03 November 2021
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What Have They Done to the Tea, Ma?

And Other Life-Altering Conundra

Perhaps You've Heard of Hafnium

It's one of the 100+ chemical elements in the periodic table, and has an interesting characteristic: Its nucleus has a metastable isomer that is highly energetic. A "hafnium bomb" would be vastly more powerful than a chemical explosion, yet much less powerful than a proper nuclear explosion created by fission or fusion. Because of the penchant for secrecy in weapons research, there are hints but nothing verifiable that imply a hafnium bomb can be or even has been created.

I'm sure you've heard of tea. It's a common beverage, and one of the very few other than water of which I partake. Oddly, tea is what provoked me into the brief word about isomers above. Our household Tea of Preference is Tazo, which is obtained from Amazon by appropriate clickage. It has arrived packaged in 48-tea-bag boxes, with 24 bags on one layer, a thin cardboard separator, and a second 24-bag layer underneath.

The bottom photo is of a newly opened box, representative of those received for many years. Notice how the tea bags are neatly arranged. Most importantly, they remain stable and orderly in orientation as individual units are removed from the box. Looking at it from a physics viewpoint, I'm inclined to believe that these are at their lowest energy state. (Of course they are subject to gravity if the box is inverted, as is the metastable state exemplified by the upper box.)

Recently, we received a shipment of tea without the separator, and the tea bags arranged as shown, with an 90-degree shift in orientation. When each box is placed tea-forward on a shelf, the stable version of the packaging results in an easily removed bag without further commotion of its conspecifics.

The metastable version, as can intuitively be seen, results in the other bags tumbling forward and so assuming a lower energy state since they fall out of the box onto the shelf. To maintain order in the tea cabinet, every few removals results in the necessity of coaxing the fallen tea bags back into the box so that order is preserved.

What possessed the manufacturer to alter the packaging? Possibly Conservation of Cardboard, since the longitudinal separator was no longer used. I doubt that it was malice, because even for households who have a tea shelf that doesn't permit vertical placement it's not such a big deal. But nowadays malice can't entirely be discounted.

I'm a bit nonplussed that tea packaging somehow led me to think about nuclear isomers and hafnium bombs. But only a bit. It's all Science, no?


Those pathetically obsessive about words might have noted the word "conundra" in this blog's subtitle. I confess that I used "conundra" instead of "conundrums" because to me it sounds better. But then I considered that it may be an inadvertent affectation. While I enjoy deliberate affectations, neologizing, and other opportunities to torment English, this was simply ignorance; I really didn't know which was correct. Plumbing the internet for disambiguation, I discovered the term "hypercorrection," of which "conundra" was an arguable example. But, as it turns out, it's an Approved Usage, so, between you and I, I think I got away with it.

Who Are Kelly, Vanessa, Amy, Susie, and Laura?

They keep calling me on a "recorded line" to, presumably, promote some scam involving Medicare. But at least they're recording!

What About My Billionaires?

Those of you who have assiduously read this blog through the decades will doubtless recall the mention of a then-obscure, then-minor billionaire Elon Musk in 2006. How much entertainment has he provided us since that early mention? Surely more than has António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations. Mr. Guterres, arrogating to himself the moral authority of the UN, has singled out "billionaires joyriding to space" as one of the symptoms of growing mistrust the world’s population has toward governments and other institutions.

The UN is such a comfort in so many other ways as well.

The Never Too Old To Learn Department

I was looking for some information on one of my signal analyzers and came across the EEVblog. In it I saw this quote:

"Capacitors Are Murphy's Footsoldiers"

No idea how I could have missed this one in all these decades of tinkering.

Would I Recommend Safeway to Others?

When checking out some Ben & Jerry's ice cream at Safeway this morning, the money-absorbing terminal asked me if I would recommend Safeway to "others." I've been seeing this question on the irritating and now-almost-universal surveys afflicting the most trivial purchase. I mention it because I don't understand why they ask that question. Presumably they are keen to ascertain how I feel about their store, shopping experience, or whatever, but hope to encapsulate my opinion in my response, one to ten.

But responding accurately, I would have to give it whichever numeral corresponds to an unequivocal "no."

  • Certainly not because I'm unhappy with a store that aperiodically charges less than half of the ridiculous price charged in NYC
  • Not because the aisles are dirty (which they rarely are)
  • Not because it's too crowded
  • Not because I had difficulty parking
  • Not because I was cranky or just feeling contrary that day

But because I don't know a single "other" who doesn't know the store or, most especially, values my opinion about shopping venue any more than not-at-all.

So, Survey Composing People, can you find a different question to waste my time in the checkout line?

Richard Factor


"Anxious Color"

Painted Faces





A much nicer shade of blue than "yesterday's" Palm Beach, yet a city never besmirched with my presence. Somehow I ended up with a Cannes Film Festival T-shirt, and here it is.

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