Prior Art

karl krøyer patent

On Sept. 14, 1964, a Kuwaiti freighter capsized, drowning its cargo of sheep and threatening to contaminate the drinking water of Kuwait City. To raise the ship quickly, Danish inventor Karl Krøyer proposed using a tube to fill it with buoyant bodies. Accordingly, 27 million plastic balls were airlifted from Berlin and pumped into the freighter’s hold, and on Dec. 31 the ship rose, saving the insurance company nearly $2 million.

Krøyer patented his technique in the United Kingdom and Germany, but (the story is told) the Dutch application was rejected because a Dutch examiner found the 1949 Donald Duck comic The Sunken Yacht, by Carl Barks, in which Donald and his nephews raise a yacht by filling it with ping-pong balls.

Ping-pong balls are buoyant, and the ducks used a tube to feed them into the yacht, so the Dutch office ruled that this destroys the novelty of Krøyer’s invention — it may be just a comic book, but it had made the essential idea public 15 years before Krøyer tried to claim it.

No one quite seems to know whether this story is true — Krøyer, his patent attorney, and the examiner have now passed away; the documentation was destroyed years ago; and the grounds for the Dutch rejection aren’t clear. But it still makes a vivid example for intellectual property lawyers.

carl banks donald duck comic

The Machine Prayer

In his 1953 book The Impact of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell warned that modern life was subordinating people to the technical requirements of their work. “What science has done is to increase the proportion of your life in which you are a cog,” he warned. “You can only justify the cog theory by worship of the machine.”

In time men will come to pray to the machine: ‘Almighty and most merciful Machine, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost screws; we have put in those nuts which we ought not to have put in, and we have left out those nuts which we ought to have put in, and there is not cogginess in us’ — and so on.

“You must make the machine an end in itself, not a means to what it produces,” he wrote. “Human beings then become like slaves in The Arabian Nights.”

Mementos

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Image: Mare Milin / Museum of Broken Relationships

When Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišic ended their four-year relationship in 2003, they joked about creating a museum to house all their leftover personal items. “We were thinking of how to preserve the beautiful moments we had together and not destroy everything,” Vištica said. Three years later, Grubišic suggested that they do this in earnest, and they created the Museum of Broken Relationships, displaying items left over from breakups around the world.

After ending an 18-month relationship with an abusive lover, a Toronto woman sent in a necklace and earrings he had given her. “The necklace was given as an apology after one night of abuse. He used it as leverage that I should do as he said. I finally broke it off. I keep the necklace as a reminder of what to look out for.”

A Berlin women donated the ax she’d used to chop up her partner’s furniture after she left her for another woman. “Every day I axed one piece of her furniture. I kept the remains there, as an expression of my inner condition. The more her room filled with chopped furniture acquiring the look of my soul, the better I felt. Two weeks after she left, she came back for the furniture. It was neatly arranged into small heaps and fragments of wood. She took that trash and left my apartment for good. The axe was promoted to a therapy instrument.”

Between 2006 and 2010, the collection toured the world and was seen by 200,000 people. It’s now found a permanent home in Zagreb, and in 2016 it opened another location in Los Angeles, next to the theater that hosts the Oscars. “I think in periods of suffering people become creative, and I think this is a catharsis,” Vištica told The Star. “I think that relationships, especially love relationships, influence us so much and they make us the people we are.”

Bull Market

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“If you bet on a horse, that’s gambling. If you bet you can make three spades, that’s entertainment. If you bet cotton will go up three points, that’s business. See the difference?” — Blackie Sherrod

Theme and Variations

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

All of Johann Sebastian Bach’s surviving brothers were named Johann: Johann Rudolf, Johann Christoph, Johann Balthasar, Johannes Jonas, and Johann Jacob. His father was Johann Ambrosius Bach, and his sister was Johanna Juditha.

By contrast, his other sister, Marie Salome, “stuck out like a sore thumb,” writes Jeremy Siepmann in Bach: Life and Works. “And they all had grandparents and uncles and cousins whose names were also Johann, something. Johann Sebastian’s own children included Johann Gottfried, Johann Christoph, Johann August, Johann Christian, and Johanna Carolina.”

(Thanks, Charlie.)

Fair Play

“I understand that a computer has been invented that is so remarkably intelligent that if you put it into communication with either a computer or a human, it can’t tell the difference!” — Raymond Smullyan

Intrepid

The only surviving exchange between Ulysses Grant and his wife is dated May 22, 1875.

She wrote, “How many years ago to day is that we were engaged? Just such a day as this too was it not?”

He responded, “Thirty-one years ago. I was so frightened however that I do not remember whether it was warm or snowing.”

Great and Small

michelangelo list

When the Seattle Art Museum presented an exhibition of Michelangelo’s early drawings in 2009, it included three menus that the sculptor had scrawled on the back of an envelope in 1518 — grocery lists for a servant.

Oregonian reviewer Steve Duin explained, “Because the servant he was sending to market was illiterate, Michelangelo illustrated the shopping lists — a herring, tortelli, two fennel soups, four anchovies and ‘a small quarter of a rough wine’ — with rushed (and all the more exquisite for it) caricatures in pen and ink.”

Related: In the 1490 manuscript below, Leonardo da Vinci tries to list successive doublings of 2 but mistakenly calculates 213 as 8092:

http://www.spoj.com/PROGPY/problems/PROG0237/

“Unmistakable this is a miscalculation of Leonardo and not of some sloppy copyists, as it was found in the original (mirrored) manuscript of da Vinci himself,” notes Ghent University computer scientist Peter Dawyndt. “That it was only discovered right now, five hundred years after da Vinci’s death, is probably due to the late discovery of the manuscript, barely fifty years ago.”

(Thanks, Peter.)

Farewell

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Politicians and public figures may well care to ponder the story of the death of Franco. Surrounded on his deathbed by his faithful generals, he heard outside, beyond the heavily drawn curtains, a strange subdued noise like the sea, and asked someone to investigate. An aide did. He looked down from the palace balcony and returned with a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes and reported: ‘Caudillo, it is the people. Thousands of them. They have come to say goodbye.’ And Franco raised himself on one elbow and barked: ‘Why? Where are they going?’

— British Airways parliamentary affairs officer Norman Lornie to Jack Aspinwall, MP, for his 2004 collection Tell Me Another!

Plain Sailing

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In 1670, Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, ordered the planting of the Forest of Tronçais to provide masts for the French navy 200 years hence. His order established one of the principal stands of oaks in Europe, carefully interplanted with beeches and larches to encourage them to grow straight, tall, and free of knots.

By the time they matured, in the 19th century, they were no longer necessary. Historian Fernand Braudel wrote, “Colbert had thought of everything except the steamship.”