Posts Tagged ‘Wikipedia’

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.

Singin’ in the Rain is overrated (the movie and literally, I assume)

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

So last summer I was sleeping with the windows open and my next-door neighbour was watching Singin’ in the Rain turned up to full volume and I thought, “I should watch Singin’ in the Rain too!”, but then I thought “Sheez it’s so late turn down your TV!”

Anyway. I finally got around to watching the movie 1. And… it’s kind of overrated. Greatest cinema musical of all time? Really?

Kinda ironic it’s about the making of a so-so Hollywood film that’s transformed into a great film with the addition of a few unrelated musical numbers, given that pretty much describes Singin’ in the Rain itself. Meta! Singin‘ isn’t as terrible as its film-within-a-film Dueling Cavalier, not by a long shot, but its best known numbers – ‘Good Morning’, ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ and the iconic title track, which is pretty neat, I’ll admit – don’t have anything much to do with the plot, and a long, actually-pretty-snoozy chunk of the second act is given over to an extended fantasy sequence which has nothing to do with the plot.

(Wikipedia says “Singin’ in the Rain was originally conceived by MGM producer Arthur Freed, the head of the ‘Freed Unit’ responsible for turning out MGM’s lavish musicals, as a vehicle for his catalog of songs written with Nacio Herb Brown for previous MGM musical films of the 1929-39 period”. TL,DR: the songs really were just shoehorned into the plot.)

Singin’ in the Rain is plenty entertaining. It’s often hilarious (especially the disastrous “Yes! Yes! Yes” “No! No! No!” test screening of The Dueling Cavalier, and Jean Hagen as insufferable ingenue Lina Lamont). It’s not one of those “classic” films that bores the pants of everyone who isn’t a film critic. It’s a good movie. But I don’t believe it’s great.

Those aforementioned film critics aren’t much help revealing why, either. Roger Ebert and David Stratton and Margaret Pomeraz basically consider it great because it’s considered great? Yeah, okay, then.

  1. To re-watching it, that is, but the first time I watched it was for uni film studies and I’ve decided that doesn’t count. []

Yet another 50 interesting Wikipedia articles

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
Tijuana bible

See #10.

