Things I learned this week #25

  • This etymology: The word “peculiar” has come to mean odd or unique, so obviously its Latin root word (‌peculium) means somebody’s cattle. Cows were pretty valuable assets back in the day: you can eat them, milk them, use them as work animals, so they became a symbol of wealth. Later, ‌peculiaris evolved from this same root word to mean “of private property”, i.e. belonging to one person. This link makes sense too - if cattle are the stereotypical idea of property and wealth, then they’ll start to become synonymous. Sort of like how ‘estate’ mingles land and social status (sorry to introduce a second etymology here to explain the first, bad form, I know). This latter meaning, of private property, has more clear links to “unique” or “individual”, a connotation which arose in seventeenth century Europe, and which remains dominant today. (source)
  • This statue of Lenin: Hey remember back in the 1920s when Vladimir Lenin headed up the Soviet Union and shaped and popularised the communist ideal? As part of the zealous, world-domineering showmanship for the Soviet Union, Lenin had his face put on a whole bunch of things, including a lot of busts. I mean a lot of busts. Lenin’s personal brand was so strong during his leadership that his face was put on stamps, posters, newspapers, crockery, and generally anything. That’s not to mention the fact that entire towns, as well as buildings and streets, were named after him. In a show of undeniable rigour and commitment to science (and communism), in 1958 a bunch of scientists and explorers from the USSR trekked to the most remote part of Antarctica, called the ‘pole of inaccessibility’, and erected both a research station and a Lenin bust. Out there, in the most remote part of the Antarctic desert in a bust of Lenin, cast in a synthetic polymer because no one’s quite stupid enough to take marble to one of the hardest to reach places on earth. Originally pointing towards Moscow, a bunch of American made their way to the research site and rotated him to face Washington. So in ‘66-67 another bunch of Russians went out to un-rotate him and point him towards his home land. Now-a-days, little plastic Lenin is being slowly buried by the inevitable snow, and in about ten years he’ll likely not be very visible. (source)
  • This second largest bird: If I was an emu, I wonder if I’d feel self conscious about being second-rate to my taller, more famous cousin, the ostrich. But look, there are some wild things about the emu that I just did not know. For example, did you know that the male emus take responsibility for guarding and incubating the eggs. They’ll not eat, and so likely lose weight, just to stay with the eggs and I don’t think anything could make me want to do that. Another fun emu fact is the infamous 1932 emu war in Australia, where the animals such a nuisance (they kept eating the corn that humans wanted to eat) that the army tried to get rid of them but failed. Third emu fact: aboriginal Australians discovered that you could use emu oil (don’t ask how it’s collected, it’s pretty sad and unpleasant) to oil and treat your tools. These days we use emu oil as a topical (i.e. on the skin) treatment for joint and muscle pain, as well as healing damaged skin. Last fun emu fact for now: they’re the only bird with calf muscles. Because their bodies are so big, and wings are so small, the extra muscle allows them to move at faster speed, which is a clear evolutionary advantage. (source)
  • This use for leaches: Imagine, if you will, that it is the 1800s and you need a way of detecting if a storm is coming. Imagine also that you happen to have a bunch of leeches lying around, because scientists in the 1800s had stuff like that. Oh, to be a rich white victorian scientist. George Merryweather was one such lucky soul, and he invented the Tempest Prognosticator. As the name suggests, it’s a device which is able to alert you to when a storm is coming. It came about after Merryweather noticed that his leeches would become more active (i.e. wriggle more) before a storm hit. He surmised that leeches must be sensitive to changes in air pressure, and will want to seek shelter when a storm is coming. He used this new-found knowledge to build a contraption (which is totally the right word for what he built) which placed leeches in glass jars, attached strings to the sides of the jars, and then attached those strings to bells. So that when the pressure dropped, and a storm was coming, the leeches would writhe around and cause a “tinkle tinkle” of the bells. Merryweather never managed to successfully sell his Tempest Prognosticator to anyone, which is surprisingly because who wouldn’t want to tend to a dozen jars of leeches every day? In an attempt to break into the luxury market, he constructed an ornate (i.e. hand crafted and artisanal) version for display at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. (source)

What I’ve had on Rotation

  • Something New Kvitravn by Wardruna (2021, …Folk Rock?). I don’t know how to describe this album. It’s sort of metal, sort of rock, but definitely Celtic. Just listen to it, you’ll know in the first few minutes if it’s for you, or if it’s some kind of medieval torture method. I personally find it earthy and grounding and moving. (links)
  • Something Old Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy (2009, EDM). This album takes you all the way back to 2009, but it still stands up really well as an EDM album. It’s the signature sound of The Prodigy, and it’s got me through some runs/cycles over the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s got me a little too hyped, but is that really a bad thing? (links)

Cool Articles

  • How Supergiant Secretly Launched Hades - Developing Hell #01 (video series) by Noclip. Noclip produce really high quality documentaries about video games on YouTube. They’ve got a multi-part series which covers the development of Hades, the most recent game from Supergiant Games. They cover the multitudinous efforts required to create a video game which is beautiful to experience and fun to play.
  • Experience: I drink more than 50 cups of tea a day by Yasmin Lee for The Guardian. I’m a super nosy person, so articles like this appeal to me. Lee gives an overview of what it’s like to be a tea taster. I’m very unsophisticated with my taste for tea (much to the chagrin of my best friend) - but it sounds like a pretty cool job, to be honest with you. You get to make and taste delicious things 🤷‍♀️