Good Guy Tours

During our 1989 sabbatical we started a new family tradition. During the cold, dark days of winter Bill reads about some famous scientist or philosopher and then in the summer they try to track this person's life. The name for these misadventures is due to Ellen. Once while we were in Westminster Abbey, she overheard a father say to his son, "Let's go over there where the good guys are" (as they rushed over to the part of the Abbey where Newton and Darwin are buried).

[April '89: Orkney Islands] Ellen and Bill head north to the Orkney Islands--open, green, and windswept with an extraordinary concentration of Neolithic sites. In one place you can walk from the Ring of Brodar, to the Standing Stones of Stenness, to Maeshowe (the largest chambered tomb in Europe). For reasons lost to memory this island was a very important sacred location around 5,000 yrs ago (before the Pyramids!). At another site, the tomb of Eagles, the farmer who owns it let us hold 5,000 year old weapons and skulls.

[April '89: Vienna] Ellen & Bill go to Berggasse 19 and see where Freud's couch used to be. Interesting--the building and rooms are still there but only the waiting room furniture. When Freud was forced to leave in 1938 he got the furniture out too. Apparently when the Austrians decided to set up a museum in the early 1970's Anna Freud did not, for obvious reasons, think they deserved cooperation, but did give them the waiting room furniture (the couch, desk, figures et al are down near Hampstead Heath in London in the Freud museum there).

We walked around in the house at Kundmanngasse 19 which Wittgenstein designed and constructed for his sister Margarete Stonborough (He did this during the period when he thought he had solved the problems of philosophy with the Tractius). Seeing this house is a bit difficult since it is now part of the Bulgarian Cultural Institute (Question--why does the "Cultural Institute" need a 20 foot high cement wall completely around the house?)

[Spring '89: Cambridge] We found the philosopher, Wittgenstein's rooms in Whewell's Court and his grave in St. Giles church yard. We found Darwin's rooms at Christ's College. We saw the North Cloister's of Trinity College where Newton is said to have measured the speed of sound. We found the Eagle, the pub where Watson and Crick, after a few pints, announced to the world that they had "found the secret of life." Less than two blocks from our flat is Crick's old Cambridge home, which now sports a fine single (sic) helix over the door.

[May '89: Paris] Bill bought a few out of print books, but not from the stands along the Seine where Ebbinghaus bought his copy of Fechner and decided that one could study memory objectively.

One disappointment: When we were at the Musee de l'Homme we saw some of Broca's skull collection, but when Bill asked to see Descartes skull (which he knew they had) they told him that only the Director was empowered to show it and he wasn't in on Sunday.

[May '89: Greece] Stella Vosniadou drove Bill & Ellen & Irini (Stella's 7 yr old daughter) to Delphi and down to Athens. At Delphi Ellen watched while two fifth grade Greek boys on a school trip began orating to their classmates in the Delphi Theater. Irini scraped her elbow, but when Bill puts water from the sacred Kastalian Spring on the injury the pain vanishes--the power still radiates from this special place.

In the Agora Bill claims to find the room in which Socrates spent his last night before being forced to drink hemlock (in the Phaedo it says he went from his cell into the next room to bathe and there is only one room in the prison that has access to another inner room and that room has a bath).

[June '89: Denmark] Bill and Ellen sail to the island of Ven in search of Tycho Brahe, the world's greatest naked eye astronomer. They spend the day bicycling around the island and eat lunch on the ruins of his observatory at Uraniaborg.

[May '90: Italy] In the Museum of the History of Science in Florence Ellen and Bill find the telescope that Galileo used to discover the moons of Jupiter (they also find Galileo's index finger on display--those Italians sure do like relics).

[July '91: England] Bill is tracking the Piltdown scandal. Bill has done his homework and knows that the Piltdown skull on display at the Kensington Natural History Museum is a fake fake. He wants to see the real fake, talks the curator into letting him into the private area and soon both Ellen and Bill are holding and admiring the real fake Piltdown skull.

While doing some research in the archives of the University of London, Bill sees a map that shows a place labeled as "Bentham." He remembers an arcane story that the philosopher Jeremy Bentham asked to have his body stuffed and brought out to attend certain future meetings at the University of London. Bill follows map and, sure enough, he finds a cabinet containing old Jeremy, in his favorite top hat looking out benignly at the world.

