Never Mind

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During an Air Force training mission over Montana on Feb. 2, 1970, Gary Foust’s F-106 entered an uncontrollable flat spin at 35,000 feet.

He rode it down to 12,000 feet, ejected — and watched as the plane righted itself, descended into a snowy field, and made a gentle belly landing. Its engine was still running when the police arrived.

After repairs, the fighter was returned to service in California and New York. Today it’s on display in a museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Outpatient

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When I lived at Durham, I was walking one evening in a park belonging to the Earl of Stamford, along the bank of a lake where fishes abounded. My attention was turned towards a fine jack of about 6 lbs., which, seeing me, darted into the middle of the water. In its flight it struck its head against the stump of a post, fractured its skull, and wounded a part of the optic nerve. The animal gave signs of ungovernable pain, plunged to the bottom of the water, burying its head in the mud, and turning with such rapidity that I lost it for a moment; then it returned to the top, and threw itself clean out of the water on to the bank. I examined the fish, and found that a small part of the brain had gone out through the fracture of the cranium.

I carefully replaced the shattered brain, and, with a small silver tooth-pick, raised the depressed parts of the skull. The fish was very quiet during the operation; then I replaced it in the pond. It seemed at first relieved, but after some minutes it threw itself about, plunged here and there, and at last threw itself once more out of the water. It continued thus to act many times following. I called the keeper, and, with his assistance, applied a bandage to the fracture. This done, we threw the fish into the water, and left him to his fate. The next morning, when I appeared on the bank, the pike came to me near where I sat, and put his head near my feet! I thought the act extraordinary, but taking up the fish, without any resistance on its part, I examined the head, and found that it was going on well. I then walked along the banks for some time; the fish did not cease to swim after me, turning when I turned; but as it was blind on the side where it was wounded, it appeared always agitated when the injured eye was turned toward the bank. On this, I changed the direction of my movements. The next day I brought some young friends to see this fish, and the pike swam towards me as before. Little by little he became so tame that he came when I whistled, and ate from my hand. With other people, on the contrary, it was as gloomy and fierce as it always had been.

— “Dr. Warwick,” anecdote read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, 1850, quoted in Ernest Menault, The Intelligence of Animals, 1869

Handy

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Dean Buckland, the geologist, when riding once with friends and the party lost their way and were overtaken by night, alighted from his horse, picked up a handful of earth, smelled it, and at once declared they were near Uxbridge. He knew the geology of the land and the smell of the soil.

Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, March 23, 1921

High and Dry

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Landlocked Bolivia has a navy. Though the South American nation lost its coast in a war with Chile in 1879, it maintains a 5,000-member “naval force,” a naval academy, and a fleet of 173 vessels, most of which patrol Lake Titicaca.

The loss of the coast is a subject of strong sentiment in the republic, which holds an annual “Day of the Sea.” Schoolchildren are taught that regaining access to the ocean is a patriotic duty.

“There is a clear historic injustice, and the Bolivian navy was created as a way of protesting before the whole world,” Capt. Remi de la Barra told the Guardian in 2008. “We are perfectly qualified to sail in any sea in the world. And sooner or later, God willing, we will be sailing in our own sea.”

Tut-Tut

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In 1982, San Francisco police lieutenant George LaBrash suffered a stroke while guarding the 3,300-year-old mask of King Tutankhamun. He filed an $18,400 lawsuit against the city, alleging that the pharaoh’s curse had struck him for disturbing the dead — and hence that the injury was job-related.

“I firmly believe that King Tut’s curse is as good an explanation for what happened to me as any,” he told Superior Court Judge Richard P. Figone.

Figone didn’t buy it. “The spectators who attended the exhibit may just as well have ‘disturbed’ the remains of the deceased,” he wrote. “Officer LaBrash, if anything, prevented desecration of those remains.”

