From Public Document No. 34 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “Annual Report of the Department of Public Health for the Year ended November 30, 1928,” which can be found here:


It was the last sentence that drew me to this page. Manny was my grandfather, and my mother grew up at the (Lakeville State) Sanatorium. (See RUTGER.)

Once here, though, it was impossible not to puzzle over the several averages in the report that were given to seven-digit precision. For example, 193.9426, the daily average number of patients for the year. In the late 1920s, computing 70,983/366 to seven places wasn’t a snap like it is now. More likely, it required some cranking, punching, or scribbling.

I am badly out of practice, but while this took me a good two minutes, it reminded me how much I love long division.Original Odhner


My minimally-informed guess? That the Massachusetts Department of Public Health had one of the early motor-driven calculators, like the Marchand above (center). It’s hard for me to imagine a reason to compute seven digits of precision when fewer would suffice unless it was very little extra work to get the extra digits.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong and the reality was more romantic, and there was a clerk who loved little more than long division. I suppose we’ll never know.

Leave a Reply

Southwest Airlines began nonstop service from Newark to Phoenix this month, just in time for my brother’s retirement party, which I attended last week.

Bob served the City of Campbell (California) for 23 years, and although he did not achieve all of his goals¹, he did leave a considerable legacy. Thanks to Bob, for example, the historic Ainsley House was moved to Campbell (and rotated 90 degrees), and Bob oversaw the development of many parks.

The Campbell City Council’s resolution recognizing Bob’s service is here, and his performance of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance (at another Campbell employee’s retirement party not long ago) is here.

Screen shot 2011-06-25 at 15.41.10

But I digress. You’ve come here for the latest episode of Spirit Spelling Report.

Ironic Misspelling

“Millennium” (as “Millenium”, twice, on page 254)³


Unexpected nonmisspellings

  • “apostasy” (as “apostasy”, on page 22)
  • “Millennium” (as “Millennium”, in Spirit’s references to Chicago’s Millennium Park except on page 254)

Odd quotes

  • “Throw any mammal in the water, and it will doggy paddle.” —Mark Uhen, paleontologist, in an article about whales.
  • It goes back to me being a kid, to my sisters and I being given a quarter every Saturday to go to a double feature. —James Patterson, “World’s best-selling author” [emphasis added]

Lest you consider me uniquely picky about Spirit’s typography (which is lately much improved), I draw your attention to a fellow from Incline Village, Nevada, who wrote the editors to bewail their failure to italicize the price of Maryland Crab Cakes in a menu within a story about menus. (The other prices on the menu were italicized.) The editors’ cleverly sneaky response? “Usually we’re better at proofreading than we are at math.” Given the quality of proofreading in past Spirits, well.

Finally, a non-Spirit seat-pocket observation: The Late Spring 2011 SkyMall catalog was disappointingly thin. Economists, take note.

¹ The Campbell Soup Company remains in Camden, New Jersey, for example, despite Bob’s tempting offer to have the city’s water tower repainted Warhol-style.

² Etymology: Latin anniversāri-us returning yearly, < ann-us year + vers-us turned, a turning + –āri-us: see -ary suffix. [Source: The Oxford English Dictionary]

³ Although millenary (synonymous with millennium, from post-classical Latin millenarius) is correctly spelled with -n-, millennium (from classical Latin annus) is correctly spelled with -nn-. The OED notes that these spellings “have frequently been confused.”

Leave a Reply

My maternal grandfather died in 1973. Thirty-eight years later, which is to say last week, I discovered some of Manny’s property, escheated to the Massachusetts State Treasurer and awaiting claim by him or his heirs.

My grandfather’s unclaimed assets, as well as a long-forgotten bank account of my own, turned up when I searched for him (and me) at, a clearinghouse for unclaimed property. All but about a dozen U.S. states list their unclaimed property at Missing Money, and the states that don’t have similar online search pages of their own. (California and New York, for example.)

The money I found won’t make me rich, but it should just about cover a show and a nice meal when my sister visits next month.

And it turns out that “searching for other people’s unclaimed funds” is an amusing distraction.

