Posts Tagged ‘history’
“The difference between the poet and the mathematician is that the poet tries to get his head into the heavens while the mathematician tries to get the heavens into his head”*…
74. People once believed that the number of grains of sand is limitless. However, Archimedes argued in The Sand Reckoner that the number of grains of sand is not infinite. He gave a method for calculating the highest number of grains of sand that can fit into the universe– approximately 1063…
100 other titillating tidbits at “101 Mathematical Trivia.”
* G.K. Chesterton
As we count our blessings, we might spare a thought for Sir Christopher Wren; he died on this date in 1723. A mathematician and astronomer, he became one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history when he was was accorded responsibility for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including what is regarded as his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill.
Let’s imagine we’re on a beach that’s a mile long, and on that beach there are a couple of ice cream carts…
Let’s also imagine that the ice cream sold at each cart is identical in quality and cost, so the only reason customers choose one cart over the other is when one cart is closer. Given all of that, the best location of the carts is with each cart halfway between the middle of the beach and one of the ends. In this arrangement each cart gets 50% of the customers, and no one has to walk more than 1/4 mile to get some ice cream.
But what if one of the ice cream vendors decides to move their cart a bit closer to the middle of the beach…
They are now the ice cream cart of choice for a bigger segment of the beach, and will get more business. The other ice cream cart has no choice but to retaliate…
Now once again they each serve the same percentage of the beach-going public. Since any further movement by either cart would mean a loss of business for that cart, they end up permanently side by side, in the middle of the beach, even though this is a less optimal location for their customers.
That is a simple example of something called Hotelling’s law; the tendency of competing products to end up as similar as possible…
As we nose around for niches, we might send ambitious birthday greetings to Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola; he was born on this date in 1463. An Italian philosopher, he undertook, in 1486, at the age of 23, to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, in the process of which he wrote his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”; a revitalization of Neo-Platonism, it was a seminal text of Renaissance humanism and of what has been called the “Hermetic Reformation.”
Your family tree might contain a few curious revelations. It might alert you to the existence of long-lost third cousins. It might tell you your 10-times-great-grandfather once bought a chunk of Brooklyn. It might reveal that you have royal blood. But when family trees includes millions of people—maybe even tens of millions of people—then we’re beyond the realm of individual stories.
When genealogies get so big, they’re not just the story of a family anymore; they contain the stories of whole countries and, at the risk of sounding grandiose, even all of humanity…
The story of the largest family tree so far found– 13 million people. (And yes, that includes Kevin Bacon.): “What Can You Do With the World’s Largest Family Tree?“
* Edmund Burke
As we ruminate on roots, we might spare a thought for Sara Josephine Baker; she died on this date in 1945. A physician and public health pioneer, she was active especially in the immigrant communities of New York City. In 1917, she noted that babies born in the United States faced a higher mortality rate than soldiers fighting in World War I, and undertook her fight against the damage that widespread urban poverty and ignorance caused to children, especially newborns. She founded the Bureau of Child Hygiene after visiting mothers on the lower east side, was appointed assistant to the Commissioner for Public Health of New York City, then headed the city’s Department of Health in Hell’s Kitchen for 25 years. Among many other initiatives, she set up free milk clinics, licensed midwives, and taught the use of silver nitrate to prevent blindness in newborns.
She is also known for (twice) tracking down Mary Mallon, the infamous index case known as Typhoid Mary.
Over his forty-year career, he has become a shaman of coffee. He’s known among third-wave coffee producers as a prophet of the terroir-focused, light-roast way of life, a man who gives three-hour PowerPoint presentations detailing every facet of the production process, and the rare boomer in a scene made up mostly of people who were either in grade school or not even born when George opened his first shop. People who have worked with him, or seen him speak, or run into him in Ethiopia or Guatemala (“at origin,” in coffee-world lingo), talk about his enthusiasm, his taste, his curiosity, his strong opinions on coffee processing. But mostly they talk about his pragmatically mystical conviction that a higher truth of coffee exists, and that we can figure out how to get to it…
* David Lynch
As we take it black, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that the Dr. Miles Medicine Company of Elkhart, Indiana introduce Alka-Seltzer, an effervescent combination of aspirin for headache relief, fevers, and body pain and bi-carbonate of soda to neutralize acids and settle the stomach. (Twenty years later, Miles introduced their “Speedy” mascot.)
