Sunday, 1 May 2011

Sir Richard Burton: Explorer, Linguist, old-time Badass.

I've had a change of plan. The post I drafted earlier for this week has been post-poned, and instead I present you with a short compilation of a fascinating chap:

Sir Richard Burton.

Pre-read PS: Sorry it's so long. This'll be one of the last long-writey one's I promise, I'm meaning to get them to be snippets and bullet points! It's worth it though, this guy is pure bad-ass.

Inspiration: I've been staying with parents for the past week, and I was just absent mindedly watching a Sinbad movie on the TV. My dad suddenly chirps up and starts tell me about Richard Burton who originally translated and published the entirety of The Arabian Nights, the volumes that Sinbad was based upon. And so, with a little verification via my good friend google, I pass these facts onto you.

Capt. Sir Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat.

He was an enthusiastic linguist and according to many accounts could speak around 30 languages, including all European languages, Arabic and many dialects, and a few Asian languages. In fact, he was so keen that while in the Army and stationed in India he became a proficient speaker of Hindustani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Sindhi and Marathi as well as Persian and Arabic, and also kept a large menagerie of tame monkeys in the hopes of learning their language.

"Fit for nothing but to be shot at for six pence a day"
Burton remarking upon enlisting in the East India Trading Company Army

Burton had an intense understanding of cultures, language and behaviour, all of which were put to use when he decided to start travelling disguised as a Muslim. In 1853 he successfully attempted (and succeeded) a Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, travelling with a group of Muslims who were all fooled by his disguise. A remarkable feat considering the meticulous religious proceedings that must have been undertaken at the time. (A nod to his dedication: he was circumcised in order to lower the risk of being discovered.)

He also explored and surveyed many of the Great African Lakes, including finding the source of the River Nile.

Burton wasn't one to follow rules, and often did things in his own manner. While attending Trinity College in Oxford he directly defied college rules and attended a Steeplechase, upon return even daring to tell authorities they should allow students to attend to such events. The result of this was expulsion, and upon leaving the college Burton trampled the flower beds of Trinity College using the horse and carriage taking him away. Another example was while posted as consul in Damascus, he made many enemies. There was turmoil at the time with considerable tensions between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim populations, and while he did his best to keep the peace, his direct and individual nature often lead him to trouble. On one occasion, he claims to have escaped an attack by hundreds of armed horsemen and camel riders sent by Mohammed Rashid Pasha, the Governor of Syria.

"I have never been so flattered in my life than to think it would take three hundred men to kill me."
Burton writing about the attack sent by Mohammed Rashid Pasha

Further to his anti-authority stance, Burton was very open about sexuality. He wrote many books considered to be pornographic at the time, and got into even more trouble when he decided to publish an English translation of the Karma Sutra.

"Sir, I'm proud to say I have committed every sin in the Decalogue."
Burton when being questioned by a Priest.

These are just some snippets of what Burton accomplished in his life. He's an incredibly interesting fellow, and I highly encourage a quick read further. However, this will probably be the only person I do for a while, I much prefer to bring enlightenment to general, everyday things you might not have thought about before.

Hope you enjoyed, until next time.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

A Blogpost about Blogging and the History of Blogposts

Okay, thanks to my Easter break being sucked up having to Manufacture the machine for my final year project in uni, I've not been updating this nearly as much as I wanted. I'm going to aim for atleast 1 a week, on the weekend. There may well be an update mid-week, or even two interspersed, depends on how much work I have. This will give me more time to keep up with the people I follow, which is always nice. And so, this brings me nicely onto this weeks blog:


Blog noun, verb
~ noun
A website containing a collection of a writer's thoughts, experiences, observations, opinions, etc., often containing images and links from other wbesites.
~ verb
To maintain or add new entries to a blog

The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog in April or May 1999. This has also been applied to to classify certain types of blogs, video (b)log => vlog.
[source / source]

From this, many different terms have been coined. Two prominent ones:
- Blogosphere: The collective term for the whole movement that is blogging. The blogoshpere is growing at a remarkable rate, and becoming more versitile (the most recent of which that I can think of is Twitter, a form of micro-blogging).
- Blogroll: A column to the side of a blog containing a list of links to other recommended blogs (I really need to change the name of my blog).

