Why Maryland makes me laugh

I lived in Maryland for four years and was back last weekend for a cousin’s wedding. My wife and I took these pictures (I created the collage in iWork) in the lobby of our hotel. It’s a very Maryland thing to do. The circled part says “phone rings at front desk only” (click on the picture and you’ll get a larger version in which you can see this for yourself).  Note that, above it, it also says “pick up this phone for assistance.”  Does that include assistance in locating the person on duty?  Because when we got there we stood around for several minutes waiting for someone to check us in.  We noticed the odd note on this phone when we thought we’d try calling someone, figuring it would ring in some back office somewhere.  Um, nope.

Fact for September 26, 2008

The town of Hibbert’s Gore in mid-coast region of Maine has a population (or had, as of the last census) of 1.  Yes, that’s one, uno, une.  Of course, Maine has plenty of townships (technically unorganized territories) that have no population whatsoever (at least as far as humans go), but they’re mostly up north in the Great North Woods.  Hibbert’s Gore is surrounded by normal towns with people, schools, etc.  Granted, it is tiny geographically, but still.  It is certainly an oddity (though, not the only one in Maine – Unity Township, not to be confused with the Town of Unity which is right next to it in a different county, has a population of only 31 while surrounding towns are much larger).

Facts for September 23-25, 2008 – cleaning out the noggin’

Damn I’m busy these days.  Guess that’s what I get for teaching an overload (in a different department, no less).  Anyway, here’s a couple days worth of useless trivia from my overstuffed head:

– The famous mathematician Georg Cantor noticed that there, in fact, are different “sizes” of infinity.  Take, for example, all the natural numbers, N.  They are, of course, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, … and so on.  We intuitively know that there are an infinite number of them.  Now consider all the even numbers, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, … and so on.  Clearly these are also infinite.  But notice that we’ve plucked out every other member of our first set, so it seems as if the first set ought to be bigger than the second.  This is what Cantor noticed and then formalized.

– Antarctica is technically the world’s largest desert.  It is the world’s driest place, receiving an annual average of less than two inches of precipitation, and is a whopping 5.5 million square miles (well, it is a continent, after all).  Outside the polar regions, the largest desert is the Sahara in Africa which is 3.5 million square miles.

– The Greek philosopher Socrates, unlike Plato and Aristotle who were landowners (and thus gentlemen farmers), was a stonemason and likely contributed to the building of the Parthenon.

Facts for September 19-22, 2008 – a cornucopia of triviality

I was in Baltimore this weekend (more on that later…) and didn’t have time to set these up ahead of time. So here’s a few things to retrospectively mull over:

-The Mason-Dixon line, often viewed as the dividing line between north and south in the US, is the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. As such, the city of Baltimore, sometimes viewed by outsiders as a gritty northern city, is actually a sort-of gritty southern city (and, having lived there for several years, I can attest to the fact that it’s more than just a geographical point).

-Peanuts are not actually nuts. They are legumes just like peas.

-Most of the data we share electronically is protected through encryption schemes such as public key cryptography, the Diffie-Hellman cryptosystem, and the RSA cryptosystem, all supposedly invented in the 1970s (and hence, in the latter two cases, named for their “discoverers”). However, in 1997 it was revealed that all of these were previously discovered or developed by researchers at the British intelligence agency GCHQ (see additional links to the right) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but were, for obvious reasons, kept secret.

-Most people don’t realize this since they seem to get a different impression when playing with paint, but white is the mixture of all colors while black is the absence of all color.

-Moxie is the official drink of the State of Maine.

Fact for September 18, 2008 – why manhole covers are round

Manhole covers are (usually) round so they don’t fall in the hole.  Think about it.  If manhole covers were square (and we’re assuming they have a small lip to them), you could turn it on its side then rotate it to drop it in diagonally.  This is true for any polygon no matter how many sides it has (though, in reality, the number of sides would start to depend on the size of the lip as the number of sides grows).  The limit of an n-dimensional polygon as n approaches infinity is a circle and this allows you to minimize the size of the lip.

Fact for September 15, 2008 – a requiem for Richard Wright

I just received the disturbing news from my wife that Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright has passed away at age 65 from cancer. Growing up Floyd was my absolute favorite band (and still remain one of my favorite four or five) and, as a pianist, I had a particular fondness for Wright who contributed quite a bit in the early days of the band (prior to Roger Waters’ prolonged ego-trip). Wright was still a major contributor when Floyd came out with arguably one of the most complete and balanced (nearly every song is top quality) rock album in history, The Dark Side of the Moon. As it happens, Dark Side still holds the record for the longest consecutive run on the Billboard Top 200 – 14 years. Even though The Wall outsold it, Dark Side proved to have greater longevity and a more lasting impression, thanks in part to Wright.

A little known fact that I picked up from reading a number of Floyd bios over the years, was that several of the original members including Wright had, at one time or another, considered architecture as a career.  As a result, many of their long, drawn-out songs that some folks attribute to some drug-induced state, were actually methodically crafted to the point that the band would sometimes make graphs of how they wanted the music to flow.

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