Better Safe

The Pentagon has a detailed strategy for surviving a zombie apocalypse.

CONOP 8888, “Counter-Zombie Dominance,” arose when military planners needed to create a planning document that the public could not mistake for a real scenario. They imagined a “clearly impossible” emergency in which planners needed to “undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde.”

“The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,” spokeswoman Pamela Kunze told Foreign Policy. “This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.” But, a disclaimer reads, “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.”

Here it is.

Podcast Episode 337: Lost in a Daydream
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1901, two English academics met a succession of strange characters during a visit to Versailles. They came to believe that they had strayed somehow into the mind of Marie Antoinette in the year before her execution. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Moberly-Jourdain affair, a historical puzzle wrapped in a dream.

We’ll also revisit Christmas birthdays and puzzle over a presidential term.

See full show notes …

High and Dry

When the steamship Princess May was grounded in 1910 near Sentinel Island in Alaska’s Lynn Canal, the tide was high and the ship’s momentum forced it well up onto the rocks. There it perched at an angle of 23 degrees for photographer William Case at the height of its extremity.

Happily there was no loss of life, and the vessel was eventually refloated and returned to service.

The Horizontal Falls

On the coast of the Kimberley region in Western Australia are two successive gorges that restrict the tide — seawater builds up rapidly at these bottlenecks, creating temporary “waterfalls” through the gaps, which are only 10 and 20 meters wide.

With each change in the tide, the falls reverse direction, and the cycle renews itself.

On and Off

Wyoming’s Intermittent Spring is well named: It runs and stops alternately, in segments of about 15 minutes. The mechanism isn’t known for certain, but scientists suspect that a cavern in the rock face is filling continuously with groundwater, and when the water reaches a certain height it spills through a tube that empties into the valley. This produces a natural siphon effect that draws down the reservoir until air enters the tube, which disables the siphon until the cycle starts again. University of Utah hydrologist Kip Solomon says, “We can’t think of another explanation at the moment.”

Solomon’s tests show that the spring water has been exposed to air underground, which lends support to the theory.

The Endless House

In 1924 architect Frederick Kiesler proposed a house fashioned as a continuous shell rather than an assembly of columns and beams:

The house is not a dome, but an enclosure which rises along the floor uninterrupted into walls and ceilings. Thus the safety of the house does not depend on underground footings but on a strict coordination of all enclosures of the house into one structural unit. Even the window areas are not standardized in size or shape, but are, rather, large and varied in their transparency and translucency, and form part of the continuous flow of the shell.

Storage space is provided between double shells in the walls, radiant heating is built into the floor, and there are no separate bathrooms, as bathing is done in the individual living quarters.

“While the concept of the house does not advocate a ‘return to nature’, it certainly does encourage a more natural way of living, and a greater independence from our constantly increasing automative way of life.”

(Via Ulrich Conrads, The Architecture of Fantasy: Utopian Building and Planning in Modern Times, 1962.)

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em …

A French Prisoner in Norman Cross Barracks, had recourse to the following stratagem to obtain his liberty:–He made himself a complete uniform of the Hertfordshire Militia, and a wooden gun, stained, surmounted by a tin bayonet. Thus equipped, he mixed with the guard, (consisting of men from the Hertford Regiment,) and when they were ordered to march out, having been relieved, Monsieur fell in and marched out too. Thus far he was fortunate, but when arrived at the guard-room, lo! what befel him. His new comrades ranged their muskets on the rack, and he endeavoured to follow their example; but as his wooden piece was unfortunately a few inches too long, he was unable to place it properly. This was observed, and the unfortunate captive obliged to forego the hopes of that liberty for which he had so anxiously and so ingeniously laboured.

The Soldier’s Companion; or, Martial Recorder, 1824

The first escape from [Dartmoor Prison] took place five days after the first draft arrived. Sevegran, a naval surgeon, and Auvray, a naval officer, having observed that a guard of fifty men marched into the prison every evening to assist in getting the prisoners into their respective halls if required, made themselves glengarries and overcoats, and strips of tin looking like bayonets at a distance, and fell in at the rear of the detachment as it marched out. Favoured by the rain which was falling heavily at the time they passed all the gates unquestioned, and as the company wheeled towards the barracks, they left it, and went on through the village towards Plymouth. Speaking English fluently and being well provided with money, they had no difficulty in booking seats for London on the coach.

— Basil Thomson, The Story of Dartmoor Prison, 1907

Chin King

By 1910, Valentine Tapley was claiming to have the longest beard in the world, at 12 feet. His congressman in Missouri would even boast about the achievement and defend Tapley against other claimants. (It’s sometimes said that Tapley was a Democrat and had vowed never to shave again if Abraham Lincoln won the election.)

But it appears that the real record was held by a contemporary, North Dakota farmer Hans Langseth, who’d begun growing his beard in 1865 as part of a contest. By the time of his death in 1927, it measured 17.5 feet, and it’s now held by the Smithsonian Institution.

I can’t find any record that these two even knew of one another.

Rock Music,_1.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Blackbird is a full-size playable stone violin crafted by Swedish sculptor Lars Widenfalk. The instrument incorporates diabase from his grandfather’s tombstone, with a backplate of porphyritic diabase, both materials more than a billion years old. The design is based on drawings by Stradivarius, but Widenfalk made some modifications to allow it to be played.

The fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece, and chinrest are of black ebony, and the bridge is of mammoth ivory. “What drove me on was the desire to discover the limits to which this stone can be pushed as an artistic material,” Widenfalk said. “At two kilos it is heavier than wooden violins, but it gives you the feel that you are carrying Mother Earth.”