Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned in 2020. Everything listed here must include some sort of citation or link to a reference source. On average I tried to record one of these each week of the year.
My own version includes images but they were just grabbed from the Internet so I don’t own the rights and therefore don’t share them here.
In low- and middle-income countries for every $1 spent on vaccination $44 is saved on the costs associated with the immediate illness through to broader economic losses. I learned this from reading Numbers Don’t Lie and the research carried out by the Gates foundation.
In 2017, so far the safest year in commercial flying, domestic and international flights carried 4.1 billion people and logged 7.69 trillion passenger-kilometers, with only 50 fatalities. With the mean flight time at about 2.2 hours, this implies roughly 9 billion passenger-hours, and 5.6 × 10⁻︎⁹︎ fatalities per person per hour in the air.
The Beauty Without Cruelty movement was, in part, founded by Sir Hugh ‘Stuffy’ Dowding as a result of his wife asking him to speak-up about the need for humane killing of animals. As a senior RAF officer Dowding previously played key role in organising Britain’s defences in the Battle of Britain.
The word ‘umbrage’ looks back to the French ‘ombrage’, shade from the heat of the sun. To give umbrage was to upset someone or darken their lives by ‘throwing shade’; to take it was to be duly offended. In modern language we talk of ‘throwing shade’ towards someone.
The word umbrella comes from this same root.
Scotland’s pole of inaccessibility is located a few miles from Braemar, in Glen Quoich at 57.0143938°N and-3.4991924°E . A pole of inaccessibility marks a location that is the most challenging to reach according to a criterion such as the most distant point from the coastline.
In the 14th century the growth of maritime trade and the recognition that plague was introduced via ships returning from the Levant led to the adoption of quarantine in Venice . It was decreed that ships were to be isolated for a limited period to allow for the manifestation of the disease and to dissipate the infection brought by persons and goods. Originally, the period was 30 days, trentina, though this was later extended to 40 days, quarantina. The choice of this length of time is said to be based on the period that Jesus Christ and Moses spent in isolation in the desert.
The Durex condom was invented by Lucian Landau, a Polish teenager living in Highbury London and studying rubber technology at the former Northern Polytechnic.
As an aside, the ‘Durex’ trademark is formed from a combination of Durability, Reliability, and Excellence.
February is named after an ancient Roman festival of purification called Februa. According to Ovid, the Lupercalia features another kind of februum that took place in mid-February and celebrated the wild sylvan god Faunus (a.k.a. Pan). During the festival, nude priests called Luperci performed ritual purification by whipping spectators, which also promoted fertility.
The modern beehive was invented in 1768 by Thomas Wildman, a Plymouth beekeeper. Traditional hives date back to ancient Egypt and were just enclosures for bees, which did not have internal structures and the bees had to be killed to extract the honey.
Wildman’s design fixed a parallel array of wooden bars across the top of skeps, with a separate top to be added later. Bees could fix their combs to the bars, which were then removed as needed, without them being harmed.
On Friday 13th July 1945 a body was found sealed inside a 2.1m long and 0.45m wide cylinder in the city of Liverpool. The cylinder was first uncovered in 1943 after a bomb site was cleared and was left behind for two years, used as a bench or played with.
The background to this death was never determined and the body of the man was actually lying on a rough bed with a pillow made from sacking wrapped around a brick at his head. The boy who saw the body was named Tommy Lawless and boy who went for the police later became Ringo Starr of the Beatles.
On November 18, 1915 Einstein reported to the Prussian Academy that the perihelion motion of Mercury is explained by his new General Theory of Relativity. The perihelion is the point of closest approach of a planet to the Sun.
Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in data visualisation She was a natural statistician and pioneered the use of graphics to support her message (particularly the rose diagram) rather than just the data.
Wars, and the associated massacres, were already present among prehistoric hunter-gatherers around 10,000 years ago. By the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya one group of hunter-gatherers attacked and slaughtered another, leaving the dead with crushed skulls, embedded arrow or spear points, and other devastating wounds. This may be the first instance of a massacre in a foraging society.
Tides can be predicted using a Fourier Transform. In hindsight this seems obvious.
I was astonished to learn that the first British ‘kill’ of the First World War, by Captain Hornby, 4th Dragoon Guards, in a skirmish with the German 4th Cuirassiers was made with a sword.
In the 1920s the US passed laws that would lead to the sterilisation of an estimated 60,000 people. California had the largest sterilisation programme by far and had sterilised nearly 15,000 people by 1942. Eugenicist Harry Laughlin drafted the California law that would serve as a model for other states and for the sterilisation law in Nazi Germany.
I learned just how much difference between there is in rainfall between the west of east coast of Scotland. Height of the peaks relates to rainfall.
The term “Roger that” in radio communications came from the use of ‘R’ in Morse Code to let the sender know their message had been received. In an early version of the radio alphabet‘R’ was Roger — it’s now Romeo.
Moments after leaving a very short suicide note, Kodak founder George Eastman cheerfully took his own life by shooting himself through the heart.
“To my friends,
My work is done.
