Quiet Time

neuhaus alarm clock

In 1979, artist Max Neuhaus proposed a silent alarm clock. Or, rather, a clock that awakens one with silence:

Instead of a bell which begins with a sudden clang and gradually dies away, this concept is precisely the opposite. The sound is introduced gradually; beginning inaudibly it grows slowly over a period of minutes and, at its height, suddenly disappears. The long subtle emergence of the sound causes it to go unnoticed. It becomes apparent only at the instant of its disappearance, creating a sense of silence.

The change would awaken you. It’s not even really silence that you’d hear — the normal background sounds would still be there. But “in this silent moment, for a few seconds after the sound has gone, a subtle transparent aural afterimage is superimposed on the everyday sounds of the environment, a spontaneous aural memory or reconstruction perhaps, shared by all who notice it, engendered by the sound’s disappearance.”

Unquote

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Krokodile.png

“We speak of a manly man, but not of a whaley whale. If you wanted to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whisky, you would slap him on the back and say, ‘Be a man.’ No one who wished to dissuade a crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on the back and say, ‘Be a crocodile.'”

— G.K. Chesterton, The Religious Doubts of Democracy, 1903

Podcast Episode 138: Life in a Cupboard

patrick fowler

In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell two stories about people who spent years confined in miserably small spaces. North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in a narrow space under her grandmother’s roof, evading her abusive owner, and Irishman Patrick Fowler spent most of World War I hiding in the cabinet of a sympathetic family in German-occupied France.

We’ll also subdivide Scotland and puzzle over a ballerina’s silent reception.

Intro:

During a printers’ strike in 1923, New York newspapers put out a paper with 10 nameplates.

Henry Hudson’s journal reports an encounter with a mermaid in 1610.

Sources for our feature on Harriet Jacobs and Patrick Fowler:

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861.

Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs: A Life, 2004.

Jean Fagan Yellin, ed., The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, 2008.

Daneen Wardrop, “‘I Stuck the Gimlet in and Waited for Evening’: Writing and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 49:3 (Fall 2007), 209-229.

Christina Accomando, “‘The Laws were Laid Down to Me Anew’: Harriet Jacobs and the Reframing of Legal Fictions,” African American Review 32:2 (Summer 1998), 229-245.

Georgia Kreiger, “Playing Dead: Harriet Jacobs’s Survival Strategy in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” African American Review 42:3/4 (Fall 2008), 607-621, 795.

Anne Bradford Warner, “Harriet Jacobs at Home in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Southern Quarterly 45.3 (Spring 2008), 30-47.

Miranda A. Green-Barteet, “‘The Loophole of Retreat’: Interstitial Spaces in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” South Central Review 30:2 (Summer 2013) 53-72.

Anna Stewart, “Revising ‘Harriet Jacobs’ for 1865,” American Literature 82:4 (2010), 701-724.

John Devine and Chris Glennon, “WWI Film to Tell How Irish Soldier Spent Four Years in Cupboard,” Irish Independent, Jan. 6, 2000.

Frank Moss, “He Lived in Cupboard for 4 Years: True-Life Adventure,” Answers 127:3287 (April 30, 1955).

“By the Skin of His Teeth,” Top Spot, Nov. 28, 1959.

“Left-Hand Door,” Time 9:12 (March 21, 1927), 16.

Tony Millett, “WW 1 Centenary: The Soldier Who Came Home to Devizes After Four Years in Hiding Behind German Lines,” Marlborough News, Aug. 1, 2014.

“Cupboard Used by Trooper Patrick Fowler as Refuge During the First World War,” Imperial War Museums (accessed Jan. 22, 2017).

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Islay” (accessed Jan. 21, 2017).

Stand Still, Stay Silent, “The Nordic Languages,” Oct. 13, 2014.

Stand Still, Stay Silent, “Old World Language Families,” Oct. 14, 2014.