Final London weirdness: Bill has been following an exchange of letters in the Harvard Alumni Magazine about the reality or nonreality of a certain person. While on a visit to Westminster Abbey he takes Ellen around to the back to a manhole cover proudly displaying the name of the manufacturer-- Thomas Crapper himself.

Ellen and Bill move on to Sussex, looking for the gravel pit where the Piltdown skull was "discovered." After some searching they find that the location of the pit is now a winery. They leave the proud owners of a bottle of fine Piltdown wine. They also visit the
Piltdown Pub.

[July '92: Germany & Switzerland] The Good Guy this summer is Einstein. During his winter reading Bill has learned that Einstein was a much more complex person than the white-haired old man in the usual pictures. Once while his parents were living in Italy, he hiked over the Alps back to Switzerland. At age 17 he renounced his German citizenship and his membership in the Jewish religion. He had an illegitimate daughter by his future wife, and, of course, produced some of finest science ever. Bill and Ellen stop for a drink in the McDonald's in Ulm, Germany that overlooks the place where Einstein was born. They find the cave in Haigerloch where the physicist Heisenberg almost got a German nuclear reactor to go critical during the last phases of WWII.

[January '93: Maui] Bill stops car one evening just before sunset over the ocean, and Bill, Ellen, Robert and Yuka, for the first times in their lives, saw the rare green flash as the sun dropped out of sight.

[June '94: Batavia, Il] Bill and Ellen take a weekend off and go to Chicago. Visit Fermilab and see interesting Moebius strip sculpture and buffalo roaming above the huge particle accelerator.

[Summer '94: France] Lavoisier is the Good Guy (though Ellen demands a stop at Sceaux to visit Madame Curie's final resting place). We track the path Lavoisier took on his last ride to the guillotine. Off-beat hit of the trip was a visit to the little town of Descartes (they were repairing Descartes' house so Bill brings some roof tile home).

[December '94: Big Island, Hawaii] Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, is presiding over a very gentle eruption of Kilauea so the Volcano National Park rangers are allowing people to hike to the lava flow. We all hike to see bright red/yellow freely flowing lava--a true lifetime high. Final glorious Hawaii memory--Bill and Ellen, and Robert and Yuka stand on the top of Mauna Kea (13,796 ft) among the otherworldly astronomical observatories looking out over the Big Island with Maui in the distance. Thank you Ms. Pele.

[Summer '95: Crete] The Good Guy focus is Minoan culture. Bill & Ellen find it hard to adjust their Western Civ timelines: Homer was already a figure lost in the dim past to classic Athenian culture and yet Homer's story about the labyrinth (based on the palace at Knossos on Crete) had somehow been passed through 600 years of oral tradition from Crete to him. Most interesting visit was to Arkhanes--in 1400 BC in a Minoan temple overlooking the valley a priest was carrying out a human sacrifice. Apparently the local gods were not pleased--the temple was completely destroyed by an earthquake killing all within it. This certainly conflicts with the standard image of the Minoans as the flower children of the ancient world. After giving his paper at the European Congress of Psychology in Athens Bill sneaks out to the Agora and relives an earlier wonderful moment by once again finding the room where Plato recorded Socrates' last words.

[Spring '96: England] Bill and Ellen get lost in the Great Maze at Hampton Court (which is professionally relevant since the first rat maze in psychology was designed after Hampton Court). Bill and Ellen walk in the Fellows Garden of Trinity College and see paths made by the eccentric philosopher Wittgenstein. Bill finds the original floor plans of the Old Cavendish Laboratories, New School Lane, Cambridge (Nature, June 25, 1874) and thus is able locate the original building, probably the world's most important scientific landmark. The physicist, James Maxwell, designed it as the first "purpose built" physics lab in the world. In this lab J. J. Thompson discovered the electron, James Chadwick discovered the neutron, and Watson & Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. The building now houses the Social and Political Sciences, but the past still lives--Bill finds the original lecture hall that Maxwell lectured in and there are health notices on the bulletin board about the fact that 42 kg of mercury had recently been discovered under the floor boards!

