Only Off By a Minute or Two (or 14.4)

The topic for the week in Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday is “ke”.

Which is crap, innit? It’s not a word, certainly not a concept. But it’s more than just a letter. It’s a sound, sort of, though it depends on how you use it. It sounds like itself sometimes: KEy, KEep, KEen; but throw it at the end of a word and its sound disappears entirely: faKE, liKE, smoKE. It vacillates between setting the tone for the thing it’s a part of and being entirely subservient to the rest of the thing.

So I took to the Googles, typed in “ke” and I guess not surprisingly, the first thing to pop up was a wikipedia page, and that seemed promising.

KE is a postal code for Kildare, Ireland, which sounds lovely.

KE is the abbreviation for kinetic energy in physics. Now, I like the thrust of that, but we all know I do more than my share of nattering on about the importance of momentum and doing things and I already feel the gravity of more nattering on the topic, so I will do us all a favor and drive that train of thought into the ditch and move on.

Then you’ve got Ke, which has its own attributions: It’s a translation of a common surname in China, it’s the elimination rate constant (or the rate at which drugs are removed from the body, a topic I know nothing about), it’s also an electrical constant called Coulomb’s Law, which I would have loved to tie in here in clever fashion but ye gods, I had a partial stroke just trying to read the formula:\oiint\mathbf{E} \cdot {\rm d}\mathbf{A} = |\mathbf{E}|\mathbf{\hat{e}}_r\int_{S} dA = |\mathbf{E}|\mathbf{\hat{e}}_r \times 4\pi r^{2}

And I apologize for whatever ill effects it might have had on your system. Finally, a Ke is also a Chinese unit of decimal time measuring either 14.4 minutes or 15 minutes.

Wait a minute.

It’s a unit of measure — those things that we use to determine how much of things there exist in a given system, or the distance between things, or the purity or contamination of things, or in fact any of the myriad of methods we have for making meaning out of the world around us — but we don’t know exactly how much of the thing it sets out to measure that it actually measures.

I thought more about this, and it only made my brain hurt even more, and it was already reeling after trying to read that formula up there. (HALF OF IT IS JUST WAVY LINES.) Think about it. The difference between 14.4 of something and 15 of something is 4%. 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you start doing math of any consequence, 4% becomes enormous. 4% of the world’s population, for example, is 284,000,000 (that’s 284 million) people. 4% of the distance from the earth to the moon is almost ten thousand miles. It’s hard to imagine any measurement having a grey area you could sail the earth itself through.

But that’s the way of things, innit? The Ke is not a contemporary unit of measurement. It doesn’t get used anymore, except perhaps by Chinese authenticists (the measurement, it turns out, was based on the sundial), in large part because we’ve come up with new, better, more precise measuring sticks. So are we always redefining the rules, fine-tuning the specs on our tools, rejiggering the machinations that control and that build our lives. As our goals and, by extension, our accomplishments grow, so too must the means by which we measure them. An “A” in high school chemistry might have been the most important thing in the world to a past version of myself, but today it means precisely bupkis.

I got up for a drink just now, and on my way back to my seat, I had the thought that just about the only yardstick that has meaning in my life at the moment is money, and as I thought that thought, my blood started to simmer. My head filled with insane, tinfoil-hat kinds of ideas and notions that money isn’t real yet our lives and our livelihoods depend on it, that some people in the world can just invent all the money that they want while others live their lives in the shadow of its absence, and ultimately I decided that my blarg is a whole lot more lighthearted than that and the best thing to do was just to wrap this stream of consciousness up.

And to think, it only took me a couple of Ke’s to write all this.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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