Fun factoids from the world's biggest reference work

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

With the approach of winter in the northern hemisphere, it's time to start thinking about winter sports. As ever, Ski is popular, but did you know:

More on the History of skiing

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Interesting fact about Halloween:

more: Halloween

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Albino Heffalumps 

This entry has now moved here:

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Mortgage: A passed-away pledge 

Anyone who owns real estate will be familiar with the term mortgage - but did you know it comes from the French word for "dead pledge"? Originally it was a kind of loan which was absolutely secure, but in modern times it has come to mean a on real-estate by Contract.

More: Mortgage explanation...

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Olympics 

Interesting facts about the Olympic Games :

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Qiu Jin - a woman to remember 

People to learn from: Qiu Jin (1875-1907), a Chinese woman born in Fujian Province in China.

Influenced by the revolutionary movements of the time she broadened
her horizons, travelling to Tokyo (meaning) in Japan, where she joined the Tongmenghui led by Sun Yat-sen.

On her return to China in 1906 she started publishing a women's magazine
(Zhongguo Nu Bao) to promote women's rights, among others the abolishment of the practice of binding young girls' feet.

In 1907 while taking part in a complex plot to overthrow the Manchu
government she along with her cousin were arrested and executed.

In post-revolutionary Communist China Qiu Jin was recognized as
a hero of women's rights and has a museum dedicated to her
in Shaoxing City.

See also: Distinguished Women of Past and Present

Monday, May 24, 2004


I always knew SAAB as a Swedish automobile manufacturer, but didn't realise for a long time that it made aircraft too. In fact, AAB (originally an acronym for "Svenska Aeroplan AB") was founded as an airplain builder in 1937 and branched out into cars after the Second World War. It is now owned by
General Motors.

Anyway, a friend recently asked me if I had a list of all SAAB automobile models, and here it is:

Sunday, May 23, 2004

QNH? A Q-Code 

QNH is a Q code used by pilots, air traffic control (ATC) and low frequency weather beacons to refer to the current mean air pressure over a given region at sea level the "regional pressure setting". It is used by pilots to calibrate the altimeter on board the aircraft, to ensure that the actual flying height is known, which is usually a good thing.

This does of course beg the question: what is a Q-code? That would be a three-letter code signal used in radiotelegraphy and amateur radio communications. Developed and instituted in 1912 as a way to facilitate communication between maritime radio operators of different nationalities, Q-codes are now mainly limited to amateur radio and military CW traffic networks.

See also: List of Q-Codes


On June 6 the D-Day Landings will be commemorated for the 60th time. This is an important anniversary as it will probably be the last time war veterans will be able to gather in significant numbers, marking the beginning of the disappearence of the Second World War from living memory.

The term D-Day is not specific to the landings themselves, it is a generic military term along with H-Hour used for the day and hour on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. It has however become synonymous with the 1944 invasion of Normandy.

See also: The D-Day Museum in England and the Juno Beach Center.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Blackpool: Ireland's capital? 

In a way. Not the Blackpool you're thinking of though. I'm talking about Ireland's capital city Dublin, whose name derives from
the Irish Dubh Linn meaning "black pool". Possibly a slur on the Liffey, I don't think anyone knows for sure.

The modern Irish-language name for Dublin is quite adventurous: Baile Atha Cliath, meaning "hurdle ford town". Obviously a shortage of bridges back in the good old days.

Monday, May 10, 2004


Quashing Hindi? Who would do that, I wonder? Why, that's Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Emperor of China, or at least the first Chinese sovereign able to rule the whole country. I've no idea whether he had any problems with Indian invaders, but Quashing Hindi is an anagram of his name.

Technically speaking, an anagram is "the result of transposing the letters of a word or words in such a manner as to produce other words that possess meaning". They have been around almost as long as the written word.

Anagrams can get quite complex, especially when trying to transpose a long sequence of words. Often the results can be amusing and/or surprisingly appropiate, for example:
"The Colombian drugs trafficker Pablo Escobar" becomes
"Cartel boss: he'd grab a profit from bulk cocaine".

Source: The Colombian drugs trafficker Pablo Escobar anagrams

For some automated anagram fun visit http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Gudrun Ensslin 

The German RAF (abbreviation for: Rote Armee Fraktion, or Red Army Fraction) has gone down in history as a notorious terrorist group. A perjorative name used frequently in the press to play down the grand-sounding "Army" epithet is "Baader-Meinhof Gang", referring to the group's main "leaders", Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof.

However, Baader, although now a name synonymous with the RAF, was not initially a driving force behind the movement. A young man with a rather drifting character, he only became involved in left-wing politics after meeting Gudrun Ensslin, a rather tragic figure with a turbulent life, which ended with her suicide in prison in 1977 at the same time as Baader and other members of the group.

See also:
Gudrun_Ensslin (in German).

Friday, May 07, 2004

What does Kabir mean? 

