The potato… the world’s most nondescript game changer?

Friday, 24 July, 2015

The potato, such a nondescript vegetable, yet it has played a surprisingly significant part in shaping the world we live in today.

Geographically, the Andes are an unlikely birthplace for a major staple crop. The longest mountain range on the planet, it forms an icy barrier on the Pacific Coast of South America 5,500 miles long and in many places more than 22,000 feet high. Active volcanoes scattered along its length are linked by geologic faults, which push against one another and trigger earthquakes, floods and landslides. Even when the land is seismically quiet, the Andean climate is active. Temperatures in the highlands can fluctuate from 75 degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing in a few hours – the air is too thin to hold the heat.

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Philippe Petit’s high-wire Twin Towers walk reenacted in “The Walk”

Wednesday, 15 July, 2015

The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, of Back to the Future fame, is a dramatisation of the death defying 1974 attempt by French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, to walk between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City, on a tightrope slung between both buildings.

The illicit undertaking was also the subject of a documentary, Man on Wire, made in 2008 by James Marsh. Aside from what I imagine will be protracted scenes of Petit making the walk, some six hundred metres above the ground, it’ll be interesting to see what the Zemeckis production, that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, can add to the story.

There is no actual motion footage of Petit’s… walk, the accomplice charged with its filming was too tired to operate the camera, when the time came. Knowing that somehow made “Man on Wire” a little easier to watch, though I’m not sure I could sit through an actual reenactment, something the trailer for “The Walk”, offers a glimpse of.

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Was the American Revolution was a mistake?

Wednesday, 15 July, 2015

It’s not easy to miss an article with a title making that sort of a statement.

Dylan Matthews, writing for Vox, makes the argument that the American Revolution was a mistake, for three main reasons:

  • The abolition of slavery would have been otherwise swifter
  • Native Americans would have been better off
  • The British system of government is better

Jeff Stein, also writing for Vox, repudiates Matthews’ thoughts, by countering that Native Americans would not have been better off, that slaves may not have been freed, even in the north, and that the revolution inspired other independence, and anti-slavery, movements.

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Then and now photos of American Civil War locations

Thursday, 2 July, 2015

An interactive collection of photos taken during the American Civil War, compared with images of the same locations from this year. How serene is what we see in the latter day pictures, when the bloodshed of the earlier photos is contemplated.

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Counting down the top fifty prog rock albums of all time

Wednesday, 1 July, 2015

Progressive rock, or prog rock… a list of the fifty greatest albums of the genre. You’ll never guess what the number one title is.

Think I’ll buy me a Pink Floyd record…

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Might Somerton Man’s death have been a crime of passion?

Tuesday, 16 June, 2015

I’m a fan of mysteries, I even have one or two of my own that I’m trying to unravel right now. The “Mystery of the Somerton Man” however, has intrigued many Australians, since the discovery of the body of a middle aged man on Somerton beach, in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, in December 1948.

No one seemed to know him. He carried no identification, and to compound matters, even the labels of the clothes he was wearing had been removed. A scrap of paper, bearing the words “Taman Shud”, led some too believe the deceased was possibly a Soviet, or US, spy.

A lengthy police investigation failed to turn up any clues as to who the man was, why he was in Adelaide, and how he wound up on Somerton beach. Derek Abbott, an engineer at the University of Adelaide, has been conducting his own research recently into the mystery, and thinks he may have found an explanation.

He speculates that the unknown man might have been having an affair with a married Adelaide nurse, who has long been linked to him, and they may have even had a child, Robin, together. Could it be that someone felt compelled to take Somerton Man out of the picture, as it were, on account of this relationship?

Abbott cautiously tested this theory by writing a letter to Roma Egan, a dancer in the Australian Ballet who was married to Robin Thomson from 1968 to 1974. Abbott enclosed a picture of the Somerton Man and asked if she knew any dancers who looked like him. Roma wrote back saying that the corpse resembled her ex-husband. She also told Abbott, darkly, that her ex-mother-in-law had been a woman with secrets, and that Jo – like the young Abbott – had an obsession with pharmacology.

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The Buran programme, the Soviet space shuttle that didn’t take off

Monday, 15 June, 2015

Photo by Ralph Mirebs

The Soviet Union, and then later the Russian Federation, aspired to a space shuttle programme, but only one craft, of a number that were built, ever went into Earth orbit, in 1988, an un-crewed flight at that. The Buran programme, as it was known, was eventually suspended in 1993.

While some of the vessels, or what was constructed of them, before the programme was terminated, can be found in various locations in Russia, this collection of photos by Ralph Mirebs, is about all that now remains of the Buran programme.

It’s unfortunate that more didn’t come of the project, considering the resources that had been expended into it.

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From dinosaur to chicken, a rather fast evolution actually

Thursday, 11 June, 2015

Chickens descended from the Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur, that we all know. But here’s the real mystery, how did something once so large, end up becoming so small? Paleontologists look to have discovered why:

For decades, paleontologists’ only fossil link between birds and dinosaurs was archaeopteryx, a hybrid creature with feathered wings but with the teeth and long bony tail of a dinosaur. These animals appeared to have acquired their birdlike features – feathers, wings and flight – in just 10 million years, a mere flash in evolutionary time. “Archaeopteryx seemed to emerge fully fledged with the characteristics of modern birds,” said Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England.

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The stylehunters of the Soviet Union

Wednesday, 3 June, 2015

If sartorial codes of some sort were ever imposed on citizens of what was once the Soviet Union, it didn’t stop a group of people, referred to as Stilyagi, or Stylehunters, from finding ways to dress with some individuality in mind.

Even though the Stilyaga subculture went directly against communist ideology, members’ motives were generally non-political. More an escapist subculture than a group of cultural protesters, Stilyagi created their own colorful world within a restrictive egalitarian regime.

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It was twenty years ago today that Jeffrey Zeldman taught us to code

Tuesday, 2 June, 2015

Influential New York City based web designer, I don’t believe that title has yet been deprecated, Jeffrey Zeldman launched his website twenty years ago last Sunday. I’ve been reading it for almost all that time, something I may have pointed out before. Twenty years, that’s a long time, but I’ve said before as well.

And then there’s this:

I wanted to launch a redesign on this 20th anniversary – in the old days I redesigned this site four or five times a year, whenever I had a new idea or learned a new skill – but with a ten year old daughter and four businesses to at least pretend to run (businesses that only exist because I started this website 20 years ago today and because my partners started theirs), a redesign by 31 May 2015 wasn’t possible.

I may not be anywhere near as busy as Zeldman, but so far it hasn’t been possible to update the design here, that has been in place eighteen months now. Those days of five redesigns a year are truly a distant memory.

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