Surely hitchhiking hasn’t fallen victim to ride sharing?

Tuesday, 19 May, 2015

I can’t say I spot too many hitchhikers as I make my way around, but it could be I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the US however, the once popular means of getting from point A to point B, appears to have fallen from favour completely. Could that really be so?

Given how few hitchhikers one actually sees on American roadways, it’s surprising any of us even know how to do it, or what it looks like. (As far as I can tell, a lot of first-time teenaged hitchhikers are either instructed by books or movies, rather than by actual sightings of roadside thumbs.) Once a common form of early 20th-century transportation, then the cornerstone of quite a few ’60s countercultural experiences, it has been all but eradicated from public view in the United States – save for the continued obsession with serial rapists and murders like Robert Rhodes, the “truck stop killer,” and Edmund Kemper, the “co-ed killer,” whose gruesome acts committed against women continue to be the subject of countless books, articles and TV specials.

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The hunt for Osama bin Laden. What really happened. Or not?

Monday, 18 May, 2015

There is Zero Dark Thirty, US director Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, based, partly at least, on the official narrative of events, then there is Washington, D.C. based investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s controversial take on the same topic.

They differ. Greatly.

The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

Mind you, some of Hersh’s claims are being disputed.

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The music revolution was not punk rocked, but it was Nirvana’d

Monday, 18 May, 2015

An analysis of music that charted in the Billboard Hot 100 in the fifty years between 1960 and 2010, reveals that there were three significant periods of change in modern popular music:

There were three periods of rapid change. The first is from 1963 to 1964 – the period of the British Invasion. Though this appears to be the smallest, that is probably an illusion caused by there being few previous quarters to compare it with. The second is in the early 1980s. The third is around 1991. These revolutions do all correspond with times musical critics would have said change was happening (classic rock, new wave, and hip-hop respectively), but this analysis suggests other apparent novelties, such as the punk of the 1970s, were not the revolutions that their fans might like to believe.

I think hip-hop was responsible for the change, or revolution, of the early 1990s, rather than say grunge, and Nirvana, though the genre is not be underestimated, but three ground-shifts over fifty years seems low to me.

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Completing the purity test is a test in itself

Friday, 15 May, 2015

Here’s a blast from the past… The Unisex, Omnisexual Purity Test, something I remember taking, or beginning to take, in 1999. I don’t know how many people would have completed the test, given it consists of five hundred questions, but it likely gets right to the core of one’s modesty when that happens.

There is now a slightly easier to take version of the test. In the late 1990s we had to record our answers on paper. Paper? Talk about cruising the electronic frontier that was the information superhighway, hey?

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Everything, or almost everything, you want to know about pinball

Tuesday, 12 May, 2015

Do you remember the days of yore, those wonder years of endless summers, when we used to go PLP, drink cherry soda, and spend all afternoon playing pinball at the long vanished diner along the only street in our hometown?

Nor do I, that was the generation before ours, I think, but if its the ultimate guide to pinball that you’re looking for, and aren’t we all looking for something Chatelaine, then your journey here wasn’t in vain.

These days the entertainment landscape has shifted to all-digital all-the-time, and it can leave a person thirsty for a real world waste of time. Pinball is one great solution to getting yourself out into meatspace and it’s seen a resurgence of popularity in the last few years.

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An earlier four minute mile than Roger Bannister’s?

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

Former British athlete Roger Bannister officially ran the first four-minute mile in 1954. Stories however abound of people in England achieving the feat during the eighteenth century.

Given these people were often running as part of a bet, or a gamble, Peter Radford, a retired sports science professor and Olympic bronze medalist, contends their times, that were sometimes reported in news publications of the day, would have been quite accurately recorded, as relatively large sums of money were at stake.

But Radford argues that at the time of Parrott’s run, agricultural chains would have been able to measure the distance to within a few inches. And, by the late 18th Century, the best watches were extremely accurate. Even a watch that lost five seconds a day could still time a mile to within a second. Crucially, the culture of wagers gave everyone a strong financial incentive to get it right. “The two parties agreed that there hadn’t been any advantage taken by one side over the other,” Radford says. “It’s not like a diary entry where somebody said, ‘I did so and so’ and they could make up whatever they wanted.”

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A hangover cure, made from the leaves of the Alexandrian laurel

Friday, 1 May, 2015

Being Friday and all…

According to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a collection of manuscripts, some of which are nearly two thousand years old, the people of ancient Greece and Rome strung together leaves of a shrub called Danae racemosa, or Alexandrian laurel, to make a hangover curing necklace.

There seems to be doubt as to whether these leaves were actually effective of themselves, but possibly they had some placebo like quality that helped.

The key ingredient listed to treat the hangover – the slow growing evergreen Danae racemosa – wasn’t exactly known for its medical properties. The plant was used in Greek and Roman times to crown distinguished athletes, orators and poets. Whether stringing its leaves and wearing the strand around the neck had any effect to relieve headaches in alcohol victims isn’t known.

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A bloodcurdling history of blood transfusions

Thursday, 30 April, 2015

If you’ve ever needed a blood transfusion, then you ought to be especially thankful to a couple of dogs, living in England during the seventeenth century, who were involved, involuntarily I imagine, in the first known trials of the medical procedure.

The world’s first experiments with blood transfusion occurred in the mid-1660s in England. The procedure, which was first carried out between dogs, was gruesome: the dogs were tied down, the arteries and veins in their necks opened, and blood transferred from one to another through quills (most likely made from goose feathers) inserted into the blood vessels.

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Sure, dinosaur fossils are priceless, but how much are they worth?

Tuesday, 28 April, 2015

I wouldn’t have thought that dinosaur fossils could be bought or sold ordinarily. But I imagine if someone is sufficiently financed, and determined enough, to buy them, they’ll succeed.

It seems money did change hands in the past though, in certain circumstances during the nineteenth century apparently, and this trade is the subject of an essay by Lukas Rieppel.

Rather, people haggling over the price of dinosaur bones looked to social norms from the mineral industry for cues on how to value these rare and unusual objects, adopting a set of negotiation tactics that exploited asymmetries in the distribution of scarce information to secure the better end of the deal.

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The dinosaur formerly known as Brontosaurus is a dinosaur again

Wednesday, 15 April, 2015

What a week it’s been hey? First up news broke that we may soon be able to learn what the lyrics to “American Pie” mean. Then we discovered that the Helvetica font had a rival, Haas Unica, that, for whatever reason, failed to fully see the light of day forty years ago.

Now it seems Brontosaurus, a dinosaur that was previously deemed not to be an actual terrible lizard, is in fact such a creature in its own right, after all.

The change in fortunes for the Brontosaurus came about after Lisbon based palaeontologist, Emanuel Tschopp, began creating a family tree of sorts for Diplodocids, the dinosaur group that Apatosaurus, the creature everyone had mistaken for a Brontosaurus, was part of, and found they actually were two distinct beasts:

Very broadly, their tree confirmed established ideas about the evolutionary relationships among diplodocids. But the scientists also concluded that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were different enough to belong in their own genera. Many of the anatomical differences between the two dinosaurs are obscure, Tschopp says, but Apatosaurus‘s stouter neck is an obvious one. “Even though both are very robust and massive animals, Apatosaurus is even more so,” he adds.

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