Sightseeing

http://www.google.com/patents/US502168

Sumter Battey’s surprisingly modern-looking “aerial machine” was patented in 1893. Essentially it’s an aluminum shell filled with hydrogen and bearing a car full of passengers and freight. The shell is fitted with adjustable wings, and the whole thing is propelled by detonating nitroglycerine pellets in the cup-shaped holder on the right, which can be swung back and forth in order to direct the vessel. “The devices for steering, as well as for causing the explosions, are fully under the control of the operator located within the car D.” What could go wrong?

Right of Way

A Moral Principle met a Material Interest on a bridge wide enough for but one.

‘Down, you base thing!’ thundered the Moral Principle, ‘and let me pass over you!’

The Material Interest merely looked in the other’s eyes without saying anything.

‘Ah,’ said the Moral Principle, hesitatingly, ‘let us draw lots to see which shall retire till the other has crossed.’

The Material Interest maintained an unbroken silence and an unwavering stare.

‘In order to avoid a conflict,’ the Moral Principle resumed, somewhat uneasily, ‘I shall myself lie down and let you walk over me.’

Then the Material Interest found a tongue, and by a strange coincidence it was its own tongue. ‘I don’t think you are very good walking,’ it said. ‘I am a little particular about what I have underfoot. Suppose you get off into the water.’

It occurred that way.

— Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables, 1898

Some Palindromes

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Al_roverso_symfonie_47_Haydn.png

In the minuet in Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, the orchestra plays the same passage forward, then backward.

When Will Shortz challenged listeners to submit word-level palindromes to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday in 1997, Roxanne Abrams offered the poignant Good little student does plan future, but future plan does student little good.

math palindromes

And Connecticut’s Oxoboxo River offers a four-way palindrome — it reads the same forward and backward both on the page and in a mirror placed horizontally above it.

Alignment

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Kitchin._Composite_Europe._1787.jpg

When informed of the accession of Peter III of Russia in 1762, George III said, “Well, there are now nine of us in Europe the third of our respective names”:

  • George III, King of England
  • Charles III, King of Spain
  • Augustus III, King of Poland
  • Frederick III, King of Prussia
  • Charles Emanuel III, King of Sardinia
  • Mustapha III, Emperor of the Turks
  • Peter III, Emperor of Russia
  • Francis III, Duke of Modena
  • Frederick III, Duke of Saxe-Gotha

Such a coincidence was unprecedented in European history.

Unquote

“Things are not bad in themselves, but our cowardice makes them so.” — Montaigne

Heart and Soul

pedal triangle theorem

From a point P, drop perpendiculars to the sides of a surrounding triangle. This defines three points; connect those to make a new triangle and drop perpendiculars to its sides. If you continue in this way, the fourth triangle will be similar to the original one.

In 1947, Mary Pedoe memorialized this fact with a poem:

Begin with any point called P
(That all-too-common name for points),
Whence, on three-sided ABC
We drop, to make right-angled joints,
Three several plumb-lines, whence ’tis clear
A new triangle should appear.

A ghostly Phoenix on its nest
Brooding a chick among the ashes,
ABC bears within its breast
A younger ABC (with dashes):
A figure destined, not to burn,
But to be dropped on in its turn.

By going through these motions thrice
We fashion two triangles more,
And call them ABC (dashed twice)
And thrice bedashed, but now we score
A chick indeed! Cry gully, gully!
(One moment! I’ll explain more fully.)

The fourth triangle ABC,
Though decadently small in size,
Presents a form that perfectly
Resembles, e’en to casual eyes
Its first progenitor. They are
In strict proportion similar.

The property generalizes: Not only is the third “pedal triangle” of a triangle similar to the original triangle, but the nth “pedal n-gon” of an n-gon is similar to the original n-gon.

Abuse of Power

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

One hot summer day in 1904, Speaker of the House Joe Cannon of Illinois visited the House dining room and asked for a bowl of bean soup. He was told that, in view of the sultry weather, it had been omitted from the menu.

“Thunderation!” Cannon roared. “I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow, or shine, I want it on the menu every day.”

And so it has been, ever since. The recipe was published on the menu in 1955:

2 lb. No. 1 white Michigan beans.
Cover with water and soak overnight.
Drain and re-cover with water.
Add a smoked ham hock and simmer slowly for about 4 hours until beans are cooked tender. Then add salt and pepper to suit taste.
Just before serving, bruise beans with large spoon ladle, enough to cloud. (Serves about six persons)

Who’s Counting?

In the 14th century, an unnamed Kabbalistic scholar declared that the universe contains 301,655,722 angels.

In 1939, English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington calculated that it contains 15,747,724, 136,275,002,577,605,653,961,181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,366,231,425,076,
185,631,031,296 electrons.

“Some like to understand what they believe in,” wrote Stanislaw Lec. “Others like to believe in what they understand.”

As Time Goes By

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1188156

A piano keyboard can be used as a calendar mnemonic: If the notes in the chromatic scale from F to E are assigned to the calendar months from January to December, then the white keys correspond to months with 31 days, the black keys to those with 30 days or fewer.

Higher Learning

Acknowledgment from an anonymous doctoral dissertation in the University Microforms International database:

If I had a dime for every time my wife threatened to divorce me during the past three years, I would be wealthy and not have to take a postdoctoral position which will only make me a little less poor and will keep me away from home and in the lab even more than graduate school and all because my committee read this manuscript and said that the only alternative to signing the approval to this dissertation was to give me a job mowing the grass on campus but the Physical Plant would not hire me on account of they said I was over-educated and needed to improve my dexterity skills like picking my nose while driving a tractor-mower over poor defenseless squirrels that were eating the nuts they stole from the medical students’ lunches on Tuesday afternoon following the Biochemistry quiz which they all did not pass and blamed on me because they said a tutor was supposed to come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and I am supposed to thank someone for all this?!!

(From a UMI press release, quoted in The Whole Library Handbook 2, 1995)