Truth is often stranger than fiction. Join us as we explore the unexplained, investigate the enigmatic, inspect the spooky, probe the peculiar, and mull over mysteries that remain unsolved, because solving them would mean they wouldn’t be mysteries.
A stranger arrives at an out of the way roadside diner in rural Montana, orders a cup of coffee and a donut. Without another word, he drinks his coffee, eats half his donut, pays his tab and leaves, never to be seen again. Who was this mysterious stranger, why didn’t he finish his donut, and why did he leave such a small tip? We may never know.
In a small Nevada dessert town a man returns home to discover every LCD clock and appliance display in his home is flashing 12:00. There’s no sign of a break-in or intruder and all clocks and appliances are otherwise in perfect working order. The man resets all the clocks and appliances which have displayed the correct time unfailingly to this day. Was it some sort of elaborate scheme of an unknown practical joker, or something more sinister? We may never know.
A seemingly average American man driving down a well-travelled Cleveland thoroughfare sees a single shoe by the side of the road. Yet no sign of a man wearing only a single shoe is anywhere to be found. How did this mystery man loose a single shoe on the road only to disappear without a trace, just where was the other shoe? We may never know.
On a warm, humid summer night in Peoria a woman watches Seinfeld on TV with the inexplicable feeling she knows what every character will do and say before it happens, just as if she has seen and heard it all before down to the smallest detail. Was it just a case of déjà vu as some suggest, or was she somehow reliving an entire day of her life? We may never know.
On a typical Spring afternoon a Nebraska woman is doing her laundry without a care in the world. As she sorts her socks she notices one is unmatched. She retraces her steps, checking the hamper, basket, washer and dryer to no avail, the sock has vanished without a trace. Whatever happened to the missing sock, and where did all that lint come from? We may never know.
In San Francisco’s Chinatown after finishing his restaurant meal a man breaks open an ordinary looking cookie and finds a message hidden inside. The cryptic message reads, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” The very next year this same man wins $10,000 playing the daily lottery. Was it mearly an uncanny coincidence or did the annonymous fortune somehow know he should buy a ticket a full year ahead of time? We may never know.
One morning before work a Chicago woman looks desperately for her missing car keys. In her favorite easy chair she finds thirty-seven cents in change and three kernels of popcorn, but no trace of the car keys at all. Whatever happened to the keys, where did the money come from, and who was eating popcorn in her favorite chair? Was there a link between these seemingly unrelated items? We may never know.
We all know hillbillies live in the boonies. The word hillbillies is easy enough to understand, folks who live in the hills. Just why or exactly what are/is the boonies? Anything to do with Daniel Boone? Nah, Daniel Boone never lived in the boonies because they didn’t exist then. At least the word didn’t. Boonies comes from boondocks which was originally American military slang derived from Tagalog bundok, meaning mountain. This term came about during the Philippine-American War.
Another Asian term we get from the military, gung ho. In Mandarin that’s kung work, and ho together. The Anglicized term became widely known as a slogan adopted in WWII by the United States Marines under General Evans Carlson. How exactly “work together” came to mean zealous is not clear to us.
A third Asian word that’s entered English, not by way of the military, is ketchup, or catsup. From the Cantonese kezap; the Z is pronounced like TS. Just like the Germans do it. Which must mean when the Chinese write Chinese words with Roman letters they spell like Germans or something. We don’t know.
Why, it’s another old art spot from Fortean Times of 1997. What does it mean? It means the staff has conspired to pass off old work as new to fool the reader into thinking we’re hard at work keeping terry colon dot com fresh and new on a daily basis. Still, should the reader feel cheated we’ll toss in an unattributed quote that might somehow apply to the question of are there or are there not UFOs.
“We don’t believe what we see, we see what we want to believe.”
blivy [or blivey] (blĭv′-ē) noun. Ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag.
That word and definition courtesy of my dad, only he didn’t use the word ‘manure’ rather employing a vulgarism which sounds a lot like ship. When presented with a blivy of my doing he would say along similar scatological lines, “Son, you couldn’t even crap in your own pants.” Only he didn’t use the word ‘crap.’ Instead he used the same vulgarism from above as a verb. Whether I could produce a blivy in my own pants he never ventured an opinion. While a blivy is bad enough and to be avoided if at all possible, a burning blivy… well, you can imagine.
“People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.” –Carl Jung
Think of an ideology. Then think of a true believer. Need we say more?
Infrequently Answered Questions
Q: Considering all the multiple millions of connections over the millennia which had to be made of people having kids having kids having kids et cetera, what are the odds I would have been born at all?
A: Exactly one hundred percent. If you’re reading this you exist, right? It’s the old I think therefore I am bit. The chance of something that happened to happen is one hundred percent. At any rate, there is no such thing as a force of randomness that causes things to happen willy-nilly. Randomness calculated as probability is a measure of our ignorance of what everything happening now will lead to. That’s all.
For instance in draw poker we’ll say the odds of drawing to an inside straight with one card is four in forty-seven. (Pack of 52 minus the five you hold.) But what if you know what the card you’ll draw is? In that case you’ll know the chance is zero percent or one hundred percent. Has some imaginary force of randomness changed? Nope, your knowledge has.
All the same, if you asked one of your distant ancestors the odds of you being born, they wouldn’t have a clue. It might strike them as pretty unlikely. After all, a lot of people lived and died without bearing offspring. But then, they’re not anyone’s ancestors, are they?
Unless you’re a clone you have a mother and a father. And your parents each had a mother and a father. So, you have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents. We could go on but it starts getting confusing adding all those greats for each generation you go back. Instead of great-great-great-great-grandparents we’ll say four-great-grandparents. Got it? Good, let’s go on.
If you go back ten generations, that’s about three hundred years or so, you’ll have one thousand twenty-four seven-great grandparents. So then, how many thirty-great grandparents do you have if you go back that far? Pause to imagine… Eight billion, five hundred eighty-nine million, nine hundred thirty-four thousand, five hundred and ninety-two. (8,589,934,592)
We’re talking about the year 1000AD roughly. You have more thirty-great-grandparents than people existed on Earth at the time. Without all those billions of ancestors having children having children having children and so on you wouldn’t have been born. The arithmetic says most of your ancestors are missing. Therefore, you are impossible. And the further back you go the less possible you get.
