Optical illusions have long been a key part of the magician’s toolkit. Here’s a really good illustration of how and why they work.
BBC Academy trainer Mark Blanc-Settle hit the Twitter jackpot with a tweet on the “Jastrow Illusion” — the mistaken impression (embedded in magic tricks since time immemorial) that two objects that APPEAR to be of different sizes are in fact the SAME size. He had more than 3,000 retweets.
He uses the illustration of curved sections of a model railroad track, but you can find others as well.
Here’s the video he tweeted (the link is to Slate, where I found the story):
Here’s his Twitter page, which has further discussion of the illusion:
I was walking through Place Dauphine on Île de la Cité when a bookstore display caught my eye — it was this book of “stupefying but true” prisoners’ last words before they ascended the steps of the “national razor.”
Its title is “Shortcuts,” which is witty enough, but it’s the last little lagniappe that makes it really humorous. The book is shaped like a guillotine blade, its bottom edge cut at an angle like the edge Dr. Guillotin designed just before the French Revolution to make death as quick and painless as possible.
Some bons mots from the book, relayed from its review in Le Monde last April (translation errors are mine):
“Voilà une semaine qui commence mal.” (This is a week that’s starting off badly.) Olympe de Gouges, woman of letters, feminist, executed on Nov. 3, 1793 — a Monday.
“C’est mauvais pour la santé.” (It’s bad for the health.) Henri Landru, a serial killer executed in 1922, when he was offered a cigarette and a glass of rum just before the blade descended.
“Au revoir, monsieur, et bonne continuation !” (Goodbye, and enjoy the rest of my book.) The Marquis de Charost, executed in 1793 at the age of 23. He read a book in the tumbrel on his way to the guillotine and, when he arrived, carefully turned down the page and handed it to a guard.
“Si ça peut faire plaisir au curé.” (If that would please the priest.) Antoine Martin, who killed his brother, politely accepting the last rites.
The last person was guillotined in France on 10 September 1977. Capital punishment was abolished in 1981.
Here’s about as chilling a lede* as you’ll see in an American newspaper these days:
A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.
Nature Geoscience via WashingtonPost.com
Ten Feet? That would turn Florida into Venice – the ground floor of almost every building would be uninhabitable. Miami Beach already has salt water sloshing its way through the sewers into the streets. This is not good news.
This is the big issue, and it’s complicated. I highly recommend this story from the Washington Post about how the Antarctic ice shelves are melting and falling into the sea because the water under them is too warm. The story is specific and detailed, and has some links you should follow and read closely.
One of the major surprises, to me at least, is how much water the shelves contain.
Americans have a greater risk than most
As Americans, our risk is greater than most. There’s probably some justice in that — we’ve contributed more than any other country to the carbon dioxide level in the air, and as one result of developing such a strong economy we have more resources than any other country, which is to say we can afford to build seawalls around Miami and New York.
This explanation of our heightened risk is interesting in itself:
Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.
Read the whole story, plus the links, if you’re not sure why gravity will make sea-level rise affect us more than other countries.
Good news – If you’re an adult it probably won’t have a huge direct impact on you, but (bad news) your children and grandchildren will pay the price.
In my days as a journalist in Washington and Europe, the name of the first paragraph was “lead.” Now it’s morphed into “lede.” Same thing. Maybe next year it’ll be “leed.”
The NYT reports today that France has agreed to pay $60 million to compensate Holocaust victims who were deported on the French National Railways during World War II.
The agreement will have to be approved by the French Parliament, which should not be a major obstacle because the government’s party still holds a majority. It calls for paying the money directly to American and other Holocaust survivors. According to The Times:
In return, the United States is expected to help ease obstacles impeding the French national railway company, the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, from participating in railway projects that had been held up by American lawmakers, survivors and their heirs as a way to press for a resolution of the compensation issue.
France will pay the $60 million to the United States in a lump sum, according to The Times, which added:
The money is expected to be distributed to the several thousand survivors, family members and their heirs, officials said.
This agreement is big and important news. No one who has read the history of the war fails to understand that without the complicity of SNCF and its employees the deportation trains could not have taken the Jews from France to Germany and the slave-labor and death camps. Despite the stories of heroic resistance (See The Train, the very entertaining movie with Burt Lancaster), the good citizens of France really had little interest in protecting their Jewish compatriots.
Too bad. Serious moral failures have a very long tail. They are the stuff of myth.
There’s a neat new feature in Apple’s MAPS app under iOS – Flyover. It’s available for several major cities, but of course I think the Paris one is the neatest.
Open Maps on the iPhone or iPad and search for Paris. Under the city name you’ll see a line saying “3D Flyover Tour of Paris.” Press “Start” to the right and enjoy. The screenshots I’ve posted below will give you an idea of what to expect.
I enjoyed watching as the (virtual) overhead camera took me from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Seine islands, the Grand Palais and the Arc de Triomphe. It’s virtual reality with the emphasis on real, other than the missing throngs around the glass pyramid at the Louvre and the chaotic traffic bustling around Place Charles de Gaulle.
Paris has one of the most advanced public transit systems in the western world. Subway trains (the métro) run every one or two minutes during rush hours, and only slightly less often at other times. Buses on the busiest lines stop every four to ten minutes, and they connect seamlessly with each other.
It’s using all this sophisticated transport that can be difficult, but there are some apps that lighten the load considerably. (I’ve tried and discarded many of them during the smart phone years, always returning to the one issued by the métro system itself. This year, though, I’ve found a third-party app that is my winner.)
Transit (Samuel Vermette, free for iPhone and Android) is quick and intuitive. In a few seconds, you can enter your destination and choose “current location” as your starting point; it will find the nearest transit stops, tell you how long it will take to walk to the first one and how long you have until the next bus or train arrives.
This screen shot (planner) shows a trip Jan and I made from the Marais to Denfert-Rochereau, the prominent square near Rue Daguerre and the Montparnasse Cemetery. Our rented apartment is nearby, overlooking the cemetery.
The second screen shot is the route map Transit creates, showing that we took the bus to the Saint-Michel métro stop, then the Line 4 métro from there. This is the route we chose, adding a stop for a coffee at one of the many cafés around Saint-Michel, the busy student center surrounded by bookstores. There’s a terrific view across the Seine to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Second place this year goes to the app published by the métro system itself, which is known by its acronym RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). I’ve used it for a long time, but this year’s update isn’t quite as intuitive as Transit. Both use the same RATP database, which is available under license to developers.
However, I do like its “around me” page better. Using your GPS coordinates, it shows a map of all the bus and metro stops in the vicinity. Click on the station icon to see when the next two buses or trains will arrive.
I’ve just learned that my Paris novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare has been chosen as a finalist in two categories of the Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Contest – Historical Mysteries and General Thrillers.
Needless to say, I’m really pleased about it. Winners will be announced in early September.
Treasure of Saint-Lazare reached No. 25 on the Kindle Historical Mysteries best-seller list in mid-2013. It now has 124 reviews on Amazon and has maintained its four-star rating.
I’m almost finished writing a sequel, which has the working title of Last Stop: Paris, and hope to publish it in the fourth quarter. A third novel is 75% plotted and I’m beginning to think about a fourth.