The Dickens Law

I stumbled over the original text of the following article back in the late nineties when I was working as tech support at a local college. I copied it, showed it to a few people and then promptly found that the original site had disappeared and I to this day have been unable to find out who first wrote it. Bemused, I posted it online to share, and after a time forgot all about it.

Recently I was going through an old hard drive and found a backup of the old Orbital Shadow website that I ran in the early 2000s. Among the scattered html files was the complete text of The Dickens Law – which I present in its entirety below.

The Dickens Law: A Law Unto Itself

Foreword

In past years it was commonly believed that the fields of mind science and physical science – or more specifically psychology and physics – were largely mutually exclusive. Most scientists did, and still do, believe that the rules which govern time, motion, mass and nature only needed to be understood in absolute values. For instance, take the following formula which describes the value for

s distance traveled

given the variables for:

u initial velocity
t time
a acceleration

s = ut + 1/2at2

If the variable values are provided we can calculate the exact value for s, which is variable only if we change any of the other factors in the equation. Therefore we know that if a man falls from a helicopter under the effects of gravity (9.8 m/s2), with an initial vertical velocity of 0 m/s, for a total of twelve seconds he will have fallen 6,914.9 metres. Notwithstanding wind resistance and the helicopter being less than 6,900 m above the ground, this figure is exact. However, at no time is the effect of this distance upon the psyche of the falling man taken into consideration, despite this too being a variable.

Is the man wearing a parachute? Is he being paid an enormous sum of money to jump into a huge haystack which might cushion his fall? Is he the pilot of the helicopter or a paying passenger? Is he likely to be met on the ground by angry guerrillas? Has he leapt from the helicopter to avoid angry gorillas? Has he been pushed or has he jumped voluntarily? Has his parachute been slashed to ribbons of silk in a harmless buck’s-night prank? Each of these possibilities and the infinite number of others must be considered, in addition to the actual distance he falls in twelve seconds.

In fact which is more important: that he falls 6,914.9 m in twelve seconds or that he knows fully well that his spine is about to be compressed small enough to stuff into one of his socks? We believe the latter to be of profoundly more importance. Perhaps not to a physicist, but certainly to our friend the paratrooper.

Our challenge then was to rethink the laws of physics in such a way that the mind of the subject would be a primary consideration in physical calculations. Obviously to rework the entire physics textbook in this way would be a mammoth task, so we have limited our efforts to the subject of distance and time, particularly in motor vehicles and on foot. In due course the research shall be performed that will examine the psychological/physical laws – hybrid science, we call it – that relate to such fields as circular motion, projectile motion, harmonic motion, momentum, power, electric current and potential energy, magnetics, and wave motion. But for now we must turn our minds to the newest law of distance time, known as the Dickens Law of Motor Vehicle and Man-powered Transport and Contributing and Resultant Human Effects, known hereafter simply as the Dickens Law.

Overview of the Dickens Law

The Dickens Law has been around for a lot longer than most people realise. In fact, many folk make reference to the law in everyday language. When one mentions that the trip from Sydney to Melbourne is “a dickens of a way” one is making direct reference to the law. So too when one speaks of “a dickens of a time.” Most would believe that such loose references to a law of science to be gauche at best, but those who speak in such a way are in actuality being almost as specific as one can get using the Dickens Law.

This then brings us to our first fundamental:

1. The Dickens Law is infinitely variable and immeasurable

The popularisation of science has prompted the usage of a variety of sub-classifications of the Dickens as a unit of measure. For example: “helluva dickens”; “flaming dickens”; “bloody dickens” and so on. These are largely inappropriate, and are only of any scientific advantage if the person making the classification is experienced in the same exact journey under identical social and physical circumstances, or in the event that the person is recounting a particular journey that they themselves endured. However, for the purposes of accurate scientific data such classification is too wildly fluctuant to be of any real use.

