Bizarre Ideas: You Want to do What?

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Bizarre ideas - moving an iceberg - SXC Image No. 1001938During my lifetime I have encountered some bizarre ideas. Here are a few.

The Baggy Plan

Many parts of the Middle East are very arid. There arose a plan to remedy this by creating a giant baggy. This would be placed widely open at the mouth of the Amazon River to accept the fresh water. When the bag was full it would be towed to the Middle East and utilized. The plan was never carried out.

Bizarre Ideas: The Iceberg Plan

An “improvement” on the plan in the above scheme was to tow a giant iceberg to the Middle East and make use of its constituent water. This idea was also never carried out.

Early Cipher Plans

Sending secret messages was always a problem. A message can be intercepted and the code in which it was written could be deciphered. Thousands of years ago, a man’s head would be shaved and a message written upon his scalp. His hair would soon grow and cover the message. He could then, hopefully, proceed to the message’s destination with his purpose undetected.

In Japan a message was written on a very thin silk cloth. It was then balled up and covered with wax. The messenger swallowed the ball and rushed to deliver it.

Later Cipher Plan

A scheme of about 150 years ago involved removing rectangular pieces of skin from the forearms of two people and grafting the skin of each of them onto the arm of the other person. When one person wrote a message on the patch on his arm, the text would appear as though by magic on the patch of the other’s arm. I have no knowledge that the latter practice was ever put into effect.

Bizarre Ideas: The Gravity Railroad

This plan involved digging a tunnel from, say, New York City to Chicago, and furnishing it with railroad tracks. A train in New York would release its brakes and move by the acceleration due to gravity until it reached the point closest to the center of the earth. At this point it would decelerate until, in a perfect world, it would come to rest in Chicago.

What’s wrong with this picture? Friction! Someone proposed a fix for this. Remember paying for a purchase in the huge old department stores? A salesperson put your order and payment into a canister and sent it via suction through a tube that reached a clerk, who would remove the contents of the canister, check the order, put any change and the receipt into the canister and return it to the salesperson.

Analogously, on the gravity railroad the train, which of course is in a gigantic tube, would be forced up into Chicago by suction, thus overcoming gravity. The world was denied an interesting mode of travel.

Bizarre Ideas: The Indiana Pi Bill

Pi (π) is the area of a circle of radius 1; it’s a tough customer: π to ten digits is 3.141592653. True π has an infinite number of digits. In 1897 W. J Goodman, a physician and amateur mathematician approached the Indiana General Assembly and offered the state free access to a new and purportedly true value for π: 3.2. Other states would have to pay.

Goodman claimed to have solved many old perplexing problems of mathematics, problems which had been previous shown to be improvable by his betters. This claim gave him credibility with the Assembly. This bill was never passed. If it had scientists, mathematicians and engineers would never have used this value for π.

The Doctrine of a Flat Earth

In its early days the Christian Church was looking for a map that would show all of the places in the known world: Paradise (which would not be capable of being entered by the living), the lands of Gog and Magog, the land of Prester John, the land of living mortals, etc. They finally located such a map, created by a man named Kosmas.

Unfortunately, this map was a flat earth model. The map was not universally accepted. That the earth is round was known since ancient Greek times. In fact an ancient Greek measured the circumference of the earth and came amazingly close to the value used today. However, Biblical text supporting a flat earth can be found in Revelations, Chapter 1, and Verse 7: “All people will see him when he arrives and will know that he is Jesus.” This is certainly not possible with a round earth.*

Bizarre Ideas: Getting Dressed in the Dark

A very close friend had what I thought was a very good Idea: Choose some harmonious colors and build your wardrobe around them. You can then dress in the dark and will always present a pleasing appearance. I chose dark chocolate brown and white (thinking now why I chose those colors fails to provide a reason).

I began to realize that there were things wrong with this palate: my students thought I belonged to a cult, my colleagues thought I should provide more of a visual treat to my students, people suggested how much better I would look in warmer colors and I myself began to be bored dressing in the perpetual chocolate and vanilla. It took me several years to rid my wardrobe of my then current garments. Anyone want to buy a dark chocolate brown cape?

I can’t wait to see what comes up next. -Ellen

* Publisher’s Note: Of course this “Scriptural” explanation is an error on the part of interpreters (cf. Isaiah 40:22).


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