Law and Order

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:North_of_the_Rio_Grande_(1922).jpg

Niels Bohr liked westerns but found them exasperating. After one feature he told his friends, “I did not like that picture, it was too improbable. That the scoundrel runs off with the beautiful girl is logical, it always happens. That the bridge collapses under their carriage is unlikely but I am willing to accept it. That the heroine remains suspended in midair over a precipice is even more unlikely, but again I accept it. I am even willing to accept that at that very moment Tom Mix is coming by on his horse. But that at that very moment there should be a fellow with a motion picture camera to film the whole business — that is more than I am willing to believe.”

He did approve of movie gunfights, where the villain always draws first and yet the hero always wins. Bohr reasoned that the man who draws first in a gunfight is using conscious volition, where his opponent is relying on reflex, a much faster response. Hence the second man should win.

“We disagreed with this theory,” wrote George Gamow, “and the next day I went to a toy store and bought two guns in Western holders. We shot it out with Bohr, he playing the hero, and he ‘killed’ all his students.”

Traffic Forecast

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/326255

John Macnie’s 1883 utopian novel The Diothas describes paved roads on which cars achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour:

When we had fairly emerged into the country, the curricle, gradually increasing its speed, moved over the smooth track like a shadow, obedient to the slightest touch of its guide. Steering was effected much as in the tricycle of the present: the brakes were controlled by the feet. The forefinger, by means of a lever resembling the brake of a bicycle, regulated the amount of force allowed to issue from the reservoir.

That’s not the remarkable part, though. “‘You see the white line running along the centre of the road,’ resumed Utis. ‘The rule of the road requires that line to be kept on the left except when passing a vehicle in front. Then the line may be crossed, provided the way on that side is clear.'”

Unquote

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Fendi,_Die_Lauscherin.jpg

“It is not that I have accomplished too few of my plans, for I am not ambitious; but when I think of all the books I have read, and of the wise words I have heard spoken, and of the anxiety I have given to parents and grandparents, and of the hopes that I have had, all life weighed in the scales of my own life seems to me a preparation for something that never happens.”

— Yeats, Reveries Over Childhood and Youth, 1914

New Units

Since Helen’s face launched a thousand ships, Isaac Asimov proposed that one millihelen was the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship. And one negative helen is the amount of ugliness that will send a thousand ships in the other direction.

When the taciturn Paul Dirac was a fellow at Cambridge, the dons defined the dirac as the smallest measurable amount of conversation — one word per hour.

Robert Millikan was said to be somewhat conceited; a rival suggested that perhaps the kan was a unit of modesty.

And a bruno is 1158 cubic centimeters, the size of the dent in asphalt resulting from the six-story free fall of an upright piano. It’s named after MIT student Charlie Bruno, who proposed the experiment in 1972. The drop has become an MIT tradition; last year students dropped a piano onto another piano:

Three by Three

three by three puzzle

What’s the ratio between the areas of the two triangles?

Click for Answer

On Time

In Max Beerbohm’s 1916 short story “Enoch Soames,” an unsuccessful poet sells his soul to the devil for the chance to travel 100 years into the future to see how time has favored his work.

Under the agreement, Soames is transported to the Reading Room of the British Museum at 2:10 p.m. on June 3, 1997. He searches for references to his work but finds himself mentioned only once, as an “imaginary character” in a story by Max Beerbohm, and is whisked off to hell.

But, Beerbohm writes, “You realize that the reading-room into which Soames was projected by the devil was in all respects precisely as it will be on the afternoon of June 3, 1997. You realize, therefore, that on that afternoon, when it comes round, there the selfsame crowd will be, and there Soames will be, punctually. … The fact that people are going to stare at him and follow him around and seem afraid of him, can be explained only on the hypothesis that they will somehow have been prepared for his ghostly visitation.”

On June 3, 1997, about a dozen onlookers collected in the Reading Room of the British Museum to see what would happen. To their surprise, at precisely 2:10 p.m. a man matching Soames’ description — “a stooping, shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with longish and brownish hair” — appeared and began to search catalogs and speak with the librarians. Dejected, he finally disappeared among the stacks.

Among the onlookers was Teller, of the magician duo Penn & Teller.

Lecture Notes

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Faraday_Michael_Christmas_lecture_detail.jpg

“While I am describing to you how Nature works, you won’t understand why Nature works that way. But you see, nobody understands that.” — Richard Feynman

“I am no poet, but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your minds.” — Michael Faraday

“Now, this case is not very interesting,” said Bell Labs mathematician Peter Winkler during a lecture at Rutgers. “But the reason why it’s not interesting is really interesting, so let me tell you about it.”

Ernest Rutherford addressed the Royal Institution in 1904:

I came into the room, which was half dark, and presently spotted Lord Kelvin in the audience and realised that I was in for trouble at the last part of the speech dealing with the age of the Earth, where my views conflicted with his. To my relief Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye, and cock a baleful glance at me. Then a sudden inspiration came and I said Lord Kelvin had limited the age of the Earth, provided no new source was discovered. That prophetic utterance referred to what we are now considering tonight, radium! Behold! the old boy beamed upon me.

When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek declined to teach his new methods in microbiology, Leibniz worried that they might be lost. Leeuwenhoek replied, “The professors and students of the University of Leyden were long ago dazzled by my discoveries. They hired three lens grinders to come to teach the students, but what came of it? Nothing, so far as I can judge, for almost all of the courses they teach there are for the purpose of getting money through knowledge or for gaining the respect of the world by showing people how learned you are, and these things have nothing to do with discovering the things that are buried from our eyes.”

Appearances

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dal_Re,_Marc%27Antonio_(1697-1766)_-_Vedute_di_Milano_-_14_-_Casa_degli_Omenoni_-_ca._1745.jpg

When he [Benjamin Franklin] was in London, a member of the House of Lords took him to see a house he had just built in a narrow street on land that was so irregular all the rooms had to be oddly shaped and inconveniently arranged. The beautiful columns decorating the front made the rest of the house seem smaller. ‘My lord,’ Franklin told him, ‘if you wish to enjoy your house and its superb colonnade more, all you need do is rent a spacious apartment directly across the street.’

— From the papers of Franklin’s friend Abbé Lefebvre de la Roche

Well Traveled

In Lord Dunsany’s Fourth Book of Jorkens, a member of the Billiards Club observes a book called On the Other Side of the Sun and says, “On the other side of the sun. I wonder what’s there.”

Jorkens, to everyone’s surprise, says, “I have been there.”

Terbut challenges this, but Jorkens insists he was on the other side of the sun six months ago. Terbut knows perfectly well that Jorkens was at the club six months ago, so he wagers £5 that Jorkens is wrong. Jorkens accepts.

“You have witnesses, I suppose,” says Terbut.

“Oh, yes,” says Jorkens.

“My first witness will be the hall-porter,” says Terbut. “And yours?”

“I am only calling one witness,” says Jorkens.

“Went with you to the other side of the sun?” asks Terbut.

“Oh, yes,” says Jorkens. “Six months ago.”

“And who is he?” asks Terbut.

Whom did Jorkens call?

Click for Answer

Lending a Hand

http://books.google.com/books?id=aswXAQAAMAAJ

The tricks by which a shop-lifter succeeds in plying her profession without being caught are many and ingenious. The most successful of all tricks is the false arm and hand, shown in one of the illustrations. While the shop-lifter’s hands are apparently in sight of the store clerks, one is at work stowing away articles. The false hand is, of course, gloved and thrust through one of the sleeves. The real hand works under cover of the bodice and coat. The second illustration shows one of the pockets in which stolen articles are secreted.

Popular Mechanics, September 1908