The postage stamps of analogia.

  • John E. Lydon
  • Published 2006 in
    Biochemistry and molecular biology education : a…

Abstract

I was looking forward to my first visit to Analogia. Its strange inhabitants and their bizarre customs had become legendary, and I was eager to see them for myself. My guide was waiting for me at the airport arrival lounge, and I remembered that I had promised my nephew that I would bring him back a set of Analogian stamps. I thought it best to buy them at the airport while I had time. “We earn a lot of money selling our stamps to tourists,” said my guide as we queued in line at the kiosk. “–which is ironic, because we originally set out to produce re-useable stamps, and we expected the sales to be very low.” Analogian stamps are unique in philately and are highly sought after by collectors (Fig. 1). At first sight, they look like blocks of four ordinary stamps, but they are thicker, and they have a plastic coating on the face and a soft glue on the reverse so they can be easily peeled off an envelope and re-used. Each quadrant carries the traditional post horn symbol. The stamps have to be charged before they can be used. To do this you insert them into a small machine on the side of the post box, and insert the appropriate coins. As the stamps are charged, the symbol O2 becomes visible. There is also a slight change in shape; they become taller and narrower. “The postal authorities liked this idea because if inflation increased the cost of postage, there would be no need to print new stamps. However, Analogia has always had such a well managed economy that this never became an important factor,” my guide explained. Like so many things in this quaint country, it all seemed to be unnecessarily complicated. Why did they have to be used in blocks of four? My guide continued, “As our patron saint, Saint George, used to say, ‘All things make sense when you know about their evolution.’ Our first attempt at producing re-chargeable stamps was not very successful. The idea was to exploit some recent advances in liquid crystal technology and to use a film of liquid crystal sidechain polymer carrying a dichroic dye that could be aligned and realigned simply by scanning the whole envelope with an electric field. This would mean that valid stamps could be recognized both by eye and by a high speed scanning machine. They were single stamps more or less the same as one of the quarters of the present stamps. We had a lot of trouble with them. The idea was that they would hold their charge just long enough to pass through the sorting office, and then they would revert to the uncharged form. But they were often too stable and stayed at an ambiguous mid-state for too long. People were using them repeatedly without paying for a recharge. “We were going to scrap the whole idea, but then someone noticed that when blocks of four stamps were used on heavier parcels, they worked much better. They were more clearly charged or uncharged, and the decay occurred in a reasonable time. We investigated this and found that there seemed to be some interaction between the four stamps in the block. There was a synergism between the shape and the color. The slight difference in dimensions made it difficult for one stamp in a block to be differently charged from the other three. This made it more difficult for a block to be only partially charged. After we started to use them in blocks of four we never had any problems. The cooperative change in shape was purely accidental, It was not intended, but it proved to be the key to success. We found that the effective working range is between 60–20% charge, and as you can see here in the booklet, the graphs of charge decay have different shapes. The old single stamps charged to 95% only lost about 10% of their charge during use, but the new blocks charged to 90% decayed to 10%.” I began to see that there was some logic in this absurd complexity. “We tried to construct a mathematical model to describe the cooperativity of the charging process,” my guide said. “At first we pictured a sequence of steps where the distortion of each individual stamp as it becomes charged causes the buildup of strain in the block, making the adjacent stamps more receptive, so that we have a concerted five stage process. However, our Minister for Written (as distinct from electronic) Communication proposed an alternative model, which we now prefer. According to the MWC theory, the symmetry of the whole block is the key factor. There are only two possible states; the allelongated and the all-non-elongated. Both of these have the same rectangular (mm) symmetry. They exist in equi‡ To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: j.e.lydon@leeds.ac.uk. 1 The use the of stamps grouped in fours as an analogy when discussing the quaternary interactions in hemoglobin has been widely used, for example in the various editions of Stryer’s Biochemistry (but not, as far as I am aware, in the contrived, synergistic manner used here). 2 The reference to St. George is in deference to Albert SzentGyörgyi who made a comment, more or less in these terms (about biological systems), in the 1940s. © 2006 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY EDUCATION Printed in U.S.A. Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 17–20, 2006

DOI: 10.1002/bmb.2006.49403401017

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Cite this paper

@article{Lydon2006ThePS, title={The postage stamps of analogia.}, author={John E. Lydon}, journal={Biochemistry and molecular biology education : a bimonthly publication of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology}, year={2006}, volume={34 1}, pages={17-20} }