A story of the origins of the percent sign

Thursday, 26 March, 2015

Ah, the % (percent) sign… why ever don’t we use something more like the ‰ (per mille) sign instead? Here’s an explanation by Keith Houston, together with a history of how the percent sign came to be.

I had assumed that the percent sign was shaped so as to invoke the idea of a vulgar fraction, with a tiny zero aligned on either side of a solidus ( / ), or fraction slash.

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I’ve been back in time with you and didn’t it change my life or what

Tuesday, 24 March, 2015

Back in Time is a documentary that takes stock of the not insignificant cultural impact of the Back to the Future films. This I am waiting for. In the meantime, here’s the trailer.

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Well known songs that you’ve never actually heard

Tuesday, 10 March, 2015

The tune, or tunes, that the Pied Piper was belting out the day he first lead all the rats from an Irish town, and then later its children, after the town’s people refused to pay for his pest control services, must be among one of the world’s best known songs. But here’s the thing, has anyone actually heard this music?

The answer is no, because the tune only ever existed as part of a written, or recited, story. And it is but one of a number of well known, yet mythical tunes, that many of us have heard of, but have not actually heard, as well.

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Can you name the oldest, still lived in city, in the world?

Tuesday, 24 February, 2015

It may seem strange to some that identifying the world’s oldest, inhabited, or still lived in city, is far from a straightforward process. However, no sooner might one city be handed the gong, when new evidence is dug up showing that another town is more deserving of the honour.

It may be impossible to say with any certainty what is the world’s oldest city – for a very old argument, it is remarkably fluid, with new discoveries all the time – but for now it seems only right to give it to Aleppo, the oldest city currently being fought for and sacked, as all these cities have from the beginning.

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There are no souvenir shops on the Moon as Neil Armstrong learnt

Friday, 20 February, 2015

Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, recently found a bag of bits and pieces that the late astronaut had brought back from his Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, that he had kept stowed away for decades, in a cupboard at their home.

Of the seventeen items Armstrong had souvenired, it is perhaps the camera that recorded his first steps on the lunar surface, that is of the most interest:

Inside the bag were 17 objects from the Apollo 11 mission including Armstrong’s waist tether, utility lights, and emergency wrench. Most importantly, it contained the 16mm data acquisition camera (DAC) used to film footage of the final approach to the moon on July 20, 1969. The camera was also used to record Armstrong going down the ladder and taking his famous “one small step,” the planting of the flag and other footage of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.

I guess if I was the first person to set foot on the Moon, or any person to set foot on the Moon come to that, I’d want a few keepsakes as well.

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An illustrated history of sushi

Wednesday, 18 February, 2015

An illustrated history of sushi… it’s a dish that has been around for centuries, although not quite in the format that we’re familiar with.

In the case of Nare sushi, which was being consumed some five thousand years ago in southern China, preparation took about a year, on account of the pickling process, and while rice was an ingredient, it was more of a stuffing, and usually not eaten when the dish was eventually served.

Dozens of rice-stuffed fish would be packed in a wooden barrel and then weighed down with a heavy stone. The fish would sit for a year before being cracked open for consumption. “No one ate the rice back then. It was just the fish.” This practice spread to Japan but eventually went out of vogue in China after northern nomadic tribes invaded and ruled the area. “Even today, this style can still be found in some parts of Yunnan and northern Thailand,” Isassi says.

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Ice Henge, here’s what you build when you have no stones

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015

Photo by Eli Wedel

What else is there do when you possess ice cutters, have access to a frozen lake, and an accompanying supply of ice? Build a replica of Stone Henge of course:

Drew McHenry, Kevin Lehner, Quinn Williams, Alec Niedringhaus and Patrick Shields constructed the massive display by cutting out sections of the lake’s ice as the pillars, weighing about 300 pounds each, with a large ice cutting saw. Then they cut sections of the ice weighing around 200 pounds and lifted them on top of the pillars. A mix of snow and water was used as mortar to keep the pieces together. With almost perfect weather this year, the five were able to put it all together in just two weekends!

(Photo by Eli Wedel)

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Unicorns, a history of their mythology

Thursday, 12 February, 2015

Unicorns are as a much a part of pop culture as, well, anything you care to think of. But how much do you really know about these mythical (or not) creatures? Matt Simon, writing for Wired, plugs a few gaps in our knowledge in this regard.

If you’re looking to figure out how an ancient myth started to get out of hand, a good place to start is with the great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, whose epic encyclopedia Natural History stood largely as fact for some 1,600 years. Problem was, Pliny wasn’t the most incredulous of writers, and crammed his encyclopedia with pretty much any account he could get his hands on.

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Replay the soundtrack of your life

Tuesday, 10 February, 2015

Enter your date of birth and Retrojam will compile a playable play list of popular music releases in the years you were born, started primary/elementary school, graduated high school, and then university or college.

I imagine this could be especially fun if you wanted to organise a milestone sort of birthday party for a friend or family member.

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A guide to cinema etiquette from one hundred years ago

Thursday, 5 February, 2015

Vintage cinema etiquette poster

This century smartphones, and their owners who insist on texting – among other things – during features, are the scourge of film-goers , but one hundred years ago it seemed that women’s hats, or rather women who neglected to take off their hats after being seated, riled cinema patrons.

That’s if the above image, one of several that were displayed in the pre-show entertainment segment, back in the day, is anything to go by.

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