Friday, 10 October 2014

Word Wednesday - How English Used To Sound

As a matter of fact ...

I was recentley shown a fascinating example of how the Enlgish language used to sound. It's a poem, by the poet John Skeleton, read aloud as it would have sounded when it was written, some 500 years ago.

The video was put together by 'The Skeleton Project' a group of three history buffs who describe themselves as giving 'information on the sociocultural, historical, and contextual background of John Skelton’s English works'

I found this video to be very strange on my ears. If you're not paying attention, it sounds like modern English spoken with a northern regional accent of England. Then as I strain my ears, I can hear very French or Scandinavian influences followed by a sentence in almost modern English.

I'd always been told how English was a melting pot of different languages such as French, German, Scandinavian etc but this video was the first real example of that theory. 

If you're reading these words, you understand English. Now enjoy what it sounded like half a millenia ago ...

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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

TV Tuesday - Trigger Happy TV

As a matter of fact ...

One of my favourite and often most overlooked generes of TV is prank shows.

Theres something we humans just love about seeing other people have the wool pulled over their eyes. Call it devious, call it a bit a fun, call it whatever you want. They've been around for years and I don't see any signs of them stopping.

For me, the best has to be Trigger Happy TV.

This is actually one of my favourtie shows of all time. It began in 200 and lasted 2 years on British TV and was fronted by the genius Dom Jolly. Jolly brought the already popular format of prank shows found in America to the British audeicne in a big way, with his own devious twists.

They aren't all grand pranks with 10 cameras and an entourage of actors. They aren't all lengthy and layered. They are, however, totally bizzare, wonderful and unfiltered from the mind of Dom Jolly. It's as if Channel 4 gave him free reign to do whatever prank he liked. The result was a show that might not have broken the mold but ignored the mold  altogether in favour of surreal pranks that became iconic over the show's short span.

Despite only having 17 episodes, the variety within the show keeps me re watching it all the time. From the large cell phone to the furry animal fights, an average episode takes as many twists and turns as the London streets it's filmed on. Oh, and the soundtrack is sublime.

I wanted to share this show with any readers, especially North Americans, who might not have heard of it. The idea came to me when I stumbled upon a 'Best of' video for the show. So what better way to finish off this reccomendation for a classiv TV show than to leave you with that very same video. Enjoy:

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Monday, 6 October 2014

Music Monday - Sam Cooke: King Of Soul

As a matter of fact ...

Do you like Soul music? Even if you don't, you've probably heard of the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ottis Reading and James Brown. The list goes on, but what do they all have in common apart from being Soul music greats? Well, a lot of people have attributed the rise and popularisation of their music as being tracable to one man: Sam Cooke.

He's a househould name within a generation of Soul lovers but I know from speaking to friends and family he's almost never talked about when listing off the greats I just mentioned. I'd like to shed some light on the sometimes forgotten 'King of Soul' who rekindled my love for the genre and look at the mystery behind his rise and fall.

Sam Cooke, born in Chicago in 1931, has been credited as being the best of his time. Like many black Soul musicians of his time, Cooke started out on the gospel circuit from a young age. His father was a Baptist minister and it was from this background that he began his music career as a member of 'The Singing Children' at just 9 years old. 

By 17, he was already signed to a record label with his group 'The Soul Stirrers' in 1950. From there, he began to branch into pop music: a decision which ultimately caused a rift between his traditional label manager and his aspirations as a secular artist. 

In 1957, Cooke achieved his first billboard success. His catchy melodic swinger 'You Send Me' reached the number 1 spot in both the R&B and Pop charts. 

From there, the prodigy took off. In 1961, he created his own label and proceeded to release a wealth of singles: 29 of which made it to the top 40. This is where most of his most famous catalog numbers can be found with such gems as 'Chain Gang', 'Cupid' and 'Twistin' The Night Away' which are all personal favourites of mine. 

It all ended in 1963 in a story as tragic as it is mysterious. Sam Cooke was shot by a hotel manager who claimed self-defense. She told the official police report that Cooke was drunk, aggressive and wearing nothing but shoes and a sports jacket and that he persistently asked the whereabouts of a woman who he had accompanied back to the hotel. The manager claimed Cooke was aggressive and drunk and so fearing for her life,  she shot Cooke once in the heart. He was dead by the time police arrived on the scene. 

Cooke's companion, a woman by the name of Elisa Boyer, said that Sam had persuaded her to return to his hotel room but that she changed her mind when they got to his room. When he went to the bathroom, she grabbed her clothes (and some of his by accident) and ran out of the building.

