Friday, December 02, 2005

Dildo fun!

  • The first electrical dildo was sold in 1911.

  • A town in Newfoundland is named Dildo. Allegedly the name originates from the town's earlier industry in the 19th century -- carving dildos from whalebone.

  • The band Steely Dan is named after a giant dildo.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Strange Reagan

When Ronald Reagan was given his first tour of the White House after being made president of the US he demanded a visit the war room he'd seen in Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove. He was somewhat annoyed to discover it had been built on a soundstage.


The interrobang
A combination of an exclamation point and an question mark, called an interrobang, was used as a brief fad in the 60s to communicate disbelief or emphasis of a printed question.

You're what‽

It has a home in Unicode U+203D, but not much else anymore besides the Partnership for A Drug-Free America (of all places).

Saturday, September 24, 2005

UPS brown

UPS trucks are painted white on the top in an effort to reflect sunlight, and keep the cabin cool.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A sweet ride

The cheapest car ever made was the Red Bug Buckboard, made by Briggs & Stratton in the 1920s. It sold for $125 (about $1300 today) and weighed about 250 pounds.
The most interesting part: it was electric.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Ant Farmers

Leafcutter ants are the only species on the planet, apart from humans, to cultivate their own food. The ants, usually found in the rainforests and other tropical areas of America, grow a special fungus in their nests.
They get their name because they cut pieces of leaves which they harvest in the fungus gardens. The fungus is then used for food.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The secret life of Roosevelt(s)

You might already know about Eleanor Roosevelt's affair with another woman (or, you might not), but what you probably hadn't heard was that Eleanor was FDR's first cousin (which is convenient with respect to names and all).
Read all about it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Nevermind how...

Armadillos can contract syphilis. In fact, they are the only animal (apart from humans) that can.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Not *quite* workin' like a dog.

Ringo didn't play on one single Beatles album. Paul laid all the studio percussion tracks.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Belly Bomb

If a human being were to eat black pudding followed by king prawns and washed down with a glass of milk, due to the un-stable chemical mixture now sitting in his or hers gut, the poor individual's stomache would literally explode within a matter of minutes ! [Ugh -- thanks Franchesca]

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


In the Steven Spielberg film 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' during the scene when we've discovered that Roy has built a scale model of Devil's Point in his living room, the television is on and we can hear the sound of a postman calling at a front door. He says: "I have a package for Gillian Anderson."

The actress Gillian Anderson would later play Dana Scully for nine years on 'The X-Files'.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


A new Franchesca fact. Did you know that a human being can safely live on a diet of one packet of regular crisps a day because of their high fat and water content.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Free Travel

While the London Metropolitan Police have free transport on the trains, buses and underground systems of London - the same is not true of the British Transport Police (who enforce the law on those same systems).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hello and welcome to ...

A great example from Music Thing of how sometimes it's vitally important to keep your copyright. The man who composed the four notes which used to appear on Channel Four's logo (Daaa-daaa-da-daaaa) became very rich indeed. "Every time that sequence was played, David Dundas was paid £3.50. Every week, for ten years, Dundas received a cheque for £1,000 from Channel Four. "

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

One with the force

Here is a scene from the shooting script of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith which explains the one thing many fans had been dying to know. Why do some Jedi's burn up whilst others just fade away?

On the isolated asteroid of Polis Massa, YODA meditates.

YODA: Failed to stop the Sith Lord, I have. Still much to learn, there is ...

QUI -GON: (V.O.) Patience. You will have time. I did not. When I became one with the Force I made a great discovery. With my training, you will be able to merge with the Force at will. Your physical self will fade away, but you will still retain your consciousness. You will become more powerful than any Sith.

YODA: Eternal consciousness.

QUI-GON: (V.O.) The ability to defy oblivion can be achieved, but only for oneself. It was accomplished by a Shaman of the Whills. It is a state acquired through compassion, not greed.

YODA: . . . to become one with the Force, and influence still have . . . A power greater than all, it is.

QUI-GON: (V.O.) You will learn to let go of everything. No attachment, no thought of self. No physical self.

YODA: A great Jedi Master, you have become, Qui-Gon Jinn. Your apprentice I gratefully become.

YODA thinks about this for a minute, then BAIL ORGANA enters the room and breaks his meditation.
Considering the big long list of things which aren't explained it's odd that this couldn't be worked in somehow. Then again, check out of that exposition... [via Amygdala via Sore Eyes]

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Machu Picchu

Should you find yourself at the top of Machu Picchu and suddenly worried about whether you left the gas on, don't fret. You can call home on your mobile phone. Yes, that's right, there's a signal.

Which is more than I can say for the train route from Bournemouth to Derby. (Thanks Dave!)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Damselflies go like shit off a stick

Damselflies can fly 15m in a single second from a standing start, and can reach a top speed of 40 mph.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Naked Mole Rats

Naked mole rats are fossorial (live underground) and have a fairly consistent temperature.

They have no circadian rhythm and sleep/wake when it suits them. This occurs on no particular schedule at all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


The Globe Theatre, the original in the 1600s, had a capacity crowd of three thousand. There were only two hundred thousand people in London at the time so it would take just seventy-five performances before everyone in the city had seen one of Shakepeare's newest.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

On election night

The Welsh Assembly is the only elected body in the Western world, if not the world, to have a 50/50 split between men and women members.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Happy May Day!