  1. Schmidt Sting Pain Index.”Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.”
  2. Spirit of Ecstasy. The reason for the secrecy was Eleanor’s impoverished social and economic status, which was an obstacle to their love… She died on 30 December 1915, going down with the SS Persia, when the ship was torpedoed off Crete by a German submarine.
  3. Pintupi Nine. They are sometimes also referred to as “the lost tribe”.
  4. Devil’s Town. It features 202 exotic formations described as earth pyramids or “towers”, as the locals refer to them.
  5. 2012 phenomenon. It will somehow create a combined gravitational effect between the Sun and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, thus creating havoc on Earth.
  6. Eschatology. History is often seen as being divided into “ages”… So, instead of “the end of the world” we may speak of “the end of the age” and be referring to the end of “life as we know it” and the beginning of a new reality.
  7. Silbo Gomero language. When this unique medium of communication was about to die out in the late 20th century, the local government required all Gomeran children to study it in school… It now has official protection as an example of intangible cultural heritage.
  8. Garum. Garum appears in most of the recipes featured in Apicius, a Roman cookbook, which also offers a technique to render palatable garum that had gone bad.
  9. Language of flowers. The nuances of the language are now mostly forgotten, but red roses still imply passionate, romantic love and pink roses a lesser affection; white roses suggest virtue and chastity and yellow roses still stand for friendship or devotion.
  10. Tijuana bible. Also known as bluesies, eight-pagers, gray-backs, Jiggs-and-Maggie books, jo-jo books, Tillie-and-Mac books, two-by-fours, and fuck books.
  11. List of animals with fraudulent diplomas. George, a cat… was registered with three professional organisations… securing George’s accreditation as a hypnotherapist.
  12. Proprioception. This remarkable proprioceptive reflex, in the event that the body tilts in any direction, will cock the head back to level the eyes against the horizon. This is seen even in infants as soon as they gain control of their neck muscles.
  13. Hell. The geography of Hell is very elaborately laid out in this work, with nine concentric rings leading deeper into the Earth and deeper into the various punishments of Hell, until, at the center of the world, Dante finds Satan himself trapped in the frozen lake of Cocytus.
  14. Pulp magazine. The collapse of the pulp industry changed the landscape of publishing because pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories. Combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, writers attempting to support themselves by creating fiction switched to novels and book-length anthologies of shorter pieces.
  15. List of commonly misused English words. Something is ironic if it is the opposite of what is appropriate, expected, or fitting… It is ironic that Alanis Morissette wrote a song called ‘Ironic’ with many examples, not one of which is actually ironic.
  16. Ornithopter. Birds inspired Leonardo da Vinci when he designed his ornithopter in 1490. He never saw his dream of flight take place because his ornithopter was too heavy and required too much energy to produce lift or thrust.
  17. High Altitude Platforms. A HAP differs from other aircraft in the sense that it is specially designed to operate at a very high altitude… and is able to stay there for hours, even days. The new generation of HAPs, however, will expand this period to several years.
  18. Mystery airship. Early citations of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, all from 1897, include the Washington Times, which speculated that the airships were “a reconnoitering party from Mars”; and the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, which suggested of the airships, “these may be visitors from Mars, fearful, at the last, of invading the planet they have been seeking.”
  19. Samael. One of Samael’s greatest roles in Jewish lore is that of the angel of death. He remains one of the Lord’s servants even though he appears to want men to do evil.
  20. Seven Heavens. The seven heavens are the seven layered realms of the spiritual celestial sphere or the upper world where generally angels and other spiritual beings such as Paradise and Hell or the souls of the prophets exist.
  21. Nephilim. The Nephilim are said to be the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” Traditions about the Nephilim being the offspring of unions between angels and humans are found in a number of Jewish and Christian writings.
  22. Uncontacted peoples. The Sentinelese continue to actively and violently reject contact. They live on North Sentinel Island, a small and remote island which lies to the west of the southern part of South Andaman Island. They are thought to number around 250.
  23. Mesoamerican literature. Often however the mythological narratives are mistaken for historical accounts because of the lack of distinction between myth and history in Mesoamerican cultures.