From the 94 year-old who brought you the lithium-ion battery comes a new glass battery. Possibly another game changer from the mind and hard work of John Goodenough. Now there’s a name that’s an understatement. The new battery holds three times the charge, is lightning quick to recharge and doesn’t self immolate. Perhaps that Tesla will stop doing it’s pyrotechnic Pinto imitation.
Whether it actually saves any energy overall is not clear. Electric cars today don’t. Still, to get past the slow charging hurdle that dogs current electric cars it might be good enough. (You just knew that pun was coming.)
“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
Seems we’re prone to believe “This time it’s different” and “That’s the kind of thing that happens to other people, not me.” Instead of looking to history for lessons, perhaps we should look to comedians…
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use in being a damned fool about it.” –W.C. Fields
We say, everything electrical is atomic powered and terry colon dot com is electrically powered. This power isn’t from splitting atomic nuclei, but using the electrons of atoms. Electrons are atomic, eh? In DC they jump about from atom to atom. In AC they oscillate back and forth, or something. At any rate, when AC electricity enters your house, nothing actually gets in. Nothing flows through the wires, the electrons don’t zip about the house and go back to the electric company to be recycled or whatever. The whole business is like atomic vibes, man. We have no idea how it works, but we’re certainly glad it does.
We also know electricity must be a circuit, a loop. How big or how many loops there are in the house we can’t say. Toss in magnetism, which goes with electricity like white on rice, and we’re totally at sea. Magnetic fields are also loops without beginning or end, like little self contained bits of infinity made out of… what? Influence? It’s a mystery.
mouseover buttons to change speed
If there’s one thing the staff at terry colon dot com likes better than spirals, it’s putting our stooge mascot, Webio-Bot through the blender to become one indistinguishable bot swarm as they go from stirred-not-shaken to frappé.
Notice how the outside bot seems to be bigger than the inside bot at “Fast” speed while the top bot is biggest of all. See how they bend at “Faster” speed. Watch the inner bot grow a tail at “Fastest” speed. Why? We can’t explain it. We only did it for the fun of it. And completed an entire week of material by milking a single idea for all it was worth and then some.
mouseover buttons to change speed
What, another one? The terry colon dot com reader might well wonder if we’ve gone completely round and round the bend at this point. If we have, would we know it ourselves? Whatever the case, there is a method to our madness. If it be madness.
This time we forego the goofy distractions in the disc, no ovals, bots, weird flower-like eyeballs and whatnot. Nothing but concentric circles all with exactly the same weight and style of dotted line. As you can see at “Stop.” So, even though every circle is rotating at the same rate, each has a different speed. The dashes of the outer circle cover a lot more ground per rotation than the inner circle dashes. They move progressively faster from the center circle outward. This is easily seen at the default speed.
Without the distractions you can tell one other thing. The persistence of vision thing is not only a possible effect of the screen display, it’s also how you see naturally. Your eyes scan quickly and repeatedly just like a camera. Here’s how you can show it to yourself. If you focus on the outer circle without moving your eyes you perceive a lot of short, blurry, purple dashes rotating slowly clockwise. If you follow the white dash around with your eyes you see what they really are: longer, more distinct dashes.
On the other hand, at the “Fastest” speed the green dashes just sit there and the yellow circle can be followed around with your eyes counter clockwise even though the disc is rotating clockwise like mad. Is that a result of the screen display or your own eyes? We don’t know. It is curious though, eh?
mouseover buttons to change speed
We readily admit we did this rotary persistence of vision thing yesterday. Chalk it up to our persistence of pointless animation. All the same, notice how the Aqua-Bot starts to bend into the flow the faster it swims. Or circles the drain, or whatever. At top speed it gets squashed into a bug-like thing. Maybe it’s our lying eyes fooling us, but it seems to swim in a tighter circle at the fastest speed, too.
Goofy? Maybe so. We’re having fun anyway. As the man said, or sang in fact, “You can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.” Or it could have been, “…you’ve got to…” Hard to tell with singing. There’s a word for that, but we’ll save that for another day in another department.
mouseover buttons to change speed
Here’s our little experiment on how to get seemingly complex motion from spinning one object. And different motions at different speeds. You might even perceive some slight color shift. All because of what they call persistence of vision. Which you might also call the wagon wheel effect. It all boils down to how we see motion as a series of still pictures running past rapidly in sequence. Rather than trying to explain what that entails, here’s a link. Less work for us.
Another old art spot from Fortean Times of 1997, an imaginary poster for an imaginary film that’s a combination horse and space opera. Though why opera when nobody sings in them? Who knows? Still, the outer space theme goes with the opening pointless animation splash page. Or does (did) depending on when you’re reading this because our splash pages have a habit of disappearing in short order.
All the same, don’t ask what this art spot was about, it ran twenty years ago. Also, don’t ask us how the moon got out to Mars. Nor why the alien is wearing a sombrero. These are questions we have no ready answer for. That’s just the way science fiction is. You start to question things and you get sidetracked into ideas that don’t really matter.
Like, why do you need to swing a light saber? Couldn’t you just point it and turn it on for a thrust at the speed of light? And couldn’t a light saber be 100 feet long? After all, being made of light it wouldn’t weigh much, would it? With a 100 foot saber you could wipe out an entire platoon with a single swing. Maybe. All the same, it’s not really a saber, it has a straight blade and no hand guard. It’s more like a really long, glowing switchblade.
To ponder more sci-fi imponderables, when people transport in Star Trek, are the disassembled bits temporarily dead during transport and brought back to life upon reconstitution? Could you store transporter reassembly information and transport yourself younger? In other words, revert to saved?
Despite our questions, sci-fi still makes more sense than opera. After all, who going through the trials and tribulations of life suddenly bursts out into song about it?
Doesn’t it seem like every movie is a remake? Or a sequel. Or a retelling of the same old story in a different time and place. Or, as in the case of the art you see, a rerun. From Fortean Times of 1997.
