A Pitched Battle

https://pixabay.com/en/music-notes-musical-sheet-music-1007700/

In The Book of the Harp (2005), John Marson mentions a musical oddity — in 1932, a committee devoted to equal temperament was so incensed at the Royal Schools of Music that it hauled them before London’s Central Criminal Court for obtaining money under false pretenses. From The Music Lover magazine, April 30, 1932:

There is a touch of knight errantry about the action of Lennox Atkins F.R.C.O., hon. sec. of the Equal Temperament Committee, in applying at Bow Street for process against the Associated Board of Examiners in Music on the grounds that they were not qualified to know whether the music was being played in tune or not, and that therefore their diplomas were valueless. It certainly savours of the ‘ingenious gentleman’ of La Mancha who tilted at windmills. The temperament question seems to have upon those who take it up an effect similar to that which temperament produces in a prima donna. They become, to say the least, unreasonable. Happily Mr Fry, the magistrate, decided that this was not a matter for a criminal court, so that Sir John B. McEwan and Sir Hugh Allen are not to be shot at dawn, as was at first feared.

McEwan headed the Royal Academy of Music and Allen the Royal College of Music at the time. I find a bit more in the Musical Times, June 1, 1932:

Candidates were allowed to pass off the tuner’s scale as their own, and to obtain certificates to which, the E.T.C. claimed, they were not in equity entitled. Every sound produced was the tuner’s and not the candidate’s. Famous examiners, such as the late Sir Frederick Bridge, had wrongly passed thousands of candidates in keyed instrument examinations. From the point of view of the E.T.C., the candidates were not really examined at all.

The magistrate added that if it was thought that the examiners’ knowledge was insufficient then civil proceedings might be undertaken.

“We have only once before heard of the Equal Temperament Committee — a long while ago — and we were, and are still, vague as to its aims,” noted the Musical Times. “We had imagined it to be a learned Society that met from time to time to exchange light and airy chat about ratios, partials, mesotonics, and other temperamental details. But it seems that it is a body with a Mission, though we are not clear what that Mission is. Judging from the Bow Street evidence, the Committee’s aim is to make ‘Every Musician His Own Tuner’ — which seems rather rough on real tuners.”

Fluke Encounter

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

How does Ahab find Moby-Dick? On more than 11 occasions in Melville’s novel we are given cardinal points, the accurate location of well-known cruising grounds, and changes in the ship’s direction as the Pequod follows a “zig-zag world-circle” in search of the great white whale. But we are never told how he hopes to find it, a task that seems flatly impossible.

In writing the book, Melville consulted maps, guidebooks, charts, and logbooks to lay out a route typical of a three-year whaling voyage. Ahab, as an experienced captain, might have known the migratory patterns of sperm whales, their feeding grounds, the ocean currents, and the locations of previous sightings. “But even with this seasoned knowledge, he is not guaranteed to track down an entire pod of whales, let alone one eccentric loner,” writes Eric Bulson in Novels, Maps, Modernity (2007).

Ishmael notes that “though Moby-Dick had in a former year been seen, for example, on what is called the Seychelle ground in the Indian ocean, or Volcano Bay on the Japanese coast; yet it did not follow, that were the Pequod to visit either of those spots at any subsequent corresponding season, she would infallibly encounter him there. … For as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet been divulged, even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways of the Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part, unaccountable to his pursuers.”

At one point Melville contends that the Pequod‘s circumnavigating route “would sweep almost all the known Sperm Whale cruising grounds of the world,” a conceit that the New York Albion called “more than sufficient motive” to justify the otherwise “intolerably absurd” idea of “a nautical Don Quixote chasing a particular fish from ocean to ocean.”

But even Ahab himself seems helpless in his task until the whale’s unexplained appearance at the novel’s end. In a dramatic address to the sun, he says, “Thou tellest me truly where I am — canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be? Or canst thou tell where some other thing besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby-Dick?”

Sundaram’s Sieve

sundaram's sieve

In 1934, Indian mathematician S.P. Sundaram proposed this “sieve” for finding prime numbers.

In the first row of a table, write the arithmetic progression 4, 7, 10, …, with the first term 4 and a common difference of 3.

Copy these values into the first column, and then complete each row with its own arithemetic progression, with common differences of 3, 5, 7, 9 …, in successive rows.

Now, remarkably, for any natural number N > 2, if N occurs in the table then 2N + 1 is not a prime number, and if N does not occur in the table, then 2N + 1 is a prime number. (For example, 17 appears in the table, so 35 is not prime; 23 does not appear in the table, so 47 is prime.)

(From Ross Honsberger, Ingenuity in Mathematics, 1970.)

