Friday, December 31, 2004

More Street Names

Following on from Stuart's post about Liverpool streets named after Shakespeare characters, there's also a Dickens Street crossed by Pickwick, Dombey and Dorrit. Charles Dickens visited the city 19 times, usually to give speeches and readings and twice en route to America.

There used to be a large Welsh community in the city (they don't seem too keen on the idea now), they even had their own Welsh newspaper and there's a cluster of streets with Welsh names - Geraint, Enid, Merlin, Modred, Elwy, Voelas, Rhiwlas, Gwydir and Pengwern.

Needless to say, we now have Paul MacCartney Way, John Lennon Drive, George Harrison Close and Ringo Starr Drive.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


On his death in 1894, writer Robert Louis Stevenson bequeathed his birthday on November 13th to a little girl who had been born on Christmas Day.

Preventing hangovers - some timely advice

Better than a hangover cure is to prevent one in the first place. Easiest way to do this (other than not drinking so much) is to drink lots of water and consume food rich in fruit sugars (fructose), such as honey. Your body metabolises fruit sugars before it metabolises alcohol, so whilst it's busy chowing down on the honey, the alcohol passes through your system unmetabolised. Because it is the by-products of metabolising alcohol that gives you a hangover, not metabolising it at all means no hangover!

Monday, December 27, 2004

It's all in the blend.

An easy way to tell Scotch from Irish whiskey is in the spelling. Scotch Whisky as you can see simply has a 'y' at the end, whereas Irish Whiskey boasts an 'ey'. Oddly enough though a girl from Ireland should be spelt Kelly but if she's from the Isle of Man she'll be Kelley.

Cure for cramp

If you suffer from cramps, try eating a banana. Some cramps can be caused by a lack of potassium, a trace element that bananas are packed with. The relief can be instantaneous - this is why you see athletes and tennis players eating bananas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Have a nice cup of tea and ...

According to this month's SFX, the word 'cookie' comes from the 18th century Dutch word kookje the diminutive of kook or cake. 'biscuit' comes from the old French word, bescuit which means twice cooked.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Male reindeers shed their antlers in the midwinter. Which means that if the reindeer which pull Santa's sleigh have antlers they must be female. Which makes Rudolph and the rest of them girls.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

"Edinburgh's shame"

Edinburgh's Carlton Hill features one of the world's greatest architectural anomalies. In 1816, a memorial project was initiated to commemorate those who died in the Napoleonic Wars. Of all the choices available to him, architect William Playfair designed an exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens. Unfortunately there wasn't much enthusiasm for what was a massive building project that would take decades to complete, so in the event, even though Glasgow offered to fund the remainder of the construction, only one of the facades of the building was ever completed. It stands in situ to this day, visited by thousands of tourists each year. So even though at the time it was dubbed "Edinburgh's shame", locals are extraordinarily proud of what is now a national monument.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Why T-Rex had serrated teeth

Tyrannosaurus Rex, that huge hulking beast of a dinosaur, had serrated teeth, with the serrations running longitudinally up the tooth. Not much good for chewing, you might think.

One theory for why T-Rex had these saw-like teeth is that fragments of sinew and muscle from the dinosaur's most recent meal would get stuck in the serrations and rot. The bacteria would then provide T-Rex with a poisonous bite much like the Kimodo Dragon has today, so rather than having to administer a killing bite to its prey, T-Rex just had to take a passing nibble and let the toxins do the work.

If this theory is true, it does explain why T-Rex is so badly designed for a carnivore. Some studies have concluded that it was incapable of running at all and therefore must have been a scavenger, but if it had a toxic bite then speed would not be so important in order for it to be a successful hunter.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Frankly, My Dear, Again...

Olivia De Havilland and Vivien Leigh played a trick on Clark Gable during the filming of Gone With The Wind from which he is said to never have fully recovered. After Melanie has given birth, Rhett arrives to save the day, lifting her out of bed and carrying her down to the wagon he's stolen. Before the scene was filmed, the women tied a heavy brick to De Havilland's torso. Not wanting to insult his co-star, he said nothing of her weight and went through with the scene. He suffered from back pain for the rest of his life.

The Scottish Play Street

The town planning department in Liverpool must have been literature buffs at some time in their history. In the L20 area, we find a slew of street named after characters from Shakespeare's plays. As well Macbeth Street, there is Viola Street, Bianca Street, Orlando Street, Beatrice Street, Benedict Street, Olivia Street and Rosalind Way. Arguably Exeter Road could also be included because of the connection with the history plays.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Frankly, my dear - it hurts like a sonuvabitch

When Clark Gable developed an infection in his gums, MGM's Louis B Mayer paid to have all his teeth extracted and he wore a false set of teeth for the rest of his career. Apparently 1930s dental appliances caused terribly bad breath. Poor Rhett and Scarlett - as if they didn't have enough to overcome with the burning of Atlanta! Halitosis will kill any relationship.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Beep-Beep: Everything You Need To Know About Road Runners

Looney Tunes didn't quite give you the whole story. Road Runners are about the size of small rabbits and can be found in the southwestern portion of the United States. In places like New Mexico, their corpses are stuffed and can be bought as fuzzy vacation keepsakes by the armload in souvenir shops. They run so fast that they defy gravity.