Another Good Guy tour is the search for the Iguanodon. In a talk Bill is giving in the UK he uses the picture of an incorrect reconstruction of a dinosaur called the Iguanodon to make a point. He knows the picture has something to do with the Crystal Palace, but nothing more. One day, looking at a map, he notices that there is a place several miles south of London called Crystal Palace. Sometime later Bill and Ellen find themselves in the heavily urban area to the south of London. After a few misadventures they follow the signs to the "monsters" in a delightful park and there on the edge of a small lake is the life size reconstruction of Bill's Iguanodon. (If you want to get away from tourist London, a visit to the Crystal Palace park in Croydon will fix you right up.)

Stonehenge becomes a major Good Guys focus. Bill talks his way into a conference on Stonehenge at the Royal Society in London. One of the presentations is by Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn (who is--by another name--a Cambridge anthropologist). As a delegate to the conference Bill (and Ellen) are taken to Stonehenge to walk among the stones--a fine moment (and a special treat since the stones were already fenced off by the time of their first visit in 1985). During the conference Bill hears arguments about how the Paleolithic Stonehenge people transported 30-40 bluestones weighing 2-4 tons each from Wales (100-150 miles). His curiosity is aroused. Considerable library research and careful examination of Ordinance Survey maps pays off and some months later after a hike along a trail in the Preseli Mountains of South Wales, Bill and Ellen find themselves at Carn Menyn, a huge outcrop of rocks on top of a barren windswept hill and the source of the Stonehenge bluestones! Probably the high moment of the sabbatical for Bill.

[Summer 1996: Denmark] Bill and Ellen also add a new Good Guy to their list by going to the Ole Roemer museum west of Copenhagen. The director of the museum greets them most warmly--they were the second visitors that day--apparently few people know that Roemer was the first person to measure the speed of light.

[March '97: Champaign-Urbana] Week of March 10th is an exciting time in C-U. The University throws a big birthday bash for HAL ("I became operational at the HAL Plant in Urbana Illinois, on Jan. 12, 1997"; Clark, A. C., 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, p. 156) High point of the festivities was a special showing of the wide screen version of 2001 in the Virginia Theater hosted by Roger Ebert with talks by several members of the cast.

[August '97: Northern California] This trip includes a mixed family history/Good Guy tour. Ellen's father did a post doc with Oppenheimer at Berkeley (1932-34). Bill does his homework on Oppenheimer and then using old letters written by Ellen's parents they are able to track events during that period. A poignant moment--in reading the letters Ellen realizes that her parents had never seen a mountain or an ocean until they set out from C-U (Ellen's father took his Ph.D. at the U. of I.) by bus to Berkeley. The most interesting find during this Good Guy's trip is that the site of Ellen's parent's apartment on Dwight Way now forms the eastern edge of People's Park--the last remnant of 1960s Berkeley.

[July '98: Prague] We found Einstein's house along the river and then walked across the bridge to his office at Prague University just as he must have done. (finding his house required some work--the people in the Prague Info Center did not know where it was and couldn't find it in their ref books or computer data base--it is at 7 Lesnicka St).

Found the statue of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler at the location of the house Tycho lived in while in Prague (it is now the site of the Keplera Gymnasium). Also found the Schwarzenberg Palace where Tycho had his fatal last meal (now the Museum of Military History).

[July '98: Benatky, CZ] We spent one morning in the very small town of Benatky. A very different view of the Czech Republic. Bill had read that Tycho Brahe set up his observatory in one of Rudolf II's palaces in Benatky. We did not know what to expect. A very pleasant surprise. Several years ago the Danes had put together an exhibit about Tycho at Benatky and the Czechs' had turned it into a small museum. We were, as far as we could tell, the only visitors that day and the museum director had a great time taking us around and telling us (in Czech!) all about the museum.