  24. Flood myth. The Greeks hypothesized that Earth had been covered by water several times, noting seashells and fish fossils found on mountain tops as evidence.
  25. Ring of Gyges. He discovered that the ring gave him the power to become invisible by adjusting it… Arriving at the palace, Gyges used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king
  26. Orrery. They are typically driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the centre, and with a planet at the end of each of the arms.
  27. Lightning Bird. It is a vampiric creature associated with witchcraft which was often the servant or familiar of a witch or witch doctor, attacking the witch’s enemies. It is said to have an insatiable appetite for blood.
  28. Tennin. They are usually pictured as unnaturally beautiful women dressed in ornate, colorful kimonos (traditionally in five colors), exquisite jewelry, and flowing scarves that wrap loosely around their bodies. They usually carry lotus blossoms as a symbol of enlightenment.
  29. Erebus. Erebus was later depicted as a material region, the lower half of Hades, the underworld. It was where the dead had to pass immediately after dying. Charon ferried the souls of the dead across the river Acheron, or in later texts the river Styx, upon which they entered the land of the dead.
  30. Orphan Train. When the movement began, it was estimated that 30,000 orphaned or abandoned children were living on the streets of New York City. Many were sent west to find families and new homes, on trains that became known as “orphan trains”.
  31. Luck. If “good” and “bad” events occur at random to everyone, believers in good luck will experience a net gain in their fortunes, and vice versa for believers in bad luck.
  32. Voynich manuscript. Since the manuscript’s alphabet does not resemble any known script, and the text is still undeciphered, the only useful evidence as to the book’s age and origin are the illustrations.
  33. Nāga. A female nāga is a nāgī or nāginī.
  34. Alicorn. In some modern fiction and art, an alicorn is a winged unicorn.
  35. Fairy chess piece. One of the most popular fairy chess riders is the nightrider, which can make an unlimited number of knight moves.
  36. List of names for the biblical nameless. Of the six unnamed archangels, Michael is named in the Book of Daniel, and Gabriel is named in the Gospel of Luke.
  37. Trysting Tree. Many trees have through their isolation, appearance or position been chosen as popular meeting places for young courting couples, soldiers called to gather at a distinctive venue prior to battle, etc.
  38. Secret societies in popular culture. The Cult of Gozer or “Gozer worshippers”, is a secret society in New York City followed by at least 1000 people in the 1920s.
  39. Pineal gland. Historically, its location deep in the brain suggested to philosophers that it possessed particular importance. This combination led to its being a “mystery” gland with myth, superstition and occult theories surrounding its perceived function.
  40. Apocrypha. Augustine defined the word as meaning simply “obscurity of origin,” implying that any book of unknown authorship or questionable authenticity would be considered as apocrypha.
  41. John Titor. He made numerous predictions (a number of them vague, some quite specific) about events in the near future, starting with events in 2004. However, as of 2011, these events appear not to have taken place.
  42. Many-worlds interpretation. Occam’s Razor rules against a plethora of unobservable universes — Occam would prefer just one universe.
  43. Classifications of fairies. A fairy belonging to this court will avenge insults and could be prone to mischief.
  44. Bluestocking. It was applied primarily to intellectual women, and the French equivalent bas bleu had a similar connotation. The term later developed negative implications, and in some instances such women were stereotyped as being “frumpy”.
  45. Spite house. The Skinny House in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts is an extremely narrow four-story spite house reported by The Boston Globe as having the “uncontested distinction of being the narrowest house in Boston”.
  46. Traveller’s dilemma. These experiments fail to show that either the majority of people use purely rational strategies, or that they would be better off financially if they did.
  47. Guess 2/3 of the average. This game illustrates the difference between perfect rationality of an actor and the common knowledge of rationality of all players.
  48. Emperor Ai of Han. Emperor Ai was highly controlled by his grandmother Consort Fu, who improperly demanded the title of Grand Empress Dowager – even though she had never been an empress previously and therefore did not properly have that title.
  49. Tulpa. The term comes from the works of Alexandra David-Neel, who claimed to have created a tulpa in the image of a jolly, Friar Tuck-like monk which later developed a life of its own and had to be destroyed.
  50. List of company name etymologies. The pen company was named after one of its founders, Marcel Bich. He dropped the final h to avoid a potentially inappropriate English pronunciation of the name.

