Saturday, February 22, 2014

Seeing Clearly


Many of you were probably paying attention the other day when I wrote a nice poetic segment about window glass rippling with the passage of time, only to have the notion ruined (not that I'm pouting or anything, but ruined) by friends Kat and Roxie who both pointed out that window glass is not a slow liquid and does not puddle up over time. And that turns out to be true. All the ripples in old glass were there when it was new glass, and it's a natural consequence of how the glass was blown. Modern glass is manufactured differently and does not ripple.

And evidently this has been true for the whole time I've harbored the belief that glass sags. I learned it early. "In fact," whoever originally told me said, "if you examine a pane of old glass, you'll discover that it is thicker at the bottom than at the top. Eventually it gets thin enough to shatter in place."

I might have squinted at a window then but decided it was too subtle for me to tell. And old glass does have a way of shattering. Just like new glass. Doesn't matter. I loved the idea of liquid glass. I still do. I want to believe it. For lo, it is very good.

I do want people to tell me when I get things wrong. I have a reputation to protect. When people read here that a gang of caterpillars once stole the coin collection of a famous 19th-century entomologist and sold it to buy meth, I want them to be able to take that to the bank.

People make assumptions all the time and get proven wrong just as often. Remember the guys who set about to see which kind of cutting board was better at reducing bacterial contamination? They ran some preliminary tests on marble and plastic and went ahead and threw in an old-fashioned wood cutting board too, and much to their surprise, the wooden board was WAY better at staying clean than either of the other two, which were assumed to be better because they're so much less porous. The bacteria were crawling right into the pores in the wood, like innocents in a dark alley, and not coming back out again. Wood murdered them.

Some ideas are easier to let go of than others. I felt better about my wooden cutting board immediately. But the window glass! I loved the puddling window glass from the moment I heard about it. Not too long ago I observed that one of our old windows--one with fifteen separate panes--had some panes rippling horizontally and some vertically. It made no sense to me. It was clearly (ha) an original window, and our hypothesis about rippling couldn't account for a vertical ripple. But did I question the premise? No. I wrinkled my brow and carried on. The weird thing about this is that it's not even something science needed to solve. People who made window glass in olden times obviously knew it was rippled right off the bat. It's something that got un-learned.

It would be like people now saying that cars from the fifties and sixties began to clank and rattle and smoke and sputter and die by the side of the road as they aged, when many of us are old enough to know they did all that when they were brand-spanking-new.

But oh, we cherish the cool ideas, even when they're proven wrong. There are still people living today who think the world's only about six thousand years old. You can't persuade them otherwise. I really don't get hanging onto that one though--the truth is so much cooler.

29 comments:

  1. I was always a bit suspicious of the glass thing because I've seen pictures of glass artifacts hundreds of years old that don't seem deformed in shape, though they're often broken. But I didn't feel I had the technical knowledge to debate it.

    Agree 100% about the 6,000-year-old Earth crowd. It's such a small and dull concept compared to the reality.

    The caterpillar/beetle post is a classic.

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    1. But you see the artifacts could have been rotated periodically...see how I can strain to hold onto a cherished idea?

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  2. Yes, I agree...with almost everything.

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    1. Almost. It's not the caterpillar thing, is it?

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  3. Aw, I liked the "glass is a liquid" myth, too. But I read that same study about the cutting boards and it made me very happy. Wooden cutting boards are so much nicer than plastic.

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    1. We never had the plastic ones, so now we look like geniuses.

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  4. The Earth is only 6000 years old...the Bible says so. I can't find anything about window glass in the Bible. I'm pretty sure it is liquid though.

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    1. Isn't "through a glass darkly" from the bible?

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  5. Funny, I was talking to a physicist/rocket scientist friend about that glass thing just last week. I had the same wrong notion about glass as you and now I am smarter, but not by much.

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    1. It's always good to have rocket scientist friends in case you need to hang a new roll of toilet paper.

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  6. Sorry. Didn't mean to cause any ripples. Hope you forgive me for dragging you into the light.

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    1. Ow! Ow! It's so bright out here. My eyes! My eyes!

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  7. It is like the people who don't believe that the earth sits atop a turtle, and there is more turtles under that turtle - and it is turtles all the way down. People may ask what happens when the top turtle dies; but it is common sense that the turtles are reproducing faster at the bottom than they are dying at the top: so there is never a danger that we will drop into a black hole. It is just science.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. Yes. But the whole turtle stack is WAY older than 6000 years.

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  8. Sadly I am forced to admit there are some things where I don't want to know/accept/believe the truth.
    Unicorns/dragons/rippling glass all fall into that category. The key? The things I have been told are false are much more interesting than the so-called reality.
    So I have no problems on the six thousand year rule. The alternative has MUCH more room for my mind to wander.

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    1. Wander away, Best Beloved, and let us know what you've seen when you get back.

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  9. A lot of people heat with propane here and have big propane tanks in their yards. One day when she was well into her 20's -- maybe even 30 -- my daughter referred to one of these tanks as a septic tank. All of her life, all of those years, she had thought that when a person mentioned a septic tank, he was referring to the above-ground cylinders that store propane. I don't know how she thought sewage got in there.

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    1. Well, every time I see one of those big tanks, I wonder what kind of shit is in there. So.

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  10. I love old rippled glass, your window is gorgeous!
    And I love the idea of my earth being billions of years old and still going strong, in spite of what we are doing to her.
    She'll work things out and keep evolving, we'll eventually learn, (well I hope we do) and there will be harmony and green growing things all over, even where there are deserts.

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  11. Some glass ripples are caused by settling, and some are caused by the centrifugal force of the earth's rotation. Did you ever notice that some years seem to go by faster than others? Those are the rotation-y ripple ones.

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    1. They're starting to ripple up in a hurry!

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  12. When they made old, hand blown,'wavy' glass, the place where it connected to the punty came to be the 'bullseye glass that is sometime seen in windows over front doors of early American houses. My mother was a rabid scholar of Early Americana, and I was in the line of fire. http://www.peachridgeglass.com/2012/04/the-bulls-eye-glass-pane/

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    1. I did read about that, but I didn't hear about the "punty." Now I must have a punty.

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  13. The photo of the sunlight on the wall is better than artwork - if only it could be permanent.

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    1. It's like sand sculptures. More valuable for its impermanence.

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  14. Put me in mind of the four corners of the earth - I've always found it easy to believe the earth was flat. And then I had proof when I visited one of the corners. http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/2012/09/i-went-to-one-of-the-four-corners-of-the-world/ and even with all that people still walk away from me.
    Of course glass is liquid and bubbles unpredictably - weather related of course.
    XO
    WWW

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  15. I recently saw a bumper sticker that read: Don't believe everything you think.
    I guess it can refer to all sorts of ideas. 6,000 year-old earth included.

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