The images that pop up in most people’s heads when they think about superheroes can be traced back to the 1938 debut of Superman and the genre evolution that followed. But it’s possible to go back even further, connecting the Hulk to the ancient epic poem of Gilgamesh, and Batman to 17th Century cross-dressing crimefighter Moll Cutpurse…
Heroic history at: “How Ancient Legends Gave Birth to Modern Superheroes.”
* Stephen Hawking
As we investigate our icons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1885 that Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the U.S. Considered by many to be the Great American Novel, Huckleberry Finn has been controversial from it birth (e.g., here and here)– indeed, the controversy began before its birth: The UK and Canadian edition came out two months earlier; the U.S. version was delayed because one of the engravers added an obscenity to one of the illustrations: on p. 283, an illustration of Aunt Sally and Silas Phelps was augmented by the addition of a penis. Thirty thousand copies of the book had been printed before the unwanted addition was discovered. A new plate was made to correct the illustration and repair the existing copies; still, copies with the so-called “curved fly” plate remain valuable collectors items.
The human urge to own land sometimes borders on the absurd… Do we have too many cities with too few people in them? (Answer: Yes!) But there’s an implicit question embedded in that notion of anti-NIMBY place-making, once posed by Leo Tolstoy: “How much land does a man need?”
Tolstoy’s answer was pretty grim. But leave it to a YouTuber to take that existential literary question literally by asking, “How much land does humanity need?”
That’s the issue enterprising online video-maker Joseph Pisenti explores on his channel, Real Life Lore.
Pisenti ups the ante on the density game by examining two more specific questions in three videos: How large would a city need to be to fit all of humanity, and how big would a building need to be fit every human being?…
More metropolitan musing– and all three of the videos– at “Could the Human Race Fit in a Single City?”
* Lyric from the song “Don’t Fence Me In”; music by Cole Porter, lyrics by Porter, adapted from a poem by Robert Fletcher. Originally written in 1934 for an unproduced film musical (Adios, Argentina), it was recorded a decade later by Roy Rogers, and (almost simultaneously) Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters; later it was covered by Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.
As we speculate about space, we might spare a thought for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin; he died on this date in 1673. Better known by his stage name, Molière, he was a respected French actor who became one of the great comedic playwrights in Western literature. His worldy farces– The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois Gentleman.– earned him popular adulation… and the scorn of moralists and the Catholic Church. At the time of his death, French law forbade the burial of actors in the sacred ground of a cemetery. But Molière’s widow, Armande, asked the King if her spouse could be granted a normal funeral at night. The King– a fan– agreed, and Molière’s body was buried in the section of a cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants. (Molière’s remains were later transferred to grand Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and re-laid to rest near those of La Fontaine.)
The Found Footage Festival is a one-of-a-kind event that showcases footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters across the country.
Curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher take audiences on a guided tour of their latest and greatest VHS finds, providing live commentary and where-are-they-now updates on the people in these videotaped obscurities. From the curiously-produced industrial training video to the forsaken home movie donated to Goodwill, the Found Footage Festival resurrects these forgotten treasures and serves them up in a lively celebration of all things found…
Explore the wonders at the Found Footage Festival.
[TotH to my friends at the always-illuminating Recommendo]
* Emmanuel Ax
As we watch, wide-eyed, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that David O. Selznick accepted a job offer from his father-in-law, Lewis B. Mayer, and joined MGM as a Vice-President of Production.
Selznick has worked worked briefly at MGM earlier in his career, but had gotten momentum working at RKO (where he oversaw such hits as A Bill of Divorcement and King Kong). At MGM, he created a second “prestige production” unit, parallel to that of the powerful Irving Thalberg (Fitzgerald’s model for The Last Tycoon), who was in poor health. Selznick’s unit prodcued Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), and A Tale of Two Cities (1935).
In 1936, Selznick left to create his own production company. His successes continued with classics such as The Garden of Allah (1936), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), A Star Is Born (1937), Nothing Sacred (1937), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), The Young in Heart (1938), Made for Each Other (1939), Intermezzo (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939), which remains the highest-grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation). Gone with the Wind won eight Oscars and two special awards– and Selznick won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award that same year. In 1940 he produced his second Best Picture Oscar winner in a row, Rebecca, the first Hollywood production for British director Alfred Hitchcock.
While the rest of his career contained a number of successes (Spellbound, Since You Went Away, Duel in the Sun), it never again reached the heights he attained in 1939-40.