Hi, everyone. I’m going to need to suspend the Futility Closet website for the month of April — we’re fine here, but North Carolina has issued a stay-at-home order due to the pandemic, so I can’t reach my libraries to do the research.
Hopefully we can start up again in May; if not, I’ll post an update here. In the meantime the archive is still available, and we hope to keep producing the podcast during this interval.
If you have any questions you can reach me at email@example.com. Thanks, as always, for reading, and stay safe!
“The difference between the amoeba and Einstein is that, although both make use of the method of trial and error elimination, the amoeba dislikes erring while Einstein is intrigued by it.” — Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 1972
In 1889, a dam failed in southwestern Pennsylvania, sending 20 million tons of water down an industrialized valley toward the unsuspecting city of Johnstown. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe some of the dramatic and harrowing personal stories that unfolded on that historic day.
We’ll also celebrate Christmas with Snoopy and puzzle over a deadly traffic light.
Emily Godbey, “Disaster Tourism and the Melodrama of Authenticity: Revisiting the 1889 Johnstown Flood,” Pennsylvania History 73:3 (2006), 273-315.
Mary P. Lavine, “The Johnstown Floods: Causes and Consequences,” in S.K. Majumdar et al., eds., Natural and Technological Disasters: Causes, Effects and Preventative Measures, Pennsylvania Academy of Science, 1992.
Robert D. Christie, “The Johnstown Flood,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 54:2 (April 1971), 198-210.
John Bach McMaster, “The Johnstown Flood,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 57:3 (1933), 209-243.
John Bach McMaster, “The Johnstown Flood: II,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 57:4 (1933), 316-354.
“The Johnstown Disaster,” Scientific American 60:26 (June 29, 1889), 406-407.
Jason Zweig, “National News, 1889: Club Is Found Culpable in Johnstown Flood,” Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2014.
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
British director Cecil Hepworth made “How It Feels To Be Run Over” in 1900. The car is on the wrong side of the road. (The intertitle at the end, “Oh! Mother will be pleased,” may have been scratched directly into the celluloid.)
Hepworth followed it up with “Explosion of a Motor Car,” below, later the same year.
Construct squares outwardly on the sides of triangle ABC, and make a triangle of their centers. Now the centers of squares constructed inwardly on the sides of that triangle will fall on the midpoints of the sides of ABC.
(Due to Luxembourger mathematician Joseph Neuberg, 1840-1926.)
A thought experiment in probability by Leonardo Barichello: Two people are stranded on an island with only one banana to eat. To decide who gets it, they agree to play a game. Each of them will roll a fair 6-sided die. If the largest number rolled is a 1, 2, 3, or 4, then Player 1 gets the banana. If the largest number rolled is a 5 or 6, then Player 2 gets it. Which player has the better chance?