[July '98: Brno, CZ] We found Mendel's monastery in Brno, CZ. It was closed during the Soviet era, his statue taken down, and his research garden not kept up. But the Czechs have now put it all back together (they even found a few surviving Augustinian monks for the monastery). The Medeliaum has a nice display about Mendel's life. Mendel was not really the poorly educated, solitary monk tending his pea plants. Turns out that he studied math and physics in Vienna under people such as Doppler and set out to find simple mathematical laws in biology. It was true that his work was not appreciated. He sent out 40 reprints of his core paper on genetics to the major biologists of the time and received not one letter or comment back. One of the high points of the trip was when I went through the guest book looking for the last English speaking visitor--I found him--in May Jim Watson (!) had visited and signed the book.

[July '98: Krakow] We moved on to Poland on the trail of Copernicus. Krakow is the cultural center of Poland (and one of the few Polish cities not leveled in WWII). It is like a mellow version of Prague. On Sunday morning we headed out to see the Jagiellonian University which Copernicus attended for 4 years. We came across St. Ann's church (which Bill had read had a bust of Copernicus) so we waited a few minutes and then went to mass in a very vibrant non tourist church.

[July '98: Torun] Torun is where Copernicus was born. The town is beautiful and looks much as it must have when Copernicus was there--tall thin houses with red tile roofs. Found his birth house at 17 Kopernika St. and a little museum devoted to his life. Found the huge statue of Copernicus by the Town Hall (now just part of the town square, but I know from my reading that it was actually put up by the Germans when they occupied Poland in the 1800s to claim him as a German).

[July '98: Kaliningrad] One of Bill & Ellen's truly bizarre travel hits. (or as Ellen said in an email message--our extra credit attempt this trip). It all began in Cambridge (UK) when Bill was walking to work. He was thinking about Kant and realized he didn't know where Koenigsberg University was. So he dropped in to Heffers and worked his way through their History section and several hours later he had learned a bit of history that was completely unknown to him. The Teutonic Knights took over the area known as East Prussia around 1200 and it remained German for over 700 years. The capital of the region was Koeningsberg and that is where Kant was born, went to school, taught, and died. However, at the end of WWII the British bombed the city heavily and then the Red Army massed artillery outside of it and literally flattened it. After the war the Russians gave Koenigsberg a new name and racially cleansed the area (all Germans were, either killed, sent to Siberia, or moved to East Germany) and then Russians were resettled there. But after the fall of the Soviet Empire the Kaliningrad Region suffered the bizarre fate of becoming a discontinuous piece of Russian--which it still it to this day (though both the Poles and the Lithuanians are now eyeing it).

Kaliningrad came back into view this spring when in reading about Poland Bill discovered that one can take a hydrofoil from Poland to Kaliningrad as a day trip. Trying to arrange this trip from C-U stretched our planning skills to the limit but finally one week before we left the US we had reservations on the hydrofoil. This somewhat surreal day of our vacation began with us standing before a uniformed Russian officer at 7:30 AM in Elblag Poland while he said we would not be allowed to go to Kaliningrad because we had no "Wisas." (Ellen said this was definitely not one of the high moments of our vacation.) After many phone calls and consultation it was decided that our Visas were waiting for us in Kaliningrad. We never actually saw these visas. When we reached Kaliningrad they took away our passports and, as best we can tell we were allowed into Russia through some loophole that is used to allow fishermen on boats docked in Russia to go ashore for the day!

Whatever the case, we made it ashore. Soon we found ourselves at Kant's tomb which is essentially the only thing that remains of German Koeningsberg. We, as English speaking tourists, were a real curiosity item. We have now seen a city that is probably more Soviet than any in the Soviet Union. They did have to take down their statue of Stalin, but they still have their four story tall Lenin statue and the main street of town is still Leninski Street.

[July '98: Frombork, Poland] The Copernicus trail ends in Frombork, where Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus and where he died. In a letter to the Pope Copernicus referred to Frombork as "this remote corner of the world" Actually it is a wonderful little town with the Cathedral up on a bluff overlooking the Baltic. The only words of English we heard during our stay in Frombork were ours. We visited the tower where Copernicus lived and attended mass in the Cathedral where he is buried.

[August '98: Canadian Rockies] A mini Good Guy hit. Our cabin at Emerald Lake was at the foot of Burgess Mountain where the famous Burgess Shale deposits are. So Bill spent part of one day reading Gould's Wonderful Life out on the porch in the shadow of Mt. Burgess. (The Burgess Shale site is a World Heritage site and can only be visited in special guided tours. The hike takes almost 12 hrs and the altitude gain is over 3,000 feet so Bill wisely decided to pass on touching the actual shale.)