The use of 'mayday' as a distress call originated with the French m'aidez (help me) or m'aider (to render help to me), and has nothing to do with the ancient spring festival or the international working class holiday.

Although if you want to dance around a big pole whilst your ship sinks, that's up to you.

A pigeon pair

When pigeons mate, the female lays two eggs - one male and one female. When the eggs hatch, the chicks grow up together and, eventually, mate to produce two eggs - one male and one female.

Which explains why pigeons are so stupid. They've got to the bottom of the gene pool and have started drilling.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Special Crossover Unit

Richard Belzer plays Detective John Munch on the series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit". The character originated as a regular cast member of "Homicide: Life on the Street". Two cop shows, two colons, one Munch. A character from one show landing a prime spot on another show that's not a spin-off is unusual in an of itself.

Belzer as Munch has recently become the most prolific character in prime time TV history, having appeared on six different series: Homicide, SVU, the original Law & Order, The X Files, the short-lived The Beat and most recently in an episode of Law & Order's newest franchisee, Trial by Jury.

Self pimp - Crossover Grid and Live Journal community to discuss Crossover Grid.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Franchesca writes: "Whilst realizing I have no money, for some reason I decided to add up each demomination of coins and notes in the UK to see how much I would have if I had one of each. Oddly enough it works out at £88.88p . Try it urself if you dont believe me ... and don't forget like most people do, the £2 coin!"


In 1967 at the height of the foot and mouth epidemic, horse racing was banned. The authorities resorted to electronic races with imaginary horses, but to give an extra level of authenticity on BBC's Grandstand, Peter O'Sullivan was drafted in to commentate on these unreal events. Footage exists of him getting excited over a close finish between two horses which didn't exist.

Little Ghengises everywhere!

It is estimated that one in two hundred modern Mongol men can trace their genetic heritage back to Ghengis Khan. Now that is what I call putting it about a bit.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


The carrot is not a vegetable, but a herb. Carrots used to be purple in colour, until someone decided that the orange ones tasted better (a fact that anyone who has eaten Opal Fruits/Starburst knows to be 100% true). Carrots do not improve your night vision - that's propaganda spread by the British government during WWII to 'explain' why their pilots were able to fly at night. In actual fact, it was down to the invention of radar, something the govmint and the RAF wanted to keep secret.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


There is a house in Liverpool which has its own postcode. When postcodes were being handed out, the doctor who lived there ascerted what authority he had at the time and they gave him one. Its stayed that way ever since.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Rugby Pope

The Welsh Rugby Team only seem to win the Grand Slam in a year the Pope dies. They won it this year the same year Pope John Paul II dies, and the last time they did was in 1978 , the same year as the death of Pope John Paul I. [Thanks Fred!]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Peat bogs cover more than 1% of the Earth's surface. This is equal in area to about one half of the United States.

Peat is a major part of the carbon cycle, and it stores lots of carbon that is subsequently not released as carbon dioxide. Ecologists are worried that burning peat and disturbing peat bogs might be a contributing factor to global warning.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Nonchalant arachnids

Australia is home to the world's only whistling spider.

First Time?

Franchesca tells us about The Real Thing:

Only two people in the company know Coca-Cola's formula, and each of them only knows half of it.

Coca-Cola's name was translated into Chinese as "bite the wax tadpole."

Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine.

A tooth left in a glass of Coca-Cola will dissolve overnight.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Some fun... well... just facts

40% of the floppy disks in the world are made in Wahpeton, North Dakota. The small town is also home to the world's largest catfish, and about 10,000 people. It's sort of an armpit of a place, though, so I wouldn't much recommend going to visit.

Some fun French facts

Some fun French facts from one of our readers, Jacques:
"The real name of my country is not France, but France Republic - not many know this!

Louis XIV bathed once a year.

There are 450 different types of cheese in the world, and 240 come from France!"
Thanks Jacques!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Gobble. Zzzzzzz.

Another contribution from Franchesca. Eating turkey makes people sleepy. Which presumably explains why I never feel tired after Christmas dinner. We all eat steak in our household.

Somebody Told Me

Brandon Flowers, the singer for The Killers, thinks musicians who play in different kinds of band (ska, pop, etc) are phonies.
"I've heard rumours about [members of] that band (The Bravery) being in a different kind of band, and how do you defend that? If you say, 'My heart really belongs to what I'm doing now,' but you used to be in a ska band."

The thing is though that The Killers' drummer, Ronnie Vannucci, was the former drummer for the Las Vegas ska band Attaboy Skip. This makes Mr. Flowers' statement not only stupid, but also somewhat hypocritical.

It's all in the crinkles

Snack expert Dave Green tells me, as we sit at the Mason's Arms on Seymour Place, that the reason that crinkle-cut crisps taste better is that the crinkles create a higher surface area for flavourings to adhere to, thus maximising taste. Nothing to do with the wine, then?

Friday, April 01, 2005

April New Year's Day!

April Fool's Day started because Pope Gregory XIII moved New Year's Day from April to January in 1582. Back then, news didn't travel very fast, so some countries implemented the new New Year sooner than others. Those who either hadn't heard or didn't believe that the date had been moved continued to celebrate in April. They became the butt of jokes and pranks, and the tradition now continues.


The combination of shrimp and Vitamin C tablets will cause arsenic poisoning. [thanks Franchesca!]

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Falling Junkies

In Poplar (North London, UK) there are a block of flats that are notorious for dead bodies being found on the ground at the bottom of them.

