Sunday, April 19, 2009

Copernicus calling collect

Window-pane glass is not a liquid.* Despite the number of textbooks that will tell you so, a pane of glass does not obviously ooze to the bottom over time. Some older panes do have a bulge, but that was created in the cooling process when the pane was made, and often that bulge is at the top or side, depending on how the glass was fitted.

Spinach is not packed with iron. It was a misprint in one publication that was slavishly copied again and again. But that mistake did give us Popeye, so it wasn't all bad.

I once talked to a dead scientist on the phone. Spooky? No, his date of death had been accidentally given in a cheap encyclopedia and copied into other publications. He laughed. I turned a bright shade of red, which I could get away with on a phone.

But wouldn't it be fun to live in a world where glass was a liquid? Where spinach did make you strong, instantly? Where dead scientists could be contacted by phone? Where the moon landings were fake? Where gravity could be switched off with a utility belt?

I was recently given a book that is a hodge-podge of bad science throughout the ages. Atlantis, perpetual motion machines, cold fusion, twin earths in opposite orbit. It gave me story ideas, one of which I have started writing down. The others are still wriggling around in my head waiting for their opportunity to fly out one day.

Maybe that's why I like writing so much. It allows you to create worlds where just for a while you can believe the impossible is commonplace. Where fish swim in your window panes, and Einstein is on line three. On Heisenberg's party line you're never certain who's listening in ... and why can't I get caller ID to work for Schrödinger?

* at normal temperatures. It becomes molten only at temperatures higher than 500°C (900°F), usually much higher depending on the type of glass. While glass, like all materials, could be technically said to flow at normal temperatures, it is at a rate so slow that it would take longer than the age of the universe to notice any change.

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