Girls Can’t Be Kings!

A while back, a cartoon called “Princess King” was hugely popular on Facebook for several days before getting lost. If you don’t recall it, or have never heard of it, here it is:


My wife and I found this cartoon amusing, as we have at least one niece that we could see doing this. While we were laughing, my son wanted to know what was so funny. Shrugging, we showed him the cartoon and read him the dialogue. He thought about that for a moment and then said “Girls can’t be kings!”

“Girls can be anything they want,” my wife told him. “Just like boys.”

“No,” my son insisted. “They can’t!”

Sigh. Gender politics at the age of five. Although, being honest, most of this is probably just him being contrary. He’d insist the sky was green and up was down, some days. If he was in the right mood and we were contradicting him.

What is a King? A Queen? has 13 different definitions for the word king, but here’s the only one relevant to this topic: “a male sovereign or monarch; a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people”. Queen, by contrast, has “only” eleven different definitions. Two of them are relevant to this discussion:

  1. a female sovereign or monarch.
  2. the wife or consort of a king.

So, it would appear that – by definition – my son was right. A woman who “holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people” is a Queen Regnant, while “the wife or consort of a king” is a Queen Consort. So, there we are. Right?

Well… no.

Were there any female Kings?

See, dictionary definitions are fine and all, but they rarely hold the force of law. Kings, however, frequently hold the force of law. And there have been a number of historical women who – although by the d would be “Queens Regent” – have borne the title “King”. And I suspect that most of them would have executed you for contradicting them.

Here are a few of them.

  • Sobekneferu (or Merytre Satsekhem-nebettawy Djedetkha Sobekkare Sobeknefru, if you want the full regnal name):  The last ruler of the Egyptian Twelfth Dynasty, and the first woman that archaeologists can conclusively prove reigned as Pharaoh.  And yes, I’m aware that technically her title was “Pharaoh” and not “King”, but that is unworthy semantic hairsplitting.
  • Jadwiga:  Crowned King of Poland on October 16, 1384, and reigned as such until her death in 1399.  She shared the title with her husband Władysław-Jogaila beginning on March 4, 1386 (14 days after they married), but she was never retitled Queen of Poland.
  • Christina of Sweden:  The only surviving  legitimate heir of King Gustave II Adolph of Sweden.  She was crowned King in 1633 (at the age of 6), and educated and trained in the exact same fashion she would have received had she been born “Christopher” of Sweden.  She is commonly referred to as Queen Christina, but the title conferred upon her by the Riksdag at her coronation was “King”.
  • King Peggy (more formally King Amuah-Afenyi VI):  A naturalized citizen of the United States, Peggielene Bartels became King of Tantum in Ghana after the death of her uncle in 2008.  You can visit her web site here.

The Princess King Herself

Finally, it seems only fair to acknowledge the woman who inspired this entire article.  The “Princess King” comic is the work of a woman named Pascalle Lepas, who also writes and draws a webcomic called Wilde Life.  If you liked that comic, let her know – because someone decided to publish that comic without attribution, and she got next to none of the benefits of seeing her hard work go viral.


What Is The Softest Thing Ever?

Recently, I was helping my son put his bed back together – a labor-intensive process involving fleece blankets. He has something like eight or ten of them, all of which he insists on sleeping under when we put him to bed, so most of them end up on the floor because he gets hot and kicks them off. No big deal, really. It’s hardly the worst sleeping habit he could have.

“Now, the big one next,” I tell him, spreading his quilt on the bed.

“Yes,” he agrees. “It’ll make my bed [i]so soft[/i]!” Then he thinks about that as he hands me his Darth Vader fleece blanket. “What’s the softest thing ever?”

You know what? I have no idea.

Hardness versus Softness

“Hard” and “soft” are words that we use with some regularity. Most of us have an intuitive understanding of the meaning, even if we can’t define it with precision. But, in order to further our discussion of the subject, we should get a formal definition of each. Or, at least, that sounds reasonable. The problem is, has 41 different definitions for the word hard and 38 for soft. The first definition of “hard” is “not soft; solid and firm to the touch; unyielding to pressure and impenetrable or almost impenetrable.” By comparison, “soft” is defined as “yielding readily to touch or pressure; easily penetrated, divided, or changed in shape; not hard or stiff.”