What happens is a heroin user dies from an overdose in one of the flats, his 'friends' then throw his dead body out of the window so that no-one knows where he comes from. The ambulance/police scrape them up and life goes on...

Shakespeare and Words

from Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue

"A man of Shakespeare's linguistic versatility must have possessed thousands of words he never used because he didn't like or require them. Not once in his plays can you find the words Bible, Trinity, or Holy Ghost, and yet that is not to suggest he was not familiar with them."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Cashew nuts grow on top of the fruit, which looks something like a yellow bell pepper. Honestly, it looks a little obscene somehow.
It tastes something like a bell pepper too, but a little sweet. Also it leaves this sort of tacky, drying taste/feeling in your mouth.
And the juice, although clear, will stain your clothes. And those suckers are juicy.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Mosses and lichens are used as pollution indicators. Mosses and lichens are non-vascular (no system of veins to transport materials around the plant), so they rely heavily on moisture in the air. Because of this, they are highly sensitive to air pollution, and these plants are rarely found or are completely absent in heavily polluted areas. If you've got a bunch of moss in your backyard, that's actually a good sign.

Secret of cats' nine lives

Cats purr at a frequency which stimulates blood flow, thus accelerating healing. This allows cats to survive injuries which would kill a dog of the same size.

Whether putting a purring cat on your head would cure a headache is currently open to question.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hey, I died twice

Petra, the dog from BBC's Blue Peter whose death was mourned by million in the 70s and honoured by a bronze bust effectively died twice. The animal was introduced to viewers as a puppy in the mid-sixties. But that baby dog died of complications the day before the next programme was due to go out, and so the then producer of the show had to rush around all the pet shops in north London with a photo looking for a duplicate pup. Luckily he found one and none of children watching knew any the wiser.

angels like whiskey, too.

apparently, 1% of the contents of a whiskey barrel evaporate.
distillers call this the "angel share".

pleasure in death.

i once heard that oysters die happy.

being vegan and hence avoiding the consumption of any animal products, these news surprised me quite a bit.

apparently, scientists found out that if living oysters are drenched in lemon juice (as is apparently common practice when eating them), they produce a hormone that puts them into a state of ecstasy. hearing that made me wonder how one measures ecstasy levels in oysters. anyway.
one might hence argue that the oysters death by gastric acid (one doesn't chew oysters, apparently), really isn't all that bad, really isn't torture or anything, but the perfect combination of pleasure for both the eater and the eaten. pleasurable death for one, pleasurable protein consumption for the other. good grace.

i think i'll still stay away from oysters.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Wordiness Rewarded

Some people cannot tolerate the works of Charles Dickens, calling them tedious, overblown, and desperately in need of a decent pruning by a ruthless editor. When Dickens-defenders jump into the fight, they're quickly neutralized by the fact that Dickens' style wasn't dictated by artistic need... the man was paid by the word.

Friday, March 25, 2005


When writing, Charles Dickens would often stand at a mirror and would act out the characters words so that he could get the inflection just right. Which is probably why they're so vivid.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Good Friday

On Good Friday, many songs are banned from broadcast on RTE Radio, the Irish public broadcasting company. The most tenuously linked to Easter being a Beatles song from Magical Mystery Tour... "The fool on the hill".

Monday, March 21, 2005

Death By Kidney Bean

Okay, I don't really know if you can die from it, but undercooked red kidney beans are toxic. You can get sick from eating fewer than a handful, so if you're going to partake of them, make sure to boil them for at least ten minutes.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Praise you, Charlie Brown

The opening line of Fat Boy Slim's track, 'Praise You' was inspired a collection of Peanuts' strips called 'You've Come a Long Way, Snoopy' (the actual line in the song is 'We've come a long, long way together...')

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Play some Skynyrd!

"Sweet Home, Alabama" was recorded in the morning, and someone brought in donuts for the recording session. During the last take, they could see that someone was helping themselves to their stash. Thus, "My donuts, God damn!" became the final lyrics to a Skynyrd classic.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Toe length

Historically, the length of shoes' toes corresponded to how peaceful the country was. In times of peace, shoes with very long, curly toes were fashionable, but in times of strife and civil war the toes were shorter, presumably because it's hard to run away with long-toed shoes on.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Humans have been able to tame horses without too many problems; while they buck and kick, the horses will eventually calm down enough to be properly ridden. However, zebras will never calm down and aren't suitable for riding. Therefore, they've never been domesticated.

According to the Oregon Zoo, if you see someone riding a zebra in a movie, it's probably a horse painted with black and white stripes.


The maximum length of CDs was based on Beethoven's 9th symphony.
[thanks Franchesca!]


A new study has come out that says milk doesn't help prevent osteoporosis. According to the study, which my milk-hating friend mentioned but did not display to me, bones absorb calcium through weight-bearing. So instead of lifting glasses of milk to keep your bones healthy, you should head to the gym and do some weight lifting instead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Red tape

When you become a Member of Parliament and take up your place in the House of Commons, you're given your coat peg (just like in school) and underneath is a little loop of red tape designed to hang your sword in. One wonders if 'cutting through the red tape' originally meant using your sword to settle an issue instead of negotiation.

(Proxy blogged by Kevin Marks.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Easy way to lose weight

Franchesca writes: Eating celery results in negative calories.

Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame Trivia

Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders sang backup on U2's "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" on 1984 album "The Unforgettable Fire." She's listed as "Mrs. Christine Kerr" in the liner notes; her husband at the time was Jim Kerr of Simple Minds.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Flying dishes

My Mother was telling me the other that a friend had moved into a new flat so had to buy a new saucer to get more TV channels.

