Franklin’s Mint

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chamberlin_-_Benjamin_Franklin_(1762).jpg

More wisdom from Poor Richard’s Almanack:

  • Anger is never without a Reason, but seldom with a good One.
  • The absent are never without fault, nor the present without excuse.
  • The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise.
  • Prosperity discovers Vice, Adversity, Virtue.
  • God heals, and the doctor takes the fees.
  • The same man cannot be both Friend and Flatterer.
  • Beauty and folly are old companions.
  • Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.
  • Hear Reason, or she’ll make you feel her.
  • What’s given shines, what’s receiv’d is rusty.
  • Sally laughs at everything you say. Why? Because she has fine teeth.
  • Words may shew a man’s Wit, but Actions his Meaning.
  • It’s common for men to give pretended reasons instead of one real one.
  • Fear to do ill, and you need fear nought else.
  • Success has ruin’d many a Man.

Altho’ thy teacher act not as he preaches,
Yet ne’ertheless, if good, do what he teaches;
Good counsel, failing men may give, for why,
He that’s aground knows where the shoal doth lie.

A Change of Heart

Harry Mathews devised this Möbius equivoque. Write this stanza on one side of a strip of paper:

I’d just as soon lose my mind
If your fondness for me lasts
I’d abandon all female charms
As long as I stay dear to you
One could seed one’s petunias
Among humdrum city flowerbeds
Igniting ice is likelier than
Our remaining snugly together

Turn the strip over lengthwise and write this stanza on the other side:

if your desire turns elsewhere
my dream of love might come true,
if you say I’m past caring for,
my deepest wish will be granted.
in distant regions of the skies,
the stars could make their way –
separating, whatever the pretext,
alone can keep my world intact.

Give the strip a half twist and glue the ends together. Now the poem reads:

I’d just as soon lose my mind if your desire turns elsewhere
If your fondness for me lasts my dream of love might come true,
I’d abandon all female charms if you say I’m past caring for,
As long as I stay dear to you my deepest wish will be granted.
One could seed one’s petunias in distant regions of the skies,
Among humdrum city flowerbeds the stars could make their way–
Igniting ice is likelier than separating, whatever the pretext,
Our remaining snugly together alone can keep my world intact.

See Another Equivoque.

Second Chances

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

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know, that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

– Carl Sagan, in a 1987 address, quoted in Jon Fripp et al., Speaking of Science, 2000

To Whom It May Concern

On Jan. 9, 1793, two astonished farmers in Woodbury, N.J., watched a strange craft descend from the sky into their field. An excited Frenchman greeted them in broken English and gave them swigs of wine from a bottle. Unable to make himself understood, he finally presented a document:

http://books.google.com/books?id=Lb88AAAAIAAJ

The farmers helped the man fold his craft and load it onto a wagon for the trip back to Philadelphia. Before leaving, the Frenchman asked them to certify the time and place of his arrival. These details were important — he was Jean-Pierre Blanchard, and he had just completed the first balloon flight in North America.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Glenn_With_T.J._O%27Malley_and_Paul_Donnelly_in_Front_of_-_GPN-2002-000049.jpg

One hundred sixty-nine years later, when John Glenn went into orbit aboard Friendship 7 in 1962, mission planners weren’t certain where he’d come down. The most likely sites were Australia, the Atlantic Ocean, and New Guinea, but it might be 72 hours before he could be picked up.

Glenn worried about spending three days among aborigines who had seen a silver man emerge from “a big parachute with a little capsule on the end,” so he took with him a short speech rendered phonetically in several languages. It read:

“I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader, and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity.”

Podcast: Episode 8

In 1888 a mixed-breed terrier appointed himself mascot of America’s railway postal service, accompanying mailbags throughout the U.S. and eventually traveling around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll recount Owney’s postal adventures and the wave of human affection that followed him.

We’ll also look at an Air Force pilot who dropped candy on parachutes to besieged German children in 1948, learn the link between drug lord Pablo Escobar and feral hippos in Colombia, and present the next Futility Closet Challenge.

You can listen using the player above, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog, where you can also enter your submissions in this week’s Challenge. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

Next week we plan to tell the story of lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis, “the bravest woman in America,” who saved 18 lives in a series of daring rescues off the coast of Rhode Island in the late 19th century. If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Three Theorems

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Theorem 1. A crocodile is longer than it is wide.

Proof. A crocodile is long on the top and bottom, but it is green only on the top; therefore a crocodile is longer than it is green. A crocodile is green along both its length and width, but it is wide only along its width; hence a crocodile is greener than it is wide. Therefore a crocodile is longer than it is wide.

Theorem 2. Napoleon was a poor general.

Proof. Most men have an even number of arms. Napoleon was warned that Wellington would meet him at Waterloo. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. But four arms is a very odd number of arms for a man. The only number that is both even and odd is infinity. Therefore, Napoleon had an infinite number of arms in his battle against Wellington. A general who loses a battle despite having an infinite number of arms is very poor general.

Theorem 3. If 1/0 = ∞, then 1/∞ = 0.

Proof. Given:

three theorems 2

Rotate both sides 90° counterclockwise:

three theorems 3

Subtract 8 from both sides:

three theorems 4

Now reverse the rotation:

three theorems 5

Unquote

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“I find all books too long.” — Voltaire

“The covers of this book are too far apart.” — Ambrose Bierce

“A big book is a big nuisance.” — Callimachus

“One always tends to overpraise a long book because one has got through it.” — E.M. Forster

“I made this letter very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.” — Pascal

Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.” — Samuel Johnson

The Outer Dark

Gustav Holst created a unique effect for the conclusion of his orchestral suite The Planets. He stipulated that the women’s chorus was “to be placed in an adjoining room, the door of which is to be left open until the last bar of the piece, when it is to be slowly and silently closed,” and that the final bar, performed by chorus alone, was “to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance.”

Although familiar today, the effect thrilled audiences at the time. In her 1938 biography of her father, Imogen Holst recalls a 1918 performance by the London Symphony Orchestra: “But it was the end of Neptune that was unforgettable, with its hidden chorus of women’s voices growing fainter and fainter in the distance, until the imagination knew no difference between sound and silence.”

(Thanks, Ben.)

A New Life

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Life in Puritan New England was so hard that children who were abducted by Native Americans often refused to come back. Eunice Williams, abducted in 1704 at age 7, refused to leave the Kahnawake Mohawks despite her father’s pleas — he found she had forgotten the English language and adopted Indian clothing and hairstyle. “She is obstinately resolved to live and dye here,” he wrote, “and will not so much as give me one pleasant look.” The Mohawks were much more indulgent of children than the colonists, and women were counted equal to men and played an integral role in society and politics. Eunice married a Mohawk and lived with him for half a century.

A returned captive named Titus King reported that many young captives responded similarly. “In Six months time they Forsake Father & mother, Forgit thir own Land, Refuess to Speak there own toungue & Seeminly be Holley Swallowed up with the Indians.” In 1753 Ben Franklin wrote:

When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble there is no perswading him ever to return. … When white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.

A 14-year-old named James McCullough, who lived with the Indians for eight years, had to be brought back in fetters, his legs tied under his horse’s belly and arms tied behind his back. Even so he escaped and returned to his Indian family. Children “redeemed” by the English often “cried as if they should die when they were presented to us.” The Indians freed children of the work obligations they faced in the colonies — boys hunted, caught fish, and gathered nuts; and girls cultivated corn but had no master “to oversee or drive us, so that we could work as leisurely as we pleased.”

(From Steven Mintz, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, 2004.)

Black and White

carpenter chess problem

By George Edward Carpenter. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer
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