Charles Brian Orner


Interested readers will discover additional details here in a wide variety of areas, including the arts, astronomy, business, culture, environment, gaming, geography, language, history, literature, music, mythology, philosophy, politics, religion, and science. Spend a little time with the notes; it'll pique your interest. Then buy the book. Most notes have been taken from public sources such as Wikipedia. The remainder are given attribution.

Chapter 30

1    “Don’t Panic” is a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The novel explains that this was partly because the device “looked insanely complicated” to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travelers from panicking. “It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON’T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."
2    The origins of the meter go back to at least the eighteenth century. At that time, there were two competing approaches to the definition of a standard unit of length. Some suggested defining the meter as the length of a pendulum having a half-period of one second; others suggested defining the meter as one ten-millionth of the length of the Earth’s meridian along a quadrant (one fourth the circumference of the Earth). In 1791, soon after the French Revolution, the French Academy of Sciences chose the meridian definition over the pendulum definition because the force of gravity varies slightly over the surface of the Earth, affecting the period of the pendulum.  Thus, the meter was intended to equal 10-7 or one ten-millionth of the length of the meridian through Paris from pole to the equator. However, the first prototype was short by 0.2 millimeters because researchers miscalculated the flattening of the Earth due to its rotation. Still this length became the standard. In 1889, a new international prototype was made of an alloy of platinum with 10 percent iridium, to within 0.0001, that was to be measured at the melting point of ice. In 1927, the meter was more precisely defined as the distance, at 0°, between the axes of the two central lines marked on the bar of platinum-iridium kept at the BIPM, and declared Prototype of the meter by the 1st CGPM, this bar being subject to standard atmospheric pressure and supported on two cylinders of at least one centimeter diameter, symmetrically placed in the same horizontal plane at a distance of 571 mm from each other. The 1889 definition of the meter, based upon the artifact international prototype of platinum-iridium, was replaced by the CGPM in 1960 using a definition based upon a wavelength of krypton-86 radiation. This definition was adopted in order to reduce the uncertainty with which the meter may be realized. In turn, to further reduce the uncertainty, in 1983 the CGPM replaced this latter definition by the following definition: The meter is the length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299 792 458 of a second.
3    The number forty-two is, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” calculated by an enormous supercomputer over a period of 7.5 million years. Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is.
4    The Kansas Board of Education voted six to four on August 9, 2005 to include greater criticism of evolution in its school science standards, but it decided to send the standards to an outside academic for review before taking a final vote. The standards received final approval on November 8, 2005. The new standards were approved by six to four, reflecting the makeup of religious conservatives on the board. The changes were: 1) Add to the mission statement a goal that science education should seek to help students make “informed” decisions. 2) Provide a definition of science that is not strictly limited to natural explanations. 3) Allow intelligent design to be presented as an alternative explanation to evolution as presented in mainstream biology textbooks, without endorsing it. 4) State that evolution is a theory and not a fact. 5) Require informing students of purported scientific controversies regarding evolution. On February 13, 2007, the Board voted six to four to reject the amended science standards enacted in 2005. The definition of science was once again returned to “the search for natural explanations for what is observed in the universe.”
5    The Fermi paradox (or Fermi’s paradox) is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations.
6    L’Alpe d’Huez is climbed regularly in the Tour de France. It was first included in the race in 1952 and has been a stage finish regularly since 1976. It is widely regarded as the most difficult climb in the Tour.
7    The phrase means that Fortuna, the Goddess of luck, is more likely to help those who take risks or action. Its earliest recorded use is by the second century BC playwright Terence, Phormio, 203 (Fortis Fortuna adjuvat) and by Ennius, Ann. 257 (Fortibus est Fortuna viris data). A similar phrase (Audentis Fortuna juvat) is shouted by Turnus in Virgil’s Aeneid, 10.284, as he begins the charge against Aeneas’ Trojans. This phrase is often quoted as Audentes Fortuna juvat or Audaces Fortuna juvat.
8    Finley is the Secret Service code word for the Secretary of Defense.
9    Anna Wintour, is the English editor-in-chief of American Vogue, a position she has held since 1988. In 2013, she became artistic director for Condé Nast, Vogue’s publisher. With her trademark pageboy bob haircut and sunglasses, Wintour has become an important figure in much of the fashion world, widely praised for her eye for fashion trends and her support for younger designers. Her reportedly aloof and demanding personality has earned her the nickname “Nuclear Wintour.
10    The phrase “not even wrong” describes any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it contains a terminal logical fallacy or it cannot be falsified by experiment (i.e. tested with the possibility of being rejected), or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. The phrase is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which “a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, ‘It is not even wrong’.”
11    A bairn is a Scottish baby. Possibly derived from the old Norse word “barn,” which means both “child” and “children.”
12    Semper Fu refers to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, the hand-to-hand combat system used by the Marines, which has different levels of belts (tan, gray, green, brown, black) for different levels. The moniker is a combination of “Semper Fi” and “kung-fu.”

Brian Orner