I’m going to talk about the beer/porcupine in this picture at some point, but the first thing I want to talk about today is teen romantic comedy cult classic movies. My favorite is The Sure Thing, starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga, and directed by Rob Reiner. I’m not sure about the best order for all those adjectives, but I’m not going to dwell on it because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. By the way, I apologize for the long delay between this column and the last one; somewhere along the way, a big problem came up and the column was late because of it.
Actually, the very same thing happened in The Sure Thing. Cusack’s character in that movie is Walter Gibson aka “Gibby”. Gibby is a freshman in college and one morning he’s late for English class. His prof asks him why he’s late and he says: “There was this big problem…and I’m late because of it.” I liked that excuse for some reason, so I use it from time to time, just to see if people are paying attention. I think it made Daphne Zuniga roll her eyes when Cusack used it, but at least it got him on her radar.
Speaking of big problems, there’s a class of math problems called Fermi Problems, named after Italian physicist and Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi, who also invented Fermions. Note that if American physicist, Pulitzer Prize winner and anagramist Dave Barry was writing this column, he would be tempted to rearrange Fermions into “Firm nose”. I’m going to resist that temptation and just say that a Fermion is a type of elementary particle, which is a particle that falls out of the shoe of an elementary school student.
I’m not sure how the particle would get into the shoe of any elementary-school student, since kids in elementary school these days basically have to remain immobile when they go out on the playground. Life was a lot more exciting when there was a decent probability that somebody would skin their knee, break an arm or Heaven forbid, get a sunburn once in awhile. Now, the worst thing that can happen at recess is that someone’s phone goes dead when he or she is playing Pokemon Go. (Pokemon Go can be rearranged to Monk Goop with an E left over.)
But back to Fermi Problems. A Fermi Problem is a problem in which you have to estimate something when you have limited data to work with. You have to arrive at your answer by making a series of assumptions and then stringing them all together.
Here’s a pretty typical Fermi Problem: How many Border Collies are there in Calgary?
And below is a scene from the 1926 teen cult physics movie Pogo Monk, directed by Rob Reiner, in which Enrico Fermi (played by Enrico Fermi) is trying to calculate what would happen to a Border Collie if it was shot into low Earth orbit at some angle θ relative to that line pointing to about 12:30, if that big circle was a clock.
To answer the Border Collie Fermi Problem (or any Fermi Problem for that matter), it helps if you know a lot of synonyms for the word “guess”. You’d probably start by taking a guess at the population of Calgary, then multiplying that by your conjecture about how many people in Calgary own a dog, then multiplying that answer by a presumption about how many dog owners have Border Collies, having assumed that most Border Collie owners only have one. (One is plenty, by the way.)
I reckon there are about a million people in Calgary so I’ll start off thinking that thirty percent of them own a dog; that’s 300,000 dogs. As mentioned, Border Collies are a handful, so I’ll say only two percent of dog owners have one. So my estimate is 6000 Border Collies in Calgary. That seems high, so then I whack myself on the side of the head and say “I’m an idiot”- at the same time hoping that no sepulchral echo-voice answers back “you’re an idiot”-which would be eerily like what happened in The Grinch, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ron Howard.
In the photo below, Ron Howard is on the right.
The reason for the head-whacking is that I realize that I actually need to ponder how many households there are in Calgary, and then work from that number. (Recognize that inside my main Fermi Problem there is this other Baby Fermi Problem-which is to estimate how many households there are in Calgary.) But I’m taking my medication regularly, so I’m able to move past this. I simply hypothesize that there are 250,000 households in Calgary given a million people; that takes me down to 1500 black and white, high-strung canines descended from Old Hemp, who got some air-time in the last column. Anyway, 1500 is an estimate I can live with, even if I stop taking my medication.
So now you know what a Fermi Problem is. But you’re still in the dark about when in tarnation you should write the word “three” and when you should write the digit “3”. This is a different type of problem, one that I threatened to talk about as I was finishing off the column about Superman’s Water Pik. Or was it Superman’s Memory Crystals? I forget which.
The person in this next photo is none other than E.B. White, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New Yorker, animal lover, children’s book author and also co-author of The Elements of Style. The Elements of Style is not a book about what not to wear. It’s a book about what not to write.
Various sources including White himself agree that you should spell out numerals when they denote numbers less than 100. This would include numerals like three, fifty-two and ninety-six. Therefore, a numeral like two thousand and sixteen should actually be written as 2016, AS LONG AS THAT NUMERAL DOESN`T START A SENTENCE.
So you should write “Two thousand Border Collies competed at the last All-Australian Sheep Herding Open held in 2015, in Iceland” but you shouldn’t write “2000 Border Collies were recently shot into low Earth orbit”, even if that’s true.
But what about the sentence: “2015 was a good year for Icelandic sheep-herders.” ?
