Boom Town

In 1757 Ben Franklin revealed “How to make a Striking Sundial, by which not only a Man’s own Family, but all his Neighbours for ten Miles round, may know what o’Clock it is, when the Sun shines, without seeing the Dial”:

Chuse an open Place in your Yard or Garden, on which the Sun may shine all Day without any Impediment from Trees or Buildings. On the Ground mark out your Hour Lines, as for a horizontal Dial, according to Art, taking Room enough for the Guns. On the Line for One o’Clock, place one Gun; on the Two o’Clock Line two Guns, and so of the rest. The Guns must all be charged with Powder, but Ball is unnecessary. Your Gnomon or Style must have twelve burning Glasses annex’d to it, and be so placed as that the Sun shining through the Glasses, one after the other, shall cause the Focus or burning Spot to fall on the Hour Line of One for Example, at one a Clock, and there kindle a Train of Gunpowder that shall fire one Gun. At Two a Clock, a Focus shall fall on the Hour Line of Two, and kindle another Train that shall discharge two Guns successively; and so of the rest.

Note, There must be 78 Guns in all. Thirty-two Pounders will be best for this Use; but 18 Pounders may do, and will cost less, as well as use less Powder, for nine Pounds of Powder will do for one Charge of each eighteen Pounder, whereas the Thirty-two Pounders would require for each Gun 16 Pounds.

Note also, That the chief Expence will be the Powder, for the Cannon once bought, will, with Care, last 100 Years.

Note moreover, That there will be a great Saving of Powder in cloudy Days.

(From Poor Richard Improved. He was mocking a class of overambitious amateur experimenters called virtuosi. “Kind Reader, Methinks I hear thee say, That it is indeed a good Thing to know how the Time passes, but this Kind of Dial, notwithstanding the mentioned Savings, would be very expensive; and the Cost greater than the Advantage. Thou art wise, my Friend, to be so considerate beforehand; some Fools would not have found out so much, till they had made the Dial and try’d it. Let all such learn that many a private and many a publick Project, are like this Striking Dial, great Cost for little Profit.”)

Company

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three_grotesque_old_men_with_awful_teeth_grimacing_and_point_Wellcome_V0012066.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Liverpool Ugly Faces Club, 1745:

  • Mathew Strong, merchant: “A tawny complexion, sharp nose, flook mouth, irregular bad set of teeth like those of an old worn out comb, thoroughly begrimed. A ghastly queer grin and countenance greatly set off by a long carroty beard.”
  • John Woods, architect: “A stone coloured complexion, a dimple in his attick story, the pilasters of his face fluted, tortoise eyed, a prominent nose, wild grin, and face altogether resembling a badger, and finer, though smaller than those of Sr Chryst WREN or Inego JONES.”
  • John Williamson Jr., merchant: “Ruff face, bleared eyes, flowing like two fountains, monstrous long nose, hooked like the beak of an eagle, pretty large mouth, upon the whole a charming member.”
  • William Long: “Rugged face, very prominent large nose, extraordinary wide mouth, no upper teeth, a large under lip, a prodigious long chin, meeting his nose like a pair of nutcrackers, an extraordinary member.”
  • Francis Gildart, Esq.: “Large pancake face, little, hollow grey eyes, short turnup, nose, large thick under lip, which almost meets his nose, odd droll, sancho, pancho, phiz, which gives life humour to everything he says. Therefore sets off a joke to ye utmost advantage.”
  • Robert Fillingham, merchant: “Little eyes, wide mouth, thin jaws, narrow face. His countenance hard, stern and crabbed. In every respect extremely well qualified.”
  • John Parr Sr., draper: “Broad, Punch like face, flat nose, wide nostrils, large mouth, thick lips, stern looks, sallow complexion, hideous grin.”
  • William Willocks, merchant: “Longish visage, very uncommon squinting eyes.”
  • Lewis Augs Younge, M.D.: “A large carbuncle potato nose, fine and bushy eyebrows, an agreeable facetious grin, wide mouth. When he laughs comes the shape of the moon at a quarter old, and on the whole, a face fitting a member of the Society.”

Worst, apparently, was merchant Joseph Farmer: “Little eyes, one bigger than ye other, long nose, thin lanthorn jaws, large upper lip, mouth from ear to ear resembling the mouth of a shark. A rotten set of irregular teeth, which are set off to great advantage by frequent laughing. His visage long and narrow. His looks upon the whole, extraordinary haggard, odd, comic, and out of ye way. In short, possessed of every extraordinary qualification to render him ye Phoenix of ye Society, as the like will not appear again this 1000 years.”

