All Roads Lead to “Philosophy”

There was an idea floating around that continuously following the first link of any Wikipedia article will eventually lead to “Philosophy.” 1 This sounded like a reasonable assertion, one that makes a certain amount of sense in retrospect: any description of something will typically use more general terms. Following that idea will eventually lead… somewhere.

It also sounded like an idea that would be easily examinable with basic client-side scripting tools, using the Wikipedia API and a good graphing package. I put something together here based on JQuery and the JavaScript InfoViz Toolkit. It makes use of the HTML5 <canvas> element, so support for Internet Explorer is provided by the Google excanvas package.

I still have a lot of tweaking to do but the results so far are pretty nice.

Multiple titles can be added using a comma-separated list. JSONP requests are made to Wikipedia asynchronously, so more terms can be added while it is accumulating results.

There are some circumstances where a loop is detected up the chain. This is relatively rare. If it finds that it moves to the next link in the chain. One good example is “Telecommunication”.

1 See the tooltip by hovering over the cartoon at xkcd which is said to be the source of this observation. Though this posting on appears to predate that by about a month.

» Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | Comments (86) | Permanent Link
The Evolution of the Human Head

While the title of this book focuses on the evolution of the head, it is much more than that. The first half lays the groundwork with discussions of embryonic development, descriptions of the inter-related systems that make up the head and methods of comparative biology.

This initial survey has a lot of interesting material itself; for example, studies of the teeth and jaw have revealed that most orthodontic problems such as teeth crowding and over-bites, etc., appear to be due to the softer foods of the modern diet. Several hundred years ago impacted wisdom teeth were relatively rare. Softer foods result in less bone mass in the jaw and subsequently less room for the full set of adult teeth.

A description of the deeply interrelated workings of the inner ear and the visual system leads to a discussion of how balance and visual acuity is maintained during movement, especially running. The author, Daniel Lieberman is in fact a proponent of the relatively recent barefoot running phenomenon in large part due what the evolution of the head reveals about the body as a complete system.

It’s a dense book, which even the author says is not meant to be a best seller, but still rewarding.

» Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 | Comments (1) | Permanent Link

Poor Little Rich Girl

I came across this now-forgotten story in the New York Times achieves recently. It has some personal interest mostly because of its brief intersection with my home town:


Fisherman Says She Cut Hair

BOSTON, Sept. 10.—Miss Louisa A. Fletcher, the 17-year-old daughter and heiress of Stoughton A. Fletcher, a banker, manufacturer and horse breeder of Indianapolis, has vanished from the Summer home recently occupied by her parents at East Gloucester. She is said to have been seen just before she disappeared clad in a pair of overalls and with her hair clipped short.


Gloucester. Sept. 11. - Clad in a pair of carpenter’s overalls and with her hair cut short like a man’s, 17-year-0ld Louisa Fletcher, daughter of Stoughton A. Fletcher, millionaire banker, manufacturer and horse breeder of Indianapolis, rowed away from Rocky Neck shore shortly after noon Thursday and no trace of her has been discovered despite constant searching since.

She wasn’t on the lam very long, discovered only two days later “working as a boy” at Upland Farms in Ipswich, Mass., where she had been hired on as a farm hand. When approached by the police she gave the name “Willie Sullivan” and at first resisted being taken into custody. A Pittsburgh paper pointed out “SHE WAS SMOKING CIGARETTES.” which perhaps added to the sensation of the story at the time.

(Upland Farms is now long gone, but was off Fellows Lane, though a trace of it is left in the name of Upland Road.)

She had rowed the dory she stole from Gloucester up the Essex River to Rowley where she spent the next two nights in a barn, eating apples for food. She made her way to Ipswich and tried to sign onto a fishing boat but was turned away. She was reported to have said, “I was tired of being a ‘poor little rich girl’ I have had too much discipline. I wanted to make my own way in the world.”

There is some hint that perhaps she was looking to earn enough money to head to New York City. The owner of the house they had rented in Gloucester was owned by Langdon Gillette who had worked on Broadway.

Louisa Fletcher and her family appeared in newspaper archives again several times over the years. Her life ended up being short and tragic:

In March, 1921, her mother (and her mother’s mother) both committed suicide.

By 1924, the family empire was in ruins and her father was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Miss Louisa Fletcher, 1925

In 1925 she declared her engagement to a Count Ernst Gottfried von Schmettow of Prussia, but upon her arrival in Berlin was rejected by the Count’s father and returned home in some shame to New York. The whole incident is shrouded in mystery as it seems that the Count may have been leading her on or she misinterpreted his intentions from the outset. She may have been trying to use her marriage to European nobility as a vehicle for her own career.

In January, 1927 she was arrested in Los Angeles after an altercation with a “Lady Diana Bathurst”. This “Lady Diana” was apparently a fraud who was trying to use her supposed ties to nobility for her own fame. This puts Louisa Fletcher’s account of her engagement to the Prussian count in to a different light.

She died July 18, 1927 in Los Angeles, reportedly of meningitis, aged 24.

Her brother, Stoughton A. “Bruz” Fletcher III, who had accompanied her to LA and became a staple on the “Pansy Craze” scene, committed suicide in 1941.

» Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2011 | Comments (0) | Permanent Link