Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Entry: C.B. Fry

This article was sent to me forever ago by Neil. Thanks Neil, and I apologize for sucking at doing things in a timely fashion.

So, I know nothing about sports, and I know even less about sports that are not popular in my country. But this cricket player, C.B. Fry, was one cool cat.

First, allow me to take a moment and marvel at the sentences in this article that are written in my native tongue, but convey little or no information to me:

"A highly effective right-handed batsman, Fry captained both Sussex and England, and scored over 30,000 first-class runs at an average of over 50 (a particularly high figure for an era when scores were generally lower than today)."


"In his early career Fry was an enthusiastic and successful fast bowler. This was unusual amongst gentleman amateurs and he regularly opened the bowling for University sides and the Gentlemen. The late 1890's saw a re emergence of the throwing controversy. Several professional bowlers including Arthur Mold and Ernie Jones were no balled and forced to retire. Fry's bowling action was criticised by opponents and team mates alike and it was only a matter of time before he too was no balled (by Jim Phillips), despite his status as a gentleman."

HE SURE DID! That throwing controversy will get you every damn time.

On top of cricket, he played football, rugby, tied for the world long jump record, and "was able, from a stationary position on the floor, to leap backwards onto a mantelpiece." Whichever servant got stuck cleaning footprints off the mantel must have loved that particular party trick.

Outside of sport, Fry was an Oxford alum, wrote several books (a good number of which are, unsurprisingly, about cricket), was an adviser to the Indian delegation at the League of Nations (for those of you even more history illiterate than I, the League of Nations was the even more useless precursor to the UN), started two magazines, ran for some kind of crazy British political office, had a career in radio, and was a teacher at a prep school.

And, not only was he a well-rounded intellectual and accomplished athlete, but he was also... um... colorful. Fry was given to telling wild stories, like being offered the throne of Albania, went for naked runs on Brighton Beach, and tried to develop an interest for cricket in Nazi Germany. Presumably he changed his mind on the last bit after the Germans started bombing the hell out of his homeland.

Enthusiasm for the sporting culture of fascist regimes aside, a rather interesting fellow.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Entry: Thagomizer

I thought I'd stick with the vague etymology theme I've had going on and talk about a link that friend of the blog Galadriel linked me to a while back. Thank you, Galadriel! Or, should I say, hantanyel.

If, like me, you went through a serious dinosaur phase as a kid, you probably remember that the stegosaurus is the one with the big plates sticking up off his back and a spiked tail. And if, like me, you went through a serious Far Side phase several years later, you probably remember that Gary Larson drew strips about cavemen, like, all the damn time.

Well, apparently paleontologists really took a shine to this particular comic

because the term thagomizer has become an accepted (if informal) synonym for stegosaurus' tail spikes. Seriously, is there anything better than a scientist with a great sense of humor? Okay, there's plenty of things, but... they're still pretty cool.

I love that the article is careful to point out that "The fate of Thag Simmons notwithstanding, stegosaurs and humans did not exist in the same era." Suck it, creationists. (Assuming that Leviticus will let you.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Entry: Avocado

Another dirty-minded friend, another adult-themed entry.

Emma told me to check out the article for Avocado, the most delicious of non-sweet fruits, specifically the "Etymology" part. So, innocent lamb that I am, I click on the link she tweeted me.

Well, my friends, innocent lamb no more! Avocados were named after balls. Balls.

Okay, specifically the Nahuatl word for testicle, "ahuacatl." On top of that, avocados have quite a sordid reputation: "Historically avocados had a long-standing stigma as a sexual stimulant and were not purchased or consumed by any person wishing to preserve a chaste image. Avocados were known by the Aztecs as 'the fertility fruit'."

This is shocking! Especially for me. I love avocados-- or at least, I used to. I live in a small town, I don't want gossip to spread about who I pick up at bars due to what I pick up in the produce aisle. (See what I did there? I am a clever one.)

And my longstanding and famous love of guacamole (for once, I am not lying for the sake of humor-- I am a guacamole fiend); what have people been assuming? That I like to mash up balls and mix them with lime juice, salt, garlic, and cilantro?

...although, if I ever become a high-powered corporate shark of some kind, that might not be a bad image to have. Or a dominatrix.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Entry: Mantis Shrimp

Another urgent text message regarding a Wiki article, this time from Ziggy! Ah, the benefits of surrounding oneself with irredeemable nerds.

The first thing that struck me about the article was, of course, the colorful photo:

"Oooh!" I said to myself, "How pretty! The mantis shrimp must be the geisha of the sea."

But then I actually set about reading and gaining information!

The mantis shrimp is cold-blooded, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. The hundreds of species of mantis shrimp are separated into groups by what kind of claws they have: spearers have appendages with barbed tips, while smashers have "possess a much more developed club and a more rudimentary spear". Shrimps got spears.

On top of that, they are very good at using their claws for carnage: "In smashers, these two weapons are employed with blinding quickness...about the acceleration of a .22 caliber bullet. Because they strike so rapidly, they generate cavitation bubbles between the appendage and the striking surface. The collapse of these cavitation bubbles produces measurable forces on their prey in addition to the instantaneous forces of 1,500 newton that are caused by the impact of the appendage against the striking surface, which means that the prey is hit twice by a single strike; first by the claw and then by the collapsing cavitation bubbles that immediately follow. Even if the initial strike misses the prey, the resulting shock wave can be enough to kill or stun the prey." Shrimps will cut you. With physics.

Additionally, their eyes can move independently of each other and can see both ultraviolet and infrared. And they exhibit high intelligence and complex social behavior.