In a way, every story is a disaster story of sorts. Sometimes a small disaster looms, other times the end of the world as we know it is in the cards unless the protagonist averts it. If it’s a comedy they succeed. Which is the oldest meaning of comedy, a happy ending. If they fail it’s a tragedy. One or the other. That’s what the old Greek comedy and tragedy masks for the theater are all about.
Anyway, if there were no trouble brewing there’s really not much of a story to engage people. Why bother watching things happen that make no difference one way or another? So, while they say there are only seven basic plots, (or whatever the number is) maybe there’s really only one. Disaster looms and they escape or they don’t. Fin.
We close our Flight Week Extravaganza with what might have been magnificent flying machines. Early jets and flying wings. After all, what is more sleek and futuristic than the B-2 Stealth Bomber, a jet-powered flying wing?
The first jet, or proto jet, appeared much sooner than most might imagine. That was the Coandă 1910 we mentioned about ten years ago. Along the same lines the origins of the flying wing goes way, way back, too. The very first flying wing was a biplane built and flown in 1910 by Englishman John William Dunne. It was also likely the first variable aspect swept wing plane to go airborne.
Coandă’s jet, what he called an air reaction engine, failed because they didn’t yet have the technology to construct engines that could withstand the high heat it produced in operation. Why they didn’t pursue developing Dunne’s flying wing is not really clear. We guess some ideas are simply too far ahead of their time.
It looked like a small plane with its fuselage over-inflated with air, like a winged pufferfish. It was the Stipa-Caproni “intubed propeller” airplane of 1923. Also called, for obvious reasons once you see it, the Flying Barrel. Still, it wasn’t as crazy as it seemed, though it certainly looked the part.
The Stipa-Caproni was built to test a propulsion concept and not to develop its very peculiar airframe. The entire machine was a really big tube with a propellor inside and some airplane bits attached so it would fly. After a fashion. It could take off and cruise quite stably at low speeds. In fact, too stably as it was hard to turn. See and find out all about it here:
The more we look at it the more we’re convinced it was something bought by Wile E. Coyote from Acme Industries. Only in real life, not a cartoon.
Now for a change of pace. Not every plane with peculiar wing arrangements, or non-wings, was utterly nutterly. Some flew fine, but were deemed unnecessary. It’s like, you could build a working Rube Goldberg mousetrap, but why bother? Three examples: the Flying Flapjack, spinning wings, and the Custer Channelwing.
The Flying Flapjack’s entire airframe was a lifting body, something like a flying wing only shaped more like a pancake than a boomerang. Spinning wings came in various configurations (drums, paddles, tapered thingies) and rotated like mad on horizontal axes sticking out the sides or in front or sometimes over the pilot’s head. The channelwing’s engines drove air over a round trough which… we don’t know how the thing worked. Go to the links to see and learn all about them.
We imagine the big problem with both the spinning wings and channelwing is since they rely on their engines to create lift if there’s an engine cut-out the plane would drop like a rock. Turning an ugly duck into a literal blot on the landscape.
By middle of the Great War standard airplane design was pretty well worked out. Wings, not tetrahedral cells, were the way to go. Limiting the number to less than you could count without taking your shoes off became standard practice. Wing warping also went by the board. Tails were at the tail and wings were up front, rigid and well braced. Well, most of the time.
Enter Dr. William Christmas, aviation innovator and either charlatan or crackpot. He built the Christmas Bullet, a plane with flexing wings to flap in the air like a bird. Not a controlled flapping, mind you, its wings had no struts or bracing and weren’t very rigid. They flapped from turbulence. Here’s the story:
A long story short, two planes, two flights, two crashes, two dead test pilots. Pretty dreadful, if not homicidal. The doc also had a plan to fly to Germany and kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm to end the war. Con-man or madman? Who knows? The most amazing part of the story, he billed the U.S. government $100,000 for this utterly miserable contrivance. And the Feds paid him!
As we saw in Part One, tetrahedral cells were not such a great alternative to wings to get a flying machine off the ground. Planes with actual wings, monoplanes, biplanes, triplanes, on the other hand, all worked admirably. How about a plane with a hundred wings? Fifty times as good as a biplane, right?
At least that seemed to be the thinking of intrepid London-born aircraft pioneer Horatio Phillips. His obsession with more is more took on ludicrous proportions. His 1907 two hundred wing multiplane (that’s right, 200 wings) looked like a crate made out of venetian blinds. Thing was, it worked. Barely. He used it for the first, though very short, powered flight in England. At least he limited his contraptions to a single engine, so we’ll give him that.
Despite how absurd these multiplanes appear today, Mr. Phillips wasn’t a completely round the bend eccentric. In fact, he helped pioneer proper airfoil design, though seemingly at the expense of everything else that would make flying practical. Such as his novel circular runways. We can only guess that was so everyone could have an airport in their backyard.
A lot of early airplanes and would-be flying machines look pretty goofy to modern eyes. What in blazes were they thinking, we wonder. Of course, these days we know what a working plane should look like, back then they didn’t. Two wings? Four wings? Ten wings? Tail in the front or back? Or front and back? What everyone did agree on was a plane needed wings to fly. Well, almost everybody.
Alexander Graham Bell had other ideas. Instead of wings like a bird, he’d use what worked for a certain kind of box kite. Tetrahedral cells. Hundreds of them in a ginormous triangular rack. Rather than describe what that is or how it was supposed to work, we suggest you go to the link where they show and tell all:
Needless to say it worked out badly. Which at least saved us from having the airways run by the phone company.
Humor is a funny thing. That’s some pretty silly wordplay, but I have to start somewhere. Yet it illustrates how switching between a literal and figurative meaning can be (possibly) amusing. You think it says one thing, but it says another instead. That’s how a syllepsis works. Or you might switch between a noun and verb meaning of a word. But enough of dubious dissection, let’s get to it.
aptronym: A name that is perfectly suited to its owner.
Here’s a real one from my hometown, an optometrist by the name of Ivan Doctor. That’s right, Dr. I. Doctor, eye doctor.
paraprosdokian: A sentence or phrase that ends in an unexpected way.
Pretty much a oneliner. For instance, “Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even when you wish they were.” Or, “As cooks go she can’t.”
Tom Swifty: A made-up quote followed by an adverbial pun.
“I think the lobotomy went well,” said Bob absentmindedly. “Oops. I just stabbed myself,” Jim said pointedly. That’s all there is, he wrote finally.
