Showing posts from March, 2011

Interesting Fact - Science

According to the International Benchmarking Study of UK Research Performance, 8% of the world's scientific papers are written in the UK.

(In 2009, the UK produced 91,723 scientific papers, third only to the US and China. The most prolific country is the USA and China now produces more scientific papers than the UK, but they are cited less frequently by other scientists.  That said, China is expected to overtake the USA by 2012.)

Interesting Fact - Britain

British homes are, on average, 4°C warmer, than they were 50 years ago.

(The fact is that only 7% of UK homes are without central heating and the average temperature in a home is 22°C, compared with 18°C in the 1950s.  This has completely changed the way people in the UK live.  Gone are the cosy little rooms, that were easy to keep warm, and the open plan living / dining / kitchen areas are in.  Of course with the increase in fuel prices, we may be rebuilding all those partition walls pretty soon.)

Interesting Word - Kettling

The police tactic of confining demonstrators in a confined space is called kettling.

(It's a particularly nasty practise that involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area, often holding them there for hours at a time. In January 2011 1.900 people signed a petition calling for the practice to be banned. In the USA it is known as corralling, which is an interesting analogy in itself. Should protesters be treated like cattle or tea bags?)

Interesting Words - To be or not to be

Hamlet has been translated into Klingon.
("To be or not to be" translates into "taH pagh taHbe".  Now you might think this is a useless fact, and you'd be right.)

Interesting Fact - Human Body

Scientists still don't know how our sense of smell actually works.

(According to Nobel prize winners, Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck there are odorant molecules, but the means by which a detected molecule is translated into a smell within the brain  remains a mystery.  Theorists are even hypothesising that our sense of smell may have its basis in quantum physics.  My nose - the quantum physicist.)

Interesting People - Fabio Capello

Fabio Capello, England's Italian football manager, claims he can manage his players with just 100 words. 

(According to NHS guidelines a two year old should be able to say around 100 words and start putting them into short sentences.  So, Mr Capello who has been England manager since 2007 surely should be able to do better than a two-year-old.  I think he needs to up his game a bit.)

Interesting Fact - Britain

According to the Daily Mail, many gadgets cost about 37% more in Britain than in the US.

(The official UK price for Nintendo's 3DS device is £179, but in New York it will set you back as little as £167.66, including VAT (sales tax). For iPad fans the news is just as depressing. The second generation of the pioneering tablet computer, which is thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, may cost £100 more in the UK than it does in the U.S.

To be honest, ever since I moved to Germany and realised how cheap beer is here, I've called it "Rip off Britain". And it's not just beer and gadgets manufacturers that rip us off: a European Commission study from 2008 found we pay £12,900 for a VW Golf, compared with £10,986 in Denmark – almost 15% more – and £20,364 for a Vectra, which would cost £15,411 in Latvia.)

Source: Daily Mail

Interesting Word - Funeral

A funeral is the ceremony that is held after someone dies.

(In the UK the dead person is usually buried in a coffin or cremated, and the ashes scattered. The reason I'm mentioning this word is that Elizabeth Taylor's funeral was held, and her coffin arrived 15 minutes late. She had requested this in her will, in order to fulfil the idiom "She'd be late for her own funeral". If someone says that someone would be late to their own funeral, they mean that they are always late for meeting or appointments.)

Interesting People - Elizabeth Taylor

Dame Elizabeth Taylor died of heart failure on 23rd March 2011.

(She was definitely an interesting person, right from the start. She was born with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, and suffered back problems all her life. She had both hips replaced and beat skin cancer,a brain tumour, diabetes, seizures and a stroke. She endured an estimated 70 illnesses and had 100 operations, 20 of them major surgery; she estimated she had almost died four times. She made 50 movies and won two Oscars. She got married eight times (twice to Richard Burton) and had ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She leaves a fortune of 360m, and a legacy of having raised Aids awareness around the world. The New York Times paid tribute to her by admitting that she had actually outlived the person who wrote her obituary by six years.  For whatever reasons, she will be remembered.)

Interesting Word - App

In computing "app" is an abbreviation of application - a piece of software that runs on a computer, a mobile device or other platform (for example, an iPhone or Facebook.) App is really a generic term for any standalone bit of software.

