Saturday, 31 May 2008

How to read a lot of books in a short time

This extracted from Matt's Idea Blog, at

How can one read efficiently, capture relevant ideas in a usable way, and keep the process sustainable and enjoyable? The rest of my post summarizes the best solutions I've found, but the most useful technique comes from Jason Womack, and synthesizes nicely the most common ideas. In a nutshell, he says he reads the book four times:

  1. Table of contents, glossary, index.
  2. Anything in bold, titles, and subtitles.
  3. First line of every paragraph.
  4. Entire book

Here's the twist: Steps 1-3 should only take about 10 minutes. To capture relevant information he uses a note-taking scheme involving putting dots in margins, and cross-referencing them in an index in the book's front. When done, he transfers them to a text file.

After adopting his system with a slight variation (I dictate my notes into an inexpensive cassette tape recorder, then transcribe them into my system), I've found it works great. I can very quickly scan a book, decide if it's worth reading in depth (steps 3 and 4), and which sections are likely to be most relevant to my goals.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Lorem Ipsum

What is Lorem Ipsum?

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Why do we use it?

It is a long established fact that a reader will be distracted by the readable content of a page when looking at its layout. The point of using Lorem Ipsum is that it has a more-or-less normal distribution of letters, as opposed to using 'Content here, content here', making it look like readable English. Many desktop publishing packages and web page editors now use Lorem Ipsum as their default model text, and a search for 'lorem ipsum' will uncover many web sites still in their infancy. Various versions have evolved over the years, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose (injected humour and the like).


This entry suggested by Paul S.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Grand Canal of China

The Grand Canal of China is the world's oldest and longest canal, far surpassing the next two grand canals of the world: Suez and Panama Canal.

The building of the canal began in 486 B.C. during the Wu Dynasty. It was extended during the Qi Dynasty, and later by Emperor Yangdi of Sui Dynasty during six years of furious construction from 605-610 AD

The canal is 1,795 Km (1,114 miles) long with 24 locks and some 60 bridges.


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Newly released UFO files

The files contain a wide range of UFO-related documents covering the years 1978–2002. So if you want to find out more about lights in the sky over Waterloo Bridge, near misses by pilots, crop circles - and what the UK government thought of it all - this is the place to start.


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Keep schtum


Say nothing - especially in circumstances where saying the wrong thing may get you into trouble.


This probably derives from the German word stumm meaning silent. The phrase keep schtum (variously spelled 'keep stumm', 'keep 'keep shtoom', 'keep schtum' etc.) is British and fairly recent. It has the sound of a Yiddish phrase but it is more likely that it originated in the UK criminal community. The earliest citation of it is in Frank Norman's, book Bang to rights: an account of prison life, 1958:

"I think it's much better to keep shtoom."

"You can always shtoomup if any screws are earholeing."


Monday, 26 May 2008

Ernst Mach

Ernst Mach (18 Februrary, 1838 – 19 February, 1916), made major contributions to, physics, philosophy, and physiological psychology. In physics, the speed of sound bears his name, as he was the first to systematically study super-sonic motion. He also made important contributions to understanding the Doppler effect. His critique of Newtonian ideas of absolute space and time were an inspiration to the young Einstein, who credited Mach as being the philosophical forerunner of relativity theory. His systematic skepticism of the old physics was similarly important to a generation of young German physicists.

In philosophy, he is best known for his influence upon the Vienna Circle (a predecessor of which was named the Ernst Mach Verein), his famous anti-metaphysical attitude (which developed into the verifiability theory of meaning), his anti-realist stance in opposition to atomism, and in general for his positivist-empiricist approach to epistemology.


Sunday, 25 May 2008

Letters sent to landlords

Genuine extracts from Letters Sent to Landlords:

I wish to complain that my father hurt his ankle very badly when he put his foot in the hole in his back passage.

I am writing on behalf of my sink, which is running away from the wall.

I request your permission to remove my drawers in the kitchen.

Can you please tell me when our repairs are going to be done as my wife is about to become an expectant mother.

I want some repairs done to my cooker as it has backfired and burnt my knob off.

The toilet is blocked and we cannot bath the children until it is cleared.

The person next door has a large erection in his back garden, which is unsightly and dangerous.

Will you please send someone to mend our cracked pathway. Yesterday my wife tripped on it and is now pregnant.

Will you please send a man to look at my water, it is a funny colour and not fit to drink.

Could you please send someone to mend our bath tap. My wife got her toe stuck in it and it is very uncomfortable for us.

