Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

May 21, 2012

Doppler Effect puts proper prospective on the changes that come with age

In recent years, I have been noticing that it seems I need to put a new bar of soap in the shower more frequently than I did in my younger days. At first, I thought that it might be a conspiracy by the soap manufacturer to get me to buy more soap. However, since I shower daily, it dawned on me that perhaps the days are flying by more quickly and, although I put the same level of gusto into each day’s shower just as I did when I was in my 20s, the soap doesn’t seem to last as long now that I’m in my 60s.

In high school, the only physics theory I could wrap my country brain around was the Doppler Effect. We moved to town when I was 14, and the Baltimore & Ohio freight trains whizzed past our house in the early morning hours less than 100 yards from my bedroom window. I was fascinated by the sound that diesel locomotives made as they blew their air horns on the approach to the Bell Avenue grade crossing near our home in Claysville, Pa.

Before we moved to town, I didn’t have any kids to play with on the farm. As a result, I spent most of my time listening to cattle, sheep, chickens and wildlife. I could imitate the sound that most of our farm animals made and even pretended that I knew enough about what they were saying to respond to them. Of course, I didn’t really know what they were saying, but they humored me and let me join in all their reindeer games. That’s a joke. I couldn’t even pretend to communicate with deer.

The sound of a locomotive air horn on a train moving 25-30 mph through town was powerful to me. I didn’t pay much attention to anything in school, but when one of my teachers explained the Doppler Effect and mentioned the example of how a locomotive air horn pitch changes from a higher frequency to a lower pitch as a train passes by, I actually knew what she was talking about.

Art Mead, the former Bluefield, Va., town manager has a theory about why time appears to pass more quickly with advancing years. Art’s theory takes into consideration the cumulative effect of past experiences in contrast to the experiences yet to come. To be truthful about it, Art would have to explain his theory to you. He told me about it several years ago, and so much water has passed beneath the bridge since then that I have forgotten the crux of it. However, I do recall thinking that it made sense back then.

As I mentioned earlier in this column, I’m a Doppler Effect kind of a guy, and I think I can explain just about any physical science phenomenon by applying Christian Doppler’s theory. This is, I think, how scientists came up with the idea that the universe was expanding, and also the warning on many frozen foods not to put aluminum foil in a microwave oven.

I know for a fact that it takes a lot longer for me to drag myself out of bed in the mornings than it did when I was in my 20s. When I drove tractor-trailer, I could dive out of the bunk as quick as a water spider, and start stepping on pedals and shifting gears before I took time to rub my eyes. These days, it takes me 10-15 minutes to remember how to make coffee and another 20 minutes to drink a cup.

With the Doppler Effect in play, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the things in my universe — like the distance from my bed to the coffee pot — are expanding along with the rest of the universe. Therefore, it is further to walk to the coffee pot, and naturally takes a longer time for me. In another year or two, it will likely take me 25-30 minutes to drink my first cup of coffee, and that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I’ve also noticed that, even though I take Zumba two days a week, some parts of my anatomy — or should I say, anat-tummy — continue to expand, just like the rest of the universe. When I was 18 years old and in good football condition, I carried my skin tight against my muscles. However, now that I’ve passed the proverbial Bell Avenue grade crossing of my life, the molecules that make me up are becoming elongated and no longer remain in place.

Of course, this discussion started with a bar of soap and will finish with soap. Since there is more of me to wash in the shower, it is absolutely logical that taking a shower would require more soap. Ergo, the issue of time and relativity don’t even come into play. God’s universe is a wonderful thing to observe in soap and in diesel locomotives. Every complex thing makes sense if you put it into a proper perspective and give it enough thought.

Bill Archer is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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