Podcast Episode 43: Ben Franklin’s Guide to Living

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

As a young man, Benjamin Franklin drew up a “plan for attaining moral perfection” based on a list of 13 virtues. Half a century later he credited the plan for much of his success in life. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore Franklin’s self-improvement plan and find out which vices gave him the most trouble.

We’ll also learn how activist Natan Sharansky used chess to stay sane in Soviet prisons and puzzle over why the Pentagon has so many bathrooms.

Sources for our segment on Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues:

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1791.

Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, 2005.

Dinah Birch, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 2009.

Here’s Franklin’s list of virtues:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

And here’s a sample page from his “little book”:

https://books.google.com/books?id=w0YSAAAAYAAJ

Related: As an exercise in penmanship, the teenage George Washington copied out “110 rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation,” and Thomas Jefferson once sent a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life” to the new father of a baby boy.

Listener mail: Human rights activist Natan Sharansky’s use of mental chess to keep himself sane in Soviet prisons is detailed in his 1988 memoir Fear No Evil and in this BBC News Magazine article.

Greg’s research queries:

The authority on jumping up steps at Trinity College, Cambridge, seems to be G.M. Trevelyan, who became Master there in 1940. In his Trinity College: An Historical Sketch (1972), he writes:

It is a well-authenticated Trinity tradition that Whewell, when Master, jumped up the hall steps at one leap, a feat that is very seldom accomplished even by youthful athletes. Sir George Young told his son Geoffrey Young that he had actually witnessed this performance; Sir George said that the master, in cap and gown, found some undergraduates trying in vain to accomplish the feat. He clapped his cap firmly on his head, took the run, and reached the top of the steps at one bound.

In a letter to the Times on March 16, 1944, he writes, “On a recent visit to Cambridge, General Montgomery, on entering the Great Court at this college, pointed to the hall steps and said to me, ‘Those were the steps my father jumped up at one bound.’ The general’s father, Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, afterwards Bishop, was an undergraduate at Trinity from 1866 to 1870. He came here from Dr Butler’s Harrow with a great reputation as a runner and jumper.”

He adds, “Now we have a fully authenticated case of which I had not heard. Bishop Montgomery himself told his son the general, and the story was often told in the family. The general has asked me to send the facts to you in the hope that publication may elicit further facts.” I don’t know whether he ever received any.

As far as I can tell, Swiss criminologist Karl-Ludwig Kunz’s essay “Criminal Policy in Duckburg” was published only in a 2009 collection titled Images of Crime 3: Representations of Crime and the Criminal, which I can’t seem to get my hands on. The fullest discussion I’ve been able to find in English is this brief 1998 article from the Independent.

The program to distribute bananas to Icelandic children in 1952 is mentioned in science writer Willy Ley’s 1954 book Engineers’ Dreams.

The credit “Diversions by Irving Schwartz” in the 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles is mentioned (but not really explained) in this 2007 Telegram obituary of character actor Joseph di Reda.

MIT historian T.F. Peterson’s 2003 book Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT says that the legend IHTFP (“I hate this fucking place”) “has been unofficially documented in both the U.S. Air Force and at MIT as far back as the 1950s.” This MIT page traces it as far back as 1960 and gives dozens of euphemistic variants.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was submitted by listener Paul Kapp.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes 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 all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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!

The Paradox of the Muddy Children

Three children return home after playing outside, and their father tells them that at least one of them has a muddy face. He repeats the phrase “Step forward if you have a muddy face” until all and only the children with muddy faces have stepped forward.

If there’s only one child with a muddy face, then she’ll step forward immediately — she can see that no other children have muddy faces, so her father must be talking about her. Each of the other children will see her muddy face and stand fast, since they have no way of knowing whether their own faces are muddy.

If there are two children with muddy faces, then no one will step forward after the first request, since each might think the father is addressing the other one. But when no one steps forward after the first request, each will realize that there must be two children with muddy faces, and that she herself must be one of them. So both will step forward after the second request, and the rest will stand fast.

A pattern emerges: If there are n children with muddy faces, then n will step forward after the nth request.

But now imagine a scenario in which more than one of the children has a muddy face, but the father does not tell them that at least one of them has a muddy face. Now no one steps forward after the first request, for the same reason as before. But no one steps forward at the second request either, because the fact that no one stepped forward after the first request no longer means that there is more than one child with a muddy face.

This is perplexing. In the second scenario all the children can see that at least one of them has a muddy face, so it seems needless for the father to tell them so. But without his statement the argument never gets going; despite his repeated requests, no child will ever step forward. What’s missing?

(From Michael Clark, Paradoxes From A to Z, 2007.)

Punctual

Ernest Hemingway published this “blank verse” in his high school literary magazine in 1916:

hemingway blank verse

Get it? David Morice followed up with this “punctuation poem” in Word Ways in February 2012:

% , & —
+ . ? /
” :
% ;
+ $ [ \

It’s a limerick:

Percent comma ampersand dash
Plus period question mark slash
Quotation mark colon
Percent semicolon
Plus dollar sign bracket backslash

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

Threewise

Draw an arbitrary triangle and build an equilateral triangle on each of its sides, as shown.

Now show that AP = BQ = CR.

Click for Answer

Isomorses

LEG and RUN share the same “bit” pattern in Morse code:

·-·· · --·

·-· ··- -·

So do EARN and URN (which are also homophones):

· ·- ·-· -·

··- ·-· -·

(Discovered by Philip Cohen.)

