Tribute

This is charming — in his 1962 textbook Experimentation and Measurement, statistician William J. Youden ends his chapter on “Typical Collections of Measurements” with this:

Your author has a small printing press for a hobby. He set in type his opinion of the importance of the normal law of error.

youden paean

Recycling Poetry

pimenta anagram

In 1987, Portuguese poet Alberto Pimenta took the sonnet Transforma-se o amador na cousa amada (The lover becomes the thing he loves), by the 16th-century poet Luís de Camões, and rearranged the letters of each line to produce a new sonnet, Ousa a forma cantor! Mas se da namorada (Dare the form, songster! But if the girlfriend).

Here’s Camões’ (curiously apposite) original poem, translated by Richard Zenith:

The lover becomes the thing he loves
by virtue of much imagining;
since what I long for is already in me,
the act of longing should be enough.
If my soul becomes the beloved,
what more can my body long for?
Only in itself will it find peace,
since my body and soul are linked.
But this pure, fair demigoddess,
who with my soul is in accord
like an accident with its subject,
exists in my mind as a mere idea;
the pure and living love I’m made of
seeks, like simple matter, form.

Carlota Simões and Nuno Coelho of the University of Coimbra calculated that the letters in Camões’ sonnet can be rearranged within their lines in 5.3 × 10312 possible ways.

Interestingly, after Pimenta’s anagramming there were two letters left over, L and C, which are the initials of the original poet, Luís de Camões. “It seems that, in some mysterious and magical way, Luís de Camões came to reclaim the authorship of the second poem as well.”

In 2014, when designer Nuno Coelho challenged his multimedia students to render the transformation, Joana Rodrigues offered this:

Related: In 2005 mathematician Mike Keith devised a scheme to generate 268,435,456 Shakespearean sonnets, each a line-by-line anagram of the others. And see Choice and Fiction.

(Carlota Simões and Nuno Coelho, “Camões, Pimenta and the Improbable Sonnet,” Recreational Mathematics Magazine 1:2 [September 2014], 11-19.)

Tech Talk

In 1944 British graduate student John Hellins Quick published a description of the “turbo-encabulator,” a marvelously sophisticated device whose workings are understandable only by engineers:

The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated aluminite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two main spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan. The latter consisted simply of six hydrocoptic marzelvanes, so fitted to the ambifacient lunar waneshaft that side fumbling was effectively prevented. The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-bovoid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible tremie pipe to the differential girdle spring on the ‘up’ end of the grammeters.

General Electric, Chrysler, and Rockwell Automation have all sung the device’s praises, even if no one can quite explain what it does. Actor Bud Haggart shot the video above in 1977 after completing an industrial training film for General Motors.

The rest of us will just have to take its wonders on faith. When Time magazine published the description in 1946, one reader wrote, “My husband says it sounds like a new motor; I say it sounds like a dictionary that has been struck by lightning.”

A Poet’s Arsenal

Noted in passing: In the May 2004 issue of Word Ways, Max Maven notes that “English words containing ‘ag’ almost invariably have negative meanings, usually rather harsh.” He cites BRAG, DRAG, FLAG, GAG, HAG, LAG, NAG, RAG, SAG, SLAG, SNAG, and SWAG, among others.

In May 1984 Bruce Price pointed out that words rhyming with ash tend to be “words of terrible action, of great vigor and violence”:

BASH, BRASH, CLASH, CRASH, DASH, FLASH, GASH, GNASH, HASH, LASH, MASH, PASH, PLASH, RASH, SLASH, SMASH, SPLASH, STASH, THRASH, TRASH

There are exceptions, of course. I wonder if there are any similar patterns among positive words?

Podcast Episode 150: The Prince of Nowhere

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:General_Gregor_MacGregor_retouched.jpg

In 1821, Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor undertook one of the most brazen scams in history: He invented a fictional Central American republic and convinced hundreds of his countrymen to invest in its development. Worse, he persuaded 250 people to set sail for this imagined utopia with dreams of starting a new life. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the disastrous results of MacGregor’s deceit.

