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Archive for July 2009

Good riddance…


How to Get Rid of Things” is

…a do-it-yourself guide dedicated to helping you prevent, eliminate or remove common annoyances from your life. We offer advice about stuff like pest control, physical health problems, mental health problems, housekeeping, personal hygiene, computer repair, stain removal, and much more. All of this served up with a healthy dose of scathing sarcasm and self-deprecating humor by a couple of poor college students who’ve been around the block.

When less is more, click here.

As we simply simplify, we might that it was on this date in 1956, at New York’s Copacabana Club, that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed their last comedy show together– the end of a partnership that started on July 25, 1946.

source: bigbandsandbignames.com

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Written by LW

July 24, 2009 at 12:01 am

284 is an amicable* number…

source: Cornell

… and 192 is the smallest number with 14 divisors…  and 153 is a narcissistic number… and 38 is the last Roman numeral when written lexicographically… and…

Thanks to Dr. Erich Friedman, we can find out “What’s Special About This Number?

* amicable numbers

As we alternate between the ordinal and the cardinal, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that the world got a little smaller, as the Telstar I satellite relayed the first live trans-Atlantic television signal.


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Ground Control to Major John…


Centuries before Neil Armstrong and crew made it– and indeed several years before a falling apple set Isaac Newton to the description of gravity– John Wilkins, a founder of The Royal Society (and a brother-in-law of Oliver Cromwell) drafted plans for an expedition to the moon.

Wilkins believed that we are held on Earth by a form of magnetism. His observations of clouds suggested to him that if man could reach an altitude of just 20 miles, he could be free of this force and be able to fly through space.  So he drafted plans for a real “spaceship,” a flying machine designed like a ship but with a powerful spring, clockwork gears, and a set of wings (covered with feathers from high-flying birds such as swans or geese). He planned to use gunpowder as a primitive form of internal combustion engine.

His plan was materially less costly than NASA’s.  He reckoned that ten or 20 men could club together, spending 20 guineas each, to employ a good blacksmith to assemble such a flying machine from his plans.  Another area of economy was food:  Wilkins was convinced by suggestions that people could go long periods without eating, and imagined that in space, free of Earth’s “magnetism”, there would be no pull on travellers’ digestive organs to make them hungry.

Similarly, breathing presented no problem. It was known that mountaineers suffered breathlessness at high altitude. Wilkins said this was because their lungs were not used to breathing the pure air breathed by angels. In time his astronauts would get used to it and so be able to breathe on their voyage to the Moon.

Records show that Wilkins did in fact experiment in building flying machines with another leading scientist of the age, Robert Hooke, in the gardens of Wadham College, Oxford, around 1654. But by the 1660s, he began to realize that space travel was not as straightforward as he had imagined.

Readers can find the whole story at SkyMania.com

As we raise our sights, we might we might smile to recall that this is the birthday (1844) of another notable Oxonian, William Archibald Spooner, an Anglican clergyman who became Warden of New College, Oxford…  Spooner, the personification of the addled, absent-minded professor, gave us the concept of “Spoonerisms”– the reversal of the opening sounds of words on a phrase– as he  (allegedly) uttered such immortals as:

(In a sermon)  “The Lord is a shoving leopard”

(To a callow student) “You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain”

(At a high table dinner) “Let us raise our glasses to the queer old Dean”

(On preparations for a patriotic occasion) “We’ll have the hags flung out”

Spooner (again, supposedly) once invited a faculty member to tea “to welcome our new archaeology Fellow.”  “But, sir,” the man replied, “I am our new archaeology Fellow.”  “Never mind,” Spooner said, “Come all the same.”

Spooner (by Leslie Hart, for Spy); source: Art.com

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It’s true of desk tops and bedrooms too…

Chaos drives the brain…

Have you ever experienced that eerie feeling of a thought popping into your head as if from nowhere, with no clue as to why you had that particular idea at that particular time? You may think that such fleeting thoughts, however random they seem, must be the product of predictable and rational processes. After all, the brain cannot be random, can it? Surely it processes information using ordered, logical operations, like a powerful computer?

