Jefferson’s Commandments

A “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life,” sent by Thomas Jefferson to the new father of a baby boy:

  1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

It’s not clear what a smooth handle is. Possibly it refers to a saying by Epictetus: “Everything has two handles, one by which it can be borne, another by which it cannot.” Or possibly Jefferson was referring to the need for civil discourse.

See also Ben Franklin’s “13 virtues” and Poor Richard’s lesser-known maxims.

“A Ball of Fire”

On the 4th of July 1803, a ball of fire struck the White Bull public-house, kept by John Hubbard, at East Norton. The chimney was thrown down by it, the roof in part torn off, the windows shattered to atoms, and the dairy, pantry, &c. converted into a heap of rubbish. It appeared like a luminous ball of considerable magnitude; and on coming in contact with the house, exploded with a great noise and a very oppressive sulphureous smell.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1803


On May 19, 1997, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration detected an unprecedented sound in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Deep and vast, it descended in frequency over about 7 minutes. Here’s a sound file, sped up 16 times.

A few months later, and about 2,500 miles closer to Cape Horn, a Navy hydrophone picked up a mysterious “bloop.” This one matched the audio profile of a living creature; if so, it must have been gigantic, as the sound was audible more than 5,000 km away. Here’s a sound file of that one, similarly sped up.

No one knows whether the two are related; if something huge was headed for Chile, it never arrived. Neither sound has been heard since.