A Showoff’s Comeuppance

Never dare the British navy. Logan Rock, in Cornwall, had been famous as a “rocking stone” — the 80-ton boulder was “obsequious to the gentlest touch” but stood “as fixt as Snowdon,” in the words of poet William Mason.

Lt. Hugh Goldsmith apparently took that as a challenge, and in April 1824 he led the crew of HMS Nimble in tumbling the boulder from its clifftop perch.

His satisfaction was short-lived, however. Outraged at the loss of a tourist attraction, the local residents insisted that Goldsmith restore the stone, and six months later Logan Rock was hauled back to its perch, balanced — and chained in place.

“Lamps Lighted by Currents Passed Through the Human Body”


Mark Twain in the laboratory of his friend, inventor Nikola Tesla, where in 1894 Twain briefly became a human light bulb:

In Fig. 13 a most curious and weird phenomenon is illustrated. A few years ago electricians would have considered it quite remarkable, if indeed they do not now. The observer holds a loop of bare wire in his hands. The currents induced in the loop by means of the “resonating” coil over which it is held, traverse the body of the observer, and at the same time, as they pass between his bare hands, they bring two or three lamps held there to bright incandescence. Strange as it may seem, these currents, of a voltage one or two hundred times as high as that employed in electrocution, do not inconvenience the experimenter in the slightest. The extremely high tension of the currents which Mr. Clemens is seen receiving prevents them from doing any harm to him.

— T.C. Martin, “Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions,” Century Magazine, April 1895

The Target


Nagasaki, before and after. Compare Passchendaele in World War I.

That’s progress.

Josiah Carberry

If there are fake students in the world, surely too there are fake professors.

Josiah Stinkney Carberry has been “teaching” at Brown since 1929, when faculty prankster John Spaeth posted a false notice for a Carberry lecture on “Archaic Greek Architectural Revetments in Connection with Ionian Philology.”

Carberry never showed up, of course, but Spaeth gamely offered details about the missing professor’s life and studies, and now Carberry has become a campus tradition. He’s scheduled to lecture every Friday the 13th and February 29th (somehow never turning up), and students try to publish references to him in otherwise serious journals. Brown’s student newspaper also publishes letters from Carberry on April Fool’s Day.

One clue for those who don’t get the joke: The professor is celebrated for his work in “psychoceramics” — “the study of cracked pots.”



Russian chemist Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was taking color photographs as early as 1909.

He took this self-portrait in 1915, managing to look old-timey even without sepia.


“Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.” — Bertrand Russell

Adam Rainer

Adam Rainer lived as both a dwarf and a giant. Born in 1899 in Austria, Rainer was 3 feet 10.5 inches tall at age 21. Then, suddenly, he began to grow, stretching a full meter in the next 11 years to reach 7 feet 1.75 inches in 1931. The physical strain left him bedridden for life, but he kept growing. When he died in 1950 at age 51, Rainer had reached 7 feet 8 inches, having grown 46 inches during his adult years. No one knows why.

ATM Freeze

The world’s northernmost automatic teller machine is at Longyearbyen, Norway (78°13’N 15°33’E).

The southernmost is at McMurdo Station, Antarctica (77°51’S 166°40’E).

The Maine Penny

Digging in an old Indian settlement in 1957, Maine archaeologists turned up a silver penny that had been minted in Norway between 1065 and 1080 A.D.

That means either that ancient Norse had visited the region … or that the natives had quite an extensive trade network. An arctic Eskimo cutting tool was found at the same site.

Auroral Sounds


Ever since ancient Rome, people have reported hearing the aurora borealis. It’s been described as a crackling, hissing, buzzing, or whistling.

Modern science can’t explain such sounds (yet), and so far no one’s managed to record them, so for now the jury’s still out.

Related: In 1881, correspondent F.C. Constable wrote to Nature of walking home during an electric storm in Karachi when “I heard all round me the constant crackling or rustling of blazing flames. Towards the north-west across a low arc near the horizon pale sheet lightning swayed quickly to and fro. There was no rain at the time, that came heavily afterwards. The sound of flames was close round me, and others had the same experience. No one I can find has ever seen lightning so completely fill the air or heard such strange sounds.”