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Posts Tagged ‘Stanford

“What I desire of a poem is a clear understanding of motive”*…

I’m not a Hollywood scriptwriter, but if I were, I know what screenplay I’d write. Imagine a violent murder at the epicenter of early Santa Clara Valley—soon to be renamed Silicon Valley in the popular imagination—and an innocent man sent to Death Row at San Quentin. But a famous literary critic emerges as the super sleuth who gets him freed, amid dark evocations of scandal involving corrupt politicians and murky underworld figures. 

You don’t need to imagine it, because it really happened. It’s like the movie Chinatown—in fact, it took place during the same era as that scrumptiously vintage film—but with intriguing literary twists and turns. And, like Chinatown, it possesses all the same overtones of a brutal California origin myth. It would make a riveting film. But in this case the story is true.

On Memorial Day in 1933, a woman’s [Allene Lamson’s] naked body was found, apparently bludgeoned to death, in her Stanford campus home. Within an hour of their arrival on the crime scene, the police had already decided that the husband [David Lamson]—always the prime suspect in a case of this sort—must be the murderer. 

The police never took any other explanation seriously. A student named John Venderlip had seen a suspicious character near the Lamson home the morning of the crime, as well as the night before. But no effort went into investigating this lead. The possibility of accidental death was ruled out, too, although it would later play a decisive role in the case.

This web of speculation and insinuation proved sufficient to get a conviction after a three-week trial that was front page news day after day. The jury only deliberated for eight hours before delivering a guilty verdict. The judge handed out the death penalty—a court-mandated hanging within 90 days. And David Lamson was sent off to San Quentin to await his imminent execution on Death Row. 

And that would seem to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t. And the main reason for this surprising turn into the biggest crime story of its day was a mild-mannered poet and literary critic named Yvor Winters…

In the 1930s, Yvor Winters legitimized literary studies at Stanford—but Hollywood should make a movie about his skills as an amateur detective. A remarkable story from the remarkable Ted Gioia (@tedgioia): “When a Famous Literary Critic Unraveled Silicon Valley’s Most Sensational Murder Case.”

And for further (entertaining, but wholly fictional) accounts of a literary critic’s sleuthing, see Edmund Crispin‘s Gervase Fen novels…

* Yvor Winters

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As we consider the clues, we might remind our selves that if the history of the universe was condensed into a year, the Milky Way would form on this date (May 15), life on earth would appear on September 21, and the dinosaurs would go extinct on December 30. Modern humans would evolve on December 31 at 11:52 PM and Columbus would discover America at 11:59:58 PM. (For more detail: the Cosmic Calendar)

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“There is a magic in graphs”*…

A New Chart of History
Joseph Priestley 1769, London
illustrates the succession of empires to give students a more global view of history across space and time. Vertical space indicates each empire’s significance, as assigned by Priestley. Click here for zoomable version

Data visualization leapt from its Enlightenment origins and into the minds of the general public in the 1760s. It cast more powerful spells throughout the following century. By 1900, modern science, technology, and social movements had all benefited from this new quantitative art. Its inventions include the timeline, bar chart, and thematic map. Together, these innovations changed how we understand the world and our place within it. Data visualization helped a new imagination emerge, wired to navigate a reality much bigger than any single person’s lived experience…

From the introduction to Stanford Library’s (more specifically, the David Rumsey Map Center‘s; @DavidRumseyMaps) glorious exhibition “Data Visualization and the Modern Imagination,” curated by R.J. Andrews (@infowetrust).

Visit the exhibition here.

* Henry D. Hubbard, in the preface to Graphic Presentation

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As we show and tell, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that Henry Winzeler founded the Ohio Art Company. Ohio Art began by offering metal picture frames, but soon settled into into two lines of business: toys (e.g., windmills and a climbing monkey) and custom metal lithography products for food container and specialty premium markets.

Those two themes merged in the very late 1950s, when Ohio Art acquired the rights to French electrician André CassagnesL’Écran Magique (The Magic Screen)– a drawing toy that allowed users to spin knobs to create line drawings, which could be erased by by turning the device upside down and shaking it. Ohio Art renamed it the Etch A Sketch… and it went on to sell over 100 million units and to earn a place in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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Written by LW

October 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

Knowing the Distance: More Fun With Numbers…

The Fibonacci sequence describes the golden ratio (or golden spiral), an ideal form found in the more beautiful corners of nature, and much beloved by designers everywhere.

The Fibonacci numbers are the sum of the previous two numbers in the sequence, starting with 0 and 1:  0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…

A Fibonacci spiral created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in a Fibonacci tiling; this one uses squares of sizes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and 34. (source)

It turns out that the Fibonacci sequence also neatly matches the relationship between kilometers and miles. Three miles is five kilometers, five miles is eight kilometers, eight miles is 13 kilometers.  It’s not perfect: eight miles is actually 12.875 kilometers– but it’s close enough in a pinch.

If one needs to convert a number that’s not in the Fibonacci sequence, one can simply break out the Fibonacci numbers, convert, and add the answers.  For instance, 100 can be broken down into 89 + 8 + 3, all Fibonacci numbers. The next numbers are 144, 13, and 5, which add up to 162. 100 miles is actually equal to 160.934 kilometers.  But again, close enough.

photo: Matt Hampel

[TotH to MNN]

Special bonus arithmetic amusement:  the quadratic equation, explained (as though) by Dr. Seuss.

As we marvel at math, we might wish a Happy Birthday to a master of “numbers” of a different sort; author and prankster Ken Kesey was born on this date in 1935.  While at Stanford in 1959 (studying writing with Wallace Stegner), Kesey was a paid volunteer in CIA-funded LSD trials (Project MKULTRA), an experience that informed his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and that inspired him to form the “Merry Pranksters” and embark on the cross-country school bus trip memorialized in Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

“Leave no turn unstoned.”

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