The history of the Negroni cocktail is disputed but may have been invented by Count Camillo Negroni, a picaresque Italian adventurer and sometime Western cowboy. Or it may have been invented by Pascal Olivier Count de Negroni.
The London sock policecomprised four “sad and discreet” persons, who were positioned twice a day at the gates of the city, checking the legs of those entering and leaving for erroneous hosiery that broke the strict sumptuary laws.
The Statute of Marlborough is a set of laws passed by the Parliament of England during the reign of Henry III in 1267 and four are still in force. Those four chapters constitute the oldest law in the United Kingdom. Clause XV says “It shall be lawful for no Man from henceforth, for any manner of cause, to take Distresses (claim damages) out of his Fee, nor in the King’s Highway, nor in the common Street” and was cited in recent years by motoring activists arguing that car clamping should be illegal.
The history of the board game Monopoly is murky. The myth is that it was dreamed-up by Charles Darrow during the depression but it was invented long before that. Darrow ’borrowed’ the game and its rules from people who played a competitive version of The Landlord’s Game invented by Lizzie Maggie.
Meteorological summer always starts on the 1st of June for three months.
Bonus fact from Lucy for 02/06/2021. Pigs can breathe oxygen via their rectum
The word Culaccino has no direct English translation and many different uses but my favourite is to describe the wet patch left on a table by a cold icy drink. The same word can also mean the dregs in the glass itself, or the end of a salami or loaf of bread.
The phrase hocus pocus used by magicians is a corruption of the sacramental blessing from the Mass, Hoc est corpus meum “This is my body.”
Increased problems with feet in the 14th and 15th centuries coincided with the adoption of new footwear with pointed toes. Those following this fashion trend appear to have been more likely to develop balance and mobility problems resulting in an increased risk of falls.
In World War Two the Royal Navy painted some ships ‘Mountbatten Pink’ rather than their usual colour palettes such as ‘Western Approaches Blue’. One notable example was HMS Kenya that formed part of Operation Pedestal, the fleet that relieved Malta on the 15th August 1942.
Virginia Tower Norwood ’47 invented the first multispectral scanner to image Earth from space. I wanted to include this because she was clearly a remarkable scientist and engineer with many novel inventions and I had never heard of her.
The difference between past and future only exists when there is heat. The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is the fact that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder.
Henry VIII’s persistent leg ulcers following a jousting accident were treated by being cauterised with red hot pokers.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland moved to Burntisland (where I grew-up) in May 1601. At that meeting it was agreed by all present, including the King, to commission a new translation of the Bible. The church is one of earliest post-Reformation churches built in Scotland that remains in use today.. Two years later James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, and that bible is the “King James Version.”
The word ’tawdry’ (meaning showy but cheap and of poor quality) is a contraction of St Audrey. Audrey was a later form of St Etheldreda, patron saint of Ely where tawdry laces (St Audrey’s laces), along with cheap imitations and other cheap finery, were sold.
The word ‘Sonder’ was coined around 2013 and describes the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
Lewis Howard Latimer was an African-American inventor, electrical pioneer, and a son of fugitive slaves. With no access to formal education, Latimer taught himself mechanical drawing and became a chief draftsman, patent expert, and inventor.
Latimer patented a carbon filament for the incandescent lightbulb. The invention helped make electric lighting practical and affordable for the average household. His other inventions included an evaporative air conditioner and an improved toilet system for railway carriages.
The superior sound of a Stradivari violin or cello may be due to the varnish, particularly chemicals used to soak the wood including borax, zinc, copper, alum, and lime water. Hemicellulose fragmentation and altered cellulose nanostructures are observed in heavily treated Stradivari specimens, which show diminished second-harmonic generation signals.
The pandemic and the measures taken against it saved the lives of more young people (15-29) than it killed. Due to the fall in road casualties there are 300 fewer grieving families (who do not k ow who they are) in contrast to the 115 families who had a young person die from Covid-19. I learned this from reading Covid By Numbers: Making Sense of the Pandemic with Data by David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters.
Wearing heeled shoes with a 3–5 cm heel height for a long period of time is good for the pelvic floor function of women. Characteristically The Times reported this in their usual prurient style by stating women who frequently wear heels at least two inches high are more likely to be happy with their sex lives.
Bonus fact: from The Times article I finally learned that the paper’s style of writing annoys me and I cancelled my subscription.
Scientists from Vienna University of Technology and UCL believe they have solved the problem of the “Teapot Effect”. Their fluid mechanics research accurately predicts when poured tea will start to dribble down the teapot’s spout.
I became curious about this when updating ‘Pawlu’s’ address and wondering why he lives on Old Railway Road in Birkirkara.
PowerPoint was originally designed to make it easier to produce overhead transparencies and 35mm slides for presentations.
I learned this from reading Sweating Bullets by Bob Gaskins, the creator of PowerPoint.
Wafer fabs need to be 1,000 times cleaner that operating theatres. Individual transistors are now many times smaller than a virus and just one speck of dust can cause havoc.
In April 2021 Nature published a paper called ‘People systematically overlook subtractive changes’. This may help explain why PowerPoint presentations always get longer when we try to make them shorter. I learned this from reading Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies.