How did I miss this story?

Jimi Heselden, recent owner of Segway, has died after driving his Segway off a cliff — supposedly while reversing to get out of the way of a hiker.

Not good news for sales, I would imagine.

I seem to be stumbling across quite a few odd links recently — most due to the Cheezburger network. Recent discoveries include:

  • Ignobel prize winner Chonosuke Okamura, who made the startling discovery that every species of life on the planet was already around 425 million years ago — albeit in microscopic form. Or he may just have had an incredibly overactive imagination. Your call.
  • Götz von Berlichingen, an absolutely bonkers German knight who got his arm blown off by a cannon, invented one of the earliest examples of a functional prosthetic hand, was twice made an outlaw, and has been attributed as inventor of the phrase "kiss my ass". In spite of his incredibly violent life, he lived to a ripe old age of around 80.
  • The "Door to Hell" in Derweze, Turkmenistan — an underground cavern filled with natural gas which, after being accidentally punctured in 1971, was set on fire in order to prevent poisonous gas discharge — and has continued burning to this day.
We tend to think of colour photography as being a postwar sort of invention — no doubt due to its association with Kodacolor photographic film, invented in 1942.

But in fact colour photography is much older than this. Early versions used three or more separate exposures, with different colour filters, which were combined into a final version at development time.

One of the most stunning collections of this sort of photography is Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's photos of pre-Soviet Russia from 1909–1912. The quality of photography and richness of colour make it almost impossible to believe that they were from an entire century ago. The three-hued appearance of flowing water (and the occasional unwary background subject) shows how it was put together from separate Cyan/Magenta/Yellow exposures.

But even older forms of colour photography can be found. Examples from 1906 and 1890 show the "Photocrom" method of pseudo-colour photography. James Clark Maxwell produced a test image as far back as 1855, and Levi Hill's 1851 "Hillotypes" even show some basic colouration — although he fraudulently added extra colours after development!

Edit: Calvin's Dad, as usual, has a different story.

Via Charlie's Diary

Two hundred years ago, Ascension Island was a barren volcanic edifice.

Today, its peaks are covered by lush tropical "cloud forest".

What happened in the interim is the amazing story of how the architect of evolution, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem.

– "Charles Darwin's ecological experiment on Ascension isle", Howard Falcon-Lang, BBC News, 1 Sep 2010

spudtater: (Default)
( Aug. 6th, 2010 01:40 pm)
Promotional video of a Fordson snowmobile from 1926; unlike today's caterpillar-tracked vehicles, the Fordson snowmobile was screw-propelled.

Awesome stuff! A bit mean to the horse around 3½ minutes in, though!   8^(
spudtater: (Default)
( Jun. 7th, 2010 01:09 pm)

A little piece of cigarette history I've only just discovered:

By the early 1950s, the link between smoking and lung cancer–long discussed in medical journals–was getting increased attention in the popular press. As they do to this day, the tobacco companies denied smoking was dangerous, but behaved as if they knew better. Threatened with the loss of jittery customers, they launched new filter brands to convince smokers their habit could be safe. [...] Once an oddity, the filter tip soon dominated cigarette sales, as millions who might have quit were able to rationalize their habit, thanks to these "safer" smokes. Smokers bought L&M filters, said to be "just what the doctor ordered!" They bought Parliaments, which provided "maximum health protection." And they bought Kent, whose "Micronite" filter made the biggest splash of all.

Kent was launched in 1952 by P. Lorillard Co. and named for its president, Herbert A. Kent. Something of a maverick among the cigarette makers, Lorillard came closest to admitting that cigarettes were harmful. It promoted Kent as the brand for "the 1 out of every 3 smokers who is unusually sensitive to tobacco tars and nicotine." It said Kent offered them "the greatest health protection in cigarette history."

In double page magazine ads that played on the public’s gee-whiz faith in science and technology, Lorillard said its quest for the new filter "ended in an atomic energy plant, where the makers of KENT found a material being used to filter air of microscopic impurities."

