Old wives’ tales, folk knowledge, common sayings, and even cliches and idioms are often taken as givens since they form an often unnoticed part of our vocabulary and culture. There’s so many examples that it’s possible to fill a 17-season TV show busting potential myths like these, and even then there are some that slipped by. For example, the saying “you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube” which, as it turns out, is not as impossible as we might be led to believe.
This video is the product of [Tyler Bell] who has taken this idiom on as a challenge. To figure out if it was possible he first got to work building a vacuum chamber, which turned out to be a little easier than he thought it would be. After cutting a piece of polycarbonate tube and sanding it down, all that was needed were some rubber gaskets and fittings for the vacuum pump.
From there, the theory was to put an empty toothpaste tube into the vacuum chamber, pump all of the air out, and let atmospheric pressure “push” the toothpaste back into the tube. During [Tyler]’s first run he thought that it had worked successfully but it turned out that he had just inflated the empty toothpaste tube like a balloon. Further iterations were able to return some of the toothpaste to the tube, but each time some air would eventually work its way into the toothpaste which would immediately fill the remaining space in the tube with air rather than toothpaste.
While not completely successful, he was able to get some toothpaste back into the tube with a relatively small bill of materials. It’s not likely that this experiment will result in a change of this particular idiomatic expression, but it was interesting to put it to the test nonetheless. For other instances of toothpaste and its relationship to tubes, both inside and out, be sure to check out this recent piece on various methods of toothpaste storage.
Continue reading “You Can Put Toothpaste In The Tube (With Effort)”
It is nearly impossible to build any kind of hardware these days without at some point in the process dealing with China — Chinese suppliers, and so by extension Chinese culture. Difficulties can be as simple as the usual inconvenience of everything stopping for weeks up to and after Chinese New Year, or engineers that you know to be otherwise reasonably competent simply choosing not to bring up glaring and obvious problems. Having encountered my share of Western hardware entrepreneurs on the verge of a breakdown, and just as many flummoxed Chinese bosses completely unable to see exactly why they’re so upset, I thought I’d try to offer at least a little insight into one of the many issues that comes up.
Nearly any school child in the world will be able to tell you whom they were taught invented the lightbulb, the telephone, the radio transmitter. Those same children will usually be able to tell you of at least a few Chinese inventions as well — gunpowder, paper, the compass etc. But with one key difference, even the Chinese children are unlikely to be able to credit even a group of people for their invention let alone a single (usually misattributed) individual.
China does not really have an Edison, or Tesla, or Bell — oh we’ve had people as brilliant, but they are not celebrated in quite the same way for cultural reasons. If you were to do an alternate history of China where we went through the Industrial Revolution first, you’d want to split the timeline around Mozi (墨子). The Mohists (followers of Mozi) had advanced siege engine design, schools of logic, mathematics and theory for the physical sciences. much of the same foundation that set the West on its particular trajectory. In the end, Confucian ideals won out and China became a culture that celebrated scholarship over ingenuity (to vastly oversimplify things).
Even our respective terms for engineer reflect this. The word engineer (Latin ingeniator) is derived from the Latin words ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”). Yet in Chinese 工程师, the first character for engineer in Chinese is the carpenters square 工. He or she is a simple worker (工人 literally “Work Person”). Even now, engineers are not held in anywhere near the same regard in China as they are in the West.
Continue reading “Lu Ban’s Axe And Working With Your Chinese Suppliers”