May 1961

Cosmonaut “On April 12, 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, a citizen of the U.S.S.R., achieved the distinction of being the first man to cross the border between the earth and interplanetary space. The rocket bearing the five-ton spaceship Vostok (meaning ‘East’) was fired aloft at 9:07 A.M. Moscow time. While Gagarin was in orbit he radioed messages such as: ‘I am watching the earth. The visibility is good. I feel well and cheerful. The machine is functioning normally.’”

Drummers and Mathematics “Pushing into the unknown, the mathematician is an explorer who is likely to find what he did not seek and who cannot predict how others will use his discoveries. This particular adventure began when the composer George Perle told me about an elaborate theory of rhythm that had been developed in India more than a thousand years ago. ‘While reading about this theory,’ he said, ‘I learned my one and only Sanskrit word: yamtrjabhnasalagm.’ I asked him what it meant. ‘It’s just a nonsense word invented as a memory aid for Indian drummers…. As you pronounce the word you sweep out all possible triplets of short and long beats.’ —Sherman K. Stein”

Stein, currently professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, is also author of Mathematics: The Man-Made Universe. Full article is available at

May 1911

Doubts on Airplanes “In part a flying machine and in part a death trap, the aeroplane has done both more and less than its sudden arrival among the great inventions of the age had promised. This combination of a Chinese kite, an automobile motor, a restaurant fan, balloon rudders, junior bicycle wheels and ski runners, the whole strung together with piano wire and safeguarded with adhesive tape and mammoth rubber bands, sprang from toyland into the world of industry, politics, warfare and finance when two plodding and practical tinkers of genius—self-made engineers from the American school of try, try and try again—proved they could balance and steer it by a twist of its muslin. Now, the world turns a searching glance upon this machine which does so much and fails so treacherously.”

Bitter News “The use of saccharin as an economic sweetening agent in thirty or more food products is to be abandoned. Saccharin has been used to sweeten canned corn, peas, and tomatoes, sarsaparilla, cream soda, and other soft beverages; champagne and liquors. Its use will be unlawful after July 1st. Dr. Wiley, Chief Chemist of the United States Department of Agriculture, says this valuable substance impairs digestion, and should be dispensed only upon a physician’s prescription.”

May 1861

War Fervor “The news which vibrated on the electric wires relating the capitulation of Fort Sumter sent a thrill through the heart of the whole people, and the call ‘to arms’ was heard resounding on every hand. The city appeared almost like a waving forest of flags, the Star Spangled Banner floated from a thousand staffs; it streamed from every window, the bosom of almost every lady and gentleman was adorned with the Red, White and Blue.”

Field Guns Advance “The howitzer was suggested by the experience of the Mexican war, and is designed especially for operations against an enemy having an extensive sea coast and no navy, which can only be attacked either in shallow water or on land. For these operations, boats of light draft are needed and with them, guns combining the greatest possible power with the least possible weight. This combination has been achieved by Captain Dahlgren, in his howitzer, which is now generally adopted in the American navy. The projectiles used in howitzers are shells and canister, to which is now added shrapnels. For operations on shore, the guns are attached to light but strong carriages, such as shown in our illustration.”

Famine in Rajasthan “The news from India is frightful in the extreme; ‘famine is devastating the country.’ The London Times says: ‘It is a drought in a land where the sun bakes up the soil almost to the hardness of pottery. Where irrigation works exist the scanty waters will suffice to produce scanty crops, but where there are no such works there is no vegetation to be found. Mr. Edmonstone, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwestern Provinces, said that, in a march of twenty miles, there was not a green blade in any direction. Families were fleeing away from the death which threatened them.’”