The details are murky and the most important angle of all, Cooke's, will never be heard. There have been many criticisms of the police report and the actions of the hotel manager. Some have also said that the situation, Cooke's death and the lax police report would not have arisen if he had been a white man in 1963. 

I believe that within this hazy end to Cooke's life lies the reason why his legacy hasn't reached the emerging generations of music lovers. After his death, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame, got a lifetime achievement Grammy and was ranked 16th on Rolling Stone's '100 Greatest Artists of All Time,' 

Despite all this, his name is no longer brought up alongside the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Otis Reading. I believe that his mysterious and violent at only 33 years old was a major contributing factor to this.

When it comes to music though, it doesn't matter how long someone lived, what they did or how they died: what matters is the music. With this in mind, I think it would be a great shame to not bring the King of Soul's music back into the mainstream mentality. 

I bring up his name whenever I can in music conversations and now, with the help of this blog, perhaps his name and his inspiring music can reach just a little bit further.


If you want to get stuck in straight away. I recommend:

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Space Sunday - Space Burials Of Human Remains

As a matter of fact ...

There are over 100 dead humans in space. Technically speaking, their ashes are in space. 

Gene Roddenberry was the creator of Star Trek and
first person to have their remains buried in space

The tradition of these 'space-burials' began in 1992 when NASA's shuttle 'Collumbia' carried a portion of Gene Roddenberry's ashes into space. Gene was one of the original writers and creators of Star Trek. A fitting ceremony for arguably the father of modern sci-fi. 

In the 22 years since, the tradition has, pardon the pun, taken off. The most recent launch was last years' Celestis Mission which carried samples of 31 human remains. 

Eugene Shomaker: buried on the moon

Sometimes, outer space just isn't enough. The astronomer responsible for discover the coment 'Shoemaker-Levy 9' was Dr Eugene Shoemaker. His remains were buried on the moon in 1999. To my knowledge, he's the first person to be buried in non-terrestrial ground.  

Outer space and then the moon. Where to next for human resting places? Try out of the the solar system. The remains of the man who discovered Pluto in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh, are set to be on board a shuttle destined to fly past the dwarf-planet and out of our solar system. I think thats an incredible sentiment. Imagine discovering something in space and being able to visit it in a sense long after your death.

Cylde Tombaugh and the plaque inscribed on the shuttle
set to carry his remains out of the solar system
There is something quite poetic to all this. No longer are we 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' but rather 'ashes to ashes, space dust to space dust.' All life's components came from the stars in outer space, and humans are starting to return there: a cosmic cycle has begun. 
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Science Saturday - Three Accidental Science Discoveries That Changed The World

As a matter of fact ...

I believe science changes the world. It's easy to see the technology, medicine and knowledge gained over the centuries by rigorous research done by ambitious scientists. An idea is proposed, thoroughly experiemted with and the result is new information that can be applied to real world problems. It's simple enough and sounds very deliberate, right?

However, more often than not, science is not very deliberate. Accidents happen that lead to new discoveries: ones that people never foresaw or were even looking for. Some of these happy accidents in science have gone on to change the world. Here are three of my favourites ...

1) Penicillin 

Alexandar Flemming looking stern in his lab
Probably the most famous and for good reason. To date, an estimated 82 million lives have been saved since the discovery and application of penicillin. It was first discovered by Alexandar Flemming on September 3rd, 1928. Flemming had returned to his laboratory from a holiday to find he had accidentally left a lid open on a petri dish containing a strain of cold-causing bacteria he was studying.

To Flemming's surprise, a mold had grown inside the dish that had no bacteria growing around it. The mold was inhibiting its growth. The mold was 'penicillium notatum' and Flemming realised its importance immediately. It was soon manufactured into its drug form and by the 1940's, with the help of the US, it was being shipped globally and saving countless lives. Well, not countless - 82 million since then to be precise!

2) Big Bang

The Big Bang left an echo in all of time and space
Yes thats right, even the origins of our universe were an accidental discover. In New Jersey, 1964, scientists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were studying the transmition of radiowaves on 'echo balloon' satelites. The signals were extremely faint and so they had to eliminate all other interference.

Despite their efforts, they were still picking up a low, steady and mysterious nice that was 100 times stronger than they had expected. After meticulously checking their equipment and even removing such variables as a pair of pigeons and their nests that were roosting in the antenna dish, they tried again. The noise persisted. They concluded it couldnt have come from Earth, the Sun or even the galaxy. It was everywhere they pointed the radar, day and night, never stopping.