Click here to read the full collection of interesting Wikipedia articles.

Another 50 interesting Wikipedia articles

Monday, October 11th, 2010

See: #29

  1. Magician. Throughout history, there have been many who have claimed having secret knowledge meant having great, often supernatural, power.
  2. Black magic. The argument of “magic having no colour, and it is merely the application and use by its user,” backs the claim that not everything termed as “black magic” has malevolent intentions behind it, and some would consider it to have beneficial and benevolent uses.
  3. True name. In Scandinavian beliefs, more magical beasts, such as the Nix, could be defeated by calling their name.
  4. Plot device. MacGuffins are sometimes referred to as “plot coupons”, as the protagonist only needs to “collect enough plot coupons and trade them in for a dénouement”.
  5. Magic in Harry Potter. “The most important thing to decide when you’re creating a fantasy world,” J.K. Rowling said in 2000, “is what the characters can’t do.”
  6. The Black Spot. It was a source of much fear because it meant the pirate was to be deposed as leader, by force if necessary – or else killed outright.
  7. Questing Beast. The strange creature has the head and neck of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion and the feet of a hart.
  8. Apport. Apports reported during seances are likely the result of magic tricks.
  9. Literary technique. Genres are defined by literary elements, schools of literature are defined by literary techniques.
  10. False document. Frankenstein draws heavily on a forged document feel, as do Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and many of the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
  11. Matter of Britain. William Shakespeare seems to have been deeply interested in the legendary history of Britain, and to have been familiar with some of its more obscure byways.
  12. List of psychic abilities. Inclusion in this list does not imply scientific recognition of the existence of an ability.
  13. Transhumanism. Transhumanist thinkers predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman”.
  14. Augur. The jus augurale (augural law) was rigorously secret, therefore very little about the technical aspects of ceremonies and rituals has been recorded.
  15. That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is. This relates a simple philosophical proverb in the style of Parmenides that all that is, is, and that anything that does not exist does not.
  16. Whale fall. Beginning in the 1960s, deep sea trawlers unintentionally recovered other new mollusk species including limpets (named Osteopelta) attached to whale bones.
  17. Lluvia de Peces. Witnesses of this phenomenon state that it begins with a dark cloud in the sky followed by lightning, thunder, strong winds and heavy rain for two to three hours.
  18. Sakoku. In 1845, whaling ship Manhattan (1843) rescued 22 Japanese shipwrecked sailors. Captain Mercator Cooper was allowed into Edo Bay, where he stayed for four days and met with the Governor of Edo and several high officers representing the Emperor. They were given several presents and allowed to leave unmolested, but told never to return.
  19. Sound of fingernails scraping chalkboard. It was determined that the median pitches are in fact the primary cause of the adverse reaction, not the highest pitches as previously thought.
  20. Stronsay Beast. Its fins were edged with bristles and it had a ‘mane’ of bristles all down its back.
  21. Boiling frog. Journalist James Fallows has been advocating since 2006 for people to stop retelling the story, describing it as a “stupid canard” and a “myth”.
  22. Color of water. It is a common misconception that in large bodies, such as the oceans, the water’s color is blue due to the reflections from the sky on its surface.
  23. Beast of Gévaudan. The first official victim of the beast was Jeanne Boulet, 14, killed near the village of Les Hubacs, not far from Langogne.
  24. Mopery. The word is based on the verb “to mope”, which originally meant “to wander aimlessly”; it only later acquired the overtones of “bored and depressed”.
  25. Ice block expedition of 1959. The expedition was an enormous success, judged both by the end result and by the media attention generated for the company, and has been called “the world’s greatest publicity stunt”.
  26. Spectral evidence. Rev. Cotton Mather argued that it was appropriate to admit spectral evidence into legal proceedings, but cautioned that convictions should not be based on spectral evidence alone as it was possible for the Devil to take the shape of an innocent person.
  27. The Grinning Man. “I looked around and there he was… behind that fence. Just standing there. He pivoted around and looked right at us… then he grinned a big old grin.”
  28. Dyatlov Pass incident. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. One woman was found to be missing her tongue.
  29. Tama. As station master her primary duty is to greet passengers. The position comes with a stationmaster’s hat; in lieu of a salary, the railway provides Tama with free cat food.
  30. L’esprit de l’escalier. The German word Treppenwitz and the Yiddish word trepverter are used to express the same idea.
  31. Boston Molasses Disaster. “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell.”
  32. Glass delusion. A 1561 account reported a sufferer “who had to relieve himself standing up, fearing that if he sat down his buttocks would shatter… The man concerned was a glass-maker from the Parisian suburb of Saint Germain, who constantly applied a small cushion to his buttocks, even when standing. He was cured of this obsession by a severe thrashing from the doctor, who told him that his pain emanated from buttocks of flesh.”
  33. List of linguistic example sentences. A partial list of linguistic example sentences illustrating various linguistic phenomena.
  34. Monty Hall problem. Even when given a completely unambiguous statement of the Monty Hall problem, explanations, simulations, and formal mathematical proofs, many people still meet the correct answer with disbelief.
  35. List of misquotations. This does not include quotations that were actually blunders by the people that said them.
  36. Elvira Madigan. Sparre and Madigan fell in love, but their love was impossible, partly due to the fact that Sparre was married and the father of two children.
  37. Zener cards. There are just five different Zener cards: a hollow circle (one curve), a Greek cross (two lines), three vertical wavy lines (or “waves”), a hollow square (four lines), and a hollow five-pointed star.
  38. Folly. Follies often look like real, usable buildings, but never are.
  39. Infinite monkey theorem. The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.
  40. Preikestolen. During the four summer months of 2009, approximately 130,000 people took the 3.8 km (2.4 mile) hike to Preikestolen, making it one of the most visited natural tourist attractions in Norway.
  41. Netherlandish Proverbs. Bruegel’s paintings have themes of the absurdity, wickedness and foolishness of mankind, and this painting is no exception.
  42. Jorōgumo. In the Edo period, a beautiful woman enticed a man into a quiet shack and began to play a Biwa. While the man was distracted by the sound of the instrument, she bound him in spider silk threads and ate him.
  43. The Hum. The local Hawaiians also say the Hum is most often heard by men.
  44. Nyotaimori. In some parts of the world, in order to comply with sanitation laws, there must be a layer of plastic or other material between the sushi and the body of the woman or man.
  45. Blivet. Also known as a poiuyt, or devil’s fork or widget.
  46. Oni. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes.
  47. Tulip mania. At the peak of tulip mania in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.
  48. Tree That Owns Itself. The current tree is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself.
  49. Morganatic marriage. It is also known as a left-handed marriage because in the wedding ceremony the groom holds his bride’s right hand with his left hand instead of his right.
  50. Nyarlathotep. He wanders the earth, seemingly gathering legions of followers… through his demonstrations of strange and seemingly magical instruments. These followers lose awareness of the world around them.

