Dreamed Up

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FictionalAgloeNewYork.PNG

In composing a state map of New York in the 1930s, the General Drafting Company wanted to be sure that competing mapmakers would not simply copy its work. So the company’s founder, Otto G. Lindberg, and his assistant, Ernest Alpers, scrambled their initials and placed the fictional town of Agloe at the intersection of two dirt roads in the Catskills north of Roscoe.

Several years later, they discovered Agloe on a Rand McNally map and confronted their competitor. But Rand was innocent: It had got the name from the county government, which had taken it from the Agloe General Store, which now occupied the intersection. The store had taken the name from a map by Esso, which had (apparently) copied it from Lindberg’s map. Agloe had somehow clambered from imagination into reality.

Similarly, in 2001 editors placed a fake word in the New Oxford American Dictionary as a trap for other lexicographers who might steal their material. Fittingly, the word was esquivalience, “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties.”

Sure enough, the word turned up at Dictionary.com (it’s since been taken down), citing Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary.

And as with Agloe, the invention has taken on a life of its own. NOAD editor Christine Lindberg, who coined esquivalience, told the Chicago Tribune that she finds herself using it regularly. “I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: ‘Those esquivalient little wretches.’ Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that.”

A Farewell

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

Book One of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise concludes with this italicized passage as Tom and Amory are taking leave of Princeton:

The last light fades and drifts across the land — the low, long land, the sunny land of spires; the ghosts of evening tune again their lyres and wander singing in a plaintive band down the long corridors of trees; pale fires echo the night from tower top to tower: Oh, sleep that dreams, and dream that never tires, press from the petals of the lotus flower something of this to keep, the essence of an hour.

No more to wait the twilight of the moon in this sequestered vale of star and spire, for one eternal morning of desire passes to time and earthy afternoon. Here, Heraclitus, did you find in fire and shifting things the prophecy you hurled down the dead years; this midnight my desire will see, shadowed among the embers, furled in flame, the splendor and the sadness of the world.

In fact this is a sonnet. Fitzgerald had written it originally in rhymed lines of iambic pentameter and decided only afterward to run it into prose. There’s a second such poem (“The February streets, wind-washed by night”) hidden in the section “Looking Backward.” See Prose Poetry.

Speaking of Princeton, I found this photo while researching art for this post — “Princeton students after a freshman vs. sophomores snowball fight in 1893″:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Princeton_students_after_a_freshman_vs._sophomores_snowball_fight_in_1893.jpg

Advance and Retreat

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

This chart, devised in 1869 by French civil engineer Charles Minard, illustrates the disastrous toll suffered by Napoleon’s army on its foray into Russia in 1812. Yale political scientist Edward Tufte describes it in his 1983 book The Visual Dislay of Quantitative Information:

Beginning at the left on the Polish-Russian border near the Niemen River, the thick band shows the size of the army (422,000 men) as it invaded Russia in June 1812. The width of the band indicates the size of the army at each place on the map. In September, the army reached Moscow, which was by then sacked and deserted, with 100,00 men. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow is depicted by the darker, lower band, which is linked to a temperature scale and dates at the bottom of the chart. It was a bitterly cold winter, and many froze on the march out of Russia. As the graphic shows, the crossing of the Berezina River was a disaster, and the army finally struggled back into Poland with only 10,000 men remaining. Also shown are the movements of auxiliary troops, as they sought to protect the rear and the flank of the advancing army. Minard’s graphic tells a rich, coherent story with its multivariate data, far more enlightening that just a single number bouncing along over time. Six variable are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army’s movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow.

He concludes, “It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”

Reminder

Two days remain in the book giveaway on Goodreads — enter to win one of three signed copies of the Futility Closet book. Winners will be announced on February 9.

Black and White

shinkman chess problem

By William Anthony Shinkman. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

In a Word

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1379891

bunnikin
n. an early flower

Already now the Snowdrop dares appear,
The first pale blossom of the unripened year:
As Flora’s breath, by some transforming power,
Had changed an icicle into a flower:
Its name and hue the scentless plant retains
And Winter lingers in its icy veins.

— Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825)

Asked and Answered

Novelist Simon Raven was known as a bit of a bounder.

When his wife wired him WIFE AND BABY STARVING SEND MONEY SOONEST, he cabled back SORRY NO MONEY SUGGEST EAT BABY.

The Ulysses Contract

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_by_H.J._Draper.jpg

In 1982, 24-year-old schizophrenic patient J.S. faced a difficult decision: The neuroleptic drug Prolixin relieved his psychotic symptoms, but it produced tardive dyskinesia, a progressive disorder that caused uncontrollable movements of his legs, arms, and tongue.

His therapist learned of an experimental program that might reduce this side effect, and J.S. signed consent forms to enter treatment. But the first step was to stop all medications, and without the Prolixin he descended again into psychosis and refused the experimental medication.

This produces an impossible dilemma: Does J.S.’ “sane” self have the right to overrule his “insane” self, if the two disagree? Can Dr. Jekyll bind Mr. Hyde? Such a directive is sometimes called a Ulysses contract, after the Greek hero who ordered his men to disregard his commands as they sailed past the sirens. If a patient directs his caregivers to ignore his own future requests, can the caregivers follow these orders?

In J.S.’ case, the answer was no. The research unit’s legal counsel decided that his earlier consent did not override his later refusal, and he was withdrawn from the program. When he resumed his antipsychotic medication and learned what had happened, he begged for another chance to try the experimental medication. Had they been wrong to refuse him?

(Morton E. Winston, Sally M. Winston, Paul S. Appelbaum, and Nancy K. Rhoden, “Can a Subject Consent to a ‘Ulysses Contract’?”, The Hastings Center Report, 12:4 [August 1982], 26-28)

“At Eventide”

Goo-goo goo-goo goo-goo goo
Goo-goo goo-goo goo-goo
Googly, googly, googly goo:
That’s how we fill a column.

— G.K. Chesterton

Shock Tactics

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

Here’s one way to prevent ants from ruining your picnic — surround the tablecloth with parallel strips of electrically conductive material and attach them to a DC battery. Now any bug that crosses the border will close the circuit and get “a sensation which will discourage further travel across the edge of the cloth.” (Humans will feel only “a slight tingling sensation.”)

This idea, patented by Richard Mahan in 1992, has a proud history — Thomas Edison tried essentially the same thing as a young man.

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