Low counterparts of things usually high
December 22nd, 2014
Rebelling against one’s boss or, if a slave, one’s master
An explosive, typically a gunpowder, whose expansion velocity
is generally subsonic
Low Holy Days
Celebration periods in the Jewish calendar of secondary importance, such as
the Shabbat Hagadol and Yom Rishon Hagadol
Low energy physics
The areas of physics that don’t directly involve atomic-scale
dimensions, substantial radioactivity, or relativistic speeds
The Sierra Nevada region in the western U.S. of medium altitude —
7000–8500 feet (2100–2600 meters) on the east side and 3000–7000
(900–2100) on the west. This is the sole habitat of the celebrated sequoia.
The note two octaves below high C or one below middle C, sounding at
approximately 130.813 Hz*. Expressed in technical literature as
, this is also the lowest note on the viola and the banjo.
Alluding roughly to altitude, the West Germanic languages and dialects
spoken in northern Germany and some eastern regions of the Netherlands. Less
formally the term can expand to include Dutch and Frisian and their dialects.
Low temperature superconductor
A substance that needs to be cooled to 30 K (-243 °C or -406 °F) or lower to
conduct electricity without resistance. In other words, the easier
superconductors to procure since any metal will superconduct if you get
it cold enough.
Low tension line
Informally, a power line carrying 1000 volts or less. (The high
tension Ekibastuz-Kokshetau line in Kazakhstan holds the world’s record at
the other extreme, 1.15 million volts.)
The figurative position of someone boasting or arrogantly making an
assertion, but doing so while intoxicated or relying on faulty information.
(Not especially common, but attested at least as far back as 1930.)
A secondary, shorter altar in a house of worship placed forward of the main (high)
altar. As the officiant can stand between the two and face the congregation,
the structure can serve as a kind of lectern. In a temporal context the
term can refer to a coffee table or a low-slung chest of drawers.
Here’s how you arrive at this number: Take the twelfth root of 2, raise
it to the 21st power, then divide that result into 440 (the standard
frequency of A4). This is because C3 is 21 half steps
below A4, and in our 12-tone even-tempered scale each half step
multiplies (if going up) or divides (if going down) a frequency by the twelfth
root of 2.
Odd, entirely unrelated facts III
May 11th, 2014
A man named Quintus Pompeius Senecio Roscius Murena Coelius Sextus Julius
Frontinus Silius Decianus Gaius Julius Eurycles Herculaneus Lucius Vibullius
Pius Augustanus Alpinus Bellicus Sollers Julius Aper Ducenius Proculus
Rutilianus Rufinus Silius Valens Valerius Niger Claudius Fuscus Saxa Amyntianus
Sosius Priscus was appointed Roman consul in 169. His name repeats “Julius” three
times and “Silius” twice. He was known as Quintus Pompeius Senecio Sosius
Priscus for short.
Peach Melba (peaches served with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice
cream) and Melba toast were named after legendary soprano Nellie Melba. Born Helen Porter
Mitchell, she had chosen her stage name to honor her birthplace of Melbourne,
Australia. Melbourne had in turn been named after British Prime Minister William Lamb,
2nd Viscount Melbourne, whose title referred to Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire, UK.
William Windom, great grandfather of actor William Windom, was U.S. Secretary of
the Treasury in 1881 and from 1889 to 1891. Ivy Baker Priest, mother of actress
Pat Priest (best known for having played Marilyn on The Munsters
), was U.S. Treasurer from 1953 to
1961. Ivy Baker Priest appeared as the mystery guest on the TV show What’s
in August 1954. The panelists were blindfolded so they wouldn’t see her signature.
You often see old-time newsreel footage of what was originally represented to be
departing for America in which there are spooky blobs
wiggling around on surfaces where you would expect to see the name of the ship.
That’s because all genuine moving footage of the Titanic’s
voyage was lost with it along with its cinematographer, first-class passenger
William Harbeck. To sidestep that inconvenient detail the newsreel producers of
the day took footage of its sister ship Olympic
and had someone paint out
its name frame-by-frame. It’s theoretically possible that any nitrate film at the
wreck site is still physically intact and viewable, should anyone manage to
Two anagrams of “Ronald Wilson Reagan” are “No, darlings, no ERA law” and “insane Anglo warlord.”
