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Posts Tagged ‘The Simpsons

“Reason is the first casualty in a drought”*…

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Powell identified this line as marking the point where the average annual rainfall dropped from 61 centimeters on the eastern edge to 46 centimeters at the western edge. New research shows a sharp aridity gradient still exists, but it’s moved east a bit, closer to the 98th meridian. Climate models predict it will move farther eastward in coming decades. Credit: National Atlas, modified by K. Cantner, AGI.

n 1878, without benefit of the Landsat program, GPS or Google, and just a decade after the creation of the National Weather Service, John Wesley Powell first advanced the idea that the climatic boundary between the United States’ humid East and arid West lay along a line “about midway in the Great Plains” — almost exactly 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. This line, the 100th meridian, runs from pole to pole and cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. The 100th meridian also corresponds roughly to the 600-meter elevation contour as the land rises from the Great Plains toward the Rockies.

In his 1878 “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States,” Powell identified the “arid region” as the land west of the 51-centimeter-per-year rainfall line, which closely tracked the 100th meridian. This amount of rainfall per year is about the minimum that permits farming without irrigation, and it also greatly influences the types of crops that can be grown. The line Powell noted as dividing the arid and humid sections of the continent has become known as the “effective” 100th meridian.

Powell’s original goal in describing the effective 100th meridian as a dividing line was to persuade the federal government to bear in mind the greater aridity when planning for settlement and development in the western territories, which would be very different than in the moisture-rich east…

Today, the 100th meridian is still considered a climatic boundary line, but that will likely change in the coming decades: The 51-centimeter rainfall line is gradually moving east due to climate change, according to recent research…

The very middle of the U.S. is becoming increasing drier, with what are sure to be huge consequences: “Dividing line: The past, present and future of the 100th Meridian.”

* Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

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As we ponder parching, we might send environmentally-unfriendly birthday greetings to C. Montgomery Burns; he was (fictionally) born on this date in 1893. A recurring character in the animated television series The Simpsons (voiced initially by Christopher Collins, and currently by Harry Shearer), he is the evil, devious, greedy, and fabulously wealthy owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and, by extension, Homer Simpson’s boss.

“Excellent.”

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Written by LW

September 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled”*…

 

Froebel

 

In the late 1700s, a young man named Freidrich Froebel was on track to become an architect when a friend convinced him to pursue a path toward education instead. And in changing course, Froebel arguably ended up having more influence on the world of architecture and design than any single architect — all because Friedrich Froebel created kindergarten. If you’ve ever looked at a piece of abstract art or Modernist architecture and thought “my kindergartener could have made that,” well, that may be more true than you realize…

The word Kindergarten cleverly encompassed two different ideas: kids would play in and learn from nature, but they would also themselves be nurtured and nourished “like plants in a garden.” There were literal gardens and outdoor activities, but the real key to it all was a set of deceptively simple-looking toys that became known as Froebelgaben (in English: Froebel’s Gifts)…

Learn about those educational “toys” and their extraordinary legacy, at “Froebel’s Gifts.”

* Plutarch

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As we appreciate play, we might recall that it was on this date in 1987 that The Simpsons made their debut on television in “Good Night,” the first of 48 shorts that aired on The Tracey Ullman Show, before the characters were given their own eponymously-titled show– now the longest-running scripted series in U.S. television history.

250px-Good_Night_Simpsons

A frame from the final sequence of “Good Night”

 

Written by LW

April 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

Why did 5 eat 6?…

 

For over two decades, The Simpsons has been one of the best written and most entertaining programs on television.  Simon Singh believes that he’s discovered the series’ secret sauce:  it’s written by math geeks who unreservedly lard the show with math gags…

The first proper episode of the series in 1989 contained numerous mathematical references (including a joke about calculus), while the infamous “Treehouse of Horror VI” episode presents the most intense five minutes of mathematics ever broadcast to a mass audience. Moreover, The Simpsons has even offered viewers an obscure joke about Fermat’s last theorem, the most notorious equation in the history of mathematics.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, because the show’s writing team includes several mathematical heavyweights. Al Jean, who worked on the first series and is now executive producer, went to Harvard University to study mathematics at the age of just 16. Others have similarly impressive degrees in maths, a few can even boast PhDs, and Jeff Westbrook resigned from a senior research post at Yale University to write scripts for Homer, Marge and the other residents of Springfield…

More on the numerical nuttiness here.

And readers can test themselves against The Simpsons writing room in this multiple choice test (wherein one will find, among other amusements, the answer to the riddle in the title above).

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As we wonder how cartoon characters count with only four fingers, we might pause to remember Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, OM, FRS; he died in this date in 1944.  An astrophysicist, mathematician, and philosopher of science known for his work on the motion, distribution, evolution and structure of stars, Eddington is probably best remembered for his relationship to Einstein:  he was, via a series of widely-published articles, the primary “explainer” of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity to the English-speaking world; and he was, in 1919, the leader of the experimental team that used observations of a solar eclipse to confirm the theory.

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Written by LW

November 22, 2013 at 1:01 am

Tube boobs…

 

There’s a near-embarrassment of good television these days; we are, it seems, in a golden age.  But it’s worth remembering that there has been extraordinary writing and production available right along.  Indeed, the series that’s arguably the consistently best-written show on TV has been running since 1989.

We can be grateful to Adrien Noterdaem for witty reminders to this effect– for his series of drawings depicting the chief characters in today’s best productions in the style of the long-running champ:

John Luther & Alice Morgan from “Luther”

Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson from “Elementary”

See many more at Simpsonized.

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As we program our DVRs, we might send calculatedly campy birthday greetings to Paul Reubens; he was born on this date in 1952.  An actor, writer, film producer, game show host, and comedian, he is of course best known for his character Pee-Wee Herman.

The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting…

– Pee-Wee Herman

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Written by LW

August 27, 2013 at 1:01 am

“The map is not the territory”…

The Treachery of Images,” René Magritte, 1928-9

Alfred Korzybski reminds one (in the title-line quote, above), as does Surrealist wit like Magritte’s, that representations are not the things they represent.

Still, they fascinate us– precisely because of their power to evoke the thing that they aren’t.  And when the things that maps evoke aren’t real things at all?  Even niftier!

Consider, for example, two kinds of maps of fictional territories…

For nine years, from 1943 to 1952, Dell published 557 mystery novels with “map backs.”  Some charted fictional action on “real” terrain, for instance…

But most located the imagined plot in an imaginary setting, for example…

and…

In a different imaginary arena (not to say “a parallel universe”), the world of comics, comic books, and graphic novels, maps also play an important role…

Sometimes they are used to elaborate on a conceit in a way that adds narrative credibility through detail, e.g…

Nick Fury’s Tunnel, Strange Tales #141

…and sometimes, simply for dramatic effect, e.g…

Superman throws out the first pitch

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: A hypperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is never the less the map that proceeds the territory – pressesion of simulacra- that engenders the territory.
– Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra & Simulation, 1994

Or, as someone who isn’t a French Post-Structuralist might say, way cool!

Readers can find more Bantam map-backs at Marble River’s Ephemera (from whence, the examples above) and at Mystery Scene.  Readers can get more graphic guidance at Comic Book Cartography (the source of those examples).  Grateful TotH to reader MH-H for the lead to CBC.

As we endeavor (but not too hard) to avoid the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1987 (44 years to the day after “Bicycle Day,” the day that  Dr. Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, deliberately took the hallucinogen for the first time) that The Simpsons debuted, as a short within The Tracey Ullman Show.

The Simpsons, as they first appeared

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