So, by definition, soft things are not hard and hard things are not soft. Thank you,  Fortunately, the University of Maryland provides a more technical definition of hardness:

The Metals Handbook defines hardness as “Resistance of metal to plastic deformation, usually by indentation. However, the term may also refer to stiffness or temper, or to resistance to scratching, abrasion, or cutting. It is the property of a metal, which gives it the ability to resist being permanently, deformed (bent, broken, or have its shape changed), when a load is applied. The greater the hardness of the metal, the greater resistance it has to deformation.

In mineralogy the property of matter commonly described as the resistance of a substance to being scratched by another substance. In metallurgy hardness is defined as the ability of a material to resist plastic deformation.

The dictionary of Metallurgy defines the indentation hardness as the resistance of a material to indentation. This is the usual type of hardness test, in which a pointed or rounded indenter is pressed into a surface under a substantially static load.

So, in brief, hardness is the ability of a substance to resist being permanently deformed or scratched.

How Do You Measure Hardness?

Sometimes, you just have to turn to Wikipedia: “There are three main types of hardness measurements: scratch, indentation, and rebound. Within each of these classes of measurement there are individual measurement scales. For practical reasons conversion tables are used to convert between one scale and another.”

Scratch hardness is generally measured with a sclerometer, a device that measures “the width of a scratch made by a diamond under a fixed load, and drawn across the face of the specimen under fixed conditions”.

A sclerometer

Indentation hardness is primarily used in engineering and metallurgy, and measures “the resistance of a sample to material deformation due to a constant compression load from a sharp object”. Regardless of the specific test used (and there are several), the test uses a dense object of spherical or conical shape, pushed into the material under a specific pressure for a specified period of time. The depth of the resulting indentation is then used to determine how hard the material is.

Rebound hardness “measures the height of the “bounce” of a diamond-tipped hammer dropped from a fixed height onto a material”. The actual device with the hammer is called a scleroscope.

The Softest Thing Ever? How About The Hardest?

Since there isn’t a standardized definition of hard or soft, can we actually talk about the “hardest’ or “softest” thing? The answer is “sort of”. For example, diamonds are able to survive pressures of around 150 GPa. GPa is the scientific notation for “gigapascals”, where one pascal is helpfully defined as the pressure exerted by a force of magnitude one newton perpendicularly upon an area of one square meter (or, if this makes more sense, one kilogram of mass over one square meter for one second). For comparison purposes, one atmosphere of pressure is 101.325 kilopascal (kPa) – which is .000101325 GPa.

In other words, natural diamonds can withstand approximately 1,480,000 times the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere at sea level. Impressive, right? Well, yes. Yes it is. But researchers in the Technological institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology have developed a new method of synthesizing ultrahard fullerines, which can withstand upwards of 300 GPa – although the process is not yet ready for industrial scales. Why? Well, making the ultrahard fullerite requires pressures in excess of 13 GPa – the article states that “modern equipment cannot provide such pressure on a large scale.”

The ultrahard fullerine molecule

Looking at a different measure of hardness, neutron degenerate matter (aka the stuff neutron stars are made out of) is theorized to have a Young modulus that is 20 orders of magnitude larger than that of diamond. So, by at least one measure of hardness, that is the hardest thing known.

Softness is trickier. The softest possible thing would be a material with no resistance to deformation or scratching. You could argue that a vacuum has none of those resistances, but then you could also argue that vacuum is – by definition – not a material. Maybe whipped cream, or soap suds? Honestly, just like you get arguments about how hard something is based on the test applied, you’d probably get similar arguments for how soft something is.


So I’m declaring kittens the softest thing ever. Try to prove me wrong.

Is It Still Night?

This question came up in early January. I wake up early most days, because the shift I work runs 5 am to 1:30 pm Monday through Friday, so “sleeping in” has become “sleeping to 6 am”. As a result, I’m sitting out in the living room when my son comes staggering out at 7 am, wearing his flannel pyjamas and clutching his favorite fleece blanket and clearly not quite awake. He flops down on the couch next to me, rests his head on my leg, and glances at the sliding glass doors. “Is it still night?” he asks, talking through a jaw-cracking yawn.

“No,” I tell him. “It’s seven in the morning.”

“But the sun’s not up!” he manages.

Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. Shouldn’t “night” be when the sun isn’t visible, and “day” be when it is visible?

What is night?

The first three definitions of “night” are as follows:

  1. the period of darkness between sunset and sunrise.
  2. the beginning of this period; nightfall.
  3. the darkness of night; the dark.

Interestingly enough, there is also a legal definition of night found in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1, Section 1.1: “Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time”.