The club’s motto was Tetrum ante omnia vultum, “Before all things, an ugly face.”

(From the Liverpool Mercury, Sept. 29, 1887.)

Remedy

An Irishman called in great haste upon Dr. Abernethy, stating that, ‘Be jabers, my boy Tim has swallowed a mouse.’ ‘Then, be jabers,’ said Abernethy, ‘tell your boy Tim to swallow a cat.’

The Book of Humour, Wit, & Wisdom, 1867

Faux Faulkner

In 1989, William Faulkner’s niece founded an annual contest to parody her uncle’s distinctive writing style. It ran for 16 years, with the winners published in United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine. Here’s the winner from 2001, “The (Auto) Pound and the Jury (or Quentin Gets His First Parking Ticket),” by Louisiana Philharmonic clarinetist Allan Kolsky:

For the fifth time in as many minutes, the bright shapes slowly passed us through the somnolent dust, each moving left to right, each in its ordered place. As we (once again) passed beneath the grim and merciless statue of the confederate soldier (that still unravish’d sentinel of quietude, his implacable marble hand forever shading the inscrutable carven eyes) our hearts sank a little deeper, not because we now realized that our quest was futile, but because it always had been, because we now seemed doomed forever to circle this postage stamp of land like slow planets orbiting some inescapable star.

‘Well well well,’ said Ratliff, ‘I reckon thats the fifth time weve been around this square and I still aint seen no parkin space. Why dont you just pull up in front of that fire hydrant — its only for a minute, anyhow.’

And now the musty smell of old leather—the thick, bound books containing what Father once called the sum total of mans ignorance: ceteris paribus and tempus fugit and caveat emptor too, and Oliver Wendell Holmes with Saint Francis himself, who never had a parking ticket and first thing lets kill all the lawyers and i father i have committed grand theft auto and he this looks more like a parking ticket to me and i but are they not the same and he you would take a perfectly common automotive error, an inevitable consequence of operating a motor vehicle and you would make it monstrous and i but it IS monstrous and he its only fifteen dollars, its not exactly the end of the world and i but i have still failed and he arbitrary lines delimiting segments of tarmac, the sum total of mans folly reduced to lines drawn ceteris paribus on some cosmic concrete chalkboard and i but did you ever get one and he of course and i how many times and he you want me to Count—NoCount would ever satisfy you and i but dont you believe in sin and he sin quentin was a term coined by those without courage to describe the actions of those who did indeed possess it and i but then our lives are just and he our lives are just so many tiny clumsy sandcastles before the godless oceans angry tide.

I took the ashtray from the table and I placed it on the floor. Then I realized that I had forgotten the gasoline and so I had to open the cabinet and take the can and remove the cap. The gasoline stung my nostrils as I poured it into the ashtray. I replaced the cap and I put the can back in its cabinet. I placed the parking ticket in the ashtray and I soaked it well with the gasoline. Then I remembered that I needed a match, but my hand had already found the matchbook in my pocket, and so I didnt have to open the cabinet any more.

Alas, the contest has been suspended since 2005, but some of the winners are archived here.

Divining

Playing a trivia game, George S. Kaufman was asked, “What’s the longest river in South America?”

After a lot of stalling, he asked, “Are you sure it’s in South America?”

Applied Chemistry

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:An%C3%B3nimo_-_Inferno_(ca._1520).jpg

On his May 1997 final exam at the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical Engineering, a Dr. Schlambaugh asked, “Is hell exothermic or endothermic? Support your answer with proof.” Most students based their responses on Boyle’s law, but one gave this answer:

First, we postulate that if souls exist, they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls must have a mass. So at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell it does not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for souls entering hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of the religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to hell. With the birth and death rates what they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change in the volume of hell. Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of the souls to the volume needs to stay constant. (1) If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose. (2) If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase in souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over. So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Theresa Banyan during Freshman year, ‘It will be a cold night in hell before I sleep with you’ and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then (2) cannot be true. Thus hell is exothermic.

“The student, Tim Graham, got the only A.”

(Dave Morice, “Kickshaws,” Word Ways 31:2 [May 1998], 140-149.)