I want to complain about the farmer across the road. Every morning at 5:30 his cock wakes me up, and it is getting too much.

When the workmen were here they put their tools in my wife's new drawers and made a mess. Please send men with clean tools to finish the job and keep my wife happy.

from uk.rec.humour

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Gradely Kecks

Gradely - Very good, eg "Aye, gradely"

Kecks - Trousers, eg "'is kecks were tight"

From Lean Lancky at


P.S. The word "fantastic" has been in English since the 1300s, adapted from the French "fantastique". However, there are many regional variations - Lancashire has "gradely", while "purely belter" is originally a Mackem (Sunderland) phrase, now used by Geordies. "Bostin" is the equivalent Black Country expression, while in the West Country "gurt" means "great", and "reeming" is "very good, or superior" in Kent. From alt.usage.english.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Descriptive phrases, such as gerund phrases or prepositional phrases, modify the nearest noun. Misplacing them by putting them nearer another noun can cause some humorous unintended confusion. Sometimes the appropriate noun isn't even in the sentence at all, in which case the modifier is said to dangle. There are countless examples of misplaced and dangling modifiers, given in the form of jokes, that are in circulation. Here are some examples of interesting ones:

  • "Lost: A watch by a lady with a cracked face."
  • "Lost: A shirt by a boy with green and blue stripes."
  • "While driving around town, a tree fell and hit my car."
  • "Running quickly in the winter air, my nose got cold."

Obviously there are countless amusing variations. This particular point of grammar is easy to commit in ignorance, so speakers and writers should be vigilant about avoiding misplaced or dangling modifiers. The following are some more examples, these from actual college essays:

  • "At the beginning of the novel, Tom Joad comes across a turtle on his way home from spending four years in prison."
  • "Only people with cars that live in dorms should be allowed to park in those lots."
  • "Where one parent would be quiet, polite and conservative the other parent would drive up on a black Trans Am full of arrogance and conceit."
  • "Gertrude and Claudius have broken a couple of values which anger Hamlet."

The colloquial speech of the Pennsylvania Dutch is inclined toward this particular error. Two prototypical examples: "Throw Papa down the stairs his hat," and, "Throw the horse over the fence some hay."

For an incomprehensibly convoluted example, here's a real question, once asked of my grandmother: "Let's walk North Hampton street up side by each."


Thursday, 22 May 2008


In Greek mythology, they are demons believed to live on Mount Ida in Phrygia (Asia Minor), or on the Isle of Crete. They were considered to be the first metallurgists: they discovered iron and the art of working metals by fire. They belonged to the retinue of the goddess Cybele. The Dactyls are sometimes identified with the Cabiri, Curetes and Corybantes; mostly because of the mystery cults that surrounded those groups. Their name is derived from daktylos ("finger") and is probably based either on their skill with metals or on their small size.


Wednesday, 21 May 2008

London Hydraulic Power Company

The London Hydraulic Power Company was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1883 to install a hydraulic power network of high-pressure cast iron water mains under London. It was the successor to the Steam Wharf and Warehouse Company, founded in 1871 by Edward B Ellington. The network covered an area mostly north of the Thames from Hyde Park in the west to Docklands in the east.

The system was used as a cleaner and more compact alternative to steam engines, to power workshop machinery, lifts, cranes, theatre machinery, and the backup mechanism of Tower Bridge. It was also used to supply fire hydrants, mostly those inside buildings. The water, pumped straight from the Thames, was heated in winter to prevent freezing.


Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Nine are abroad again

"I have an urgent errand," he said. "My news is evil."

Then he looked about him, as if the hedges might have ears.

"Nazgûl," he whispered. "The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black."

Gandalf at The Council of Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring, the Lord of The Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, 19 May 2008

Aristotele, Newton and Pascal

Aristotele, Newton and Pascal were playing hide and seek and Aristotele was 'it'. So he put his hands over his eyes and strated counting to one hundred.

Pascal scurried into nearby bushes to hide but Newton just stayed and drew into the sand a square one meter a side around where he standed.

When Aristotele had counted to one hundred he looked around and spotted Newton immediately. "Your it, Newton, I found you!" yelled Aristotele.

"Not so," said Newton, "a Newton per square meter is a Pascal."

from uk.rec.humour

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Church Bulletins

These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "Hell" to someone who doesn't care much about you.

Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.

Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

Scouts are saving aluminium cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.

The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours."

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Emperors, antiquarians and elephants

What do the above have in common?