As said recently we try to be accurate, but sometimes commit blunders. We lately found a real boner and set it right. We won’t say what. We’re underhanded that way. Plus, we can pretend it never happened. That’s the magic of the web, the ability to presto-chango the past. No need to send out recall notices, simply flush every embarrassing bloomer down the memory hole with a keystroke or two.
We thought this Suck.com spot from 1998 would fit the bill as an illustration of “Oops.” Anyway, if Star Trek can pretend Klingons were always boney foreheaded worm eaters and the original greasy-looking guys sporting Van Dykes and Fu Manchus never happened, we expect the reader will allow us similar leeway.
Mouseover number for each diagram
We had started to write something about the alewife in the Great Lakes when we wondered what the plural of alewife was. Alewives? That ain’t right. Then we figured, like most fish the plural is the same as the singular. As in, “The river is full of trout” and not, “The river is full of trouts.” You don’t catch five basses, you catch five bass. Basses is only plural for the musical instrument. (Bass, a heteronym. Our favorite.)
For land animals it’s a mixed bag. Deer, bison, elk, cattle, plural and singular. Unless they’re all one sex where they’re cows and bulls, or bucks and does. (Does, another heteronym.) For other ruminants we’re not sure. Is it a herd of wildebeest or wildebeests? A wildebeest is also called a gnu, which doesn’t help us since we don’t know if it’s a herd of gnu or gnus, either.
Then there are cases where instead of adding an S for plural you take it away. Hippopotamus to hippopotami or octopus to octopi. It’s a Latin thing. Other minus the S pluralizations are mouse and louse becoming mice and lice. That’s not a Latin thing it’s… we haven’t a clue. On the other hand, if the mouse and louse are not the animals, but are a computer device and a dirty scoundrel the plurals are mouses and louses.
Now then, what’s the plural of a Portugese man-of-war? Surprising to us, in our dictionary it’s men-of-war. But then, a man-of-war is sort-of a plural in its own self, being a collection of three different animals that live as a single entity. Very peculiar. We wonder if they all have to be the same sex or what? Or is it like some fish that can change their sex in mid-life? Which we have heard is where the term “sea change” comes from.
We admit there doesn’t seem to be a logical endpoint to any of this. Just some meandering musings. Perhaps there was a worthwhile tidbit or two in there. If not, sorry. But at least it’s over with and you can take comfort in knowing after all these years the Fish still lives and hasn’t been flushed down the toilet.
Another old spot from the archives for which the manuscript is long gone. So I’ll just have to fake it. It’s a joke. Get it? OK, not much of a joke, but I need an intro to get to the point at hand. Which is an old joke I never really understood until I began studying piano. Here goes, in a pared down version.
Two jazz musicians are walking along a pier. One falls over the edge into the water and cries out, “Help! I don’t know how to swim!” The other musician yells back, “Fake it.”
This joke really only works if you know musician lingo. What they mean by fake it. This is when you’re in a jam session and you don’t know the tune you can still play along by faking it. This doesn’t mean pretending to play, like a Hollywood actor moving his hands over the keys not actually playing anything. It means you pick out the tempo, key, and chord progression and play along with whatever you can manage that fits. Going through the tune you learn the melody and bridges at whatnot and can then play those, too. Well, if you’re any good you can, which leaves me out. Of course, it helps than most jazz, blues, rock and pop music have pretty much the same basic and fairly simple structure.
Anyway, this term, fake, also lends itself to what they call a fake book. This is not an imaginary book, but sheet music written with a shorthand musical notation system. You are likely familiar with classical music notation, those five line staffs with all the notes, clefs, rests, sharps, flats and what-have-you. These leave nothing to chance, every note (quaver) played is jotted down. Usually. Sometimes you can toss in your own flourishes, but mostly everything is there.
A fake book is different. All you have is a barebones melody line and shorthand key signatures through the progression, or changes as they say. So, instead of putting down all the sharps and flats and the notes that make the chord they’ll just put down something like F-7 (F minor seventh). The player knows what notes are played in that scale and how to play some version of the chord. Same goes for the melody line, you can fill in notes around it, mostly under, as long as you hit the melody line on the right beats. In simplistic terms the key signature tells you the bottom note, the melody line tells you the top note and you make up everything in between with whatever works in the scale.
The difference between classical and fake book notation reminds me of an anecdote from long ago. My mom was trying to work out on the piano how to play a popular tune of the day. Being trained in classical notation she was writing down every note in the chords and so on and so forth. A rock musician friend of mine tried to help her out by explaining how to do it the fake book way. “You’re doing it the hard way. Just write down the chord notation and insert the chords as you go along.” Or something to that effect.
Which is easier, if you’re used to playing that way. With lots of practice you get to the point where the left hand moves through the chords without much effort or thought really. It practically becomes automatic, muscle memory or something. Still, simply being told to do it that way and mastering it is quite a different thing believe you me. Whether my mom ever got the hang of it I can’t say.
So then, for any non-musician readers who have heard that old joke and didn’t really get it, as I didn’t for many years, now you know.
A bit of art from the 2000 archives about plagiarism that befits our picking up some writing advice from Business Insider.
How to improve anything you write in 2 minutes
We find ourselves agreeing that eliminating “that” from sentences is something that works well. Or rather, we agree eliminating “that” from sentences works well. See, a lot of what they say really works. Still, there can be exceptions.
For instance, adding “I think,” “I imagine,” “I suppose” and the like are qualifiers to let readers know what follows are opinions and not facts or certainties. Which might be important depending on the context and subject. If you’re writing for comic effect a long sentence full of asides, insertions, diversions, and looping around verbiage is the stuff to feed the troops. We think.
Still, overall their advice is sound. Especially for business communication, memos, directives, email, that sort of thing. Also for directions and when conveying complex information. Chop it up into easily swallowed little bites rather than force feeding heaping helpings in one go. That’s the way to feed the troops.
