpetual motion.

Examples of perpetual motion are all around us, yet amazingly, so few people believe in it. I think this is just another example of a lie being repeated until people believe it's true.

Have you ever seen a waterfall? If so, have you noticed that the water falls all the time? It never stops moving. It doesn't shut off at night and it doesn't turn itself on again in the morning. It just flows and flows and flows, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. Nobody knows how it happens -- we just know that it does. Waterfalls predate human civilization and they will continue to flow long after the human race has become extinct.

But wait, you may be thinking, waterfalls aren't truly an example of perpetual motion because they can be dammed up, or the water can evaporate, or the erosion caused by the water might eventually grind the cliff out of existence, leaving the water nothing to fall from.

I have considered these ideas, and I have rejected them, for all the obvious reasons. But rather than go into that here, let's move on to some other examples of perpetual motion.

We live on a planet known as the Earth. The Earth spins around on its axis, making a complete rotation once a day. It also orbits around the sun approximately once every year. All the other planets in our solar system orbit around the sun as well, and if that weren't enough, our solar system is constantly moving as well. As a matter of fact, the entire universe is expanding, and some astronomers even say the rate of expansion is accelerating. What's more, this has been going on ever since the presumptive Big Bang, which occurred billions of years ago, and is likely to continue for billions of years into the future.

Hold on a second, I hear the skeptics cry, just because something has been moving for billions of years, that doesn't mean it will keep moving forever.

Okay, for the sake of argument, let's say the universe blows up zillions of years from now. I'm not an astrophysicist, so I have no idea what that really means or everything it implies. Does it mean that all matter will cease to exist? Does it mean complete and absolute nothingness? If it does, I'm willing to concede that perpetual motion doesn't exist, because at that point nothing exists, and in order for something to move perpetually, first it must exist.

However, if there's just one tiny little atom left after the universe blows up, then perpetual motion will still exist. Because within that atom, electrons will be tirelessly orbiting around the nucleus, never stopping to rest, all throughout eternity. At that point, perpetual motion will be about the only thing that does exist.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Time for a Change

It's Sunday and I'm posting this week's blog entry. Usually I post the entry on Saturday, but I had a few errands yesterday so I didn't have the time. I could have found the time, of course, but I wasn't really looking that hard.

One of the errands was to get an oil change for my car. I have two cars -- or actually, one car and one truck -- but I hardly ever drive the truck. It's old and rundown and I only keep it around because I figure it might come in handy someday. So the truck probably doesn't need an oil change, unless oil can go bad just by sitting around inside an engine that hardly ever gets started up. Maybe it can. I don't know. In any event, I had the oil changed for the car. I'll worry about the truck some other time.

When I was in college, I didn't need a car, because the public transportation system was pretty good, and it was free for students because of some deal the university made with the transit district. I had a few friends who had a car, but most of the people I knew just took the bus. There were a few times when it would have been more convenient to have a car, but I managed to get through those times somehow.

But after I graduated, I needed a car so I could look for a job. The car I bought was only about seven years old, but it hadn't been taken care of very well, so it seemed a lot older. I only had it for about two years before I decided to get rid of it, because things were always breaking down and as soon as I fixed one thing, something else stopped working. I calculated that I'd spent about as much on repairs as I spent when I bought the car.

In the thirty years since getting rid of that car, I've owned three other cars -- or actually, two cars and one truck. They were all manufactured by different companies, but they all had one thing in common. Actually, of course, they had many things in common. They all had four wheels, a windshield, and an internal combustion engine, for example. But the one particular thing in common that I'm talking about is that they all had a routine maintenance schedule of 7,500 miles.

That means every 7,500 miles, you're supposed to bring in your car so they can perform the scheduled maintenance, which varies somewhat, but typically includes things such as checking the brakes, tuning up the engine, replacing the belts, rotating the tires, and whatever else they think is important. They also change the oil and replace the air filter.

So here's a quick question: Regardless of what kind of car you drive, how often do they say you should change your oil? That's right, every 3,000 miles.

You probably already know where I'm going with this, but I'll tell you anyway. If you change your oil every 3,000 miles and bring your car in for service every 7,500 miles, you're going to get a few unnecessary oil changes. For example, let's say you buy a brand new car with 0 miles on it. After you've driven it 3,000 miles, you change the oil. Then, after you've driven it 6,000 miles, you change your oil again. And once you hit 7,500 miles, you take your car in for service and they change your oil, even though you've only used the old oil for 1,500 miles and you could have driven another 1,500 miles without an oil change. That seems like a waste of perfectly good oil to me.

So I bend the rules a little bit. Rather than change my oil every 3,000 miles, I change it every 3,750 miles, since 3,750 is half of 7,500. That way, when I bring the car in for service and they change the oil, it actually needs an oil change. I've been doing this for thirty years, and the cars don't seem to mind a bit. It's a perfectly rational and sensible thing to do, so I'm sure a lot of other people do the same thing. But I bet a lot of people don't. As a matter of fact, I bet most people don't. I wonder what they do instead. Maybe they do something that seems perfectly rational and sensible to them. Or maybe they don't, since a lot of people aren't very rational or sensible. I have a feeling they just do whatever they feel like.