Notice

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gustave_Dor%C3%A9_-_Dante_Alighieri_-_Inferno_-_Plate_8_(Canto_III_-_Abandon_all_hope_ye_who_enter_here).jpg

In Dante’s Inferno, a sign above the gate to hell reads LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA, VOI CH’ENTRATE.

There are many ways to translate this (Robert Ripley claimed to find 100), but a common one is ABANDON YE ALL HOPE WHO ENTER HERE.

By an unlikely coincidence, this yields ABANDON Y.A.H.W.E.H.

(Discovered by Dave Morice.)

Borrowed Trouble

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edvard_Munch_-_Melancholy_(1894).jpg

“There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!” — Seneca

“How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!” — Thomas Jefferson

“Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.” — Balzac

“Ills that never happened, have chiefly made thee wretched.” — Martin Farquhar Tupper

“I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.” — James Garfield

“Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come.” — James Russell Lowell

“Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.” — Theodore N. Vail

Podcast Episode 186: The Children’s Blizzard

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scenes_and_Incidents_from_the_Recent_Terrible_Blizzard_in_Dakota_(Schoolhouse_Blizzard).jpg

In January 1888, after a disarming warm spell, a violent storm of blinding snow and bitter cold suddenly struck the American Midwest, trapping farmers in fields, travelers on roads, and hundreds of children in schoolhouses with limited fuel. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Children’s Blizzard, one of the most harrowing winter storms in American history.

We’ll also play 20 Questions with a computer and puzzle over some vanishing vultures.

See full show notes …

Paper Chase

Izhar Gafni makes bicycles out of cardboard. The Israeli mechanical engineer can make a 20-pound bicycle that will support a rider of nearly 250 pounds, and its low-cost components make it unattractive to thieves — Gafni fashions the frame, wheels, handlebars, and saddle from sheets of cardboard that are folded and glued together; the tires and drive belt are recycled rubber, and the seat and some of the gears are made of recycled plastic bottles. “It’s one of the most green products you can imagine,” his partner Nimrod Elmish told the Times of Israel in 2012.

The company is pursuing partnerships to distribute cardboard bicycles and wheelchairs in Africa at little to no cost for the end user. “There is much to say about cardboard,” Elmish said. “This bicycle is the beginning of a materials revolution.”

Stopwatch Cinema

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:High_Noon1.JPG

High Noon unfolds in real time — the running time of the story closely parallels the running time of the film itself. Producer Stanley Kramer said that the filmmakers hoped this would “create a sense of urgency as the noon hour approached.” Director Fred Zinnemann wrote the word CLOCK next to many scenes in his script, and he prepared a list of inserts in which clocks would be prominently visible:

Scene 36 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 10:40 a.m.
Scene 60 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 10:51 a.m.
Scene 76 — Helen’s Room — Clock 10:55 a.m.
Scene 86 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 11:02 a.m.
Scene 96 — Helen’s Room — Clock 11:05 a.m.
Scene 101 — Marshal’s Office — Clock 11:07 a.m.
Scene 130 — Saloon — Clock 11:19 a.m.
Scene 144 — Mart Howe’s House — Clock 11:26 a.m.
Scene 231 — Saloon — Clock 11:44 a.m.
Scene 256 — Hotel Lobby — Clock 11:50 a.m.
Scene 303 — Saloon — Clock 11:59 a.m.
Scene 312 — Saloon — Clock 12:00 p.m.

An insert for Scene 294 was never shot — it would have started on a pendulum and panned up to show a clock with no hands, superimposed on a closeup of Gary Cooper’s Will Kane. Zinnemann said he’d got the idea from a handless clock he’d seen in front of a funeral home on Sunset Boulevard. He said it “would have intensified the feeling of panic.”

(From Michael Francis Blake, Code of Honor, 2003.)

Signs of the Times

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fucking,_Austria,_street_sign_cropped.jpg

For years the village of Fucking, Austria, was plagued by sniggering tourists, who stole its distinctive road signs to keep as souvenirs. Replacing them cost 300 Euros per sign, which meant higher taxes for the residents. They considered changing the name of the village, but, said mayor Siegfried Höppl, “Everyone here knows what it means in English, but for us Fucking is Fucking — and it’s going to stay Fucking.”

Finally they installed theft-resistant signs that are welded to steel and secured in concrete. “We will not stand for the Fucking signs being removed,” said the local police chief. “It may be very amusing for you British, but Fucking is simply Fucking to us. What is this big Fucking joke? It is puerile.”

The residents of Shitterton, Dorset, had a simpler idea — they had their hamlet’s name carved into a 1.5-ton block of stone and had it installed with a crane. “We would get a nice new shiny sign from the council and five minutes later, it was gone,” said Ian Ventham, chairman of Bere Regis Parish Council. “We thought, ‘Let’s put in a ton and a half of stone and see them try and take that away in the back of a Ford Fiesta.'”

UDPATE: Another frequently stolen road sign is in East Kent, half a mile from Ham and 3 miles from Sandwich:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ham_Sandwich_finger_post_-_geograph.org.uk_-_302959.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

(Thanks, Dave.)

A Helping Fin

In January 2009, marine ecologists Robert Pitman and John Durban were watching a group of Antarctic killer whales wash a seal off an ice floe when, surprisingly, a pair of humpback whales intervened:

Exposed to lethal attack in the open water, the seal swam frantically toward the humpbacks, seeming to seek shelter, perhaps not even aware that they were living animals. (We have known fur seals in the North Pacific to use our vessel as a refuge against attacking killer whales.)

Just as the seal got to the closest humpback, the huge animal rolled over on its back — and the 400-pound seal was swept up onto the humpback’s chest between its massive flippers. Then, as the killer whales moved in closer, the humpback arched its chest, lifting the seal out of the water. The water rushing off that safe platform started to wash the seal back into the sea, but then the humpback gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe.

“I was shocked,” Pitman said later. “It looked like they were trying to protect the seal.”

Perhaps they were. Humpbacks organize to protect their own calves, of course, but they also protect other species — indeed, this happened in nearly 90 percent of attacks where the killer whales’ prey could be identified.

Is this evidence of a moral sense among the whales? Donald Broom, an emeritus professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, thinks so — if right means meeting individuals’ basic needs and maintaining their rights, and wrong means impeding these things, then there’s considerable evidence for a sense of morality among nonhumans. In The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell write, “When whales and dolphins go out of their way to help other creatures with their needs that looks pretty moral, at least on the surface.”

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.”