Why doesn’t a coaster, you know, coast? Why doesn’t a saucer hold sauce? What’s the difference between a hall and a hallway? A question which leads us to ponder…
Why did our ancestors come up with completely unique, one-off words for some types of rooms but not others? For instance there’s kitchen, closet, pantry, parlor, hall, library, den, study, and foyer. On the other hand their imaginations seem to have gone on vacation and they just tacked the word room on the end of some function to name these: living room, dining room, laundry room, mudroom, bedroom, bathroom. How come the last three became single words and the others didn’t? To rectify the situation we offer the following coinages:
One last query, how does “how come” mean “why did,” “why do,” or “why”? The more we say the phrase in our heads the less right it sounds. How come?
I had an unexpected visitor this morning. Seems one of the neighborhood tomcats figured out how to use the cat hatch on the exterior kitchen door and sauntered in as big as you please. One of my pair of cats got into a fit of hissing (wonder if cats are the origin of hissy fit) at this interloper alerting me that the mewing coming from the hall was not from one of the resident felines. Rising to investigate I spied a biggish, yellow tom well into the hall scoping the environs. Upon confronting me the old boy beat a hasty retreat where I quickly let him out the back door as he seemed a bit unsure that the kitty door worked going out as well as in. Still, no harm, no foul.
On the unrelated note, if you like reading an eclectic mix of topics I gladly recommend Isegoria blog. Well, if you like the kind of things I like, which is hard to categorize or explain really. Here are a couple links to recent entries I found quite interesting. The first is about shell shock not being only a purely psychological phenomenon, but can be a physical effect on the brain from blast compression. The second is about some African bushmen’s take on Hamlet.
Btw, that’s not me in the pic. I’m a poor caricaturist and a worse self-caricaturist. So I used my stand-in for the scene. But I’ll be darned if it doesn’t look exactly like him.
We excerpt an amusing short review by William M. Briggs on what looks to be a funny new Science Fiction novel, A Theory of Nothing by Thomas Barlow. While we try to poke fun at some of the nonsense in Sci-fi and the way science is too often done in the real world, this book seems to have skewered both in a way we can only envy.
The working of this beastie conjured the theoretical negatronium particle, which was duly searched for and discovered. Thinking on this led Barlow to have Karlof say, “It is one of the extraordinary attributes of modern theories that their theories often prove malleable enough to conform to almost any fact.”
This allows Barlow to have a wise old man to tell Karlof, “Long ago, we invented the first truly effective way to disconnect Americans from reality. It’s called the national debt… What we’ve shown, through the practical application of simple economic principles, is that if Americans cannot have free energy, they can at least have free money. Public debt is our equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.”
(Good joke in the comments, too.)
Mouseover to enlarge
More from the strange but should be true file. You just knew we’d slap one of these in here sooner or later.
How many times does the Earth rotate on its axis in one year?
D. all of the above
Before giving your answer, consider the following imaginary universe as pictured below. Looking down from the north poles we have star A and planet Z, which luckily for our purposes is divided into four equal, differently colored quadrants.
Let’s say Z doesn’t rotate at all relative to the universe and orbits A counter-clockwise. It starts with quadrant yellow facing A, after a quarter orbit quadrant green is facing A. Meaning, if Z does not rotate on its axis in relation to the universe the planet will make one full clockwise rotation relative to star A. To someone living there, star A will rise in the west and set in the east once a year. Also, there will be no astrology on Z because the constellations look to be in the same place all year.
Now let’s say Z rotates on its axis counter-clockwise. To anyone on the planet A would rise in the east and set in the west. If Z rotated once per orbit, after a quarter orbit it rotates 90 degrees. If it began with quadrant yellow facing A, quadrant yellow would still be facing A at the quarter mark. Meaning in one counter-clockwise rotation during one counter-clockwise orbit the same quadrant will face the star all the time. There will be no changing day or night. People on planet Z can only mark the calendar by the Zodiac which to them rotates once a year.
So then, in order to have one day and one night Z needs to rotate counter-clockwise two times per year to negate the effective clockwise rotation from the orbit. To have 365.25 days and nights Z must rotate on its axis 366.25 times per year.
With that in mind, the correct answer to the opening question is B. If you were counting rotations of the Earth from some other galaxy you would see 366.25 rotations per orbit. Each of these woud be a sidereal rotation.
sidereal (sī-dîr′ ē-əl) adj. Measured or determined by means of the stars. Relative to the stars.
On the other hand, if you were counting rotations from the sun the answer is A, you’d see 365.25 rotations. If you were observing from the surface of the Earth you wouldn’t see any rotations of the Earth, but the sun and universe rotating around you. In which case the correct answer is C, zero. Meaning, depending on your point of view A, B, and C are each correct. Therefore, the correct answer to the opening question is D, all of the above.
This is the one trick question you simply cannot get wrong depending how you want to look at it. Our gift to you.
pareidolia (per-ī dō′-lē-ə) noun. The tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. The human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness.
Can you say Rorschach inkblot test? How about the Big Dipper? How about bunny rabbit cloud or potato chip that looks like Nixon? How about ;-) ?
apophenia (a-pə fē′-nē-ə) noun. The tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas).
Can you say superstition or astrology? How about vast conspiracy? How about, “With a capital T, which rhymes with P, and that stands for pool”?
Both of the above human tendencies are the outcome of the way people naturally make sense of and deal with the world, pattern recognition and categorization. When one thing is like another we can understand a new thing more quickly and easily without having to examine it starting from scratch, so to speak. At least that’s the pattern we see. Hm-m-m…
The Casual Sportsman
Is it odd that the University of Notre Dame nickname is the Fighting Irish? After all, Notre Dame cathedral is in Paris. That aside, what’s up with the fighting stance in the little cartoon logo they use? Why does the feisty little Irishman hold his fists palms in and curled back? What kind of a way is that to fight?
We can’t say for sure, but it seems to be taken from 19th century pugilism. Not to be confused with boxing, pugilism was akin to what they now call ultimate fighting. There was punching, grappling, kicking, kneeing, elbowing and even head-butting in some cases. Depends on where the fight took place as different places had different rules. The most no-holds-barred rules were in Lancaster, England where they called it catch as catch can. We think, but don’t hold us to that.
