(Roughly) Daily

“It isn’t that they cannot see the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.”*…

 

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From Zogg from Betelgeuse , “Mathematics: Measuring x Laziness²,” the latest entry in the Earthlings 101 series– a beginner’s guide for alien visitors.

* G.K. Chesterton

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As we dazzle ‘em with differentials, we might spare a thought for Sir Sandford Fleming; he died on this date in 1915.  A Scottish engineer who emigrated to Canada, Fleming designed much of the Intercolonial Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway; was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada; founded the Royal Canadian Institute; and designed the first Canadian postage stamp (the Threepenny Beaver, issued in 1851),  But he is best remembered as the man who divided the world into time zones– the inventor of Worldwide Standard Time.

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Written by LW

July 22, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There is no better high than discovery”*…

 

Be careful what you use as a bookmark. Thousands of dollars, a Christmas card signed by Frank Baum, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, a marriage certificate from 1879, a baby’s tooth, a diamond ring and a handwritten poem by Irish writer Katharine Tynan Hickson are just some of the stranger objects discovered inside books by AbeBooks.com booksellers.

I recently opened a secondhand book and an airline boarding pass from Liberia in west Africa to Fort Worth, Texas, fell to the floor. Was there a story behind this little slip of paper? Was someone fleeing from a country ravaged by two civil wars since 1989? I will never know, but used and rare booksellers discover countless objects – some mundane, some bizarre, some deeply personal – inside books as they sort and catalog books for resale.

Adam Tobin, owner of Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, New York, has created a display inside his bookstore dedicated to objects discovered in books.

“It’s a motley assortment,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for about two years since opening the store. The display quickly took over the back wall and now it’s spreading to other places, and there’s a backlog of stuff that we haven’t put up yet. There are postcards, shopping lists, and concert tickets but my favorites are the cryptic notes. They are often deeply personal and can be very moving.”

Used booksellers often take ownership of books that have been in a family or a household for decades or even generations. “It’s easy to find things in books that are very dated,” explained Adam,” Such as a newspaper advert for elastic bands from the 19th century. My personal favorite is an ad from the 1950s that reads ‘Rinsing Dacron Curtains in Milk Makes Them Crisp, Stiff, Just Like New.’”

The most valuable item discovered by Adam is a letter written by C.S. Lewis – author of the Narnia series – but his monetary finds have been limited to a $1 note now pinned to the display.

Eager to learn more, AbeBooks.com asked its booksellers to reveal their finds. You might be surprised to learn what people will leave inside a book…

Discover this buried treasure at “Things Found in Books.”

[TotH to @MartyKrasney]

* E.O. Wilson

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As we rifle through the volumes in our libraries, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1887 that there occured an event that would surely have warmed Dr. Wilson’s heart:  an enormous “rain of ants” at Nancy in France.; “most of them were wingless” (Nature, 36-349.. as quoted in Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned).

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Written by LW

July 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“A self-made man may prefer a self-made name”*…

 

In the Museum of Chinese in America, two blocks north of Canal Street in New York City, a small, illuminated tile informs visitors that “sometime before 1865,” a Chinese American squirrel trapper known as “Poison Jim” found the mustard plant “growing weedlike in the Salinas Valley.” By selling the seeds, he “unintentionally turn[ed] mustard into a commercial crop” in the United States. A textbook published in 2010 repeats the story, with Poison Jim making and selling mustard until it “became a major California product.”

“Poison Jim Chinaman” was first documented by the little-known writer Owen Clarke Treleaven, who published a six-page story about him in a 1919 issue of the Overland Monthly, a magazine serving middle-class readers a diet of human interest pieces and folksy caricatures of the American West long after its wildest years were behind it. Writers glibly peddled stereotypes about the multiethnic fabric of frontier societies; the issue in which Treleaven’s story appeared also included an article on “Queer Korean Superstitions” and a poem called “Loleeta—An Indian Lyric”…

Read the spicy story of Jim’s story, in it’s entirety, in The Awl: “The Legend of Poison Jim, the Mustard King.”

* Learned Hand

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As we take our mustard with a grain of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Mark Twain published his account of his 1867 “Great Pleasure Excursion” aboard a retired Civil War ship, the chartered vessel Quaker City, through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers– The Innocents Abroad.  Masquerading as an ordinary travel book, it cinched Twain’s reputation as a humorous observer; it was his best-selling book during his lifetime, and is one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

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Written by LW

July 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“If lightning is the anger of the gods, then the gods are concerned mostly about trees”*…

 

Lightning strikes around the world– in real time.

