Friday, December 01, 2006

Soap suds

Great drama yesterday. Coming in from work, having missed putting the kids to bed, I discovered that the washing machine had done its party trick of getting stuck mid-cycle because of a blockage in the outflow. Already grumpy and tired, with an essay to mark and having had no dinner, S and I then spent an hour up to our ankles in old soapy water trying to remove whatever it was that had bunged the thing up. It was, as usual, some bits of paper and stones which the kids stuff into their pockets. All the same, I was not in a good mood and the kitchen now smells strongly of Fairy non-bio.
Perhaps I should not have been so grumpy, though, because to my surprise it turns out that we can learn an awful lot from washing machines. For one, the internet has this excellent site: 'How stuff works', explaining how the damn things function... (And what to do if they don't -- although I imagine doing anything particularly invasive will void the warranty...) But you would be astonished by what other things washing machines can demonstrate. Here, for example, is an argument that shows that optimally designed machines, like modern washing machines, often function less efficiently or reliably than earlier, less sophisticated versions. In that case, the argument continues, the fact that some biological systems appear sub-optimally designed is a point for, not against, the notion that they are intelligently designed by a creator. I hope it's a joke, but I suspect it's not.

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