David Bouchier

Paul Vernon / AP

The golden age of magic coincided more or less with my childhood, which was lucky for me. Not only could we see real magicians at work on stage at the local music hall theater, we could even become magicians ourselves.

wolfgangfoto / Flickr

My ignorance about science is virtually complete. We had a tiny amount of science education at school: a little simplified physics and a little more or less unintelligible chemistry – literally unintelligible because it was taught by a Scotsman whose accent none of us could understand. I never learned anything more.

Charlie Riedel / AP

The driver’s side window of my car stuck in the open position during a rainstorm last week, so I drove rather damply to my usual mechanic. He inhabits a workshop in one of those areas where automotive businesses seem to cluster, rather the way doctors’ offices cluster around a hospital. It’s reassuring in a way. If one practitionar can’t fix your problem, the one on the next block probably can.

Ricardo Liberato / Flickr

Christopher Columbus, whose bold and erratic voyages we celebrate today, began his career as a trader and business agent. He knew the value of money, and he knew how hard it was to persuade people to part with it. His fantasy, based on a study of unreliable old maps and books, was to find a direct sea route from Europe to the Far East, where fabulous riches were believed to be had for the taking. As we now know, he was badly mistaken. A huge continent blocked the way between Europe and Asia, and Columbus sailed right into it.

U.S. Department of Defense

Fifty years ago I lived for a while in California, and spent as much time as possible hanging around in San Francisco. This was not because of any special devotion to picturesque cable cars or overpriced fish restaurants. At that time San Francisco was ground zero for the hippie phenomenon. Young people had flocked there from all over America, and the world, to create what they called a counterculture, and 1967 was the Summer of Love. What could be more counter to our regular culture than love?

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