Anon: “Yesterday you wrote . . . ‘10:03 am — I click on to urbanfetch.com. 10:07 am — I click SEND’ . . . I guess you’ve given up on being a cheapskate and buying things in bulk, ahead of time, eh?”
No, still a cheapskate most of the time. But that’s what frugality when you’re young buys you . . . the ability, when you’re older, to splurge a bit.
Meanwhile, lots of response to last week’s Niels Bohr story about measuring the height of a building with a barometer.
Michael LeBoeuf: “Twenty years ago I used that anecdote in my book Imagineering, crediting the source as The Teaching Of Elementary Science And Mathematics by Alexander Calandra. Is the story true? I don’t know. But as for the student being Niels Bohr, that sounds like one of those made-up ‘true’ stories, like the one about the graduating class from Harvard Business School. In the Harvard story, only three percent of the class wrote down their goals at graduation. Twenty years later the three percent who wrote down their goals had amassed more wealth than the rest of the class put together. Yeah, right. Find the source on that one. It doesn’t exist, yet numerous motivational speakers tell it from the platform as gospel truth.”
Gray Chang: “I heard the same story about 25 years ago, when I was a physics major in college. I remember it because I pulled the same stunt on a homework problem. A diving bell is lowered to the bottom of a lake, and the water rises by such-and-such amount inside the bell. What is the depth of the lake? I offered two answers. The easy way is to measure the length of rope used to lower the diving bell. The hard way is to do a bunch of calculations involving the volume of air in the diving bell and the water pressure. I only got partial credit for my answer. I forgot to account for the air pressure on the surface of the lake!”
(Of course! The air pressure on the surface of the lake!)
Otto Fajen: “This story is certainly incorrectly attributed (in that form) to Niels Bohr. The era when such a question would have been posed to him in school predates the existence of either the object or the term ‘skyscraper.’ While I never met the man, I had the honor to meet one of his students, Nicholas Bloombergen, who also is a Nobel laureate in Physics. We invited him to speak at our Physics Department colloquium at the Univrsity of Missouri, Columbia, when I was a graduate student.”
Scott Nicol: “As you suspected, this story has been around for a long time, in many different forms. See this page, which traces it back to an article in Saturday Review (Dec 21, 1968). You’ll notice no mention of Niels Bohr — that part was likely added by a Danish patriot. The claim that Niels Bohr was the only Dane to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics is also false. He probably was the first, but his son, Aage Bohr, was a joint recipient of the award in 1975. Click here for a list of award winners, and here for a short bio of Aage.”
Steve Casagrande: “A neat story, but probably just that — a story. Check out this urban legends page.”
Judy Tillinger linked me to: the whole bohring story.
Thad Fenton helped me out with my Ten Commandments: “No, Andy, it’s ‘So let it be written. So let it be done. ”
And any number of you corrected my spelling. There are, of course, two Y’s and only one E in Yul Brynner.
Anonymous Tape Duplicator: “The title of your column contained the word ‘copyrights’ which reminded me of something. My boyfriend, a professor at the University of Iowa, told me that textbooks are so expensive that students often just photocopy them instead of buy them. In fact, he was recently told that the students in one class bought one copy of a textbook, made copies for everyone, and then returned it for a refund. The punch line? It was an ethics class.”