Paul's collaborative writing on the web

The Inferior 4+1 is a Livejournal community maintained by Paul, lizhand, Paul Witcover, lucius-t and ljgoldstein.

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The Weird Universe explores a human and natural cosmos that is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. The usual suspects are Paul Di Filippo; Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes; and Chuck Shepherd, purveyor of News of the Weird.

Recent posts:

  • Shakespeare and Psalm 46
    In 1902, a person identified only as "a learned correspondent in West Hackney" brought to the attention of the world a curious fact about Psalm 46 of the King James Version of the Bible. The name "Shakespeare" seems to be coded into it. As explained in a brief notice that ran in The Publishers' Circular (Jan 11, 1902): DID SHAKESPEAR WRITE THE BOOK OF PSALMS? 'S.L.H.,' in the column of the Morning Leader headed 'Sub Rosa,' says that the following suggestion reaches him 'from a learned correspondent in West Hackney':— 'In the name Shakespear there are four vowels and six consonants..... If you write down the figure 4 and then follow it by the figure 6, you get 46. Very well — turn to Psalm 46 and you will find that in it the 46th word from the beginning is "shake," while the 46th word from the end is "spear." This fact, or rather these facts, may be held to prove, according to my correspondent, that the Psalms were written by Shakespear and that this is really the correct way of spelling his name. I know that controversialists are a fierce tribe and they stick at each other as well as nothing, and so they will try to make out that the word "spear" is the 47th and not the 46 word from the end of the 46th Psalm; but this can only be done by counting "Selah," and if you think I am going to throw over a valuable literary discovery for the sake of an odd "Selah" you are mistaken.' In the original 1611 King James Bible, the word spear was actually spelled "speare," which contradicts the guy's point about the 4 consonants and spelling of Shakespeare's name. However, his larger point remains true — that in Psalm 46, the word "shake" is 46 words from the beginning, and "speare" is 46 words from the end. One theory is that this suggests that Shakespeare worked on the King James translation, and devised this way to leave his calling card. Kind of like a "Shakespeare was here" sign. Or maybe one of the translators was a fan of his. Or perhaps it means absolutely nothing, and is just a weird coincidence. No one knows. One more weird coincidence: Shakespeare was 46 in 1610, which is about when the translation was being completed. The Gaffney Ledger - Jan 4, 1980 note: Shakespeare was 46 in 1610, not 1605. Arizona Republic - May 15, 1976
  • The Kate Bush Dance Troupe
    The Kate Bush Dance Troupe - Babooshka at The Sculpture Center from Kate Bush Dance Troupe on Vimeo. In case you needed visuals to accompany your Kate Bush songs, these folks will gladly provide them. More videos here.
  • Top 20 Bizarre Experiments
    After the publication of Elephants on Acid (around 2007), I decided that it would be a good idea to have a website to help promote the book. Something where I would feature some content from the book, as well as post new stuff related to weird science. Most of the good domain names (including, at the time, ElephantsOnAcid.com) were already taken. So I ended up creating a site at MadScienceMuseum.com. I added some content to the site, and then, after a while, I stopped. The site lay dormant, without updates, and largely without visitors. Fast forward to the present. It recently occurred to me that it was stupid to keep paying to keep MadScienceMuseum.com online when hardly anyone visits it, and all the content on it would be perfectly appropriate for WU, which does have visitors. So I'm getting rid of the "Mad Science Museum" and migrating all the content over to WU. It'll be a slow process, but if you notice me doing additional posts about weird science stuff, that's the reason. The first thing I've migrated is my list of the Top 20 Most Bizarre Experiments of All Time.
  • Elevator Proxemics
