Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Stigler's Law states that scientific laws are typically named after the second person to have discovered them, or else the person who promoted someone else's original idea rather more successfully. For example, Haley didn't discover Haley's comet, nor did Planck invent Planck's constant. And finally nor did Stigler invent Stigler's law...

Speaking of laws, according to the (unrepealed) 1738 Flotsam Act, it is technically illegal to 'cause any man-made illumination to be visible to shipping' off the coast of Cornwall. It was introduced to stop Cornish criminals luring ships onto the rocks in order to pinch their cargo, but theoretically also applies to flipping the kitchen light on in Penzance when you fancy a late-night cuppa. Don't say you haven't been warned!

Monday, 26 March 2007

Just how hungry are you?

In 1884, four sailors were left adrift after their ship sank. They had two tins of turnips and managed to catch the (very) occasional fish. So, after 20 days adrift, they slit the throat of the cabin boy and ate him, before being rescued a few days later. As I write this, it's is past my usual lunchtime and I'm quite hungry. So my immediate response is "20 days?! They waited 20 days before getting dinner ready? Such self-control is admirable."

Don Lerman once ate 800 grams of butter in 5 minutes. How long would a cabin boy of lasted him?

Monday, 19 March 2007


The area of South London known as "Elephant and Castle" gets its name from the Infanta di Castille, or "The child of the castle" in English. Specifically, "Infanta" referred to the eldest daughter of a Spanish monarch without a claim to the throne, and in this case, it was Eleanor, wife of Edward I but originally from Castille. Much like Victora two hundred years later, the newly expanding area was named after the current queen.

The area of South London known as "Elephant and Castle" gets its name from a local cutlery company in the area from the 18th century. They made ivory-handled forks and spoons, and so their logo was an elephant with a howdah on its back. The howdah is a kind of oversized saddle with a roof on, and looks a little bit like a castle. If you squint. The logo of the The Worshipful Company of Cutlers also features an elephant and howdah/castle.

Thursday, 15 March 2007


By 2010, it is estimated that nearly 3% of the capacity of all digital storage media (hard disk drives, flash drives, memory sticks, the lot) will consist of photographs and video clips of the London Eye. At this rate, we'll have to start deleting medical records from The Spine just to make room for holiday snaps and wannabe artists' works. Which will be no bad thing (ooh! Bit of politics there!)

But well before then, in fact just now, the first mass-produced terra-byte hard disk drives have reached the market, so we're safe for a while yet.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Nearly there...

According to the OED, the word 'nearly' has six distinct meanings as an adverb, and one more as an adjective. There are also a number of special compound forms listed, such as "nearly new" and "nearly man". Which leaves undefined the compound "nearly nearly", as in "we're nearly nearly there." If one treats the first nearly as an adjective modifying the second nearly, which in turn is an adverb modifing 'there' in this case, then it is clear that being "nearly nearly X" is equivalent to "nearly (nearly X)", i.e. "almost as near as nearly X, but not quite as near." But of course if the first nearly modfies the same root as the second nearly, then it is an emphasiser to be interpreted as "(nearly nearly) there", i.e. "even more near than nearly X is". So being nearly nearly there is either more nearly than being nearly there, or less nearly than being nearly there. With me?

After Zeno of Elea had proved that "that the flying arrow is at rest", the Greek army disbanded their archery division and replaced them with a platoon of mirror-wielders. They would focus beams of reflected sunlight onto the shields of opposing armies, causing small fires to break out. Sadly, the entire platoon was wiped out during an ill-conceived pre-dawn raid.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Bring me sunshine!

Recently, I was dancing madly in the style of Morecambe and Wise at the sheer joy of having been married for two entire years. However, unlike those great men I am a mere amateur at many of the entertainment arts, including dancing. And so I somehow contrived to kick my own hand rather sharply somewhere behind my back. Not only did it hurt, but a later x-ray revealed that I had managed to fracture the joint and must wear a splint for weeks.

Prometheus, a Greek Titan and brother of Atlas, sister of Wendy, was also a big fan of Morecambe and Wise. So was Icarus. Indeed, they were inspired by the signature song to steal fire from the gods and bring it to men using wax-coated fennel. Men that Prometheus had previously shaped out of clay, breathed life into, and then noticed that they got cold at night. Might have saved a lot of trouble if he'd thought about that in advance and given us central heating instead. That, or Bovril.