Archive for November, 2011

99 interesting Wikipedia articles

Sunday, November 27th, 2011
Belmez faces

See #76

  1. Floating timeline. On The Simpsons Bart Simpson has stayed in the fourth grade and Lisa Simpson in the second grade for the show’s entire run, and baby Maggie has never aged.
  2. Mad scientist. Perhaps the closest figure in Western mythology to the modern mad scientist was Daedalus, creator of the labyrinth, who was then imprisoned by King Minos. To escape, he invented two pairs of wings made from feathers and beeswax, one for himself and the other for his son Icarus.
  3. Automatic writing. Psychology professor Théodore Flournoy investigated the claim by 19th-century medium Hélène Smith (Catherine Müller) that she did automatic writing to convey messages from Mars in Martian language. Flournoy concluded that her “Martian” language had a strong resemblance to Ms. Smith’s native language of French.
  4. Megacorporation. Almost all depictions of a megacorporation show them as amoral (unconcerned with using ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in their decision-making process) operating purely out of a desire to achieve productivity, profit and efficiency as a machine would.
  5. Corporatocracy. “Wall Street, you know, you could say… runs the world. Wall Street, the pharmaceutical lobbies, the oil lobbies, they run our government.”
  6. Ancient astronauts. In Hindu mythology, the gods and their avatars travel from place to place in flying vehicles (variously called “flying chariots”, “flying cars” or Vimanas). There are many mentions of these flying machines in the Ramayana.
  7. Dendera light. The sculpture became notable among fringe historians because of the resemblance of the motifs to some modern electical lighting systems.
  8. Phantom island. Some “errors” were later thought to be intentional. Lake Superior’s Isles Phelipeaux and Pontchartrain, which appeared on explorers’ maps for many years, were named for Louis Phélypeaux, marquis de La Vrilliere, comte de Pontchartrain. Phélypeaux was a government minister influential in allocating funds for additional voyages of exploration.
  9. Out-of-place artifact. The term is used to describe a wide variety of objects, from anomalies studied by mainstream science to pseudoarchaeology far outside the mainstream, to objects that have been shown to be hoaxes or to have mundane explanations.
  10. Shakespeare Apocrypha. A late sixteenth-century writer, Francis Meres, and a scrap of paper (apparently from a bookseller), both list Love’s Labour’s Won among Shakespeare’s then-recent works, but no play of this title has survived.
  11. Sigil. The magical training books called grimoires often listed pages of such sigils. A particularly well-known list is in the Lesser Key of Solomon, in which the sigils of the 72 princes of the hierarchy of hell are given for the magician’s use. Such sigils were considered to be the equivalent of the true name of the spirit and thus granted the magician a measure of control over the beings.
  12. Anthropodermic bibliopegy. “The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Btesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.”
  13. Book of Life. Only those whose names are written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, and have not been blotted out by the Lamb, are saved at the Last Judgment; all others are doomed.
  14. Necronomicon. In 950, it was translated into Greek and given the title Necronomicon by [a scholar from Constantinople[. This version “impelled certain experimenters to terrible attempts” before being “suppressed and burnt” in 1050.
  15. Rongorongo. As with most undeciphered scripts, there are many fanciful interpretations and claimed translations of rongorongo. However, apart from a portion of one tablet which has been shown to have to do with a lunar calendar, none of the texts are understood.
  16. Pseudoarchaeology. Pseudoarchaeology has been motivated by racism, especially when the basic intent was to discount or deny the abilities of non-white peoples to make significant accomplishments in astronomy, architecture, sophisticated technology, ancient writing, seafaring, and other accomplishments generally identified as evidence of “civilization”.
  17. New South Greenland. Doubt was cast over the existence of New South Greenland when, in 1838, the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville sailed over the position of Morrell’s “north cape”, but saw no indication of land.
  18. List of mythological places. Thule is an island that was supposed to have existed somewhere in the belt of Scandinavia, northern Great Britain, Iceland, and Greenland.
  19. Maine penny. The penny’s coastal origin has been offered as evidence either that the Vikings travelled further south than Newfoundland.
  20. Kensington Runestone. When the original text is transcribed to the Latin script, the message becomes quite easy to read for any modern Scandinavian. This fact is one of the main arguments against the authenticity of the stone.
  21. Ahnenerbe. Ahnenerbe’s goal was to research the anthropological and cultural history of the Aryan race, and later to experiment and launch voyages with the intent of proving that prehistoric and mythological Nordic populations had once ruled the world.
  22. Stone spheres of Costa Rica. The culture of the people who made them disappeared after the Spanish conquest.
  23. List of largest monoliths in the world. A monolith is a large stone which has been used to build a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. In this list at least one colossal stone over ten tons has been moved to create the structure or monument.
