Tuesday, Hili dialogue

The cruelest day is Tuesday, like today: November 28, 2017. It’s National French Toast Day, celebrating a treat my mom used to make sometimes, and which I haven’t had in years since I rarely go out for breakfast and have never cooked it on my own. It’s also the Episcopal feast day of the Hawaiian king Kamehameha IV, who translated the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian.

On this day in 1582, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway paid a £40 fee to get their marriage license, or “bond”. You can see the document, and read about their procedure for getting permission to marry, here. On this day in 1893, well before most other countries, women voted in New Zealand for the first time, casting ballots in the general election. On November 28, 1925, the Grand Ole Opry, then known as the WSM Barn Dance, began broadcasting from Nashville Tennessee.

And on this day in 1967, the first pulsar, PSR B1919+21 was discovered by astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish (Bell was the first to detect the regular electromagnetic emissions by a rapidly rotating neutron star. Unfortunately, the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery ignored Bell, with Hewish and Martin Ryle getting it in 1974. Bell, the first to notice and analyze them, should have been the third to get the prize.

Take 1½ minutes and watch this NASA video if you want to know what a pulsar is:

At first Hewish and Bell thought the regularity of the signal may have been a sign of extraterrestrial life, and the story of how the signal was found is interesting. This is from Wikipedia:

[Bell and Hewish] observed pulses separated by 1.33 seconds that originated from the same location on the sky, and kept to sidereal time. In looking for explanations for the pulses, the short period of the pulses eliminated most astrophysical sources of radiation, such as stars, and since the pulses followed sidereal time, it could not be man-made radio frequency interference. When observations with another telescope confirmed the emission, it eliminated any sort of instrumental effects. At this point, Bell Burnell notes of herself and Hewish that “we did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem—if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe, how does one announce the results responsibly?” Even so, they nicknamed the signal LGM-1, for “little green men” (a playful name for intelligent beings of extraterrestrial origin). It was not until a second pulsating source was discovered in a different part of the sky that the “LGM hypothesis” was entirely abandoned.  Their pulsar was later dubbed CP 1919, and is now known by a number of designators including PSR 1919+21PSR B1919+21 and PSR J1921+2153. Although CP 1919 emits in radio wavelengths, pulsars have, subsequently, been found to emit in visible light, X-ray, and/or gamma ray wavelengths.

On this day in 1972 (that’s right, 1972), the last executions in France took place—by guillotine!. Claude Buffet and Roger Bontems were decapitated at La Santé Prison. Finally, on this day in 1990, Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister and head of the Tories, and was succeeded by John Major.

Notables born on November 28 include William Blake (1757), Friedrich Engels (1820), Stefan Zweig (1881), Nancy Mitford (1904), Alberto Moravia (1907), Berry Gordy Jr. (1929), Randy Newman (1943), Alan Lightman (1948), and Jon Stewart (1962). Those who died on this day include Washington Irving (1859), Enrico Fermi (1954), Richard Wright (1960), and Jerry Rubin (1994).

The Hili dialogue was a bit opaque today, and I asked Malgorzata if the word “imponderable” was a pun in Polish. Her response:

No, it isn’t. It’s just that Hili has a claim to be an intellectual and she is annoyed that she doesn’t know such a fine sounding word. Cyrus, a nice, very down to earth animal, without any aspirations to be an intellectual, answers her to the best of his ability.

With that out of the way, here’s today’s dialogue:

Hili: What are “imponderables”?
Cyrus: Something you cannot catch with your teeth.
In Polish:
Hili: Co to są imponderabilia?
Cyrus: Coś czego się nie daje złapać zębami.

Here’s a tweet from Matthew, who’s been engrossed in watching Attenborough’s Blue Planet II recently. It upsets me that I can’t watch it, as by all reports it’s fantastic.

And two tweets from the Blue Planet show. Here’s a form of armor I didn’t know of: an octopus has covered itself with shells to deter predators:

And another amazing defensive tactic of an octopus:


  1. Posted November 28, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    One scientist was frustrated by some leaps that the narration made –
    I think it is tricky to get the balance right – too much propaganda can push people away from environmentalism. On the other hand, perhaps more scientists need to step outside the science & take a political & environmentalist stand. It would be nice to see more scientists in political life, if they could stand it.

  2. Posted November 28, 2017 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Hilis dialogues are always the highlight for me, funny, witty, profound and, at the same time, amusing. Always a nice start to the day or, due to the European time difference, a nice start into the second half of the day.
    Have you ever considered publishing the Hili dialogues as a collection?

  3. Joseph McClain
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Tuesday. I hate ol’ Tuesday
    Ain’t no girls on the street.
    Tuesday it ain’t good for nothing
    but drinkin’ beer and watchin’ TV.
    —J.J. Cale

  4. Michael Fisher
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I dunno what breakfast has to do with it – toast is any old hour of the clock!

    Irish French Toast is best – none of that vanilla, nutmeg & cinnamon complexity bollix

    Just dunk both sides of soda bread [an unleavened bread] in a pre-mix of eggs + milk + Irish cream [the liqueur] & fry it, both sides, in an oiled skillet ’til golden brown

    Goes very well with scrambled eggs, bacon & coffee.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    That pulsar Wiki needs an attack of plain English!