Reuters has two photos from the 1999 molasses flood in Delft, the Netherlands.

Listener Vadas Gintautas’ bluegrass band:

molasses disaster

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Sid Collins, who sent two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Ecommerce

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reflections_on_the_Thames,_Westminster_-_Grimshaw,_John_Atkinson.jpg

In 1857 The Leisure Hour tried to imagine life in London a century in the future, that is, in 1957. Many of the predictions seem sadly optimistic (for instance, the eradication of crime), but one in particular stands out:

I observed that from each of these district shops innumerable electric wires branched off in all directions, communicating with several houses in the district to which it belonged. Thus, no sooner did a house-keeper stand in need of any article than she could despatch the order instantaneously along the wire, and receive the goods by the very first railway carriage that happened to pass the store. Thus, she saved her time, and she lost no money, because all chaffering and cheapening, and that fencing between buyer and seller, which was once deemed a pleasure, had been long voted a disgraceful, demoralizing nuisance, and was done away with.

You can read the whole thing at the Public Domain Review.

Spy Kids

http://www.cryptomuseum.com/crypto/mehano/barbie/

Barbie typewriters, sold worldwide by Mattel, have an undocumented built-in cryptographic capability. Pressing SHIFT and LOCK in combination with a particular trio of keys will engage any of four monoalphabetic substitution ciphers — once the feature is engaged, a keyed message will be printed in a transposed alphabet. Pressing a different combination of keys will put the machine into “decoding mode,” where keying a transposed message will print the deciphered text. So the same machine can be used to code and decode a message.

Details are at the Crypto Museum. These things were marketed to 5-year-olds. What else don’t we know about?

(Thanks, David.)

And-cestry

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alphabet_with_ampersand.jpg

In the Middle Ages, when schoolchildren spelled a one-letter word, they would indicate this with the Latin phrase per se (“by itself”) — so students learning to read would say “D-O-G, dog” but “A per se, a,” meaning “A by itself, [the word] a.”

When the alphabet was printed, the symbol & was customarily added at the end, and the reader would say, “& per se, and.”

After many years of hasty slurring, this left us with the word ampersand.

(Thanks, David.)

Area Magic Squares

https://carresmagiques.blogspot.fr/2017/01/area-magic-squares-and-tori-of-order-3.html

On December 30 William Walkington sent this greeting to a circle of magic-square enthusiasts — it’s a traditional magic square (each row, column, and diagonal sums to 15), but the geometric area of each cell corresponds to its number.

He added, “The areas are approximate, and I don’t know if it is possible to obtain the correct areas with 2 vertically slanted straight lines through the square. Perhaps someone will be able to work this out in 2017?”

It’s only January 19, and the answer is already yes — Walter Trump has produced a “third-order linear area magic square” using the numbers 5-13:

https://carresmagiques.blogspot.fr/2017/01/area-magic-squares-and-tori-of-order-3.html

There are many further developments, which have opened new questions and challenges, as these discoveries tend to do — see William’s blog post for more information.

(Thanks, William.)

Turning Keys

Most piano music is written with the melody in the right hand, which seems unfair to left-handers. In 1998 left-handed Chris Seed determined to do something about it: He remortgaged his house and spent £28,000 on a “reversed” instrument built by Dutch fortepiano makers Poletti and Tuinman.

“At first Seed found it far harder to learn to play the instrument than he’d expected,” reports Rik Smits in The Puzzle of Left-Handedness. “It seemed as if he’d have to begin learning again from scratch. But once he got going, Seed’s brain turned out to be perfectly capable of converting everything he’d ever learned into a left-handed playing technique. Exactly what he’d hoped happened: all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place more or less automatically. Seed became at least as good a pianist as he was on a conventional piano and eventually he felt real delight in playing ‘as God intended.'”

Seed told the BBC, “The piano has transformed my playing, and I hope it will set a precedent for a future of left-handed pianists and uncover a whole new wealth of talent in the world of music.”