Recently someone asked me if I knew what Kabir meant,
and to be honest I had not the slightest idea. I did speculate
it might be another spelling of the yoghurt-like drink Kephir (or
Kefir) but that's not the case.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Nadia Sawalha 

Nadia Sawalha is a actress and television presenter from the UK . Well known for her role in the perennial BBC soap opera Eastenders, she has also appeared in Celebrity Driving School for Comic Relief and currently presents daytime television.

She is the daughter of Nadim Sawalha, and sister of Julia Sawalha.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Orbital Roads of the World No. 1: the M25 

The M25 is London's main orbital motorway (or freeway). Completed in 1986 it is approximately 185 km (117 miles) long and varies between 2 and 4 lanes per direction, although for the most part it has three lanes. A public road free from tolls, it is notorious for its traffic jams and is sometimes referred to as "the London Orbital Carpark".

More on the M25 motorway

You kicked my dog (Kerpal) 

Came across this amusing if possibly politically incorrect skit from the Jerky Boys: "You kicked my dog" featuring the oddball Pakistani character Kerpal.

Click here: http://www.wolfie.cz/dog/.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Pablo Escobar: Rich, but dead. 

Recently I've been hearing the name Pablo Escobar a lot. Don't know why, it's one of life's little coincidences. Idly I wondered what had become of him, it's a name one doesn't otherwise hear much nowadays.

Well, research shows the guy is no more. Dead as a dodo. Departed in a gunfight with the local cops. Escobar has left the building. A just end for probably Colombia's biggest drug lord and a multibillionaire to boot.

And the moral of all this? Drugs are bad for your health. Drug dealing even more so. Kids, if you're thinking about getting into this line of business, think again. Western Union doens't provide money transfer to the afterlife.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Heligoland - almost a postwar Atlantis 

No, not Legoland.

Heligoland is a triangular-shaped island approximately 2 km long in the North Sea just off the German coast. Now part of Germany, it was controlled by the United Kingdom between 1807 and 1890.

Heligoland is possibly the only island anyone has ever tried to blow up. Following the Second World War on this day in 1947 the British Royal Navy detonated 6800 tons of explosives in an attempt to destroy the island. Although many military installations were destroyed, the island itself remained intact and failed to become another Atlantis. It has since been resettled.

More info on Heligoland ...

Friday, April 16, 2004

A Bridge too Far 

You know that famous suspension bridge which got an attack of the shakes and tore itself apart? For some reason I had it in my head that it was the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. A little investigation shows however that this bridge connects the boroughs of Staten Island, New York and Brooklyn in New York City at the Verrazano Narrows, the reach between Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The bridge in question is of course the Tacoma Narrows Bridge built across the Tacoma Narrows of Puget Sound near Tacoma, Washington. It self-destructed on November 7, 1940, a quarter of a century before the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was opened.


On this day, April 16, 1943 Lyserg-Saure-Diaethylamid
(correctly written: Lyserg-Saeure-Diaethylamid) was discovered. Well, not so much the substance itself, which was first synthesised by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the Sandoz laboratories in 1938. Initially developed as a stimulant for circulatory and respiratory systems, it did not prove to be particularly beneficial and was not further developed.

However, on one possibly very happy day in 1943 the said Dr. Hoffman accidentally consumed some of the substance - commonly known by its initials, LSD - and became aware of what he correctly concluded were its hallucinogenic effects (giant pink giraffes being otherwise unknown in Switzerland at that time).

In case you didn't know, LSD is derived from Ergot, a plant disease which is caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea that affects cereal crops and grasses such as rye, triticale, wheat and barley, although not often oats. LSD is an ergot derivative that strongly interferes with the neurotransmitter Serotonin.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Going to Ireland? Got any questions? Check out this cool forum: "Ask Michele" - Ireland Travel Forum.
Did you know...

The name "Egypt" derives from the Greek Aigýptos meaning "supine goat"?


Sunday, March 14, 2004

St. Patrick's Day on March 17 is Ireland's national holiday. The main Irish festival is of course in Dublin but the world's biggest parade,St. Patrick's Day Parade is in New York City.


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Beware the Ides of March

Yeah, right. But just what is an Ide? A quick lookup tells me it's a kind of fish known as Leuciscus idus in Latin. WTF? A fish, a poikilothermic water-dwelling vertebrate with gills?! I think not.

Further investigation reveals: the Ides is Roman calendar terminology for the middle of the month, and happened to be an unlucky day in one guy's horoscope.

More on the Roman Calendar

More on March 15th

Monday, March 01, 2004

April Fool

Did you know .... ?

Some sources say that the special meaning of April 1 originates in the French change to the Gregorian calendar ordered by King Charles IX of France in 1582. Before that, New Year was celebrated from March 25 to April 1. With the change of the calendar system, New Year was "moved" to January 1. People who forgot or didn't accept the new date system were given invitations to nonexistent parties, funny gifts etc. This was known in France as poisson d'avril (April fish).


Sunday, February 29, 2004

A Leap Day in a Leap Year

Did you know ... ?

According to Roman custom, the day added in a Leap Year is actually February 24th,
not February 29th

Alas, this historical oddity has been abolished by the EU.


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