Well, believe or not they’re different sizes of paper in the English Imperial system. An emperor is the largest size - 72 × 48 (all measurements in inches), an antiquarian is 53 × 31, and an elephant is 28 × 23. There are also double elephants (40 × 27) and grand eagles (42 × 28 ¾), while the smallest size of writing paper is the pott (15 × 12 ½). A bit more interesting than A4, A3, etc!

Quantities of paper also have special terms to describe them:

quire = 24 sheets of paper

ream = 480 or 516 sheets of paper, or 20 quires

bundle = 2 reams

bale = 5 bundles

Quire comes from the Latin quaternī, set of four, four each, via the Vulgar Latin quaternus, the Old French quaer and the Middle English quayer.

Ream comes from the Arabic rizma, bundle, via Old Spanish resma, Old French reime, and Middle English reme.

Sources: The Free Dictionary and Paper measures


Friday, 16 May 2008

Straight and Narrow

We often use straight and narrow, meaning law-abiding and morally correct behaviour, as a clipped version of the full saying, variously the straight and narrow way or the straight and narrow path. As you say, it’s from the Bible, specifically the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 7, Verse 14) in the King James Version: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2006. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Sixes, Sevens & Nines

Dressed up to the nines - dressed as beautifully, elegantly and smartly as possible.

At sixes and sevens - being in a state of confusion, mental disorder, not being quite in control of oneself.

The song Don't Cry For Me Argentina (of the musical Evita fame), has these words

You won't believe me

All you will see is a girl you once knew

Although she's dressed up to the nines

At sixes and sevens with you

from alt.usage.english

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Paste, Save, Copy, Undo, Bold, ...

The UNDO command is surely one of the greatest time-saving inventions of the digital age. According to Jensen Harris, the head honcho of the Microsoft Office User Experience Team, undo is the fourth-most used command in Microsoft Word. (It slots in after Paste, Save and Copy and immediately before Bold.) That popularity is no surprise. Before undo, disaster was a keystroke or a mouse-slip away; with undo, we're protected from many of our blunders.


Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Interesting Things You Learn About Computers in the Movies

Word processors never display a cursor.

You never have to use the spacebar when typing long sentences.

All monitors display 2-inch high letters.

High-tech computers, such as those used by NASA, the CIA, or some such governmental institution, have easy-to-understand graphical interfaces.

Those that don't will have incredibly powerful text-based command shells that can correctly understand and execute commands typed in plain English.

Corollary: You can gain access to any information you want by simply typing "ACCESS ALL OF THE SECRET FILES" on any keyboard.

Likewise, you can infect a computer with a destructive virus by simply typing "UPLOAD VIRUS."

Viruses cause temperatures in computers, just like they do in humans. After a while, smoke billows out of disk drives and monitors.

All computers are connected. You can access the information on the villain's desktop computer, even if it's turned off.

Powerful computers beep whenever you press a key or whenever the screen changes. Some computers also slow down the output on the screen so that it doesn't go faster than you can read. The really advanced ones also emulate the sound of a dot-matrix printer as the characters come across the screen.

All computer panels have thousands of volts and flash pots just underneath the surface. Malfunctions are indicated by a bright flash, a puff of smoke, a shower of sparks, and an explosion that forces you backward. See #7, above.

People typing away on a computer will turn it off without saving the data.

A hacker can get into the most sensitive computer in the world before intermission and guess the secret password in two tries.


Complex calculations and loading of huge amounts of data will be accomplished in under three seconds. In the movies, modems transmit data at two gigabytes per second.

When the power plant/missile site/whatever overheats, all the control panels will explode, as will the entire building.

If you display a file on the screen and someone deletes the file, it also disappears from the screen. There are no ways to copy a backup file -- and there are no undelete utilities.

If a disk has encrypted files, you are automatically asked for a password when you try to access it.

No matter what kind of computer disk it is, it'll be readable by any system you put it into. All application software is usable by all computer platforms.

The more high-tech the equipment, the more buttons it has. However, everyone must have been highly trained, because the buttons aren't labelled.

Most computers, no matter how small, have reality-defying three-dimensional, real-time, photo-realistic animated graphics capability.

Laptops, for some strange reason, always seem to have amazing real-time video phone capabilities and the performance of a CRAY-MP.

Whenever a character looks at a VDU, the image is so bright that it projects itself onto his/her face.

Computers never crash during key, high-intensity activities. Humans operating computers never make mistakes under stress.

