Category Archives: excerpt

Schnozzology, a pseudoscientific hoax

From the April 2, 1899 edition of the New York Times, we get an article about “nasology”.

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Nice party to be in

While looking up old YA literature on HathiTrust, I ran across this, which is the voter roll for the Bronx in 1903.

It is what it is at first glance really, a tedious enumeration of voters, addresses and parties, useful only for genealogy. And noting that the United States did once have parties like “Social Democrat” and “Socialist Labor” (and the occasional “Prohibition”).

Then you turn up:


I have no idea what Charles H. Douglas’s party registration is. There wasn’t, that I’m aware of, a “defective” party. If his registration was bad, wouldn’t they just reject it? Was this the 1903 version of “show ID at polling place”? Persons with mental limitations (“mental defectives”) were forbidden to vote, so I doubt it is that.

If anyone knows anything about this, please post a comment here.

A nasty breakfast; or, merry tricks. A story of the Heptameron.

The Heptameron of Margaret of Navarra is a collection of 72 stories of various human dramas and comedies she (Margaret) had heard of as the queen of Navarra in the early to mid 1500s. Navarra is a little former country essentially on the border between France and Spain. Most involve misadventures of love and sex, but some are more general. Since there are 72 stores in this book (there were supposed to be 100, but she died before getting that far), so I’m only going to pick on the ones that I think are the best. This one, number 52, is one of the more amusing ones, probably because we can imagine doing something similar ourselves:

IN the time of the last Duke Charles there was at Alençon [French town] an advocate [lawyer] named Antoine Bacheret, a merry companion, and fond of breakfasting o’ mornings. One day, as he was sitting before his door, he saw a gentleman pass whose name was Monsieur de la Tireliere. He had come on foot upon business he had in town, and the day being cold, he had not forgotten to take with him his great robe, lined with foxskin. Seeing the advocate, who was much such a man as himself, he asked him how he was getting on, and observed that a good breakfast would not be amiss. The advocate replied that a breakfast would be found soon enough, provided some one could be found to pay for it. Thereupon La Tireliere took him by the arm, saying, “Come along, gaffer, perhaps we shall fall in with some fool who will pay for us both.”

There happened to be behind them an apothecary’s [pharmacist] man, a cunning and inventive young fellow, whom the advocate was perpetually making game of. That moment the thought of having his revenge came into his head, and without going more than ten steps out of his way, he found behind a house a fine big sir reverence, well and duly frozen, which he wrapped up so neatly in paper that it might be taken for a small sugar-loaf. He then looked out for his men, and passing them like a person in great haste, entered a house, and let fall the sugar-loaf from his sleeve, as if inadvertently. The advocate picked it up with great glee, and said to La Tireliere, “This clever fellow shall pay our scot; but let us be off quickly for fear he comes back.”

The pair having entered a cabaret [restaurant], the advocate said to the servant girl, “Make us a good fire, and give us good bread and good wine, and something nice with it;” for he fancied he had wherewithal to pay [at the time, sugar was rare and expensive]. They were served to their liking; but as they grew warm with eating and drinking, the sugar-loaf, which the advocate carried in his bosom, began to thaw, and gave out such a stench that, thinking it came from elsewhere, he said to the servant, “You have the most fetid and stinking house I ever was in.” La Tireliere, who had his share of this fine perfume, said the same thing. The servant, incensed at thus being accused of sluttishness [slovenliness, not promiscuity], replied, “By St. Peter, my masters, the house is so neat and clean that there is no nastiness in it but what you have brought in with you.” The two friends rose from table, spitting and holding their noses, and stood near the fire; and presently, while warming himself, the advocate took his handkerchief out of his bosom, disgustingly smeared with the syrup of the melted sugar-loaf, which he produced with it. You may well believe that the servant made fine fun of them after the insult they had offered her, and that the advocate was sorely confounded at finding himself the dupe of an apothecary’s man, whom he had always made the butt of his wit. The servant, instead of taking pity on them, made them pay as handsomely as they had been served; and said that no doubt they must be greatly intoxicated, since they had drunk both by nose and mouth. The poor wights slunk away with their shame and their cost.

They were no sooner in the street than they saw the apothecary’s man going about and asking every one if they had seen a loaf of sugar wrapped up in paper. They tried to avoid him, but he shouted to the advocate, “Monsieur, if you have my loaf of sugar I beg you will give it back to me; for it is a double sin to rob a poor servant.” His shouts brought many people to the spot out of curiosity to witness the dispute; and the real state of the case was so well verified, that the apothecary’s man was as glad to have been robbed as the others were vexed at having committed such a nasty theft. They comforted themselves, however, with the hope of one day giving him tit for tat.

The like often happens, ladies, to those who take pleasure in such tricks. If the gentleman had not wanted to eat at another’s expense, he would not have had such a nasty draught at his own. It is true that my story is not very decorous, but you gave me permission to speak the truth. I have done so, to show that when a deceiver is deceived no one is sorry for it.

Source is here. Bracketed words are my explanations.

You can be part of the problem by being part of the Solutions

Being a former college student with an advanced degree in a “hard” science, I have a whole countertop of textbooks. I have also collected some that belong to related major and subjects through various agencies. In one particular textbook I found so many defective “solutions” I had to share them, for our mutual amuzement.

Before I start, I want to be clear: I know writing anything longer than a page is asking for errors and mistakes to slip in. To publish an entire book without mistakes is almost, if not completely, impossible. I am “featuring” this particular one because the problems are so severe that they should have been caught immediately by a competent reviewer or proofreader. They are mistakes that would be embarrassing to a student on a far lower level of knowledge, and in one case, are just weird.

Finally, I know the contents of the book are copyrighted by the publisher. I claim that my excerptions are “fair use” in the United States because I’m using them for critical commentary, in both senses of the word “critical”.

I found these in a solutions manual (teacher’s edition for college professors) for textbook intended to be used in a last-semester-last-year design course:


Wait, what? You can’t set a unit of mass equal to a unit of volume! That’s like saying “15 minutes = 4 watts”: it makes no sense!

What you CAN do is say “16 oz/16 floz = 1 pound/pint”. This is a statement of density, or how much mass a certain volume of a substance will have and is valid.

This is a particularly bad mistake since it, if used by a student, would cause a massive confusion about proper dimension/unit technique. Fortunately (?) it’s in a senior level textbook, so the students (and professor!) should know better by now.

This does bring up another question, this one for the author: Do senior level mechanical engineers really need a chapter to review unit conversions? (Personal opinion: if they do they were seriously mis-served by their previous professors)


Read this one a couple of times; I had to to figure out what on Earth was going on here. 1 furlong = 220 years?! The second sentence is a very valid question, the answer to which is, “they have nothing to do with each other”. I wonder if it was actually a proofreader’s query that got accidentally incorporated into the text, sortof like some very old Bibles. This needs to be thrown out or completely rewritten to not be an embarrassment to the publisher.


This is a legitimate question that deals with industry-specific nomenclature and units. That last sentence though… hardly a scholarly reference! And I note that they never did tell us what the metric system uses for can naming.


Yes, that is the ENTIRE answer.

Fortunately the book picks up after this bad chapter (which also includes other, less entertaining mistakes) and goes on to be at least usable for its purpose of providing senior level design problems and scenarios. Still, professor beware.