An anagram of “Reaganomics” is “A con game, sir.”
Kerosene was originally marketed as a substitute for whale oil in
lamps. It’s a mixture of molecular chains containing between 6 and 16 atoms of carbon,
more or less. Gasoline, whose carbon chains average about 20 per cent shorter, was originally discarded as a worthless byproduct of kerosene production
though some was bottled and sold off at the time under the trade name Petrol as an effective — if horrendously dangerous — head lice cure.
Little Hollywood story No. 2
November 1st, 2013
Promotional still from 20th Century Fox (1970)
One busy Friday evening I found myself working the cash register at the
Hamburger Hamlet right across from Mann’s Chinese Theater.
To the left you see Rex Reed and Raquel Welch negotiating that very same eatery’s
terrazzo steps about eight years earlier, so you can do the math. Back then you
had to phone in customers’ credit card numbers to validate them and then
do your ka-chunk ka-chunk with a mechanical imprinter. Hamburger Hamlet was founded by
actor Harry Lewis (you likely saw him in the film Key Largo
as one of
Edward G. Robinson’s smirking henchmen who gets killed by Humphrey Bogart) and
his wife Marilyn.
Now a week and a half before that, I had thrown in the towel from the strain of
that very same job at the Pasadena outlet. The stroke-inducing pace of it,
not to mention my inability to scarf down my complimentary dinner fast enough
that after a few interruptions to ring up more customers the food would still be
there when I ran back, had done me in. The manager said she was sorry that I had
quit and all, but that her Hollywood counterpart Omar had no cashier to work
that particular night and so could I please, please drive over there and come
through for them just this once.
It turned out to be a singular experience.
Like me, Omar had lately arrived from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Small world. Both he and his
senior waitress were glad to help out when my work load got out of hand. There was also
plenty of bittersweet diversion. A customer started bellowing uncannily like a bull moose in the bar
section and police had to be called to help Omar eighty-six him, a garishly made-up
woman sat at the counter nursing her coffee and muttering to herself (“They
told me I was going to be an actress...” one could speculate) for almost five
hours before she left, and at around half-past ten two cars collided just outside on Hollywood
Blvd and their drivers exited and started duking it out.
When the disturbance threatened to work its way toward our front door Omar got ready
to lock it. At that point I noticed the bottom glass section had been boarded
over, which he explained had taken place earlier that week when a potential
customer crashed through it an hour after closing time to ask for
Other memories of that same corner linger, like the time the Popeye
and crew had my VW Rabbit towed away late one night while I was watching their
competition Flash Gordon
at the Chinese.
I had parked it legally enough on Orange Drive. But to accommodate the
limousines shuttling celebrants to the Popeye
rap party I knew nothing about, the
management installed temporary NO PARKING — TOW AWAY signs along that stretch
shortly thereafter while I was inside the theater ogling
Choice #1: Run the cutthroat-infested midnight gauntlet twelve blocks northeast to my apartment and
then see to getting the car back the next day, likely with added storage fees.
Choice #2: Brave a similarly unnerving trek southward, but this time only
blocks, to the impound garage. (The facility stood just across an alley from
where many of us had produced art for a Star Trek movie, but I was in no
mood to reminisce.)
I yielded to #2, plus the eighty-dollar extortion. The attendant leapt
between me and the car and did the windmill thing with his arms to make sure I didn’t try
to escape with it.
“The untrue contriving eftsoons of another feigned lad”
August 5th, 2013
Edgar the Ætheling was one busy beaver.
Timeline mission No. 5 takes us to the Kingdom of England.
