“The difference between the amoeba and Einstein is that, although both make use of the method of trial and error elimination, the amoeba dislikes erring while Einstein is intrigued by it.” — Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 1972
In 1889, a dam failed in southwestern Pennsylvania, sending 20 million tons of water down an industrialized valley toward the unsuspecting city of Johnstown. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe some of the dramatic and harrowing personal stories that unfolded on that historic day.
We’ll also celebrate Christmas with Snoopy and puzzle over a deadly traffic light.
British director Cecil Hepworth made “How It Feels To Be Run Over” in 1900. The car is on the wrong side of the road. (The intertitle at the end, “Oh! Mother will be pleased,” may have been scratched directly into the celluloid.)
Hepworth followed it up with “Explosion of a Motor Car,” below, later the same year.
Construct squares outwardly on the sides of triangle ABC, and make a triangle of their centers. Now the centers of squares constructed inwardly on the sides of that triangle will fall on the midpoints of the sides of ABC.
(Due to Luxembourger mathematician Joseph Neuberg, 1840-1926.)
A thought experiment in probability by Leonardo Barichello: Two people are stranded on an island with only one banana to eat. To decide who gets it, they agree to play a game. Each of them will roll a fair 6-sided die. If the largest number rolled is a 1, 2, 3, or 4, then Player 1 gets the banana. If the largest number rolled is a 5 or 6, then Player 2 gets it. Which player has the better chance?
Early visitors to Kenya’s Kitum Cave found the walls curiously scratched and furrowed: They discovered that elephants frequent the cave each night to scratch rocks from the walls, which they eat for their salt content.
They have done this for centuries, enlarging the cave significantly in the process and effectively converting it into a salt mine, which they now share with other species.