Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning from lovely Cambridge, Massachusetts, where yesterday was a beautiful golden fall day, and it promises to be the same today. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 3-2 last night, so they’re still in contention to win the National League Championship (they’ll need three victories in a row, however). As I’m in Cambridge to have fun, and will be out a lot, posting will be light, so bear with me.

Here’s yesterday’s vote on whether I’d get groped leaving Midway Airport on my flight to Boston. Probably based on my previous reports, most readers guessed I’d get groped.

But, mirabile dictu, I wasn’t!

It’s National Seafood Bisque Day in America (meh), and Mother Teresa Day in Albania, which makes no sense as she was neither born nor died on this day. [Update: see below.]

On this day in 1386, Heidelberg University held its first lecture, making it German’s oldest university. It’s not the oldest university in the world, though; do you know which one is? (Answer here.) On this day in 1469, Ferdinand II of Aragon married Isabella I of Castile, uniting the two countries into—Spain. (We all know them from the story of C*l*mb*s’s voyage.) In 1781, representatives of Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and Count Rochambeau, marking the end of battle in the American Revolution (Yanks won!). On this day in 1812, Napoleon began his famous (and deadly) retreat from Moscow. On this day in 1900, Max Planck discovered black-body radiation: this marked the beginning of quantum mechanics. On October 19, 1950, Tibet was invaded by the Chinese. October 19, 1987 was “Black Monday,” when the stock market fell 508 points, or 22%. I lost a substantial part of my retirement savings that day, but nevertheless I persisted, continuing to put money into the market in a long-term strategy, and of course I more than recouped my losses. Oh, and on this day in 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified by John Paul II, accounting for why it’s “Mother Teresa Day.”

Notables born on this day include my ex-colleague Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910), a Nobel-winning physicist who lived only a few doors away from me. Yet I saw him only once before he died in 1995. He’s honored today by a Google Doodle with a gif (below); Time Magazine explains it:

Google’s animated Doodle, published on what would have been Chandrasekhar’s 107th birthday, is a simple illustration of one of his most important contributions to how we understand the universe — the eponymous Chandrasekhar Limit.

As the animation suggests, the key number is 1.4 times the mass of the Sun. Any star lighter than that will eventually collapse and become a denser body known as white dwarf. When a white dwarf’s mass exceeds 1.4 times that of the Sun, it will continue to collapse and condense, eventually becoming either a supernova explosion or a black hole.

It’s actually 1.44, explaining the number on the weight. It is a cute Doodle:

Also born on October 19 were Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio (1934), Peter Max (1937), Peter Tosh (1944), Deborah Blum (1954), and Cara Santa Maria (1983). Those who died on this day include Jonathan Swift (1745), Ernest Rutherford (1937), Edna St. Vincent Millay (1950), and Son House (1988).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is discomfited.

Hili: We have to focus our attention on facts.
A: That means …?
Hili: It’s a fact that there is something that worries me a bit.
In Polish:
Hili: Musimy koncentrować uwagę na faktach.
Ja: Czyli?
Hili: Faktem jest, że tam jest coś, co mnie trochę niepokoi.
Out in Winnipeg yesterday, Gus had a nap on his Katzenbaum. Isn’t he cute?
Here’s a tw**t from Canadian science presenter Ziya Tong, showing baby orchid mantises (be sure to play the video):

Here’s another tweet from Tong that’s a real picture but, but one that Matthew turned it into a joke when retweeting it (I wonder how many people who saw this got the humor—and the real explanation):

The friends I’m staying with in Cambridge recently returned from Scotland, where they showed me photos of two signs. I contend that the first one is simultaneously ableist, ageist, and sexist:

Update: Reader Elizabeth offers an alternative, non-ableist sign:

Do not let your dogs foul! (Is “foul” a verb in the British Isles?)

43 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Are they allowed to fowl?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      No, they can’t do that either.

  2. Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    It is a verb. To foul the pavement. Actually side walk was still common in British English a hundred years ago…

    • Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      OED online –
      trans. To render (materially) foul, filthy, or dirty; to destroy the cleanness or purity of

      So it is etymologically related to ‘defile’…

      c1440 J. Capgrave Life St. Katherine v. 1594 It is neyther wurshipful ne honest On-to mankeende to foule soo his nest.

      1611 Bible (King James) Ezek. xxxiv. 19 They drinke that which yee haue fouled with your feete.

      1706 W. Oliver in Philos. Trans. 1704–05 (Royal Soc.) 24 2181 ‘Tis farther observable, he never foul’d his Bed.

      1865 C. Kingsley Hereward II. xxii. 368 Any more than the wolf would forgive the lamb for fouling the water below him.

      • Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        It says it is used in baseball… a slightly different sense – to foul out – I suppose that does not mean pooping on the field of play! 🙂

        • chrism
          Posted October 20, 2017 at 6:16 am | Permalink

          Jerry has never had a rope foul his propeller.

