Friday, March 7, 2014

What it's like to talk

There was a mute girl on Reddit asking what it was like to talk. She'd reportedly been mute since birth. I honestly am not sure what kind of answer she was looking for, but I thought that the answers already there, mostly to the tune of, "It's pretty nice," or "I don't really notice," or "It's like vibrating in your neck," weren't good enough, so I started talking about the mouth feels of the different sounds. I got really into it and decided to post the result here. Reading back through it, there are small errors, but it's not like I'm getting paid for it.


You've made me spend a few minutes paying attention to how my mouth works. It's been very interesting, because I've never really done it before. I'm going to give you a little insight to the feeling of each sound, but just the basic ones that each letter makes most often. There are actually many more sounds than there are letters.
The vowels are special and set apart because they're made by vocalizing and just changing the shape of the tongue, cheeks, and lips, but keeping them far enough that they don't produce any hissing, buzzing, or popping sounds. A, as in apple, is an open throat, open lips, tongue pulled back, cheeks tense. E as in cheese is cheeks pulled back (like a smile) and jaws about halfway open. I, as in vice, actually moves from O (as in odd) to E (as in cheese). If you say the short O and then a long E you've said the long I. Sorry for switching between short and long pronunciations. I'm choosing the ones I think work best. O as in goat puts your lips in a circle, tongue pushed a bit forward. U as in fun is done exactly like A(apple) but with cheeks relaxed.
The letters L, R, W, Y, Z, J, V are a lot like the vowels, and you could technically spell a word phonetically using these and leaving out some vowels (frvr for fervor, mrdrr for murderer). The difference is, I think, that there's a little more mouth manipulation in this list than the vowels. L is a vocal sound with the tip of the tongue against the back of the teeth. R is like O(goat), but with the tongue pushed forward to take up more space. W is like O(goat) but with the lips tighter. Y is like E(cheese) but with the throat closed a little more. Z is a vocalization with the tongue almost nestled into the back of the upper incisors, with just enough space to make a buzz. The sides of the tongue are gently between the molars during Z. J is like Z, but the teeth are together and lips are pooched. V is just like U(justice) but with the lower lip against the upper incisors.
F and S are like the previous group, but with no vocalization from the throat. Just air. F is identical to V, and S is identical to Z, minus the voice.
B, D and G create sounds by closing the sinuses, forcing a gentle air pressure into the mouth, and then opening a certain part of the mouth a split second later. These are done with voice. With B, the air bursts from the lips, with D the air bursts from the tongue, which forms a pocket around the roof of the mouth, with G the air bursts from the throat.
P,T,K, and C are like the previous group except without voice. P is like B, T is like D, K is like G, and C sometimes makes an identical sound to K.
N and M are done by closing off a part of the mouth and vocalizing through the nose. With the N the tongue is placed like D or T. The M is with the lips together.
The H is just exhaling with the throat tensed.
People say the Q is a kwa sound, but since it's always followed by U, it's effectively identical to K and some C.
X is the K sound moving to the S sound.
As simple as all of this sounds (ha ha) a lot of sounds actually, when analyzed, are completely different sounds depending on what letter follows, because the mouth is always preparing for the next sound, and this changes the shape of the mouth. We don't hear the difference, and a lot of people wouldn't believe it was there. The mouth works more quickly and automatically than the fingers of a skilled typist, but that's a good illustration of what it feels like to talk. Mindless typing.
I don't know if you had this kind of description in mind, but to be honest this taught me a lot and once I started I couldn't stop. At one point I deleted it all and started over because I realized how the sounds could be grouped.

Monday, February 24, 2014

In memory of Harold Ramis, let's take a closer look at Egon's Twinkie

Harold Ramis has died. He's done a lot of good work, but I'll always remember him as Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters film franchise. It was a wonderfully cast film.

This is a memorable quote from Egon in the first Ghostbusters:

"Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning sample it would be a Twinkie 35 feet long weighing approximately 600 pounds."


But how much would a 35 foot long Twinkie actually weigh?

Artist's depiction
First I'm going to make some assumptions. I'm going to assume that the Twinkie is sized to scale (so it's the same shape after the transformation) and I'm also going to assume that it is magically held to that shape, as the materials may not be so stable at that scale in reality. Meaning an actual 35 foot long Twinkie would probably be an oozing mess.

I've found, using Google, that Twinkies weigh slightly less since they were re-released, so I'll use the original weight (presumably the weight they had during the filming of Ghostbusters) of 1.5 ounces per cake. The normal length of a Twinkie is roughly 4 inches. For the sake of estimation, we'll say it's exactly four inches.

So how much is the Twinkie growing in volume? Let's see how many inches long a 35 foot long Twinkie is, and then how many times larger this is than a normal Twinkie.

35 feet * 12 inches = 420 inches (length of the large cake)

420 inches / 4 inches = 105 (how many times longer the large cake is than the normal sized cake.)

If it is 105 times longer, then it's also 105 times taller and 105 times wider. We don't need to calculate these measurements since we're just finding the proportion. We'll do this by cubing the amount.

105^3 = 1,157,625 (how many times bigger in 3 dimensions)

While the cake is only 105 times longer, it's actually *more than a million* times greater in volume and mass. (Think of this in terms of a small block. You can put ten in a row to make it ten times longer, but once you also make it ten times higher and wider, you've used 1,000 blocks.)

And now it's simply a matter of multiplying the number of ounces in the normal cake by this factor and then dividing that by 16 to find out how many pounds that makes.

1.5 ounces * 1,157,625 = 1,736,437.5 ounces in the large cake

1,736,437.5 ounces / 16 ounces in a pound = 108,527.34~ pounds for the large cake.

So it looks like the 35 foot long Twinkie would actually weigh over 108,000 pounds, more than 180 times what Egon claimed.

Inversely, doing some background math here (which I won't bore you with), a Twinkie that was "only" 600 pounds would be a little over six feet long. This kind of makes sense if you think of a tall man in the shape of a Twinkie, with all of the space around his head and legs and body filled in with cream, he would be a heavy Twinkie. I daresay an insurmountable Twinkie.

But this is not any fault of Egon. He obviously wasn't spending his morning calculating Twinkies. He was merely trying to illustrate the enormity of the situation to some less scientifically-minded folks. And good for him. Communication is the key to education, after all.

And if I've gotten any of this wrong, please tell me. I do make mistakes daily after all.