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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
A dozen years ago we gave our bathroom a complete renovation, or rather, an expert fitter did. Then recently the kitchen had the same treatment. Each time, a thought struck me: how is it that one person can apply so well a pair of ‘opposite’ skills, namely destruction (breaking up a cast-iron bath, or taking down a brick wall) and construction (creating a perfectly smooth plaster surface, or applying wall tiles in exact regularity)? You would think they required totally different mindsets!
What has this got to do with motoring? Only that it occurred to me that I adopt opposing mindsets myself, in a small way, when I aim first to accelerate briskly — having been assured (see my September 2008 column) that this burns petrol more efficiently — and then to decelerate gently and therefore early, because again this saves fuel.
OK, if I gain a few seconds of journey-time in the speeding up I may well lose them again in the slowing down, but I guess my overall progress is no worse than that of an average driver who mainly keeps to the speed limit (a contradiction in terms, I know).
In any case, gentle deceleration often doesn’t cost you time (while still saving fuel). Approaching a queue at a busy roundabout? No point in rushing at it! Catching up with a vehicle that’s just turned on to your road? Lift your foot early, and you won’t need to slow down so much. There’s a vehicle ahead indicating to turn left? Lift off early again, and you actually gain time by not slowing so much. Coming to a blind T-junction? Arrive slowly rather than briskly and it’s more likely, traffic permitting, that you can avoid stopping as you take stock before turning (unless there’s a STOP sign, of course).
I’ve previously suggested a name, deceleration sense, to cover all this. Like the better known acceleration sense, its basic aims are to arrive somewhere at the right time and at the optimum speed. When you’re applying both acceleration and deceleration sense, generally your passengers ought to be thanking you for giving them a smoother ride. And in a stop-start queue, if you can iron out the jerks a bit then passengers in vehicles behind may benefit too!
Touching again on a topic I started last month — resonances and rattles — occasionally through last summer I fretted over a noise coming from the front of my Corolla (R-reg, 91K on the clock, what should I expect?). I would describe it as a low fixed-frequency heavy rattle, as if something big was coming loose. But it only sounded when the throttle was open, so it was presumably connected with the engine, and only above about 40 mph whatever the gear ... so no, it had to be bodywork! Why do these inexplicable things happen to me? When I asked a garage mechanic to take the car out, naturally the rattle wasn’t audible at all.
Come to think of it, I haven’t noticed the noise since I went temporarily deaf in September. A mild cold had the serious effect of blocking my Eustachian tubes. I can’t remember anything like this happening to me before. I could hear almost nothing in the right ear and only a little more in the left (hence this was the side that everything seemed to be happening on). I also got the impression that when you go suddenly deaf, the brain ‘steps up the gain’ as if trying to compensate. And this in turn gives you tinnitus, or worsens it if you have it already.
But the amplification seems to be only in a mid-frequency range. You can’t hear low frequencies (so people sound as if they are talking through helium), or high ones — and this was a real handicap in our French class: I realized that when listening to foreign chat you need every possible aural clue (such as sibilants) to identify the words, whereas with English you can get by with just hearing a vague murmur!
As for driving when you’re deaf, this must surely be more hazardous than it seems at the time, especially if you’re unaccustomed to it. However, the DVLA has no problem with it (I see from the website), as long as you aren’t profoundly deaf and unable to communicate by speech, or with a Minicom device, in an emergency.
But I faced another quite extraordinary affliction too: all music (or all that got through to me) went out of tune. For those who know the terminology, I heard every octave ‘stretched’ by a quarter of a semitone — not much, you might think, but it was enough to make my piano sound as though it had sat in a pub all its life, while orchestral music came over as if all the instruments had been dropped heavily, or worse.
Totally inexplicable! The accepted wisdom is that two notes an octave apart sound ‘right’ because the higher frequency is precisely twice the lower one. So how can they ever sound wrong? I wasn’t cheered up by being told of a person who developed this same malady gradually, while losing her hearing with old age. She called her piano-tuner back about eight times, before realizing it was all music she heard that was going adrift. In the end she was obliged to stop listening to it altogether: a tragedy for someone who had been a professional musician.
So I was very relieved when my own problems mostly went after about three weeks, as suddenly as they had appeared. Because the out-of-tuneness affected both ears equally, I blame the brain for it — as you may remember my doing before, for various other things!
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