Programs are fiendishly perfect and never have bugs that slow down users.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Your age by eating out

Your age by eating out (Calculators at the ready)

Don't tell me your age



It takes less than a minute. Work this out as you read.

Be sure you don't read the bottom until you've worked it out!

This is not one of those waste of time things, it's fun.

  1. First of all, pick the number of times a week that you would like to go out to eat (more than once but less than 10)
  2. Multiply this number by 2 (just to be bold)
  3. Add 5
  4. Multiply it by 50
  5. If you have already had your birthday this year add 1758... If you haven't, add 1757.
  6. Now subtract the four digit year that you were born. You should have a three digit number The first digit of this was your original number. (I. e., How many times you want to go out to restaurants in a week.) The next two numbers are YOUR AGE !


Sunday, 11 May 2008

Irreversible binomials

Irreversible binomial is a linguistic term coined by Yakov Malkiel in a 1959 article in the linguistics journal, Lingua, and refers to pairs of words on either side of a conjunction such as and that are always used in a particular order.

For example, bread and butter, salt and vinegar, fish and chips, meat and potatoes, gin and tonic, time and tide, cloak and dagger, ladies and gentlemen, knife and fork, and head over heels.

Some such pairs are reversible in parts of the English speaking word - is it cheese and bacon or bacon and cheese, for example? Both versions are used in the UK at least. To some extent is depends on the ratio of cheese to bacon - if you have more cheese than bacon in your sandwich, then you might call it a cheese and bacon sandwich.


Saturday, 10 May 2008

Nash Equilibrium

A Nash equilibrium, named after John Nash, is a set of strategies, one for each player, such that no player has incentive to unilaterally change her action. Players are in equilibrium if a change in strategies by any one of them would lead that player to earn less than if she remained with her current strategy. For games in which players randomize (mixed strategies), the expected or average payoff must be at least as large as that obtainable by any other strategy.


Friday, 9 May 2008


These are the USARPS (USA Rock Paper Scissors) League rules. Please note that they are modified from International Rules. If any players from other countries are playing, make sure to apprise them that they are playing by the American rules.

The Basics

  • Rock Paper Scissors is played between two players - male or female, young or old, slutty or prude. It’s an equal opportunity sport. No equipment is necessary, though some players prefer to wear "throwing gloves" for maximum comfort and intimidation. All you need is an arm, and a wrist, and fingers. It is best to wear loose fitting clothes, and pre-game stretching and manicures are strongly encouraged.

The Throws

  • There are three permissible "throws" in RPS: Rock, Paper and Scissors. Rock crushes scissors, scissors cuts paper, and paper covers rock. There are NO exceptions. When two players "shoot" the same throw, it is a stalemate and they must throw again.
  • A player who makes an illegal throw – including but not limited to "Hang Loose," "Westsi-ide," "Fire," "Water," "The Bird," "The Fonz," "Su-Fi," "Live Long and Prosper," "Texas Longhorn," "This Big," or "I’ve Got Your Nose" – will lose a point and may be disqualified.
  • Rock can be thrown any way as long as the fist is clenched, as if you’re squeezing the life out of Stuart Little.
  • Scissors is formed with your index finger and middle finger extended and shaped like a "V". It can be thrown horizontally or vertically (Please note that international rules differ).
  • Paper is formed by extending all your fingers out, as if you’re about to slap your little brother. It is always delivered horizontally. Never vertically. Vertical paper is for hoodlums and misfits, and we don’t stand for it. Paper is traditionally thrown palm down, but may be delivered palm up, which is called "The Subpoena." Serving the subpoena is considered arrogant, but can be very effective when used properly.

The Action

  • The "Pump" consists of closing a fist, holding it out in front of your body with elbow bent at a 45 degree angle, and thrusting it up and down three times. (Please withhold any masturbation jokes until after your match.) This must be done IN SYNC with the opposing player. Players are allowed to chant "RO-SHAM-BO" to help get in sync. In fact, it is even encouraged.
  • The "Shoot" is when a player actually delivers the throw. It comes after the first three pumps. Players may follow shouting "RO-SHAM-BO" with "SHOOT." The delivery of the shoot must be in sync with the opponent. If the shoot or the pump is not in sync at any time, the referee may declare the action dead, or penalize the player at fault. Point is: be in sync. Seriously.
  • Each "engagement" begins with a referee raising his hand vertically between the two opponents and saying the word "engage!" (Please note: in international play, this is commonly stated as "en garde") The referee’s call cues the players to "pump." It can also be a clever time to propose to your girlfriend. If for some reason you don’t have a referee, it is up to the players to cue the action.