"What is ‘Micronite’?" another ad asked. "It’s a pure, dust-free, completely harmless material that is so safe, so effective, it actually is used to help filter the air in hospital operating rooms."

In reality, the Micronite filter–whose actual composition the ads never revealed–contained a particularly dangerous form of asbestos. [...] There was asbestos in the filter from 1952 at least until 1957. During this time, according to sales figures, Americans puffed their way through over 13 billion Kents. It is unknown if Kent smokers inhaled asbestos from the filter, or if they have experienced a higher rate of cancer than smokers of other brands.

Lorillard would not respond to written questions on this subject, nor to separate requests to three vice presidents to tell the company’s side. The company offered a single piece of information: "We do not have asbestos in our products, nor have we had for many years," said Sara Ridgway, Lorillard vice president for public relations. "That is all I’m going to say."

— "The Greatest Health Protection In Cigarette History!", Myron Levin, 1987

The 25th of May, as the Whit Sunday term (old style), is a great day in Scotland, being that on which, for the most part, people change their residences. For some unexplained reason the Scotch 'remove' oftener than their southern neighbours. They very generally lease their houses by the year, and are thus at every twelve-month's end able to shift their place of abode. Whether the restless disposition has arisen from the short leases, or the short leases have been a result of the restless disposition, is immaterial. That the restlessness is a fact, is what we have mainly to deal with.

It happens accordingly, that at every Candlemas a Scotch family gets an opportunity of considering whether it will, in the language of the country, sit or flit. The landlord or his agent calls to learn the decision on this point; and if 'flit ' is the resolution, he takes measures by advertising to obtain a new tenant. The two or three days following upon the Purification, therefore, become distinguished by a feathering of the streets with boards projected from the windows, intimating 'A House to Let.' Then comes on a most lively excitement for individuals proposing to remove; you see them going about for weeks, inspecting the numerous houses offered to them. Considerations of position, accommodation, and rent, afford scope for endless speculation. The gentleman deliberates about the rent—whether it will suit his means. The lady has her own anxious thoughts about new furniture that may be required, and how far old carpets can be made to suit the new premises. Both have their reflections as to what the Thomsons and the Jacksons will say on hearing that they are going into a house so much handsomer, more ambitiously situated, and dearer than their last. At length the pleasing dream is over—they have taken the house, and the only thing that remains to be done is to 'flit.'

Intensely longed for, the 25th of May comes at last. The departing tenant knows he must vacate his house before twelve o'clock; consequently, he has to arrange for a quick transportation of his household goods that forenoon. What he is to the new tenant, the tenant of the house he is going to occupy is to him. He dreads—hates—to be pushed; but on the other hand he must push, lest his penates be left shelterless on the street. There is accordingly all that morning a packing up, a sending off, a pushing in—upholstery meeting upholstery in deadly contention; streets encumbered with card-tables and arm-chairs in the most awkward irrelation to their proper circumstances; articles even more sacredly domestic exposed to every idle passerby—a straw-and-ropiness everywhere. In the humbler class of streets, the show of poor old furniture is piteous to look upon, more especially if (as sometimes happens) Jove has chosen to make it a dropping morning. Each leaves his house dishevelled and dirty-marks of torn down brackets and departed pictures on the walls, floors loaded with unaccountable rubbish—all the beauties and attractions that were so witching at Candlemas now strangely obscured. But there is no time for cleaning, and in each must plunge, with all his goods and all his family, settle as they may.

There is only a rude bivouac for the first twenty-four hours, with meals more con-fused and savage than the roughest picnic. And yet, such is the charm of novelty, that a 'flitting' is seldom spoken of as a time or occasion of serious discomfort. Nor are the drawbacks of the new dwelling much insisted on, however obvious. On the contrary, the tendency is to apologize for every less agreeable feature-to view hopefully the effect of a little cleaning here, a coat of size there; to trust that something will make that thorough draft in the lobby tolerable, and compensate for the absence of a sink in the back-kitchen. Jack does not think much of the lowness of the ceiling of the bedroom assigned to him, and Charlotte Louisa has the best hopes of the suitableness of the drawing-room (when the back-bedroom is added to it) for a dancing-party.

