29 April 2009

Academics control our weather!

Lecturers begin lightning strikes

'Lecturers at an Auckland tertiary institute have staged the first of a planned series of "lightning strikes" over what they say is increasing and unrealistic workloads.

About 150 Manukau Institute of Technology staff joined a picket line during Tuesday's two-hour action, which began at 10am, Tertiary Education Union organiser Chan Dixon says'

- TVNZ, 28 April 2009

[Beware their mighty wrath, or install lightning rods on your meagre hovels, either/or]

Swine flu

The Daily Show tells you all you ever needed to know about swine flu. It's either a) A cause for concern, but disease control methodology, quarantine provisions and simple common sense will likely prevent it from causing more than a handful of deaths, or b) A zombie plague spread by infected dragon eggs laid in the hearts of unsuspecting and soon-to-be-brain-eating victims.

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27 April 2009

How to marry well

'Brown, a short, dark, bespectacled man, seemed not particularly distinguished. Early impressions deceived. He exemplified, said one fellow pioneer, the old adage that 'quiet waters run deep'. He possessed a surprising range of interests and enthusiasms; the most bizarre (to modern minds) was phrenology. (Courting couples, he believed, should not marry before the bumps of their heads had been scientifically measured to test compatibility.)'

- From R.C.J. Stone's biography of William Brown, DNZB

God Makes Surprise Visit To Local Church

FAYETTEVILLE, NC — Parishioners at the First Presbyterian Church were left stunned and in awe of His glory Sunday, when the Lord God Almighty dropped by their 11 a.m. service unannounced.

Interrupting Pastor Terry Pridgen's sermon on His unending mercy, God appeared suddenly before His flock as an intense beam of white light, instantly dispersing the earthly forms of those seated in the first two pews. Sources said the remaining congregants had to avert their eyes from their Creator, whose booming celestial voice overwhelmed their worldly senses and humbled their hearts as He politely apologized for not calling first.

"I AM the God of Abraham, the LORD MOST HIGH, who brought you forth from the bondage of Egypt," God said unto church members, many of whom cowered in reverent fear of Him. "Thought I'd just pop in and see how things were going. Please, pretend like I'm not even here."

The Supreme Being then thanked the choir for its "lovely introduction" and took a seat to the right of the altar.

According to wholly repentant witnesses, who were scarcely able to look upon the Alpha and Omega, much less conceive of the enormity of His Might, God did not speak again for the entirety of the service, but was seen nodding approvingly during the Nicene Creed.

Attendees reportedly did not ask the One Who Made Them Flesh why He had chosen to visit their small parish, though some suspected the church's new electric organ might have had something to do with it.

- The Onion, 21 April 2009

25 April 2009

Twitter in 1931

The Times has reported that the concept of Twittering was put into practice as early as 1931, when a London company trialled The Notificator, a vending machine that displayed short messages:

[The Notificator is] an automatic machine with a small desk or shelf, having a glass window in the desk and a roll of paper or thin cardboard beneath. By the insertion of two pennies the window can be slid aside and a message written, which will then be turned onward, the window being closed ready for the next user. Each time a fresh message is written the shutting of the window will move a ratchet - the only mechanism embodied in the invention - and so place the column of messages one space higher.

Messages will remain in sight for some time - the machine is sufficiently tall to leave them visible through a glass panel for at least two hours, it is calculated.

The Notificator was not a success, and the company was declared bankrupt in 1937. Anyone keen to lay odds that Twitter will still be around in six years?

- Source: Times Archive Blog, 22 April 2009

1000 FPS

This is what the world looks like at 1000 frames per second.

I-Movix SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel from David Coiffier on Vimeo.

[Via CH and Filmdrunk]

22 April 2009

Car-less days

The New Zealand car-less days scheme, designed in response to a rapid decline in the New Zealand economy, ran for less than a year from 1979 to 1980, but failed due to avoidance and concerns about its impracticality. My mother had a sticker on her old VW, and was annoyed by the efforts many people went to to get around the scheme. In any case it would have been difficult to enforce on Waiheke Island, our home at the time, because there were no police officers permanently stationed on the island!

Quoted below is the official information pamphlet for the scheme:

Information for all owners of petrol-fuelled vehicles

Car-less days stickers are printed in seven different colours, one for each day of the week, and have the day printed across them.

You must choose a day, obtain the correct sticker for that day from a Post Office by entering your selected day at the base of your motor re-licensing form, and fix it to your windscreen by 1 July 1979. It will be an offence NOT to display your car-less day sticker from this date.

Place your car-less day sticker on your windscreen alongside your motor licence sticker.

You may change your chosen car-less day only if:

1. Your sticker has been lost, stolen or destroyed.

2. You have bought a new or used car.

3. You can convince the Secretary of Energy that your chosen car-less day will cause you extreme hardship.

If you wish to change your car-less day for any of the above reasons, ask the nearest Post Office for an 'Energy 1' application form.


Traffic officers will then be making sure that your vehicle is not driven on your chosen car-less day.

