Black and White

wainwright chess problem

A densely imaginative little problem by Joseph C.J. Wainwright. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Light and Shadow

yamashita building blocks

Building Blocks, by Kumi Yamashita. “I sculpt using both light and shadow. I construct single or multiple objects and place them in relation to a single light source. The complete artwork is therefore comprised of both the material (the solid objects) and the immaterial (the light or shadow).”

More.

A Catalog of Clever Expedients

https://books.google.com/books?id=vOhIAAAAMAAJ

Henry T. Brown’s 1868 mechanical encyclopedia Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements is being animated on this fascinating site — see working demonstrations of hundreds of mechanical linkages from the age of steam.

Note that it’s a work in progress — the movements that have been animated are indicated with colored thumbnails. Owner Matt Keveney plans eventually to animate all 507 movements in Brown’s original text.

(Thanks, Sharon.)

Unquote

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” — Oscar Wilde

“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.” — Bernard Berenson

“Convictions are variable; to be always consistent is to be sometimes dishonest.” — Ambrose Bierce

Podcast Episode 251: Joseph Palmer’s Beard

https://books.google.com/books?id=Wc0QAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA56

In 1830 Joseph Palmer created an odd controversy in Fitchburg, Massachusetts: He wore a beard when beards were out of fashion. For this social sin he was shunned, attacked, and ultimately jailed. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of a bizarre battle against irrational prejudice.

We’ll also see whether a computer can understand knitting and puzzle over an unrewarded long jump.

See full show notes …

Misc

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pondapple/16890700391
Image: Flickr
  • At the equinox, the sun rises due east at every latitude.
  • UPPER TYPEWRITER ROW is typed on the upper row of a typewriter.
  • 32785 = 3 + 2 × 7 + 85
  • In the Mbabaram Aboriginal language of north Queensland, dog means dog.
  • The London Times has published no obituary for Sherlock Holmes. Therefore he exists.

(Thanks, Sanford.)

Practice

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Margaret_Isabel_Dicksee_The_Child_Handel_1893.jpg

Margaret Isabel Dicksee’s 1893 painting The Child Handel is based on a story about the composer’s childhood:

Handel’s father strongly opposed the child’s passionate love for music, and the more his great gifts developed the more severely was he forbidden to occupy himself with music. The little boy was obliged to have recourse to subterfuge, and when his elders believed him snug in bed he used to steal on tip-toe to the lumber-room, where he had discovered an old spinet, on which he played softly to his heart’s content, alone and fancy-free. In one of these moments of enjoyment, when the divine genius spoke to the child, he forgot himself and played louder and louder — all the sound of the old spinet streamed through the silent night, waking the sleepers in the house, who believed that the angels were keeping vigil over the old town of Halle. But little George’s father bethought himself of the musical propensities of the boy, and, as the latter was not to be found in his bed, the lantern was lit and a search-party followed where the music led them. Alas! Poor George was found, severely reprimanded, and dismissed to bed.

This telling is from the Strand, April 1904. The story is disputed, but Handel did display enough skill as a child to induce Duke Johann Adolf I to recommend him for musical instruction.

Crowd Control

Tokyo has the world’s busiest train stations, handling 13 billion passenger trips a year. To keep things running smoothly it relies on some subtle features to manipulate passenger behavior.

Blue lights mounted discreetly at either end of a platform, the points at which prospective suicides contemplate leaping into the path of oncoming trains, have been associated with an 84 percent decline in such attempts.

Rail operator JR East commissioned composer Hiroaki Ide to replace the grating buzzer that used to signal a train’s departure with short, pleasant jingles known as hassha melodies. These have produced a 25 percent reduction in passenger injuries due to rushing.

Stations also disperse young people by playing 17-kilohertz tones that can generally only be heard by those under 25. And rail employees are trained to use the “point and call” method, shisa kanko, in executing tasks. Physically pointing at an object and verbalizing one’s intentions has been shown to reduce human error by as much as 85 percent.

(Thanks, Sharon.)

“To My Pupil”

Lewis Carroll’s 1885 puzzle book A Tangled Tale bears an anonymous dedication:

Beloved Pupil! Tamed by thee,
Addish-, Subtrac-, Multiplica-tion,
Division, Fractions, Rule of Three,
Attest thy deft manipulation!
Then onward! Let the voice of Fame
From Age to Age repeat thy story,
Till thou has won thyself a name
Exceeding even Euclid's glory!

He was thinking of Edith Rix, a child-friend who went on to study mathematics at Cambridge. She might have divined without asking that the dedication was intended for her. How?

Click for Answer

The McGurk Effect

In 1976 psychologist Harry McGurk discovered that seeing a person speak affects our impression of the sound we hear. Faced with conflicting information, the brain seems to make its “best guess” as to what it’s perceiving. In some cases a third sound is produced: When the syllables /ba-ba/ are spoken over the lip movements /ga-ga/, the perception is /da-da/.

This casts doubt on the assumption that the senses operate separately and can be studied in isolation. Psychologists and philosophers are still considering the implications.

(Harry McGurk and John MacDonald, “Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices,” Nature 264:5588 [1976], 746.)