A Mobile Fort

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

Inventor Otis L. Boucher offered this steel suit to American troops during World War I. Each of the seven pieces presents an angled front to the enemy, in hopes of deflecting bullets, and the padded helmet can be thrown back when necessary.

“Since … helmets have unquestionably proved their merit, particularly as a defense against bursting shrapnel, why not go a step farther?” approved Popular Science Monthly. “Why protect only the head? Why not the whole body?”

Alternative Energy

http://books.google.com/books?id=8sw_AQAAIAAJ

William Henry Brown’s The History of the First Locomotives in America (1871) describes two unlikely competitors that steam had to contend with on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In the first, a horse was placed in the car and made to walk on a belt that drove the wheels. “The machine worked indifferently well; but, on one occasion, when drawing a car filled with editors and other representatives of the press, it ran into a cow, and the passengers, having been tilted out and rolled down an embankment, were naturally enough unanimous in condemning the contrivance.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=8sw_AQAAIAAJ

The second was a wind-driven car rather optimistically called the Meteor. This would run only when the wind was behind it, and the inventor “was afraid to trust a strong side-wind lest the vehicle might be upset; so it rarely made its appearance except a northwester was blowing, when it would be dragged out to the farther end of the Mount Clair embankment, and come back, literally with flying colors.”

“Like the horse-car, the sailing-car had its day. It was an amusing toy — nothing more — and is referred to now as an illustration of the crudity of the ideas prevailing forty years ago in reference to railroads.”

Extra Credit

http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/event/george-washington-1789

The U.S. Constitution requires that the president be at least 35 years old. But legal scholar Mark V. Tushnet imagines a loophole by which, say, a 16-year-old guru might be elected:

“Suppose that the guru’s supporters sincerely claim that their religion includes among its tenets a belief in reincarnation. Even on the narrowest definition of ‘age,’ they say, their guru is well over thirty-five years old even though the guru emerged from the latest womb sixteen years ago.

“Further, it would have been an establishment of religion for the President of the Senate to reject their definition of ‘age,’ and it would violate their rights under the free exercise clause … for the courts to overturn the decision made by the political branches.”

His point is that even the most seemingly straightforward provisions in the Constitution can require interpretation.

(“Interpretation Symposium: Constitutional Interpretation: Comment: A Note on the Revival of Textualism in Constitutional Theory,” Southern California Law Review, January 1985)

The Best Masters

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biblioth%C3%A8que_Sainte-Genevi%C3%A8ve_1859.jpg

Finally, consider what delightful teaching there is in books. How easily, how secretly, how safely in books do we make bare without shame the poverty of human ignorance! These are the masters that instruct us without rod and ferrule, without words of anger, without payment of money or clothing. Should ye approach them, they are not asleep; if ye seek to question them, they do not hide themselves; should ye err, they do not chide; and should ye show ignorance, they know not how to laugh. O Books! ye alone are free and liberal. Ye give to all that seek, and set free all that serve you zealously. By what thousands of things are ye figuratively recommended to learned men in the Scripture given us by Divine inspiration!

– Richard de Bury, Philobiblon, 1344

Double Duty

From Stuart Kidd in the May 2003 Word Ways:

CANON is a synonym for ORDINANCE, and CANNON is a synonym for ORDNANCE.

Singing Sand

In the summarized proceedings of the September 1884 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Trinity College chemist H. Carrington Bolton and Columbia College geologist Alexis A. Julien reported on the “musical sand” at Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.:

“The character of the sounds obtained by friction on the beach is decidedly musical and we have been able to indicate the exact notes on a musical staff. The shrillness and lowness of note depend chiefly on the quantity of sand disturbed; by plunging both hands into the sand and bringing them together quickly with a swoop a large quantity of the sand vibrates and we hear a tone of which the dominant note is:”

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

“By stroking the sand nearer the surface and with less force very high notes are heard somewhat confused. The following were heard at different times.”

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

“By rubbing firmly and briskly a double handful of the sand several notes on a rising scale are heard, the notes rising as the quantity of sand between the hands diminishes. We do not hear each note of the scale separately, but the ear receives an impression something like that formed by sliding a finger up a violin string at the same time that the bow is drawn.”

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

“The range is very remarkable and decided.”