  24. Jack the Ripper. Other nicknames used for the killer at the time were “The Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron”.
  25. Empusa. The empusae were sent by Hecate (also the goddess of roadsides) to guard roads and devour travellers. According to Philostratus, empusae ran and hid, uttering a high-pitched scream, at the sound of insults.
  26. Marree Man. “In honour of the land they once knew. His attainments in these pursuits are extraordinary; a constant source of wonderment and admiration.”
  27. Vela Incident. Some specialists who examined the data speculated that the double flash, characteristic of a nuclear explosion, may have been the result of a nuclear weapons test.
  28. 1958 Tybee Island mid-air collision. The Air Force determined that it was prudent to leave the bomb covered in mud at the bottom of the sea floor rather than disturb it and risk the potential of detonation or contamination.
  29. Blue Peacock. One particularly remarkable proposal suggested that live chickens should be included in the mechanism. The chickens would be sealed inside the casing, with a supply of food and water; they would remain alive for a week or so. The body heat given off by the chickens would, it seems, have been sufficient to keep all the relevant components at a working temperature. This proposal was sufficiently outlandish that it was taken as an April Fool’s Day joke when the Blue Peacock file was declassified on April 1, 2004.
  30. Person from Porlock. Thus “Person from Porlock”, “Man from Porlock”, or just “Porlock” are literary allusions to unwanted intruders.
  31. Eternal flame. Eternal flames are most often used as a symbol to acknowledge and remember a person or event of national significance, or a group of brave and noble people connected to some event, or a goal such as international peace.
  32. Mojave phone booth. The phone became a sensation on the Internet in 1997… Soon, fans called the booth attempting to get a reply, and a few took trips to the booth to answer, often camping out at the site.
  33. The man on the Clapham omnibus. It is possibly derived from the phrase “Public opinion … is the opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus”… Clapham in south London at the time was a nondescript commuter suburb seen to represent “ordinary” London.
  34. Prometheus (tree). The tree, which was at least 4862 years old and likely approaching or over 5000 years, was cut down in 1964 by a graduate student and U.S. Forest Service personnel for research purposes. They did not know of its world-record age before the cutting.
  35. Green Man. Robinson was so badly injured in a childhood electrical accident that he could not go out in public without fear of creating a panic, so he went for long walks after dark. Local residents (who would drive his road in hopes of meeting him) called him The Green Man or Charlie No-Face, and they passed on tales about him to their children and grandchildren.
  36. Emperor Norton. When Norton returned to San Francisco from his self-imposed exile, he had become completely disgruntled with what he considered the inadequacies of the legal and political structures of the United States. On September 17, 1859, he took matters into his own hands and distributed letters to the various newspapers in the city, proclaiming himself “Emperor of these United States”.
  37. Joseph Jagger. In 1873, Jagger hired six clerks to clandestinely record the outcomes of the six roulette wheels at the Beaux-Arts Casino at Monte Carlo, Monaco. He discovered that one of the six wheels showed a clear bias, in that nine of the numbers (7, 8, 9, 17, 18, 19, 22, 28 and 29) occurred more frequently than the others. He therefore placed his first bets on 7 July 1875 and quickly won a considerable amount of money.
  38. James Joseph Dresnok. Unwilling to face punishment, on August 15, 1962, while his fellow soldiers were eating lunch, he ran across a minefield in broad daylight into North Korean territory.
  39. Jim Corbett. Between 1907 and 1938, Corbett tracked and shot a documented 19 tigers and 14 leopards — a total of 33 recorded and documented man-eaters. It is estimated that these big cats had killed more than 1,200 men, women and children.
  40. Man-eater. While only a very few species of snakes can swallow a human, the technicality regarding a snake swallowing its prey head first, prevents it from preying on adult human beings. Quite a few claims have been made about giant snakes swallowing adult humans, although convincing proof has been absent.
  41. Just-world hypothesis. In another study, female and male subjects were told two versions of a story about an interaction between a woman and a man. Both variations were exactly the same, except at the very end the man raped the woman in one and in the other he proposed marriage. In both conditions, both female and male subjects viewed the woman’s (identical) actions as inevitably leading to the (very different) results.
  42. Humanzee. For geneticists, “Chuman” therefore refers to a hybrid of male chimpanzee and female human, while “Humanzee” or “manpanzee” refers to a hybrid of male human and female chimpanzee.
  43. Old Man of the Lake. In his work, Diller briefly describes a great stump in the lake that he had found six years earlier. Thus, in 1896, The Old Man floated just as it does at present, giving it a documented age of more than one hundred years.
  44. Alexamenos graffito. The image depicts a human-like figure attached to a cross and possessing the head of a donkey.
