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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Category: History

Day 33: Murphy and Newton

Last week, I asked for some blog content ideas so I could stock up before my big January trip. One of the post ideas offered was, “Murphy’s Law vs. Newton’s Laws.” I’m tackling it today because I just so happened to get an applicable Christmas gift that serves as a nice lead-in.

By some happy accident, I acquired “F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers” by Richard Benson at my family’s white elephant gift exchange (I stole it, someone stole it from me, someone stole it from that person and then I secretly traded a glass water bottle for it after the game was over).

The book chronicles test questions and a collection of ridiculous test answers from students. Here’s an example:

Q: What type of attractive force or bond holds the sodium ions and chloride ions together in a crystal of sodium chloride?
A: James Bond

Here’s the one that applies to this post (never mind the funky grammar):

Q: What was Sir Isaac Newton famous for?
A: He invented gravity.

It just so happens that my mother is in the process of finishing writing a pre-teen book called, “Isaac Newton Invented Gravity: and Other Myths.” It’s funny, smart and can get a kid hooked on physics. I can’t wait for it to be published so I can plug it here.

So—Murphy’s Law vs. Newton’s Laws.

The history of Murphy’s Law is actually pretty interesting. For now, we’re concerned with the law itself—“what can go wrong will go wrong” and a variety of iterations stating basically the same thing.

The similarity between Murphy and Newton’s Laws is that they tend to be widely simplified. That’s pretty much it.

Murphy’s Law is a simple statement suggesting a complex phenomenon that isn’t actually a law. For proof, see December 22, 2012 and my family’s white elephant gift exchange (my new favorite book could have permanently fallen into the wrong hands—or the fire—but it didn’t).

Newton’s Laws are complex scientific proofs that describe what appear to be the simple processes we observe every day. A thing moves or rests at a constant speed and in a constant direction until force acts on it (a sitting ball won’t start rolling on its own and a rolling ball will roll until it is stopped). Forces exist in pairs; to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (feet press on the ground and the ground presses back on feet). There are more laws that show how every motion—flying, walking, driving, swimming, sitting, resting, running, etc.—relies on a set of foundational truths about gravity. Newton didn’t invent or discover gravity, but he painstakingly codified how we understand it.

I never actually took physics, but I did take a two-week elementary school Summer Academy course in which I got to ride roller coasters and throw eggs. I feel pretty confident in my assessment of Newton’s Laws.

With that, this post about Murphy’s Law and Newton’s Laws concludes. Thank you for the idea, McLaughlin. Feel free to send more.

Day 10: The Letter

Remember Myspace?

The word on the street is that it’s coming back, looking snazzier than ever.

In honor of its pending reintroduction to the mainstream social media-sphere, I dug up the farewell letter I wrote to it back in April 2008 (for real).

Dear Myspace,

You have been a loyal cyber network and a wonderful time waster to me all these years. We have shared many good memories together and no one can take the good times away from us.

I, however, am taking my page away from you. I feel as though our html is going in different directions; spending time with you has become an afterthought for me. You deserve better.  Much better.

You deserve someone who will pour over your pages and love you for what you are. Someone who will take the time to find elementary school friends, befriend their friends’ alt rock band pages and actually listen to music. Someone who will make fake pages about fake cats and cultivate fake friendships with other fake animals. I cannot do these things for you. I just don’t have the time.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Perhaps we shall meet again.

I will never forget you.



P.S. If you don’t mind, please tell your networkers they can find me on Facebook. (And yes, you were always prettier than Facebook.)

Day 7: Lucky Number

I hadn’t been paying much (any) attention to the growing Powerball jackpot until I caught The Onion’s story about the missing balls. As with most Onion stories, I hoped it was real. It wasn’t.

“It’s usually Marketing Director Ben Callahan’s job to keep an eye on the balls, but when reached for a comment, Callahan said he just sits next to the balls. It’s not his job to know where they are every second of every day.”

Apparently, the balls were fine and the drawing went off without a hitch.

All this talk about balls had me wondering how the lottery came to exist in its current form.

From what I can gather on a rainy Saturday morning, the original lotteries were used to fund major city and countrywide projects. Lottery first shows up in history during the Chinese Han Dynasty in the second century B.C., and may have been used to help fund the Great Wall of China. During the 15th Century, lotteries raised money for the poor and for public services.

In early American history, lotteries funded roads, public buildings, churches, new technology and a few major ivy-league universities. Benjamin Franklin used a lottery to finance cannons for the Revolutionary War (though he was apparently unsuccessful). Note: if you’re ever in New Jersey and want to view lottery tickets from the 1700s, Princeton University has an American Lottery Tickets Collection you may find titillating.

Although it was a form of voluntary taxation, lottery became a sore social issue in the 1800s and was outlawed in the U.S. in 1905. It came back into play in the 1960s and really took off with Scientific Game’s development of the secure instant ticket in 1974.

Since then, we’ve been a lotto-happy country. Although it varies by state, lotto still funds public programs and services. Somewhere between a fifth and a third of every dollar goes back into the community.

That said, the majority of our news and social discussion about lotto is about payoff and probabilities. Dreams, cash, chances… I don’t know anyone who bought a Powerball ticket because they wanted to support their local school district.

Having learned a little history, I’m still a little wary. The lottery is a somewhat-philanthropic endeavor that makes us act and sound like greedy little monsters.

Post Script: What will the Powerball winners do with the money? For one take, check out The Onion’s funny and sad story about how they’re divorced and bankrupt less than 24 hours after winning.