The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 26 Apr 2019


What is the shed in “watershed”? Is it a garden shed? No.

I guessed that it meant a piece of land that sheds water into some stream or river. Wrong!

The Big Dictionary says that this shed is:

The parting made in the hair by combing along the top of the head.

This meaning of “shed” fell out of use after the end of the 17th century.

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Cuneiform tablet fanfic

This week I learned that there are no fewer than seven fanfics on AO3 that concern the Complaint letter to Ea-Nasir, a 3750-year-old Babylonian cuneiform tablet from an merchant angry at the poor-quality copper ingots he was sold. Truly, we live in an age of marvels.

I've said here before that I don't usually find written material funny, with very rare exceptions. But this story, Pay me Baby, Treat me Right, was a rare exception. I found it completely sidesplitting.

(Caution: sexual content.)

[ Addendum: However, I still demand to know: Where the hell is my Sonar Taxlaw fanfic? Fanfic writers of the world, don't think this gets you off the hook! ]

[ Addendum 20200824: Only 16 months later, there are now eleven works on AO3. ]

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Hell is the absence of God

This is definitely the worst thing I learned this month. It's way worse than that picture of Elvis meeting Nixon.

Six tall black men, members of
the Harlem Globetrotters (including Meadowlark Lemon) stand in what
appears to be a hotel ballroom.  In front of them is Henry Kissinger,
smiling and holding a basketball with the Globertrotters’ signatures. Henry Kissinger alone, smiling
and holding up a Harlem Globetrotters game jersey with the number ‘1’.

Nobel Laureate and noted war criminal Henry Kissinger is also an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

As Maciej Cegłowski said, “And yet the cruel earth refuses to open and swallow up everyone involved.”

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Thu, 25 Apr 2019

Sometimes it matters how you get there

Katara was given the homework exercise of rationalizing the denominator of $$\frac1{\sqrt2+\sqrt3+\sqrt5}$$ which she found troublesome. You evidently need to start by multiplying the numerator and denominator by !!-\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 + \sqrt 5!!, obtaining $$ \frac1{(\sqrt2+\sqrt3+\sqrt5)}\cdot \frac{-\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 + \sqrt 5}{-\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 + \sqrt 5} = \frac{-\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 + \sqrt 5}{(-2 +3 + 5 + 2\sqrt{15})} = \frac{-\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 + \sqrt 5}{6 + 2\sqrt{15}} $$ and then you go from there, multiplying the top and bottom by !!6 - 2\sqrt{15}!!. It is a mess.

But when I did it, it was much quicker. Instead of using !!-\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 + \sqrt 5!!, I went with !!\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 - \sqrt 5!!, not for any reason, but just at random. This got me: $$ \frac1{\sqrt2+\sqrt3+\sqrt5}\cdot \frac{\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 - \sqrt 5}{\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 - \sqrt 5} = \frac{\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 - \sqrt 5}{(2 +3 - 5 + 2\sqrt{6})} = \frac{\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 - \sqrt 5}{2\sqrt{6}} $$

with the !!2+3-5!! vanishing in the denominator. Then the next step is quite easy; just get rid of the !!\sqrt6!!: $$ \frac{\sqrt2 + \sqrt 3 - \sqrt 5}{2\sqrt{6}}\cdot \frac{\sqrt6}{\sqrt6} = \frac{\sqrt{12}+\sqrt{18}-\sqrt{30}}{12} $$

which is correct.

I wish I could take credit for this, but it was pure dumb luck.

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Men who are the husbands of someone important

It's often pointed out that women, even famous and accomplished women, are often described in newspaper stories as being someone's wife, but that the reverse rarely occurs. The only really well-known exception I could think of was Pierre Curie, who was a famous, prizewinning scientist (1903 Nobel Laureate, yo), but is often identified as having been the husband of Marie Skłodowska Curie (also 1903 Nobel Laureate).

But last week brought another example to my attention. There ware a great many news articles reporting that Salma Hayek's husband had pledged money to help rebuild Notre Dame cathedral. His name is François-Henri Pinault, and he is a billionaire. And the husband of Salma Hayek.

For example:

“Billionaire Francois Pinault and his son, Francois-Henri Pinault, who is married to actress Salma Hayek, said…”

Notre Dame fire – Salma Hayek’s French billionaire husband Francois-Henri Pinault pledges £86million

Salma Hayek’s Billionaire Husband Pledges More Than $110 Million to Rebuild Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral


[ Addendum 20190808: Walt Mankowski brings up the excellent example of Sir Max Mallowan, CBE, a famous archaeologist and one of the original excavators of Ur. However, he is better known for having been the husband of Dame Agatha Christie from 1930 until he death in 1976. ]

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