Parabolic vs. ellipsoidal – converting an e-mail into a suppository; either square, hex, or round…


I just ran a column about Reno High School and mentioned its famous dome, which the architect himself, (Monk Ferris), called parabolic in a 1951 newspaper article. A parabola. Then, this arrives in the e-mail this morning, from a friend I’ve known since 1950 at Central Jr. High. I’ve been writing a column for 28 years, but it’s bullshit like this that will bring the curtain down on the whole shebang someday:

Hi Karl,

The “dome” at RHS is not parabolic. It is roughly ellipsoidal – or rather roughly the upper half of an ellipsoid, which is the three-dimensional analog of an ellipse. Both an ellipse and an ellipsoid have two foci, and rays emanating from one focus are reflected to the other focus. This phenomenon is responsible for some “whispering galleries” and “whispering domes”. One of the attractions in the physics lab at CalTech was a small water tank in the shape of the bottom half of an ellipsoid. When it was filled with water, poking a finger into the water at one focus made a little column of water shoot up at the other focus.

 I haven’t set foot in RHS since 1959, but my recollection is that the dome is too shallow to be a true ellipsoid, and therefore incapable of transmitting whispers.


click to read the offending column

5 thoughts on “Parabolic vs. ellipsoidal – converting an e-mail into a suppository; either square, hex, or round…

  1. I loved reading about RHS and learning facts I didn’t know before. Now though, I have a question about the email you received…what part is BS? I mean, Caltech and all…so it couldn’t be what he wrote…or could it? Was the BS that it doesn’t really matter unless you’re a scientist? Or am I missing the point all together? Is all together one word or hyphenated?

    • Hi Phyllis, the point is that there’s always someone to pick flys~~t out of pepper when I write and one day I’m going to say “sayonara” to the whole thing. Altogether is one word. See you Friday. Karl

      • Hi Karl, I was folding laundry and it suddenly came to me…people are out there scrutinizing every single friggin’ detail. But when I came in here to write it, before I read the email you sent, I thought, well Karl’s a big boy and that wouldn’t bother him. I mean, that guy, Mr. Caltech, is a nerd and couldn’t help himself. So forgive him and whatever you do, DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL. Too many people enjoy your columns.
        ps. I may or may not see you Friday…it depends on whether my friend Bill can work us in!

  2. Hello Karl:

    I want to respond to your latest article that you wrote that had to do with that jerk’s comment about the Rotunda at Reno High School.

    Over all the years that I have been reading the great articles I realize that you need to do massive research to bring these stories to life. I do not know of anyone in Reno that is qualified to take on these tasks or could present them in the “light & entertaining” manner that you do.

    There are always some folks in this world that have no appreciation for the job Journalists do in order to put these great stories into print so I say to them, get a life and just appreciate the work Karl is doing.

    If this person was a friend and if I were in your shoes, I would 86 his name off of my friendship list. One does not need folks like that. [I did. KB]

    So to you, keep up the great work, screw that jerk and keep up the great writing you do.

    This is my 2 cents for the day

    ///sender’s name redacted by Breckenridge///

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