Gleanings from the Past #75

Coining New Words Carl Sagan Physicists had to invent words and phrases for concepts far removed from everyday experience. It was their fashion to avoid pure neologisms and instead to evoke, even if feebly, some analogous commonplace. The alternative was to name discoveries and equations after one another. This they did also. But if you […]

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When James Joyce Tried to Work in a Bank

During his youth, Irish author James Joyce was not doing well financially and he had to do several odd jobs. One time, he tried to apply in a bank. He was interviewed by the bank manager and the interview went something like this: Manager: “Do you smoke?” James: “No,” Manager: “Do you drink?” James: “No.” […]

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Real World Probability: A “Birthday Problem” Anecdote

I heard the following story from my topology professor. A renowned statistician was teaching a course in fundamental probability theory to a group of undergraduates. As expected of an introductory course, he briefly tackled several main principles of probability to give the students a bird’s-eye view of the subject. One day, he talked about the […]

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Gleanings from the Past #72

On the Spot When [John] Dryden was a boy at Westminster school, he was put, with others to write a copy of verses on the miracle of the conversion of water into wine. Being a great truant, he had not time to compose his verses; and, when brought up, he had only made one line […]

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Ernest Hemingway’s Blood and Money

In 1918, shortly before the culmination of the First World War, writer Ernest Hemingway was wounded by an Austrian mortar which exploded near him at Fossalta di Piave. He was a Red Cross ambulance driver at the time. Around thirty years later, Hemingway revisited the same spot during his trip to Venice. Initially, he wanted […]

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Pythagoras’ Definition of Philosopher

The following anecdote was attributed to Pythagoras, a sixth century BC Greek philosopher: “I have no trade,” he once declared; “I am a philosopher.” “And what may that be?” he was asked. “This life,” he said, “may be compared to the Olympic games. For in that concourse some seek glory or strive for wreaths; others, peddling goods, […]

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Gleanings from the Past #70

Plural of Égal Gustav Masson, the late genial French Master of Harrow School, once told me that he asked one of his class one day the following question: “What is the plural of égal?” The boy addressed looked mischievously at his tutor — whose good nature every Harrow boy could depend on — and with […]

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A Starmonger and a Lottery Prediction and Disappointment, Oh My!

There is a Filipino idiom, “pera na, naging bato pa“, which literally translates to, “what should have been money on hand just turned into stone”. The following true story that I witnessed when I was in the Philippines illustrates this idiom perfectly. During my stay in the Philippines, I had neighbors who are a couple […]

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Gleanings from the Past #69

Returning Home In May last, Mr. Goring, of Staines, lost a valuable horse, for which he made the most diligent inquiry, but without effect. Last week, however, a gentleman driving through Staines in a gig, the horse made a sudden stop at Mr. Goring’s house, from which nothing could induce him to move The circumstance […]

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The Book That Has It All

One Sunday morning, Mark Twain was listening to a preacher who was giving a dramatic and well thought out sermon. Twain recognized the skill of the preacher though he was bothered by the preacher’s supercilious attitude. So, he decided to take the preacher down a few pegs. As you may be aware, Twain was an […]

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