Gomboc – An Object That Never Falls

By Anupum Pant

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There’d be hardly anyone among us who hasn’t played with a roly-poly toy during their childhoods. If you know it by some other name, you could think of it as a toy that never falls, no matter how hard you hit it, and sells in variants which look like this. That isn’t exactly what a Gomboc is, but you get an idea about what it does – It does not fall. For more, read on.

What is a Gomboc?

A Gomboc (Gömböc) is a mathematical 3-D shape which has only one position in which it can stand and is made up of a single material  of uniform density. If you try to make it stand in some other way, or try to knock it down, it moves back to that single stable position, gradually. When placed on its side, it starts rocking magically, gains momentum, straightens itself and gradually comes to rest in that single position. Here is a video of a Gomboc doing its thing.

A Gomboc is an object surrounded by a number of complex curves, it takes an immense amount of accuracy to get the surfaces right. An accuracy of  the orders of around 1/10th of a human hair’s thickness is required for it to work properly. For better, people have started 3D printing these complex shapes.

The world’s largest Gomboc was displayed in China in the year 2010 which measured around 3 meters in all directions.

Terrestrial tortoises, who use a similarly shaped shell to get on their feet when turned upside down, were using it long before humans had found a way to construct it. The first time we made it, was in the year 2006. Evolution got there first!

How is it different than a Roly-Poly toy?
A roly-poly toy usually has an internal counter weight made up of a heavier material. But a Gomboc is made up of a single material.

Uses: Use it as a paper weight or to gift it to your friend who is a math geek. Tortoises use it to save their own lives.

Where can I buy one?
You can get one for yourself from an official website of the inventors – Here.

10 Fancy Units of Measurement

by Anupum Pant

There exist a few unusual units of measurement which you must have never heard of, or would have never thought of them as units until now. Here is a list of 10 of the many fancy units of measurement.

Note: These units are not official. They’re often used for their humor value or for simplicity’s sake):

1. Car length – It is not a very unusual unit of measurement and is used normally to mention the braking distance of a vehicle. Deriving its length from a typical car’s length, 4 meters is referred as one “car length”. You must have heard one spy advising another spy to keep a 2 car length distance from a vehicle to avoid detection.

2. Nanoacres – A measure of area which is equal to about 4 sq.mm (4.0468564224 sq.mm exactly). It is the area of a single VLSI chip which is square in shape and measures 2 mm on each side. This unit is widely popular as a joke among electronic engineers – who often are known to make quips about VLSI nanoacres having costs in the same range as real acres.

3. Grave – It is a unit that measures mass and equals 1 kilogram or 1000 grams. Grave was set to be the standard unit of mass for the metric system, but it was replaced by kilogram in 1799. [read more about it]

4. Moment – Moment is actually something that was used to measure 90 seconds during the Medieval times. But for modern times, the Hebrew calendar’s definition of moment makes more sense. According to it, a moment is equal to 5/114 of a second or around 0.0438  seconds. [read more]

5. Jiffy – Jiffy is used popularly as an informal time in English. Think of someone saying “I’ll be back in a jiffy”. But, we’ve never thought of it as a unit. Also, every field has a different definition of Jiffy.

  • Early usage – 33.35 picoseconds or the time take by light to travel 1 cm.
  • Electronics – 1/50th or 1/60th of a second, depending on the AC power supply frequency.
  • Computing – Typically anything between 1 millisecond to 10 millisecond. Commonly: 10 ms.
  • Animation – The time interval between each frame of a dot GIF file or 1/100th of a second or 10 ms.
  • Physics/Chemistry – Time taken by light to travel 1 Fermi or 3X10^-24 seconds.

6. Dog Year – Based on a popular myth that dog’s age can be calculated in human years by multiplying it with 7. So, a single Dog year comes to around 52 days (365/7 – Days in a human year divided by 7)

7. A Bible – Used as measure of digital data volumes. It is like measuring the size of a disk in number of movies it can fit which I used in this article. A single Bible in uncompressed 8-bits, has around 4.5 million characters and 150 of them can be stored in a single CD. Hence, a bible can be measured to be approximately equal to 4.67 Megabytes. Similarly,  Encyclopedia Britannica and Library of Congress are used to represent much larger data volumes.

8.  Kardashian – Yes, it is named after the 72 day marriage of  Kim Kardashian to Kris Humphries. Of course, it measures 72 days of marriage. So, a 25 year marriage would amount to around 126.7 Kardashians.

9. Wheaton – Used to measure the number of twitter followers relative to the popular celebrity Will Wheaton. This became a standard when he had 0.5 million Twitter followers. Today, Will Wheaton himself has 4.88 Wheatons. I, for instance, with 210 followers, have about 0.00042 Wheatons.

10. Warhol – Derived from the widely used expression coined by Andy Warhol – “15 minutes of fame” – 1 Warhol measures exactly what you’d expect it to – 15 minutes of fame. Yes, it measures the amount of fame.
Consequently, 1 kilowarhol is equal to 15,000 minutes of fame or 10.42 days and 1 megawarhol measures 15 million minutes of fame or about 28.5 years.