Ikea’s Magic Elevator

Seen in an Ikea store in Southern California:



The Essence of Zen

Zen concepts can be difficult for Western minds to comprehend. In order to help us understand the essence of Zen, I’m providing this helpful explanation, which will save you thousands of hours of meditative exercises:

That that is, is not; that that is not, is.

The Glamorous Grammarian

Digging into word origins is fascinating, and can be rewarding, especially when something new and unexpected pops out. That was the case with these two words: grammar and glamour.

In modern usage, the two are unrelated. One refers to the rules for combining words of a language into correct sentences; the other, to an attractiveness (usually in women) that includes an alluring, elusive quality.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which is which.

Back in the 1930s through the 1950s or so, many Hollywood actresses were glamorous. That quality of glamour sustained many a soldier, sailor, and Marine during World War II. Betty Grable was one of the better-known glamorous actresses. Her pin-up photos graced many a ship or submarine’s wall, many a foxhole at the front, and many a makeshift aircraft hangar around the world.

I can’t think of any Hollywood stars of today with that quality. The elusive and mysterious aspects have largely disappeared.

Nowadays, even grammar seems to be becoming a lost art. I wonder how many high school graduates can name the eight parts of speech (or is it seven?…… (or that there is even such a thing)), or know the obscure notion of subject/verb agreement.

Considering how different in meaning these two words are, it came as a surprise that they stem from the same source.

Here’s the etymology for “grammar”, from an online Oxford English Dictionary:

late Middle English: from Old French gramaire,
via Latin from Greek grammatikē (tekhnē) ‘(art) of letters’,
from gramma, grammat- ‘letter of the alphabet, thing written’

And for “glamour”:

early 18th century (originally Scots in the sense ‘enchantment, magic’):
alteration of grammar. Although grammar itself was not used in this sense, the Latin word grammatica (from which it derives) was often used in the Middle Ages to mean ‘scholarship, learning’, including the occult practices popularly associated with learning

The common root of “grammar” and “glamour” is a word meaning “occult practices”, perhaps including witchcraft. Few witches in literature are described as glamorous, but a recent depiction of this one comes pretty close. And of course, Glinda the Good Witch

Another related word is “grimoire” (one rarely used, except perhaps by Harry Potter fans):

a manual of magic or witchcraft used by witches and sorcerers.
1850–60; < French, alteration of grammaire ‘grammar’ < Old French gramaire; see grammar

“Glamour” is one of the few words (perhaps the only one) that didn’t change from the “-our” lending to “-or” (as with “colour”/”color”) when it came to the States.

Typing today

Touch-typing has been replaced by thumb-typing:



Easter Sunday calculation

Easter Sunday falls on a different day each year.  It can be as early as March 22 (the last one was in 1818; the next in 2285), or as late as April 25 (the last in 1943; the next in 2038).  This is because the date of Easter Sunday is tied to the lunar calendar.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bob Wright for spotting an error in one of the instructions. This is the corrected versiom.

The official definition is

‘Easter is the first Sunday
after the first ecclesiastical full moon
that occurs on or after March 21′.

Why March 21? That’s the first day of spring, or the Vernal Equinox. Here’s a detailed article on the date for Easter.

In 1800, the mathematician Gauss worked out the details for finding the date of Easter for any given year (after about 325). His algorithm accounts for lunar cycles and leap years,  among other things.

Since this is close to tax time – and may of you have probably been filling out the many and varied IRS forms – I thought it would make sense to present Gauss’ algorithm in a tax-form format.

Each line involves only one calculation, to reduce the chance of error.  I’ve included the results for 2013. (Easter is March 31).

If you print out the page, there’s space on the right to go through the calculations for any other year. (Start with 2013 to make sure you get the same results.)

You can check your results with tables of Easter dates.

1 Write the year 2013
2 Divide Line 1 by 19 and write the remainder [see Footnote] 18
3 Divide Line 1 by 4 and write the remainder 1
4 Divide Line 1 by 7 and write the remainder 4
5 write the first two digits of Line 1 20
6 Multiply Line 5 by 8 160
7 Add 13 to Line 6 173
8 Divide Line 7 by 25 and write the integer part 6
9 Divide Line 5 by 4 and write the integer part 5
10 Subtract Line 8 from 15 9
11 Add Line 10 to Line 5 29
12 Subtract Line 9 from Line 11 24
13 Divide Line 12 by 30 and write the remainder 24
14 Add 4 to Line 5 24
15 Subtract Line 9 from Line 14 19
16 Divide Line 15 by 7 and write the remainder 5
17 Multiply Line 2 by 19 342
18 Add Line 13 to Line 17 366
19 Divide Line 18 by 30 and write the remainder 6
20 Multiply Line 3 by 2 2
21 Multiply Line 4 by 4 16
22 Multiply Line 20 by 6 36
23 Add Line 20 to Line 21 18
24 Add line 22 to Line 23 54
25 Add Line 16 to Line 24 59
26 Divide Line 24 by 7 and write the remainder 3
27 Add 22 to Line 19 28
28 Add Line 26 to Line 27 31
29 If Line 28 is between 1 and 31, this is the date of Easter Sunday in March. Otherwise, continue to Line 30
30 Add Line 19 to Line 26
31 Subtract 9 from Line 30
32 This is the date of Easter Sunday in April

Footnote about remainders: If you’re doing all this with pencil and paper, you’ll get the remainder as a result of the division. But pencil and paper can be error-prone, so it’s probably better to use a calculator. Here’s how to get the remainder using a calculator:

Take Line 2, for example: “Divide Line 1 by 19 and write the remainder” Line 1 is the year, so we want the remainder of 2013 divided by 19. (For mathematicians and programmers, “mod(2013,9)”.)