Name Address Holder Amount Link
Mark Zuckerberg Los Altos CA Paypal, Inc. $308.62 link
Paul D. Ryan Janesville WI Sears $10-$100 link
Rupert Murdoch New York NY General Motors N/A link
Howard Winkelvoss Palo Alto CA Pacific Bell $321.00 link
Donald Trump N/A Bank of America $3,000.00 link
Charlie Sheen Los Angeles CA Paypal, Inc. $60.81 link
Charlie Sheen Los Angeles CA Entmt. Partners $517.00 link
George W. & Laura Bush N/A Bank of America $205.00 link
George W. Bush U S President 1st Bank of N. KY < $100 link
Rush Limbaugh Palm Beach FL News Corporation N/A link
Rick Santorum Washington DC N/A N/A link
Ruth Madoff Boca Raton FL Phoenix Companies N/A link
Kobe Bryant Newport CA CT General Life $232.00 link
Kobe Bryant El Segundo CA CT General Life $482.50 link
Dan Blagojevich Park Ridge IL CSG Systems $10-$100 link
Arnold Schwarzenegger Laguna Hills CA UPromise, Inc. $0.15 link
Oprah Winfrey Fisher Island FL Citizens Prop. Ins. N/A link


If Manny were still alive, he would show up at #7 on Wikipedia’s list of verified oldest people in the world. Life is short; make the most of it.

Leave a Reply

Someone points out a typo to me. I wonder why the typo was made. I learn a bunch of cool stuff. It’s one of my favorite story lines, and here’s today’s episode. [Related post on “Why not?”]

Readers will know that as The Dessoff Choirs’ self-appointed language guru, I routinely prepare IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) transliterations of upcoming concert music. [see Graphemes to Phonemes Made Easy]

Over the years, I’ve learned I can count on certain fellow singers, especially alto section leader Lisa Madsen, to scrutinize my work. Recently, Lisa noticed a small discrepancy between a word (and) in my transliteration and the corresponding word (an) in our printed score.

Georg Friedrich Daumer’s poem “Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel” 

da tat es ihm, dem Glücklichen, nicht an, which should have been nicht and.

Johannes Brahms’s Liebeslieder waltz, Opus 52, #6


S. verifies that and is correct according to several authoritative sources.

S. looks up and fails to find and in several German dictionaries.

S. hypothesizes that and is a poetic substitution for an for rhyme’s sake (cf., antun, to harm).

S. (AKA Area Man) poses this hypothesis at [see Appendix A]

While drafting his WordReference post, B. (S.’s brother) phones S. and asks “What are you doing?”

S. explains.

B. offers to ask G. (B.’s friend, an erudite scholar of German) S.’s question, which offer S. accepts.

S. shortly receives an informative answer [see Appendix B] from WordReference user and native German speaker Demiurg.

Subsequently, S. receives an even more informative answer [see Appendix C] from G.



One of Johannes Brahms’s Liebeslieder-Walzer (1865) contains this stanza from a poem by Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875):

Der Vogel kam
in eine schöne Hand,
da tat es ihm,
dem Glücklichen, nicht and.

Is the final word and a poetic alteration of an (separated from antun) to make the rhyme with Hand? If not, what is it?

Also, how might this come across to a present-day native German speaker (in the context of a sung poem, where a rhyme is expected)?


It’s a dated form (=> and). "Es tat ihm nicht and" means "es tat ihm nicht leid".

However, it’s still used in the East Franconian dialect:

    and tun, es tut mir and

    Aussprache: des dud mer and
    Bedeutung: "es tut mir leid" oder "ich habe Sehnsucht danach"
    Satzbeispiel: Noach mein Vauweh is mer heind no and
    (aus Wassertrüdingen, Landkreis Ansbach)
    "Ich denke heute noch mit Wehmut an meinen VW-Käfer"
    Herkunft: mittelhochdeutsch ant "schmerzlich"
    aus althochdeutsch anan "atmen, seufzen" (vgl. deutsch ahnen)




"Da tat es ihm nicht and".

