Ask A Guru

April - June 2004

Q: Why do the numbers on phones go down while the numbers on calculators go up? (Shamraz Anver - 2004/06/24)

A: There is no fully accurate answer to this question, but it is most likely is because of the rotary phone. Allow us to explain.

The first cash registers put the highest number on the top, and the lowest number on the bottom. Why? No real reason to speak of, who ever designed it thought that's how they should be laid out. When calculators came out they just copied the design. Simple enough.

Phones, however, started with a rotary dial instead of a keypad. Rotary phones work by sending a pulse down the phone line to the phone company as the dial spins, this way the phone company knows which number you're dialing. The most logical layout is that they would start with 1on the top and go down. This gives you a simple system of dialing a 1 and sending one pulse, dialing a 2 and sending two pulses, ... 9 sends nine, 0 sends ten. Had they gone the other way, it would be a pain to figure out what number the caller wanted.

When the phone company switched over to the tone system, the phones were redesigned to use a keypad. What layout would they use? Well calculators had been around for a long time already, but their layout presented some problems. Everyone was already used to 1 at the top and 9 at the bottom. If the phones were switched around people would get confused.

The bigger problem was the letters on the phone. The calculator layout would make them all backwards! The phone company had already assigned the letters to the number on the rotary phones. Changing them would mean reworking their internal systems for the new layout. This of course would cost them a whole lot of money and everyone would have to relearn the new layout. All that effort just to look like a calculator is bad business sense, so they used the layout that we have today.

Q: Why do older people use the word dinner for "lunch" while younger people use dinner for "supper"? When did this change, or is this a regional phenomenon? (Beau - 2004/06/14)

A: It's even more complicated. It seems that the terms people use for meals changes not only by time and region but also by social class as well.

For some the last meal of the day is dinner to others it's supper. Some call the midday meal dinner, while others call it lunch. Then there's breakfast and brunch. With all these strange names what's a person to do? Just eat five meals a day and call it good.

  • Breakfast means to break one's fast. So if you eat during a fast you are literally breaking your fast. Honest, we wouldn't make this stuff up!
  • Brunch was coined by Guy Beringer in 1896 as a combination of (br)eakfast and l(unch). Not very original is it?
  • Lunch comes from the Old English word "luncheon" from around 1580. It's a meal eaten during the midday.
  • Dinner comes from the French word "disner". In Middle English it was used for breakfast, however, a change in customs moved to the midday meal. Now, it is properly defined as the main meal of the day, not necessarily the last. Dinner was commonly used by the upper class which is why dinner is more formal than supper. This too, is regional however.
  • Supper comes from the Old French word "sup" which means "to eat the evening meal". Depending on where you came from, supper is usually the more informal term for the last meal of the day.

Supper is becoming less used and dinner is taking over. Probably because most Americans have their main meal as the last in the day. Different regions, especially the South and Midwest, still use supper more though.

Of course this doesn't apply to everyone, because a lot of you people out there are total freaks.

Q: I'm going to a party with my friends in a limo to a club but I don't like my legs so I don't want to wear a skirt but I want a really nice outfit can you suggest anything? (Surfchick102 - 2004/06/08)

A: Do our eyes deceive us, or did someone just ask us to give them a suggestion? Oh, the poor soul.

Ladies and gentlemen, here's what happens when you don't ask the gurus a direct question, but instead leave room for interpretation...

You don't like your legs, eh? Well stick those puppies in a meat grinder and turn the crank, because we have the perfect idea! Once you're legs are reduced to bloody stumps, surgically graft on one giant chicken leg, and one horse leg. You will then have legs that you can be proud of! People everywhere will talk about your beautiful chicken-horse legs. You can run track in the Olympics or leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Or, alternately, you could wear pants. I mean, hey this isn't the 1800's anymore, women are no longer expected to wear hoopskirts or bustles. However, as a personal fetish of TheAlmightyGuru, a floor-length jean skirt is more than acceptable.

Q: Why are people ticklish, and is it possible to tickle someone to death? (Holli Madden - 2004/06/01)

A: Tickling is one of those things that even so-called smart people can't pinpoint (except for us, of course).

Tickling is caused both by neurological and psychological means. From what biologists understand tickling is an evolutionary trait that allows us to know when potentially dangerous creatures are crawling on us that we wouldn't notice otherwise. Thanks to being ticklish you would notice the small scorpion crawling up your belly. It also may have something to do with social grooming.

However, many people aren't very ticklish, and some not at all. Some psychologists say that this is because being ticklish is also a learned behavior trait. Much like the dog that drools to a bell, humans will find themselves being tickled through association that they learned as a child. Does this mean that if you aren't ticklish that you were horribly abused as a child? Probably.