According to Blogpulse, a blog indexing site, there are 160,415,796 identified blogs (surprisingly small number in my opinion) and 75,625 have been created in the last 24 hours. I'm not sure how accurate this site is, it gives no indication that I can find on how it indexes and finds new blogs other than people submitting them for indexing. Surely it would crawl popular blogging sites and just index them as they crop up?

The history of blogging is partiularly tricky to trace back. For one, blogs first evolved from online diaries, when people first started documenting things that went on in their day to day lives. Some many distinguish a difference here, and therefore make the officialy start of blogging very difficult to pinpoint. Even disregarding this it's difficult, the net back then was a small place, with no where near the audience it does in modern standards. Therefore, it's a bit harder to trace back: not everything was indexed or documented. However, the "founding father" or blogs seems to be Justin Hall. In 1994 he decided it'd be a great idea to share his thoughts with the internet.

A final warning: blogging can get you into a lot of trouble.:
- If you're a dictator, or any form of facsist/controlling government, beware of revolts and protests being organised via blogging sites. Microblogging in the form of twitter and Facebook (arguably a form of micro blogging) lead to the White Revolution in Egypt in the first months of 2011.
- Don't reveal your employers trade secrets on a blogging site. Mark Jen was fired from Google in 2005 after a whole 10 days of employment as Assistant Product Manager after blogging about products and services not yet released or announced. Especially stupid considering he used the Google-owned Blogger service.
- If you're in a controlling country, where death or life imprisonment is possible for drawing cartoons being critical of the Head of State, then don't blog about it. Nay Phone Latt of Burma leanred the hard way and was sentanced to 20 years imprisonment for just that.

That's all for this week, sorry it's a little longer than anticipated, I wanted to write more on the growing popularity, but I thought that'd be overkill. Hope you've learned something interesting. 'Till next time.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Flash Facts About Lightning

This week:
The news-world is still boring. I could do with changing that tag up top from "news-inspired". I was flicking through the TV, and saw The Day After Tomorrow came on. This made me think of the potential power of nature, but that's too vague, and so we have:


1/. Lightning is a massive discharge of electricity.
The bolt can be over 5 miles in length, contains 100,000,000 volts and heats the air to over 27,700 degrees Celsius (Tantalum hafnium carbide, one of the hardest compounds known, and the one with the highest melting point melts at 4215 degrees Celsius).

2/. The odds of becoming a lightning victim in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.

3/. Most people hurt by lightning while inside their homes are talking on the telephone at the time.

4/. Lightning can be formed in the top or bottom section of the storm. Lightning formed in the positive top section can strike upto 10 miles away, often in an area of clear skies.

These points really don't help with paranoia.

PS: I have a confession. This post is primarily sourced from National Geographic. The news article is concise, interesting, and in virtually the same format as I aim for, so it was hard to resist. I even stole their punny title. Forgive me, blogosphere.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sorry about the Silence, how about some tea?

Sorry about the silence these past few days, I hope my followers/followees can forgive me, came down with a mystery illness that's knocked me cold the past 3 days. But on with show, I'm back, here with my cup of tea. Well, with the news front being strangely un-interesting, let's look into Britain's favourite hot beverage:


1/. The British population drink 165 million cups daily or 60.2 billion per year.
Taking the average tea bag to be 3.5g (warning: dodgy science inbound, I weighed a tetley tea bag pre-dunk just for this), that equates to 557.5kg of tea wrapped in thin paper bags a day. That's about err... Half a small car? A baby elephant's worth? Okay, that's not as impressive as I'd hoped to be. But it's still a shit load of tea.
NB: That's >99% black tea by the way.