(Of course it's a pretty new word, so now people are fighting over it. Apple is suing Amazon in a bid to stop the online retail giant from using the name Appstore, which will offer downloadable applications for Google's Android operating system.. Apple, which makes iPhones and iPads, claims that the name is deliberately similar to its own App Store. "It will confuse and mislead customers," said Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet. I think I'm going to put a claim on the term "shoe store". I mean enough shoe salesmen target the forum, I think I have a very good case.)

Interesting Fact - Television

According to a study, by Prof Jeffrey Johnson (published in the journal, Science), teenagers who watch more than an hour of television each day are more likely to become violent adults.

(Oops!  One of the most copied ESL tips on the Learn English site, is to watch TV.  So maybe I'd better change it to "If you are a teenager, only watch 59 minutes of TV".)

Interesting Fact - The Internet

In 2010, ICM had more than 110,000 pre-reservations for .xxx domains.

(According to their website this now stands at 297,261. There's no getting away from it sex sells. I'm almost tempted to set up, and have it full of pictures of pink fluffy bunnies.)

Interesting Fact - The Internet

Internet overseer Icann has given final approval to the creation of the xxx internet domain, which will be dedicated to pornography.

(This ends a 10-year battle over forming a virtual red-light district. The good news is it will make it easier to block such sites, the bad news is it will be easier to find such sites. I just hope it's a great big flop, but I doubt it will be.)

Interesting Animal - The Elephant

According to a study by Josh Plotnik from the University of Cambridge, older female elephants play a very important role in their social groups.

(After studying complex social behaviour in Asian elephants she concluded that there is an urgent need to conserve and protect these older animals. As an "older animal" I strongly agree.)

Interesting Fact - Olympic Fact

If you buy a ticket for the 2012 Olympics you will have to sign a terms and conditions document, which runs to 7,350 words.

(The document, published by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) listing all the rules and regulations that will cover the games. A spokesman for Locog said the organisers wanted spectators "to have lots of fun". "We have to prepare for any eventuality," he added. "Our terms and conditions give us the scope to deal with any incidents which may occur, but our approach will be pragmatic and looked at on a case-by-case basis." So that means Prince Charles will be able to scoff whatever he wants and keep up to date on his Tweets then.)

Interesting Fact - Olympic Fact

According to the Telegraph (big pinch of salt needed then) bottles of water, mobile phones, picnics and umbrellas could be banned at the London 2012 Olympics.

(A list of rules says the following items are banned: "Food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, liquids in containers of greater than 100ml in size, umbrellas, horns, whistles, drums, rattles, musical instruments, or any other devices that in the opinion of Locog may disturb a session (including mobile telephones), flasks, Thermoses and in general any material that Locog may deem dangerous or that may cause damage or disruption to a session." I think they should ask stupid bureaucrats to the list too.)

Interesting Food - Curry

The first curry restaurant in the UK opened in 1809.

(Yes, over 200 years ago, an Indian migrant, Dean Mahomed, opened Britain's first curry house to cater to the fashion for spicy food. The restaurant was called the Hindostanee Coffee House, and customers could smoke hookah pipes and recline on bamboo-cane sofas as they tucked into spicy meat and vegetable dishes. Nowadays they are more likely to be swigging pints of lager, and falling off their chairs.)

Source: BBC News

Interesting Fact - British Culture

To become a Beefeater at the Tower of London you have to have done at least 22 years military service.

(Beefeaters aka "Yeoman Warders" must have been senior non-commissioned officers in the Army, RAF or Royal Marines. It is thought that their nickname is derived from their historic position in the Royal Bodyguard, which let them eat all the beef they wanted from the King’s table.  In fact the French nickname for the English is "rosbif", which refers to the English style of cooking beef "roast beef".)

Interesting Word - Pineapple

The English word pineapple was first recorded in 1398, when it was used to describe the reproductive organs of conifer trees (now called pine cones).

(When European explorers discovered this tropical fruit they called them pineapples (first recorded in 1664) because of their resemblance to what is now known as the pine cone.   The term pine cone was first recorded in 1694, and was used to replace the original meaning of pineapple.   Words change, their meaning changes, their usage changes, and that's why you can never stop learning.)

