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Math Is Beautiful

81 is the only number* that is the square of the sum of its digits: (8 + 1)^2 = 81.

And 18 is the only number that’s twice the sum of its digits: (8 + 1) x 2 = 18.

That is all.

*Well, except for 1, I suppose. But that feels like cheating. (Oh—and if exhaustive lists of the properties of specific numbers is your jam, Robert Munafo has you covered.)

No Book for You!

Call me naive, but I certainly didn’t see this coming: Little Free Libraries are apparently a Bad Thing™—and the critique is coming from galaxy brains who think that people like you and me will confuse all those cutesy little book boxes on fence posts with…real libraries.

The argument started on Twitter (where else?), in a kerfuffle that “often came down to the question of localism vs. state support: the benefits of communities acting together for themselves vs. the economies of scale and resource redistribution provided by a tax-funded national network of libraries.”

And the reason the argument was never resolved? Because “it actually expresses a fundamental contradiction within capitalism itself.”

Hoo boy. I know we live in some weird times right now, but who’d a-thunk Marxists would be the ones complaining about free stuff?

Beeps and Boops

Usually, when I come across a story that purports to show how an underrepresented group was really responsible for the successful development of [fill in the blank], I roll my eyes Liz Lemon-style and move right along. But here’s a case where it’s absolutely true: the pioneers of electronic music were women. And what they accomplished quite literally changed the musical landscape of the 20th century.

But even if girl power isn’t your thing, I encourage you to catch the film Sisters with Transistors when it’s released this spring. It promises to be a fascinating look into an untold story—and, as a devoted connoisseur of the work of Laurie Spiegel and Suzanne Ciani in particular, I’m excited to see it finally brought to light.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this relic of 1970s daytime television (and be sure to stick around for the part where the real Robert Moog demonstrates his Minimoog analog synth):

The Scientific Mind at Work

In 1838, then-29-year-old Charles Darwin prepared a list of pros and cons around the question of marriage.

On the plus side of the ledger, he wrote, “My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all.” (Lest you think that Chuck was a hopeless romantic, however, keep in mind that he also wrote that a “nice soft wife” would be “better than a dog anyhow.”)

On the minus side? “Not forced to visit relatives,” “cannot read in the Evenings,” “fatness & idleness” [presumably his own], and “less money for books &c.”

Can’t really argue with his reasoning—especially since he ultimately came down in favor of matrimony. Sure, he ended up marrying his cousin, but still.

God Bless Twitter

Social media isn’t entirely terrible. If you can manage to steer clear of political tribalism and its associated posturing and virtue signaling—no mean feat, that—you occasionally find some real gems. Like, say, this:

And then there’s this, which, to be honest, I would never have imagined possible:

And if that isn’t weird enough for you, behold:



“You’ve been hoaxed,” writes Angus Fletcher. “Computers can’t grasp the most lucid haiku. Nor can they pen the clumsiest fairytale. Computers cannot read or write literature at all. And they never, never will.”

Finally, someone’s asking the important questions.

Remember this? Reckon it could be applied to certain English departments?

“We are constantly told to ‘trust the science.'” writes Suman Seth, “but what does that mean if we cannot quite tell where or what the science is?”

On the history of remote viewers, “which go back further than you might guess.”

A Reminiscence

You’ll have to forgive me for all the depressing death posts of late, but I couldn’t not say something about the legendary pianist Chick Corea, who died Tuesday from a rare form of cancer. He was 79.

No matter what his creative output—whether it was the work with Miles Davis in the late 60s, the duets with vibraphonist Gary Burton, the jazz-rock explorations with Return to Forever, or the late-80s Elektric Band—Corea had a profound influence on the development of my musical vocabulary.

I was in Paris in the summer of 1989. My friend Tom and I had just spent several hours exploring the Louvre, and needed some time to process the fact that we had just been in the presence of the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Emerging from the museum and squinting into the late afternoon sun, we set our sights on the Place de la Concorde, less than a mile distant. (Having been to Notre Dame that morning, it made sense to us to head in the opposite direction.) We had just entered Tuileries Garden when we heard the sound of a piano—a sound that, though faint, was familiar to both of us.

“Is it…?”

“Nah. Couldn’t be.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“But this is Paris. Maybe….”

Tom and I followed our ears until we came across a small crowd of spectators gathered in front of a portable stage. And on that stage, practically within spitting distance, was Chick Corea, performing with bassist John Patitucci. It was one of those magical moments that seems, in retrospect, too far-fetched to be true.

We watched the remainder of the set, marveling not only at the musicianship on display, but also at the relative indifference of the crowd. Parisians, I thought. They’re too cool even for Chick.

