How about that opening sequence from “Back to the Future” then?

Wednesday, 8 October, 2014

The opening title sequence of 1985 time travel classic Back to the Future is quite the feat of film production. Not only from a storytelling perspective, it serves as a neat introduction for what is about to follow, but also technically, being a single shot scene, to say nothing of what is happening, unseen of course, behind it all.

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Vaseline glass requires something with a little more kick… uranium

Friday, 3 October, 2014

Vaseline glass, also known as canary glass, which is highly collectible, doesn’t stand out solely on account of its name… it also emits radiation, by way of the uranium it contains, which gives off a greenish yellow glow when seen under a black light.

Everyone who collects Vaseline glass knows it’s got uranium in it, which means everyone who comes in contact with Vaseline glass understands they’re being irradiated. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the gaffer making footed cake plates in a glass factory, the driver loading boxes of lace-edged compotes onto a truck, or the tchotchkes dealer setting out vintage Vaseline glass toothpick holders and tumblers for prospective customers – all of you are being zapped.

The radiation content, by the way, poses no hazard however, the levels are far below those that occur around us naturally.

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You won’t believe how heavily ants weigh upon the world

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014

A definite trivia item… has the world’s population of ants ever outweighed the human population? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes, well, up until about two hundred and thirty years ago, that is:

But Ratnieks believes Wilson and Hoelldobler’s claim – though untrue in relation to today’s world population – would have once been accurate. “I think if we went back 2,000 years, certainly the ants would’ve outweighed the humans… but at roughly the time that America became independent [1776], or a little bit before that, that’s when we humans became more impressive in our weight than the ants,” he says. “We must also remember that humans are getting fatter all the time. We’re not just increasing in population, we’re increasing in fatness, so I think we’ve left the ants behind.”

I never realised that ants could possibly be as heavy was that…

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It would seem that the shoes we fill are not quite big enough

Thursday, 24 July, 2014

Human feet are, as a general trend, becoming larger. That’s because people, as a general trend, are becoming taller. So far, so good.

What I didn’t realise though is that an individual’s feet can change in size, and I mean become bigger, well after we’ve reach adulthood. That may explain why whatever size shoe you’ve been wearing for years has suddenly become too small…

Foot shape and size can change in small but meaningful ways throughout adulthood, yet time-starved shoppers increasingly order shoes online and forgo proper sizing by a trained salesperson. The need for better-fitting shoes comes with the news that our feet, like the rest of us, are getting bigger. The average shoe size is up about two sizes since the 1970s, according to a study released last month from the College of Podiatry, a U.K. professional group. Emma Supple, a consulting podiatrist for the College of Podiatry, says she believes the findings apply outside the U.K. as well. “We’ve all gotten taller and we need big feet to hold us up,” she says.

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Your particle accelerator, don’t leave home without it

Friday, 20 June, 2014

Particle accelerators, think the Large Hadron Collider, aren’t entirely about solving the mysteries of the universe… they also have a number of day to day applications:

Accelerators use electromagnetic force to accelerate charged particles. The resulting particle beams can be directed along the desired path, including to the outside of the accelerator walls. When a charged particle moves past an atom, it can interact with the electrons in that atom, knocking them out of their orbits and breaking bonds. That can cause some chemical compounds to fall apart and others to polymerize. The latter ability has been used in one of the earliest industrial applications of accelerators, stretching back at least to the 1980s: sealing potato chip bags and milk cartons. The potato bag is made from two layers of aluminum foil held together by glue. That glue would take too long to dry on industrial conveyor belts. “It would be sticky forever,” says Kephart – but electron beams can make it happen instantly. “With an accelerator you can polymerize that glue and it’s set.”

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It’s not a toy, it’s to make sense of three-dimensional geometry

Thursday, 29 May, 2014

Erno Rubik, the Hungarian architect who created the Rubik’s cube, that by the way turned forty the other week, originally designed the device to be a working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry, rather than a toy.

After designing the “magic cube” as he called it (twice the weight of the current toy), he realised he could not actually solve the puzzle. The more he moved the coloured squares, the more mixed up they became. “It was a code I myself had invented!” he wrote. “Yet I could not read it.” The cube, made up of nine coloured squares on each side, can be rearranged in 43 quintillion different ways. That is 43,000,000,000,000,000,000.

A fortuitous misapplication I’d say, it seems to me interest in a “working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry” would be somewhat limited, so to speak.

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Sorry, rolling sarcophagus is not an option

Thursday, 29 May, 2014

Sure, we shouldn’t be trying to overly accentuate the negative, but you just might find yourself in hot water as an employee of General Motors (GM), if it is found you’ve been using words such as bad, defective, failed, flawed, gruesome, horrific, mangling, never, and, wait for it, rolling sarcophagus, in official correspondences.

They are among sixty-nine words and terms some staff of the motor vehicle manufacturer have been told to avoid. Alternatives are, however, offered. For instance, rather than saying “defect”, it is suggested the phrase “does not perform to design” be used instead.

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The people of the Earth are but a molehill in the Grand Canyon

Friday, 9 May, 2014

people fill the Grand Canyon

On the subject of drops in the ocean, if the entire of humanity – what’s that, six billion plus – of us, were all piled-up, in molehill fashion, in the Grand Canyon, how much space would be left over? Rather a lot it would seem. Some fascinating trivia, even if it does seem somewhat incredible.

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Cutting out your work, tracing the origin of common phrases

Tuesday, 29 April, 2014

You probably, possibly quite unwittingly, lace your speech with these phrases, but where do they take their origins, and what do they actually mean?

  • back to square one
  • bite the bullet
  • blackmail
  • Dickens to pay
  • freeze the balls off a brass monkey
  • cold feet
  • got up on the wrong side of the bed
  • you’re fired
  • getting the sack
  • go with the flow
  • going for a song
  • hat trick
  • got your work cut out for you
  • not fit to hold a candle
  • in a nutshell
  • let the cat out of the bag
  • lost their bottle
  • mad as a hatter
  • plum job
  • pull your finger out
  • red herring
  • rule of thumb
  • saved by the bell
  • scot free
  • sling your hook
  • sour grapes
  • square meal
  • start from scratch
  • sweet Fanny Adams
  • the hair of the dog
  • the full monty
  • under the weather
  • upper hand
  • warts and all
  • without batting an eyelid

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That’s no rabbit hole, that’s the Krubera cave

Thursday, 10 April, 2014

How far down the rabbit hole do you dare go? The Krubera cave, located in Abkhazia, Georgia, runs thirteen kilometres in length, and decends to a depth of just over two kilometres. Rather than a rabbit hole though, its structure – going by the topographical map of the system – looks more like a meandering river.

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