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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Building puzzling mazes, a step by step guide

Tuesday, 1 April, 2014

I’ve not had to design too many mazes in my time, but you never know when such a skill may one day come in handy… a guide then to creating the perfect maze:

Our objective here is to create a perfect maze, the simplest type of maze for a computer to generate and solve. A perfect maze is defined as a maze which has one and only one path from any point in the maze to any other point. This means that the maze has no inaccessible sections, no circular paths, no open areas.

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Pigeons, pigeons everywhere, but not a baby amongst them

Wednesday, 26 March, 2014

For all the, seemingly, hundreds of pigeons you appear to encounter around city centres, why is it their young off-spring are nowhere to be seen? Effectively young pigeons, known as squabs, do not leave their often well concealed homes until they are adults:

Rest assured, baby pigeons, or squabs, do exist – and there’s a good reason you’re not seeing them. It’s partially due to where the birds nest: Pigeons, also known as Rock Doves, build their nests in places that mimic the caves and cliffs that their ancestors used in the Mediterranean. “In New York City, they’re building their nests anywhere they can find, any opening on window sills, on roof tops, under bridges – preferably somewhat protected places,” says Charles Walcott, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University and former executive director of the Lab of Ornithology. “There are lots of nice artificial cliffs that people have erected in New York.”

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Retronyms: new names for old things that had to be renamed

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014

Non-electric guitars once used to be known simply as guitars*. It was only after electric guitars came along, did people start referring to them as “acoustic guitars”. That is an example of a retronym, a new word, or term, that gives a new name to the original version of an object, device, product, service, whatever.

Landline telephone instead of telephone, is another example, and plenty more retronyms are listed here.

*Anyone care to myth-bust that claim/assertion?

(Thanks Sarah)

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