That sentence is OK, because both E.B. White and the Associated Press Stylebook say you can start a sentence with a numeral when that numeral signifies a year, and you also don’t have to stop and wonder why in hell the All-Australian Sheep Herding Open would be held in Iceland if you skirt around the whole issue like I did.
You can spend as much time as you want researching all this in more detail, and look up the distinction between a number and a numeral while you’re at it. Personally, I need to move on now to talk about a large pig named Christopher Hogwood.
“The Good Good Pig” is the biography of Christopher, who starts out as a runty piglet just like that other famous-but-fictional pig Wilbur. Whereas Wilbur was adopted by a small girl named Fern, Christopher was adopted by author, New Hampshire resident, and itinerant animal lover Sy Montgomery and her husband Howard. (Howard is also an author and also resides in New Hampshire, in case you were wondering.)
Christopher comes to enjoy an increasingly-intimate relationship with Sy, Howard and the Earth’s gravitational field, over the course of his fourteen peaceful years, eventually attaining an impressive weight of 752 pounds. And like Wilbur, Christopher eventually dies of natural causes, surrounded by many loving admirers, and lots of spiders.
If you already know who E.B. White is, I think you should read The Good Good Pig right away. If you have already read The Good Good Pig, I think you should read Charlotte’s Web right away. If you have already read Charlotte’s Web, you should re-read it. I cry at the end every time I read it, and my kids always make fun of me for it; I don’t care.
But let’s get back to Christopher. Sy Montgomery has this to say: “As Christopher’s girth increased, so did our doubts about who was in charge at our house. Not only was Chris destined to vastly outweigh us, but we faced a growing realization that our pig was dangerously, possibly diabolically, brilliant.” Frankly, I find the concept of a diabolically brilliant, 752-pound animal just a tad unsettling.
In addition to his formidable brainpower, Christopher also developed a formidable appetite for beer. Howard gave him a swig of Rolling Rock one hot summer day in his (Christopher’s) piglet-hood, soundly reasoning: “After all, what is beer but liquid grain?” Christopher demonstrated the truth of that statement by polishing off the Rolling Rock, then a Corona and then a Genesee Cream Ale, burping loudly and then proceeding to gain another 700 or so pounds.
Later in life, he became friends with a Border Collie named Tess. (I swear on Ron Howard’s driver’s license that I am not making that up.) Christopher also joined A.A. and the Libertarian Party, in no particular order. The Libertarian tendency was verified by Dick Amidon, the Montgomery’s family friend, former chief of staff for the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a Republican-turned-Libertarian.
Holding forth on Christopher’s political leanings, Dick said, “If there’s ever been an example of a Libertarian pig, that’s Christopher. He’s his own person; he doesn’t want overregulation-all the things that Libertarians look for. He’s a free spirit.”
Now after reading all this, many of you may be seized by a powerful urge to move to New Hampshire. If so, I suggest you get in touch with realtor Mark Warden, the owner of Porcupine Real Estate in Manchester, NH. Mr. Warden’s firm does about 90 percent of its business with people who want to move to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. You can read about it here:
Why Libertarians Are (Still) Plotting to Take Over New Hampshire
After 15 years, a plan to create a small-government utopia inches a little closer to reality.
Madison Pauly in Mother Jones, Feb. 1, 2016
The picture depicts Mr. Warden standing in front of the New Hampshire State Capitol building. Or maybe it’s Thomas Jefferson. I forget. Anyway, in the article, Mr. Warden says, “A lot of my clients want to be self-sufficient—whether that’s living off the grid and growing their own food, wanting to shoot Border Collies into space, hunt on their own property, or being able to raise pigs and chickens without zoning laws interfering…We speak the same language.”
I think I made up that part about the Border Collies. And maybe the part about Thomas Jefferson. But you should still read Madison’s article after you finish packing and reading Charlotte’s Web.
I learned many interesting things about Libertarians from that article, such as the fact that they have adopted the porcupine (also known as the “quill pig”) as their mascot because it is “a peaceful creature that defends itself when attacked.” And apparently there are lots of porcupines in New Hampshire, according to Critter Control. (Motto: “protecting people, property and wildlife in New Hampshire since 1983.”)
I want to finish now, but before I go, I want to share with you a couple of pictures taken from the promo piece for Tom Hanks’ new movie: “Quill Pig at Large.”
The first picture depicts a New Hampshire porcupine, bearing a faint resemblance to Enrico Fermi, frowning with concentration and thinking seriously about emigrating to the Valley of 1000 Hills, Botha’s Hill, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, home of the Porcupine Quill Micro Brewery and Deli.
The second photo is an unretouched image of a heat exchanger situated on the wall of the Porcupine Quill Micro Brewery and Deli.
I have absolutely no idea why Tom Hanks thought you would want to see a picture of their heat exchanger, but I hear their food is fabulous. The beer is good too.