Bolton and Julien found that “sonorous sand” was “of very common occurrence and widely distributed” — 65 of the 85 U.S. life-saving stations with which they corresponded reported that they knew of such sand. “The number is constantly increasing as the reports from keepers of life saving stations arrive.”

Yablo’s Paradox

All the statements below this one are false.
All the statements below this one are false.
All the statements below this one are false.
All the statements below this one are false.
All the statements below this one are false.

These statements can’t all be false, because that would make the first one true, a contradiction. But neither can any one of them be true, as a true statement would have to be followed by an infinity of false statements, and the falsity of any one of them implies the truth of some that follow. Thus there’s no consistent way to assign truth values to all the statements.

This is reminiscent of the well-known liar paradox (“This sentence is false”), except that none of the sentences above refers to itself. MIT philosopher Stephen Yablo uses it to show that circularity is not necessary to produce a paradox.

Black and White

wheeler chess problem

By Charles Henry Wheeler. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

“Evils of Railroads”

A canal stockholder’s argument against railways, from the Vincennes, Ind., Western Sun, July 24, 1830:

He saw what would be the effect of it; that it would set the whole world a-gadding. Twenty miles an hour, sir! Why, you will not be able to keep an apprentice-boy at his work: every Saturday evening he must take a trip to Ohio, to spend the Sabbath with his sweetheart. Grave plodding citizens will be flying about like comets. All local attachments must be at an end. It will encourage flightiness of intellect. Veracious people will turn into the most immeasurable liars; all their conceptions will be exaggerated by their magnificent notions of distance. ‘Only a hundred miles off! Tut, nonsense, I’ll step across, madam, and bring your fan!’ ‘Pray, sir, will you dine with me to-day at my little box at Alleghany?’ ‘Why, indeed, I don’t know — I shall be in town until twelve. Well, I shall be there; but you must let me off in time for the theatre.’ And then, sir, there will be barrels of pork, and cargoes of flour, and chaldrons of coals, and even lead and whiskey, and such like sober things, that have always been used to sober travelling, whisking away like a set of skyrockets. It will upset all the gravity of the nation. If two gentlemen have an affair of honour, they have only to steal off to the Rocky Mountains, and there no jurisdiction can touch them. And then, sir, think of flying for debt! A set of bailiffs, mounted on bomb-shells, would not overtake an absconded debtor — only give him a fair start. Upon the whole, sir, it is a pestilential, topsy-turvy, harum-scarum whirligig. Give me the old, solemn, straightforward, regular Dutch canal — three miles an hour for expresses, and two for jog-and-trot journeys — with a yoke of oxen for a heavy load! I go for beasts of burthen: it is more primitive and scriptural, and suits a moral and religious people better. None of your hop-skip-and-jump whimsies for me.

Public Servant

During the War of 1812, the Declaration of Independence hung in the office of Stephen Pleasonton, an auditor in the State Department. When word came that the British might march on Washington, Secretary of State James Monroe ordered Pleasonton to safeguard the department’s important books and papers, so Pleasonton ordered linen bags made and began filling them with documents.

As he was doing this, Secretary of War John Armstrong Jr. passed through the building and remarked that the alarm was unnecessary; he did not believe that the British planned to attack the city.

“Had he followed the advice of the Secretary of War, an irreparable loss would have been sustained,” noted the New York Times in 1905. “For the papers which Mr. Pleasonton had placed in the coarse linen bags comprised the secret journals of Congress, then not published; the correspondence of Gen. Washington, his commission, resigned at the close of the war; the correspondence of Gen. Greene and other officers of the Revolution, a well as laws, treaties, and correspondence of the Department of State, from the adoption of the Constitution down to that time.”

Pleasonton had the bags carted to a grist mill on the Virginia side of the Potomac. As he was leaving his office, he caught sight of the Declaration hanging on his wall. He took it down, cut it out of its frame, and carried it away with the other papers.

Feeling that even the grist mill was too vulnerable, Pleasonton removed the bags a further 35 miles to Leesville, where he stored them in an empty house. “Worn out with his labors, Mr. Pleasonton states in a letter, he retired early to bed that night and slept soundly. Next morning he was informed by the people of the little tavern where he had stayed that evening that they had seen during the night, the same being the 24th of August, a large fire in the direction of Washington, which proved to be the light from the public buildings, which the enemy had set on fire and burned to the ground.”