As for the question about whether it's possible to tickle someone to death, there have been very few studies about it as it's not entirely ethical (stupid ethics always get in the way of science!). However, common sense tells us that if take a person with an extreme heart condition and tickle them like crazy, they will probably go into cardiac arrest, and possibly die. As to whether you can kill a healthy individual through tickling, it's rather doubtful. There haven't been any cases of death by tickling in the news recently.

On the subject of tickling, many people think that it is impossible to tickle yourself. Although it's very uncommon, it is indeed possible. Most people are unable to tickle themselves, but TheAlmightyGuru, who is extremely ticklish, can tickle himself just below his navel. (No, not that far below, you perverts!)

Q: How are limestone caves formed? (Peter Hurford - 2004/05/21)

A: Limestone caves tend to be the largest most complicated caves that naturally form. Their process takes many long years, but the result is truly magnificent. Surprisingly enough, the caves are partially formed by rain (no, we're not crazy).

As rain falls it picks up a small amount of carbon dioxide in the air, this causes the rain to become slightly acidic. As it seeps into the ground it picks up more acid from rotting plant matter or pockets of crude oil. Think about that the next time you drink well water.

Limestone is a sedimentary rock formed primarily from the broken down skeletons of aquatic life forms which generates calcite. Calcite dissolves in mild acid much faster than other types of rocks. The acidic rain water will seep into the cracks of the underground limestone and slowly dissolve small sections. Underground rivers can erode large sections of a cave as well.

The entire process takes thousands of years to form a fully sized cave. The result is a big underground hole. How exciting.

Q: Why do hotdogs come in packs of eight, but hotdog buns come in packs of ten? (diablos - 2004/05/12)

A: Don't you hate it when you have more wieners than you know what to do with?

Actually, it's a very simple question. The New World Order (also known as Illuminati) has been trying for years to obtain supreme control over the world by forcing people to buy extra Frankfurters. Through a combination of mind control and meat packing they have convinced every American to spend more money buying extra hotdogs. Eventually, they will conquer the world because of this.

Well, not exactly. Meat (and I use the term loosely when referring to hot dogs) is usually sold by the pound. Hot dogs are sold in packages of ten because that weighs about 16 ounces, or 1 pound. It is impractical for a baker to sell food by weight so they usually use multiples of 4 instead. Years ago, there was no such thing as buns made specifically for hotdogs. As hotdogs became more popular, bread companies began making buns for them, but because they were bakers the packages would have to come in either 8 or 12 count. Either way it would be off.

Both the meat industry and the bread industry isn't about to change the way they've been packaging their products just because they're two off. So the problem still exists even to this day. Is there anyway to solve this? Yes, buy longer hotdogs. Because they're sold by weight, if you buy the "bun size" hotdogs, they come in packages of eight. Now you will have a lovely match for their wiener and your buns.

Q: My son asked -and I cannot answer- this question. Why don't dogs have bellybuttons? (Kat - 2004/05/03)

A: Although you may not see it, it's there. Dogs, like most other mammals, do indeed have bellybuttons or navels.

All mammals that develop in the mother's uterus and are fed by a placenta through an umbilical cord have navels. This includes humans, cats, cows, horses, whales, and yes, even dogs. However, a dog's navel is very small and is usually covered in fur. To find it, look for a small swirl of fur near the belly. There may be a bump of scar tissue as well, that's the navel.

There are a few mammals that don't have navels. Marsupials (like the kangaroo and wallaby) and monotremes (like the platypus and echidna) don't have navels. The reason is that marsupials do most of their early development in their mother's pouch, and monotremes hatch from eggs.

Although humans have a tendency to pierce their navels, most other mammals don't share our fashion trends. Although, it would look pretty funny to see a dog with it's navel pierced.

Q: What are the differences between sleep, faint, coma, catalepsy, and death? I am afraid of arranging a funeral before the right time. (Leandro Damasceno Fernandes Correia - 2004/04/28)

A: We're glad you asked. It's very important that you do not have a funeral for someone who is sleeping. Well, unless you don't like them (just don't tell the police about it).

Sleep is a natural periodic state of rest for the mind and body, in which consciousness lost. Fainting involves falling into an unconsciousness state from shock usually from seeing stuff like this. Coma is Greek for deep sleep and is usually used on people who have been knocked into a comatose state from physical trauma and has becomes unresponsive to physical stimuli. Catalepsy is a trance-like state similar to paralysis where the physical body becomes unresponsive, often caused by mental disorders.