It turns out that there are three different types of twilight: civil twilight, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight. Which one you use depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.

Nautical twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening, when the center of the sun is geometrically 12 degrees below the horizon. At the beginning or end of nautical twilight, under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other illumination, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable, but detailed outdoor operations are not possible. During nautical twilight the illumination level is such that the horizon is still visible even on a Moonless night allowing mariners to take reliable star sights for navigational purposes, hence the name.

Astronomical twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 18 degrees below the horizon. Before the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning and after the end of astronomical twilight in the evening, scattered light from the Sun is less than that from starlight and other natural sources. For a considerable interval after the beginning of morning twilight and before the end of evening twilight, sky illumination is so faint that it is practically imperceptible.vening twilight, sky illumination from the Sun is so faint that it is practically imperceptible.

That’s the “conventional” definition. The technical definition is similar, but involves more geometry:

Twilight. There are three kinds of twilight defined: civil twilight, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight. For computational purposes, civil twilight begins before sunrise and ends after sunset when the geometric zenith distance of the center of the Sun is 96 degrees – 6 degrees below a horizontal plane. The corresponding solar zenith distances for nautical and astronomical twilight are 102 and 108 degrees, respectively. That is, at the dark limit of nautical twilight, the center of the Sun is geometrically 12 degrees below a horizontal plane; and at the dark limit of astronomical twilight, the center of the Sun is geometrically 18 degrees below a horizontal plane.

Sunrise and Sunset

The United States Naval Observatory also defines sunrise and sunset: “Sunrise and sunset conventionally refer to the times when the upper edge of the disk of the Sun is on the horizon. Atmospheric conditions are assumed to be average, and the location is in a level region on the Earth’s surface.” They also provide a technical definition:

Sunrise and sunset. For computational purposes, sunrise or sunset is defined to occur when the geometric zenith distance of center of the Sun is 90.8333 degrees. That is, the center of the Sun is geometrically 50 arcminutes below a horizontal plane. For an observer at sea level with a level, unobstructed horizon, under average atmospheric conditions, the upper limb of the Sun will then appear to be tangent to the horizon. The 50-arcminute geometric depression of the Sun’s center used for the computations is obtained by adding the average apparent radius of the Sun (16 arcminutes) to the average amount of atmospheric refraction at the horizon (34 arcminutes).

So, is it still night?

Assuming you’re using civil twilight, dawn twilight begins when the center of the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and ends when the center of the Sun is 0.8333 degrees below the horizon. How long it takes to move from night through twilight to day depends on your latitude and the time of year. But ultimately, until the sun rises, it is still night.

Interestingly enough, having checked a sunrise and sunset table for Cincinnati, I was wrong.  It was 7 am, and I said it was daytime and the sun was up.  It wasn’t.  The earliest the sun rose in Cincinnati in January 2016 was 7:46 am, so it was actually twilight.

Who Trained Yoda?

I’ve alluded to my son’s fascination (obsession?) with Star Wars. He loves it, and he particularly loves the Jedi. After all, they get the cool Force powers and the awesome-looking lightsabers. And of all the Jedi, my son’s favorite character is Yoda. Why? well, to quote my son, “Because he’s little like me!”

Fair enough.

Anyway, I get a lot of Star Wars questions from him. Mostly questions where he asks me to explain some part of the plot again, or ask me “why did Anakin make bad choices”, or the like. But every once in a while, he catches me off guard.

“Daddy? Who trained Yoda?”

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

“I think he trained himself!”

Yeah. I got nothing.


Fortunately for my oddball Star Wars questions needs, Wookepedia: The Star Wars Wiki) exists. And they go into exhaustive detail about everything you might need to know about Star Wars. So, to start with, this is Yoda:


The official Star Wars web site describes him as follows:

Yoda was a legendary Jedi Master and stronger than most in his connection with the Force. Small in size but wise and powerful, he trained Jedi for over 800 years, playing integral roles in the Clone Wars, the instruction of Luke Skywalker, and unlocking the path to immortality.

Yeah, I know. You probably knew that. If you don’t, for some reason, check out that link to the Star Wars web site. Or better yet, watch the original Star Wars trilogy.

Training Yoda

Canonically, there just isn’t anything much known about Yoda as a young man. He doesn’t talk about his youth at all in the movies, and all of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe have been declared officially non-canon by Disney.

Wookipedia, however, states that he was trained by a Jedi Master named N’Kata Del Gormo, a serpentine being with four arms.