Click here to read part one of this series, 50 interesting Wikipedia articles, or click here to read part two, 50 more interesting Wikipedia articles.

The Simpsons: a probably-too-detailed look at ‘Homer’s Enemy’

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

"So what's new, Grimey?"

In his review of the two newest episodes of Futurama, Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club (which: is one of my favourite websites. If you are a geek who adores crazy-in-depth pop-culture analysis, subscribe to it now) goes off on a thoughtful tangent in which he proposes that the episode ‘Homer’s Enemy’ marks “the beginning of the end” of The Simpsons.

If you’re not a Simpsons nerd and can’t identify episodes by their titles, ‘Homer’s Enemy’ is basically The One with Frank Grimes:

A fastidious new employee at the plant [Frank Grimes] doesn’t get along with Homer, who is anxious to make amends. Meanwhile, Bart comes into the possession of an abandoned factory.

Wikipedia rightly identifies ‘Homer’s Enemy’ as “one of the darkest episodes of The Simpsons“: Grimes, who’s “had to struggle for everything he ever got”, becomes increasingly furious with Homer and the ease of his accomplishments. It culminates with Grimes – nicknamed “Grimey”, against his wishes – impersonating Homer’s buffoonery, electrocuting and killing himself in the process. Homer then ruins his funeral by snoring during the service.

It is indeed dark. Handlen, while declaring the episode “hilarious, no question” (it is),  argues that “it fundamentally and permanently undermines the series’ core” – The Simpsons, he says, is built on “family”, and the series “can’t support that level of darkness without losing its heart”.

I disagree (though I do agree with Handlen’s other point, that the episode is “a clever piece of meta-commentary on certain basic elements that have been with the show since the beginning”), because The Simpsons has always had dark elements, particularly concerning Homer’s behaviour – consider ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’, in which he flat-out tells Marge he doesn’t care about her interests, or ‘Lisa’s Substitute’, where he says pretty much the same thing to his eight-year-old daughter. Both stories are wrapped up tidily, though in neither does Homer really earn his redemption (I remember being shocked by his selfishness in ‘Streetcar’ even as a small child)1.

