Hear Hear

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whistler_-_At_the_Piano.jpg

Where is a sound? If I play a note at the piano, you and I both seem to locate it at the instrument. But we both also know that we perceive the note because the piano sends waves through the air that strike our ears. That would mean that most of our auditory perception is illusion. Is that what we want to say?

Philosopher George Berkeley wrote, “When I hear a coach drive along the streets, immediately I perceive only the sound, but from experience I have had that such a sound is connected with a coach, I am said to hear the coach.” Perhaps the sound lies at our ears, or at our sensation of it, and it’s only our experience of the world that leads us to attribute it to some remote source. But that raises problems of its own. If sound is sensation, then can a sound occur if no one is present to hear it?

Perhaps the answer lies in between: Acoustics tells us that sounds are vibrations transmitted by the air. But vibrations of very high or low pitch aren’t perceptible to human ears. Are these still sounds?

A similar puzzle concerns smells.

A Long Swim

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Just an oddity — in Nature, June 5, 1919, Cambridge zoologist John Stanley Gardiner notes that a Fiji harbormaster had informed him of a saltwater crocodile that had landed alive on Rotuma, 260 miles to the north and 600 miles east of the New Hebrides.

“It certainly did not come from Fiji or any lands to the east, as crocodiles do not now exist on them,” Gardiner wrote. “It must indeed have crossed from the west, and covered at least 600 miles of open, landless sea.

“This occurrence is sufficiently remarkable to be placed on permanent record.”

Pow!

wile e coyote, super genius

Cartoon laws of physics:

  1. Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation. Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over.
  2. Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly. Whether shot from a cannon or in hot pursuit on foot, cartoon characters are so absolute in their momentum that only a telephone pole or an outsize boulder retards their forward motion absolutely. Sir Isaac Newton called this sudden termination of motion the stooge’s surcease.
  3. Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter. Also called the silhouette of passage, this phenomenon is the specialty of victims of directed-pressure explosions and of reckless cowards who are so eager to escape that they exit directly through the wall of a house, leaving a cookie-cutout-perfect hole. The threat of skunks or matrimony often catalyzes this reaction.
  4. The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken. Such an object is inevitably priceless, the attempt to capture it inevitably unsuccessful.

There are 10 laws altogether, including “9. Everything falls faster than an anvil.” As early as 1956 Walt Disney was describing the “plausible impossible.” In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant says, “Do you mean to tell me you could’ve taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?” Roger answers, “Not at any time! Only when it was funny!”

Oops

In 1942, uncertain whether one of its spies had been replaced by a German impersonator, Britain’s Special Operations Executive hit on a clever plan: After a regular radio communication, the British radio operator signed off with HH, short for “Heil Hitler,” the standard farewell among Nazi operators. His counterpart, “Netball,” responded HH automatically, giving himself away.

They confirmed this at the next session:

Netball was several minutes late for his sked (not significant) and signalled ‘q r u’ (‘I have no traffic for London’). Howell replied ‘q t c’ (‘We have a message for you’), and proceeded to transmit it (the message warned Netball never to send less than 150 letters). Howell then signalled ‘HH’, and Netball immediately replied ‘HH’.

‘Right,’ Nick was heard to say to his companion, ‘that’s it then.’

(From Leo Marks, Between Silk and Cyanide, 2001.)

In a Word

contesserate
adj. leagued together in friendship

onerary
adj. suitable for carrying a burden

sciscitation
n. questioning

panier de crabes
n. a dangerously controversial topic (literally, “basket of crabs”)

Podcast Episode 125: The Campden Wonder

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

When William Harrison disappeared from Campden, England, in 1660, his servant offered an incredible explanation: that he and his family had murdered him. The events that followed only proved the situation to be even more bizarre. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe “the Campden wonder,” an enigma that has eluded explanation for more than 300 years.

We’ll also consider Vladimir Putin’s dog and puzzle over a little girl’s benefactor.

See full show notes …

For Short

Telegraph companies generally charged by the length of a message, so enterprising customers started using codes in place of common phrases. Here are some sample codes, from the ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code of 1901:

Nalezing – Do only what is absolutely necessary
Nalime – Will only do what is absolutely necessary
Nallary – It is not absolutely necessary, but it would be an advantage
Naloopen – It is not absolutely necessary, but well worth the outlay

If you and I both have a copy of the code book, then I can send you the word Nallary in place of the phrase “It is not absolutely necessary, but it would be an advantage” — a savings of 10 words or 51 characters without any loss of information.

Most of these code books are pretty hard-headed (here’s another), but there’s a wonderful exception — Sullivan & Considine’s Theatrical Cipher Code of 1905, “Adapted Especially to the Use of Everyone Connected in Any Way With the Theatrical Business”:

Filacer – An opera company
Filament – Are they willing to appear in tights
Filander – Are you willing to appear in tights
Filar – Ballet girls
Filaria – Burlesque opera
Filature – Burlesque opera company
File – Burlesque people
Filefish – Chorus girl
Filial – Chorus girls
Filially – Chorus girls who are
Filiation – Chorus girls who are shapely and good looking
Filibuster – Chorus girls who are shapely, good looking, and can sing
Filicoid – Chorus girls who can sing
Filiform – Chorus man
Filigree – Chorus men
Filing – Chorus men who can sing
Fillet – Chorus people
Fillip – Chorus people who can sing
Filly – Comic opera
Film – Comic opera company
Filler – Comic opera people
Filtering – Desirable chorus girl

It’s in the public domain, but I haven’t been able to find the full text online — I’m getting this from Craig Bauer’s (excellent) Secret History: The Story of Cryptology. I’ll update this post if I manage to find more.

09/28/2017 UPDATE: A reader sent me the whole book.