N’Kata also lived in a swamp, and then went on to become a Jedi Grand Master.

Frank Oz

Let’s be honest, though. There is one man to whom Yoda owes everything. One man, without whom he would have been nothing at all. One man who made it possible for him to be the great Jedi Master he was. And that man is Frank Oz.

frank oz

Frank Oz was a puppeteer. Specifically, he worked for Jim Henson and portrayed characters that included Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam Eagle, Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert. He was the voice for Yoda, and the puppeteer for three of the five movies the character appeared in – Yoda was CGI in Episodes II and III. Of that, Mr. Oz had this to say:

It was fine. For me, it’s easy. I did the first three, I think it was, it was very tough work, very sweaty and hard work, but then George went to CG, which is exactly what he should have done. He could not have done anything else, then I get all the credit and these two dozen people who’ve worked for a year of their lives at ILM, they don’t get any credit at all. And they’re the ones who work, I don’t.

So who trained Yoda? A British puppeteer, and a dozen or so special effects artists at Industrial Light and Magic.

Is Pineapple an Apple?

It’s May 1, and we’re at church. The service has just started, and our Youth RE Minister comes to the lectern to announce what the children are going to be doing today. “The pre-kindergarten class will be celebrating Lei Day,” she announced, dropping a pun on the congregation, “and they’ll be eating bananas and pineapple.”

Now my son’s excited, because those are two of his favorite fruits. “Pineapple and banana!” he repeats over and over, bouncing in his seat.  “Pineapple and banana!”  Then he looks up at me and, as if it’s just occurred to him, asks “are pineapples an apple?”

I’m relatively certain the answer is “no”, but it’s a good question.

What is a pineapple?

The pineapple is a tropical plant originally native to southern Brazil and Paraguay. It was domesticated by Native Americans and spread by them throughout Central and South America, Mexico, and the West Indies well before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

The plant itself is

…a terrestrial herb 2 1/2 to 5 ft (.75-1.5 m) high with a spread of 3 to 4 ft (.9-1.2 m); a very short, stout stem and a rosette of waxy, straplike leaves, long-pointed, 20 to 72 in (50-180cm) 1ong; usually needle tipped and generally bearing sharp, upcurved spines on the margins. The leaves may be all green or variously striped with red, yellow or ivory down the middle or near the margins. At blooming time, the stem elongates and enlarges near the apex and puts forth a head of small purple or red flowers, each accompanied by a single red, yellowish or green bract. The stem continues to grow and acquires at its apex a compact tuft of stiff, short leaves called the “crown” or “top”. Occasionally a plant may bear 2 or 3 heads, or as many as 12 fused together, instead of the normal one.

The spiky, pinecone-looking part of the pineapple is the fruit. Interestingly, the primary pollinator of the pineapple is hummingbirds – domestic pineapples cultivated in regions without these birds must be pollinated by hand.

What is an apple?

First of all, I just need to say that my first attempt to research “Apple” online led me to nothing but information about the technology company. I actually had to specify “apple fruit” in my search to get apples. Good grief.

Anyway, you probably know what apples are.  They are the fruit of deciduous trees originally native to Central Asia, and they are part of the Rosaceae family – the same family as roses. By he tree general stands

…1.8 to 4.6 m (6 to 15 ft) tall in cultivation and up to 39 ft (12 m) in the wild.  When cultivated, the size, shape and branch density are determined by rootstock selection and trimming method. The leaves are alternately arranged dark green-colored simple ovals with serrated margins and slightly downy undersides.

Are they related?

Not to any significant degree, no – a fact that shouldn’t be too surprising, since pineapples are native to South America and apples are native to Central Asia.

Apples are Malus domestica (regardless of variety), part of family Rosaceae, which is part of order Rosales, which is part of kingdom Plantae.  Pineapples are Ananas comosus, part of family Bromeliaceae, which is part of order Poales, which is part of kingdom Plantae.

So, yeah. You have to go way back on the phylogenetic tree to find a common ancestor.

Where did the names come from?

All of this begs the question:  if they’re not at all related (beyond both being plants), and they look nothing alike, why on earth do they have such similar name so?  Did Christopher Columbus get drunk and think they were apples that grew on pine trees or something?

Well, no.

The Spanish did call them piña (pine cone), because of their resemblance to pine cones. They also called them ananá, which came from the Tupi word nanas, meaning “excellent fruit”.

Honestly?  I think the Tupi had the right idea.