First of all, William the Conqueror did not
directly succeed his former ally
and dinner companion Harold Godwinson. Edmund Ironside’s teenaged grandson Edgar
the Ætheling (“throne-worthy”) actually held the strongest genealogical
claim to the English throne back when Edward the Confessor died childless in
January of 1066. But the committee of Anglo-Saxon nobles known as the Witan
adjudged him too young and instead crowned Harold, Edward’s
It took 71 days for William to kill Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14
October; subdue Dover, Canterbury, and Winchester; and then hack his way to
London to take the crown on Christmas. During that interval the
Witan — albeit with waning enthusiasm — recognized Edgar
William took Edgar back with him to Normandy in 1067. Edgar wouldn’t
reign over much of anything for the remaining sixty years of his life —
though scarcely for lack of trying. Alternating between throne-seeking and
running for cover, pledging fealty and then reneging, his peregrinations
continued roughly as follows: to Scotland in 1068; England, 1069; Scotland,
1070; Flanders, 1072; Scotland again, 1074; later, back to England; to Sicily
and Italy in 1086; Scotland again, 1091; back to Normandy, then England, and
finally back to Scotland by 1093; England again, then Scotland in 1097;
Jerusalem (Why not?) in 1102; Normandy, 1106; and finally back to Scotland in
1120 to die peacefully around 1126.
England came very close to crowning its first female sovereign upon the death of
Henry I. Henry’s eldest legitimate son, William, had drowned in 1120 when his
vessel foundered in the English Channel. Daughter Matilda consequently moved to the front
of the line. But when Henry succumbed to his legendary “surfeit of lampreys” in
late 1135 Matilda was busy in France and his nephew Stephen of Blois stepped in
before her supporters could stop him.
Fanciful portrait of Queen Matilda, whose résumé
also includes Holy Roman Empress as she was Henry V of Germany’s widow
Stephen was a usurper, granted, but otherwise a pushover. “When traitors saw
that Stephen was a good-humored, kindly, and easygoing man who inflicted no
punishment,” the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us, “they committed all manner of
horrible crimes.” Stephen had his hands full putting down one rebellion after
another, and during a six-month gap you can see in the circle above Matilda’s
forces imprisoned him and proclaimed her as Queen. Moneyers of Stephen’s era muddled
the legends on their coins to avoid the personal risk of taking sides.
Stephen declared his son Eustace co-regent but outlived him. A similar situation
played out with Henry II and his son Henry, Jr., remembered as The Young King.
Louis the Lion (later Louis VIII of France) claimed the throne in 1216 while
King John still had four months to live; but 10,000 silver marks and other
fabulous prizes persuaded him to renounce it in favor of Henry III.
Skipping forward a couple of centuries we can spot the musical chairs between Henry VI and
Edward IV and then the brief showing of Edward V, the elder of the two princes
in the Tower of London widely believed to have been murdered by order of
usurper Richard III.
In the second circled area we find Henry VII fending off his own
insurrectionists. Intrigues against Henry tended to involve pre-Tudor holdovers
who hoped to reverse his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field. Rationales
grew out of revisionist scenarios featuring the Tower Princes and/or the Earl of
Warwick and other second-stringers. The two standout pretenders were Lambert
Simnel and the “feigned lad” of Henry’s description in our title,
Simnel’s supporters crowned him “Edward VI” in Dublin on 24 May 1487 and passed
him off as the 17th Earl of Warwick, whom Richard III had supposedly
anointed as his rightful successor. All this was news to Henry who, last he
checked, was holding the real
17th Earl of Warwick in the Tower.
Henry’s forces trounced Simnel’s on 16 June at the Battle of Stoke Field.
Realizing the ten-year-old Simnel was little more than a Yorkist puppet, he pardoned
him and gave him a job in the royal kitchen.
Perkin Warbeck fared less well. In 1491 word reached Henry that Richard Duke of
York, the younger of the Tower Princes, had somehow survived and vowed to
overthrow him. The Royal Army captured Warbeck in Cornwall in 1497. Henry put
him and his wife under a kind of honorary house arrest on the palace grounds;
but when Warbeck abused that leniency by dusting off his old plot and scheming
with the [genuine] Earl of Warwick, Henry hanged them both.
The lilac bar highlights the singular moment in English history — late October
1683 to early February 1685 — when eight past, present, and future autocrats
Richard Cromwell succeeded his father Oliver as Lord Protector
and held the post for almost nine months, but his heart wasn’t in it and he
yielded to what ultimately resulted in the Restoration. Since
Richard lived to the age of 85, his “career ratio” (time in office divided by
total lifespan) hits the lowest of any undisputed English autocrat at 0.008. Henry
III, who ascended the throne aged 9 years and 18 days, still holds the highest