  45. ETAOIN SHRDLU. It is the approximate order of frequency of the twelve most commonly used letters in the English language.
  46. As Slow As Possible. The current organ performance of the piece at St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, began in 2001 and is scheduled to have a duration of 639 years, ending in 2640.
  47. Elm Farm Ollie. Elm Farm Ollie (known as “Nellie Jay” and post-flight as “Sky Queen”) was the first cow to fly in an airplane. On the same trip, she also became the first cow milked in flight.
  48. Demon core. The test was known as “tickling the dragon’s tail” for its extreme risk.
  49. A. J. Raffles. Raffles is, in many ways, a deliberate inversion of Holmes — he is a “gentleman thief,” living in the Albany, a prestigious address in London, playing cricket for the Gentlemen of England and supporting himself by carrying out ingenious burglaries.
  50. Homunculus. Spermists held the belief that the sperm was in fact a “little man” (homunculus) that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception. It was later pointed out that if the sperm was a homunculus, identical in all but size to an adult, then the homunculus may have sperm of its own. This led to a reductio ad absurdum with a chain of homunculi “all the way down”.
  51. Paracelsus. Many books mentioning Paracelsus also cite him as the origin of the word “bombastic” to describe his often arrogant speaking style.
  52. Psychogeography. “The sectors of a city…are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents”.
  53. Globster. Some globsters lack bones or other recognisable structures, while others may have bones, tentacles, flippers, eyes or other features that can help narrow down the possible species.
  54. Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic. Although natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.
  55. Pit of despair. After 30 days, the “total isolates,” as they were called, were found to be “enormously disturbed.” After being isolated for a year, they barely moved, did not explore or play, and were incapable of having sexual relations. When placed with other monkeys for a daily play session, they were badly bullied. Two of them refused to eat and starved themselves to death.
  56. London Stone. The London Stone was for many hundreds of years recognised as the symbolic authority and heart of the City of London. It was the place where deals were forged and oaths were sworn. It was also the point from which official proclamations were made.
  57. Impostor. Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. Not all were transgender in the current sense.
  58. David Hempleman-Adams. He is the first person in history to reach the Geographic and Magnetic North and South Poles as well as climb the highest peaks in all seven continents.
  59. Explorers Grand Slam. In 2011, former Wales rugby union international Richard Parks became the first person ever to complete the Grand Slam within a single calendar year, doing so within seven months.
  60. Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? Farmer attempted to climb the tree to investigate. As he was climbing, he glanced down into the hollow trunk and discovered a skull, believing it to be that of an animal. However, after seeing human hair and teeth, he realized that he was holding a human skull.
  61. Penitent thief. In the Gospel of Nicodemus and Catholic tradition the name Dismas is given to the thief. He was never canonized by the Catholic Church but is venerated as a saint by local traditions as Saint Dismas.
  62. Impenitent thief. According to the Gospels, he taunted Jesus about not saving himself.
  63. Rocket mail. It has been attempted by various organizations in many different countries, with varying levels of success.
  64. Michael Malloy. On February 22, after he passed out for the night, they took him to Murphy’s room, put a hose in his mouth that was connected to the gas jet, and turned it on. This finally killed Malloy, death occurring within minutes.
  65. Georgia Guidestones. The structure is sometimes referred to as an “American Stonehenge”.
  66. Saint Ursula. It has also been theorised that Ursula is a Christianized form of the goddess Freya, who welcomed the souls of dead maidens.
  67. First flying machine. The 9th century Muslim Berber inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas covered his body with vulture feathers and ‘flew faster than a phoenix” according to a contemporary poem.
  68. Manhattanhenge. The same phenomenon happens in other cities with a uniform street grid.
  69. Brazen Head. A prophetic device attributed to many medieval scholars who were believed to be wizards, or who were reputed to be able to answer any question. It was always in the form of a man’s head, and it could correctly answer any question asked of it.
  70. Therianthropy. Lycanthropy, the transformation into a wolf, is the best known form of therianthropy, followed by cynanthropy, or transformation into a dog, and ailuranthropy, or transformation into a cat.
  71. Water memory. The concept was proposed by Jacques Benveniste to explain the purported therapeutic powers of homeopathic remedies.
  72. Sandman. He opens the doors without the slightest noise, and throws a small quantity of very fine dust in their eyes, just enough to prevent them from keeping them open, and so they do not see him.
  73. Tepui. They are typically composed of sheer blocks of Precambrian quartz arenite sandstone that rise abruptly from the jungle, giving rise to spectacular natural scenery.