Let us then for the purposes of clarification identify some of the terms and symbols used when studying and quantifying the law, before going on to discuss them in greater detail.

D Dickens : was once the primary unit of Dickensian measure, but since it has become overused in common parlance the DQ has since been adopted (see below). Unlike a metre or a kilometre, D and DQ can only be understood in the context of a number of other variables.
DQ Dickens Quotient : the primary unit used in quantifying the Dickens value of a particular journey. The higher the DQ the less pleasurable the journey. A further sub-class is the Sliding Dickens Quotient (SDQ), which will be discussed in greater detail in a later chapter.
Q Qualifier : is applied to the entire equation. q is a binary factor which determines whether a DQ is at all measurable, for a certain trip is or is not a dickens of a way. If a trip is a dickens of a way then q becomes 1. If a trip is not a dickens of a way then q is 0, and the journey generates no DQ at all.
VQ Vehicular Quotient: refers to the mode of transport employed on a journey. Inversely proportionate to the quality and comfort of the actual vehicle. In the event that different vehicles are used on one journey the higher VQ is used in most calculations. A higher VQ equates to a higher DQ, but not necessarily on a 1:1 basis, as other factors can come into play.
P Purpose of Journey : directly influencing the DQ, P is not a numerical variable but an assessable variable. Assessment must be completely objective whereupon the DQ must then be accordingly modified. The Dickensian scientist must ensure that he does not allow personal preferences to interfere with his assessment, nor that he build other extraneous factors such as VQ into his final DQ and subsequent measurement of D.

Other extraneous factors include:

W Weather Quotient,
CV Company Variable
PCE Projected Cost Extrapolisation
FF Fear Factor
SC Social Complications
SFA Surrogate Financial Accountability

Also:

BS Background Sound (BS) which accounts for the quality of the music on the radio.
RDF Ridiculous Distance Factor: If a journey is so great a distance as to be utterly ludicrous and the DQ cannot be lowered to something within reasonable limits then the RDF should be applied to the equation, which effectively raises the DQ by an order of magnitude such that the journey becomes utterly implausible to attempt.

In its simplest form, Dickensian Science can be summed up in the formula:

D = q(P + VQ)

If therefore a trip is to be made from Sydney to Penrith (truly a Dickens of a way, q therefore being 1) to visit a close friend (P) in a reasonably comfortable car (VQ), then P = ~25, which is a low value for P, and VQ is ~30, also quite low. Therefore, accepting values as absolute:

DQ = 1(25 + 30) = 55

Let us now say that the car breaks down along the way and the subject must catch a bus. Now the value for VQ is closer to 120, and the DQ blows out to 145. (Remember that in the event of more than one mode of transport being used, each with a different VQ, then the higher VQ must be applied to the equation.)

Let us now assume that the same trip is being made by a commuter in the same car, traveling home after work. Now P is about 200, and the DQ becomes 230.

Now our subject is speeding to Penrith in a Ferrari that he has been lent for the weekend. VQ will become negligible, or may even become a negative figure. If this negative figure is high enough then the DQ will also become a negative. This brings us to another fundamental:

2. A fun Dickens is no Dickens.

A negative DQ suggests a certain enjoyment in the experience of the journey, wherein longer journeys are usually better. If this becomes the case there is no reason to assess the journey at all, for D automatically becomes 0 and the equation is unassessable. This happens rarely, and usually involves driving European sports cars at dangerous speeds.

This situation of ineligibility for application to the formula can change during a journey, however. For example, the Ferrari may break down, or the subject may wrap it around a Pole. In this instance the driver will be heartbroken and the Pole will probably be killed. It is then up to the subject himself to decide whether stacking the car was worth it to drive like an idiot just once, although in this researcher’s experience the DQ for that particular journey will probably reach into the high thousands.

About Tim Maidment

Writer, House Husband, Raconteur and Bon Vivant
This entry was posted in Geekery, humour, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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