Enter 2013.
[divide by 19]
Subtract the integer part:
[multiply by the divisor]
See 18, the remainder.

Also, if the dividend (the number) is smaller than the divisor, the remainder is the number. For example, the remainder of 23 divided by 30 is 23.

Another Sine of the Tymes

A local Scottish-themed fast-food restaurant near us is extending their hours. Here’s the notice on the door:


Chuck Yeager, 89, still in the air

I had just finished reading a piece by Tom Wolfe on Yeager (an exerpt from The Right Stuff).

In today’s news: Chuck Yeager retraces history….

(CNN) — Chuck Yeager retraced history on Sunday, 65 years to the minute, as the first test pilot to break the sound barrier, taking to the skies once again to fly faster than the speed of sound.
The 89-year-old Yeager broke the sound barrier in a U.S. Air Force F-15 at 10:24 a.m. over the Mojave Desert, the same location where he first flew past Mach 1 on October 14, 1947, the military said in a statement.

Here’s an overview: He was born February 13, 1923, in West Virginia. Joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, as a private. Quickly promoted (because of his exceptional eyesight and ability), he flew P-51s during WW II. Shot down over France, escaped to Spain with the help of the Resistance. When the War ended, he had 11.5 kills – one of them an ME-262 (jet fighter).

The rest, as they say, is history. He retired from the Air Force a Brigadier General, later promoted to Major General.

Here are some parts from Wolfe’s chapter on Yeager:

By the end of the war, he had thirteen and a half kills. He was twenty-two years old.

(Wikipedia has 11.5; two were unofficial – he didn’t get the counts on technicalities.)

After the war, he was selected to go to Muroc Field (today, it’s Edwards Air Force Base. Up in the high desert, it had miles and miles of flat land, dry lake beds.

The luxurious officer’s quarters were “a few tarpaper shacks”. It was tents for everybody else.

By the end of the war, the race was on to achieve an airspeed of Mach 1 (about 760 mph at sea level; 660 mph at 40,000 feet). It turned out that there were serious problems getting there. At about Mach .8 or so, the aircraft buffeted violently; the controls seemed to lock up. Planes crashed; pilots died. That’s where the term “sound barrier” came from.

Test pilots at Murdoc liked to have the occasional “wee dram” at the local cantina: Pancho’s Fly Inn, run by Mrs Pancho Barnes. (That’s a whole nother story.)

Meanwhile, the X-1 is sitting on the runway, ready to go up. Yeager signed on as a regular Army Captain, $283/month.

Two days before the flight for record, Yeager, his wife Glennis, and a few other pilots moseyed over to Pancho’s.

Yeager didn’t go to Pancho’s and knock back a few because two days later the big test was coming. Nor did he knock back a few because it was the weekend. No, he knocked back a few because night had come and he was a pilot at Muroc. In keeping with the tradition of Flying & Drinking, that was what you did. … That was what you did if you were a pilot at Muroc and the sun went down.

He and Glennins decided it would be great to take two of Pancho’s saddle horses and go riding out under the moonlight. On the way back, at full tilt, the horse balks at the gate (which wasn’t supposed to be closed). Yeager and the horse take separate trajectories.

The next day, his side hurts like hell. If he went to the base doctor, he’d be grounded (and somebody else would fly the X-1). So he jumps on a motorcycle and drives out to the nearest other doctor, who tells him, well, you’ve got two broken ribs – I’ll put some tape on you, now just keep your right arm perfectly still and don’t do anything for two weeks, and you’ll be fine.

That was one of those “not an option” things. The morning of the flight, Glennis drives him to the field. There’s one small problem: one of the final pre-flight checklist items was that he had to push a lever with his right hand, to lock the cockpit door. His right arm would’t move that way.

The flight engineer, Jack Radley, gets a janitor to cut a length of broom handle. That’s what Yeager used.

He also made for himself a “crash helmet” from a big leather football helmet. (Pilots tended to get knocked around the cockpit pretty heavily, and he didn’t want to get knocked unconscious.)

The X-1 was hauled up to 23,000 feet under a Boeing B-29, and dropped. At 43,000 feet, he reached Mach 1.06.

The date was October 14, 1947.

Today, October 14, 2012, he flew an F-15 at Mach 1.3.

In between then and now, he flew the X-1 to Mach 1.45, at 71,900 feet.