In a Word

amphiscians
n. inhabitants of the tropics

angustation
n. the condition of being narrowed, constricted, limited, or confined

caducity
n. frailty, transitoriness

avolation
n. the act of flying away

This is the song of the last male Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, recorded in the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve on Kauaʻi in 1987. Rats, pigs, hurricanes, and disease-carrying mosquitoes had reduced the species to a single pair by 1981, and the female was not found after Hurricane Iwa in 1982. The male was last seen in 1985. This appears to be his song, overheard two years later, the last trace of a vanishing species.

Tribute

Every species of spider in the genus Predatoroonops takes its name from an element in John McTiernan’s 1987 film Predator:

Predatoroonops anna: For the character Anna Gonsalves, played by Elpidia Carrillo
Predatoroonops billy: For the character Billy Sole, played by Sonny Landham
Predatoroonops blain: For the character Blain Cooper, played by Jesse Ventura
Predatoroonops dillon: For the character George Dillon, played by Carl Weathers
Predatoroonops dutch: For the character “Dutch” Schaeffer, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger
Predatoroonops maceliot: For the character “Mac” Elliot, played by Bill Duke
Predatoroonops poncho: For the character “Poncho” Ramirez, played by Richard Chaves
Predatoroonops rickhawkins: For the character Richard Hawkins, played by Shane Black
Predatoroonops schwarzeneggeri: For Schwarzenegger
Predatoroonops vallarta: For Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a filming location
Predatoroonops valverde: For Val Verde, the fictional country where the film takes place
Predatoroonops chicano: An alternate nickname for Poncho
Predatoroonops mctiernani: For McTiernan
Predatoroonops olddemon: In Anna’s village the Predator is known as a “demon who makes trophies of men”
Predatoroonops peterhalli: For Kevin Peter Hall, the actor who played the creature
Predatoroonops phillips: For the character Homer Phillips, played by R.G. Armstrong
Predatoroonops yautja: The name of the Predator species in the expanded universe

Also: In Predator 2, the Predator’s trophy case contains the head of an alien from the Alien franchise:

Sesquipedalian

In the August 1841 issue of Graham’s Magazine, Edgar Allan Poe published a cryptogram composed by a Doctor Frailey of Washington and offered a year’s subscription to any reader who could solve it. In October he published the solution, which he’d managed to find:

In one of those peripatetic circumrotations I obviated a rustic whom I subjected to catechetical interrogation respecting the nosocomical characteristics of the edifice to which I was approximate. With a volubility uncongealed by the frigorific powers of villatic bashfulness, he ejaculated a voluminous replication from the universal tenor of whose contents I deduce the subsequent amalgamation of heterogeneous facts. Without dubiety incipient pretension is apt to terminate in final vulgarity, as parturient mountains have been fabulated to produce muscupular abortions. The institution the subject of my remarks, has not been without cause the theme of the ephemeral columns of quotidian journalism, and enthusiastic encomiations in conversational intercourse.

He was upbraided in November by a Richard Bolton of Pontotoc, Mississippi, who’d sent in a solution but received no credit. Poe redressed the error and added, “Your solution astonished me. You will accuse me of vanity in so saying — but truth is truth. I make no question that it even astonished yourself — and well it might – for from at least 100,000 readers — a great number of whom, to my certain knowledge, busied themselves in the investigation — you and I are the only ones who have succeeded.”

Spaceship Away

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur_C._Clarke_1965.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The standards for the British science fiction comic Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future were so high that the editors hired a young Arthur C. Clarke to serve as science and plot adviser. Clarke wrote to publisher Marcus Morris in spring 1950:

I think this might amuse you. Yesterday I was lecturing at the Royal Geographical Society on the problem of interplanetary navigation … After a highly technical series of remarks, [one of the other speakers] ended up by asking ‘Will Dan Dare reach Venus?’

He did. Clarke left the job after six months — he was said to have thought that “the standard of work and research was so high that they were wasting their money getting him to check it.”

(From Jason Dittmer, Comic Book Geographies, 2014.)

Nonentity

J. Van der Geer’s 2000 paper “The Art of Writing a Scientific Article” has been cited more than a thousand times, yet it doesn’t exist. Neither does the journal it appears in, the Journal of Science Communications.

The original was a “phantom reference” that had been presented only to illustrate Elsevier’s desired reference style. It seems to have been picked up by authors who didn’t understand that it was only a template, or who’d inadvertently retained the template while using it to format the rest of their references.

Anne-Wil Harzing, a professor of International Management at at Middlesex University in London, who described the confusion on her blog, concluded that the mystery “ultimately had a very simple explanation: sloppy writing and sloppy quality control.”

A Different View

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Un_bar_aux_Folies-Berg%C3%A8re_d%27E._Manet_(Fondation_Vuitton,_Paris)_(33539037428).jpg

Manet’s painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is sometimes criticized for its confused composition. The bottles to the barmaid’s right stand near the back of the bar, but in the reflection behind her they stand near the front. Her own image ought to stand behind her, not off to the right. And reflection of the man she’s addressing (in the position of the painter, or the viewer) ought also to be behind her — indeed, she herself should be blocking our view of it.

But in a dissertation at the University of New South Wales, art historian Malcolm Park found that the arrangement makes sense if certain assumptions are reconsidered. The barmaid is facing the viewer across the bar, with a mirror behind her. But she’s looking diagonally along the bar, not directly across it. (See the diagram here.)

The bottles in the background and the man she appears to be addressing are both in fact to the viewer’s left, beyond the edge of the frame and so visible only as reflections. And the barmaid’s own reflection appears to our right because, from our perspective, the mirror is not directly behind her — it’s “turned” somewhat, carrying her image over to one side.

(Malcolm Park, Ambiguity and the Engagement of Spatial Illusion Within the Surface of Manet’s Paintings, dissertation, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, 2001.)

All Together Now

In 1833, Heinrich Scherk conjectured that every prime of odd rank (accepting 1 as prime) can be composed by adding and subtracting all the smaller primes, each taken once. For instance, 13 is the 7th prime and 13 = 1 + 2 – 3 – 5 + 7 + 11.

In 1967 J.L. Brown Jr. proved that this is true.

One Nation, Indivisible

The second professor of mathematics in the American colonies suggested reckoning coins, weights, and measures in base 8.

Arguing that ordinary arithmetic had already become “mysterious to Women and Youths and often troublesome to the best Artists,” the Rev. Hugh Jones of the College of William and Mary wrote that his proposal was “only to divide every integer in each species into eight equal parts, and every part again into 8 real or imaginary particles, as far as is necessary. For tho’ all nations count universally by tens (originally occasioned by the number of digits on both hands) yet 8 is a far more complete and commodious number; since it is divisible into halves, quarters, and half quarters (or units) without a fraction, of which subdivision ten is uncapable.”

Successive powers of 8 would be called ers, ests, thousets, millets, and billets; cash, casher, and cashest would be used in counting money, ounce, ouncer, and ouncest in weighing, and yard, yarder, and yardest in measuring distance (so “352 yardest” would signify 3 × 82 + 5 × 8 + 2 yards).

Jones pressed this system zealously, arguing that “Arithmetic by Octaves seems most agreeable to the Nature of Things, and therefore may be called Natural Arithmetic in Opposition to that now in Use, by Decades; which may be esteemed Artificial Arithmetic.” But he seems to have had no illusions about its prospects, acknowledging that “there seems no Probability that this will be soon, if ever, universally complied with.”

(H.R. Phalen, “Hugh Jones and Octave Computation,” American Mathematical Monthly 56:7 [August-September 1949), 461-465.)