- Car-less days pamphlet, Ministry of Energy, Wellington, New Zealand, 1979, quoted in Richard Wolfe, Instructions for New Zealanders, Auckland, 2006

20 April 2009

The island of general intoxication

The social history research of Reverend John Heckewelder, who sought tales of early encounters between Native Americans and Europeans, reveals interesting accounts of social interaction. Here Giles Milton recounts an extract from a letter written by Heckewelder in 1801, describing an early run-in with the demon drink during Henry Hudson’s visit in 1609, to what would later become New York:

They watched in astonishment as [Hudson] opened a bottle of pure alcohol, poured it into a glass beaker, and gulped down the lot. He then handed the bottle and glass to the nearest Indian chieftain and instructed him to drink.

[Heckewelder wrote:] “The chief receives the glass but only smells it, and passes it to the next chief who does the same. The glass thus passes through the circle without the contents being tasted by anyone; and is upon the point of being returned again to the red-clothed man when one of their number, a spirited man and a great warrior, jumps up, harangues the assembly on the impropriety of returning the glass with the contents in it.” He argued that [Hudson] had offered them the glass in the spirit of friendship and for the peace of their people, “and that as no-one was willing to drink it he would, let the consequence be what it would. He then took the glass and bidding the assembly a farewell, drank it off. Every eye was fixed upon their resolute companion to see what effect this would have upon him, and he soon began to stagger about, and at last dropping to the ground, they bemoan him. He falls into a sleep, and they view him as expiring.”

But after a few minutes the man suddenly leaped to his feet and, to gasps of amazement from the crowd, declared that he had never felt so happy in all his life and demanded that he be given another glassful. “His wish is granted, and the whole assembly soon joins him, and become intoxicated.” [...]

Hackewelder claims that the name Manhattan is derived from the drunkenness that took place there, since the Indian word manahactanienk means ‘the island of general intoxication’.

- Quoted from Giles Milton, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, London, 1999

Wife selling in old England

'John Walker, emailing me from Warwick on wife sales, tells me it seemed fairly common in Cornwall and quotes several accounts from the West Briton newspaper, from 1818 to 1853. In November 1818 this Cornish newspaper reported a wife sale at Bodmin Market, thus: "A man named Walter, of the parish of Lanivet, led forward his wife by a halter, which was fastened around her waist, and publicly offered her for sale. A person called Sobey, who has recently been discharged from the 28th Regiment, bid sixpence for her, and was immediately declared the purchaser".

A further example, sent in by John, concerns the sale of the wife of George Trethewey at St Austell in March 1835 who was sold to a tinker for four pence, the couple then proceeded to a neighbouring pothouse for a jug of ale. There they were approached by a market collector of tolls where the 'husband' handed over a penny in commission, "the sum usually demanded for selling a pig"'.

- Tom Wood, Family Tree Magazine, December 2008

10 April 2009

Thigh-high boots

'In a moment of stupidity recently I was toying with the idea of maybe getting some thigh-high boots, and fishing for a compliment I said to my sister, "Where would I get thigh-high boots that would fit my thighs?".

And she said, "Well, trannies must get them from somewhere"'.

- Sarah Millican, BBC Radio 4, 4 Stands Up, 9 April 2009

Funny money

Jon Stewart and guest author William Cohan dissect the ongoing crisis in the US financial markets and ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do to work out what in the hell's going on. Great TV for those of us who thought a Ponzi scheme was a Happy Days-related misspelling: it's both entertaining and highly informative.

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09 April 2009

Chinese tattoos

The Far Eastern Economic Review mentions the recent growth in popularity of Westerners acquiring tattoos using Chinese-language characters has not been matched with increased vetting of what the tattoo artists are actually inscribing on their clients' skin. Witness the unwise choice of one young woman after the jump:

Universal words for stupidity

08 April 2009

Death and taxes

'The manor court rolls provide a useful history of events relating to the [Wimbledon] Common from the 15th century onwards. But in 1499 there is a joke. Many of the entries in the rolls refer to various people being prosecuted for illegally taking wood or furze from the Common, and this entry mentions a Robert Hunt entering the Common and "unjustly cutting two cartloads of underwood in sapling to the prejudice of the lord". A note in the margin however reads: "excused because he is dead"'.

- Clive Whichelow, Secrets of Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath, London, 2000

05 April 2009

The number of the Beast

From a book on public morals in Britain in the pre-Victorian period:

A code revealed the mark of Evil on Napoleon. The Book of Revelations prophesied that the Beast could be identified by 'the number of his name': 'Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast'. And the very name of Britain's nemesis contained that number. If the letters of the alphabet are numbered so that the first nine letters represent the numbers one to nine (with A worth one and I worth nine), J is left out and the corresponding numbers then increase in multiples of ten, so K is worth ten, L twenty and Z 160, then the sum of the letters in the Emperor's name totals exactly 666. That it only works if his name is spelt 'Napolean' and the first 'a' in Buonaparte is not counted did not matter. As millenarians stressed, 'Napolean Buonparte' deliberately misspelled his name to conceal the mark of the Beast and confound mankind.

- Ben Wilson, Decency & Disorder 1789-1837, London, 2007