I got a text from Tom late last night. He asked if I remembered that afternoon.

How could I forget? Rest in peace, Mr. Corea.

Thursday Eye Candy

“Enough with all the words,” I imagine most of you saying every time I post something. “Give us something cool to look at.”


The winners of this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year competition have been announced.

And here’s a short film about a rainy day in Pyongyang…


At the End of the Day, It Is What It Is

The results from a 2019 GetResponse survey, which polled 1,000 employees to determine the worse offenders in the category of business jargon, are in:

And while synergy is indeed a loathsome word, there’s a phrase I keep seeing that’s far, far worse—yet it doesn’t even appear on the list: lean in. By my troth, if you utter these words within thirty feet of me, you shall surely taste my wrath.

An All-Time Fave

I know we’re supposed to remember Hal Holbrook for his portrayal of Mark Twain during the six-decade run of his one-man stage show—or even for playing Deep Throat in All the President’s Men—but when I learned that Holbrook died a couple of weeks ago, all I could think of was Into the Wild, the 2007 film based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name.

The missus and I rewatched the movie over the weekend. And the two scenes that still bring a tear to my eye are due entirely to Holbrook’s performance as the lonely widower Ron Franz. Here’s one of them:

If you’ve not seen the film, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Great acting, brilliant direction, beautiful cinematography, and, as if all that isn’t enough, some truly great songs performed by Eddie Vedder.

As for the story itself, forget what you may have heard—particularly from those who seem intent on deliberately missing the point—and watch it because it’s, as Anthony Sacramone once suggested, “a prose poem on the beauty of life for its own sake, despite its pain and disappointments” and “a poignant plea for humility and forgiveness.”

Words of Wisdom

When Duke Bootee died last month, he left us with not only “the greatest song in hip-hop history” (according to Rolling Stone)…

…but also some of the sagest advice I’ve ever come across: “Figure out a way to take care of yourself, legal. Find somebody you can stand that can stand you. Pay your taxes. Take care of your teeth.”


Stop! Grammar Time!

Good news: “Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said Thursday it has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization for its one-dose Covid-19 vaccine, setting in motion a process that is all but sure to see a third such vaccine authorized.”

Bad news: “FDA scientists will now pour over the data generated in the various clinical trials J&J has conducted on the vaccine.”

Pssst: It’s pore over, nerds. As in “to scrutinize.” But hey, I’m no scientist. Maybe something actually gets dumped on the numbers during the approval process. Which, now that I think about it, explains an awful lot.

Harold Budd, RIP

One of my favorite composers died last December, yet another victim of this godforsaken pandemic. The irony, of course, is that Harold Budd’s music remains the closest thing to a curative that we have for these troubled times.

I came to Budd several years ago through his work with Brian Eno, specifically Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl. Today, a quick perusal of my album collection reveals 30-some records with his name somehow attached. Whether it’s his solo piano work, the collaborations with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie or Eraldo Bernocchi or Daniel Lenz, or the stunning Avalon Sutra—released as his “final album” (not really) on David Sylvian’s boutique Samadhi Sound label, there’s always been a thread connecting Budd’s music: pure, unadulterated beauty.

In a remembrance over at 4Columns—which is really worth a regular visit, by the way—Geeta Dayal really captures the essence of what made Harold Budd…Harold Budd. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Miscellany: Science Edition!

Did you know that wombats make cube-shaped poo? And scientists have just figured out how they do it. No, really. There’s even a video:

In 2009, Andrew Smith, a graduate student at Oregon State University, combined yttrium, indium, manganese, and oxygen in a 2,000° F furnace. What came out—a “never-before-seen brilliant blue compound”—is the first chemically made blue pigment in 200 years.

The Hewlett-Packard HP-35, the “first electronic slide rule,” was introduced to the world 49 years ago today. Sadly, it was the beginning of the end for these little guys.

In 1995, a wide-eyed optimist and a curmudgeonly Luddite placed a $1,000 bet on the future of tech and the fate of civilization. So who won? Depends.

Yes, there are dumb people who don’t realize they’re dumb—just as there are people who are confident despite their ignorance. But that doesn’t mean the Dunning-Kruger effect is real.

Our Fearless Leader

The phone’s been ringing off the hook since the latest issue of The Independent“Serving Chewelah and Stevens County since 1903” – dropped last week. Readers of the “Remember When” column are wondering: Is Chuck Anderson…CK Anderson?

Yes. Yes, he is. Before he was the design mogul we all know and love – and fear – CK was a star athlete in high school and a diligent pupil in college. Come on: you’re not surprised, are you?

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