In all of the above cases the person is alive, (still breathing, heart beating, brain activity, etc.) thus making it illegal to bury them (blame the democrats for that!). Also, the above are fairly easy to define. Death, however, is a little more tricky. Most people think they know what death is and that it's pretty simple to determine. Then why does every religion have their own definition of death? Even the scientific community cannot always agree on how to pronounce someone as dead.

Death is currently medically defined as the irreversible cessation of all vital functions especially as indicated by permanent stoppage of the heart, respiration, and brain activity. Of course, not too many doctors are going to run a CAT scan on every possible death, so they usually just use heart and respiratory failure as a means of death, or they roll some dice.

Q: Does chocolate really give you pimples? (Andr˙ffffe9s ˙ffffc1lvarez - 2004/04/15)

A: Chocolate has as much effect on pimples as the stock market has on amoebas. In other words, not much.

While it's true that specific allergic reactions to chocolate may cause acne, for the majority of humans, it has no effect at all. The same is true with all forms of food. This is because acne is not caused by an over abundance of oils or fats in the body.

On your body there are thousands of hair follicles (duh). They are mostly condensed on the face, back, and chest. At the base of every follicle are sebaceous glands which produce a skin oil called sebum. The sebum works its way up through a pore to lubricate the hair so it grows properly. During puberty and menstruation your body is releasing more hormones that cause the sebaceous glands to work overtime (without pay-and-a-half, mind you) causing them release more oil. Sometimes the sebum gets clogged on its way to the skin and fills the pore, eventually rupturing it. This increases the growth of a bacteria (called propionibacterium acnes) and the pore gets infected, causing a zit.

Although the sebaceous glands produce oil, they are no way connected to the oil that you eat, thus you could drink a quart of liquid animal fat each day and still not get any more acne than usual. We suggest you test this statement for a few months.

Acne is caused by over active hormones, excessive skin shedding, and too much sebum production, not by fatty foods, greasy hair, squirrels, or leprechauns.

Q: At least theoretically, is it possible to perform time travels to past and/or future? (Leandro Correia - 2004/04/13)

A: Thinking about going back in time to kill your father before you were born, thus creating a time paradox and unraveling the fabric of time and space? Well too bad, you can't!

According to the currently accepted laws of physics time travel is possible, but it doesn't work like in Back to the Future (Can you believe Michael J. Fox would lie to us?). You won't be able to simply jump from one place in time to another, you must actually travel through it, so pack a lunch.

In order to travel to the future you need to merely speed yourself up to near-light speeds. Because time is relative, only a few seconds pass for you, but several years pass for everyone else. Thus, you will travel through time to the future.

But what good is time travel if you can't go back in time? Assume you were able to create a stable wormhole that opened in the present and ended in the past, (which may not be possible) and then jumped into it. Assume, again, you could survive, you would travel back in time, but only to the point where the wormhole was created because prior to that the wormhole didn't exist.

Regardless of whether you had the ability to travel back in time you wouldn't be able to change anything because the past must always remain consistent with the future.

This, of course, only pertains to the currently accepted laws of physics which are still flawed. There is a possibility that we may uncover a new understanding of time as our knowledge of physics grows.

Q: Why do they call "potholes" potholes? Why not pits or roadholes or something like that? (Rum Runner - 2004/04/12)

A: As much as we'd like to come up with a clever answer to this question about some bizarre gambling game gone wrong, or a man named Mr. Pott who traveled the land digging holes, the real answer is very dull and boring.

Potholes got their name because they are in the same shape as cooking pots.

Wow, amazing, the crowd goes wild.

The only semi-interesting thing about potholes, is that they originally came from natural geological phenomenon long before they started destroying tires. Many natural potholes were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. Some are huge, while others are no larger than the holes you see in the streets (you'll note I said semi-interesting).

Q: What exactly are cold chills and why do we have them? (Miranda Warren - 2004/04/06)

A: Chills, shivers, etc. are caused by your body telling your brain to turn up the internal thermostat, so to speak.

What happens when you shiver is that your brain is telling your blood vessels to constrict. This process makes you shiver. The shivering forces your muscles to become active, thereby causing an increase in internal body temperature to force it to get warmer.

There are two main reasons that your body will get cold chills. The first is obvious, if your are rolling around in a bathtub filled with ice cream you will most likely start to shiver because your body is getting cold. Although, if you're in a bathtub filled with ice cream, you're probably doing something else to keep warm... am I right? :-D

The second reason is caused by your white blood cells. When they notice an increase in bacteria or viruses they will send a special protein to your brain causing you to get chills regardless of whether you're laying in ice cream or covered in blankets. This increases your body temperature to help fight the foreign invaders.

It's very important that our bodies shiver, otherwise hypothermia would become much more common, and we probably wouldn't be able to take ice cream baths as often.