    Proxemics was a term coined by anthropologist Edward Hall to describe the study of "man's use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture." Elevator proxemics, by extension, is the study of the use of space in elevators. Or put another way, how people behave in elevators. The most widely cited expert on this subject is the psychologist Layne Longfellow. On his website, he describes how he became the media's go-to guy for questions about elevator behavior: It's the mid-1970s, and I am in my office, Director of Executive Seminars at The Menninger Foundation. My phone rings, and my friend Ralph Keyes, the writer, says, "I'm doing an article for New York magazine on how to behave in an elevator. I'd like to interview you." "Ralph, I know nothing about it and have never given it a second thought." "I know, but you have a prestigious position as a psychologist and you're funny, so make something up." I leaned back in my swivel chair, tossed my feet up on my desk, gazed unfixedly into the trees outside my window, and said some things that I thought were, in fact, funny - but also true. Ralph published the article, and then my phone REALLY began to ring - I had entered the world's media archives as an expert on elevator behavior. Below are a few nuggets of wisdom I've been able to glean about the science of elevator behavior, gathered from a handful of articles, mostly referencing Longfellow. Although a few other researchers have also been roped into becoming instant experts on the subject. Studies of elevator body placement show a standard pattern. Normally the first person on grabs the corner by the buttons or a corner in the rear. The next passenger takes a catercorner position. Then the remaining corners are seized, and next the mid-rear-wall and the center of the car. Then packing becomes indiscriminate. "When the sixth person gets on you can watch the shuffle start," says Longfellow. "People don't quite know what to do with the sixth person. Then another set of rules comes into play governing body contact." In an uncrowded elevator, men stand with hands folded in front or women will hold their purses in front. That's called the Fig Leaf Position. Longfellow says, "As it gets more crowded you can see hands unfold and come down to the sides, because if you have your hands folded in front of you in a really crowded elevator, there's no telling where your knuckles might end up. So out of respect for the privacy of other people you unfold them and put them at your side." High-status individuals are given more space. For instance, if the president of the company gets on, he gets more space. Men leave more space between themselves and other men than women do with other women. People tend to put more space between themselves and others wearing bright colors because, says psychologist Robert Sommer, "it's too much stimulation." According to Ralph Keyes, "The self-confident, it turns out, never get on first. Instead, they wait affably with underlings for the cab, then wave everyone ahead into the car like a hen mothering chicks." Passengers avoid eye contact because, explains Longfellow, "eye contact, especially in American culture, is the root to intimacy." "The ultimate egregious faux pas a person can commit in an elevator is to face the back," says Longfellow. "Everybody allocates as much space as possible to the lunatic who's facing the wrong way. If you'll do something so outrageous as to stand backwards and look at them, God knows what else you would do." Everyone looks at the numbers. The most common explanation for this is that it allows everyone to avoid eye contact, and it gives people "the appearance of having something to do." But anthropologist Harvey Sarles argues that the real reason to watch the numbers "is to enhance peripheral vision and allow you to keep an eye out for any quick, dangerous movements around you. Then if someone is going to jump you, you can make an adjustment." Longfellow eventually distilled his knowledge into a handy 7-point guide to How To Behave In An Elevator: Face forward. Fold hands in front. Do not make eye contact. Watch the numbers. Don’t talk to anyone you don’t know. Stop talking with anyone you do know when anyone enters the elevator. Avoid brushing bodies. Sources: LA Times - Aug 20, 1982; New York magazine - Nov 21, 1977. Image source: intro to soc.
  • The Pepsi Cola Shopping Spree of 1964 and 1965
    Why don't we have these contests anymore? Original ad here. Original ad here.
  • Buttered Flip
    In an old American medical journal, The Philadelphia Medical Museum (1811 - Vol 1, No.4), Dr. Richard Hazeltine of Berwick, Maine shared a traditional yankee recipe for "buttered flip" cough medicine: Often in the imbecile age of childhood, after I had gone to bed have I sip'd, and with no great reluctance, the steeming, salutiferous "buttered flip;" administered by the careful hand of an affectionate mother, to several, perhaps, of her tender offspring, who were affected with various catarrhal complaints, brought on by wet feet, and exposure to sudden vicissitudes of the weather. The "buttered flip" was composed of recent urine, obtained from some one of the children, hot water, honey, and a little butter: and it generally removed the complaints for which it was given. Exhibited in this manner, it never puked; but it promoted expectoration and sweat. image source: gracious rain