Fun with words!

"Facetious" is the only word in the Oxford English Dictionary where all the vowels appear in alphabetical order.

"Almost" and "Effort" are the longest words in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Venus Flytrap

The standard venus flytrap can only shut and reopen 10 times in total. It doesn't really "spring" shut; it takes anywhere from 5-15 seconds for a venus flytrap to close (amended: apparently, the literature says that a flytrap shuts in a second or less. Perhaps this is true in nature, but I've tripped venus flytraps before, and you could definitely watch them shut. My friends and I never got our fingers stuck. I don't know why some researchers had to video tape a fly trap shutting. FYI, this was in a botanical garden and they were small flytraps. Anyway, they shut b/c cells on the outer layer of the plant expand, which pushes the trap shut. This is also related to why it can only shut a set number of times.). Once it closes around a victim, the flytrap exudes digestive enzymes to kill the fly and break down the nutrients so the nutrients can be absorbed into the plant.

Also, venus flytraps don't need flies to live. They normally grow in nitrogen-deficient soil, so they're carnivorous for added nutrients. However, if grown in properly fertilized soil, they'll do just fine without meat.

There are also many other kinds of carnivorous plants, including bladder worts, pitcher plants, etc. Check it out.

More information can be found at "Barry's Carnivorous Plant Page."

Big Hands = ?

Your heart is about the size of your fist.


Here is how Egyptian mummies got their name: "The word "mummy" comes from the Arabic word mumiya which means bitumen. Bitumen is also called pitch and is a black tar like substance that can be found in mountains in the Middle East. It's like molasses, but it's darker and thicker. When Arabs invaded Egypt many years ago and discovered mummies, the mummies had a dark coating on them which reminded the Arabs of mumiya. So the Arabs thought these mummies were covered with mumiya, even though mumiya was not really used. The Arabs began calling these bodies mumiya. As the years went by, mumiya would turn into the english word "mummy." [more facts about mummies can be found here]

Friday, March 11, 2005

Can the craving with cardamom

Cardamom, a spice and mild stimulant, can be helpful in reducing nicotine cravings when giving up smoking.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Dimples are really flaws in the musculature of the cheek. That area simply has a divot in the muscle.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Removing splinters

If you have a splinter and don't fancy digging it out with a needle and tweezers, use sticky tape instead: smooth the tape over the splinter, pull the tape off and the splinter will come with it. Never tried it, so no idea if it works, but I'll try to remember it for next time I get a chunk of 2 by 4 in my thumb.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Olive Oil

Olive oil is the only vegetable or fruit oil that you can safely drink without harming your insides.

Good call.

Linus Torvalds had originally intended to call his operating system Freax, and it was known as such until a professor recommended that the name be changed to the moniker he had been using internally to refer to the system: Linux.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


You can only use growth rings to count the age of a tree in areas with the distinct four seasons (for example, in most of the US). In tropical areas, trees may lay down multiple growth rings in a year, since a new growth ring occurs whenever the weather changes from dry to wet.

In the United States, you can also tell the difference between wood grown in the spring and the summer when looking at slices of woody plants in a microscope; in the spring, the cells the tree creates are larger, and summer cells tend to be more compact. This is due to the greater amount of water that is usually available during the spring, which fuels faster and more growth.


If you mow dandelions, they will cease to grow taller. Instead, they will grow outwards just underneath the height of the mower blades. Digging them up is a much better removal option.

The London Underground

About a third of the tunnels in the London Underground system are not used. There are around 40 unused stations which have been bricked up, including British Museum on the Central Line which served - surprise surprise - the British Museum, and Aldwych which is now used as a TV/film set. Some stations, such as Charing Cross and Embankment, are so close together that it's quicker to get out and walk.

Pole vaulting

The sport of pole vaulting developed from the Dutch habit of using poles to vault the many dykes and ditches they had to navigate which did not have bridges and which could not easily be circumnavigated. Without the pole vault, the Dutch would have had a very, very long walk to work.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Be warned...

Sharks will not attack you unless you're wet.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Your fingernails grow faster than your toenails. And the nails on your dominant hand grow faster than on the other hand. (I saw this on Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and I choose to believe it.)

Victory at a price

When Admiral Lord Nelson was given his fatal wound on board The Victory during The Battle of Trafalgar his first instinct was to conceal the fact from his men. So he covered up the medals on his lapel which had been a sign of leadership in the weeks leading up to the fight so that from a distance he would seem like just another sailor. As he lay in the hold of the ship word was passed to his second in command. Again, to keep the low awareness in the fleet, instead of the usual signalling methods expected for orders, an able man was ordered to take a tiny boat and row through the thick of the battle. The deputy knew that something was wrong as soon as he saw the young man's face.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


WD40 is called WD40 because it was the 40th water displacement formula that the developers tried, and the first one to work.

All smiles

Real smiles use different muscles when compared with fake smiles, but we're generally rubbish at telling who's putting it on. Real smiles involve a raising of the cheek muscles and a dip in the eyebrow, whereas fake smiles just stretch the corners of the mouth back and don't 'reach the eyes'. It's thought that our general inability to tell real from fake actually helps us to get along, because people can use fake smiles as a sort of social lubricant to make life easier. (Via Brainiac, again.)

Which is interesting enough, but when you put it together with the information that Americans and Brits smile differently, well, you can draw your own conclusions:
While we British smile by pulling our lips back and upwards and exposing our lower teeth, Americans are more likely simply to part their lips and stretch the corners of their mouths. (Via BoingBoing and Neil Gaiman.)
There's also a correlation between how genuine a smiler was at school and how happy they were in later life, with the genuine smilers happier than the fakers. I wonder if there's a correlation between how genuine a celeb is and how they are perceived by the public/how successful they are.

I wish Posh Spice would learn how to smile genuinely. Or just go away completely, actually.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Out of out takes

The reason that the film company MGM very rarely features deleted scenes on the dvds of their older films, particularly those by Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese is because in the early 1990s they junked reels and reels of unused film to make a saving on storage costs, which included out takes from the classics by those directors. In the end they saved themselves twenty thousand dollars.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Nary a Hair: Why Cyclists Shave Their Legs

Male cyclists--road racers in particular--have shaved the hair from their legs for decades. The following are the reasons why:
  1. Road Rash: less painful when sliding on pavement during a crash (similar to carpet burn)
  2. Aerodynamics: less wind resistance
  3. Sanitation: hairs hold dirt and debris that can get into wounds; hairs also make changing bandages more difficult
  4. Massage: easier for a masseuse to work muscles
  5. Aesthetics: more muscle definition, smoother and faster look

Friday, February 25, 2005

What's the time, Mr Wolf?

Despite being seen as the same, GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and UTC (Co-ordinated Universal Time) can actually differ by up to 0.9 seconds because of different ways of calculating GMT.

Neither the English term 'Co-ordinated Universal Time' nor the French term 'Temps Universel Coordinné' result in the acronym UTC. This is because UTC is based on the "workaday mean solar time scale, UT-1, which is based on the somewhat irregular rotation of the Earth", so really it's 'Universal Time - Co-ordinated'.

Card slot

The section above the numeric keypad on a computer keyboard which includes the Caps Lock & Num Lock lights doesn't have keys blocking the way because when the peripheral was originally designed one of the main applications was in banking and this would be the perfect place to slot a credit card, punch card or business card when keying in details.


Dame Ellen Macarthur was today given the Freedom of the Isle of Wight. Which means she has the right to drive sheep down the High Street in Cowes.

Course, the trouble with driving sheep is that they've got no brakes and are a bugger to steer.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pale face

I've often wondered why the families in portrait photographs from the mid-1800s always seem slightly unreal. Apparently because of the limited amount of light in photographic studios, the subjects would have their faces covered in white make up to reflect better in the camera. So that the subjects could keep perfectly still, a brace was used to hold the waist of the woman in the chair or any children standing by in place. The other reason that family isn't smiling is because to do so would seem foolish because they'd be making fun of something which was massively expensive at the time. Also -- and this explains everything -- the subjects often had their eye lids closed during the taking of the photo and their eyes would be painted in later when the image was printed which is why the iris never looks quite right.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What's loudest?

Babies produce more noise than pneumatic drills. Babies hit 123 decibels when screaming, whereas a pneumatic drill only produces 119 decibels. Ok, so there's only 4 decibels in it, but still, louder is louder.

(And yes, I am watching Brainiac at the moment.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Causes of Color

Why are Butterflies Colored?

"Iridescent surfaces, such as butterfly wings, help animals to elude potential predators. When these insects fly, the upper surface of their wings continually changes from bright blue to dull brown because the angle of the light striking the wing changes. As the butterflies move their wings up and down during flight, they seem to disappear and they reappear a short distance away, looking like ethereal flashes of bright blue light. The dark undersides of their wings strengthen this effect. Combined with an undulating pattern of flight, this ability to quickly change color makes them difficult items for predators to pursue."

Causes Of Color

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Tiptoe Through The Tulips

Most people think that tulips originated in the Netherlands, what with the endless hullaballoo over Dutch bulbs and the themed festivals and all that. Tulips are actually a Persian specialty. The Arabian Nights is loaded with references to tulips.

'Gave me an a A please Bob.'

Bob Holness, ex-presenter of teenager quiz show Blockbusters, as well as being the first James Bond (on radio) is also a keen musician. He even played the alto sax solo on Gerry Rafferty's record 'Baker Street'. [thanks Franchesca!]

Friday, February 18, 2005

Polar Bears

As heard on the radio this morning -
All polar bears are left handed.

Can anyone confirm or deny?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Penny Drop

Virginia Madsen from Sideways is the sister of Michael Madsen from all of Tarantino's films.

Why adverts sound so loud

I have just been told by a fellow traveller here at 37,000 ft above the icy wastes of northern Canada that although adverts subjectively sound louder, objectively they aren't louder than the TV programmes they interrupt. The reason that they sound louder is that the audio signal has been compressed so that the quiet bits are louder and the louder bits are quieter so there's more sound packed into the same loudness.

What a dastardly trick.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Forget playing Doctors and Nurses. Now you can be a patient too.

The University of Minnesota pay actors to pretend to be patients over an extended period so that Medical Students can get practical experience without going anywhere near an actual patient. "The pay depends on what you do," (one of the participants describes) "Rheumatology pays the least, about $10 an hour, because all you do is let them show how the joints work on a real person. When I did a scenario for someone with chronic myelogenous leukemia, it was $35 for two hours.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Take a shufti at this

A 'shufti' is a look or a glimpse, and it comes from the Arabic 'saffa' - to try to see.

