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Unbound Oxford - Eight Minutes about Eight Minutes

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I've just got back from Unbound's first live event in Oxford and it was great fun. You can see a little write-up about it on my blog here. My talk tonight was called Eight Minutes about Eight Minutes because that's how long we were given to speak. So here it is, exclusively for my Shed Folk ...

Eight minutes is the average time people take to ... load a dishwasher after feeding a family, hoover a room (properly), clean a toilet (properly), iron two shirts, cook two eggs or ruin one.

In eight minutes you could ... listen to Stairway to Heaven once, watch The Parrot Sketch twice, listen to Song 2 by Blur four times, play the Minute Waltz eight times or amputate 16 limbs (if you were Sir Robert Liston who, in 1842, demonstrated that he could get a leg off in 30 seconds).

If you only have eight minutes in which to watch a film, you'll get to the line 'She'll die before she'll tell you anything' in Star Wars, 'As I understand it you took this girl out to Holcombe Woods' in Carry On Screaming, 'They were poor but they had five happy and harmonious years before my arrival sent Papa off to join the Heavenly choir' in Kind Hearts and Coronets and 'Some nights I clean out the blood' in Taxi Driver. If you listened to the original radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll get as far as 'Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did'.

In eight minutes my heart will beat an average of 576 times. If I were a blue whale however, it would beat just 48 times. And if were an Etruscan shrew it would beat 12,088 times; its heart beats at a staggering 25 beats per second. And talking of fast, the fastest conscious movement made by any animal is the snapping shut of the trap-jaw ant's mouth. It can do this in 1.5 milliseconds, which means that it can snap its jaws shut an amazing 5 million times in eight minutes.

In the eight minutes it takes me to do this talk, lightning will have hit the Earth around 48,000 times, Wayne Rooney will have earned £168 and a nurse will have earned 36p. IKEA will have sold 30,441 meatballs, McDonald's will have sold 32,000 burgers and Peruvians will have eaten 913 Guinea pigs.

In these eight minutes I could have run a mile (at an average speed of 7.5mph), travelled 18 miles on the world's fastest train - the 267.8mph maglev train from Shanghai International Airport to the business sector - travelled to the Sun at the speed of light, or completed one thirteenth of the Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon.

Note: I'm told that the Millennium Falcon can travel at a top speed of 28 light years per hour. The Kessel Run is a smuggling route that skirts a dangerous cluster of black holes called The Maw and is usually 15 parsecs in distance (a parsec is 3.258 light years). Han Solo shaved some distance off the run by circumnavigating The Maw. I know some very nerdy folks ...

That said, I have travelled some distance just by standing here talking to you. The Earth revolves upon its axis at 1,040mph so, in eight minutes, I've travelled 138 miles. But the Earth is also travelling around the Sun at 66,600mph so I've also travelled 8,880 miles in these eight minutes. And our entire solar system is orbiting the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy at a speed of 515,000mph so I've also gone 68,666 miles in eight minutes. Add that all together and I've travelled 77,684 miles at a speed of 161.8 miles per second ...

... and Unbound are paying my travel expenses tonight.

Incidentally, eight minutes after the Big Bang, the universe was already several light years across in size. In the first hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second it swelled from an infinitely small dot to the size of an orange. After one billionth of second it was the size of the solar system. After eight minutes it was cool enough for light elements like hydrogen and helium to form ... but too hot for light to shine (and would remain so for another 38,000 years). That initial expansion was very fast, much faster than the speed of light. The speed of light is an absolute speed limit (except perhaps for the Millennium Falcon) but only within the universe; the universe itself has no speed limit on its expansion.

Finally, it's worth mentioning a few internet facts. During the 2008 US elections, Twitter users notched up 1.8 million election-related tweets. Twitter was pretty new then. In the 2012 election, Twitter was receiving 1.8 million election-related tweets every eight minutes.

One in every eight minutes online is spent on Facebook.

And visiting unbound.co.uk, signing up, clicking on Constable Colgan's Connectoscope and pledging to support the book takes, on average ... eight minutes.

Thank you.

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