Bird Love

I, along with several onlookers, says a friend, recently, observed a swallow enter an exhaust-pipe in the roof of one of the Grand Trunk workshops, evidently for the purpose of building her nest in it. Unfortunately for her, she could not get out again; and her partner entered the pipe also, and backed out again with a feather in his beak. Three times did he ineffectually attempt to rescue his mate. When work was resumed in the afternoon, the swallow was blown out of the pipe by the steam, and lay dead on the roof of the building, the survivor standing by and showing signs of deep distress.

— James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879

The following is related by an eminent naturalist: ‘A young lady was sitting in a room adjoining a poultry yard, where chickens, ducks and geese were disporting themselves. A drake came in, approached the lady, seized the bottom of her dress with his beak, and pulled it vigorously. Feeling startled, she repulsed him with her hand. The bird still persisted. Somewhat astonished, she paid some attention to this unaccountable pantomime, and discovered that the drake wished to drag her out of doors. She got up, and he waddled out quietly before her. More and more surprised, she followed him, and he conducted her to the side of a pond where she perceived a duck with its head caught in the opening of a sluice. She hastened to release the poor creature and restored it to the drake, who by loud quackings and beating of his wings testified his joy at the deliverance of his companion.’

Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, May 1870

Jacques Inaudi

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Born in 1867 to a poor family in the Italian Piedmont, Jacques Inaudi began life as a shepherd but soon discovered a prodigious talent for calculation, and soon he was giving exhibitions in large cities.

Camille Flammarion wrote, “He was asked, for example, how many minutes have elapsed since the birth of Jesus Christ, or what the population would be if the dead from the past ten centuries were resurrected, or the square root of a number of twelve digits, and he gave the response accurately and in two or three minutes — while amusing himself with another activity.”

“The subtraction of numbers consisting of twenty-four figures is an easy matter for him,” reported Scientific American. “Problems for which logarithm tables are generally used he solves mentally with wonderful precision.”

Unlike other prodigies, Inaudi did not visualize his work. “I hear the figures,” he told Alfred Binet, “and it is my ear which retains them; I hear them resounding after I have repeated them, and this interior sensation remains for a long time.”

Inaudi’s father had approached Flammarion hoping that his son could be educated toward a career in astronomy. “It had been an error, whichever way one looked at it,” Flammarion wrote 10 years later. “In science, one cannot make use of his methods, of his adapted formulae, which are tailored to mental calculation.” It was just as well: “Regarding his financial position, he now has, as a result of the curiosity his ability has aroused, a salary, which is over three times that of the Director of the Paris Observatory.”

New Music

The 10-member Vienna Vegetable Orchestra plays instruments created entirely from fresh vegetables, including the carrot recorder, the pumpkin tympanum, the zucchini trumpet, and the bean maraca. These must be fashioned anew before each concert, because the old instruments are made into soup.

The Thai Elephant Orchestra, created by American expatriate Richard Lair and Columbia neurologist David Sulzer, improvise on drums, gongs, harmonicas, and sawmill blades. To date they’ve released three CDs.

Sulzer referred to one 7-year-old member as “the Fritz Kreisler of elephants.” “I put one bad note in the middle of her xylophone,” he told the New York Times in 2000. “She avoided playing that note — until one day she started playing it and wouldn’t stop. Had she discovered dissonance, and discovered that she liked it?”

“Just as there are a lot things they don’t understand about our music, I am sure there are things we will never understand about theirs.”

Hard Money

steel check

In 1932 the Lincoln Electric Company held an essay contest on the virtues of arc welding. The top three entrants received “what are believed to be the most unusual check ever issued”:

These checks, for $7500, $3500 and $1500 respectively, were ‘written’ on 1/8-inch sheet steel. Each check was 24 inches long and 10 inches wide. All information including date, amount, payee and name of bank was arc welded, welding operators in the Lincoln plant relieving the treasurer’s office of this detail.

The company president, J.C. Lincoln, signed each check by arc welding, and the prize winners endorsed them the same way. “When the panels of steel are presented to banks and paid, they will be returned to the bank of issue, where guards will cancel them with the aid of a submachine gun.”

(Steel, June 13, 1932)