Since combatants could punch or grapple a fighter needed to defend against both. Holding the fists turned that way, pronated, kept the arms and elbows tucked up against the body closing the opening for an opponent to grapple. Without the protection of gloves bare knuckle fighters had to both punch and defend differently than modern boxers. To protect the vulnerable hands they curled them back against strikes. That’s why in old films you sometimes see brawlers milling their fists in little circles, made them harder to hit.
In bare knuckle fighting hooks and round punches were rare because they wanted to strike with the bigger, stronger first knuckles to avoid breaking their hand and so used straight punches. They also punched with the thumb upward, rather than supinated with the thumb on the bottom. This was to avoid catching the thumb on the opponents guard and possibly snapping it back and breaking it. This can still happen when wearing boxing gloves, but is mitigated by the glove’s shape, padding and stiffness.
Anyway, that all might explain the little Fighting Irish cartoon man’s fighting style. And why they’re the Fighting Irish and not the Boxing Irish. Though, being pugilists, they could have been the Pug Irish.
Still, Notre Dame is not a Gaelic name. Though it’s not really French, it comes from Latin. Catholic services were in Latin. Notre Dame is a Catholic school and Ireland is a Catholic country. So it fits together. At least to us. You can work it out any way you want. Anyway, the name makes more sense than the Boston Celtics. The people were Celts not Celtics. It’s like calling Notre Dame the Fighting Irishes.
Woodchuck, groundhog, same thing. But we already did that. The question on everyone’s mind, will the woodchuck come out of its burrow and chuck some wood? The second question, how much wood would the… forget it, we already did that one, too.
Groundhog Day is one of those holidays, if it can be called that, which nobody takes seriously. Like Arbor Day and April Fools Day. Along similar lines are Saint Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Labor Day. The first is an excuse for folks to pretend to be Irish and drink green beer. Though it’s named for a Saint, there’s nothing very saintly about it.
Valentine’s Day has mostly lost the Saint part of the name. About the only time it’s tacked on is for the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Which was not very saintly either. There are lots of other Saint days, but very few people keep track of them any more. Do you know when Saint Crispin’s Day is? See?
As for Labor Day, do people go out and celebrate the working class on Labor Day? We don’t think all that much. It’s just a day off work for a lot of folks or a seasonal marker to put away the white belts and white shoes. Though in this tacky sneaker-wearing age white shoes are year-round attire.
This year, instead of rousting some poor groundhog from its slumber to see if it sees its shadow, let’s sing Bob Dylan’s woodchuck song. Don’t know it? Sure you do.
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Do you know your U.S. geography? Think you can pass this short quiz? You know us, we like to sometimes present fun facts in a slightly off-kilter way. You gotta figure there’s a trick question or two in there. Or trick answers, more like. Still, beyond the silly asides the information is true enough.
Mouseover boxes for answers
What is the only state to border on only one other state?
Maine. Which is also the only state with a one syllable name.
Which states have borders that are partly circular?
The border between Pennsylvania and Delaware is a circle segment.
What is the capital of Vermont?
Montpelier, the least populous state capital city. (Three questions down and no tricks so far. Feeling confident or leery going forward?)
Name the state(s) which is (are) rectangular.
Due to a surveyor’s error the western border of Colorado has a slight kink and so is not a rectangle. Which leaves only Wyoming. Except the curvature of the earth makes the bottom wider than the top. Which means there are no rectangular states.
Which middle western state is literally flat as a pancake?
Kansas. If you scaled a pancake up to the size of Kansas its surface would have topographical surface deviations roughly equal to Kansas. Such a pancake would feed the people of the surrounding states for 100 years, give or take.
What’s the fewest number of states you must cross to drive from Albany, New York to Seattle, Washington?
Zero. We didn’t say you couldn’t drive through Canada. Whether you’re allowed in Canada is up to them, not us.
Is Rhode Island an island?
Rhode Island is indeed an island in Narragansett Bay and a part of what is officially called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Which state looks like part of the human anatomy?
We will accept Michigan looking like a hand in a mitten or Louisiana looking like a foot in a sock unravelling at the toe. If you thought of any other state looking like something other than a hand or foot, you have an overactive imagination, or a dirty mind.
9-10 correct: You know your trivia but not your math, there are only 8 questions.
7-8 correct: You know your trivia and can spot a trick question a mile away. Or you’re a liar.
5-6 correct: You know your trivia. Give yourself a cigar.
3-4 correct: You know some trivia. Give yourself a pat on the back.
1-2 correct: You don’t know your trivia. Give yourself a slap on the forehead.
0 correct: You don’t know squat. Kick yourself.
This entry will only make sense if you first see the splash page it refers to. You can see that at the link below. Check it out. We’ll wait…
Back already? OK. The chart loosely shows how I arrived here via the influences and distractions that made it all possible. When I say loosely shows, make that very loosely. I never lived in Siberia or during the Stone Age. But, in a way, it took thousands of years of civilization, culture and technological achievement to pave the way for terry colon dot com. Hardly seems the bother, but there it is.
Many of the Wehrmacht soldiers manning the Normandy defenses on D-Day were not Germans, but came from countries occupied by or allied with the Third Reich; such as Romania, Hungary, Georgia, and even Japan. These were Osttruppen, east troops. When’s the last time you saw that in a Hollywood film? Well, when’s the last time you watched Saving Private Ryan?
In a scene about twenty minutes in, an American G.I. guns down two unarmed Wehrmacht soldiers trying to surrender, but not being understood because they didn’t speak English. If you have an ear for language you may have picked out they were not speaking German. What the first soldier says is “Nestŕílejte. Já jsem nikoho nezabil. Já jsem Čech.” In English, “Don’t shoot. I haven’t killed anyone. I’m Czech.”
While Director Steven Spielberg correctly includes Osttruppen, he seems to have fallen for the common misconception these troops were conscripts who didn’t put up a fight and were eager to be liberated. This is largely post-war spin, the battle records indicate otherwise. It’s the old, “Nazi? I’m not a Nazi. I’m Swiss.”
All that aside, it seems the Czechs couldn’t win for losing. If the Allies weren’t shooting them during the war, they were handing their country over to the Nazis before the war and then to the Communists after the war. And now they’re in the E.U. run out of Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Though they have only themselves to blame for that.
“You can’t interrupt a German because you don’t know what he’s saying since the verb at the end of the sentence comes.”