Actually, no. In reality, your brain operates on the edge of chaos. Though much of the time it runs in an orderly and stable way, every now and again it suddenly and unpredictably lurches into a blizzard of noise.

<snip…  read the rest of the New Scientist article here>

As we feel an odd but satisfying rush of reassurance, we might recall that it was exactly 40 years ago– at 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969– that Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he planted his foot on the surface of the moon for the first time.

The statement prepared for Armstrong was “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”…  but the astronaut accidentally dropped the “a,” from his remark, rendering the phrase a contradiction (as “man” in such use is of course synonymous with “mankind”). Armstrong later said that he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said – although it might actually have been.” (And to his latter point, disputed audio analyses of the tapes of the radio message suggest that Armstrong did include the “a,” but that the limitations of the broadcast masked it…)

Armstrong, about to step onto the moon

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Written by LW

July 21, 2009 at 12:01 am

What’s Bad is Good for You, Part 13…

source: Babble.com

Uttering expletives when you hurt yourself is a sensible policy, according to scientists who have shown swearing can help reduce pain.

A study by Keele University researchers found volunteers who cursed at will could endure pain nearly 50% longer than civil-tongued peers.

They believe swearing helps us downplay being hurt in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo.

The work by Dr Richard Stephens’ team appears in the journal NeuroReport.

Dr Stephens, from Keele’s school of psychology, came up with the idea for the study after swearing when he accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer as he built a garden shed.


Read the entire d*mned BBC report here.

As we savor alternative anaesthetics, we might think loving thoughts of “Laura” as her dedicated poet, Francesco Petrarca– Petrarch– was born on this date in 1304.  Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was famous for his paeans to his idealized lover “Laura” (modeled, many scholars believe, on the wife of Hugues de Sade whom he met in Avignon in 1327, and who died in 1348).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).


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Explanations one would really rather not have to give…

EATR (source)

From a press release issued by Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technology:

In response to rumors circulating the internet on sites such as FoxNews.com, FastCompany.com and CNET News about a “flesh eating” robot project [ c.f., e.g., EATR: The Robot That Can Survive on Corpses], Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. (Pink Sheets: CYPW) and Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI) would like to set the record straight: This robot is strictly vegetarian.

On July 7, Cyclone announced that it had completed the first stage of development for a beta biomass engine system used to power RTI’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™), a Phase II SBIR project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Sciences Office. RTI’s EATR is an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling.

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” stated Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO. “We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.”

As we contemplate off-label uses, we might also celebrate the happier fall-out of military maneuvers, as it was on this date in 1799 (or close; scholars agree that it was “mid-July” but disagree on the precise day) that a French soldier in Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign discovered a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria.

The stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts inscribed by priests of Ptolemy V in the second century B.C.– Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Egyptian demotic.  The Greek passage proclaimed that the three scripts were all of identical meaning– so allowed French Egyptologist Jean Francois Champollion to decipher the hieroglyphics… and opened the language of ancient Egypt, a written language that had been “dead” for nearly two millennia.

The Rosetta Stone

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By our pocket protectors ye shall know us…

source: thocp.net/TI

When your correspondent reported to Business School, he was prepared to work on sharpening his slide rule skills.  Every entering student up to that fateful year was required to use one to accomplish the capacious calculations involved in deriving present values, discovering internal rates of return, and the like.  But students entering in 1974 were the first class required to purchase an “electronic calculator.”  Your correspondent bought his first,  a Texas Instruments SR-10.

So one can imagine his satisfaction at learning that the TI SR-10 is honored in CIO Magazine‘s list of “The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Last 50 Years” (as indeed it has been by its inclusion in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute)… Scan the full list for a roster of gizmos and devices that have changed lives over the last half-century.

As we reach for fresh batteries, we might strain to hear Nero’s noodling on the fiddle, as it was on this date in 64 CE that Rome began to burn.

The Great Fire of Rome

Written by LW

July 18, 2009 at 12:01 am

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