In his Schilderboeck of 1604, Flemish artist Karel van Mander writes that his contemporary Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder is a good landscape painter who “often had the habit of including a squatting, urinating woman on a bridge or elsewhere.”

None of Gheeraerts’ landscapes are known to survive, but we have a perspective map of his native Bruges that he completed in 1562 and … there she is.

Images: Wikimedia

This just caught my eye — a feat attributed to the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda, who would later accompany Columbus and name Venezuela:

Queen Isabella being in the tower of the cathedral at Seville, better known as the Giralda, Ojeda, to entertain her majesty, and to give proofs of his courage and agility, mounted on a great beam which projected in the air, twenty feet from the tower, at such an immense height from the ground, that the people below looked like dwarfs, and it was enough to make Ojeda himself shudder to look down. Along this beam he walked briskly, and with as much confidence as though he had been pacing his chamber. When he arrived at the end, he stood on one leg, lifting the other in the air; then turning nimbly round, he returned in the same way to the tower, unaffected by the giddy height, whence the least false step would have precipitated him and dashed him to pieces.

Allegedly he afterward threw an orange to the top of the tower, which would have been at least 88 meters tall at the time. This account is from Washington Irving’s biography of Columbus, and even Irving calls it “unworthy of record, but that it exhibits the singular character of the man.”

Emerson mentions Ojeda’s balancing act in his 1870 essay on success, claiming also that “Olaf, king of Norway, could run round his galley on the blades of the oars of the rowers when the ship was in motion.” I’m not even pursuing that one.

06/12/2024 UPDATE: Apparently oar-walking is not as far-fetched as it sounds. While the feat is rare, it is said that King Olafr Tryggvason did indeed run on the oar blades of his ship the Long Serpent as it was being rowed. Kirk Douglas manages the feat pretty well in the 1958 film The Vikings (thanks, Orion):

Double Duty
Image: Wikimedia Commons

I just came across this arresting sentence in The Satanic Verses, of all places:

“Turn your watch upside down in Bombay and you see the time in London.”

It appears this is roughly true: Because Indian Standard Time has an offset of UTC+05:30, an analog watch set to Indian time and read upside down will give the time in London — 10:10 becomes 4:40, noon becomes 6:30, and so on. The reverse is also true — a London watch read upside down will give the time in India.

Unfortunately the hand positions are only approximate, and the U.K. observes daylight saving time and India doesn’t, so just now it doesn’t work. Interesting idea, though.

06/16/2024 UPDATE: Reader Kieran Child points out also that the trick cannot work perfectly as described as we need to add 5 hours 30 minutes in one direction and 6 hours 30 minutes in the other. “By studying it for a while, you will see that going from UK time to Indian time only works when the minutes are between 31 and 59, and going the other way only works when the minutes are between 00 and 29. For times outside of these ranges, you will be off by one hour.” Examples are sometimes chosen to conceal this confusion. (Thanks, Kieran.)


He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. Nobody can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask, then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up?

— John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government, 1689


There is nothing contradictory in imagining causal chains that are closed, though the existence of such chains would lead to rather unfamiliar experiences. For instance, it might then happen that a person would meet his own former self and have a conversation with him, thus closing a causal line by the use of sound waves. When this occurs the first time he would be the younger ego, and when the same occurrence takes place a second time he would be the older ego. Perhaps the older ego would find it difficult to convince the younger one of their identity; but the older ego would recall an identical experience long ago. And when the younger ego has become old and experiences such an encounter a second time, he is on the other side and tries to convince some ‘third’ ego of their physical identity. Such a situation appears paradoxical to us; but there is nothing illogical in it.

— Hans Reichenbach, The Direction of Time, 1956


There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that ‘remembered’ a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.

— Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, 1921

Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

This is a floodlight photographed at night. What are the segmented stalks that seem to surround it? The phenomenon is seen regularly in photographs and videos; cryptozoologists and students of UFOs call the entities rods.

In 2003 author Robert Todd Carroll consulted entomologist Doug Yanega, who explained that they’re flying insects (in this case moths).

“Essentially what you see is several wingbeat cycles of the insect on each frame of the video, creating the illusion of a ‘rod’ with bulges along its length,” Yanega wrote. “The blurred body of the insect as it moves forward forms the ‘rod,’ and the oscillation of the wings up and down form the bulges.”

“Some hilarious photographs of ‘rods’ have been posted on the Internet,” Carroll noted. “My favorite is ‘the swallow chases a rod’ which looks just like a bird going after an insect.”

Line of Thought

At Mr Currie’s table I met several ingenious persons, who entertained me with curious and interesting reminiscences. Dr Adam Smith, author of ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ was a native of Kirkcaldy, and in the place composed his great work. While engaged in composition he frequently fell into a condition of reverie, so as to be entirely unconscious of his relations with the external world. Early on a Sunday morning he walked into his garden, his mind occupied with a train of ideas; he unconsciously travelled into the turnpike road, along which he proceeded in a state of abstraction, till he reached Dunfermline, at a distance of fifteen miles. The people were going to church, and the sound of the bells awakened the philosopher from his dream. Arrayed in an old dressing-gown, he was regarded as an oddity.

— Charles Rogers, Leaves From My Autobiography, 1876

Beyond the Call

Dubious but entertaining: After the Battle of Wauhatchie on the night of October 29, 1863, rumors circulated that Confederate troops had retreated in the darkness because they’d mistaken a stampede of mules for a cavalry charge. Someone wrote a “Charge of the Mule Brigade,” and the Union quartermaster reportedly asked that the gallant mules “have conferred upon them the brevet rank of horses.”

But there are no Southern reports of a mule attack at Wauhatchie, and one Confederate combatant categorically denied the story when it appeared in Grant’s memoir. At best, it appears, some mules broke loose and caused enough confusion to permit the 137th New York Infantry to arrive and oppose the rebels.

“The exact details of whatever the mules did at Wauhatchie will never be precisely known,” writes historian Gene C. Armistead in Horses and Mules in the Civil War (2013), “but the story is too humorous and too good to abandon.”

Dead End
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong contains a street named Rednaxela Terrace. It’s hard not to notice that this is Alexander spelled backward, but the origin of the name is uncertain.

In Signs of a Colonial Era (2009), Andrew Yanne and Gillis Heller claim that the street had been named Alexander Terrace after its original owner but that a clerk recorded the name backward, as the Chinese language was written right to left at the time.

Another possibility is that the name is linked to New York abolitionist Robert Alexander Young’s 1829 pamphlet Ethiopian Manifesto, which contains the name Rednaxela.