Day by Day

Spanish artist Oscar Diaz found a literal way to mark time: He designed a calendar that writes itself. The dates of each month are embossed as a connected series of numbers on a sheet of paper; when the first digit is inserted into a bottle of ink, capillary action draws up the fluid and informs each date in succession over the course of the month.

Diaz writes, “The ink colors are based on a spectrum, which relate to a ‘color temperature scale,’ each month having a color related to our perception of the weather on that month. The colors range from dark blue in December to three shades of green in spring or orange and red in the summer.

More at his website.


“It is a waste of energy to be angry with a man who behaves badly, just as it is to be angry with a car that won’t go. The difference is that you can compel your car to go to a garage, but you cannot compel Hitler to go to a psychiatrist.” — Bertrand Russell

The Right Perspective

French artist François Abélanet creates anamorphic landscape illusions. “With my creations, I transform fiction into reality,” he writes. “Where there’s a garden, a plaza, a courtyard, or a confined space, I see a playing field where everyone is invited to participate, to play with nature. Indeed, I like the idea that nature lives its own life and becomes its own creation.”

More at his website.

That Good Night
Image: Flickr

There’s a statue of Lenin in Seattle. Originally sculpted by Bulgarian artist Emil Venkov, it was installed in Poprad, Czechoslovakia, in 1988, just a year before the Velvet Revolution. Visiting American English teacher Lewis Carpenter found it lying in a scrapyard waiting to be melted down; he offered $13,000 for it and shipped it home to Issaquah, Washington.

When Carpenter died in an auto accident, the statue found its way to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, where the local chamber of commerce has agreed to hold it in trust until a buyer can be found. The current asking price is $250,000.

For now the founder of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class stands at the intersection of Fremont Place North, North 36th Street, and Evanston Avenue North, where he is regularly decorated with Christmas lights. Six-year-old Colin Sackett told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “It just makes me remember Christmas is coming. And it makes me remember Hanukkah, too.”

Math Limericks

There was an old man who said, “Do
Tell me how I’m to add two and two!
I’m not very sure
That it does not make four,
But I fear that is almost too few.”

A mathematician confided
A Möbius strip is one-sided.
You’ll get quite a laugh
If you cut one in half,
For it stays in one piece when divided.

A mathematician named Ben
Could only count modulo ten.
He said, “When I go
Past my last little toe,
I have to start over again.”

By Harvey L. Carter:

‘Tis a favorite project of mine
A new value of π to assign.
I would fix it at 3,
For it’s simpler, you see,
Than 3.14159.

J.A. Lindon points out that 1264853971.2758463 is a limerick:

One thousand two hundred and sixty
four million eight hundred and fifty
three thousand nine hun-
dred and seventy one
point two seven five eight four six three.

From Dave Morice, in the November 2004 Word Ways:

A one and a one and a one
And a one and a one and a one
And a one and a one
And a one and a one
Equal ten. That’s how adding is done.

(From Through the Looking-Glass:)

‘And you do Addition?’ the White Queen asked. ‘What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Alice. ‘I lost count.’

‘She can’t do Addition,’ the Red Queen interrupted.

Two classics, one from Leigh Mercer:

\displaystyle \frac{12 + 144 + 20 + 3 \sqrt{4}}{7} + \left ( 5 \times 11 \right ) = 9^{2} + 0

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

And another anonymous:

\displaystyle \int_{1}^{\sqrt[3]{3}}z^{2}dz \times \textup{cos} \frac{3\pi }{9} = \textup{ln} \sqrt[3]{e}

The integral z-squared dz
From one to the cube root of three
Times the cosine
Of three pi over nine
Equals log of the cube root of e.

UPDATE: Reader Jochen Voss found this on a blackboard at Warwick University:

If M’s a complete metric space
(and non-empty), it’s always the case:
If f’s a contraction
Then, under its action,
Exactly one point stays in place.

And Trevor Hawkes sent this:

A mathematician called Klein
Thought the Möbius strip was divine.
He said if you glue
The edges of two
You get a nice bottle like mine.

The Kate Bush Conjecture

Many thanks to reader Colin White for this:

In her 2005 song “π,” Kate Bush sings the number π to its 78th decimal place, then jumps abruptly to the 101st and finishes at the 137th.

The BBC’s More or Less advanced the “Kate Bush conjecture”: that the digits that Bush sings are contained somewhere in the decimal expansion of π — just not at the start.

The conjecture is true if π turns out to be a “normal” number, meaning essentially that all possible sequences of digits (of a given length) appear equally often in its expansion.

π hasn’t been proven to have this property, though it’s expected to be the case. So, for now, “The Kate Bush conjecture is plausible but unproven.”

Science Fiction

For the writer of fantastic stories to help the reader to play the game properly, he must help him in every possible unobtrusive way to domesticate the impossible hypothesis. He must trick him into an unwary concession to some plausible assumption and get on with his story while the illusion holds. And that is where there was a certain slight novelty in my stories when first they appeared. Hitherto, except in exploration fantasies, the fantastic element was brought in by magic. Frankenstein even, used some jiggery-pokery magic to animate his artificial monster. There was trouble about the thing’s soul. But by the end of last century it had become difficult to squeeze even a momentary belief out of magic any longer. It occurred to me that instead of the usual interview with the devil or a magician, an ingenious use of scientific patter might with advantage be substituted. That was no great discovery. I simply brought the fetish stuff up to date, and made it as near actual theory as possible.

— H.G. Wells, June 1934 (from the H.G. Wells Scrapbook)

No More Pencils

school's out

School’s out for summer, Belleville, Illinois, 1974.

“There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school.” — George Bernard Shaw

“It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” — Albert Einstein

“I have not the least doubt that school developed in me nothing but what was evil and left the good untouched.” — Edvard Grieg

“I hope we still have some bright twelve-year-olds who are interested in science. We must be careful not to discourage our twelve-year-olds by making them waste the best years of their lives on preparing for examinations.” — Freeman Dyson

“Education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.” — Bertrand Russell

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” — E.M. Forster

A Moment

During the burning of Washington in the War of 1812, when a British expeditionary force leveled a cannon at the Patent Office, superintendent William Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.'”

“The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction. … When the smoke cleared from the dreadful attack, the Patent Office was the only Government building … left untouched.”

(From R. Beresford’s Brief History of the United States Patent Office From Its Foundation, 1886.)