Interesting Food - The Pineapple

The pineapple wasn't known in Europe until 1493, when Christopher Columbus landed on the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe and  the sailors ate, enjoyed and recorded the curious new fruit.

(But the pineapple wasn't cultivated successfully in European hothouses, and pineapple pits, until around 1720. It became associated with great wealth, and you can see the pineapple motif on many historic buildings and in art and carvings etc.  It was so highly regarded that King Charles posed with his gardener John Rose, as he presented King Charles with the first pineapple grown in England.)

Interesting Fact - Health

According to a survey carried out by, in the UK one in five men has 'not visited a doctor in the last year.
(Other even more worrying results where that 6% of the men asked wouldn't visit a doctor even if they had chest pains and 2% had never even seen a doctor!   I don't know if it's the same in other countries, or it's just UK men who think if you ignore it, it will go away.)


Interesting Fact - Wealth

According to Forbes magazine's rich list, the collective wealth of billionaires around the world is a staggering $4.5tn.

(More than 200 people joined the billionaires list as their numbers rose to a new record of 1,210, Forbes said. I guess it's a bit passée to be a millionaire nowadays - not that I'll ever know for sure.)

Interesting People - Carlos Slim

Carlos Slim is the world's richest man.

(I think that makes him a little interesting, but the rest of the story is kind of boring, he is a telecoms magnate and his fortune rose by $20.5bn (£12.65bn) to $74bn. Beating Microsoft founder Bill Gates ($56bn) into second place again.)

Interesting Place - Germany

Germany has been named as the most supportive country for overseas students, in an international league table.

(The British Council has placed Germany in first place in what is called the 'Global Gauge', which ranks university systems on measures such as openness, degree quality, how widely degrees are recognised, support for overseas students and how much students were encouraged to spend time abroad. What's really funny is that one of the main attractions for international students is the increasing availability in Germany of courses taught entirely in English, so much so that students can complete degrees without ever having to speak German!  Now why didn't I think of that?)

Interesting Place - Namur

I enjoy going to unusual museums. this could be next on my list!  A strawberry museum in Namur Belgium.

Strawberry Museum

(I wonder if they give free samples?  Fresh ones of course.)

Interesting Fact - Art

According to Pascal Cotte, a Parisian engineer, Mona Lisa once had eyebrows and eyelashes.

(He dedicated around 3,000 hours to examining Leonardo Da Vinci's famous portrait and says that years of restoration work have eroded the facial hair. Using 240-megapixel scans, Mr Cotte, 49, says he can see traces of a left eyebrow long obscured from the naked eye by the efforts of the restorers. I wouldn't want my face examined on a 240-megapixel scan!  They'll be saying she had a moustache and beard next. Please, gentlemen, let us ladies have our little depilatory secrets.)

Interesting Fact - Art

If you look at the Mona Lisa carefully, you'll see she doesn't have any facial hair.

(Now I don't mean just facial beardy / moustachy hair, I mean she doesn't have any eyebrows or eyelashes!  I hadn't even realised this until Pure Moon pointed it out on the forum!  Some people say it was normal in those days to pluck out facial hair, but ... there's another theory - see next post.)

Interesting Fact - Human Body

Each red blood cell in your body lives for only 120 days on average!

(Over time, the red blood cells get worn out and eventually die.  I know how they feel.)

Interesting Animal - The Tapeworm

A human tapeworm averages 10 metres long!

(Or for those of us who are a bit long in the tooth and haven't gone metric yet, 32 feet, which makes it sound even scarier!)

Interesting Place - Greece

Apparently the national anthem of Greece has 158 verses!

(Well, not quite. The original was written by Dionýsios Solomós in 1823 and had 158 stanzas.  Fortunately for us in the Olympics next year, they now only use the first two!)

Interesting People - Aristotle

Aristotle stated that flies have four legs. He was so trusted that his assertion was repeated in natural history texts for more than a thousand years.

(Some people defend him by saying some flies, like the mayfly, walk on four legs and use their two forelegs to hold onto the female during mating in flight. I just like to think he got it wrong.)