2/. We (the Brits) care about tea so much, we started a war about it.
Okay, so I'm not really proud about this one, and it's a tenuous link anyway, but I'm referring to the Opium Wars. (warning: dodgy history inbound) In a nut shell, the East India Trading Company (the British trading force at the time) were buying Silk, Porcelain and Tea from the Chinese. To fund this spending spree the British imported Opium, and sold it to smugglers. The Chinese weren't too happy about this, and so restricted trading and forced the Opium traders to turn over their stock. As a result, the British decided to take control of all the ports and forcefully negotiate. So there. Don't mess with our tea imports.
PS: This is all summed up in the highly addictive game High Tea (flash game, free to play, probably not historically accurate).

3/. Spiders freak out on caffeine.
See the comparison picture of a spiders web:

Sorry again about the silence, I'll be catching up with all my fellow bloggers in the next day or two, and there'll be another blog post on Saturday at latest.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Amazing Human Feats (Physical)

I was reading about the London Marathon on the BBC News website, and there was an article discussing whether the 2-hour marathon time will ever be broken. This got me thinking... What other amazing physical feats have humans accomplished?

1/. Bruce Lee could snatch a dime off a person's open palm before they could close it, and leave a penny behind.
Bruce Lee was one of the first people I thought of, and someone who's always fascinated me. This is quite simply an amazing thing to think about. Lee was known for his phenomenal combination of speed and strength. Hell, when filming him they had to use 32fps instead of the usual 24 because he was too damn fast.

2/. Usain Bolt holds the current World Record for the fastest 100m sprint: 9.58s.
This is ridiculous. His average speed is 23.35mph. Average. From rest. I just can't bend my head around the statistics of this. Just look around you, find something about 5m away (a door is 2m, use that as a guide). In under half a second, he can run that distance. O_O

3/. Martin Strel has swam 313.5 miles (or 504.5km) of the Danube in 84 hours and 10 minutes.
That's continuous swimming, no stopping for anything. That's 3.5 days. I get a tired if I have to run to the shop 500m down the road, or if I stay up till the early hours finishing some work.

4/. Wu Zuyou holds the fastest time for blowing up a balloon with the eye.
Okay, that last one's no so much of an amazing feat, but it's damn impressive. The Guinness World Records doesn't have the actual time, but it goes on to explain the balloon was inflated by "blowing" air through the tear ducts, and the balloon was 16.1cm in diameter. I've been looking for a video for hours of this... Must See D:

Inspiring or depressing? Do you know of any other impressive feats of mankind? Can you do anything special yourself?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Grand National: Racing, Jockeys and... Robots?

So, today's the day of the Grand National here in the UK: a "world-famous National Hunt horse race which is held annually at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England". the perilous course, leads to some quite unexpected results, and within the British public there is a culture of many people placing bets on a wide variety of horses.

- In 1928, only 2 horses finished the race, the fewest ever recorded
- 5 horses have won with odds of 100/1: Tipperary Tim (1928), Gregalach (1929), Caughoo (1947), Foinavon (1967) & Mon Mome (2009)
- It is the most valuable National Hunt event in Britain, offering a total prize fund of £950,000 in 2011
- The word jockey is by origin a diminutive of "jock", the Northern Englishor Scots colloquial equivalent of the first name "John," which is also used generically for "boy, or fellow"
- Jockey insurance premiums are one of the highest of all professional sports, not surprising as between 1993 and 1996, 6,545 injuries occurred during official races for an injury rate of 606 per 1,000 jockey years.
- In Australia race riding is regarded as being the second most deadly job, after offshore fishing
- Robot jockeys are replacing human jockeys in camel racing. In Saudi Arabia, Bahrain,United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, small children were often used. However, to combat this and the human rights abuses they often suffer, child jockeys are slowly being banned in favour of robot equivalents:

Just me or do they look like cordless drills?
Did you place a bet on the Grand National? Would you be a jockey given the right physical attributes? Would you let your camel be ridden by a cordless drill?