A few months generally serve to dispel much of this illusion, and show all the disadvantages of the new mansion in a sufficiently strong light. So when Candlemas next comes round, our tenant has probably become dissatisfied, and anxious for another change. If considerations of prudence stand in the way, the family must be content to stay where they are for another year or two. If able to encounter another change, they will undertake it, only perhaps to find new, though different discomforts, and long for other changes.

– "May 25th", The Book of Days, Robert Chambers, 1869
spudtater: (Default)
( Apr. 28th, 2010 01:05 pm)

Thanks to [ profile] calcinations:

The Art of Onfim: Medieval Novgorod Through the Eyes of a Child is an awesome collection of scribbled drawings found intermingled amongst the schoolwork of a child of about seven, from around 1200 CE.

Same attention deficiency, different century.

Edit: alternative links


According to my desk calendar, audio recording is 150 years old today.

The oldest known audio recording was made not by Thomas Edison (as was once thought), but by one Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, using his phonoautograph.

Unfortunately there wasn't any way to play back the audio, which was a bit of a shortcoming. But thanks to physicists at Berkeley in 2008, we can now listen to what he recorded. Awesome.

Edit: alternative link

spudtater: (Default)
( Sep. 8th, 2009 10:01 am)

My co-worker recently informed me that the Linlithgowans look down on the Bo'nessians "because they have the plague", though he didn't know whether this prejudice had any basis in fact. A quick Google later reveals:

The estates of parliament, understanding that the plague of pestilence is broken out in the town of Bo'ness where various persons are dead of that infection, and because of the resort of country people about Linlithgow, Falkirk and other places to that town this infection is likely to spread, to the great hazard of the country, unless remedy be provided, therefore the estates of parliament give full power and commission [...] to set down orders for restraining the resort of the people to that place, for providing lodges for persons infected, enclosing suspect persons, furnishing of cleansers and pressing them to do their duty and to set down penalties upon the offenders and to see the said orders and penalties put in execution and [...] commanding hereby the persons infected to keep the bounds prescribed to them by the said commissioners and not to come forth thereof without their order under the pain of death.

Commission anent the plague in Bo'ness, Records of the Parliaments of Scotland, 22 Jan 1645

So, indeed, the Bo'nessians do have a history of plague. Although, to be fair to said people, it was quite a while ago now.

In other history news, I have been trying to verify a phrase attributed to Alfred Harmsworth (a.k.a. Lord Northcliffe, and founder of the Daily Mail) by the not-exactly-trustworthy Polly Toynbee[1]:

The Mail's founder, Lord Northcliffe said his winning formula was to give his readers "a daily hate" - and it does.

Dacre in the dock, Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, 26 Mar 2004

Which is intriguing because, if true, it would imply that the moniker "The Daily Hate" predates the most obvious reference — the "Two minutes' hate" of Orwell's 1984. In fact, the influence could even have run in the opposite direction...   8^]

[1] Polly Effing Toynbee criticising tabloid writers for bias and inaccuracy? Pot, meet kettle.
spudtater: (Default)
( Jun. 12th, 2009 11:15 pm)
I believe it was [personal profile] tehblahhh who was expressing disbelief that there was such an instrument as a "hurdy gurdy". I insisted that it did exist, and that it was some sort of crank-operated device, although I couldn't give any more details.

Well, this is a hurdy gurdy, and it's really quite a lovely instrument. An odd mixture of the mechanical and the organic, with a haunting, mournful tone.

(More hurdy gurdy: One with a 'buzzing bridge' for rhythm. One played with crazy-fast fingers.)

Apparently it was all the rage in medieval times, and then all but died out. What other instruments have been forgotten by history?
spudtater: (Default)
( Jul. 7th, 2007 10:41 pm)
Lenny Henry as Doctor Who. Part of the bonuses on The Curse of Fatal Death.