Note that both these episodes are from early on in The Simpsons‘ run (seasons four and two, respectively); Homer was a much darker, more selfish character before he morphed into the loveable idiot we’re familar with. ‘Homer’s Enemy’ really just combines those two sides of his character  in a single episode.

  1. One could argue that Homer earns his ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ redemption in the later instalment ‘Lisa’s Wedding’, which functions as a sort of unofficial sequel; both episodes are about Homer’s relationship with other men in Lisa’s life. []

50 more interesting Wikipedia articles

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

See: #30

  1. Kaiju
  2. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
  3. Megatherium
  4. Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper
  5. Typographical personification, or Typo fairy
  6. Dogcow
  7. Titivillus
  8. Remote viewing
  9. Phantom cat
  10. Elemental
  11. Francis Walsingham
  12. Lissajous curve
  13. Old Man of the Mountain
  14. Sampo
  15. Magatama
  16. Lists of unsolved problems
  17. Luminiferous aether
  18. Kitsune
  19. List of eponymous laws
  20. List of common misconceptions
  21. Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office
  22. List of unusual deaths
  23. Lost lands
  24. Lost city
  25. Novikov self-consistency principle
  26. List of cognitive biases
  27. Blue hole
  28. List of legendary creatures
  29. Galatea of the Spheres
  30. Death (personification)
  31. Danvers State Hospital
  32. Japanese holdout
  33. Canary trap
  34. Mongolian Death Worm
  35. Enochian
  36. John Dee
  37. Baphomet
  38. List of magical terms and traditions
  39. Affair of the Poisons (L’affaire des poisons)
  40. Aleister Crowley
  41. Behemoth
  42. Pow-wow (folk magic)
  43. Psionics
  44. Water cure (torture)
  45. Unicursal hexagram
  46. Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
  47. Hierarchy of angels
  48. Demonology
  49. Malleus Maleficarum
  50. Geomancy

Click here to read part 1 of this series, 50 interesting Wikipedia articles, and part 3, Another 50 interesting Wikipedia articles.

50 interesting Wikipedia articles

Sunday, January 17th, 2010
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

See: #48.

I have a folder of bookmarks titled “Interesting wikis”. Here’s a selection of those entries, presented in no particular order:

  1. Nihilartikel
  2. Mornington Crescent
  3. Acoustic Kitty
  4. Superceded scientific theories
  5. Trap street
  6. Kardashev scale
  7. Cryptid
  8. List of fictional companies
  9. Mint mark
  10. Bloop
  11. Russell’s teapot
  12. List of superhuman features and abilities in fiction
  13. Unsolved problems in physics
  14. War of Currents
  15. London Monster
  16. Monkey-man of Delhi
  17. Spring Heeled Jack
  18. Steganography
  19. Rat king
  20. Roc
  21. Scopes Trial
  22. Aether
  23. List of colors
  24. List of fictional elements, materials, isotopes and atomic particles
  25. 4′33″
  26. Tonton Macoute
  27. Philosophical zombie
  28. Mary’s room
  29. Lich
  30. Pale Blue Dot
  31. Names of large numbers
  32. Sleipnir
  33. Triple Goddess
  34. Molon labe
  35. Pascal’s Wager
  36. Bifröst
  37. Missing dollar riddle
  38. Bertrand’s box paradox
  39. The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever
  40. Defamiliarisation
  41. Celeritas
  42. Apopudobalia
  43. Caltrop
  44. Types of gestures
  45. Phallus impudicus
  46. Joseph Grimaldi
  47. Sun dog
  48. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
  49. Caladrius
  50. Salamander (legendary creature)

(This post was inspired by this post.)

This series of posts continues: click here to read 50 more interesting Wikipedia articles, and Another 50 interesting Wikipedia articles.