Podcast Episode 90: The Candy Bar War

candy bar war

In 1947, the price of a candy bar in British Columbia rose from 5 to 8 cents, and the local teenagers organized a surprisingly effective “strike” that soon spread across the country. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Canada’s unlikely “candy bar war,” which gripped the nation for 10 days before ending with a surprising twist.

We’ll also take a grueling automobile ride across 1903 America and puzzle over the intentions of a masked man.

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.

Our feature on Canada’s candy bar war of 1947 was suggested by listener Randy Banderob. Sources:

Tom Hawthorn, “From a Shop in Ladysmith, Chocolate Strike Affected Sales Across the Country,” Globe and Mail, April 23, 2012.

“Auld Lang Syne,” Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle, May 4, 1977.

“Putting Their Three Cents In,” Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle, June 12, 2007.

“‘War’ Fought Over Chocolate,” Now, April 18, 2007.

Dave Obee, “Candy Price Hike Sent Kids Into the Streets,” Victoria Times-Colonist, Dec. 7, 2008.

Travesty Productions, The Five Cent War.

Burnaby History Tour: The Five Cent Chocolate War (accessed Jan. 3, 2016).

Lenny Flank, “The 1947 Candy Bar Strike,” Hidden History, July 28, 2015.

Listener mail:

Sources for our story on Horatio Nelson Jackson and his 1903 auto journey across the United States:

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, Horatio’s Drive, 2003.

Horatio’s Drive (DVD), 2003, written by Dayton Duncan, directed by Ken Burns.

Here’s a photo of Bud the transcontinental bulldog:

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

Sources on Dwight Eisenhower and the Cross-Country Motor Transport Train:

U.S. Federal Highway Administration, “Why President Dwight D. Eisenhower Understood We Needed the Interstate System” (accessed Jan. 15, 2016).

David A. Pfeiffer, “Ike’s Interstates at 50: Anniversary of the Highway System Recalls Eisenhower’s Role as Catalyst,” Prologue, Summer 2006.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Craig Murphy.

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. 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!

Long Takes

Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player opens with a continuous shot that’s eight minutes long. Altman told one interviewer, “I wanted to make that ridiculously long opening shot because so many people talk about these long opening shots as if they are some achievement in themselves.”

At 1:17, Fred Ward refers to Orson Welles’ 1958 film Touch of Evil, which opens with a three-minute tracking shot of its own (below). Several takes were ruined when the customs man at the end forgot his line, which ruined the entire take. Charlton Heston remembered Welles telling the man, “Look, I don’t care what you say, just move your lips, we can dub it in later. Don’t just put your face in your hands and say, ‘Oh, my God, I’m sorry.'”

Starting Early

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

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, a 12-year-old boy walked into an Arizona recruiting office and said, “I want to join the Army and shoot some Japs. Sure, I’m 17 years old. You enlist men 17 years old, don’t you? I don’t need my mother’s consent … I’m a midget.”

He didn’t get in, but other boys did. In 1942 the Marines issued an honorable discharge to William Holle of Eau Claire, Wis., who had enlisted the previous year at age 12. And 13-year-old Jackie MacInnes of Medford, Mass., took his older brother’s birth certificate to a Boston enlistment office, forged his parents’ signatures on the consent papers, and reported for duty at Newport, R.I. “Everything was going fine,” ran one news report, “until he wrote a letter home.” His parents came to pick him up.

At least one underage enlistee escaped detection — in 1988 Ronald Reagan signed a special bill granting disability benefits to Calvin L. Graham, above, a Marine veteran injured at Guadalcanal. The Navy had denied them because he’d lied about his age when enlisting. He was 12.

(From William M. Tuttle Jr., “Daddy’s Gone to War,” 1993.)

French Surprise

An attractive woman approaches Sylvester in a bar. She has a proposition: For a single payment of £50, he can have a passionate weeklong holiday with her in Nice. Everything else is covered: travel tickets, a first-class hotel, and her attentions. There’s one further condition. She’ll shortly say something important, which we’ll call the “key.” If the key is true, then she keeps the £50 and Sylvester gets the holiday at no further cost, as explained. If the key is false, then Sylvester must accept the £50 back, but he still gets the week’s holiday with her for free.

“How can he lose?” asks Peter Cave in How to Think Like a Bat (2011). “Either way, with regard to whether the key is true or not, he is bound to have the splendid trip and the passion. At worst, it costs him a mere £50.” He gives her the £50, and she gives him the key:

Either I shall return the £50 or you will pay me £1 million.

For an either/or statement to be false, both elements must be false. So for the key above to be false, the woman must not return the £50. But under the agreement she must. So this yields a contradiction, whether or not Sylvester pays her £1 million; the key cannot be false. On the other hand, if the key is true, then the agreement requires that she keep the £50 … which means that he must pay her £1 million.

“Once we have contradictions involved in conditions,” writes Cave, “we may find ourselves trapped into all manner of things.”