Saturday, May 7, 2016

You Make Your Own Electroluck

You hear it said that there is no sound in a vacuum, but that is not true. One of my earliest memories is my mom's Electrolux canister vacuum and it was plenty loud. I was very taken with it. It was gray and silver and red and it slid around the floor on little sled runners, and I'd be right behind it, on my hands and knees, scrunched up small so as to get the maximum benefit of the heat coming out the back. It was always cold in that house, seemed like. Mom must have gotten a kick out of pulling that vacuum cleaner with me scootching along behind like the rear end of a caterpillar, because otherwise maybe she'd have put a sweater on me. The grownups probably thought it was plenty warm enough in the house, but warm air rises, and when you're really little you can only rise so far.

I've heard that vacuum cleaners can easily be made to run quietly, and are in Europe, but in America the quiet ones don't sell because we think they can't possibly be doing anything. I still like the sound of a vacuum cleaner. It reminds me of innocent youth and a mommy who loved me very much, just not enough to put a sweater on me.

What they really mean is that there's no sound in a place with nothing in it, because there's no medium for the sound wave to travel through. You need Stuff for sound to wobble around in. Like dust in a vacuum cleaner bag. Or, you know, air molecules.  So sound is produced by a pressure wave moving through a medium. ("I summon the ghost of Juliet's grandmother," it might say.)

And that means it's very quiet in deep space. Once you've slipped the surly bonds of Earth (all the noise makes it grumpy) and there's nothing to bounce light off of or prod into a wave pattern, it goes black and silent. It's only because we're living inside a layer of planet-batting that we can hear anything.

boom.
But that doesn't mean nothing's happening out there. There are major furnaces operating in space and stuff blows up and, by rights, it ought to be deafening. But it isn't. NASA recently made a sound recording of the sun. They had to cheat to do it. And then they had to compress several days of recordings into a few seconds. But they caught the sound of a major coronal discharge, which the sun has a lot of.

The sun should have that looked at.

When I was little, the neighbor man asked me: if a tree fell in the forest and nobody was there to hear it, did it make a sound? He wanted me to get existentially challenged thinking about it, and he was all ready to pounce and say "But how would you know?" as soon as I made either choice, but instead I said "Well, I guess it depends on if you're thinking of the sound as something the falling tree makes, or it's something we hear in our ears," and I think that answer made him grumpy. The thing about the tree is that if it fell in a forest containing no air--and it would, trees need air--it would not make a sound, except through the molecules in the ground it hit.

Anyway, the universe is full of potentially noisy items that we could hear the hell out of if only there were air, so it's just as well there isn't. Still, I like to scrunch up small and look at the sky and imagine it humming and crackling and farting and making great hoots of celestial laughter. Why not? Makes me warm.

25 comments:

  1. It's a very good thing that space is a vacuum; Earth is quite noisy enough at times without having to hear a constant barrage of coronal discharges and distant supernovas and galaxy collisions. Now, if I can only get the people who drive through the neighborhood with their windows rolled down and their "music" blaring to do so in an airless environment, it would solve that problem quite nicely.

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    1. You make an excellent point.

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    2. Ah, so I'm not the only one who finds that sort of noise pollution terrible.

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  2. I don't think I'd like to hear stars and the moon burbling and farting I prefer them quiet and sparkly.
    I used to think my vacuum cleaner was quiet and compared to my daughter's, it is. but last week I heard the neighbour's new vacuum, a nice quiet, barely there hum.

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    1. Mine is quiet, in the closet.

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    2. Surprised you knew that. Wait a minute, which closet?

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  3. I really thought you might run with the sound of a major discharge. It just has such possibilities that nearly everyone should be able to relate to at one time or another. When did you buy your first sweater?

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    1. I think I could have scooped up a Lerner's sweater on sale with, um, twenty hours of babysitting money.

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  4. "In space no-one can hear you scream..." And in this house no one can hear you scream when the bloody Hoover is running

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    1. Maybe the vacuum in space is loud after all!

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    2. If it's made to suck dirt, you bet yer bippy!

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  5. Nothing sucks like an Electrolux!!

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    1. It's an oldie, but a true-ie: the vacuum cleaner is the only appliance in this house that doesn't suck.

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  6. I like the idea of somewhere which is quiet. Rather a lot. It is part of the reason that I enjoy the hours before dawn.

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    1. I would too, if only I were awake then.

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  7. I'm always amazed at how many experiences we have in common. I was four when a man appeared at our door, came in with an Electrolux and proceeded to show my mother how dirty her "clean" rug was by putting a handkerchief over the intake wand and showing her the dirt that accumulated there. Well, of course she had to buy one, because she couldn't let this stranger think that she'd been offered a way to clean her house better and turned it down. I, too, used to lie on the floor behind the warm exhaust enjoying it. I remembered the salesman telling my mother how our shoes brought in not only dirt but also GERMS that could make us sick! I remember considering how dangerous the world was when things you couldn't even see could make you sick. And here was a warmth-giving machine that could prevent that!

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    1. Are we the same age? I remember my mom politely deflecting salesmen at the door and on the phone. She was on a pretty strict budget. The phone would ring and she'd answer it and say "I'm sorry, I'm not interested," and hang up. I would think: HOW COULD YOU NOT BE INTERESTED? SOMEONE CALLED YOU ON THE PHONE!

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    2. Because we've shared so many similar experiences, I used to think we were the same age, but, alas, it turns out that I'm older. Just turned 72, and I seem to remember you being quite a bit younger

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    3. I'm 62, but maybe our parents were the same age. (Mine were born in 1908 and 1913.) Also: maybe things didn't change so gol-durned fast back then!

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  8. In space, no one can hear you scream. Also, no one can hear you fart.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. You'd like to think that farting in space would propel you forward, but that wouldn't work, either.

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  9. When I was a poor student, I got one of those vacuums in a package deal of estate sale furniture. No powerhead, just a kind of brush thing on a nozzle. It did yeoman service until I could afford a more upscale model. The cat used to like the hot air coming out the back end too. Got asked that tree in the forest thing when I was a kid too. I vaguely remember saying that if I wasn't near a falling tree, it didn't matter whether it made a noise or not when I wasn't there, that I only needed to know whether to run or not when I was there. Powerful survival instincts from an early age.

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    1. Yes! But wait--I'm struck by the image of the cat following the heat from the vacuum. I haven't had a cat that wanted to be in the same room with a vacuum.

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