So, in conclusion, my original hypothesis was wrong. Mantis shrimp are the samurai of the sea.

There's a lot of detailed information in the Wiki article, but it leaves a lot of questions. Why haven't mantis shrimp conquered humans yet? Is there an ongoing government project to transplant crazy shrimp eyes into human subjects, making a hybrid supersoldier? What is my obsession with analogies comparing marine life with Japanese stereotypes? The world may never know.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Entry: Wood (musician)

I was reading the article for the band British Sea Power, and was going to pick on the band members for having one-word stage names, but the stub for Wood, the drummer, was just too cute to pass up. Kind of like your mom.

Anyway, the stub reads:

"Matthew Wood (stage name Wood) is British Sea Power's drummer. He also helps design most of the artwork for the sleeves.

He is often seen as the quietest member of the band (rarely taking part in interviews), and when seen playing bass on 'No Red Indian' it is also evident he is the tallest member of the band. He has blond hair."

That's it! It's like a blurb you'd find in an indie rock version of Tiger Beat, right in the corner of the softly lit, airbrushed photo of the band. A tall, blond drummer. Dreamy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Entry: ...oh my.

My friend Pooka, of Art History, LOL, texted me with a request to write about Today's Featured Article. I figured if he sent me a text, it was pretty important. So I sat down to write about it, and...

...oh my. Pooka, you dirty bird! Tsk tsk!

I try to keep this blog family friendly, but this is a too neat to pass up. So be warned, the post contains naughty language and discussions of extramarital dalliances. If you are under 18, reader, ask your parents if you can continue reading this post. And, um, while you're at it, why don't you recommend that they start reading my blog? In fact, ask permission from all your friends. And link me on your Myspace page.

There now, back to business.

In cities throughout the British Isles, there are streets that were originally named Gropecunt Lane. I know!

The information in the article is, frankly, not very surprising. "Gropecunt, the earliest known use of which is in about 1230, appears to have been derived as a straightforward compound of the words grope and cunt...Although the name was once common throughout England, changes in attitude resulted in its being replaced by more innocuous versions such as Grape Lane." The interesting thing is that the article never definitively states that it was the name of the red light districts of medieval England, even though it does bring up that

"Organised prostitution was well established in London by the middle of the 12th century... the practice was often tolerated by the authorities, and there are many historical examples of it being dealt with by regulation rather than by censure: in 1393 the authorities in London allowed prostitutes to work only in Cocks Lane..." (Teehee!)


"It was normal practice for medieval street names to reflect their function, or the economic activity taking place within them (especially the commodities available for sale), hence the frequency of names such as The Shambles, Silver Street, Fish Street, and Swinegate (pork butchers) in cities with a medieval history."

However, we can only assume that, in a culture with regulated prostitution and streets named for economic activity, Gropecunt Lane might have been where the whores hung out. Maybe.

I can just imagine what the conversation might have been like:

Londoner of Yore: Welcome to our towne, wanderer! Pray, shall I give thee a tour?
Traveler: Aye, 'twould be most helpful!
LoY: Sirrah, here be Butcher Street, 'tis where ye may buy a side of beef. And this is Cooper Gate, where barrels be sold. And this is Gropecunt Lane!
Traveler: Ah, 'tis where a man might pay a shilling for some time with a strumpet!
LoY: Nay, the devil take your sinful tongue! 'Twas named for the parson Nigel Gropecunt, and is where we go to pray and mend the bindings on our Bibles!
Traveler: ...'kay.

Seems likely.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Entry: Christopher Guest

You guys know who Christopher Guest is, right? The director behind mockumentaries like Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting for Guffman? Husband to Jamie Lee Curtis? Former SNL castmember? Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap? 5th Baron Haden-Guest, of Saling, in the County of Essex-- OH SNAP BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT, FILM NERDS!

It's true. Even though Guest was born in the USA, he inherited the barony when his father died in 1996. He even served in the House of Lords until 1999, when the House of Lords was reformed to remove power from random people who were born into nobility and should be spending their time and energy directing humorous and largely improvised movies, as opposed to governing a country.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Entry: Fan death

I love urban legends. Sure, many of them prey on people's ignorance, and a fair chunk are born out of ugly stereotypes, but I can appreciate how they add a touch of the bizarre to everyday life, and how, even in an age where political revolutions are being Twittered, we still have a tendency to whisper to each other about monsters lurking in the night. Might be silly, but I find it very humanizing, and humbling, after a fashion.

This, however? The mortal peril of going to sleep in a closed room with a fan on? Oh man.

It's apparently possible that electric fans could, in rare cases, contribute to heat stroke, but consider some of the reasons given for fans supposedly being deadly:

"That an electric fan creates a vortex, which sucks the oxygen from the enclosed and sealed room and creates a partial vacuum inside."
"That an electric fan chops up all the oxygen particles in the air leaving none to breathe."
"The fan uses up the oxygen in the room and creates fatal levels of carbon dioxide."
"That if the fan is put directly in front of the face of the sleeping person, it will suck all the air away, preventing one from breathing."

Come on. I'm an abject moron when it comes to science, and even I know it doesn't work that way. The way you die from an electric fan is by sticking your fingers through the grate, then the fan blade severs your fingertip clean off and you bleed out. From your finger.

I think my favorite aspect of this urban legend is that Korean electric fan manufacturers cater to people who believe in it by putting timers on their products. GUYS. We're in the 21st century. Surely you'd make a lot more money if you slap some copy on the box about using the timer to reduce carbon emissions.