High and Dry

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In 1859, Irish priest Edward James Cordner reflected that most strandings of sailing vessels occurred on a lee shore; that is, the wind was blowing inland from the vessel’s location. This gave him an inspired idea: If the ship carried a selection of kites, these could be attached one to another and payed out until they sailed steadily over the land, and the line might then support a sort of gondola that could ferry crew and cargo to safety.

When a sufficient power of elevation and traction has been attained, a light boat of basketwork or other material, capable of containing one or more persons, is attached to the suspending rope of the last kite, more rope is then veered away and the light boat with its cargo will eventually reach the land without any chance of its being submerged in the sea, no matter how great may be the elevation of the waves.

It’s not known whether Cordner’s idea was ever adopted, but he does seem to have tried it out: In his 1894 Progress in Flying Machines, Octave Chanute reports that “it was tested by transporting a number of persons purposely assembled on a rock off the Irish coast, one at a time, through the air to the main land, quite above the waves, and it was claimed that the invention of thus superposing kites so as to obtain great tractive power was applicable to various other purposes, such as towing vessels, etc.”

Extra

On Feb. 6, 1898, a worker preparing the front page of the New York Times added 1 to that day’s issue number, 14,499, and got 15,000.

Amazingly, no one caught the error until 1999, when 24-year-old news assistant Aaron Donovan tallied the dates since the paper’s founding in 1851 and found that the modern issue number was 500 too high.

So on Jan. 1, 2000, the paper turned back the clock, reverting from 51,753 to 51,254.

“There is something that appeals to me about the way the issue number marks the passage of time across decades and centuries,” Donovan wrote in a memo. “It has been steadily climbing for longer than anyone who has ever glanced at it has been alive. The 19th-century newsboy hawking papers in a snowy Union Square is in some minute way bound by the issue number to the Seattle advertising executive reading the paper with her feet propped up on the desk.”

See Time-Machine Journalism and Erratum.

Unquote

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“How wonderful opera would be if there were no singers.” — Gioacchino Rossini

“No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.” — W.H. Auden

“People are wrong when they say that the opera isn’t what it used to be. It is what it used to be — that’s what’s wrong with it!” — Noël Coward

Mundane

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Earth is the only planet not named after a god.

Silverton Bobbie

silverton bobbie

In 1923, the Brazier family traveled from Oregon to Indiana, bringing their 2-year-old collie/shepherd mix, Bobbie. They were separated in Wolcott, Ind., when Bobbie was chased off by a group of local dogs, and after three weeks the family reluctantly returned to Oregon.

Exactly six months later, the family’s youngest daughter was walking down a Silverton street when she recognized a bedraggled dog. At her voice he “fairly flew at Nova, leaping up again and again to cover her face with kisses and making half-strangled, sobbing sounds of relief and delight as if he could hardly voice his wordless joy.”

He had traveled more than 2,500 miles. He was identified by three scars, and by letters the family later received from people who had housed and fed him along the way. The “wonder dog” received national publicity, and well-wishers gave him a jewel-studded harness, a silver collar, keys to various cities, and “a miniature bungalow, which weighed about nine hundred pounds, with eight windows curtained with silk.” He died in 1927, and Rin Tin Tin laid a wreath on his grave.

Balance

AMBIDEXTROUS is ambidextrous — its first half draws on the first half of the alphabet, its second on the second.

Non-Fiction

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Sherlock Holmes is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

“Holmes did not exist, but he should have existed,” society chief David Giachardi said in bestowing the award in 2002. “That is how important he is to our culture. We contend that the Sherlock Holmes myth is now so deeply rooted in the national and international psyche through books, films, radio and television that he has almost transcended fictional boundaries.”

FYI

I’m the guest on Boing Boing’s Incredibly Interesting Authors podcast this month, discussing the new book and the website — here’s a link.

Tongue Tied

Mark Twain received this letter from a Danish customs officer in 1879:

Please to excuse that I fall with the door in the house, without first to begin with the usual long ribble-row. I want to become the autograph of the over alle the world well known Mark Twain, whose narratives so apt have procured me a laughter.

If you will answer this letter, I will be very glad. Answer me what you will; but two words. If you will not answer me other so write only, that you do not like to write autographs.

Your

Carl Jensen

It’s not known whether he responded, but on the envelope Twain wrote, “Please preserve this remarkable letter.” See Lost in Translation.

Figure and Ground

Swiss artist Markus Raetz created this innovative portrait of Piero della Francesca. Two mobiles are fitted with aluminum plates that are juxtaposed successively as the mobiles rotate. Piero appears between them.

Raetz’s kinetic sculpture of Kiki de Montparnasse, below, uses a similar idea:

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