Dr Who?

The real name of Dr Who actor Sylvester McCoy is, in fact Percy Smith.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

A popular landmark in Liverpool City Centre is a statue illustrating a Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby. What isn't necessarily known is that it was actually designed by well known musical performer, Tommy Steele. In 1981 when he was appearing a show he got in touch with Liverpool Council with the idea of creating a tribute in sculpture to the fab four. His fee was just three pence, a reference to the show he's perhaps best known for, Half a Sixpence.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Penny Drop

Wierdly, Ethan Hawke's character in Before Sunset is called Jesse Wallace. Jessie Wallace, the actress, played Kat Slater in Eastenders.


Apparently if you ever asked the author Henry James for directions, he would often go into the minutest detail of the route you were to take and would somehow get himself lost in his own description as it meandered this way and that way without reaching a satisfactory conclusion to what he was trying to say to the extent that the person listening would often forget were he was when he started speaking ...

Bomb Alley

On the London Underground, the bit of the District Line running East of Barking has the nickname "Bomb Alley". The tracks here are above ground, and so there are a number of pedestrian bridges crossing them. Because of the area the tracks run through, and the ease of access - children would throw bricks, planks of wood and other weaponry at the trains as they passed under the bridges.

The problem got so bad that they bridges now have wire coverings, and there is a special helicopter that flies over, watching to see if there are any vandals about.

For some reason the helicopter flies low over my flats...


So I went to see 'Sideways' the other night and I learnt a new word. I laughed when people at the wine tastings kept saying 'varietal'. I assumed it was one of those silly made up things that come out of America from time to time, especially when the President is speaking. But no, there are wine grape varietal tables and varietal dictionaries all over the place.
I was actually drinking red wine at the time (its a great place our local cinema) but I think it was Merlot, say no more.

ain't misbehavin'.

every february, just before the start of lent, all across germany "karneval" is celebrated, street carnival of the german kind.
it originated from pagan rites of scaring winter away with sounds and costumes and street parades. these days, it's mostly a reason to get a day off work and get drunk.

in southern germany and switzerland, the event is called "fasnacht", and it's more traditional and firmly rooted in local culture.
people who belong to fasnachts clubs dress up in traditional clothing made out of hundreds of little patches of fabric and very ugly wooden masks. on "rosenmontag" the monday before ash wednesday, they parade through their city, rattling rattles and ringing bells and harrassing on-lookers, often "kidnapping" good looking females in giant nets. it can be fun. or annoying. or absolutely awful, that.

now here's the cool -and very german- part.
as these traditional costumes make it impossible to identify who's underneath them, a little license plate needs to be attached to the costume, stating an abbreviation of the club name and a number.
clubs are obliged to keep track of who's wearing what costume with what license plate when.

so in case of serious misbehavin' of people in strange costumes and ugly wooden masks: just jot down that license plate. and report to the police.

[me, i'm glad that fasnet will be over tomorrow.]

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Where's Whit?

After watching through his films again, I wondered what had happened to film director Whit Stillman. During the nineties he created three excellent comedies of manners - Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days Of Disco, but once that last was released in 1998 it almost seems as though he dropped off the planet, to be forever known as a cult director.

It transpires that he moved to Paris with his family hoping to find inspiration on the boulevards, and over the past few years has been trying to get other projects off the ground, but each time poor luck has come into play. For example, he was developing an epic about Colonial America at much the same time the Roland Emmerich film The Patriot was in production. This information comes from a reproduced magazine article here, which also updates us on the extra-ordinary piece he now hopes to be his next step:
"Stillman has been busy adapting Winchester Races, a project with British producer Stephen Evans that would combine two unfinished Jane Austen novels, The Watsons and Sanditon, into a single script. The script would merge two characters: Emma Watson, a young woman who returns to her family after a long absence during which she's been raised by her aunt, and Charlotte Hayward, an attractive country girl who is taken up by a family of comically optimistic real-estate speculators."
There is a reproduction of The Watsons here, and here is Sandition. I really hope that Whit makes it this time. Another excellent article about the films can be found here.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Starship Captain Sundance Kid

In the week that Enterprise is officially cancelled, it's interesting to look back at the situation the show was in during the 1970s, when the The Original Series was running in syndication. Paramount knew there would be some mileage in a film version, but their initial opinion was that it couldn't fly with a bunch of tv actors at the helm, so they'd have to recast the whole crew with box office gold. Apparently they became very close to casting Robert Redford as James T Kirk and Paul Newman as Spock. Who wouldn't have paid to see that movie? (apart from everyone who loved the tv series)

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Virgin Queen

There is growing evidence that Queen Elizabeth I was very far from fulfilling the promise of her nickname. On numerous occasions, her parliament tried to pursuad her to marry to the point that it eventually advised: "You Majesty declares yourself resolved to die a virgin" to which she replied "I am resolved never to marry" which is slightly different thing. When pressed on the subject again later she said: "I am no angel." According to this book, a rough list of suitors might include a Lord Seymour, The Duke of Norfolk and The Earl of Wessex (who would later romance Mary, Queen of Scots, just to be choosy).

Thursday, February 03, 2005


The use of the word "smashing" to describe something in a positive light - as used extensively in Wallace and Gromit films - comes from the Irish phrase "Is maith sin", meaning "That's good". It's thought to have crossed over in to the English language with Irish emigration to London in the early 19th century.

