Friday, November 30, 2012

Patent Malarkey

This one is usually told at tech conferences, to get chuckles from the audience. That in 1899 the Head of the American Patent Office said that the patent office should be closed because everything that could be invented had been invented.

Charles Holland Duell was the the "head" of the "American Patent Office" in 1899 --  in that he was the Commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

You know the myth is going south when they 1) can't get the title right, 2) can't name the person who supposedly did whatever the myth is about, and 3) don't even know the name of the department. 

In actuality, Commissioner Duell said no such thing. If you'd like to have an actual quote he said, a good choice may be, 

"In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold." *

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sir Beef

Wikipedia says this is a sirloin. I'll have to take their word for it.

I heard this one the other day and I had to rush home and look it up, because I'd never heard it before. To be fair, that may be because I don't really know a lot about meat or preparing it (not something I do much, being unable to digest it).

What is this myth? That the cut of beef called sirloin got its name because an English king once knighted a piece of meat and called it "Sir loin."

Sadly, as cute as the story is, it's not at all true. 

It's French. "Sir Loin" is actually "sur longe" ... Longe was French for loin, and sur simply means "above." So it is literally the cut "above the loin." *

Where is that? Well, that depends on where you live.

If you're American, it's this lime green spot:

If you're British, it's practically a quarter of the cow:

If you're Dutch, it's this long peach colored area:

And if you're Brazilian, it's a slim area between the tenderloin and it's skirt (and your cows have this funny hump too):

Friday, November 23, 2012

Doomsday 2012

It's that one that everybody knows, but nobody will quite admit to believing -- that the world is going to end on 21 December 2012. 

The usual story is that it's because of some Mayan Prophecy and an asteroid hitting the earth. Or the magnetic poles flipping. Or the sun going supernova and flame broiling all life on earth. Or something.

So what's it all about?

Usually it's seen with something that looks like this:

But that's not even Mayan -- it's the Aztec "Stone of the Sun". You've got to take anything with a grain of salt when they can't even get the culture right for their pictograph proof. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Feast

For those who aren't USians, this up coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. 

What this means is that USians around the country will be sitting down to eat turkey and pumpkin pie. 

Why? Because that's that traditional food that was eaten at the first Thanksgiving. And every Thanksgiving since. 


Well, no. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's all still paper in the vernacular

The United States Constitution. 

There are a lot of myths about the US Constitution says, but that's not the kind mythbelief we're dealing with today. Instead, it's what the US Constitution is physically written upon.It's a common belief that the US Constitution is written on hemp paper. 

It's written on parchment. Parchment isn't made from plants, but from cured animal skins.

Hemp paper was popular at the end of the 1700s. It's probable that drafts of the Constitution were penned on hemp paper, and that the founding fathers may have taken notes on hemp paper, but parchment lasts longer and they wanted the document to last. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I suspect that with the USian Thanksgiving right around the corner, there's going to be talk and pictures of the Pilgrims.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, here's a quick rundown of the usual story: Thanksgiving (AKA "Turkey Day") is an American holiday which is a feast of Thanksgiving, given in remembrance of the First Thanksgiving where the Pilgrims had a big feast to celebrate not starving to death though their first winter in America. It's traditionally celebrated with eating of turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie (traditionally "pilgrim food") and pictures of people who look like this:

Because Black, White, and Buckles were totally the style in 1620.

I'm not tackling Thanksgiving today (maybe a little closer to the actual holiday) but let's talk about the Pilgrims! Common ideas include:

1) They dressed.. well, like Pilgrims.

2) They landed at Plymouth Rock.

3) They can also be called "Puritans."


I'm afraid, as per the usual, we're 0 for 3 for actual facts in that list.

Friday, November 9, 2012


I apologize, but I've not written most of this post. 

Mostly because I've been dealing with an attack of the allergies that has left me a whimpering mass of red itchy welts.

It's more than mildly uncomfortable. Especially the backs of my ears.

But since in the US this was election week, I thought I'd share a quick video that has been one of my favorite history videos ever since I first saw it: Attack Ads, Circa 1800.

(And if the embedded video isn't working for you, the link in the title should take you right to the YouTube page proper.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bonfire Bright

This one I suspect many (if not most) USians became familiar with the name Fawkes from the character in Harry Potter. I recall one English friend of mine being very surprised to discover that Bonfire Night isn't celebrated in the US. So for those of you who don't know what Bonfire Night is all about, here's a really quick, dirty, rundown:

In the early 1600s, Guy Fawkes was involved in what was called the Gunpowder Plot. It was basically a failed assassination plot to kill James I of England VI of Scotland (the guy who was King of England after Elisabeth I). He was caught on 5 November, and  people lit bonfires in celebration. The tradition continues to this day as Bonfire Night. 

There's a couple things I've heard about both the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes, that I'll tackle here:

1) Guy Fawkes was a lone conspirator. 

2) He piled barrels of gunpowder in the Parliament basement.

3) The gunpowder was old, so there was actually no danger. 

So are those true?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pens In Space

Gotten from Tumblr. Source hidden to protect the guilty.

This is one that seems to be making the internet rounds lately. 

American astronauts actually started off using pencils when they first went into space. But they quickly realized that the higher oxygen content in the capsule make the highly flammable carbon in the graphite of the pencil even more... flammable. Which isn't really a good thing.

The tip of the pencils would also break off and float though the cabin. This was more than just a small hazard from potentially inhaling a small piece of sharp graphite -- the bits of pencil got into the equipment and caused shorts. 

NASA didn't actually invest any money into the Space Pen -- it was done by Paul C. Fisher, with his own money.* He was successful, creating the Fisher Space Pen used today by both the Americans and the Russians. ** He sold his pens to the Space Agencies for $2.95 apiece