Truth in Labeling

lequeu cowshed

A cowshed shaped like a cow, by the enigmatic French architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu, 1795. He labeled it simply “The Cow Byre faces south on the cool meadow.”

Elsewhere he proposed a henhouse shaped like an egg. Perhaps he was simply literal-minded.

Black and White

adolphi chess problem

By Heinrich Leonhard Adolphi. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Jury Duty

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

From Gábor J. Székely’s Paradoxes in Probability Theory and Mathematical Statistics, via Mark Chang’s Paradoxology of Scientific Inference:

A, B, C, D, and E make up a five-member jury. They’ll decide the guilt of a prisoner by a simple majority vote. The probability that A gives the wrong verdict is 5%; for B, C, and D it’s 10%; for E it’s 20%. When the five jurors vote independently, the probability that they’ll bring in the wrong verdict is about 1%. But if E (whose judgment is poorest) abandons his autonomy and echoes the vote of A (whose judgment is best), the chance of an error rises to 1.5%.

Even more surprisingly, if B, C, D, and E all follow A, then the chance of a bad verdict rises to 5%, five times worse than if they vote independently, even though A is nominally the best leader. Chang writes, “This paradox implies it is better to have your own opinion even if it is not as good as the leader’s opinion, in general.”

The Easy Way

Ludwig Schlekat bought a bank with its own money. Over the course of 17 years, starting in 1936, he embezzled $600,000 from the Parnassus National Bank of New Kensington, Pa. Then he invented two fictional investors and arranged for them to buy the bank and make him president.

In his new position he earned $800 a month, four times the salary he’d been getting as a teller. He bought a $19,500 home, $13,000 in furnishings, and a $1,000 diamond for his wife. When regulators pounced on these he resisted, saying they’d been bought with earned rather than stolen money. He went to jail for 10 years.

In a Word

periscii
n. the inhabitants of the polar circles: so called because in summer their shadows revolve around them

antiscians
n. people who live on the same meridian but on opposite sides of the equator, so that their shadows at noon fall in opposite directions

perioeci
n. people who live at the same latitude but on opposite meridians, so that noon for one is midnight for the other

Possession

When in very good spirits he would jest in a delightful manner. This took the form of deliberately absurd or extravagant remarks uttered in a tone, and with a mien, of affected seriousness. On one walk he ‘gave’ to me each tree that we passed, with the reservation that I was not to cut it down or do anything to it, or prevent the previous owners from doing anything to it: with those reservations it was henceforth mine. Once when we were walking across Jesus Green at night, he pointed at Cassiopeia and said that it was a ‘W’ and that it meant Wittgenstein. I said that I thought it was an ‘M’ written upside down and that it meant Malcolm. He gravely assured me that I was wrong.

– Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, 1958

Special Thanks

Botanist George B. Hinton named the plant species Salvia leninae Epling after a saddle mule, Lenina, who had helped him to gather more than 150,000 specimens in the mountains of western Mexico.

He wrote, “What is more deserving of commemoration than the dignity of long and faithful service to science, even though it be somewhat unwitting — or even unwilling?”

See Rigged Latin.

Back to Nature

https://www.google.com/patents/US5996127

This one’s pretty straightforward. David Leslie’s “wearable device for feeding and observing birds,” patented in 1999, is essentially a helmet mounted with three poles, each bearing a bird feeder. “When flying animals feed from the feeders, a person wearing the hat may observe them from a short distance.”

The helmet can also be fitted with magnifying glasses and videocameras. One wonders what the birds think of this.

Keepsake

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Garfield2_1882_Issue-5c.jpg

In 1881, as the nation was mourning James Garfield’s assassination, the following advertisement appeared in 200 newspapers:

I have secured the authorized steel engravings of the late President Garfield, executed by the United States Government, approved by the President of the United States, by Congress and by every member of the President’s family as the most faithful of all portraits of the President. It was executed by the Government’s most expert steel engravers, and I will send a copy from the original plate, in full colors approved by the Government, postpaid, for one dollar each.

Each reader who sent in a dollar received the promised engraving — on a 5¢ postage stamp.

AWOL

On July 4, 1989, Soviet MiG-23 pilot Nikolai Skuridin was on a routine training flight near Kolobrzeg, Poland, when his afterburner failed. Skuridin ejected, thinking the engine was completely dead, but the plane recovered and proceeded on autopilot into the west.

It must have had a lot of fuel, because it crossed out of Poland into East Germany, then into West Germany, then into the Netherlands, where a startled American air base sent up two F-15s to keep it company. As the MiG passed into Belgium the F-15s were told to shoot it down when it reached the North Sea, but it finally ran out of fuel near the French border, crashing into a house and killing a teenager.

The whole trip had covered 560 miles. Belgian Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens complained that the Soviets had issued no warning and no indication as to whether the pilotless plane was carrying dangerous weapons; it turned out that it was unarmed but carrying ammunition for a 23mm machine gun.

See Never Mind.