A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Hooptedoodle #158 - Newton's Bollocks


In a former lifetime, when I was Lord High Panjandrum in charge of something-or-other for a nameless (and rather stupid) organisation in the finance industry, someone gave me a Newton's Cradle, which was the sort of well-intentioned, pointless executive toy that people gave each other in those days. It was fun for about 90 seconds, and after that it just sat on a dark corner of my meetings table and gathered dust. Eventually I got tired of people playing pranks such as altering the length of the strings so that the balls missed each other, and it got cleared out. I don't know where it went - there must be a lot of pointless executive toys from the 1980s and 90s lying around somewhere - perhaps someone collects them, buys and sells them on eBay - perhaps there is a weird museum somewhere.

Whatever, I have not seen or heard of Newton's Cradle for many years. As part of my Christmas present, my son (who, at 12, is developing into a mathematician of some considerable talent - I hope he ends up less nerdy and boring than his old man...) gave me - well, that's right - you guessed.

Sadly, it has not gone well - something had gone wrong with this particular example in its travels between China and here. The balls had become tangled inside the packaging, and the strings are very thin, transparent, nylon fishing line. Our attempts to disentangle it have met with no success at all - in fact, thus far, the combined attentions of me and my family have, I believe, made things rather worse than they were at the start.

I have an instinctive resistance to phrases like "hopelessly entangled", but I believe we may have a case of just that here, unlikely though it may seem. Things may improve, but time and frustration do not come entirely free of cost, so this may be your only chance to see an example of [roll on drums...] Newton's Bollocks.


Not a big seller, I fear - though I could be open to offers if anyone is interested.

19 comments:

  1. I think they look more akin to piles to be honest . . . . .

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    1. You must have had a tough life in the military - I bow to your superior experience! At least they don't make that irritating clicking noise.

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  2. Having spluttered coffee all over the key board after reading Gary's comment, I would suggest that the present is actually what was ordered... it is the lesser known Newtons Rubik Pyramid...

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    1. Maybe there is a market for this thing after all - if I could just find something it could be used for. Maybe that's the whole point - an executive toy that doesn't do anything at all might be a rare example of perfection.

      Hmmm - those nice young people on The Apprentice would be able to dream up a proper marketing programme. I'm quite excited now...

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  3. There is always Alexander the Great's solution...

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    1. Indeed - the problem then is what to do with the bits when it comes apart. I don't fancy trying to put it back together with the correct length of fishing line. I think the dustbin beckons...

      There is a pleasing metaphor somewhere here for the Age of the Executive, if I could just put my finger on it.

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  4. Hmm? Plain and simple...............they're buggered!

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    1. Ray - you may be on to something there!

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  5. A Gordian Knot perhaps? I was going to make some lame joke about Newtons Gonadian Knot - but that would be puerile...

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    1. After some scratching of the head, I twigged that this was the import of Benjamin's Alexander reference (when it come to the Classics, I am a real ignopotamus) - I like the Gonadian thing, though - classy. I wish I'd thought of that one.

      Nothing wrong with puerile - there are those of us who do puerile as a speciality.

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    2. "there are those of us who do puerile as a speciality" - returning to a previous comment, the Apprentices, for example...

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    3. Ah yes – The Apprentices. I normally try to play down my deep loathing of this programme – I have seen it occasionally – sufficient to know it for what it is. I play it down because my detestation probably says more that is unpleasant about me than it does about the TV series.

      I consider it to be a very sad show. It is sad that the young candidates (who must in the first instance be self-selected, so they are not victims), should be daft enough to put themselves forward as individuals whom we might find appealing, or interesting. It is especially sad to observe the characteristics which they choose to portray, or which they have coached themselves in, which in some strange way they think are admirable. The saddest irony of all is that they are, in a sense, disabled, and that the TV show exploits their disabilities for public entertainment. Perhaps the losers – the winners too – could get a 6 month secondment to the real world. Perhaps (without wishing to get into hot water over gender stereotyping) the men could get a 6-month job on a trawler, or a farm, or even a building site; maybe the women might get a tour of duty as nurses on night shift at a busy general hospital. Perhaps that might help them to acquire some of the commonsense and humility which they seem to have missed out on thus far.

      I find that The Apprentices attempts to promote, as shared beliefs, some of the myths about the glories of wannabe entrepreneurs who cannot actually do anything – who take stuff out of the pot without putting anything back; who regard conceit and personal greed as positive qualities; whose heroes are the more prominent excrescences of this type who have gone before.

      On the other hand, my Preston grannie used to say “fools may dance, but bigger fools will look on”, so maybe none of us can be too snooty about this. We get the TV schedules that we, and our fashionable vision of perfection, deserve.

      Cheers - thanks for reading the blog! - Tony

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    4. Or "Don't watch/clap. it only encourages them," as my dad used to say.

      Your appraisal of the Apprentices is spot on, by the way. Not that I watch it [wink].

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    5. Bravo, and well said... everything that is mean grasping and just nasty about the modern world... and they call it entertainment... "bread or sand" anyone? :o)

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  6. I think it was Douglas Adams who suggested there was a planet especially for ball point pens, so when you lose one, that is where it has gone. Maybe there is another planet for lost executive toys.

    Thanks for the laugh this morning.

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    1. I remember going into a shop called "The Sharper Image" at Boston airport around 1987 and being thunderstruck at the overpriced, shiny tat for bright young things that was on sale. All sorts of clever Chinese puzzles - but made in exotic materials - to place (unsolved) on your stainless-steel-and-smoked-glass desk, and any number of posters along the general lines of sunsets bearing captions like "Every Insurmountable Problem is an Exciting Opportunity" - basically, pretentious shit.

      Later, of course, this stuff was everywhere, and I even had work colleagues who thought it was impressive to speak in these worthy tones; it took a while for us to realise, for example, that intelligent people will react to, and be invigorated by, some problem they have to work around. Opportunities are less obvious, less motivating - the posters were, in fact, completely wrong. The old adage does not say "posturing self-promotion is the mother of invention". I feel a new range of alternative workplace posters and toys coming on - Newton's Whatsits could be the way ahead after all.

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  7. You need two needles and a lot of patience,but if you hated it years ago anyway, I would go down the 'bin it' avenue..

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    1. You know what? You've inspired me to have another shot. I have nothing to lose - my sanity went years ago - and I can still bin it once it's working. I'm not quite sure how the two needles should be deployed, but I shall ponder the matter. I had a search on Google for "untangling Newton's Cradles", but the results were disappointing.

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    2. You use the needles to force a gap between the tangled lines,You could never do it with your finger tips.Slowly force the needles into the tangles,gently pull apart the small knots.The problem is the weight of the spheres, so perhaps a youngster could be employed to offer support for these as you untangle the wires..I don't know..say around 12 years of age?

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