(And of course everyone knows that in the Aboriginal language the word "kangaroo" means "I don't know", right?)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Not now Buster!

Silent comedy stallwart Buster Keaton didn't smile once in any of his films, letting physical comedy create the mirth. The one time he did smile, in a kind of knowing wink at the end of one of his film, the audience hated the moment so much he had to edit the scene out of the film before any would go and see it.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Baited breath or bated breath?

I never can remember which one it is, but now that I know it's a contraction of 'abated breath', it makes it a bit easier to remember how to spell it properly. Apparently it was first used by Ol' Dickie Wigglestaff in The Merchant of Venice:

Shall I bend low and, in a bondman's key
With bated breath and whisp'ring humbleness
Say this ...

More on WorldWideWords.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


romanesco broccoli is a vegitable expression of fractals. It looks man-engineered but is apparently quite natural which confirms what I've always said about everything being connected. [via bookofjoe]

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Look 'Sideways'

Sideways has various wierd similarities with the 80s film Electric Dreams.

  • Virginia Madsen's character name in the new film is Maya which has the same name origins as Madeline a character she played in the older film.
  • Both characters romance a man called Miles.
  • In both films love breaks down because of a lie introduced by a third party.
  • In both films the couples get bored with an official tour and disappear off on their own -- in Electric Dreams it's Alcatraz.
  • There is also a scene in which Madsen's character describes why she's passionate about something in the former film it's music.

    Also but unrelated ...

    Sandra Oh (Stephanie) is married to the director Alexander Payne, and both Oh and Paul Giamatti (Miles) have worked together before on the kids film Big Fat Liar.
  • Perfect cure for headaches

    Actually, this is common knowledge but it's a snippet I'm fond of so I'll repeat it anyway. The best cure for a headache is sex. Apparently it's a good cure for insomnia too. And there's evidence it's good for your immune system and cardiovascular health.

    I'll stop there, lest you all think I'm obsessed.

    Another use for bananas

    As well as helping cure cramp, bananas encourage the release of a sleep-inducing hormone, so if you're having a restless night, eat a banana.

    Friday, January 28, 2005

    Penny Drop

    The colour in red wine comes from the skins. Yes, I know. Guess which film I saw tonight.

    Ricky Gervais does have a use after all

    Oh, how meta is this. Ricky Gervais is on TV, doing his Animals stand-up thing, complaining about people filling websites with useless facts... including:

    The peanut is not a nut but a legume.
    You can lead a cow upstairs but not down.
    When a crab's pissed it walks forwards instead of sideways.
    The daddy longlegs as the strongest poison known to man, but it can't administer it as it has no teeth.

    One of those may not be true.

    Mass murder

    Tasmania holds the record for the world's single biggest mass shooting - 35 people were shot dead in Port Arthur on 28 April 1996 and Martin Bryant was convicted (some believe wrongly) of the massacre.

    Bad insulator

    Blow-up mattresses make for really bad insulators - if you're sleeping on one in a cold environment, make sure to put a quilt or duvet underneath yourself as well as having bedding on top, otherwise all your body heat will leach out through the mattress and you will freeze your butt off all night.

    (Not so much heard said, this one, but learnt through bitter experience.)

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    No Sunset in Paris

    One of the most critically acclaimed films of last year (#5 on the Metafilter list of Best Reviewed of 2004), "Before Sunset" is yet to be released in France - the country where it is set.

    It has already seen release in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Austria, South Africa, the Czech Republic, the UK, New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Israel, Panama, the Netherlands, Chile, Finland, Switzerland, Norway, Greece, Spain, Poland, Hong Kong, Portugal, Sweden, Argentinia, Finland, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, the Phillipines, Italy and Belgium... but not the birthplace of cinema.

    Pudding Lane

    Pudding Lane in London, where the great fire of London started was supposedly named, not for any cookery based reason, but because of the prostitutes who used to work there. Apparently 'Pudding' used to be a slang term for a prostitute in the 17th century.

    Lost - One Van

    The police have never managed to find the van full of Phosgene and Methyl Bromide that went missing in London last year.

    Phosgene was used as a chemical agent during the first world war.

    ID? No Thanks, I'm famous

    I've heard a rumour, that when the government brings in it's National ID Card and Database scheme, 130,000 V.I.Ps won't be registered on the database. Presumably because of security worries.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2005

    Virtual economy

    Virtual economies of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game industry are beginning to have real world implications. Apart from the fact that avatars are being bought and sold on ebay, one academic believes after totting up the going rate for virtual credits in the real world that collectively they have the same economic value as Bulgaria, and that it would be even more if Everquest didn't ban sales of its 'assets' in auctions. Even more startlingly, considering the implications of this, there are currently no tax rules, so anyone earning through this technique would not necessarily be compelled to declare.


    An governmental education officer told my brother (the teacher) that the line connecting the dots on a graph of grades cannot be called a "Regression curve" anymore, as it is too negative. Instead it shall be called a "Progression curve" - a much more positive name, and guaranteed to make teachers of mathematics cry into their beer.

    Paedohunter General

    A policeman told me that the London borough of Newham has the highest concentration of paedophiles in the U.K.

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    I could do That

    Well, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a binman (garbage disposal operative) when I grew up as, it seemed to me, they only worked one day a week!

    Sunday, January 23, 2005

    A 99 please, mate

    When i was a kid I used to love getting a 99 from the ice-cream van. That crispy cone with the scoop of vanilla ice-cream and the 99 Flake. Yum.

