Express Delivery

http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=mYUrAAAAEBAJ

Why spend money on cat food when there’s a more immediate solution? Leo Voelker’s 1979 invention simultaneously curbs the local sparrow population and keeps the local cats occupied.

The birds enter the housing at the top but can escape only through the mesh cage at the bottom, which serves as a kind of self-serve food dispenser for neighborhood cats.

“The cat feeder by its design is self-cleaning since the cat quickly learns to remove the sparrow from the cage.”

Rest Stop

rest stop puzzle

A gold miner lives at point A, 3 miles north of the river and 5 miles upstream from the gold mine at point B, which is 2 miles north of the river. On the way to work he must stop at the river to give his burro a drink. At what point on the river should he stop in order to minimize the length of the trip?

Click for Answer

“Money and a Friend”

http://books.google.com/books?id=yFACAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

— I.J. Reeve, The Wild Garland, 1865

Word and Numbers

Think of a number, write down its name, and add up the values of the letters (A=1, B=2, etc.). For example:

4 -> FOUR -> F(6) + O(15) + U(21) + R(18) -> 60

80 is the smallest number that is diminished by this procedure:

80 -> EIGHTY -> E(5) + I(9) + G(7) + H(8) + T(20) + Y(25) -> 74

Curiously, it’s also the smallest such number in Spanish:

80 -> OCHENTA -> O(16) + C(3) + H(8) + E(5) + N(14) + T(21) + A(1) = 68

(Remember that Spanish uses 27 letters, with ñ in the 15th position.)

(Thanks, Claudio.)

Curious Company

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_par_John_Tenniel_25.png

In his autobiography, mathematician Norbert Wiener describes three particular dons he came to know at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1914:

“It is impossible to describe Bertrand Russell except by saying that he looks like the Mad Hatter. … [J.M.E.] McTaggart … with his pudgy hands, his innocent, sleepy air, and his sidelong walk, could only be the Dormouse. The third, G.E. Moore, was a perfect March Hare. His gown was always covered with chalk, his cap was in rags or missing, and his hair was a tangle which had never known the brush within man’s memory.”

The three together became known as the Mad Tea Party of Trinity. Though they appeared 50 years after their fictional counterparts, Wiener wrote, “the caricature of Tenniel almost argues an anticipation on the part of the artist.”

“Good and Bad”

If I was as bad as they say I am,
And you were as good as you look,
I wonder which one would feel the worse
If each for the other was took?

— George Barr Baker

Anthologist Carolyn Wells explains: “This remark was made by a bad, bold convict to his vain, virtuous visiting chaplain. Your personal answer to the question is an indication of your character.”

Plane Truth

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:As08-16-2593.jpg

Excerpts from One Hundred Proofs That the Earth Is Not a Globe, a pamphlet distributed by William Carpenter in 1885:

  • “If the Earth were a globe, rolling and dashing through ‘space’ at the rate of ‘a hundred miles in five seconds of time,’ the waters of seas and oceans could not, by any known law, be kept on its surface — the assertion that they could be retained under these circumstances being an outrage upon human understanding and credulity.”
  • “Astronomers tell us that, in consequence of the Earth’s ‘rotundity,’ the perpendicular walls of buildings are, nowhere, parallel, and that even the walls of houses on opposite sides of a street are not! But, since all observation fails to find any evidence of this want of parallelism which theory demands, the idea must be renounced as being absurd and in opposition to all well-known facts.”
  • “If we examine a true picture of the distant horizon, or the thing itself, we shall find that it coincides exactly with a perfectly straight and level line.”
  • “The Newtonian theory of astronomy requires that the Moon ‘borrow’ her light from the Sun. Now, since the Sun’s rays are hot and the Moon’s light sends with it no heat at all, it follows that the Sun and Moon are ‘two great lights,’ as we somewhere read, [and] that the Newtonian theory is a mistake.”
  • “If a projectile be fired from a rapidly moving body in an opposite direction to that in which the body is going, it will fall short of the distance at which it would reach the ground if fired in the direction of motion. Now, since the Earth is said to move at the rate of nineteen miles in a second of time, ‘from west to east,’ it would make all the difference imaginable if the gun were fired in an opposite direction. But … there is not the slightest difference, whichever way the thing may be done.”

Staunch flat-earther Wilbur Glenn Voliva (1870-1942) asked: “Where is the man who believes he can jump into the air, remaining off the earth one second, and come down to earth 193.7 miles from where he jumped up?” Hard to argue with that.

Getting Organized

In the mid-19th century it was already said that American Smiths would fill Boston Common; Mark Twain dedicated his Celebrated Jumping Frog to “John Smith” in the hope that if every honoree bought a copy, “a princely affluence” would burst upon him. Today more than 3 million Americans share the name.

This has consequences. In his 1950 book People Named Smith, H. Allen Smith reports that a desperate publicist at Warner Brothers founded the Organized Smiths of America in order to confer an award on the undistinguished actress Alexis Smith. He was surprised to find the story picked up across the country, and the awards became an annual event.

In 1942, University of Minnesota graduate student Glenn E. Smith, irritated that his professor’s lectures always centered on characters named James Smith, founded the National Society to Discourage Use of the Name Smith for Purposes of Hypothetical Illustration. Its hundreds of members pledged themselves to confront offenders with a card that read “When you think of Smith, say John Doe!”

But popularity has its limits. Smith himself was once assigned to cover the New York convention of the Benevolent and Protective and Completely Universal Order of Fred Smiths of America. He was impressed at first to find more than 40 delegates, all presumably named Fred Smith — but he lost some respect when “a man named Smith Frederick who sought admission to the banquet hall was permitted to enter walking backward.”

Unquote

“We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.” — John Steinbeck

“Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.” — Will Rogers

“Where is the Life we have lost in living?” — T.S. Eliot

Manners Maketh Man

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Dyck_Charles_I_and_Henrietta.JPG

From Notes and Queries, March 14, 1863, Charles I’s “twelve golden rules” for deportment at table:

http://books.google.com/books?id=qkwAAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

They were found in a collection of proclamations and broadsides held by the Society of Antiquaries. “Unquestionably the maxim-loving monarch’s jealousy of all interference with his prerogative, even in conversation, as also his constitutional dread of contention, and ‘counterblast’ hatred of tobacco, are reflected in these counsels to a sufficient extent to fix him with their authorship.”