“I do not remember this day.” — Dorothy Wordsworth, diary, March 17, 1798
“Such a beautiful day, that one felt quite confused how to make the most of it, and accordingly frittered it away.” — Caroline Fox, diary, January 4, 1848
“I shall not remember what happened on this day. It is a blank. At the end of my life I may want it, may long to have it. There was a new moon: that I remember. But who came or what I did — all is lost. It’s just a day missed, a day crossing the line.” — Katherine Mansfield, diary, Jan. 28, 1920
“Wrote nothing.” — Franz Kafka, diary, June 1, 1912
“I awakened feeling dull. The weather is neither cheerful nor depressing. It makes me restless. The trees are tossed by gusty, fantastic wind. The sun is hidden. If I put on my dressing-gown I am too hot, if I take it off I am cold. Leaden day in which I shall accomplish nothing worth while. Tired and apathetic brain! I have been drinking tea in the hope that it would carry this mood to a climax and so put an end to it.” — George Sand, diary, June 1, 1837
Samuel Johnson resolved 14 times “to keep a journal.” The first resolution was in 1760, the last in 1782.
In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the many theories behind Thompson’s disappearance, which has never been explained.
We’ll also borrow John Barrymore’s corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear’s significance.
Anis Ramli, “Jim Thompson Found, 40 Years On,” Malaysian Business, May 1, 2009, 58.
“Thailand: Jim Thompson’s Legacy Lives On,” Asia News Monitor, Feb. 8, 2010.
Peter A. Jackson, “An American Death in Bangkok: The Murder of Darrell Berrigan and the Hybrid Origins of Gay Identity in 1960s Thailand,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 5:3 (1999), 361-411.
Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa, “Documentary Claims CPM Responsible for Jim Thompson’s Disappearance in Cameron Highland,” Malaysian National News Agency, Dec. 10, 2017.
Barry Broman, “Jim Thompson Was Killed by Malay Communists, Sources Say,” The Nation [Bangkok], Dec. 4, 2017.
Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.
Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
Apparently this fear is not unfounded. In 2006 physicists Costas Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi worked out that if the first vampires had turned up in 1600, if they’d needed to feed only once a month, and if the world population at that time had been 536,870,911 (as estimated), then the vampire population would have increased geometrically and the last human would have succumbed in June 1602, after a bloodbath of only two and half years.
Worse, in 1982 a team of Austrian mathematicians led by R. Haiti and A. Mehlmann found that intelligent vampires could calculate a bloodsucking frequency that would maximize total utility per vampire and keep the human race alive indefinitely — and solutions exist no matter whether they’re “asymptotically satiated vampires,” “blood-maximizing vampires,” or “unsatiable vampires.”
Shuffle a deck and deal three cards face down. A friend looks at the cards and turns up two that are the same color. What’s the probability that the remaining card is also of this color?
The answer is not 1/2 but 1/4. Three randomly selected cards might have any of eight equally possible arrangements of color. In only two of these (RRR and BBB) are all the colors the same. So the chance of this happening is 2/8 = 1/4.
(Martin Gardner, “Modeling Mathematics With Playing Cards,” College Mathematics Journal 31:3 [May 2000], 173-177.)
10/18/2020 UPDATE: A number of readers have pointed out that the probabilities here aren’t quite accurate. Gardner was trying to show how various mathematical problems can be illustrated using a deck of cards and contrived this example within that constraint, focusing on the “seeming paradox” of 1/4 versus 1/2. But because the cards are dealt from a finite deck without replacement, if the first card is red then the second card is more likely to be black, and so on. So the final answer here is actually slightly less than 1/4 — which, if anything, is even more surprising, I suppose! Thanks to everyone who wrote in about this.
When the Greek engineer Eupalinos contrived a tunnel in the 6th century B.C. to carry water through Mount Kastro to Samos, he started digging simultaneously from the north and south, hoping that the two tunnels would meet in the heart of the mountain. He arranged this through some timely doglegs: When the two teams could hear one another (meaning they were about 12 meters apart), each deviated from its course in both the horizontal (left) and vertical (right) planes:
This ensured that they wouldn’t tunnel on hopelessly past one another on parallel courses.
This worked amazingly well: In fact the vertical alignment, established using levels at the start, had been maintained so faithfully that the two tunnels differed by only a few millimeters, though they’d traversed a combined distance of more than a thousand meters.
This is only the second known tunnel to be excavated successfully simultaneously from both ends, and the first to accomplish this feat using geometric principles, which Euclid would codify only centuries later.
Inspired by his wife’s art studies, physicist David C. Roy turned his training to sculpture and began fashioning moving mechanisms of birch, not clocks themselves but clocklike in that they’re wound by hand and then run unpowered, sustaining their motion through escapements, suspended weights, and constant force springs.
“I saw it as another type of creative problem solving, not all that different from my advanced physics courses, but with a completely different goal,” he writes. “To this day, I find art and science to be closely linked.”
French painter Joseph Ducreux (1735–1802) was fascinated with physiognomy, the notion that a person’s character is reflected in their outward appearance — and this led to some decidedly unconventional self-portraits.