the third degree


Why is it so?

It may be 27 years since his death, but who can’t immediately conjure Professor Julius Sumner Miller asking that trademark question in his trans-Atlantic twang?

With his outlandish wiry ear muffs and beetling black brows raised independently in fierce inquiry, he was the poster boy for the most unpopular of sciences.

He used his considerable showmanship to hook kids on the basic principles of physics.

Back in the day when there were still milk bottles, many, many eggs were sacrificed in households across the land by children trying to replicate his most famous trick to demonstrate atmospheric pressure.

This involved putting a lit piece of paper into a bottle and placing a peeled boiled egg on top: as “Watch it! Watch it!” the air inside the bottle heated up, the egg would be sucked inside due to the change in air pressure.

Miller was the bane of the intellectual elite who accused him of trivialising maths and science.

The academics were a special triumph for me,” he proudly declared. If I had done what they wanted my programs would be as dull as their classes. I knew my purpose well and clear: to show how Nature behaves without cluttering its beauty with abstruse mathematics.”

In any event who cared about the stuffy alumni. As student and friend of Albert Einstein – whose hair also famously stood on end – Miller had the world’s best brain in his corner.

Is there some correlation between genius and electrified hair I wonder?

At any rate clearly I have neither the hair, nor the head space to resolve what has become the Very Vexing Mystery of the Number Three.

For some weeks now we’ve been trying to buy a three; two stick-on reflective 3’s in fact, to affix to a trailer to mirror the ute’s registration so we can take some of the accumulated junk in the garage to the tip.

Like how hard can it be to buy a 3?

Very, as it transpires.

The hubby has been to a variety of stores at various locations and been faced by the same dearth of desired numeral on every occasion.

He felt compelled to ask at the third Bunnings what was the chance of ever getting a 3 and was informed he’d virtually need to be on the doorstep at 3am on the day of delivery to secure the elusive number.

There are never any threes mate,” the sales assistant said. “They all go the minute we get them in.”

Why is this so?

Did the Three Tenors, Three Little Pigs, Three French Hens, Three Stooges, Three Musketeers, Three Amigos, Three Blind Mice, three bean salad, Three Little Figs Cafe, three-toed sloths, three bedroom houses, Three Fates, Three Furies, three wise men, 3-D movies and Goldilocks and the Three Bears use them all up?

I am beginning to become obsessed with three – seeing trinities, triumvirates and triads of them everywhere except on the blinking trailer.

Pythagoras called three the noblest of digits.

It’s the only number equal to the sum of those below it and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself.

But you don’t have to be Einstein to deduce that threes do not grow on trees.





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