Progress

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:T.H.Huxley(Woodburytype).jpg

T.H. Huxley defined “four stages of public opinion” of a new scientific theory:

  1. Just after publication — The novelty is absurd and subversive of religion and morality. The propounder both fool and knave.
  2. 20 years later — The novelty is absolute truth and will yield a full and satisfactory explanation of things in general. The propounder man of sublime genius and perfect virtue.
  3. 40 years later — The novelty won’t explain things in general after all and therefore is a wretched failure. The propounder a very ordinary person advertised by a clique.
  4. A century later — The novelty is a mixture of truth and error. Explains as much as could reasonably be expected. The propounder worthy of all honour in spite of his share of human frailities, as one who has added to the permanent possessions of science.

J.B.S. Haldane had a more concise list:

  1. This is worthless nonsense.
  2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.
  3. This is true, but quite unimportant.
  4. I always said so.

Divorce Decree

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

A novelty ring for grass widows is now on the market. It is worn on the same finger as the wedding ring, the design being a broken Cupid’s arrow. For those who have the habit, space is provided for jewels, each jewel to signify one divorce.

Popular Mechanics, April 1922

In 1961 a couple in Oregon could be divorced if one partner could prove that the other had broken the marital contract, for example by committing adultery. If the court found that both spouses were equally at fault, no divorce would be granted.

This was bad news for the Zavins, who accused one another of cruel and inhuman treatment. Indeed, in the words of the Oregon supreme court, “Each party pleaded nearly every variety of cruelty for which descriptive words could be found.” But they could not prove their allegations.

The marriage was clearly dead, so some fault must have existed, but without proof the court had to assume equal fault … so it dismissed the case and sent the Zavins back home.

Ten years later Oregon allowed that divorce could be granted when “irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.” What became of the Zavins is not recorded.

(Zavin v. Zavin, Supreme Court of Oregon, 1961, 229 Oregon 289, 366 P.2d 733.)

Black and White

Bachmann chess problem

By Ulrich Bachmann. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

In a Word

eriff
n. a two-year-old canary

Tender Minded

Artist J.S.G. Boggs hand-draws depictions of U.S. banknotes and exchanges them for goods and services — he’ll trade a drawing of a $100 bill for $100 worth of goods. The drawings are one-sided, and the patrons understand that they’re not actual currency; they’re choosing to trade goods for artwork rather than for money.

Is this counterfeiting? Well, what is money? A $100 bill is valuable only because we all agree that it is — it’s an arbitrary social convention. If someone can create an alternative that people value equally, shouldn’t he be free to trade it in the same fashion, if all parties are informed?

“It’s all an act of faith,” Boggs says. “Nobody knows what a dollar is, what the word means, what holds the thing up, what it stands for. … That’s … what my work is about.”

Self-Service

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franklin-Benjamin-LOC-head.jpeg

One day [Ben Franklin] came, half-frozen from his long ride, to a wayside inn. A great crowd was about the fire, and for some time Franklin stood shivering. Suddenly he turned to the hostler.

‘Hostler,’ said he in a loud voice, ‘have you any oysters?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Well, then,’ commanded Franklin in still louder tones, ‘give my horse a peck!’

‘What!’ exclaimed the hostler, ‘give your horse oysters!’

‘Yes,’ said Franklin, ‘give him a peck.’

The hostler, decidedly astonished, prepared the oysters and started for the stable. Everybody instantly arose from the fire-place and rushed out to see the marvellous horse eat oysters. Franklin took the most comfortable seat before the roaring blaze, and calmly awaited developments. Soon all returned, disappointed and shivering.

‘I gave him the oysters, sir,’ said the hostler, ‘but he wouldn’t eat them.’

‘Oh, well, then,’ answered Franklin nonchalantly, ‘I suppose I shall have to eat them myself. Suppose you try him with a peck of oats.’

— Carl Holliday, The Wit and Humor of Colonial Days, 1912

Minor Theft

https://www.google.com/patents/US5079541

In 1955 Carolyn Wharton became the youngest person ever kidnapped — 29 minutes after she was born, she was abducted from the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, by a woman disguised as a nurse.

This might have saved her — in 1992 Thomas Moody proposed adding anti-theft devices to hospital baby diapers. The diapers would bear a distinctive pattern so that any attempt to remove or replace them would be spotted by hospital workers.

“In addition to sounding an alarm, the system may be coupled to the doors or elevators of the secure area to prevent egress by would-be abductors or to other security measures such as television recorders.”

Guys and Dolls

‘The other day,’ said a man passenger, ‘I saw a woman in an omnibus open a satchel and take out a purse, close the satchel and open the purse, take out a penny and close the purse, open the satchel and put in the purse. Then she gave the penny to the conductor and took a halfpenny in exchange. Then she opened the satchel and took out the purse, closed the satchel and opened the purse, put in the halfpenny and closed the purse, opened the satchel and put in the purse, closed the satchel and locked both ends. Then she felt to see if her back hair was all right, and it was all right, and she was all right. That was a woman.’

The Windsor Magazine, November 1907

It is necessary for technical reasons that these warheads be stored upside down; that is, with the top at the bottom and the bottom at the top. In order that there may be no doubt as to which is the bottom and which is the top, it will be seen to that the bottom of each warhead immediately be labelled with the word TOP.

— British Admiralty, quoted in Applied Optics, January 1968

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

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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.'”