Progress

The clock on Bolivia’s congressional building runs counterclockwise.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said the “clock of the south” had been adopted to affirm the country’s “southernness” and to encourage Bolivians to question norms and think creatively.

“Who says that the clock always has to turn one way?” he asked at a news conference in 2014. “Why do we always have to obey? Why can’t we be creative?”

Perhaps he’d been inspired by Venezuela, where in 2006 president Hugo Chávez raised a new national flag on which a white horse gallops left instead of right, “representing the return of Bolivar and his dream,” and the following year he put the nation’s clocks back half an hour “so that our bodies and above all our children take better advantage of sunlight and adapt the biological clock.”

Strange Encounter

https://books.google.com/books?id=bcTE3-aFOlwC

In June 1867 French astronomer Camille Flammarion was floating west from Paris in a balloon when he entered a region of dense cloud:

Suddenly, whilst we are thus suspended in the misty air, we hear an admirable concert of instrumental music, which seems to come from the cloud itself and from a distance of a few yards only from us. Our eyes endeavour to penetrate the depths of white, homogeneous, nebulous matter which surrounds us in every direction. We listen with no little astonishment to the sounds of the mysterious orchestra.

The cloud’s high humidity had concentrated the sound of a band playing in a town square more than a kilometer below. Five years earlier, during his first ascent over Wolverhampton in July 1862, James Glaisher had heard “a band of music” playing at an elevation of nearly 4 kilometers (13,000 feet).

(From Glaisher’s Travels in the Air, 1871.)

Wayward Pigeons

https://pxhere.com/en/photo/958529

In 1998, thousands of pigeons mysteriously went missing during two separate races in Virginia and Pennsylvania. More than 2,200 birds vanished, amounting to an 85 percent loss rate. The weather was calm, and it’s normal for a few birds to disappear, but the rate is usually closer to 5 percent.

It’s known that pigeons navigate by the sun and by sensing magnetic fields, but neither of those seems to be the culprit here. “Every year or so, you have one race like this where many disappear,” Cornell zoologist Charles Walcott told the Chicago Tribune. “But what is unusual is to lose so many birds from several races at the same time. What’s going on now is quite mysterious.”

Related: In 2010 a racing pigeon named Houdini disappeared during a 224-mile race in Britain and turned up five weeks later in Panama, 5,200 miles away.

“I was gobsmacked. I didn’t even know where Panama was,” owner Darren Cubberley told the Daily Mirror. “I’ve no idea how Houdini got there — I can only assume she hitched a lift on a ship across the Atlantic.”

The bird, reportedly in “perfect shape,” would have been too expensive to return, so she remained with Gustavo Ortiz, on whose roof she’d landed. At last report she was learning Spanish.

Full Circle

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:North_Ray_Crater_AS16-116-18597-18603.jpg

Before they departed on Apollo 16 in April 1972, lunar module pilot Charles Duke told commander John Young about an eerie dream he’d had. The two of them were driving the lunar rover toward the North Ray crater when they crossed a ridge and discovered a set of tire tracks. They followed them, and after an hour they came upon another lunar rover that had been standing on the moon’s surface for thousands of years. In it were two dead astronauts who looked like Duke and Young.

In folklore seeing one’s double can be an omen of imminent death, but Duke didn’t take it that way. “I felt kind of comfortable,” he said later. “I took parts from this other vehicle, to show to the people down at Houston.”

But the impression remained with him as the mission departed for the moon. “The dream was so vivid that when we were landing I looked out of the window to the north to see if there were any tracks on the surface of the moon,” he said. “The landscape was very similar to what I [had] seen in my dream.”

On April 23, he found himself driving the rover with Young toward the North Ray crater and couldn’t resist looking for a second set of tracks. There was none, of course, but while he was distracted the rover began to slide backward down the slope and he had to fight to keep it from overturning. When they came to a stop the rover’s tracks extended ahead of them up the slope.

Young said, “Charlie, you said you were going to see some other tracks on the Moon.”

Thinking Big

This is fantastic — in 2017, 56 enthusiasts built an O-gauge model railway 71 miles long, connecting Fort William and the City of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. At a scale of 46:1, that’s half the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Only one journey was made on the completed railway. The locomotive Silver Lady departed Corpach Double Lock on June 23, 2017, and arrived, on time, at Inverness Castle on July 1.