    [Bell and Hewish] observed pulses separated by 1.33 seconds that originated from the same location on the sky, and kept to sidereal time. In looking for explanations for the pulses, the short period of the pulses eliminated most astrophysical sources of radiation, such as stars, and since the pulses followed sidereal time, it could not be man-made radio frequency interference.

    “originated from the same location on the sky” & “kept to sidereal time” are equivalent statements – no extra info is imparted by bringing in sidereal time.

    The above is simply saying that repeated observations of the signal over many days showed that it always came from the same spot in the sky – fixed to a point just like the stars. Thus the signal must originate from beyond the solar system.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      “Kept to sidereal time” could mean that slight variations in the pulse frequency vanished when Doppler shift due to the Earth’s rotation was subtracted out. This would not be true of a source on the Earth’s surface or in the atmosphere.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted November 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        I had considered that & I checked before posting – Bell had detected no noticeable Doppler shift in the signal:

        … signal which originated from a certain location in the sky, RA B19:19:36 – DEC +21:47:16. The signal was highly periodic with a periodicity of 1.337 seconds. […] one possibility that was seriously considered was that of a signal sent by extra-terrestrial intelligence. […] a period variation due to a Doppler effect caused by the moving planet of a possibly transmitting civilisation was not discovered.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted November 28, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

          If their instruments were capable of detecting Doppler shift due to planetary motion, then in order to conclude that there was no Doppler shift attributable to the motion of the transmitter, they must first have detected, and accounted for, Doppler shift due to the motion of the receiver.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted November 28, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            To clarify: The spin of the Earth doesn’t matter because the coming-and-going difference is only 1 km/sec compared with a coming-and-going difference of 60 km/sec for Earth’s orbit around Sol.

            Antony Hewish found that the variations in frequency due to any Doppler shift effects [at either end] were fully explained by the orbital motion of the Earth around the Sun. I think they also had to allow for ‘dispersion’ where different frequencies travel at different speeds which mushes out the signal somewhat.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted November 28, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

              Fair enough; I should have said “the Earth’s motion” rather than “the Earth’s rotation” in my first comment.

              The point remains that this constancy of frequency as measured by a clock at rest with respect to the distant stars (“kept to sidereal time”) represents a separate line of evidence from the source’s fixed position on the sky.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted November 28, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        SOURCE: Jodrell Bank Observatory

  6. BJ
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Just FYI, Jerry: Blue Planet II is coming to BBC America in 2018. Also, the UK Bluray release is in January, so if you have a BluRay player or BluRay computer disc drive that can play region 2 discs, you can buy it and watch that way. I’m sure you could also find downloads, even in HD, but I never go that route, so I can’t provide any information regarding it.

    • Posted November 28, 2017 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      Or maybe you can watch it for free through “judicious inquiry”?

  7. Ross Foley
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Oh, gosh! Ghastly thing to comment on but I well remember the disgust and astonishment I felt when I read on the Guardian’s front page the report of what turned out to be the last execution in France by guillotine – in 1977!

    Wikipedia: On 10 September 1977, Hamida Djandoubi was guillotined; he would be the last person executed in France.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      The guillotine was, of course, designed as a humane killer for sheep.

      If one reads of the ghastly results of botched executions by hanging, the guillotine doesn’t seem quite so barbaric by comparison.

      But 1977 (or 1964 in UK) still makes me cringe that supposedly civilised countries were executing people so recently.

      And now, a guillotine joke: [Many decades ago,] in a French overseas territory, a fraudulent mining scheme was uncovered that cost investors millions, and the governor of the island, manager of the company, and chief engineer were sentenced to death. So the governor was installed in the guillotine, the executioner pulled the lever, and – click! The blade stuck. Try again – same result. And a third time. So, by local custom, his sentence was immediately commuted to imprisonment.

      So they lined up the company manager – same result.

      So, for the sake of form, they placed the engineer in the guillotine, and he looked up and said “Wait – I can see what the problem is…”


  8. Posted November 28, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    “On this day in 1582, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway paid a £40 fee to get their marriage license, or “bond”.”

    I just had to find out how much £40 was worth back then and also what the fee is for getting married in London, England these days. It costs, depending on documentation, as much as £47 to get the marriage documentation. It seems the fees haven’t gone up that much, except when you consider that £40 in 1582 is worth about £10,591 today. Make your own conclusions for that.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      The “marriage bond” document isn’t the same document as the “marriage license”

      The bond is a surety – a guarantee. No money changes hands unless a problem arises such as the groom not turning up or he isn’t the person he claimed to be, or he’s already married etc.

      A marriage bond [a letter, not money] was given to the court [or the church official I suppose] by the groom affirming there was no moral or legal reason why the couple could not be married and it also affirmed that the groom would not change his mind. The bondsman, or surety, was often a brother or uncle to the bride, not necessarily a parent.

      If banns were issued for the marriage a marriage bond was unnecessary, because the banns read out in the church each Sunday for a month [or three months in places?] gave sufficient time for nosy neighbours to check up on the groom’s credentials.

      The reason for the bond in the Shakespeare/Hathaway case was the wedding was taking place somewhere where the bride & groom were unknown to the local officials. It would have been a serious embarrassment to the Bish if he married a brother & sister or son & mother!!!

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted November 28, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Or heathens, God forbid!

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    The 21st century Anne Hathaway has been in one notable Shakespeare production, Twelfth Night, in New York’s Central Park, in the summer of 2009.

    Here is her character, Viola, disguised as a male, kissing Olivia, played by Audra MacDonald.

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