Via [ profile] brucec.

A 1986 promotional video shown to prospective students of the Computer Science department of Edinburgh University. Worth watching for a bit of giggling about old tech.

  • "...with gateways to other networks in the UK, Europe and beyond!"
  • Computer science seemed to be all about solder in those days. (Could be worse; could be vacuum tubes.)
  • I like plotters. Far cooler than printers.
  • No disrespect, but is it really wise to be punching a hole in that wire when it's lying on your knee?
  • I call it an "ethernet".
  • Look at the refresh rate on that screen of text! Stunning.
  • EdUni people will notice that the shop in the King's Buildings Centre appears to have not changed its layout in over twenty years — except for a slight downsizing of the shelves of cigarettes!
  • This is my "OMG its teh eighties" cardigan...
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 19th, 2006 06:41 pm)
[ profile] galaxy_girl00's mate's brother's in a band. It's called Toyshelf, and it hails from that famous wellspring of rock 'n roll, North Yorkshire. I've just been listening to a couple of their mp3s, which they're very kindly offering over teh intarweb:

I like.

Also... )
spudtater: (Default)
( Dec. 24th, 2005 06:57 pm)
I'm celebrating Saturnalia this year, I think. I get to decorate an evergreen tree, and exchange presents with family and friends. Sounds like fun! (The feasting and drinking sounds pretty good, too!) I'll be celebrating it on December 25th, i.e. tomorrow, following the lead of Emperor Aurelian (technically that's the date of dies natalis Solis Invicti, not Saturnalia, but same difference).

In other news, my brother has shown that he does in fact have some use, by demonstrating how to fold a t-shirt in three easy movements (standing up, no less!).
spudtater: (Default)
( Dec. 16th, 2005 01:05 am)

I've talked about the different versions of Santa, but there's one very interesting aspect I haven't covered yet: the companions of Santa. These are beings who accompany Santa (or similar gift-bringer) on his journey to deliver his presents. In Britain and America we think of him as travelling alone, or with a nameless elf or two. But other cultures have much more fleshed out characters.

The companions of Santa )

What have we learnt from all this study of Santa? Well, that Santa is merely the most modern incarnation of a figure who appears to be older than written records can trace; a figure who has left widespread and highly variant figures all over Europe and beyond. He predates his namesake St. Nicholas for sure, he predates Christianity, and he predates Coca Cola by a long way. So if anybody tells you that Santa was invented by the Coca Cola company in the 20th century, you can now quite thoroughly correct them!

The history of "Santa Claus" is a convoluted one. His roots are many and varied, with each country and culture seeming to contribute something to the legend. Here are the main ones:

Cut for length )

"Radio-activity is neither a drug nor medicine. It is an element of nature—and therefore accepted as harmoniously in the body as sunlight, fresh air, or the vitamins in foods, and is of like importance."

"it is but common sense to restore it to water that has lost it just as we restore oxygen to a stuffy room by opening a window"

"One should drink water from the REVIGATOR at all times and at least eight full glasses per day."

It's the Revigator; a revolutionary health product from the 1920s. It's just a gallon-sized water jar, really... only it's lined with a thick layer of uranium ore. The "vigor gas" it adds to water is radon, a product of uranium decay.

Here's a PDF file of the leaflet quoted above. It's funny because it's so sincere. And, as its ex-owner points out, it does read disturbingly like the "alternative medicine" leaflets of the present.

"The Levellers were a mid 17th century English political party, who came to prominence during the English Civil Wars. Their manifesto involved a remodelling of the English political process along the lines of a more egalitarian, less class-driven regime. They had a large following within the ranks of the New Model Army."


(Pub quiz question: name shared by rock band and civil-war-era army. I said 'The Levellers' because I thought that they had their own army, but apparently not. Well, at least I got the time period right. Evil question. Evil evil evil.)

Will get back to (appropriate) studying now.



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