    • Gareth
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      British English doesn’t exist. It’s just English. You can certainly have Canadian English, American English, Aussie, Kiwi,or even Jamaican English… the list goes on to 1/4 of the world who hates us. Alternatively the US has the AAA (founded in 1902). We have the AA (1905). So the US should have the AA as it’s the original and the UK should have the BAA or UKAA or even the UKoGBaNIAA. Would make commercials for them more entertaining.

      Nothing makes sense anymore…

      • GBJames
        Posted October 19, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        “British English doesn’t exist. It’s just English.”

        Then why are there so many variations of it in the UK?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 19, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        I agree with Gareth there. English (as spoken in England) is the original. All the rest are offshoots.

        cr

        • nicky
          Posted October 19, 2017 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

          I doubt that. All languages evolve, so the English spoken nowadays in England (which part?) will be as far removed from a hypothetical ‘original’ (say, Shakespeare’s English?) as the other dialects.

  3. Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Foul is a verb in the US (hint: consider the use of the term in sports).

    Considering Sister Theresa’s celebration day being neither her birth or death days … it’s a miracle! Or close enough for the Catholic Church!

    On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 7:21 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Good morning from lovely Cambridge, > Massachusetts, where yesterday was a beautiful golden fall day, and it > promises to be the same today. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 3-2 last night, so > they’re still in contention to win the National League Championship (the” >

    • darrelle
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      I think foul has been used as a verb in the exact sense of the Dog Fouling sign for a long time. It may be a British thing but I’ve come across it often enough that it seems normal to me, though it has a touch of upscale properness to it.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        Oops. Looks like Dominic already covered that much more thoroughly.

  4. Dave
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    “I contend that the first one is simultaneously ableist, ageist, and sexist:”

    But at least it’s not racist – they’re obviously people of colour.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I recall seeing one of those signs somewhere in the Midlands that was intended to have the caption: “Slow. Old people crossing”.

      But inevitably it came across as: “Slow old people crossing”.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 19, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Since there’s mention of ambiguous signs, try this beauty:

        (On the Strada del’Assietta in north-west Italy)

        The red circle means, I think, No Vehicles.

        But does the sign mean “No vehicles … on Wednesdays … except authorised”?
        Or “No vehicles, except for authorised vehicles on Wednesdays only”?
        Or, “No vehicles except Wednesdays, authorised vehicles any time”?

        I spent ten minutes trying to decode it.

        cr

        • Nancy Steisslinger
          Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

          Maybe: no wheeled vehicles except for bicycles and authorized vehicles, and this is only applicable on the listed days because that is high season with a lot of traffic so they want to give bikes a chance to enjoy the route.

  5. Merilee
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Yes, I remember seeing signs when I lived in London warning people not to allow their dogs to foul the pavement.

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Although there were no major battles after the surrender at Yorktown it was still 2 years from the end of the war. Lots of small battles occurred in South Carolina and some at sea. The British did not leave New York and continued to occupy that city. The continental army and Washington continued to function and did not break up and go home until 1783. Also, the British did not live up to the treaty in many ways.

    • Dave
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      “Also, the British did not live up to the treaty in many ways.”

      We consider the Revolution as only a temporary setback. We’re playing a long game, and once Agent Trump has done his work you’ll be begging us to come back.

      • Posted October 19, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        +1

      • Randy schenck
        Posted October 19, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        I think you could probably take it now with company of boy Scouts.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 19, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Agent Trump? He’s one of ours? I thought he belonged to the Russians?

        Of course, after Kim Philby, it’s sometimes hard to tell…

        cr

  7. David Harper
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    When I was a kid in 1970s Britain, it was considered acceptable behaviour to let your dog sh*t on the pavement or in public green spaces such as playing fields. You had to watch your step. Happily, this is no longer the case. Most dog owners these days carry plastic baggies to collect their pet’s output. In my village, their are dog-poop bins where these baggies of ordure can be deposited. Out in the countryside, with no bins, some people hang the filled baggies from tree branches. This has led to the appearance of a new sign which warns people “There’s no such thing as the dog poo fairy! Take your bag home with you!”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Same in New Zealand, I’m happy to say. Most dog owners now carry plastic bags. Our footpaths and grass verges are not absolutely doggy-doo free, but 99% of it has disappeared.

      cr

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 21, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Most dog owners these days carry plastic baggies to collect their pet’s output

      “Most” being the operative word. Not “all”. Bloody dog owners.

  8. Charles Sawicki
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Time Quote is incorrect:
    When a white dwarf’s mass exceeds 1.4 times that of the Sun, it will continue to collapse and condense, eventually becoming either a supernova explosion or a black hole.

    If a stellar remnant is greater than about 1.4 Msun it collapses to a neutron star since only the strong force can prevent further collapse. If the mass is significantly larger it collapses to form a black hole.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 21, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      If the mass is significantly larger it collapses to form a black hole.