* Lao Tzu

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As we reach for our rods, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that the U.S. detonated an atomic weapon on a test range in the Yucca Flats in Nevada-a  test of the Air Force’s AIR-2 Genie missile with a nuclear warhead, part of the Plumbbob series, the biggest, longest, and most controversial test series in the continental United States: 29 tests, of which only two failed to detonate.  Exactly seven years later– on this date in 1964– the Soviet Union performed a nuclear test in Eastern Kazakh.

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Written by LW

July 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“He do the Police in different voices”*…

 

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Police blotters aren’t tasked with remembering criminals or crafting their deeds into a hardboiled narrative. When newspapers can only spare a sentence to describe a raft of offenses, fitting the who, what, where, when and why into a roundup of the cops and courts beat’s leftovers is hard enough.

The magic of police blotters, however, is that a sentence alone can be mightily revealing…

For example:

California

A resident reported a large light in the sky. It was the moon.

– 2002, reported in the San Jose Mercury News

9:53 p.m. When a roommate moved out, he took several unweaned kittens with him. 

– August 13, 2013, reported in the Arcata Eye (which was profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle for its police blotter)

Nevada

8:30 p.m. — A caller in the vicinity of Bloomfield Graniteville Road and Bush Road reported an “illegal wedding,” with a PA system.

12:25 a.m. — A 911 caller on the 14000 block of Meadow Drive stated that “There is electromagnetic radar, and she has no emergency at this time.”

– June 2, 2014, as reported by the Union

Virginia

A resident reported that she and her sister had become involved in an argument that became more heated when the topic of religion arose. The sister decided she would call a friend or a cab and leave the residence.

– June 29, 2012, as reported by the Vienna Police Department

A state-by-state sampling of the poetry of police blotters at “All crimes are local: America’s police blotters, indexed.”

* Betty Higden, of her adopted foundling son Sloppy, in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend : “You mightn’t think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.”   “He do the Police in different voices” was T.S. Eliot’s original tile for the poem we know as “The Waste Land.”

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As we tune our scanners, we might bake a laced cake for journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson; he was born in Louisville on this date in 1929.  The author of Hell’s AngelsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is widely credited as the creator of the Gonzo school of journalism (an extreme form of New Journalism in which the reporter isn’t simply present, he/she is central), and widely remembered for his love of inebriates and guns, and for his hate of authoritarianism in general and Richard Nixon in particular.

…the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.
– Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72  (1973)

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Written by LW

July 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All Cretans are liars”*…

 

A recent psychological study suggests that, while fibbing is a pretty universal phenomenon, a small proportion of the population are responsible for the vast majority of lies told in the U.S. and the U.K.  The British Psychological Society reports on the results– and the epistemological issues they raise…

Epimenides, a Cretan

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As we ask after Diogenes, we might send procedural birthday greetings to Erle Stanley Gardner; he was born on this date in 1889.  An attorney, Gardner applied his legal skill to writing detective fiction; working under his own name and a set of pseudonyms (A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray, and Robert Parr– and to a self-imposed quota of 1,200,000 words per year– he is best known for his Perry Mason series, which went on to become first a radio, then a television series.  His books have sold over 200 million copies in 30 languages.

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Written by LW

July 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Any color– so long as it is black”*…

 

A British company has produced a “strange, alien” material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the “super black” coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

If it was used to make one of Chanel’s little black dresses, the wearer’s head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.

Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.

The nanotube material, named Vantablack, has been grown on sheets of aluminum foil by the Newhaven-based company. While the sheets may be crumpled into miniature hills and valleys, this landscape disappears on areas covered by it [as seen in the photo above]…

Read more about the new material– “pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine”– in “Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can’t see it.”

* Henry Ford, describing the choices in purchasing a Model T

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As we reach for our torches, we might recall that it was on this date in 622 that the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who’d been warned of a pending assassination attempt, and his followers began their migration from Mecca to Medina– an event known as “Hijra” (Arabic: هِجْرَة‎ hijrah, or Hijrat or Hegira).  The Hijra was later declared the beginning of the Muslim calendar, so that any subsequent date is known. a la “AD” or “CE,” as “AH” (Anno Hijra).

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Written by LW

July 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

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