Who Invented the Sandwich?

Today I installed Windows XP seven times in a row. The mystical taxi driver who drove me home a few weeks ago - the one into internet marketing scams and books about Roswell. His computer was crashing and being unusably slow, largely because (a) he never deleted any files ever (b) he had no filing system at all and (c) it was a crap computer put together out of spare parts.

In a moment of madness, I'd offered to fix it. So today, being well enough to leave the house, I spent six solid hours installing from five different discs and getting a variety of crashes. All while thumbing through his endless supply of books about alien abductions and atlantis.

I was (unexpectedly) rewarded with UKP20 and a ride home - presumably to keep me sweet enough for him to ask me for help the next time it goes wrong.

My eyesight is definitely fading. I can't read the spine of books on the shelf six feet away. I have a hospital appointment about it next week. Maybe by then I'll have found my spectacles.

My current light reading is The Book of General Ignorance - a series of short articles debunking common misconceptions and explaining the realities.

Some I already knew about:
* Goldfish do not have 3 second memories.
* Whales can't swallow people.
* Lemmings don't jump and in any case can swim.
* Chameleons don't change colour for camouflage.
* The great wall of China is not visible from the moon.
* Rickshaws are not a Chinese invention.
* James Watt did not invent the steam engine.
* Glass is not a liquid.
* Haggis, whisky and tartan are not Scottish inventions. But chicken tikka massala is.
* Seven prisoners were freed in the storming of the Bastille.

Some everyone knew about already:
* Marie Antoinette didn't say "Let them eat cake".
* The cookoo clock is a German invention, not Swiss.
* Admiral Nelson never said "Kiss me, Hardy". And he didn't wear an eyepatch either.
* Alexander Graham Bell did not invent the telephone.
* Atoms are mostly composed of nothing.
* The smell of the sea is rotting seaweed, not ozone.
* Moths aren't attracted to flames.
* Nero didn't fiddle while Rome burned, and he didn't cause the fire. He wasn't in Rome at the time and violins weren't invented till the 1400s.
* Camels store fat in their humps, not water. Has anyone ever seriously suggested they did carry water?
* The speed of light is not constant.
* There never was a curse of Tutankhamen - it was a newspaper invention.
* Eskimos have no more than four words for snow. And most Eskimos aren't Inuits.

Some rely on nitpicking of definitions:
* Henry VIII had two wives, or four if you're catholic. He just went through the marriage ceremony six times.
* Humans have four nostrils. Two are on the inside.
* The deadliest animal in the world is the mosquito. More than half the humans who have ever died did so from diseases carried by mosquitoes.
* The earth has at least seven moons. Luna is the only one visible from the surface, and the only one in fixed orbit, but there's "Near Earth Asteroids" that follow us around.
* Mars isn't red. Actually the dust clouds in the atmosphere are red but no one knows the colour of the surface rock.
* There are forty six states in the USA, plus four commonwealths.
* The coolest place in the universe is in Finland, in a lab in the University of Helsinki that's cooled a piece of rhodium to one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero.
* The most recent ice age...is still going on. We're in a warm period of it.

There are some myths debunked I'd never even heard of:
* Polar bears are not left handed and don't camouflage their noses with their paws.
* Rhino horns aren't made of hair. Has anyone ever suggested that they were?!
* Violin strings are not made of real catgut. I never thought they were.
* No culture anywhere has believed the earth is flat.
* The Quakers didn't invent Quaker Oats.
* Bananas don't grow on trees.

But there were some surprises - things I didn't know at all:
* The Richter scale is obsolete, replaced by the MIMS scale.
* Different species of centipede have different numbers of legs, but none have 100.
* The statue of Eros in Piccadilly Square is actually of Anteros, Eros's younger brother, and god of "mature love".
* The number of the beast in Revelations is 616.
* Symbolic feminist bra burning never happened - it was another newspaper invention.
* Buffalo Bill actually killed bison.
* The capital city of Thailand is called Grung Tape, and hasn't been called Bangkok for 200 years. Personally I think Bangkok is much more...evocative. But then, I think Londinium of more evocative than London.
* School chalk is gypsum.
* The Dodo was hunted for sport, not food.
* The Canary Islands were named after "Canis" - the latin for "Dog" - the canary birds after the islands.
* Dogs mate back to back, not doggy style.
* Hair and fingernails don't grow after death.

Inevitably, there's one or two entries that perpetuate myths. One article "proves" that the ancient Greeks couldn't see blue by noting that there are only four colour words in Homer, and blue isn't among them. It then speculates on minimal evidence that human retinas have evolved in the intervening 2000 years to see more shades - before mentioning that different languages break the spectrum up differently, without seeing how this questions the rest of the article.

Did you know Columbus thought the world was pear shaped? I think he was right.


  1. I loved this - and found the camels/humps/water thing quite shocking.

  2. I feel like a spammer... Shameless self promotion alert!

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