The Gameplay

  • Each throw is considered an "engagement." The best of three "engagements" is a "bout." The best of three "bouts" is a "match."
  • All referees’ calls are final. Instant replay has not yet been instituted in RPS. There is no post-match arbitration allowed, so deal with it, crybaby


Thursday, 8 May 2008


TextSTAT - Simple Text Analysis Tool

Free concordance software for Windows, GNU/Linux and MacOS X

TextSTAT is a simple programme for the analysis of texts. It reads ASCII/ANSI texts (in different encodings) and HTML files (directly from the internet) and it produces word frequency lists and concordances from these files. This version includes a web-spider which reads as many pages as you want from a particular website and puts them in a TextSTAT-corpus. The new news-reader puts news messages in a TextSTAT-readable corpus file.

TextSTAT now reads MS Word and OpenOffice files (OOo 1 (.sxw) and 2 (.odt)). No conversion needed, just add the files to your corpus...

In TextSTAT you can use regular expression which provides you with powerful search possibilities. The programme is multilingual. Because it uses Unicode internally, TextSTAT can cope with many different languages and file encodings. The user interface comes in three languages: English, German, and Dutch.


Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Noddies (singular noddy) are a type of camera shot used in recorded news or current affairs interviews. The noddies consist of nods and other similar "listening gestures" made by the interviewer. These are filmed after the actual interview takes place but during the editing process are spliced into the interview. This is done where required to mask any cuts that have been made. This editing technique is universally "read" by audiences as expressing realism and therefore creates the illusion of a seamless dialogue in the interview.


Tuesday, 6 May 2008

How Are Earthquake Magnitudes Measured?

The Richter Scale

The magnitude of most earthquakes is measured on the Richter scale, invented by Charles F. Richter in 1934. The Richter magnitude is calculated from the amplitude of the largest seismic wave recorded for the earthquake, no matter what type of wave was the strongest.

The Richter magnitudes are based on a logarithmic scale (base 10). What this means is that for each whole number you go up on the Richter scale, the amplitude of the ground motion recorded by a seismograph goes up ten times. Using this scale, a magnitude 5 earthquake would result in ten times the level of ground shaking as a magnitude 4 earthquake (and 32 times as much energy would be released). To give you an idea how these numbers can add up, think of it in terms of the energy released by explosives: a magnitude 1 seismic wave releases as much energy as blowing up 6 ounces of TNT. A magnitude 8 earthquake releases as much energy as detonating 6 million tons of TNT. Pretty impressive, huh? Fortunately, most of the earthquakes that occur each year are magnitude 2.5 or less, too small to be felt by most people.

The Richter magnitude scale can be used to desribe earthquakes so small that they are expressed in negative numbers. The scale also has no upper limit, so it can describe earthquakes of unimaginable and (so far) unexperienced intensity, such as magnitude 10.0 and beyond.

Although Richter originally proposed this way of measuring an earthquake's "size," he only used a certain type of seismograph and measured shallow earthquakes in Southern California. Scientists have now made other "magnitude" scales, all calibrated to Richter's original method, to use a variety of seismographs and measure the depths of earthquakes of all sizes.

Here's a table describing the magnitudes of earthquakes, their effects, and the estimated number of those earthquakes that occur each year.

The Mercalli Scale

Another way to measure the strength of an earthquake is to use the Mercalli scale. Invented by Giuseppe Mercalli in 1902, this scale uses the observations of the people who experienced the earthquake to estimate its intensity.

The Mercalli scale isn't considered as scientific as the Richter scale, though. Some witnesses of the earthquake might exaggerate just how bad things were during the earthquake and you may not find two witnesses who agree on what happened; everybody will say something different. The amount of damage caused by the earthquake may not accurately record how strong it was either.


Monday, 5 May 2008

Harvey Kennedy

The shoelace was invented in 1790 by Harvey Kennedy. Though there are some sources who say this is erroneous and the true inventor is unknown, it is a fact that prior to 1790, there were no shoelaces and after 1790, Harvey Kennedy made nearly two and-a-half million dollars (nearly a fifty billion dollars today) from the patent on his simple leather stands.

Of course, the shoelace would not be complete without the aglet. The first shoelace was difficult to use because it was simply a strand and had to be forced through the eyeholes of the shoe. The first shoelace with an aglet - from the Latin, "acus", which translates to "needle", - was introduced in 1791. The first shoelace aglets were stone and tin. Ornamental aglets, made from precious metals such as silver and gold, were popular among the well to do leading up to the late nineteenth century. Plastic aglets were popularized at around the turn of the twentieth century, and the world never walked the same again.