–attributed to Mark Twain
A funny line if you know the basics of German syntax. Which is actually explained in the joke. Now that we’ve established the verb at the end of the sentence business, perhaps this next gag will raise a smile. “I once read an entire book in German but didn’t know what was happening until I got to the verbs on the last page.”
Clearly not enamored with Der Father Tongue, Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad has a section called “That Awful German Language.” Here’s more Twain on German.
A dog is “der Hund”; a woman is “die Frau”; a horse is “das Pferd”; now you put that dog in the genitive case, and is he the same dog he was before? No, sir; he is “des Hundes”; put him in the dative case and what is he? Why, he is “dem Hund.” Now you snatch him into the accusative case and how is it with him? Why, he is “den Hunden.” But suppose he happens to be twins and you have to pluralize him– what then? Why, they’ll swat that twin dog around through the 4 cases until he’ll think he’s an entire international dog-show all in is own person. I don’t like dogs, but I wouldn’t treat a dog like that– I wouldn’t even treat a borrowed dog that way. Well, it’s just the same with a cat. They start her in at the nominative singular in good health and fair to look upon, and they sweat her through all the 4 cases and the 16 the’s and when she limps out through the accusative plural you wouldn’t recognize her for the same being. Yes, sir, once the German language gets hold of a cat, it’s goodbye cat. That’s about the amount of it.
About the German Language –Mark Twain quotes
Dassler Brothers Shoes was founded in Germany in 1925 by Adi and Rudi Dassler. After the Second World War Rudi left to start his own company, Puma. Since it was no longer brothers running it, Adi renamed Dassler Brothers Shoes after himself, Adi Das(sler), Adidas.
If you order a pepperoni pizza in Italy try not to look surprised when they bring you a veggie pizza. There is no sausage called pepperoni there, or any word pepperoni. Peperoni (no double P) is Italian for bell pepper. The bell peppers on your pizza might be red, orange, yellow or green, which are all the same fruit in various stages of ripeness. Just like the difference between black (ripe) olives and green (unripe) olives.
A second is called a second because it’s the second division of an hour, the first division being a minute. Making a second more minute than a minute. We can’t explain why a minute is called a minute, nor why we are so amused by heteronyms.
We’ve written in the past about how bikes and motorcycles lean into a turn. Planes, trains and automobiles also lean into turns. Or at least NASCAR automobiles do on a banked track. Planes don’t run on a track, they bank themselves. But trains? Yep, trains lean into turns so they don’t topple over, which is bad for business and for anything that happens to be sitting by the side of the tracks.
Most folks don’t own or drive trains, so the need to lean them into turns isn’t something they ever need worry about. Yet, we suppose most kids in America have played with toy trains (or model railroads if you prefer) so they’ve likely noticed what train wheels look like, that flange and slightly tapered shape of the flat bit that sits on the rail. Have you ever wondered why they’re tapered? That’s what makes trains lean into a turn.
The taper means the wheel at the flange is a bigger diameter than on the tapered side. In other words, the wheel is a truncated cone. As the train track turns left, say, the wheel, which wants to go straight, rides up the rail until the flange hits the rail turning the train left. When it does the outside wheel rides on the large diameter part of the wheel and the inside wheel rides on the smaller diameter part of the wheel. Any vehicle with bigger wheels on one side will be lopsided and lean. Presto, the train leans into the turn.
Looking at the pic it ain’t much of a lean. Two things, trains don’t take sharp turns and compared to bikes or cars trains are very tall and top-heavy so a little lean goes a long way. Besides, you don’t want them leaning too much inside the turn or they’d tip over that way, which is bad for business etc.
To really see the difference, mouseover the pic.
There is a second advantage to this. Through a turn the outside wheel covers more ground than the inside wheel. For two wheels rotating at the same pace the outside wheel needs to be bigger so it has a greater circumference to cover more ground. If both wheels were the same size connected to a single axel, one or the other would roll too fast or too slow depending. That’s friction, that makes the engine work harder and adds wear and tear. So if the wheels are small inside and big outside… voila! No problem.
This is pretty ingenious engineering, elegantly simple, totally passive, set it and forget it. No need for a complicated suspension with motors, actuators, servos or gizmos of any kind. We doff our metaphorical caps to whoever devised it.
The Casual Sportsman
Some pro sports teams have mythical names: San Francisco Giants, Tennessee Titans. Others have fierce animal names: Chicago Bears, Detroit Tigers. Others are not-so-fierce animals: Toronto Blue Jays, Indianapolis Colts. And yet others are just plain stupid: Miami Heat, Utah Jazz. But this is Pirate Week so we can ignore all that. Here are the pirate related team names.
Pittsburgh Pirates Story goes the team was originally the Spiders, but due to their raiding other teams rosters for talent folks started calling them pirates. So they changed the name to Pirates.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Another name for pirate is buccaneer, which comes from the French boucanier, from boucaner, to smoke meat. So that’s bacon…bacon maker…pirate. Connect the dots on that one, ‘cause we can’t.
Oakland Raiders Not pirates strictly speaking, but their logo has a guy with an eyepatch and crossed swords, pretty darn piratey in our book.
Minnesota Vikings Not exactly pirates, Vikings were sea raiders that looted towns instead of other ships. Still, they sailed around plundering like pirates, so that’s close enough for us.
Los Angeles Clippers Man a clipper ship with a crew of violent thieves, hoist the Jolly Roger and there you go. Pirates.
Buffalo Sabers Admittedly pirates used cutlasses and not sabers. We list them all the same because pirates and swords go together like mom and apple pie. Actually pirates are nothing like your mom or ours, but you know what we mean.
Vancouver Canucks Most folks don’t know that canuck is the native Chinook word for pirate. Not buying it? Didn’t go for the Saber bit either? Oh well, guess that pretty much means we’re out of pirate material and Pirate Week is well and truly over.
Because Pirate Week just wouldn’t be complete unless we added something pirate related to every Shorts department, including “Words, Phrases, Sayings and Quotes.”
“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be Pirates.”
“It is when Pirates count their booty that they become mere thieves.”
“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a Pirate.”
“Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum.”