"and tun" in Eastern Frankish dialect (dialect geographically prevalent in Southern Germany- its eastern border was near Nuernberg, where Georg Friedrich Daumer was born and lived) is/was used to express "to be hurtful" "to cause pain". It is also used in Middle High German. Today you would use: "Da tat es ihm nichts an."

"Da tat es ihm nicht and" could therefore be translated as: it didn’t cause him any pain.
I.e: the fact that the bird flew on his lady’s hand did not bother him all that much – no competition for his affection.

Another reason Georg Friedrich Daumer used this archaic and/or dialect expression is that he studied and used Arabic and Persian rhyme schemes during certain periods in his creative life, which were much stricter about perfect rhyme endings than was customary in Germany poetry – other than during the German classical period.

I hope I could help you out.



Yes, G., you could and did help me out. Thanks.

One Response to “Typo Story [Pilot Episode]”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Wow! Great explanation, thanks a lot!
    I’m a native German speaker, not from Franconia, however. Coming across the poem while rehearsing Brahms songs in choir, I had a hard time finding out about the meaning of the word “and”. Luckily, you as a non-native speaker provided me with the solution!

Leave a Reply

† I (†) am a dagger (pl. daggers, Fr., obèle). I am a good friend of the asterisk; in fact, my alternate English name, obelisk, rhymes with asterisk. Respect my friend. My homograph is a weapon used for hitting, stabbing or thrusting.

Leave a Reply

* I (*) am an asterisk (pl. asterisks, Fr., astérisque). I rhyme with obelisk, not Vercingetorix or candlestick. I am not an asterick. Please, folks. This is who I am. Respect me.

One Response to “A Very Important Footnote*”

  1. Steve Kass » A Followup Footnote† Says:

    […] I (†) am a dagger (pl. daggers, Fr., obèle). I am a good friend of the asterisk; in fact, my alternate English name, obelisk, rhymes with asterisk. Respect my friend. My homograph […]

Leave a Reply

Science overload — always a welcome thing — happened at The Greene Space last night. On the menu? Radiolab Live: Symmetry, with guest artist John Cameron Mitchell singing Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Hosts Jad and Robert dwove¹ expertly, pointing out many wonderful (mostly asymmetric) sights left and right. Looking-Glass milk, carvone, tartaric acid, and Jimmy Carter, to name a few.

I pulled out my notebook twice during the show: first, to jot down a hairy pun, and second, to sketch a schematic of the cloud chamber I owned as a kid. I’ve retired the pun and won’t divulge it here; it served its intended purpose. (Andy responded, “Ow. Even I’m offended.”) But I have a bit more to say about the cloud chamber.

In my hasty schematic, I labeled the head of the pin AMERICIUM, but subsequent research suggests that it was radium, not americium, on the head of the pin. Fortunately, I never suffered from pica. The kit also contained a chunk of uranium ore.

I didn’t play with the cloud chamber quite as much as I did with some of my other dangerous toys like the Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker (my favorite childhood toy of all, no contest), the Wham-O Air Blaster (which became increasingly dangerous each time my brother thought of something new, like pencils, to fire from it), the Vac-U-Form, the chemistry set — mercury (I especially enjoyed freezing bits of it with dry ice), carbon tetrachloride, ammonium dichromate, and potassium permanganate were among my favorite chemicals — the Slip-’n-Slide, the lawn darts, or the Clackers.

Nor was the Atomic Energy Lab the radium-containing possession I carried with me most often as a child. That distinction goes to the radium-dial watch Dad gave me in junior high school. The watch was stolen from my gym locker one morning in 1970, unfortunately — but perhaps unfortunately for the thief more than for me.

The only radium I know I own any more is in the painted dial of the Jefferson Electric Golden Hour clock in my bedroom. The radium is no doubt decaying apace and will continue to do so for centuries to come. But alas, the zinc sulfide phospor has broken down, and the dial no longer glows.

¹ The verb dweave (past tense dwove) and the noun dwive will be coined in a future installment of “Word of the Day.”

