By Bob Curtis, Local Secretary
December 2013

November 10th saw our most recent Executive Committee meeting. The center of focus was our distinguished speakers event on December 7th, at the Elizabeth campus of Union County College, 40 West Jersey Avenue, Elizabeth NJ (908) 965-6000, with speakers on The Power of Evocative Language: from Poetry to Rap. I suppose this will be about language that brings out emotions and memories rather than communicates information.

The deadline for scholarship applications to Mensa is January 15, 2014, including an essay of less than 550 words for the competition. We are still looking for members to help judge the essays submitted from northern New Jersey. The judging will be on January 26th. Contact Nisha Zoeller at or (973) 541-4881. We are always looking for donations to our own Wendy Sailer Scholarship. (Send a check to our treasurer, Bill Holzmann.)

December will also see the winter solstice, "the day the sun is still," and the shortest day of the year. I am still amused that at any given location the length of the night on the winter solstice is shorter than the length of the day is long on the summer solstice.

Piggy's Glasses

It is Golding's The Lord of the Flies about which we are thinking. While I do not agree with the basic Hobbsian premise of this story, I did enjoy reading it years ago and am happy that it is still read and discussed in high school English classes. But the physics problem in the novel provides a glaring example of poor thinking. I refer to the fact that piggy's glasses are used to provide Prometheus's gift to the island on which the choir boys are stranded. A lens can be used to make a fire if it is a converging lens; a Fresnel lens which converges light (and heat) by diffraction can be extremely effective, so too can be a refracting lens, which is thicker at the center than on the edges. Such lenses focus the sun's rays at a point which Kepler called the focus--from the Latin word for fireplace! Glasses which can so focus light (and heat) are commonly called reading glasses and are used by people who cannot see clearly objects which are up close--people who are said to be farsighted. In the story, however, Piggy's glasses are crushed and destroyed by some naughty boys. After this event, we are told that Piggy has trouble seeing things at a distance! That he is myopic, or nearsighted. The image the eye sees is focused on a point in front of the retina. To correct this condition, diverging lenses are used. These are refracting lenses which are thinner in the center than at the edges and these lenses do not form real images, and do not focus light or heat. They cannot be used to start a fire. Thus we have a fundamental physics flaw in the story. I suppose that we have to give William Golding an F for this.

I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go passing by.

-- Blankeney Bartlett, Mensa Alaska