Quine’s Typewriter

Harvard philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine typed all his work on an old 1927 Remington typewriter. He had customized it by replacing the 1, !, and ? keys with specialized mathematical symbols.

Someone once asked him how he managed to write without using a question mark.

“Well, you see,” he replied, “I deal in certainties.”

Calendar Switch

Europe hit a bump in 1582 when it switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian: to realign the equinox, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that October 4 would simply be followed by October 15. This didn’t go over well — servants demanded full pay for the missing time, and people objected to “losing” 10 days of their lives.

At least they got it over with. Protestant England and the American colonies put off the switch until 1752, when they had to skip 10 days in September. “Take this for your consolation,” wrote Ben Franklin in his Almanack, “that your expenses will appear lighter and your mind be more at ease. And what an indulgence is here, for those who love their pillow to lie down in Peace on the second of this month and not perhaps awake.”

Russia stayed on the Julian calendar until it became the Soviet Union — according to the Gregorian calendar, the “October Revolution” actually took place in November.

Disposition by the Nose

HOW TO TELL DISPOSITION AND CHARACTER BY THE NOSE.

1. Large Noses.–Bonaparte chose large-nosed men for his generals, and the opinion prevails that large noses indicate long heads and strong minds. Not that great noses cause great minds, but that the motive or powerful temperament cause both.

2. Flat Noses.–Flat noses indicate flatness of mind and character, by indicating a poor, low organic structure.

3. Broad Noses.–Broad noses indicate large passage-ways to the lungs, and this, large lungs and vital organs and this, great strength of constitution, and hearty animal passions along with selfishness; for broad noses, broad shoulders, broad heads, and large animal organs go together. But when the nose is narrow at the base, the nostrils are small, because the lungs are small and need but small avenues for air; and this indicates a predisposition to consumptive complaints, along with an active brain and nervous system, and a passionate fondness for literary pursuits.

4. Sharp Noses.–Sharp noses indicate a quick, clear, penetrating, searching, knowing, sagacious mind, and also a scold; indicate warmth of love, hate, generosity, moral sentiment — indeed, positiveness in everything.

5. Blunt Noses.–Blunt noses indicate and accompany obtuse intellects and perceptions, sluggish feelings, and a soulless character.

6. Roman Noses.–The Roman nose indicates a martial spirit, love of debate, resistance, and strong passions, while hollow, pug noses indicate a tame, easy, inert, sly character, and straight, finely-formed Grecian noses harmonious characters. Seek their acquaintance.

From Searchlights on Health: The Science of Eugenics, by B.G. Jefferis and J.L. Nicols, 1920

Star Wars Hit Probability Equation

From Bespin to Yavin, the “Star Wars Hit Probability Equation” predicts the outcome of any battle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormtrooper_effect

n is the number of “bad guys,” x is the number of “good guys,” and J is the number of Jedi present (if any).

The equation reads, “The probability of a bad guy hitting his target is equal to the inverse of all bad guys present plus the cube of the number of good guys present (plus one) plus the number of Jedi present (plus one) to the 10th power.”

So the presence of a good guy reduces the bad guys’ accuracy, and having even one Jedi present is bad news for the Empire.

Domesticated Animals

Dates of first domestication:

  • Sheep, goat, pig: 8,000 B.C.
  • Cow: 6,000 B.C.
  • Horse: 4,000 B.C.
  • Donkey, water buffalo, honeybee: 4,000 B.C.
  • Chicken, cat, llama: 3,500 B.C.
  • Silkworm: 3,000 B.C.
  • Camel: 2,500 B.C.

Dogs, by far, are man’s best friend. Some estimates put them with us as early as 150,000 B.C. It’s thought that scavenging wolves grew less fearful of humans, and we found they could help with hunting and warn us of approaching enemies. “To his dog, every man is Napoleon,” wrote Aldous Huxley. “Hence the constant popularity of dogs.”

A New Theory

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Physical_world.jpg

Why do landmasses “sag” toward the south pole, as on the Sherwin-Williams paint logo? In 1973 Ormonde de Kay Jr., a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, proposed a “theory of continental drip”:

“Let’s look at the world map. Africa and South America … are textbook examples of drip, with their broad tops and tapering lower extremities. But so is North America, with Baja California and Florida dangling down at its sides, and Greenland, too, clearly shows the characteristics of drip.”

“What causes continental drip? A few possible explanations come to mind: some palaeomagnetic force, for example, unsuspected and therefore undetected, centered in massive, mountainous Antarctica and perpetually tugging at the lower hems of land masses. Or drip might somehow be the result of the Earth’s rotation, or of lunar attraction. One conclusion, however, would seem inescapable: contrary to the teachings of science, but as every schoolchild has always known, north really is up, and south down!”

The Best of Times

German arithmetician Zacharias Dase (1824-1861) once multiplied two 100-digit numbers in his head. It took him 8 hours 45 minutes.

Karl Gauss estimated that even a skilled mathematician, using pencil and paper, would require fully half that time.

Largest Organism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:General_Sherman_tree.jpg

What’s the largest living thing in the world? It depends:

  • Savannah elephants get up to 26,400 pounds, and of course some land dinosaurs were far larger.
  • In the ocean, the blue whale can reach 100 feet and weigh 150 tons. It’s thought to be the largest animal that’s ever lived.
  • There’s a fungus in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest that fills 2,200 acres, but technically it’s not one individual organism.
  • Likewise, there are some stands of aspens that grow from one gigantic root system. One covers 200 acres and weighs an estimated 6,600 tons.
  • Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2000 kilometers — it’s not a single creature, but it’s certainly the world’s largest “superorganism.”
  • The overall winning candidate is probably this tree, California’s “General Sherman.” It’s 274 feet tall and 36 feet thick at the base, with a trunk volume of 1,487 cubic meters.

The largest bacterium ever discovered, by the way, is Thiomargarita namibiensis — it grows to 0.75 mm in diameter, which means you can see it with the naked eye. Eww.