–Long John Silver
We wish we had more pirate quotes to quote, we looked, we found, but most were not worth repeating. So to fill out our “Words…Quotes” Pirate Week entry we add this one last tidbit:
Believe it or don’t, in the entire Pirate Age, roughly 1690 to 1720, not a single person was ever hung for piracy. You can look it up yourself. In a dictionary. Just like in the opening pic, pictures are hung, pirates are hanged.
Nobody has ever come across a bonafide pirate treasure map. As a general practice pirates didn’t hoard their ill-gotten gains, they spent it like drunken sailors. Which they were.
Pirates believed piercing their ears would enhance their eyesight. Which is no more absurd than modern people thinking piercing their nose will enhance their appearance.
Another term for pirate is freebooter, which comes from the Dutch vrijbuiter, plunderer. Your average pirate didn’t speak Dutch so they decided to be a freebooter and to heck with the Dutch.
A privateer was a sort-of pirate licensed to kill. Something like James Bond. Countries engaged privateers to wage undeclared war on enemy ships using a black budget navy they could deny responsibility for. Something like the CIA.
The whole “Ar-r-r, matey” pirate talk business came from a 1950 movie version of Treasure Island. It was actor Robert Newton’s version of a Bristol accent as it’s thought Blackbeard was born in Bristol. Blackbeard did his pirating out of South Carolina, but “Hey, y’all” just doesn’t sound very piratey, does it?
Early 16th century pirates the “Flying Gang” inspired Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow manner of speech is patterned after Keith Richards who was not born in Bristol and isn’t a pirate.
A usage of brace you don’t hear much these days, “The pirate sported a brace of pistols.” Quite simply, a brace is two. The pirate carried two pistols. So, why not say a pair of pistols? we hear ourselves ask. We hear ourselves guess, back in the day if they weren’t a matched set they weren’t a pair. Think of a pair of glasses or a pair of gloves. Two the same, pair; two of a type but different, brace.
We think the British call suspenders braces. So they might wear a pair of braces, but not a brace of braces. Which would be two pairs of suspenders, four suspenders in total. A single suspender would be a Sam Browne belt. Which didn’t hold up pants, rather it held up itself, if that makes sense.
Pirates didn’t wear Sam Browne belts that we’re aware of, so perhaps we shouldn’t have brought them up. We have no information on whether pirates wore suspenders or not. They did wear eye patches, though never in pairs. They also had hooks for hands and peg legs. Or sans peg leg a crutch, a different kind of brace. The pirate business was obviously pretty hazardous.
Most pirates didn’t have a brace of pistols, they fought with cutlasses. A short saber-like sword with a large hand guard. If the more colorful reports are to be believed, they also fought with tooth and nail, which we imagine means in the heat of battle they’d bite people or claw their eyes out. Which might explain all the eye patches.
Pirates kept monkeys and parrots for pets. Perhaps just to be colorful, or maybe because cats don’t go in for sailing. On the other hand there were sea dogs, which weren’t actual dogs but the ship’s crew. Then there’s Chicken of the Sea which…
We seem to have strayed from the word brace through some guff about pirates winding up at some silliness about tuna fish. Chalk it up to our unplanned pirate theme that started over the weekend. Will there be more pirate shorts or just the
brace pair two so far? At this point we don’t know ourselves.
A slight variation of our usual suspect methods, a snippet from the terry colon dot com archives befitting the Pirate Treasure Hunt splash page.
Rather than covering old ground, here’s something new. Our red-bearded pirate sports beard braids, fashioned after the infamous Blackbeard who also went about with smoldering fuses sticking out from under his hat to set off cannons. Though we suppose only during battle and not as some kind of everyday pirate fashion statement.
Speaking of cannon, in days of wooden ships and iron men not all the ship’s big guns were cannons, which were a specific size and shape of big gun. There were also demi-cannons, culverins, demi-culverins, carronades, and paixhans guns. For landlubbers cannon is pretty much a generic term for them all. Though we’re still not sure if the plural for cannon is cannon or cannons.
Lightning is much more powerful than long suspected. Unlike in Back to the Future with its Professor Brown shocking 1.21 gigawatts, strong lightning bolts can be in terawatts. A terawatt is 1,000 gigawatts. A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts and a megawatt is 1,000 watts. And you thought a 150 watt lightbulb was bright?
Odd how a watt is named after James Watt who built the improved steam engine and not any kind of electrical gizmo. Though technically a watt is a measure of power, how much work an electric current can do. One watt is equal to one joule per second, if that means anything to you. We would explain it, but, since we don’t actually understand it, we won’t. Make that can’t.
Of course, Mother Nature really rolls up her sleeves and goes to work out in space. The sun is 3.9x10^26 watts, or if you can’t make sense of exponents 390,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts. Though a number with that many zeros is hard to relate to as you never count anything in your everyday life that high. After all, nobody takes inventory by molecule count, do they?
It’s the newly retooled terry colon dot com, smaller and better than ever while retaining all the pointless animation, aimless verbiage, and silly pictures you’ve come to expect. Yep, rather than the usual bigger, we go the reverse. We’ve reduced the Blog departments from ten to six by rolling Links, Lists, Money, and Quotes into other departments. Also, many entries and features were whittled down and others eighty-sixed in toto.
We also retitled some articles and wrote a smear of new Blog headlines so they actually tell you what the heck the thing is about. Perhaps not as clever wordplay-wise, but better utility-wise. Speaking of which, readers can now navigate to every page from every other page with the new menu thingy at the top.
Observant readers might also notice the new, more consistent headline fonts used throughout. No more boring old Ad Lib available to everyone and used all over the place. Instead, all custom fonts designed by us with an occasional bit of something article specific tossed in. For you typeface wonks, here they are on display.
The new header type, where it says TERRYCOLON.COM at the top, is Terrifix. Humor bits use Neutronix Bold, Webio-Bot has Robotix with an outline, and the rest get Atomix Bold, mostly. Below are custom faces used here and there or in the past.
For your amusement, or more like our amusement, here are some other uniquely unique fonts from our typeface foundry, which we dub Face Front.
Can you tell we have a thing for the -ix suffix? The old folks out there from Motor Town might recognize Orbitronix. Just lop off -ronix and there you go. For everyone from everywhere, only 365 days until the next redesign. Enjoy!