    By the way, the 99 Flake is called that because it's 99mm long.

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    Oh Homer

    The debates about whether Shakespeare wrote the canon have a historic precedent. Many centuries before, people began questioning the authorship of Greek poet Homer's work. Over the years a belief has developed in some quarters that the classic Iliad and the epic Odyssey do not have a claim to single author status and that 'Homer' may instead be a blanket title to a group of creatives working over a number of years, a catch all term for a style of poetry.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    Well we would ask for Jack but ...

    Here is how Jack Daniels died. He arrived at work early one morning and realised he needed to open the safe in his office. When he tried to open the door, he couldn't actually remember the combination. He kicked the safe in frustration and broke his toe. An infection set in and he slowly became increasingly ill. He eventually died from blood poisoning in 1911.

    The Most Depressing Day of the Year...

    ... is January 24th apparently.
    Here's the formula

    1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA.
    W: Weather
    D: Debt
    d: Money due in January pay
    T: Time since Christmas
    Q: Time since failed quit attempt
    M: General motivational levels
    NA: The need to take action

    I'm safe coz my money comes in on the 21st. Phew!


    Monday, January 17, 2005

    Penny Drop

    Lucy Davies, star of Shaun of the Dead and The Office is the daughter of comedian Jasper Carrot. His real name is Robert Davies. He got the nickname Jasper at school and added his new surname Carrott when he started doing the clubs.

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    The red or the blue pill? Sir Sean chooses no pill.

    Sir Sean Connery declined the role of Morpheus in Matrix after he failed to understand the script after reading it three times.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Where did they get a name like Lynyrd Skynyrd?

    Far from being a fantasy reference, Lynyrd Skynyrd was named after their physical education teacher Leonard Skinner, said to be a great influence on the band.

    Sunday, January 09, 2005

    'Oh Belgium'

    When Douglas Adams' book Life, The Universe and Everything came to be published in the US first time around, the publishers weren't happy with the swearing. In that case the fuck word was replaced with 'Belgium' with some extra dialogue and a new guide entry included by way of explanation. The new material (which can be seen here) is arguably funnier than what went before.

    Now this could be confusing

    Dutch is spoken in both the Netherlands and Belgium, but for some strange reason, in the Netherlands the word for 'shit' is the same as the Belgian word for 'fuck' - poepen. In order to prevent what could be a catastrophic misunderstanding, I urge you to stick to the Anglo-Saxon instead.

    Saturday, January 08, 2005

    Juggling History

    The first recorded jugglers in history were in ancient Eygpt, evidence of which was found in the tomb of an unknown prince dating from the early 2000s B.C. The real question is how did it start? Someone was probably playing catch one day and wondered what would happen when he tried throwing two around and then he was showing off to his friends who bet him he couldn't do three.

    Call and response

    The correct response to the greeting "Top o' the mornin' to you!" is "And the rest of the day to yourself!". (Thanks laszlo.)

    How the kangeroo got its name

    European explorer: Oh heavens preserve us, can you see that big hoppy thing? (to Aborigine) What the devil is that called, good man?
    Aborigine: (in his native tongue) I don't understand.
    European explorer: What's that you say, my good fellow? Kangeroo?

    Oooh! Déjà vu!

    Apparently, déjà vu is caused by a slight delay in the transfer of data between the two hemispheres of your brain. The feeling that you've 'done this before' is because effectively you have, but one side of your brain experiences it a fraction before the other.

    Thursday, January 06, 2005

    120-year-old tortoise adopts baby hippo

    Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing reports: "Some people in Kenya rescued a dehydrated baby hippo that had been separated from its herd. The released it into an enclosure in a sanctuary, and it ran over to a giant tortoise, and is now "inseparable" say officials."

    Saturday, January 01, 2005

    The Seven Deadly Sins of Willy Gilligan

    Apparently, characters in the 1960's CBS TV Comedy series Gilligan's Island are based on the seven deadly sins.

    Lust - Ginger
    Greed - Thurston Howell, III
    Sloth - Mrs Howell
    Envy - Maryanne
    Anger - Skipper
    Pride - Professor
    Gluttony - Gilligan

    The last two seem like stretches until you think about it (if you're still with me at all ;-) Certainly a lot of what motivated Gilligan was food - he wanted Ginger but he wanted Maryanne's Coconut cream pies more! And the Professor was so full of pride for his work (making stuff out of coconuts) he was completely oblivious to the fact he couldn't even fix a three foot hole in the Minnow!

    ' Should old acquaintances be forgot,?'

    The true meaning of Auld Lang Syne, and the startling discovery (for me) that my ancestor Robbie Burns didn't write it. [via Metafilter]

    I'd do it for you...

    Although I can't imagine anyone but Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio playing Maid Marion in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves according to Kevin Reynolds on the audio commentary to the dvd the part was originally going to be filled by Robin Wright Penn, but she became pregnant and was unable to do it, so Mastrantonio stepped into the breach (so to speak). If you want to see how the Wright version might have turned out she previously played Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride. On reflection it might have been confusing to have two Robins on the set, even if one of them might have been fictional.

    2005, A Year of...

    According to the Wikipedia, 2005 is the World Year of Physics, the International Year of Microcredit, the International Year for Sport and Physical Education and the United States' Year for Foreign Languages (which bodes well for "The House of Flying Daggers" and "The Sea Inside" at this years' Academy Awards... Ha!)

    Happy International Year of Microcredit, everyone!