UPDATE: Reader Dave Lawrence wrote a script to find more of these. He found 2,900, including these highlights:

TEMPT YAK
ATTIC JINN
SUAVE SINNER

KILL TRUSTEE
NIACIN BANNER
CONVEX COBALT

DRAIN NINETEEN
WOMEN JOKE
OMELETS TODDLE

ENZYME APRON
GOAT MEOW
EMINENT PAINT

ABSINTHE PHIALS
NIPPLE BANANAS
LEFTIE LEFTS

CONTENT COCK
DOTTY TUMMY
PAPER WINGER

EERIEST VISIT
GENUINE GAVEL
WETTEST ANGST

SPEED SATIRE
REUNITE LEPER
COW COAT

CINDER CURVE
FUNK ELEMENT
THOSE BAGS

DELIVER BLISTER
CAUSES CRASH
DEFENSIVE THRASHER

SKIN STAIN
CHIMNEY CHUTNEY
SOME VOTE

PESKIER WHALER
RANDY REMEDY
ESTEEMED SAUCE

MANGO TYPO
TEXTUAL CANARD
INANE FEZ

REEXAMINE ASTEROID
DEFILE BIBLE
MILKMEN MIRROR

BEAT THAT
NEAREST DENTIST
GRANDER GREMLIN

TIGER TUNER
SUCH HANDS
INDEXED URINAL

TICKLED NECTARINE
JACK ATTACK
GREENISH GLASSES

BEBOP DUSTMAN
PATIENCE WIZARD
DRAMA NINJA

BAROQUE BAROMETER
NEURON BARON
NEUTRON BACON

DISK THEFT
PAMPAS PEOPLE
TROIKA COURT

COLLIE TROLLS
MINISCULE MINISKIRTS
MATTED GORE

INSULIN INHALER
MEETING GETUP
SELF SERVE

KITTEN CAKE
TRUTH CUBE
CHAP TENSING

PELICAN ABDICATE
KALE TARTS
TROUSER COUSIN

VAST STREET
DISTORTED DIVORCE
BRUNETTE DELEGATE

F*CKED ELEMENTAL
MAIZE GNATS
SPOUSE SWATTERS

FIRMS INVADE
CHIEF KISSER
SWITCH SPACES

THREE NESTS
INVERTING FIRETRAP
MOUSE OTTERS

ANALYZE PARROTS
AIMLESS RETCHES
RAWHIDE RAPISTS

MINIMAL GLANCE
PRIESTS PRESIDE
INBRED INTESTINE

GUFFAW MILDLY
MIDDAY GRAVY
WONDER AMOEBAE

PALE AXLE
WHISKEY EMISSARY
CAGED CAMEL

MINTIER GENDER
QUEER MAIDEN
ASTERISK AIRLIFT

SACRED SEQUEL
ESPIED SEABED
MAIM GNAT

TURNIP TURBAN
NIGHTIE NIGHTS

“Blank Verse”

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Szinyei_Merse,_P%C3%A1l_-_Poppies_in_the_Field_(1902).jpg

John asked Clara
To take
A walk with him
And pick flowers.
But Clara’s brother
Came along
And so
They picked flowers.

North Carolina Boll Weevil, 1922

DO IT NOW

ArnoldC, a language devised by Finnish computer programmer Lauri Hartikka, assigns programming functions to catch phrases from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Some keywords:

False: I LIED

True: NO PROBLEMO

If: BECAUSE I’M GOING TO SAY PLEASE

Else: BULLSHIT

EndIf: YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR LOGIC

While: STICK AROUND

EndWhile: CHILL

MultiplicationOperator: YOU’RE FIRED

DivisionOperator: HE HAD TO SPLIT

EqualTo: YOU ARE NOT YOU YOU ARE ME

GreaterThan: LET OFF SOME STEAM BENNET

Or: CONSIDER THAT A DIVORCE

And: KNOCK KNOCK

DeclareMethod: LISTEN TO ME VERY CAREFULLY

MethodArguments: I NEED YOUR CLOTHES YOUR BOOTS AND YOUR MOTORCYCLE

Return: I’LL BE BACK

EndMethodDeclaration: HASTA LA VISTA, BABY

AssignVariableFromMethodCall: GET YOUR ASS TO MARS

ReadInteger: I WANT TO ASK YOU A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS AND I WANT TO HAVE THEM ANSWERED IMMEDIATELY

AssignVariable: GET TO THE CHOPPER

SetValue: HERE IS MY INVITATION

EndAssignVariable: ENOUGH TALK

ParseError: WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO WRONG

This program prints the string “hello world”:

IT'S SHOWTIME
TALK TO THE HAND "hello world"
YOU HAVE BEEN TERMINATED

More on GitHub.

Unquote

“There is a danger in being persuaded before one understands.” — Thomas Wilson

“Very Sensible”

It was well remarked by an intelligent old farmer, ‘I would rather be taxed for the education of the boy, than the ignorance of the man. For one or the other I am compelled to pay.’

Southern Cultivator, January 1848

Home Cooking

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

The map of the continental United States contains an elf making chicken.

He’s known as Mimal, after the states that make him up: Minnesota (hat), Iowa (head), Missouri (shirt), Arkansas (pants), and Louisiana (boots).

Fittingly, the chicken is Kentucky and the tin pan is Tennessee.

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