Executed for theft but not murder? Once upon a time, yes, it seems

Tuesday, 21 October, 2014

The justice system’s perception of the seriousness of an offence looks to have changed over the centuries, for instance execution appeared to be an acceptable penalty for petty theft, at least in Britain, in the seventeenth century, according to a study of transcripts of old court cases that were tried at London’s well known criminal court, the Old Bailey.

The records of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, tell the tale of one John Randal, who was tried on Sept. 9, 1674. He was charged “with two Indictments, one for Fellony for stealing several pieces of Plate, and other Goods…, and the other for Murder, Killing his House-Keeper.” That his theft and his murder were described and tried together was natural for a world where the protection of property was a virtue at least on par with the promotion of human happiness. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1769, William Blackstone argued that it is quite reasonable to execute someone convicted of stealing “a handkerchief, or other trifle, privately from one’s person,” even though other crimes that involve goods of higher value are punished less severely.

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The smartwatch, based on the codex rotundus… or bookwatch?

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014

Codex rotundus

The arrival of what is effectively a smartphone you wear on your wrist, in watch style, caused a splash a month or so ago, but how about the codex rotundus, a circle shaped book, about nine centimetres across, that almost looks like it could be worn as a watch, as wearable technology.

And dating from the late fifteenth century, on top of that. How old hat does this make that smartwatch look then?

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Krakatoa, a volcanic eruption that reverberated around the world

Friday, 10 October, 2014

The 1883 volcanic eruption on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa didn’t just wreak havoc in its more immediate vicinity, the sound of the tremendous explosion circled the world for four days, or at least its ever decreasing remnant, that became too quiet to be heard by people, did:

Closer to Krakatoa, the sound was well over this limit, producing a blast of high pressure air so powerful that it ruptured the eardrums of sailors 40 miles away. As this sound travelled thousands of miles, reaching Australia and the Indian Ocean, the wiggles in pressure started to die down, sounding more like a distant gunshot. Over 3,000 miles into its journey, the wave of pressure grew too quiet for human ears to hear, but it continued to sweep onward, reverberating for days across the globe. The atmosphere was ringing like a bell, imperceptible to us but detectable by our instruments.

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The Cosmonaut’s survival kit, but for survival where exactly?

Thursday, 9 October, 2014

Cosmonauts on Soviet Soyuz spacecraft flights were issued with survival kits that included among other things, pistols and ammunition, fishing gear, compasses, knives, medical kits, and fire starters. And not for use on some inhabited alien planet they may have chanced upon mind you, but planet Earth…

The pistol was intended to scare off “wolves, bears, tigers, etc.” on the event of a crash landing. Later Soviet survival kits expanded to include fishing tackle, improved cold suits, royal blue knit caps with the Cyrillic initials of each cosmonaut (shades of The Life Aquatic) and “ugh boots” lined with fur.

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Preserving cylinder recordings for future generations

Tuesday, 7 October, 2014

A little over one hundred years ago people were listening to recorded music on phonograph cylinders. Disc records were also around, and for a time the two formats competed with each other, before records eventually won out.

Thanks to the efforts of the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project however, not all phonograph cylinder recordings have been lost in time, and a growing collection of such music has been converted to MP3 format for our listening pleasure today.

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A list of popular writers in 2000… selected by people living in 1936

Thursday, 2 October, 2014

In 1936, a US magazine, The Colophon, asked its readers to name ten authors whose work would still be highly regarded by the end of the twentieth century. Unfortunately those polled were a little off the mark, but if you’re looking for some new reading ideas, then the ten authors they did nominate might make for a good starting point.

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Tracing the origins of storytelling back to… ancient campfires

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014

Sitting around campfires in the evenings, after a day of hunting, collecting, or farming, allowed our ancient ancestors the opportunity to talk about matters that were not quite so vital to day-to-day survival, and this is when storytelling began to emerge and develop.

A study of evening campfire conversations by the Ju/’hoan people of Namibia and Botswana suggests that by extending the day, fire allowed people to unleash their imaginations and tell stories, rather than merely focus on mundane topics.

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We played mile high tennis and have the photos to prove it

Tuesday, 23 September, 2014

Tennis game, aircraft wing

There’s playing tennis, and then there’s playing tennis on the top wing of a biplane, at an altitude of one kilometre or thereabouts. I wonder how long a rally might last on such a narrow… court?

Via Historical Pics.

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Stuck in the present? You could try asking the past what to do…

Monday, 22 September, 2014

Stumped by a present day problem? Contemporary advice for a contemporary issue not cutting it? Maybe it’s time to take a leaf from our forebears’ books, and try out ideas from the past.

So to get you started, some old school advice, from 1595, for doing well at school:

Make no noyse nor use any meane, whereby thou maiest disturbe thy schoolefellowes: much lesse thy schoolemaster. Be a patterne of good manners, industry, curtesie, and obeying thy Master unto all in the Shoole. So shall thy praise be great, and thy profit greater.

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Queen Elizabeth I, the boy queen?

Friday, 19 September, 2014

English Queen Elizabeth I, a male imposter, not a woman? Now there’s an attention catching… thought. The line of thinking goes as follows.

As a child Elizabeth was sent away from London, to keep her isolated from the plague outbreak. She nonetheless contracted the disease and died. Fearing the worst, that is execution, her minders dressed up a local boy, to masquerade as Elizabeth, and managed to fool the King, Henry VIII, when he travelled to see her.

Of course there was no choice but to maintain the supposed charade, and the same boy, still impersonating the deceased Elizabeth, later ascended the throne.

So when “she” stood at Bisley manor, in the dimness of an oak-beamed hall lit by latticed windows, it was not so surprising that the king failed to realise he was being duped. He had no reason to suspect his daughter had been ill, after all, and he himself was tired and in pain. But after he left later that afternoon, the hoax began in earnest. Parry and Lady Ashley realised that if they ever admitted what they had done, the king’s fury would be boundless. They might get out of the country to safety, but their families would surely be killed. On the other hand, few people had known the princess well enough to be certain of recognising her, especially after an interval of many months. This boy had already fooled the king, the most important deception. Meanwhile, there was no easy way to find a female lookalike, and replace the replacement. As the courtiers buried the real Elizabeth Tudor in a stone coffin in the manor grounds, they decided their best hope of protecting themselves and their families was to teach this Bisley boy how to be a princess.

Sounds more like a storyline from Blackadder if you ask me, but who knows.

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