Sunday, 4 May 2008


"Billion" is a word which is somewhat ambiguous in U.K. practice, but not in American. For several centuries in Britain, it meant "a million million" (1,000,000,000,000 = 10^12 = US trillion), but in 1974, the British government announced that it would use "billion" to mean 10^9, the same as US usage. For the last several decades, English-language publishers have used "billion" or "thousand million" for 1,000,000,000 = 10^9 = US billion.
The "old" use is still encountered just often enough (in speech, informal writing, and older books) to cause some Britons to be unsure of what the speaker or writer means by the word.
The first few U.S. words for large numbers, and the corresponding traditional British terms, are as follows:
             U.S.                  Traditional British
10^6      million              million
10^9      billion               thousand million or milliard
10^12    trillion               billion or million million
10^15    quadrillion         thousand billion
10^18    quintillion         trillion
Scientists have long preferred to express numbers in figures rather than in words, so it is easy to avoid "billion" in contexts where precision is required.  The plural, "billions", is still used freely with the colloquial meaning of "a very large number".
Some articles with more history about these terms:

from alt.usage.english

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Bowler Hat

It was the hard hat of its day, a supremely practical item of headgear for working men of all classes, first designed to be worn by gamekeepers patrolling the estates of the landed gentry. The bowler hat first saw the light of the day in 1850, when the first model was designed by James Lock & Co. of St James Street, London, a business that is still going strong today.

Over the course of the last century, the bowler came largely to be associated in the public mind with City gents, but it has made some surprising appearances elsewhere, from Liza Minnelli's nightclub singer in Cabaret to the heads of Aymara tribeswomen in South America. If you want to get ahead...


Friday, 2 May 2008

London Underground Announcements

Below are genuine announcements made by tube drivers, on the London Underground

"To the gentleman wearing the long grey coat trying to get on the second carriage, what part of 'stand clear of the doors' don't you understand?"

At Camden town station (on a crowded Saturday afternoon): "Please let the passengers off the train first. Please let the passengers off the train first. Please let the passengers off the train first. Let the passengers off the train FIRST! Oh go on then, stuff yourselves in like sardines, see if I care, I'm going home."

"Ladies & Gentleman, upon departing the train may I remind you to take your rubbish with you. Despite the fact that you are in something that is metal, fairly round, filthy and smells, this is a tube train for public transport and not a bin on wheels"

"Ladies and Gentlemen do you want the good news first or the bad news?"

"The good news is that last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. I felt sadly let down by the fact that none of you sent me a card! I drive you to work and home each day and not even a card."

"The bad news is that there is a point's failure somewhere between Stratford and East Ham, which means that we probably won't reach our destination. We may have to stop and return. I won't reverse back up the line - simply get out walk up the platform and go back to where we started."

"In the meantime if you get bored you can simply talk to the man in front or beside you or opposite you. Let me start you off: Hi, my name's Gary how do you do?""

"Your delay this evening is caused by the line controller suffering from elbow and backside syndrome, not knowing one from the other. I'll let you know any further information as soon as I'm given any".

"Please mind the closing doors..." The doors close... The doors reopen.

"Passengers are reminded that the big red slidey things on the side of the train are called the doors. Let's try it again, shall we? Please stand clear of the doors." The doors close... "Thank you."

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The New Inch

New Inch

Monday, Feb. 28, 1938

Not yet has the New Deal devalued the inch. The House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures now has before it a bill to shorten the inch by .00005 millimetres. Since the U. S. inch is denned as 25.40005 millimetres and the British inch is defined as 25.39996 millimetres, the object is to establish uniformity by meeting the British halfway: that is, by making the inch an even 25.4 millimetres which would also key it in with the metric system.

Last week Director Lyman J. Briggs of the Bureau of Standards called the difference between the British inch and the U. S. inch "intolerable." The new standard will reduce the inch by 1/508,001 of its present length. Pointing out that the most precise industrial measurements (of wrist pins for piston rods, etc.) are accurate only within one ten-thousandth of an inch, Director Briggs said: "Industry from a practical standpoint will not realize that a change has been made because the change is too small." Not discussed was the effect of a shortened inch on longer measurements: A mile would be approximately 1/8 inch shorter, the U. S. would measure 31 feet 2 inches wider.