ISSN 1188-603X

No. CLXI April 1, Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2


From: The Week in Germany - January 8, 1993, p. 6.

For all those veterans of failed resolutions to maintain neat and orderly workspaces, peace of mind is near: a recent article in Der Spiegel magazine maintains that people whose desks (and surrounding areas) are awash with paper and assorted tools of their trade are actually better organized and essentially more orderly than their neatnik counterparts. This claim is based on a recent British study of the search-and-find methods of people with messy offices by ergonomist Mark Landsdale of Loughborough University. Landsdale concluded that the messy people were actually "like commanders on a battlefield" and they had developed complex system of ordering. In his study, both "slobs" and "neatniks" were asked to find certain papers and separate-but-interrelated materials; the messy subjects found more and were faster, than those with carefully-alphabetized filing systems. According to this study, seemingly messy people use a "contextual technique" to find what they need, which often includes "tumultuous borrowing and scratching" as the workers recollects the circumstances that first brought the object in question into his or her sphere. In doing so, they use all sorts of real-life clues, such as telephone calls or visits to the toilet, thus categorizing the material within a "natural" context, rather than relying on external organizers.

According to Landsdale, many corporate executive officers are among the neater types. Apparent chaos reigned in the working lives of Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Pope John XXIII, Marilyn Monroe and the Spiegel reporter and author of the article, Henry Glass. Glass falls into a pattern described by Landsdale as typical for people with the so-called messy offices: the "volcanic model." This consist of a center "crater" or fairly clear area, surrounded by walls of books, papers, newspapers and maybe a forgotten cracker or two. The seeming confusion is usually confined to the work area, although with practice, an entire room or dwelling can be transformed.

A legendary case was Dagofil ("Jimmy") Vrba, a sportswriter and novel editor for the Prager Tagblatt, a German language daily published in Prague in the early part of this century. The highly-developed volcano model of Vrba's office, a veritable sea of books, manuscript pages, clothing, half-eaten food, and assorted garbage proved lucky on at least one occasion: a November afternoon in 1918, when Czech nationalists stormed the Tagblatt building, intent on demolishing the offices. The first office they saw was Vrba's. "Oh, our men have been here already," they called out, and left the building undisturbed.

Editorial note: My thanks go to Del Meidinger who sent me this note in 1993, and to my wife who found it in my basement office in 1997. - AC


From: (originally posted on

The Department of History and the Program in the History of Science Princeton University
Graduate Student Conference

Casualties of history: losers, the lost, and the problem of defeat
October 4-5, 1997

Keynote Speakers:

All graduate students are invited to submit abstracts for papers.
Proposals are welcome from all fields of historical inquiry.
Papers will be arranged into panel discussions with commentators.

Possible topics for papers might include, but are not limited to:

Please send abstracts of 1-2 pages no later than 1 May 1997 to:

Graduate Conference
Dept of History
207 Dickinson Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544.

Direct e-mail inquiries to: ghaconf@Princeton.EDU


Sacks, Oliver. 1996.
The Island of the Colorblind and Cycad Island. Alfred A. Knopf, New York/Toronto, 298 p. ISBN 0-676-97035-4 [hardcover], price: CND$31.00. More information on web page:

Oliver Sack, a professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, was drawn to the tiny Pacific atoll Pingelap by intriguing reports of an isolated community of islanders born totally colourblind. He visited the atoll with a colourblind Norwegian scientist Knut Nordby and an ophthalmologist Robert Wasserman. They set up a clinic in a one-room island dispensary, where they listened to these achromatopic [totally colourblind] islanders describe their colourless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow:

Knut was fascinated not only by the pigs but by the richness of the vegetation, which he saw quite clearly, perhaps more clearly than the rest of us. For us, as color-normals, it was at first just confusion of greens, whereas to Knut it was a polyphony of brightness, tonalities, shapes and textures, easily identified and distinguished from each other. He mentioned this to James, who said it was the same for him, for all the achromatopes on the island -- none of them had any difficulty distinguishing the plants on the island. [...]

"But what about bananas, let's say -- can you distinguish the yellow from the green ones?" Bob asked.
"Not always," James replied. "'Pale green' may look the same as 'yellow'".
"How can you tell when a banana is ripe, then?"
James answer was to go to a banana tree and to come back with a carefully selected, bright green banana for Bob.
Bob peeled it; it peeled easily, to his surprise. He took a small bite of it, gingerly; then devoured the rest.
"You see," said James, "we don't just go by the color. We look, we feel, we smell, we know -- we take everything into consideration, and you just take color!"

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