  74. Iron pillar of Delhi. The pillar has attracted the attention of archaeologists and metallurgists and has been called “a testament to the skill of ancient Indian blacksmiths” because of its high resistance to corrosion.
  75. Bélmez Faces. Some investigators believe that it is a thoughtographic phenomenon unconsciously produced by the owner of the house, María Gómez Cámara.
  76. Nensha. There are three well-known individuals involving thoughtography or the research of same, all of which have been decried at one point or another as fraudulent.
  77. Stone Tape. It speculates that inanimate materials can absorb some form of ially during moments of high tension, such as murder, or during intense moments of someone’s life.
  78. Lady Wonder. Over 150 thousand people came to consult the horse at the price of three questions for one dollar.
  79. Chair of Death. Those who have supposedly died because of the chair include Paul Kimmons, a former curator… A ghost known as Amanda or Amelia entices people to sit in the chair.
  80. The Ghost Club. Since its founding in 1862, the Ghost Club has welcomed many luminaries to its membership. The list includes Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  81. Psychic staring effect. Sixty percent of subjects reported being stared at when being stared at, and 50 percent of subjects reported being stared at when they were not being stared at… this suggested a weak sense of being stared at but no sense of not being stared at.
  82. Oak Island. There is a story that, like most others regarding the island, lacks adequate archival sources, or any quoted sources at all, which places the priceless jewels of Marie Antoinette on Oak Island.
  83. Bible code. Another example of an alleged prediction coded in the text of the Bible… concerns the hanging of 10 Nazi leaders on 16 October 1946 following the Nuremberg Trials.
  84. Disciple whom Jesus loved. A major difficulty in supposing that the Beloved Disciple was not one of the Twelve Apostles is that the Beloved Disciple was apparently present at the Last Supper which Matthew and Mark state that Jesus ate with the Twelve. Thus the most frequent identification is with John the Apostle.
  85. Sidney Leslie Goodwin. The sailors aboard the Mackay-Bennett, who were very upset by the discovery of the unknown boy’s body, paid for a monument and he was buried on 4 May 1912 with a copper pendant placed in his coffin by recovery sailors that read “Our Babe.”
  86. Catastrophism. Modern theories also suggest that Earth’s anomalously large moon was formed catastrophically… thus explaining the Moon’s lesser density and lack of an iron core.
  87. Angel hair. Some types of spiders are known to migrate through the air, sometimes in large numbers, on cobweb gliders. Many cases of angel hair were nothing other than these spider threads and, in one occasion, small spiders have been found on the material.
  88. Piri Reis map. The historical importance of the map lies in its demonstration of the extent of exploration of the New World by approximately 1510, perhaps before others.
  89. Mokele-mbembe. Some legends describe it as having an elephant-like body with a long neck and tail and a small head, a description which has been suggested to be similar in appearance to that of the extinct Sauropoda, while others describe it as more closely resembling elephants, rhinoceros, and other known animals. It is usually described as being gray-brown in color.
  90. Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. According to many versions of the tale, the mine is either cursed, or protected by enigmatic guardians who wish to keep the mine’s location a secret.
  91. Naga fireball. Local villagers… believe that the balls are produced by a mythical snake, the Naga or Phaya Naga, living in the river.
  92. Chase Vault. According to the story, each time when the vault was opened to bury a family member, all of the extremely heavy coffins but one had changed position – despite the vault being sealed shut each time it was closed.
  93. Crown Jewels of Ireland. The jewels were discovered missing on 6 July 1907, four days before the state visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The theft is reported to have angered the King, but the visit went ahead.
  94. Kappa. Kappa are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers. Their pranks range from the relatively innocent, such as loudly passing gas or looking up women’s kimonos, to the malevolent, such as drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, and raping women.
  95. Heikegani. The crabs with shells resembling Samurai were thrown back to the sea by the fishers on respect to the Heike warriors, while those not resembling Samurai were eaten, giving the former a greater chance of reproducing.
  96. Kasa-obake. Karakasa are spirits of parasols (umbrellas)… They are typically portrayed with one eye, a long tongue protruding from an open mouth, and a single foot.
  97. Tsukumogami. Though by and large tsukumogami are harmless and at most tend to play occasional pranks on unsuspecting victims… they do have the capacity for anger and will band together to take revenge on those who are wasteful or throw them away thoughtlessly.
  98. Nuppeppo. The Nuppeppō is passive and unaggressive. The body odor is said to rival that smell of rotting flesh. Other theories claim that the Nuppeppō is actually decaying flesh. There is a rumor that states that those who eat the flesh of a Nuppeppō shall have eternal youth.
  99. List of legendary creatures from Japan. Aka Manto is a malicious spirit who haunts bathrooms and asks the cubicle occupants if they want red or blue paper.