Friday, December 10, 2004

"Yossarian, did the bombs hit the target?"

Catch 22 novelist Joseph Heller, apart from doing an uncredited re-write on James Bond spoof Casino Royale in 1967 (but who didn't), wrote an episode of the sitcom McHale's Navy. Weird. [Thanks Keith!]

Run away! Run away!

When Weta Digital, the special effects house who worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings were putting together the fight sequences for the Helms Deep sequence of The Two Towers using a system called Massive to simulate the fight sequences, they inadvertantly created far too few human characters to orcs. They were amazed to find as they watched the sequence being generated that when the little fake humans reached the little fake orcs and the monsters turned to attack, the solidiers were taken by surprised and ran away in great numbers with only a few standing their ground. Luckily they appear to be a bit braver in the finished film.

Free Nelson Mandela

When the concert Nelson Mandela -- An International Tribute for a Free South Africa appeared on BBC Radio One, a memo was passed around to the team broadcasting the event that on-air it should be refered to under a series of names such as 'a tribute to Nelson Mandela', 'the Nelson Mandela concert' and 'a musical celebration for Nelson Mandela' so that there wouldn't be any confusion between some political message and what was a rock festival. They were also banned from mention how long Mandela had been in prison for, that he was free and what that meant for the new South Africa.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Another solitary subject shop

There is a travel agent on East End Road in East Finchley London which only sells holidays in Barbados. [via]

Close Encounters of the Franglais Kind

In Steven Spielberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind renowned French New Wave film director Francois Truffaut plays a scientist who believes in UFO phenomina and Bob Balaban is his interpretor. It all seems very convincing, but in fact Truffaut himself had a very limited grasp of English and had his own real life interpretor with him through the rehearsal process. Before his audition Balaban knew hardly any French but got the job because Spielberg thought he sounded convincing enough. After that he took some refresher lessons which is why he sounds so convincing in the film.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce!

The misnumbered Spanish countdown at the beginning of U2's Vertigo has a debatable origin. One, that Bono has a pretty poor grasp on the language, and, well, after a few drinkies didn't quite realize that "catorce" is "14," not four. The other explanation is that it commemorates the studio albums that Steve Lillywhite has produced for the band -- the first three, and now How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, their fourteenth. Bono has said that the song is intended to be a response to a song from their first album, Boy. Stories for Boys contains lyrics referring to a place where the singer goes... and sometimes he can't let go, hello, hello.

Monday, December 06, 2004

An early shock

The following is so astonishing I'm going to quote it verbatum:

"On an April day in 1746 at the grand convent of the Carthusians in Paris, about 200 monks arranged themselves in a long, snaking line. Each monk held one end of a 25-foot iron wire in each hand, connecting him to his neighbour on either side. Together, the monks and their connecting wires formed a line over a mile long.

Once the line was complete, the Abbe Jean-Antoine Nollet, a noted French scientist, took a primitive electrical battery and, without warning, connected it to the line of monks - giving all of them a powerful electric shock. Nollet did not go around zapping monks with static electricity for fun; his experiment had a serious scientific objective. Like many scientists of the time, he was measuring the properties of electricity to find out how far it could be transmitted along wires, and how fast it travelled. The simultaneous exclamations and contortions of a mile-long line of monks revealed that electricity could be transmitted over a great distance; and as far as Nollet could tell, it covered that distance instantly.

This was a big deal.

It suggested that, in theory, it ought to be possible to harness electricity to build a signalling device capable of sending messages over great distances incomparably faster than a human messenger could carry them."

This is from The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage, a remarkable and often brilliant examination of the telegraph service suggesting all of its similarities with the modern world wide web. It's also a perfect demonstration that the medium we're all using to communicate may yet be superceded.

Friday, December 03, 2004

More fun with names

From this week's B3TA: "It's been pointing about that Otis Lifts have their HQ in Berkshire, so that when you ring them up they answer thusly: 'Hello, Otis Reading.' "

Life's Popularity Contest

People with common names -- John, Ann, Joseph, Jennifer, and the like -- are more successful in business than people with uncommon names. Their names help to instill a sense of instant trust during business transactions and other success-defining ventures.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

If you hated puberty ...

Pigeons skip the juvenile stage in their life (unlike seagulls, for example). According to someone in The Guardian's Notes and Queries column today: "A pigeon develops an adult plumage straight away. When fully fledged, the fly straight from the nest, perhaps a little shakily at first, but they are able to fly as well as an adult pigeon within seconds of making their first attempt." You can tell which have only recently been born by small tufts of white feathers around their neck feathers. Once they've gone, the birds are interchangable by site, which is why you don't see any obviously child-like pigeons around.

"You're The Dummy" -- "No, You're the Dummy!"

Gone With The Wind has many classic scenes, of course, but one in particular has some intriguing backstory. Melanie is in labor, Prissy don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies, and Scarlett is frantically searching for Dr. Meade, who is helpless among a crowd of injured and dying soldiers. The camera pans back, and the screen fills with soldiers, with Scarlett, stricken with reality and guilt and anger, in the middle. There actually weren't enough extras to play all the soldiers, so over half of them are mannequins. Some of the humans in the shot had strings and sticks to help wiggle their immobile compatriots, so as to help them better portray those wartime agonies.