We’ll also illuminate a hermit’s behavior and puzzle over Liechtenstein’s flag.

See full show notes …

Far From Home

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/26/john-daniel-gorilla-drank-tea-school-uley-gloucestershire?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email

The English village of Uley had a remarkable citizen in 1917: a lowland gorilla, captured in Gabon by the French soldiers who had shot his parents. Uley resident Rupert Penny spotted him for sale in a London department store, paid £300, and named him John Daniel, and his sister Alyce raised him like a human boy.

“Until recently, we had people that remembered him walking around the village with the children,” said Margaret Groom, an archivist at the Uley Society, who unearthed a collection of old photographs. “He used to go into gardens and eat the roses. The children used to push him around in a wheelbarrow. He knew which house was good for cider, and would often go to that house to draw a mug of cider. He was also fascinated by the village cobbler, and would watch him repairing shoes. He had his own bedroom, he could use the light switch and toilet, he made his own bed and helped with the washing up.”

She had to sell him when he reached full size, and he passed into the hands of a circus. Eventually Alyce received an urgent message reading “John Daniel pining and grieving for you. Can you not come at once? Needless to say we will deem it a privilege to pay all your expense. Answer at once.”

She set out immediately, but he died of pneumonia before she arrived. His body was given to the American Museum of Natural History for preservation and remains on display there today.

(Thanks, Steve.)

History Search

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Treval.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2014, Michigan Technological University physicists Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson thought up a novel way to detect time travelers: Search the Internet.

They searched for mentions of “Comet ISON,” a sun-grazing comet discovered in September 2012, and for “Pope Francis,” whose papacy began in March 2013 and who is the first of his name. Both of these subjects are historically momentous enough that they might be known even to people in the far future; if those people travel into our past, then they might mention them inadvertently in, say, 2011, before we could plausibly have done so ourselves.

“Given the current prevalence of the Internet … this search might be considered the most sensitive and comprehensive search yet for time travel from the future,” they reported, acknowledging that “technically, what was searched for here was not physical time travellers themselves, but rather informational traces left by them.”

And they note that our failure to detect travelers doesn’t mean they’re not there. “First, it may be physically impossible for time travellers to leave any lasting remnants of their stay in the past, including even non-corporeal informational remnants on the Internet. Next, it may be physically impossible for us to find such information as that would violate some yet-unknown law of physics. … Furthermore, time travellers may not want to be found, and may be good at covering their tracks.”

See Regrets and The Telltale Mart.

Overheard

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

On May 10, 1857, the Indian troops of the East India Company’s army started an uprising against the British soldiers in the garrison town of Meerut.

Lord Canning, the Governor-General, first heard of the Mutiny in a curious fashion. The Lieutenant-Governor of Agra passed on to him a copy of a private telegram which had been sent by the British postmaster at Meerut before the line was cut. The postmaster’s aunt was in Agra and had planned to visit him. He wired that the cavalry had risen, houses were on fire and Europeans were being killed. ‘If aunt intend starting tomorrow evening please detain her.’ It was several days before the Governor-General of India could learn more than this of what had taken place in Meerut. Only gradually did the news of what had happened and what was happening in northern India seep out to the rest of the world.

That’s from Byron Farwell, Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, 1973. Related: On Sept. 1, 1939, English journalist Clare Hollingworth called the British embassy in Warsaw to report that Germany had invaded Poland. The secretary told her this was impossible, as Britain and Germany were still negotiating. “So I hung the telephone receiver out of the window,” she later recalled, “so he could listen to the Germans invading.” Hers was the first report that the British Foreign Office received of the invasion — later described as “the scoop of the century.”

The Cherries Puzzle

ozanam cherries puzzle

A classic puzzle from Jacques Ozanam’s Recreations Mathematiques et Physiques, 1723. Two slits (CD) and two holes (EF) are cut in a slip of paper, and a cherry stem is suspended as shown. The cherries are too large to fit through the holes. How can you free the stem and its cherries intact from the slip?

Click for Answer