This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to read the full collection of interesting Wikipedia articles.

How to judge a man at a public pool by his swimwear

Sunday, November 20th, 2011
Matthew Mitcham

Though this guy is actually Australian...

If a man at a public pool is wearing the following kind of swimwear, he is:

Red Speedos: hot.

Black Speedos: unimaginative.

Navy Speedos: conservative.

Green Speedos: Brazilian, probably.

Yellow Speedos: trying too hard.

White Y-fronts: ESL.

Expensive swimwear brand (worn by young, fit guy): a model.

Expensive swimwear brand (worn by young, flabby guy): aspirational.

Expensive swimwear brand (worn by old, flabby guy): deluded.

White, almost see-through Speedos: creepy.

Loose, clingy football shorts with nothing worn underneath: from a less prudish European country.

Board shorts: self-conscious.

Tight mid-thigh-length swimming trunks: a proper swimmer who will overtake you constantly.

Tight blue skimpy swim shorts: James Bond

(Source: every visit to a public pool ever)

Book review: The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

The Name of the StarRory Deveaux has two near-death experiences in about as many months: the first comes when she nearly chokes on dinner soon after quitting her native Louisiana for London – where she enrols at Wexford, a posh boarding school smack in the middle of Jack the Ripper’s old stomping ground.

The location is important, because Rory’s arrival coincides with the start of a series of murders that mirror the Ripper’s infamous, gruesome killings. Is it a copycat at work, or something even more nightmarish?

As Rippermania grips London, Rory encounters a mysterious man who her (adorably English) roommate Jazza can’t see. He’s a ghost, and Rory’s rare ability to see him grants her entry into a team that hunts London’s “shades”… which ultimately leads to her second near-death experience at the climax of the book, as the Ripper’s killings come to a head.

The Name of the Star has some great ingredients: English boarding school hijinks, murders, young people with implausibly awesome jobs with the police. But something about it is all a bit unsatisfying: I wanted the story to be more sinister, more romantic, more London. Johnson only captures flickering senses of the city and the sensational dread of the Ripper’s return, and the plot twists are often contrived; when the villain’s motives were revealed (via monlogue), my reaction was pretty much, “Why would anyone go to all the effort of X just to achieve Y?” And many of the supporting characters fall flat, though others are terrifically vivid – especially Rory’s oft-mentioned, never-seen American relatives.

I really wanted to enjoy this but I just wanted more; it’s less than the sum of its parts. Johnson is a lively, funny writer but The Name of the Star feels like it’s going through the motions of setting up a new supernatural YA series, rather than transporting us to spooky and mysterious London.