Paper Chase

Izhar Gafni makes bicycles out of cardboard. The Israeli mechanical engineer can make a 20-pound bicycle that will support a rider of nearly 250 pounds, and its low-cost components make it unattractive to thieves — Gafni fashions the frame, wheels, handlebars, and saddle from sheets of cardboard that are folded and glued together; the tires and drive belt are recycled rubber, and the seat and some of the gears are made of recycled plastic bottles. “It’s one of the most green products you can imagine,” his partner Nimrod Elmish told the Times of Israel in 2012.

The company is pursuing partnerships to distribute cardboard bicycles and wheelchairs in Africa at little to no cost for the end user. “There is much to say about cardboard,” Elmish said. “This bicycle is the beginning of a materials revolution.”

Footwork

https://books.google.com/books?id=mpdFAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA596

Miss Alice E. Lewis sent this curiosity to the Strand in 1903:

These false horseshoes were found in the moat at Birtsmorton Court, near Tewkesbury. It is supposed that they were used in the time of the Civil Wars, so as to deceive any person tracking the marks. The one on the left is supposed to leave the mark of a cow’s hoof, the one on the right that of a child’s foot.

The same idea has been used by moonshiners and patented at least twice. Does this really work?

Fair Play

“I understand that a computer has been invented that is so remarkably intelligent that if you put it into communication with either a computer or a human, it can’t tell the difference!” — Raymond Smullyan

Stop and Go

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alesia_metro_station,_Paris_7_April_2014_003.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-1990s Jacques Jouet introduced “metro poems,” poems written on the Paris Métro according to a particular set of rules. He explained the rules in a poem:

There are as many lines in a metro poem as there are stations in your journey, minus one.
The first line is composed mentally between the first two stations of your journey (counting the station you got on at).
It is then written down when the train stops at the second station.
The second line is composed mentally between the second and the third stations of your journey.
It is then written down when the train stops at the third station.
And so on.

The poet mustn’t write anything down when the train is moving, and he mustn’t compose anything when the train is stopped. If he changes lines then he must start a new stanza. He writes down the poem’s last line on the platform of the final station.

Jouet’s poem was itself composed in the Métro, according to its own rules. Presumably this type of writing could be done in any subway, but Marc Lapprand notes that the Paris system supports it unusually well: It’s dense, with 368 different stations, including 87 connecting points (or 293 nominal stations, including 55 connecting points) and a fairly short distance between them (543 meters, on average). The average run between two stations in Paris is a minute and a half, which means the poet has to think quickly in order to keep up.

Levin Becker, who tried the technique for his book 2012 Many Subtle Channels, found it surprisingly challenging: “It constrains the space around your thoughts, not the letters or words in which you will eventually fit them: you have to work to think thoughts of the right size, to focus on the line at hand without workshopping the previous one or anticipating the next.”

In April 1996 Jouet wrote a 490-verse poem while passing through every station in the Métro, following an optimized map laid out for him by a graph theorist. “At the end of those fifteen and a half hours,” he wrote, “I was very tired.”

(Jacques Jouet and Ian Monk, “Metro Poems,” AA Files 45/46 [Winter 2001], 4-14.)

Teamwork

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackbuck.operation.png
Images: Wikimedia Commons

During the Falklands War in 1982, the RAF airfield closest to the action was on Ascension Island near the equator, thousands of miles away. Tasked with destroying the runway at Port Stanley, the RAF organized a complicated relay in which 11 tankers accompanied a single bomber (mauve), refueling it and each other in midair to support its journey of 3,400 nautical miles to the target. The attacking Vulcan bomber was refueled four times on the way out and once on the way back, using more than 220,000 gallons of aviation fuel altogether.

At the time this was the longest-ranged bombing raid in history — the return journey alone took 16 hours. It put one crater in the runway, which was repaired within 24 hours, but it discouraged the Argentinians from using it more heavily.

See The Jeep Problem. (Thanks, Tom.)

First Steps

The earliest known film comedy, Louis Lumière’s 1895 L’Arroseur arrosé (“The Waterer Watered”) is also one of the first film narratives of any kind — before this, movies tended simply to demonstrate the medium, depicting a sneeze, for example, or the arrival of a train.

This was also the first film with a dedicated poster (below) — making this simple 45-second story the forerunner of all modern film comedies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cin%C3%A9matographe_Lumi%C3%A8re.jpg

Plain Sailing

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dans_la_for%C3%AAt_du_Tron%C3%A7ais_(03)_-_panoramio.jpg

In 1670, Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, ordered the planting of the Forest of Tronçais to provide masts for the French navy 200 years hence. His order established one of the principal stands of oaks in Europe, carefully interplanted with beeches and larches to encourage them to grow straight, tall, and free of knots.

By the time they matured, in the 19th century, they were no longer necessary. Historian Fernand Braudel wrote, “Colbert had thought of everything except the steamship.”

The Interlace

Designed by German architect Ole Scheeren, Singapore’s Interlace apartment complex was named 2015 World Building of the Year for its innovative form, which resembles 31 conventional buildings stacked atop one another, like Jenga blocks. Each block comprises six stories, but they’re stacked four high, so there’s a maximum of 24 floors, and nearly every unit has an excellent view. Viewed from above they form eight hexagons, each with a swimming pool, and the stacking ensures that light and air can flow among the blocks.

In Architecture Review, Laura Raskin wrote, “Architect Ole Scheeren hypothesized that dense urban residential living didn’t have to occur in an isolating skyscraper — and he was right.”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Interlace,_Singapore.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Good Boy

Elisabeth Mann Borgese taught her dog to type. In her book The Language Barrier she explains that her English setter, Arli, developed a vocabulary of 60 words and 17 letters, though “He isn’t an especially bright dog.” “[Arli] could write under dictation short words, three-letter words, four-letter words, two-letter words: ‘good dog; go; bad.’ And he would type it out. There were more letters but I never got him to use more than 17.”

She began in October 1962 by training all four of her dogs to distinguish 18 designs printed on saucers; Arli showed the most promise, so she focused on him. By January 1963 he could count to 4 and distinguish CAT from DOG. Eventually she gave him a modified typewriter with enlarged keys, which she taught him to nose mechanically by rewarding him with hamburger. “No meaning at all was associated with the words,” she writes, though he did seem to associate meaning with words that excited him. “When asked, ‘Arli, where do you want to go?’ he will unfailingly write CAR, except that his excitement is such that the ‘dance’ around the word becomes a real ‘stammering’ on the typewriter. ACCACCAAARR he will write. GGOGO CAARR.”

(And it’s always tempting to discover meaning where there is none. Once while suffering intestinal problems after a long flight Arli ignored his work when she tried to get him to type GOOD DOG GET BONE, and then he stretched, yawned, and typed A BAD A BAD DOOG. This was probably just a familiar phrase that he’d chosen at random; Borgese estimated its likelihood at 1 in 12.)

Arli did earn at least one human fan — at one point Borgese showed his output to a “well-known critic of modern poetry,” who responded, “I think he has a definite affinity with the ‘concretist’ groups in Brazil, Scotland, and Germany [and an unnamed young American poet] who is also writing poetry of this type at present.”

Blades of Glory

https://www.google.com/patents/US2888703

I don’t know why this never caught on — in 1959 Klara Karwowska invented little windshield wipers for eyeglasses:

The present invention is directed to a wiper means for maintaining the lenses clean or clear of steam, rain, snow, or other foreign matter, and the wiper mechanism of the present invention includes a source of electrical energy such as the battery which may be secured to the frame in any suitable manner.

The battery would make them a little bulky, but that’s a small price to pay for clear vision. I could wear these in the shower!