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Sympathetic Physics

John Worrell Keely and his invention.

Poking my head out of the woods for one little bit of good news: Technology & Culture has just published my article, “Sympathetic Physics: The Keely Motor and the Laws of Thermodynamics in Nineteenth-Century Culture.” It’s about the Keely Motor, which was the most notorious perpetual motion hoax of the 19th-century–unless, of course, it was real. Technology & Culture is probably the leading journal in the history of technology, and I’ve been wanting to publish an article there for years. I’m delighted that the first one I did was this one, which I think is both smart and a lot of fun.  Read more

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Eulogies for Lisa

Lisa
We said goodbye to Lisa (or tried to) on Friday. Several people have asked me for a copy of my eulogy, while I knew I had to have copies of the beautiful words offered by everyone else. So: my eulogy is posted below. And: this PDF contains my eulogy plus the other eulogies offered on Friday, by Rabbi Debra Dressler, Wael Haddara, Rachel Heydon, Hilary Teplitz and Elaine Worthy Thomas, Julie Faden, and myself. May her memory be a blessing.

Eulogies for Lisa (PDF)
Lisa’s Blog

Thank you all so much for being here today. Rabbi Dressler, Wael, Rachel, Hilary and Elaine, Julie, thank you for your kind and heartfelt words.

I’m Lisa’s husband Rob. On this beautiful, miserable day, at the end of the worst week of my life, on zero hours of sleep and several extra-strength Tylenol to fight the fever I’ve been running for days, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to stand up in front of one or two hundred people and try to sum up, in a few minutes, the most incredible person I have ever known. I’m afraid my speech is too long and it’s not properly footnoted, but I do think it is pretty good in parts. Let’s give it a whirl. Read more

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Hydrostatic Pressure

"Untitled (Low Tide)," by Jim Kazanjian

“Untitled (Low Tide),” by Jim Kazanjian

 

“Hmm, it looks like what you have here is a leaky shower pan.”

“It looks like what you have here is a leaky basement.”

“Hmm. It looks like there’s a leak somewhere in here.”

“It looks to me like you need a new catalytic converter.”

“I’m afraid the test results are consistent with a cancer diagnosis.”

“At least you spotted it early.”

“The important thing is that you spotted it early.”

“It’s too bad you didn’t spot it early.”  Read more

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We Can Be Happy Underground

From the “Further Readings” section at the back of Paul Collin’s wonderful Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change The World:

There is one very simple way to see what Beach’s railway [19th century New York’s secret, unfinished pneumatic subway] looked like, and blown up far larger than any plate in this book could manage. Go to a Subway shop–the fast-food chain, you know, where you can buy a six-inch Cold Cut Trio?–and lo! Pasted upon the walls are pictures of Beach’s invention. Whoever was designing the chainwide decor for Subway simply clipped out a bunch of old public-domain illustrations of subways, including three that originally ran in Scientific American in the 1870s. Look for the pictures that depict an almost perfectly round (save for a slight groove in the bottom) brick-lined subway tunnel, and a rounded subway car interior. These are Beach’s own handpicked illustrations for what was to be an ultra-million-dollar venture. Graze pensively on your Baked Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips. Ponder the vagaries of ambition.