      And we don’t know what that upper limit for non-black hole compact objects is. Every few months someone comes up with a new way of trying to invoke QCD (quantum chromodynamics) to “catch a falling star” between the neutron star state and the event horizon (it doesn’t matter if the collapse stops a micron below the event horizon – that’s what event horizons do, stop you seeing beyond them). I think the last two such proposals were “squark stars” (strange quark stars) and “tetraquarks”. [SHRUG] There will be another of those buses along any month now.

  9. darrelle
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    They’re rioting in Africa,
    They’re starving in Spain.
    There’s hurricanes in Florida,
    And Texas needs rain
    The whole world is festering
    With unhappy souls.
    The French hate the Germans,
    The Germans hate the Poles;
    Italians hate Yugoslavs,
    South Africans hate the Dutch,
    And I don’t like anybody very much!
    But we can be tranquil
    And “thankfill” and proud,
    For man’s been endowed
    With a mushroom-shaped cloud.
    And we know for certain
    That some lovely day
    Someone will set the spark off,
    And we will all be blown away!
    They’re rioting in Africa,
    There’s strife in Iran.
    What nature doesn’t do to us
    Will be done by our fellow man!

    • Randy schenck
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Yes. That last bit could read – What nature does to us will be caused by our fellow man.

  10. W.Benson
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Best twi88er comment on dinosaur footprints: “Spidersaurus”!

    • barn owl
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Spidersaur, spidersaur!
      Does whatever a spidersaur does.

      With apologies to Homer Simpson …

  11. Russell La Claire
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    You often see signs in or near waterways cautioning folks about fouling the water.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      In Soviet Russia, water organisms foul your boat. Also everywhere else you leave your boat in the water long enough.

      Thus we have anti-fouling bottom paint.

  12. Posted October 19, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Planck’s discovery was actually a mathematical one. Black body radiation had been known for a very long time, but its frequency distribution was strange. Planck discovered that the strangeness could be explained by assuming that radiation was quantized.

    If I recall correctly, he thought of this as a mathematical trick rather than as evidence that energy really was quantized.

    • Steve Bracker
      Posted October 19, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      “…but its frequency distribution was strange.” Well, not as strange as it would have been had it conformed to the old pre-QM theory — classical equipartition, ultraviolet catastrophe, etc. The problem was that the old theory was wrong, and not just a little bit wrong either.

      I think you’re right that at least at first, Planck thought that quantization was just a mathematical trick, to be replaced or supplemented later. As time passed, it became more widely accepted that QM was more than just a trick; it’s hard to work with photomultipliers and still believe that quanta aren’t “real” in some sense.

      Of course the dichotomy of “calculating trick” vs “reality” has a long history in science, back at least to the early days of the heliocentric solar system, when you could “shut up and calculate” planetary positions all you liked using a heliocentric theory, but saying that the solar system really was that way could get you shown the instruments of torture. Or worse.

      • Posted October 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Yes, the question of “math trick or reality” is a deep one with a long history. And it continues today; we see it for example in the debates about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 21, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        at first, Planck thought that quantization was just a mathematical trick, to be replaced or supplemented later. As time passed, it became more widely accepted that QM was more than just a trick

        That’s what got Einstein his Nobel – proving that Planck’s quantisation was a real-world event, not just a mathematical trick. Well, that and proving that atoms are real and not figments of chemist’s deranged imaginations. The Special and General Theories of Relativity were not considered sufficiently “real world” to be worth the gong.

  13. Posted October 19, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    A football (soccer) player can foul his opponent.

    Seaweed or rope can foul a propellor.

    A dog can foul the pavement (sidewalk).

  14. Frank Bath
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    So I’ve just discovered the importance of Count Rochambeau (and Marquis de Lafayette) in the American War of Independence. To think it was the French that beat the British – woe – no wonder they’ve been largely written out of English speaking history.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    ‘Old folks’ has undergone the same continuing euphemisation process that e.g. ‘lavatory/toilet/washroom’ has.

    Originally Old Folks, it then became Elderly People, and now (in NZ) it’s ‘Aged Persons’ which is really dreadful. I mean, maybe you’re getting on a bit when you’re ‘elderly’, but boy, when you’re an ‘Aged Person’, you know you’re really completely past it, worn out, decrepit, so ancient your use-by date is having anniversaries, CTD.
    😦

    cr

  16. ratabago
    Posted October 20, 2017 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Oldest University? Possibly Taxila (aka Takshashila), established around the sixth century BC in what is now Pakistan, though it lacked an organised college system and purpose built lecture halls.

    If you think those two features necessary to be considered a university, then maybe Nalanda in India, founded in the 5th century CE.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxila
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalanda

    Depending on how we want to define University I would also consider the Lyceum, particularly under Aristotle. Lectures in philosophy, history, history of philosophy, mathematics, and natural history. Students were assigned research in history, and in natural history. Aristotle also oversaw the formation of a library, a zoo, and a botanical gardens at the Lyceum.

    Guinness World Records recognizes the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco as the oldest, continuously operating, degree conferring University. It was established in 859 CE.

  17. Fré Hoogendoorn
    Posted October 21, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    As Larry Gonick said, “You can verb any word in the language.”


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