(messy) Answers for July 2012

Sorry, it’s another messy half-baked update, and it’s more than a month late … but at least I have time to write this much, I’m now in Khabarovsk with internet in the hotel room (at last) and I completed the Road of Bones motorbike trip successfully, well, if you call 3 different broken bones in separate spills “successful”.

Q1 Descartes said that the only thing that is certain is the existence of doubt. How could he be so sure?

REAL ANSWER: He wasn’t – that’s why he was.

  • Cogito ergo sure.
  • Don’t know much about Descartes or his work, but without the existence of doubt there would be no skeptics, and with no skeptics I wouldn’t be doing this quiz. QED, at least for me, but I still don’t know Descartes reached his conclusions. The modern equivalent would seem to be US philosopher Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns.
  • He tried everything he could think of to doubt the existance of doubt without…y’know…doubt, but he just couldn’t make it work. Like all great minds, he figured that if he couldn’t manage it, it had to be impossible.
  • I’m in no doubt he was so sure. Let’s face it, he studied all des cartes so carefully that he would have mapped out every eventuality. And he never put des cartes before des horses. (And other tired recycled Descartes one liners…)

Q2 The freeway speed limit in France is 130 kph. What happens if it rains?

REAL ANSWER: The speed limit officially drops to 110kph

  • Although it’s supposed to be 110 kph, the cheap sign-paint runs, a la Pepe le Pew, et zut alors, 180 mph!
  • If they maintain their speed, motorists can risk getting booked for breaking the limit by 20kph. Of course they’re French so I guess it’s a risk they accept. If it hasn’t rained for a while, the motorist in France is confronted with the same possibility of a slippery surface as on freeways elsewhere in the world.
  • The cars get wet. So do the freeways.
  • The French fry themselves on their roads at an even higher rate than normal, which is saying something. (Well, it’s not saying “something” but it’s certainly saying something.)
  • The obvious answer being, “Everything gets wet.” Fortunately, the French are much deeper thinkers than that. They realize that when water pools on the road,it creates the conditions needed for hydroplaning, so for safety’s sake they reduce the speed limit to 110 kph. Of course if they thought just a little deeper, they would realize that most cars begin hydroplaining at 70 to 75 kph…

Q3 You normally ride a motorbike sitting on the seat, with feet on the pegs. What happens to the handling and centre of gravity if you stand up on the pegs?

REAL ANSWER: Motorcyclists insist that it lowers the centre of gravity, which it can’t really but by separating the rider’s boidy from the motorbike it lowers the COG oif the bit on the road, and improves handling, except if you want to put your feet on the road (which you shouldn’t). And except when, as happened to me on a muddy day in Mongolia, one of your feet slips off its peg – how on earth I balanced the bike and regained control I’ll never know.

  • I don’t normally ride a motorbike at all, Dr Bob. I’m not that silly. How dare you be so presumptuous! Only Hells Angels, drug dealers and morons ride motorbikes (oh, er, delete that last bit, you’re riding one across Asia, oh shit, now I’ve blown my chance to win this month, damn…)
  • If -I- do it? Since I have never learned to ride a motorcycle, you can flip a coin: Heads, the handling is reduced to near zero and the center of gravity shifts so far to the right that the bike crashes. Tails, same thing but to the left. If the coin lands perfectly on it’s edge, the handling of the bike is reduced and the center of gravity is moved up and forward (assuming the pegs are closer to the front of the bike than my butt would be in the seat). A popular myth states that standing increases handling, but anyone who has tried to manuever a series of tight curves knows it’s much more difficult and must be done slower when standing.
  • Nothing, presuming you can still hold onto the handlebars.
  • Very little. The pegs are already close to the CoG, so standing up on them has minimal effect unless you are trying to corner, when the CoG changes laterally and vertically

Q4 What problem did the Beefeaters, who live at the Tower of London, recently have with their house insurance?

REAL ANSWER: Premiums were increased because that area of London (“Tower Hamlets”) is considered insecure.

  • Like anyone who lives in a crime filled neighborhood, they were repeatedly rejected for insurance. It’s the same problem they have getting medical insurance, since people who eat enough beef to be labelled “Beefeaters” is no doubt at much higher risk for colon cancer.
  • The companies won’t cover them, being in a high-crime postcode area, what with all the carrion birds and a long history of murders by decapitation ON THEIR VERY DOORSTEPS. Plus, the vegans are revolting!
  • They couldn’t get any because of the risk profile of the local area. I suppose the risk is worked out on an average for an area and not on the specifics of a particular building. Reminds me of my university days when our one of our stats lecturers at Melbourne Uni (they included Mr Smith, Mrs Smith and Mr Jones, the sort of names you’d expect for the average stats lecturer) said that a statistician was the sort of person who observed someone with feet in the fridge and head in the oven, and concluded that on average they were quite comfortable. He later added that an economist when confronted with the same scenario assumed they were comfortable.
  • They discovered they needed a separate life policy for their incarcerated princes – little buggers weren’t covered by either the house OR contents insurance. Poor deluded Beefeaters thought the princes had been there so long they were part of the furniture & therefore covered but the evil insurance company said not so.

Q5 How did the 16th-century mystic and spy, John Dee, sign his letters to Queen Elizabeth I?


  • “Loudermilk”. He was a star signer.
  • Because of the Latin printing, the ‘j’ became an ‘i,’ which with his cipher became: ‘I spy, 007’
  • In lemon juice. But seriously, it was apparently 007, and this revelation has destroyed my lifetime belief that novelists are original thinkers.
  • When they were kids, he signed them, “Your Dearest Friend Who Eats Dinner with Two Plates and a Bent Knife.” (Don’t ask why, it’s a terribly long story with no punch line to speak of.) When they were older, he shortened it to “OO7”

C O M M E N T S:

  • Enjoy your ride, Dr Bob.
  • I’m following your adventures with interest. I particularly envy your freedom to snore. I’m also desperately looking for the link by which I can (attempt to) answer the July questions. If you get a moment between visits from painted ladies, perhaps you can put me into my misery.
  • Thanks for having me back, Doc!
  • Hi, Dr. Bob: Thanks for the quiz in the midst of your peripateticosity. I too had been in the USSR when tourist photography invited camera confiscation, so I really appreciate pix of Sochi and Moscow. And, Happy Canada D’eh!