In case you’ve ever wondered, why does the mouse pointer… slant?

Monday, 24 February, 2014

Another of life’s unasked questions possibly, why does the mouse cursor point at an angle, or to eleven o’clock, if you see it that way, rather than straight up? Seemingly it comes down to the low resolution of the early monitors in use at the time the mouse was invented by US engineer Douglas Englebart:

The mouse, and therefore the mouse cursor, was invented by Douglas Englebart, and was initially an arrow pointing up. When the XEROX PARC machine was built, the cursor changed into a tilted arrow. It was found that, given the low resolution of the screens in those days, drawing a straight line and a line in the 45 degrees angle was easier to do and more recognizable than the straight cursor.

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Is the sixth mass extinction upon us?

Wednesday, 19 February, 2014

There have been five mass extinction events while there has been life on Earth, including the one that took out the dinosaurs. Now we may be in the throes of a sixth such happening. Don’t go underestimating the gravity of what is happening on account of the apparent absence of fire, brimstone, thunder, lightening, and who knows what else, though:

Nowadays, many scientists are predicting that we’re on track for a sixth mass extinction. The world’s species already seem to be vanishing at an unnaturally rapid rate. And humans are altering the Earth’s landscape in far-reaching ways: We’ve hunted animals like the great auk to extinction. We’ve cleared away broad swaths of rain forest. We’ve transported species from their natural habitats to new continents. We’ve pumped billions of tons of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans, transforming the climate.

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The origin of the world’s favourite expletive starting with f

Wednesday, 19 February, 2014

A friend’s young son recently found himself in hot water for using the word in question, in a Disney operated discussion forum no less, so I shall refrain from actually making mention of it here and now. Still, if language and history are your things, you can read more about the origins of said word here:

Another theory for its late arrival is that it’s a borrowing from Norse (the Vikings) via Scottish because several early instances are found in Scottish writing (such as the fifteenth-century one discounted in that other article). However, this is generally believed to be unlikely, in part because the Scottish weren’t considered influential enough for English to borrow words from them. Perhaps there were more early written examples in Scottish simply because they were less prudish about writing it.

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Before satellite photos of the Moon there were Galileo’s drawings

Thursday, 13 February, 2014

Moon sketch, by Galileo Galilei

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Italian scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, using one of the earliest telescopes, became the first person to draw up images of the Moon with any sort of detail. That actually seems mildly surprising because quite good renderings could still be made of Earth’s satellite without the aid of a telescope.

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A collection of vintage NASA photos taken between 1964 and 1983

Thursday, 6 February, 2014

Vintage NASA photo

A nice selection of vintage NASA photos taken between 1964 and 1983, that currently happen to be featuring in an exhibition at London’s BREESE LITTLE art gallery.

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William Shakespeare, also a science fiction playwright?

Wednesday, 5 February, 2014

William Shakespeare was many things, poet, playwright, world’s greatest English language writer, the list goes on. But how about science fiction author? There looks to be an argument in the affirmative here:

Finally, Shakespeare wasn’t quite ready to retire in 1610. This was the year he wrote Cymbeline – containing, arguably, an even more tantalising allusion to the new cosmology. In this admittedly weird play, Jupiter himself descends from the heavens. Could the four ghosts that dance around the play’s hero represent the planet’s four newly discovered Jovian moons, described by Galileo earlier that year? Usher suspects so – and so does Scott Maisano of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, along with John Pitcher at Oxford, who have each written in support of the idea.

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The penitential sex flowchart is saying not tonight darling

Tuesday, 4 February, 2014

Regular expression crosswords may baffle those who enjoy puzzles, but for those living in certain regions of medieval Europe making the decision to partake of… quality time with one’s significant other looked to be akin to solving one of these crossword puzzles, if this penitential sex flowchart was anything to go by.

Looks like there’s always some sort of excuse not to…

Via things magazine.

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World War I myths and misconceptions debunked

Friday, 31 January, 2014

Even if we still don’t entirely understand what triggered the First World War, there are still plenty of myths and misconceptions surrounding the conflict.

For instance many people probably think soldiers serving in the trenches spent their whole period of service there, but for British troops at least, about a week and a half, per month, was the longest they would have been stationed there:

Front-line trenches could be a terribly hostile place to live. Often wet, cold and exposed to the enemy, units would quickly lose their morale if they spent too much time in them. As a result, the British army rotated men in and out continuously. Between battles, a unit spent perhaps 10 days a month in the trench system, and of those, rarely more than three days right up on the front line. It was not unusual to be out of the line for a month. During moments of crisis, such as big offensives, the British could occasionally spend up to seven days on the front line but were far more often rotated out after just a day or two.

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A remote controlled boat, how’s that supposed to work then?

Monday, 27 January, 2014

In 1898 Serbian born US inventor Nikola Tesla stunned visitors to an exhibition at Madison Square Garden, in New York City, with a radio controlled boat. Those witnessing the demonstration of a model boat moving about a pool seemingly believed they were seeing a spectacle of magic:

Using a small, radio-transmitting control box, he was able to maneuver a tiny ship about a pool of water and even flash its running lights on and off, all without any visible connection between the boat and controller. Indeed few people at the time were aware that radio waves even existed and Tesla, an inventor often known to electrify the crowd with his creations, was pushing the boundaries yet again, with his remote-controlled vessel.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?

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How the mighty have fallen it seems, bands that used to be good

Wednesday, 22 January, 2014

Roger “Buzz” Osborne, of US band the Melvins, reckons he has picked the exact moment well known rock acts such as The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Black Flag, The Who, and – in a sense – even Jimi Hendrix, jumped the shark:

You listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Voodoo Child” and then you listen to Hendrix’s version, and Hendrix’s version has soul. There’s a difference. Everything is different. Hendrix gets it. Stevie Ray Vaughan is playing all the right notes, but it’s not anywhere near as good. That’s not something you can read in a book. Hendrix just had it. He had it all. He was a great singer, a great songwriter, and an unbelievable guitar player. And now he’s dead. So that’s how he blew it. It’s the biggest blowing it of all. What a dumbass.

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