One Response to “Yet Here I Am”

  1. your brother Says:

    The air blaster merits mention, along with the vacu-form.
    [Added. -SK]

Leave a Reply

We always called it string meat. Most people call it pot roast, apparently.Chuck roast in the freezer,
Carrots in the fridge.
That spells string meat for dinner.

Looks real bad,
But tastes real good, 
We’re havin’ string meat for dinner!

Leave a Reply

Google Maps Street View has a nice shot of the house across the street from where I grew up. The current owners moved in almost four years ago, and the outdoor wall lamps (installed by the owners previous to them, who flipped the house never having lived in it) have been lit day and night since.

How much have the current owners paid to brighten their Mulberry Drive neighborhood?

[Note: There should be a Google Maps Street View image here, but unfortunately Google Maps Street View can’t correctly produce embedding code. Pretend there’s an image of a house with some lights on the front or click the link below.]
View Larger Map

The pinpoint light sources shine brightly through the Phoenix sun, suggesting that each fixture houses a 60-watt (or brighter) incandescent lamp. Three 60-watt bulbs running continuously consume a kilowatt-hour of electricity every 5½ hours. That’s 4.32 kWh per day or just over 130 kWh a month. The electric utility for the area, Salt River Project, offers several rate plans, so it’s impossible to say exactly how much the lamps cost to run. Because the lights run day and night, SRP’s Basic Plan, which has no peak/off-peak pricing, would be the best value. During the seven summer months (May–October), SRP charges about 11¢/kWh. In “winter” the cost drops to about 8¢. Under any plan, the annualized cost will exceed 10¢/kWh, or $13/month. The cost of electricity hasn’t changed much over the past several years, so come December, when the owners celebrate four years in their house, they’ll have spent over $600.00 for the outdoor lighting.

On the brighter side, hydroelectric and nuclear power produce much of Arizona’s electricity, so the carbon footprint from running these lights isn’t as big as it might be. The big truck, on the other hand…

Another interesting question to answer is this: How much ice could these lights have melted? One kilowatt-hour equals about 860,000 calories (that’s 860 food “Calories”), or enough to melt a little more than 22 pounds of ice. The energy that runs these lights is all converted to heat, and if that 180 kW heat were used to melt ice instead of heat the Phoenix air, it would melt a lot of ice over four years — 68 or 69 tons, in fact, which would produce enough water to fill a good-sized in-ground swimming pool.

Leave a Reply

Advanced Global Personality Test Results

Extraversion |||||| 23%
Stability |||||||||| 36%
Orderliness || 10%
Accommodation |||||||||||||||| 70%
Intellectual |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Interdependence || 10%
Mystical || 10%
Materialism |||| 20%
Narcissism |||||||||||||||| 70%
Adventurousness |||||| 30%
Work ethic |||||||||| 40%
Conflict seeking |||||||||||| 50%
Need to dominate || 10%
Romantic |||||||||||| 50%
Avoidant ||||||||||||||||||||  90%
Anti-authority |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Wealth |||||| 30%
Dependency |||| 20%
Change averse |||||||||| 40%
Cautiousness |||||||||||||| 60%
Individuality |||||||||||| 50%
Sexuality |||||||||||| 50%
Peter Pan complex || 10%
Histrionic |||||||||| 40%
Vanity |||||||||||| 50%
Artistic |||||||||||| 50%
Hedonism ||||||||||||||||        70%
Physical Fitness || 10%
Religious || 10%
Paranoia |||||| 30%
Hypersensitivity |||||||||| 36%
Indie || 10%
Not that I’d choose to be elsewhere, but, honestly, I’m less than thrilled with the pummeling “trait snapshot” Similar Minds appended: messy, depressed, introverted, feels invisible, does not make friends easily, nihilistic, reveals little about self, fragile, dark, bizarre, feels undesirable, dislikes leadership, reclusive, weird, irritable, frequently second guesses self, unassertive, unsympathetic, low self control, observer, worrying, phobic, suspicious, unproductive, avoidant, negative, bad at saving money, emotionally sensitive, does not like to stand out, dislikes large parties, submissive, daydreamer.

For the record, I’m not particularly fond of small parties, either.

Leave a Reply

Next Page »