Thursday, November 17, 2005

What Goes Around Comes Around

Today is the 315th birthday of August Ferdinand Möbius, and if you consider his works in the right light, he goes on infinitely1. Before his famed career as a mathematician and theoretical astronomer, Möbius created quite a stir in his German village of Schulpforta (that’s really it’s name--if I made it up I would have tried to make it sound more like schtupp) by opening a strip bar. The town elders were particularly incensed that he paraded about women who appeared to be non-orientable two-dimensional surfaces, and therefore weren’t Rubenesque enough for them. Plus he never let any of them in for free.

What most people don’t know – until they read a blog entry like this one that attempts to put the candy in the arcane (there’s a joke there, I promise) – is that Möbius almost was beaten to his own discovery of the Möbius Strip by Johann Benedict Listing. How embarrassing to have something named after you discovered by someone else2. Luckily for him Listing was inclined to follow his middle name and not his last, and therefore ended up with egg on his face.

1 Ironically it’s also the birthday of Gordon Lightfoot, whose “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” seems to go on forever.
2 Of course, Möbius might have just been inventing the job title “boss.”


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