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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ye Olde Spelling

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runesymbolsHave you ever wondered about the old-fashioned “ye” in shop signs?  It was a lazy printer’s solution to saving space for “th”, and should be pronounced as “the”, not “yee”!  The Old English character “y” was a graphic alteration of the Germanic rune “Þ” (which came over with the Viking raiders and the Danish King Canute and his rabble, but that’s another story).  When English printing typefaces couldn’t supply the right kind of “P” they substituted the “Y” (close enough, right?).  That practice continued into the 18th century, when it dropped out of use.  By the 19th century it was revived as a deliberate antiquarianism – to give a shop a pedigree, so to speak (read “marketing scam”), and soon came to be mocked because of it.  And now we think of it as the quaint way they used to write…

For a short, fun video on the topic, click on Ye Olde Web Link, below.


A Brief History of the MP3 Player

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World's First MP3 Player (1998) - MPMan 32MBWe tend to think of historical gadgets as something invented before our lifetime; but in the world we live in today, things invented in the 80’s and 90’s are already considered historical – antique, something quaint but completely irrelevant and surpassed by today’s technology (which is next year’s quaint but completely irrelevant object).  A case in point is the MP3 player:

First invented by in 1998 (yes, less than 20 years ago), it sold from January of that year for USD $200, had a capacity of 4 MB internal flash memory, which came out to about 2 hours of play, and had a custom rechargeable battery pack (which meant that the expensive bit was dependent on that specialized battery recharging – I doubt they were replaceable).  It had basic controls and no display.

Does anyone know what MP3 stands for?  It’s not a straight-forward term such as CD (“Compact Disk”):  MP is an abbreviation of an abbreviation, MPEG meaning “Motion Picture Experts Group”, who set standards for encoding moving pictures (and sound) in digital form. Which means that technically the thing we think of as playing music stands for “motion picture”.  The 3 refers to “audio layer 3”, one of the sections of the standard for encoding sound only; omitting the video layer left a convenient format for music.

So the next time you log into Spotify through your Sonos system or your cell phone, just think of all the decades of high-priced technology you’re bypassing; and feel free to tip your hat to those intrepid inventors as you laugh, put in your ear buds, and listen to music on your music library/agenda/game/apps/life’s-eggs-in-one-basket cell phone…

The Historical Face of Genetics

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Averages 1Only once have I watched an American History Channel “documentary” (and I use that word very loosely) – on Vikings, and I spent half the time correcting their blatant misinformation.  BBC documentaries, on the other hand, are frequently watched in our household; they are well-researched, well-presented, and entertainingly educational.

One such documentary is “The Face of Britain” in which they trace the history of Britain through the genetic studies of Oxford University, led by cancer and population geneticist Professor Sir Walter Bodmer.  If you’re interested in British history, genetics, or science, I would highly recommend this DVD, as well as the website link above (where there are additional interesting articles on the topic).  Genetics tell us where we come from; but they also map where regional similarities come from; what makes Irish generally red-haired and Scandinavians blonde?  Not only complexion and hair or eye colour, but even bone structure:  Regional differences in what make a person look like they come from “X” and not “Y”.

There was also a study of facial averages, where thousands of portraits were combined into one image to give a common face for various regions around the world.  I have friends from many regions of the world, and I can confirm that these average faces are fairly accurate (I can recognize friends and/or their facial features in the images).

Both topics are well worth looking into!

On Modern Freedoms

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“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.”
― G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World

G.K. Chesterton 2

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