Daily Update: Saturday, February 28th, 2015

02-28 - Dord

No Saints again, but today is the third of three Ember Days for this season of the year. On this date in 1939, an editor of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary realized that the word “dord” and its definition had been inserted into the Dictionary in error.

Today is the third of three Ember Days for this season of the year. Ember days (a corruption from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence. They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073 – 1085) for the consecutive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after December 13 (the feast of St. Lucy), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday (Pentecost), and after September 14 (Exaltation of the Cross). The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. Turning to the dictionary, the editor of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary had noticed that the entry for the word ”dord” lacked an etymology and investigated. He found that on July 31, 1931, Austin M. Patterson, Webster‘s chemistry editor, had sent in a slip reading “D or d, cont./density.” This was intended to add “density” to the existing list of words that the letter “D” can abbreviate. The slip somehow went astray, and the phrase “D or d” was misinterpreted as a single, run-together word: Dord. (This was a plausible mistake because headwords on slips were typed with spaces between the letters, making “D or d” look very much like “D o r d”.) A new slip was prepared for the printer and a part of speech assigned along with a pronunciation. The would-be word got past proofreaders and appeared on page 771 of the dictionary around 1934. Soon after the 1939 discovery of the erroneous word in the dictionary, an order was sent to the printer marked “plate change/imperative/urgent”. In 1940 bound books began appearing without the ghost word but with a new abbreviation (although inspection of printed copies well into the 1940s show “dord” still present). Philip Babcock Gove, an editor at Merriam-Webster who became editor-in-chief of the dictionary wrote that this was “probably too bad, for why shouldn’t ‘dord’ mean ‘density’?”

Our New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat on Friday night by the score of 104 to 102, and our LSU Baseball team beat Princeton by the score of 3 to 2. Our LSU Baseball team will next play a home game against Stephen F. Austin on March 3rd.

I did my Bathroom Devotional Reading; Richard got as far as taking his shower, then opted to call in again to work. I drove myself to work in my car, and after the Pre-Shift Meeting, I was on Flop Poker all day. (The Powers that Be switched Blackjack Switch to Pit 4, and moved Flop Poker back into Pit 3, which is what they should have done in the first place.) On my breaks I did my Internet Devotional Reading. At about 10:30 am Richard paid bills at home (I knew this because of various text alerts or email alerts from some of our accounts when a payment is made).

When I got home from work I set up my medications for next week (I have one to renew on Friday, after I get new prescriptions from my psychiatrist’s office on Tuesday afternoon), then ate my lunch salad and read the morning paper. I then went to the Adoration Chapel; during my Hour I read the February 23rd, 2015 issue of my Jesuit America magazine. When I got home I took a nap for the rest of the day, and did not do my Daily Update (I had really hoped to wake up at about 5:00 pm). Our LSU Men’s Basketball team beat Ole Miss by the score of 73 to 63, our LSU Baseball team beat Princeton 7 -2 in the first game of the doubleheader, and our LSU Baseball team beat Princeton 15 to 4 in the second game of the doubleheader.

We do not have any Saints to honor tomorrow (not until Tuesday), but tomorrow is the Second Sunday of Lent. Besides work, our LSU Women’s Basketball team will play their last regular season game before the SEC Tournament with Texas A&M in a home game, and our New Orleans Pelicans will play an away game with the Denver Nuggets.

On this Saturday afternoon on the last day of February (this February was what is known as a Perfect Month, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday) our Parting Quote comes from Donald A. Glaser, American physicist, molecular biologist, and neurobiologist. Born in 1926 in Cleveland, Ohio to Russian immigrants,  he attended Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, Ohio, where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics in 1946. During the course of his education there, he became especially interested in particle physics. He played viola in the Cleveland Philharmonic while at Case, and taught mathematics classes at the college after graduation. He continued on to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he pursued his Ph.D. in physics. His interest in particle physics led him to work with Nobel laureate Carl David Anderson, studying cosmic rays with cloud chambers. He preferred the accessibility of cosmic ray research over that of nuclear physics. While at Caltech he learned to design and build the equipment he needed for his experiments, and this skill would prove to be useful throughout his career. He also attended molecular genetics seminars led by Nobel laureate Max Delbrück; he would return to this field later. Glaser completed his doctoral thesis, The Momentum Distribution of Charged Cosmic Ray Particles Near Sea Level, after starting as an instructor at the University of Michigan in 1949. He received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1950, and he was promoted to Professor at Michigan in 1957. While teaching at Michigan, Glaser began to work on experiments that led to the creation of the bubble chamber. His experience with cloud chambers at Caltech had shown him that they were inadequate for studying elementary particles. In a cloud chamber, particles pass though gas and collide with metal plates that obscure the scientists’ view of the event. The cloud chamber also needs time to reset between recording events and cannot keep up with accelerators’ rate of particle production. He experimented with using superheated liquid in a glass chamber. Charged particles would leave a track of bubbles as they passed through the liquid, and their tracks could be photographed. He created the first bubble chamber with ether, and experimented with hydrogen while visiting the University of Chicago, showing that hydrogen would also work in the chamber. His new invention was ideal for use with high-energy accelerators, so Glaser traveled to Brookhaven National Laboratory with some students to study elementary particles using the accelerator there. The images that he created with his bubble chamber brought recognition of the importance of his device, and he was able to get funding to continue experimenting with larger chambers. Glaser was then recruited by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez, who was working on a hydrogen bubble chamber at the University of California at Berkeley. Glaser accepted an offer to become a Professor of Physics there in 1959. Glaser was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention of the bubble chamber. His invention allowed scientists to observe what happens to high-energy beams from an accelerator, thus paving the way for many important discoveries. After winning the Nobel Prize, Glaser began to think about switching from physics into a new field, as he had found that as his experiments and equipment in physics grew larger in scale and cost, he was doing more administrative work. He also anticipated that the ever-more-complex equipment would cause consolidation into fewer sites and would require more travel for physicists working in high-energy physics. Recalling his interest in molecular genetics that began at Caltech, Glaser began to study biology. He spent a summer at MIT as a visiting professor and attended biology seminars there. He also spent a semester in Copenhagen with Ole Maaloe, the prominent Danish molecular biologist. He worked in UC Berkeley’s Virus Lab (now the Biochemistry and Virus Laboratory), doing experiments with bacterial phages, bacteria, and mammalian cells. He studied the development of cancer cells, in particular the skin cancer xeroderma pigmentosum. As with the bubble chamber, he used his experience designing equipment to improve the experimental process. He automated the process of pouring out agar, spreading culture, and counting colonies of cells using a machine he called the dumbwaiter. It took photographs, administered chemicals, and had a mechanical hand to pick up colonies. While continuing to work at UC Berkeley, Glaser started Berkeley Scientific Laboratory with Bill Wattenberg in 1968. The short-lived partnership worked on automating diagnostic procedures. In 1971 he founded Cetus Corporation with Moshe Alafi, Ron Cape, and Peter Farley. Glaser’s position was Chairman of the Science Advisory Board. The founders felt that the knowledge scientists had gained about DNA had not yet been applied to solve real problems. The company did microbial strain improvement, and then genetic engineering, becoming the first biotechnology company. Cetus was purchased by Chiron Corporation in 1991. As molecular biology became more dependent on biochemistry, Glaser again considered a career change. His experience automating visual tasks in physics and molecular biology led him to an interest in human vision and how the brain processes what is seen. He began to work on computational modeling of the visual system and visual psychophysics (died 2013): “Physics is a wrong tool to describe living systems.”

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