Zeptosecond thought: Maybe I should use my typewriter more Image Credit: AFP

I learn something new every day. And I think it will be a sad day indeed if one goes by and I haven’t increased my knowledge base by some degree.

So far today I have learnt that scientists have just measured the shortest interval of time ever recorded. And for the record, it takes just 247 zeptoseconds for a particle of light to cross a single molecule of hydrogen.

Yes, I know, I never heard of a zeptosecond either. Let me teach you something new today: A zeptosecond is one trillionth of one billionth of a second — which is equivalent to the number 1 written with decimal point and 20 zeroes behind it.

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Now why would someone want to measure zeptoseconds I have no idea, but they do. A zeptosecond gives a whole new meaning to the expression “blink and you’ll miss it”.

And while I’m educating you about zeptoseconds, I’ve just learnt that it was Albert Einstein — who else would have time on their hands to come up with such stuff — who first conceptualised the notion of zeptoseconds — back in 1905. That’s a long time ago — I’d shudder to think how many zeroes would be needed to measure that in zeptoseconds.

Quirky affair

I have also just discovered something that, as soon as you read it, you will automatically go and check for yourself. I did, and it’s true: you can write the word “typewriter” using only the keys on the top row of a QWERTY keyboard.

See — I know you’re checking it out.

And while I’m on the subject of typewriters, I used to think that the shortest sentence you could use using all 26 letters of the English alphabet was: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.” Now I’ve just learnt that it isn’t, the shortest alphabetical sentence that makes sense is: “J.Q. Vandz struck my big fox whelp.” Why he’d do that I have no idea, but I think quick brown foxes and lazy dogs make more sense.

I was dog sitting recently and liked to take the pooch out late at night before retiring to bed. Three times in the course of a week I saw a quick brown fox on the shoreline of the local beach. It didn’t give a second thought to my lazy dog who was too busy sniffing lamp posts to notice it in the first instance.

Forward planning in the past

By the way, lamp posts as we know them have been around since the 16th century and by 1730 in Paris there were more than 5,000 of them. That seems pretty far sighted seeing that electricity wasn’t readily available until the turn of the last century. Now that’s forward planning!

I think one of the reasons why I enjoy being a journalist so much is that I spend my career learning new things every day. By its very nature, news is about all the things that are new — and some suggest that the word “news” is actually the plural of “new”. That seems a little too clever for me. Some others think that “news” is actually an acronym for “north, east, west” and “south”. I don’t buy that for a zeptosecond either.

I’ve also just learnt that no matter how hard I try to unsubscribe from some mailing lists, it never works. I click to unsubscribe and then I get an email asking me if I’m sure I want to do it. Even when I say yes, another email comes asking me to rate the service that I’ve just unsubscribed from. And a new email seems to come every other zeptosecond. Maybe I should use my typewriter more.