SCRAPS
FROM THE EDITOR'S WASTEBASKET

These are excerpts from a regular column in The Vector an informal, unofficial, and unheralded publication I edited during my years teaching at Lock Haven University. In response to overwhelming demand (a couple of people at least) these are being archived here for those strange people who enjoy wallowing in nostalgia. Some of the references to then-current events may be puzzling, but feel free to skip them, or relate them to more recent events of similar nature (which can always be found). References to internal politics at Lock Haven University may be easily transferred to situations at other academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in square brackets.

    —Donald E. Simanek

Number 20, 1991

BACK AGAIN

Just when you thought it was safe to pick up your mail, here's another Vector. Actually, we space the issues in response to reader response. When the frequency of "Where's the Vector?" queries rises to several a month, we seriously consider sorting through the accumulated debris to see if there's enough to fill an issue.

RECYCLED SCRAP

We call this section "scraps" because it consists of random and unorganized bits stimulated by items your editor has read or heard. Inspiration can be found in strange places. This item caught our eye in Windows Shopping, A catalog of products for Microsoft Windows, c. 1990 by Microsoft Corporation. It's from an advertisement for Micrografix Graph Plus, a tool for preparing graphs and charts for computer presentations.

In today's world, the first step to success is often just getting noticed. Which is no small affair when you consider that all it takes to produce a professional presentation these days is a personal computer.

Apparently you don't need solid facts or good ideas, just a personal computer! You don't even need to be able to construct complete sentences.

OOPS!

The typographical error is a
      slippery thing and sly;
You can hunt until you're dizzy,
     but it some how gets by.
Till the forms are off the press,
     it is strange how still it keeps;
It shrinks into a corner and it
     never stirs or peeps.
The typographical error, too
     small for human eyes,
Till the ink is on the paper, when
     it grows to mountain size.
The boss he stares with horror,
     then he grabs his hair and groans;
The proofreader drops his head
     upon his hands and moans.
The remainder of the issue may
     be clean as clean can be,
But the typographical error is
     the only thing you see.

         — Anon

GOING METRIC

From a report by weatherman Tom Casey on WNEP-TV, Altoona, PA, Feb 23, 1991: "At least it's Friday. Did you realize that on the Celsius scale it's only Tuesday?"

WHAT'S IMPORTANT?

I often tell physics students to concentrate on general and important ideas, and not to waste effort on trivial non-essentials. The same is true in other fields as well.

The January, 1990 issue of Classical magazine had a number of articles paying tribute to Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989), one of the greatest classical pianists of recent history. John Pfeiffer relates that Horowitz received a letter from Paul Muni, saying that he, as an actor, could "never create the electricity you do on the '88s."

Horowitz was puzzled by the reference. "I don't understand ... I thought the 88 was an automobile." Horowitz's daughter said "Maybe that's the number of keys on the piano. How many are there, Papa?" Horowitz responded, "I don't know. I never counted them."

Horowitz had been playing the piano daily, practicing and performing before audiences for most of his life, and honestly didn't know how many keys a piano had. That fact wasn't important to his playing. Some trivia buffs know the number of keys on a piano immediately, but they can't play the piano as well as Horowitz.

[Note, 2007. How much of education is of this trival sort? In grade school we had to learn how many planets were in the solar system, and how many moons Jupiter had. Now that Pluto is no longer classed as a planet we have to reprogram our brains. No wonder students think that much formal education is a waste of time.]

A MIRACLE!

We've mentioned Oral Roberts in this journal before, usually with bemused contempt for him and for those who take him seriously. At his Tulsa, Oklahoma, headquarters there's a huge sculptured version of Durer's "Praying Hands" drawing. You see small versions of this in gift shops everywhere, so ubiquitous that they are considered religious kitsch. Oral Roberts likes his kitsch on a large scale, so his version is over 25 feet high.

Vector reader Phil Klass tells us that recently there was a mild earthquake in Oklahoma, which toppled the two huge hands, leaving them lying flat on the ground. A contractor was called in to determine how to restore the hands to their upright position. "This will be a difficult job," he said. "Those hands are so big and heavy that we'll have to bring in huge cranes to hoist them back up again. It will cost a bundle."

A skeptical sidewalk superintendent was watching. He stepped forward and said, "There's an easier way. I can raise up those hands for a lot less. I'll do it for a quarter."

He reached in his pocket and brought out a quarter. He tossed it high in the air between the fallen hands, and lo!, the huge hands sprang upright, capturing the quarter between them.

This little miracle tale is already part of the Oral tradition.

ANCIENT SCRAPS

Rummaging through items which ought to have gone into this column years ago I ran across this:

June 1987, TV report: A Texas farmer commenting on onion crop damage from wet weather: "A disaster never comes at a good time." Another farmer interviewed said, "We'll recover from this, but it takes all the fun out of it." At least they weren't crying over the spoilt onions.

LITERARY CREATIVITY

The children of a prominent family decided to put together a book of their family history. They wanted a thoroughly professional job, so they hired an experienced biographer to research and write it. They warned him there'd be one problem—Uncle Willie, the black sheep of the family, who had gone to the electric chair for murder.

The biographer assured them that he could get around that difficulty with a little creative writing: "I'll just say that Uncle Willie occupied a chair of applied electricity at one of our leading government institutions. He was attached to his position by the strongest of bonds. His death came as a true shock."


Return to Uncle Don's Notebook Archives
Return to Donald Simanek's front page.