By R. D. Flavin
Archimedes of Syracuse, Homer Jay Simpson of Springfield, and Steven Paul Jobs of Apple Inc.
Once upon a long time ago, an old Greek guy whizzed while sitting in his bathtub and cried out, “Urethra!” Well, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that... It’s said that a new king of Syracuse, Hiero II (ruled 270 to 215 BCE), commissioned a crown from a local goldsmith, but upon receiving it, had doubts that it was pure gold and suspected that some silver had been used instead. Turning to the renowned mathematician and engineer, Archimedes (c. 287 – 212 BCE), Hiero II inquired if there was any way that the crown could be analyzed to determine if silver had been used to cheat in the making of the crown. Archimedes thought on the question, already knowing that gold was more dense than silver and would occupy more space or volume, that is, a silver and gold crown would be slightly larger than one made entirely of gold. With the density of silver and gold established, Archimedes chose to further ponder the problem at the public baths. And, as has become the stuff of legend, when Archimedes slipped into the bath, some of the bath-water spilled out. Immediately understanding that his body had displaced an equal volume of water from the bath, it’s said that Archimedes ran naked from the bath-house and through the streets of Syracuse shouting, “Eureka!” The ancient Greek expression, eureka (var. heureka), meaning “I have found it,” is most often associated with discovery and self-congratulation. Such exultation may be contrasted with Homer Simpson’s “Duh!” and Steve Jobs’ sort of temporarily stepping down as Apple CEO, yet not wanting to give up his seat on the board of Disney. Does he really think that Walt is frozen somewhere in Disneyland? Oh, snap!
Ricky Powell’s Oh Snap!, Tracy Morgan, and Madonna from the “Vogue” video.
As much as I’d welcome a walk with a Wonka ginger-snap (var. gingernut), with Lemon Coolers being an even better stroll, it’d be best to bend to the banister in a steadying approach to the titular topic currently being typed. The "oh, snap" saying, with or without a finger-popping accompaniment, is of sufficient vernacular vagueness to withstand most guesses as to exact meaning, unless “all of the above” is one of the choices. An uncomfortable online source offers:
“In the 1980’s the club scene in NYC was very competitive. It was always about the promotion of the club and a young gay man, Michael Alig, managed to attract a coterie of friends who became known as ’club kids’ who became the draw at some of the more fashionable clubs. The club kids, who dressed in wild costumes, were always developing the latest dances and jargon and a song that caught their attention became a hit. A large number of the kids were gay and for straight kids it was a great way to rebel. Of course they also were into the latest drugs. The finger snap as a sign of disrespect or dismissal was already being used in the transvestite community and quickly moved into the club scene with the club kids.
“It went from a single dismissive finger snap to a whole vocabulary. A snap that was a put down became the 4 snap Z snap and the ultimate was the around the world snap. Madonna’s music video about voguing has some examples of ’snapology’, but of course by that time the club kids had fallen apart. (Their leader Michael Alig had committed a murder and the drugs had done the rest) The physical snap devolved into "Oh, snap" which can mean a number of things but most commonly ’dammit’.”
Such an origin might be true, though it’s been suggested that a Darwin/Wallace moment evolved in 1998 with “rap photography” and the SNL comedy of Tracy Morgan (written by Tina Fey?). I’m thinking more, not less. The above Madge-centric popularization of “oh, snap” is ...classic chick-chic, though has priority with chronology, as her single (Madonna. 1990. "Vogue." I'm Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the film Dick Tracy. Sire Records.) was released some years before either book or stand-up routine. It had nothing to do with Warren Beatty and served as yet another sharing of her considerable talents. [Note: For more of her considerable talents, the auction house, Christie’s, is selling an original photographic print from Madonna’s way early days for over $10,000. Click here for the notice: NSFW.] Yeah, independent invention as opposed to pop-diffusion.
Dean L. Kamen and one of his inventions, the Segway Personal Transporter.
"You have teenagers thinking they're going to make millions as NBA stars when that's not realistic for even 1 percent of them. Becoming a scientist or engineer is."
— Dean Kamen (from Deka Research and Development main webpage).
Not all moments of discovery are created equal, unfortunately, and some problems before us continue to avoid solution. A journalist and feature writer, Steve Kemper, was allowed access to a unique engineering project from August 1999 to January 2001 and shortly thereafter rumor began to flit about that things were about to get better for all of us. A minor media blitz was launched which teased with the promise of a new invention that would change mankind and have a profound positive impact on our future. The attacks of 9/11 occurred and it was said that a youngish genius had accomplished true magic (as according to Clarke’s definition, though with an archaic ‘k’, perhaps Crowley’s as well). I’d be dishonest if I don’t admit that the cynic in me took a nap and that I too dreamed of such a momentous piece of high-tech heaven. It was not to be. As much as I'm ambivalent about morning talk shows, and would not single out ABC’s Good Morning America program unnecessarily, announcing a new transportation paradigm between a feature on healthy cooking and a segment on pampered pets seems ...wrong. Oh, snap!
College drop-out and engineering wunderdude, Dean Kamen, has experienced many “Eureka!” moments. He’s invented medical and prosthetic devises, designed efficient engines and a water distillation system which can also produce electricity, an all-terrain wheelchair and many other great and cool things. In 1989, he founded a non-profit charity, First: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which sponsors competitions in high schools and provides college scholarships. Though Bucky Fuller managed to get his World Games up and running before his 1983 passing, a for-profit group acquired the rights in 2001 and now sells their “o.s. Earth's Global Simulation Workshops” starting at $7,500, which puts Kamen’s quasi-altruistic efforts ahead of the capitalists. Yet, not by much and some would argue not at all.