It wasn't until they heard of nearby researches Robert H. DickeJim Peebles, and David Wilkinson's theory of background radioation being leftover from the big bang that the pair realised the gravity of their discovery. They met with the other team and published their discoveries together. What they had been hearing was the echo of the big bang, left in every corner of the universe. 

3) Microwave 

The first microwave 'ovens' really lived up to their name
From big to small radiation now. The humble microwave is a staple piece in every home across the world. It's hard to believe that it was only created in 1945 from an accident!

Perry Spencer was a self taught engineer working on an active radar set for the company 'Raytheon' in Maine. One day, he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted as a result of the radiation he was working with. 

Spencer quickly replicated the radiation and contained it within a metal box. His team noticed that the temperate of food rose rapidly when placed inside. The first food cooked was popcorn and then an egg. As the cliche goes, the rest is history. Flemmings box of 'micro-waves' went on sale in the US in 1947 and hasn't looked back since! 


Accidents happen, accidents are great. 
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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Free For All Friday - Awesome Graphs And Stats

As a matter of fact ....

I love data, statistics and graphs. It's a guilty pleasure of mine. For me, it's so cool how fascinating data collected from so many sources can be presented in such a simple and concise manner.

To demonstrate this, I thought I'd share my three interesting graphs I found from Reddit's subreddit 'data is beautiful.' It certainly is ...

1) Percent of Americans, Canadians and British who think issues are morally acceptable

As a British guy living in Canada, I can't help but feel slightly proud of my two homes acceptance of other peoples life choices including contraception, divorce and gay people. It's not as high as I would have liked but it's still on the right side of the margin.

Although the US falls worryingly short at times, it still looks like the majority of people share my views on the majority of the issues, except when it comes to the death penalty. I'm pretty stunned that almost 60% of Americans are pro-death penalty. I'd love to find out the reasons behind why the average American supports this police as I've only ever been brought up with and surrounded by people all over Europe who are firmly against it.

2) Migration Flow In And Out Of London

This one hits close to home. Over the past couple of years I've become increasingly aware of the so called 'Londocentric' industries within the UK. Basically, if you grow up in the UK and want to take your career or passion to the highest level: you have to move to London. Of course, there are exceptions to this and ways of working around it with enough determination, but I for one have seen half a dozen or more friends move to the big smoke in order to further their careers. 

This graphs shows this perfectly. People flood to London from all areas of the country, with just a couple of exceptions: the south coast. I think the red that shows migration out of London pertains to the exodus of pensioners and the elderly moving to the coastal areas of the south-east for their retirement.  

3) Vocabulary vs Age

I sometimes worry that I've hit my linguistic peak. This chart eases that a bit for me. At 23 years old, I should acquire about 6 or 7 thousand more words over the next 20 years of my life. At 43, the graph seems to plateau a bit. I guess once you hit middle age, there are either no more words to learn or just no use for them!

What surprised me about this graph is that by age 13, the average speaker has a vocabulary of 20,000 words. Since then, I've only acquired 5,000 or so more. If you don't believe me, I just used the word 'acquired' twice in as many paragraphs. My own proof for you there.


If these have sparked your interest in cool data and graphs, there are tonnes more to enjoy over at the 'data is beautiful' sub reddit.
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Friday, 3 October 2014

Throwback Thursday - Slavery Past And Present

As a matter of fact ...

I just finished watching the excellent movie '12 years a slave'. It's a great story that really highlights the brutality and oppression subjected to slaves and African Americans in general during the slave era of America.

As evil as it is, slavery is a big part of human history and continues to blight our species. It's an established truth that there are more slaves alive today than at any other time: 27 million by US estimates. 

With that in mind, I'd like to shine a light on this ugly topic in today's Throwback Thursday by throwing up some interesting facts.  

1) In 1860 89% of African Americans were slaves. African Americans made up 13% of Americas total population and 33% of the population in the south. It's crazy to think that 1 in 3 people in the south of America were slaves at that time.

2) The American slave force created 9,500 miles of railroad track by 1860. That's 33% of the total modern length and more than belongs to Britain, France or Germany. 

3) There are an estimated 5.5 million child slaves alive today. That's almost half the amount of total slaves transported to North America during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

4) Slavery is still a profitable business. It generates and estimated $32 billion annually for traffickers worldwide. 

5) The top five slave countries per capita are Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Moldova. 

6) India tops the list for total amount of slaves with a horrifying number of 14 million. That's roughly the population of the Netherlands. 

It's a huge part of history and it still rears it's ugly head today. It will take a global effort to rid this plague on humanity once and for all so that historians in the future wont see us as idle bystanders. Visit the Anti-Slavery website to find out more and how you can help the effort. 

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