Futility Closet book ad

Lending a Hand

http://books.google.com/books?id=aswXAQAAMAAJ

The tricks by which a shop-lifter succeeds in plying her profession without being caught are many and ingenious. The most successful of all tricks is the false arm and hand, shown in one of the illustrations. While the shop-lifter’s hands are apparently in sight of the store clerks, one is at work stowing away articles. The false hand is, of course, gloved and thrust through one of the sleeves. The real hand works under cover of the bodice and coat. The second illustration shows one of the pockets in which stolen articles are secreted.

Popular Mechanics, September 1908

Great Minds

boullee newton cenotaph

In 1784, French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée proposed building an enormous cenotaph for Isaac Newton, a cypress-fringed globe 500 feet high. A sarcophagus would rest on a raised catafalque at the bottom of the sphere; by day light would enter through holes pierced in the globe, simulating starlight, and at night a lamp hung in the center would represent the sun.

“I want to situate Newton in the sky,” Boullée wrote. “Sublime mind! Vast and profound genius! Divine being! Newton! Accept the homage of my weak talents. … O Newton! … I conceive the idea of surrounding thee with thy discovery, and thus, somehow, surrounding thee with thyself.”

As far as I can tell, this is unrelated to Thomas Steele’s proposal to enshrine Newton’s house under a stone globe, which came 41 years later. Apparently Newton just inspired globes.

Black and White

shinkman chess problem

By William Anthony Shinkman. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Red and Black

Jokes from the Soviet Union, from University of Louisville historian Bruce Adams’ 2005 collection Tiny Revolutions in Russia:

A man is walking along the road wearing only one boot. ‘Did you lose a boot?’ a passerby asks sympathetically. ‘No, I found one,’ the man answers happily.

What is it that doesn’t knock, growl or scratch the floor?
A machine made in the USSR for knocking, growling, and scratching the floor.

It is the middle of the night. There is a knock at the door. Everyone leaps out of bed. Papa goes shakily to the door. ‘It’s all right,’ he says, coming back. ‘The building’s on fire.’

A shopper asks a food store clerk, ‘Are you all out of meat again?’ ‘No, they’re out of meat in the store across the way. Here we’re out of fish.’

Why doesn’t the Soviet Union send people to the Moon?
They are afraid they won’t come back.

A man fell asleep on a bus. When someone stepped on his foot, he woke with a start and applauded. ‘What are you doing, citizen?’ ‘I was dreaming I was at a meeting.’

‘What is the difference between Pravda [Truth] and Izvestia [The News]?’
‘There is no truth in The News, and no news in the Truth.’

“In the Soviet Army,” said Stalin, “it takes more courage to retreat than advance.”

Ruler Measurement

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sftt2013.jpg

If Elizabeth II is still on the throne on Sept. 10, 2015, she’ll surpass Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Interestingly, no one knows precisely when she became queen. George VI died in his sleep sometime between 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, 1952, and 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 6. At that instant, Elizabeth acceded to the throne. At the time she was staying at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya; according to Ben Pimlott’s 1998 biography The Queen, at the moment of George’s death she was either asleep, eating breakfast, or watching the sun rise.

Mike Parker, a member of the royal party, had joined her at the top of the tree that morning to watch the dawn break over the jungle when he noticed an eagle hovering just over their heads and “for a moment, he was frightened that it would dive onto them.”

“I never thought about it until later,” he said, “but that was roughly the time when the king died.”

In a Word

mastigophorous
adj. carrying a whip

plagose
adj. fond of flogging

Desperate Measures

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grand_Coulee_Dam_no_forebay.jpg

Shortly after the completion of Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam in 1942, engineers faced a difficult challenge: how to feed a cable through a 24-inch drain, two-thirds filled with grout, that wound 500 feet through the galleries inside the huge concrete structure.

The workers were stumped at first, but they hit on a novel solution. “An alley cat, raised on scraps from the construction men’s lunch pails, was summoned and one end of the 500-foot string was tied onto his tail,” reported the Spokane Daily Chronicle. “He was placed inside the drain, and an air hose was turned on to ‘encourage’ him to go forward.

“The feline scampered through the drain and was caught emerging at the other end, where he was freed. From then on it was a simple matter to tie a rope onto the string and then the cable and draw it through the drain.”

Physicist R.W. Wood had hit on the same technique 30 years earlier.

Lost in Translation

Pedro Carolino thought he was doing the world a favor in 1883 when he published English As She Is Spoke, ostensibly a Portuguese-English phrasebook. The trouble is that Carolino didn’t speak English — apparently he had taken an existing Portuguese-French phrasebook and mechanically translated the French to English using a dictionary, assuming that this would produce proper English. It didn’t:

It must to get in the corn.
He burns one’s self the brains.
He not tooks so near.
He make to weep the room.
I should eat a piece of some thing.
I took off him of perplexity.
I dead myself in envy to see her.
The sun glisten?
The thunderbolt is falling down.
Whole to agree one’s perfectly.
Yours parents does exist yet?

A dialogue with a bookseller:

What is there in new’s litterature?
Little or almost nothing, it not appears any thing of note.
And yet one imprint many deal.
That is true; but what it is imprinted. Some news papers, pamphlets, and others ephemiral pieces: here is.
But why, you and another book seller, you does not to imprint some good works?
There is a reason for that, it is that you canot to sell its. The actual-liking of the public is depraved they does not read who for to amuse one’s self ant but to instruct one’s.
But the letter’s men who cultivate the arts and the sciences they can’t to pass without the books.
A little learneds are happies enough for to may to satisfy their fancies on the literature.

An anecdote:

One eyed was laied against a man which had good eyes that he saw better than him. The party was accepted. “I had gain, over said the one eyed; why I see you two eyes, and you not look me who one.”

Proverbs:

The walls have hearsay.
Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.
He has a good beak.
The dress don’t make the monk.
They shurt him the doar in the face.
Every where the stones are hards.
Burn the politeness.
To live in a small cleanness point.
To craunch the marmoset.

Mark Twain wrote, “In this world of uncertainties, there is, at any rate, one thing which may be pretty confidently set down as a certainty: and that is, that this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts. … Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure.”

No Hands

https://www.google.com/patents/US755209

Illinois inventor James E. Bennett offered this contraption in 1904 to enable baseball catchers to intercept the ball without using their hands. The ball passes through the wire frame and hits a cushion at the rear of the box, then drops into a pocket from which the player can retrieve it.

It was not well received. The Cincinnati Enquirer said the box resembled “a cage built for a homesick bear or a dyspeptic hyena.”

Further, as Dan Gutman points out in his 1995 collection of baseball inventions, Banana Bats & Ding-Dong Balls, a catcher does more than catch pitches. “On a high pop, presumably, the catcher would have to run to the spot where he judged the ball was going to land, then lie on the ground face up and wait for it to hit him in the stomach.” At least his hands will be free.

Succinct

In 2011 M.V. Berry et al. published “Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement?” in Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical.

The abstract read “Probably not.”

In 1978 John C. Doyle published “Guaranteed margins for LQG regulators” in IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control.

The abstract read “There are none.”

(Thanks, Dre.)