01/28/2020 This is a legend, apparently starting at the Taylor Instrument Company in the 1920s and accumulating some entertaining variations since then. The text of the Applied Optics piece is here. (Thanks, Dan and Pete.)

A New Worry

In 1984 University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Jordan Smoller called attention to an alarming syndrome that hadn’t received much clinical attention: childhood. Features:

  1. Congenital onset
  2. Dwarfism
  3. Emotional lability and immaturity
  4. Knowledge deficits
  5. Legume anorexia

Billy J., age 8, was brought to treatment by his parents. Billy’s affliction was painfully obvious. He stood only 4’3″ high and weighed a scant 70 pounds, despite the fact that he ate voraciously. Billy presented a variety of troubling symptoms. His voice was noticeably high for a man. He displayed legume anorexia and, according to his parents, often refused to bathe. His intellectual functioning was also below normal — he had little general knowledge and could barely write a structured sentence. Social skills were also deficient. He often spoke inappropriately and exhibited ‘whining behavior.’ His sexual experience was non-existent. Indeed, Billy considered women ‘icky.’

Most children are unemployed and poorly educated, and the condition appears to run in families. Public schools don’t seem to reduce the number of victims, but a longitudinal study suggests that it tends to abate with time. “Clearly, much more research is needed before we can give any real hope to the millions of victims wracked by this insidious disorder.”

(Jordan W. Smoller, “The Etiology and Treatment of Childhood,” Journal of Polymorphous Perversity, 1984, 3-7.)

Legacy

In 1924 the eccentric Lord Berners composed a “Funeral March for a Rich Aunt”:

The musical direction is Allegro giocoso — “fast and cheerful.”

“The Bastard Professor”

A campus legend collected by American folklorist Simon J. Bronner:

One weekend this past winter, four college students went away for a weekend while midterms were going on. However, it was not until late Sunday night that the students realized that they all had a Philosophy exam the next morning at 8 AM. This proved to be most unfortunate as none had even cracked a book for the course, and even if they had studied they would never be able to make it back to school in time for the exam. So, one of the students called their professor and told him that they had gotten a very bad flat tire, where the rim was bent. The mechanic said that he would not be able to repair it until Monday afternoon. Well, the professor was very understanding and told them to take their time getting back and to call him when they were on campus again. Well, the students thought this was great. They came leisurely back on campus Monday afternoon and called the professor. He said they could take the exam the next morning in the auditorium. Come the next morning, all four students arrived in the auditorium and were seated in each of the four corners of the room. The professor then proceeded to give the following instructions: ‘I know that you have all had a chance to talk with the other students in this class in order to find out what was on the exam. Well, fear not, because this is a very different exam. In fact, you will be very happy to know that there is only one very simple question on this exam. Are you ready to begin?’ All of the students nod. ‘Okay, you will have ninety minutes. The question is: Which tire?’

(From his Campus Traditions, 2012.)

Never Mind

https://pixabay.com/illustrations/compare-comparison-scale-balance-643305/

In 1995, NASA astronomer Scott Sandford became troubled by the phrase “You’re comparing apples and oranges.” “First,” he wrote, “the statement that something is like comparing apples and oranges is a kind of analogy itself. That is, denigrating an analogy by accusing it of comparing apples and oranges is, in and of itself, comparing apples and oranges. More importantly, it is not difficult to demonstrate that apples and oranges can, in fact, be compared.”

He desiccated an apple and an orange and ran samples through a spectrometer. “Not only was this comparison easy to make, but it is apparent from the figure that apples and oranges are very similar,” he concluded. “Thus, it would appear that the comparing apples and oranges defense should no longer be considered valid. This is a somewhat startling revelation. It can be anticipated to have a dramatic effect on the strategies used in arguments and discussions in the future.”

Sure enough, five years later surgeon James E. Barone confirmed this result in the British Medical Journal. He found that apples and oranges are both edible, juiceable fruits grown in orchards on flowering trees and subject to damage by disease and insects, and they have comparable color, sweetness, size, shape, and weight. “In only one category, that of ‘involvement of Johnny Appleseed,’ was a statistically significant difference between the two fruits found.”

“This article, certain to become the classic in the field, clearly demonstrates that apples and oranges are not only comparable; indeed they are quite similar,” he concluded. “The admonition ‘Let’s not compare apples with oranges’ should be replaced immediately with a more appropriate expression such as ‘Let’s not compare walnuts with elephants’ or ‘Let’s not compare tumour necrosis factor with linguini.'”