The initial hopes for the Segway were high. Steve Jobs was granted a preview and attempted to draw a comparison with his initial marketing of the iMAC and "Ginger." As I pine for my first UNIX system, never satisfactorily impressed with the Windows or the Mac OS platforms, Apple has certainly fallen far from that tree outside of Jobs’ San Jose apartment and garage. Arty personal computers have established a cash flow enabling Apple to operate a successful animation studio and bully the personal electronics market with an obscene line of phones, media players, and other gadgets. Kamen has made and continues to make a good buck, his corporation appears to pay its employees well, yet investors are more than a touch disappointed with the sales of the Segway. Estimates were too high, actual sales are too low, and the invention that was going to change the world? The last time I read about the Segway was shortly after the August 2008 arrest of the German exchange student turned con-man, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (aka Clark Rockefeller), on kidnaping charges. There were interviews with some of his ex-neighbors in New Hampshire (not far from Kamen’s corporate headquarters) who described him riding around the quiet streets of the sub-division on his Segway. Creepy is as creepy does or something like that. "Eureka!" or "Oh, snap!"?
Pres. Barack H. Obama, Osama bin Laden, and Bernard Lawrence Madoff.
Pres. Barack Obama’s J.D. degree in 1991 from Harvard Law School enabled him to earn a descent living, though it was with the offering a book contract (and a $40,000 advance) from Times Books which pushed his tax bracket past Upper Middle Class status. Together with his wife, Michelle, the Obamas made over a million and a half in 2006 and $4 million in 2007. Obama’s $169,300 senator's salary has given way to a $400,000 president's salary (with various expense accounts), but it’s with monies generated from book sales which will keep the Obama household happy and healthy for many many years to come. I’m glad that Obama has become a wealthy author and hope that his success as president is equally impressive. Oh, snap!
The litany of American problems can be chanted by any kid at a school bus-stop, shopper at a discount grocery store, patient at a managed-care hospital, homeowner at a bank, farmer in a field, or any drunk at a bar. We all know the problems, though few, outside of the pompous pundits who claim to have the answers for everything, have the wherewithal and righteous effrontery to suggest achievable solutions. Our problems with the economy, Afghanistan and Iraq, unemployment, taxes, heath-care, education, global warming, and etc., are known to Pres. Obama and we can only hope that he’s had several “Eureka!” moments and has some achievable solutions to implement.
On a personal note, not too dissimilar to a “Duh!” by Homer and very near the dance “dammit” mentioned above, I’d qualify all of America’s problems as chores which need attending to. With a lightbulb aglow, I’d point and offer that there’s still that rich terrorist, Osama bin Laden, diagnosed as suffering from “'unprincipled narcissist' syndrome," out there and he must be a major priority. Second? After wicked past years of Enron, Halliburton, Martha Stewart going to jail, a Wall Street semi-collapse, there’s the current Bernie Madoff embarrassment which has hurt and continues to affect many. Oh, snap! I hope Pres. Obama doesn’t forget to protect us from Bin Laden and evil con-artists. The rest of our problems? In time...
Apostol, Tom M. and Maimikon A. Mnatsakanian. 2004. “A Fresh Look at the Method of Archimedes.” The American Mathematical
Monthly. 111, 6: 496-508. Mentions the ongoing better understanding of the so-called “Archimedes Palimpsest.” A recent story is online
Perkins, David N. 2000. Archimedes' Bathtub: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Later
reprinted as The Eureka Effect: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking (paperback).
Unknown. 1928. “Classics of Science: Weight in Air and Water.” The Science News-Letter. 13, 368: 269-270.
For “Rap Photography”:
Powell, Ricky. 1998. Oh Snap!: The Rap Photography of Ricky Powell. New York: St. Martin's Griffin Press.
For Steve Kemper and the Segway:
Kemper, Steve. 2003. Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World. Boston, MA:
Harvard Business School. Later reprinted as: Reinventing the Wheel: A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition. New York:
Partial bibliography for Barack Obama:
1995. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Times Books.
2006. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Crown Books.
2007. Hopes And Dreams: The Story of Barack Obama. With Steve Dougherty. New York: Tree Press.
2007. Barack Obama in His Own Words. Edited by Lisa Rogak. New York: Carroll & Graf.
2008. Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise. New York: Three Rivers Press.
2008. An American Story: The Speeches of Barack Obama: A Primer. Collected with commentary by David Olive. Toronto: ECW Press.
2008. The Essential Barack Obama: The Grammy Award-Winning Recordings. CD-ROM and audio-CDs. Also: The Essential Barack
Obama: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama.
2009. Words on a Journey: The Great Speeches of Barack Obama - Special Inauguration Edition. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor, LLC.
2009. Yes, We Can! A Salute To Children From President Obama's Victory Speech. London: Orchard Books.
2009. The Inaugural Address, 2009: Together with Abraham Lincoln's First and Second Inaugural Addresses and The Gettysburg Address
and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance. New York: Penguin. To be published Feb. 4, 2009.
Saving a splash for Crackle and Pop,