Volunteer team leader Lawrence Robbins told the Daily Record, “Just because it’s bonkers doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.”

Misc

https://pixabay.com/en/diamonds-eight-deck-playing-cards-884176/

  • The negative space in the eight of diamonds forms an 8.
  • William Brewster, leader of the Plymouth Colony, named his children Jonathan, Patience, Fear, Love, and Wrestling.
  • Wilfred Owen’s mother received the news of his death on Armistice Day.
  • SCHOOLMASTER = SMOTE SCHOLAR
  • “I never had any philosophic instruction, the first lecture on psychology I ever heard being the first I ever gave.” — William James

Tempting Fate

What remained of the Tenth [Massachusetts] departed from City Point, on the James River, on June 21 [1864], for the return to Springfield and Northampton. But before leaving Virginia, on June 20, Sgt. Maj. George F. Polley, who was originally in Brewster’s company and had just reenlisted, carved his name and the inscription ‘Killed June –, 1864’ on a piece of board torn from a cracker box. After participating in the ‘goodbye’ rituals with his comrades and sharing an awkward amusement with them about his carving, Polley was struck flush by an artillery shell and killed. In his diary, brigade member Elisha Hunt Rhodes recorded this incident in his matter-of-fact style. Polley ‘showed me a board on which he had carved his name, date of birth and had left a place for the date of his death,’ reported Rhodes. ‘I asked him if he expected to be killed and he said no, and that he had made his head board only for fun. To day he was killed by a shell from a Rebel Battery.’ The last act of the Tenth before boarding the mailboat for Washington, D.C., was to bury Polley.

— David W. Blight, When This Cruel War Is Over, 2009

The Paul Rubin Cipher

On the morning of Jan. 20, 1953, the body of 18-year-old Paul Emanuel Rubin was found at the bottom of a ditch near the Philadelphia International Airport. The coroner found there was enough cyanide in his body to “kill 10 men,” and taped to his abdomen was a 7″ x 3″ piece of paper with an enciphered message:

rubin cipher

Rubin’s mother hadn’t seen him since the previous morning, when he’d cut some strips of adhesive tape before leaving the house. He was studying chemistry at New York University and would have had access to cyanide, but his mother said he was in good mental and physical health and hadn’t appeared worried about anything. (About 20 minutes before the body was found, the Rev. Robert M. Anderson had wished Rubin good morning; he found him “wild-eyed” and said “he was staring straight ahead and … the pupils of his eyes were dilated.”)

A friend mentioned that Rubin had been working with codes: “They’re very complicated. Anyone who reads science fiction will know what I mean.” Rubin was carrying a copy of Galaxy Science Fiction, as well as a plastic cylinder containing a signal fuse, the casing of a spent .38 caliber bullet, a “fountain pen gun” of uncertain purpose, four keys, and 47 cents. He’d had $15 when he’d left home the previous morning.

An inquest turned up nothing, and the case was closed in March. The cipher has never been solved. The Cipher Foundation has more details about the case, as well as a link to Rubin’s FBI file (8 MB PDF). The fullest account of the case that I know is in Craig Bauer’s excellent Unsolved!: The History and Mystery of the World’s Greatest Ciphers from Ancient Egypt to Online Secret Societies (2017).

The Forest Grove Sound

Make of this what you will: In February 2016 a “mechanical scream” was repeatedly heard at night near Gales Creek Road in Forest Grove, Oregon. Described variously as a “giant flute played off pitch” and “a bad one-note violin solo broadcast over a microphone with nonstop feedback,” the sound typically lasted from 10 seconds to several minutes. It annoyed the residents, but authorities determined there were no problems with gas lines in the area, and the police department announced that the sound didn’t pose a safety hazard.

It ended as mysteriously as it had started — Pacific University physicist Andrew Dawes, who had been mapping the locations where the noise had been heard, plotted his last point on February 27, 2016. He said the results were inconclusive and didn’t suggest any single location. The police and fire departments have closed the case; Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer said he suspected the noise to be “a faulty attic fan or heat pump.”