Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pi Day 2016: gravity waves discovered by an Einstein lookalike

We've all seen it - the image of Einstein happily riding a bike. It was taken at the
country house of Ben R. Meyer, who died on this day in 1957. Meyer's father-in-
law, an immigrant from Prussia, had founded what is now part of MUFG UnionBank.

According to an intrepid group of Internet sleuths, Meyer's property overlooked
the Pacific, on Via Roblada in Hope Ranch, a neighborhood of Goleta, CA. As
for the make of bicycle, its head badge suggests an "Arnold Schwinn Electric".

Einstein had developed a warm friendship with Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of
Belgium. During his stay at Meyer's "Rayben Farm, Hope Ranch" during the
winter of 1932-33, he wrote to the Queen alluding to a tree she had planted
at that same farm, and "a twig which must stay". By this time, they were
both aware Einstein could never return to Nazi Germany. He sailed back to
Europe, resided in Belgium and England for several months, then arrived
in the US for good, on October 17.  During his remaining years, in Princeton,
it's unclear whether Einstein owned or rode a bike. He enjoyed sailing, though.

The genius, who died in 1955, had bequeathed his writings, intellectual heritage
and the use of his image to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Several years
ago, HUJ took General Motors to court after this ad promoting GM's smallest
SUV, the Terrain. The judge, in ruling that HUJ's right of publicity had expired,
stated "Einstein's persona should be freely available to those who seek to 
appropriate it as part of their own expression, even in tasteless ads."

The article Einstein and the relativity of tourism exploitation mentions "the fountain
near the army barracks - too far off the beaten track for most tourists" in the city
of Ulm, where Einstein was born in 1879. The fountain consists of three elements: 
the rocket body represents technology, conquering space and the atomic threat. 
A large snail's shell sits on the rostrum, representing nature, wisdom and scepticism
towards man's control of technology. Einstein's head, with impish eyes and his
tongue stuck out facetiously, emerges from the snail's shell. It dates from 1984.

As the legend goes, it was while riding on a city tram on his way home from work
at the Bern patent office that Albert Einstein looked back at the receding clock
and imagined what would happen if he were traveling at the speed of light. Per
Wikipedia, the Bernese German Zytglogge translates to Zeitglocke in Standard
German and to time bell in English; 'Glocke' means 'bell' in German, as in the
related term 'glockenspiel'. Princetonians should all know the French equivalent.

Which beautiful object "sounds like an angel playing a glockenspiel" ? According
to KNOG, a Melbourne-based industrial design outfit, it's their "Oi" bicycle bell,
which struck gold on Kickstarter this month. Click here for the promo video or here
to get in line to buy one. The "Oi" is likely named after the unofficial Australian "catchcry"
or chant, whose origins may actually be in the mines of Cornwall. Usage examples.

A Tokyo-based Australian software engineer by day, Byron Kidd is also editor of the
Tokyo By Bike website, and an authority on cycling, infrastructure and cycling laws in
the mega-city of Tokyo.  In his 2012 post What Makes Japan a Great Cycling Nation?
he writes "There are many factors that go into making cycling the best form of local
transport in Japanese cities. [...] But I believe it is the attitude of the Japanese people, 
the politeness they display to each other on the road that really makes a difference.

"Japanese people also have what is termed the 'gaman spirit', which loosely translated
is the "just get on with it" along with a 'shoganai', or 'what are you going to do?' attitude.
So when it comes to cycling to the station in the dead of winter just get on with it, because
what else can you do?"

The Japanese word gaman is defined as "stoic perseverence" or "the ability to endure the
seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity". A well-known poem "Be Not Defeated By
The Rain" extols the virtues of enduring harsh conditions with good grace. Why not endure
9 minutes watching "The Gaman Spirit: Why Cycling Works in Tokyo" at STREETFILMS or at 

Meanwhile Lidl, the chief competitor of the similar German discount chain Aldi (parent of
Trader Joe's) is poised to expand into the US. Lidl have become a sponsor of Flemish
superstar "Tornado" Tom Boonen. Their new ad campaign, just in time for the "spring
classic" bike races, features a stationary bike outfitted with a juicing machine. Racing
fans can take the "Last Kilometer" challenge, wherein the cranks energize an orange
squeezer. During the simulated last km of the Tour of Flanders, Boonen's output was
a reported 33 cl. By miraculous coincidence, the same as a beer bottle. See the TV ad.

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