[October '98: Cambridge, MA] We attended the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony (no, Bill wasn't being awarded one--just attending as a friend of the family). In previous years IgNobels have been given to: Harvard Psychiatrist John Mack for concluding that his patients stories of alien abduction were true; to Purdue chemist George Goble for using liquid oxygen to ignite his barbecue grill in 3 sec; to Florida entomologist Mark Hostetler for his book on how to identify bug splats on car windshields; and to SUNY Albany meteorologist Bernard Vonnegut for his work on chicken plucking as a measure of tornado wind speed.

The zany IgNobel ceremony was held in Harvard's Sanders Theater. (In this audience we were at about the 90-95%ile in the age distribution.) Real Nobel prize winners being attacked by a blizzard of paper airplanes. The theme of the evening was duck tape. (Duck Tape was a corporate sponsor.) The hall was tastefully decorated by Don Featherstone the inventor of plastic pink flamingos (a past IgNobel Laureate). Several organizations (H/R Sci Fiction Assoc, etc) came in thematic costumes (e.g., with signs protesting the exploitation of ducks in this IgNobel ceremony).

The two major award winners this year were Troy Hurtubise and Dolores Krieger. Among lesser IgNobelists was Jerald Bain for his paper on foot size and penile length (he showed up to receive it and said the hypothesis came from his mother-in-law who told his wife one day that given his small shoe size she was surprised that they were expecting a third child!).

Troy Hurtubise received his prize in Engineering. After having been attacked by a grizzly Troy has spent much of the last decade trying to construct a grizzly-proof suit of armor. This guy is a modern day Don Quixote. In his acceptance speech he said this was just a step along the way and when he completed his project he would have the last laugh when he was awarded a real Nobel prize (the audience was not convinced--they pelted him with teddy bears from the balcony when he said this). Troy's quest has been immortalized on film by Peter Lynch (who also made the Elephant Man & Eraserhead). The film, The Grizzly Project, shows Troy testing his suit by being thrown down at cliff, by being shot at with arrows, and by being hit by a truck going 40 mph. Then it shows Troy and his friends riding out into the Canadian Rockies in their camouflage clothes and high power rifles. Then Troy puts on his suit and tries to walk into the wilds in search of Grizzly--after about two steps he falls flat on his face and like a turtle on his back, lies there flailing, unable to get up. A couple of Web sites on Troy and the Grizzly Project:,

Prof. Dolores Kreiger at NYU was awarded an IgNobel for discovering the value of therapeutic touch (moving ones hands above sick people to cure them). One alternative medicine site that I checked stated that: "100,000 people—including 43,000 health-care professionals—have been trained in the technique since it was conceived in the early 1970s by New York University professor Dolores Kreiger. Currently, TT is taught in more than 100 medical and nursing schools and natural-healing programs in 75 countries"

Prof Kreiger chose not to attend the IgNobel ceremonies so her award was received by Emily Rosa. Emily designed a test of therapeutic touch for her forth (sic) grade science fair project. She had 21 TT practitioners try to identify her hand behind a screen in blind trials. They showed chance performance. Emily's mother (a nurse) joined with several MD's to write up the results of this science fair project (Rosa, L, Rosa, E. et al. A close look at Therapeutic Touch, JAMA, 1998 (April 1), 279, 1005-1009). [note the date of the issue --some editor at JAMA must have a sense of humor!]

The high point of the evening was when Emily got up to receive the award. The audience went quiet, the paper airplanes stopped flying, and four Nobel prize Laureates stood up to lead the entire audience in a standing ovation. A moist eye scene. Emily, who is now 12, had a moment of stage fright but then gave a fine talk. Since she still has an idealized view of how science operates she said that she was unhappy that different TT therapists have now said her results are invalid since (a) there was air conditioning in the room (b) Emily doesn't have proper energy fields (c) and the lowest blow of all--that she was an incipient teenager.

That is it for now gentle reader.

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Last updated June 4, 2000 by EFB