Category Archives: History
The past fortnight I’ve been doing something that requires occasional brain-power but mostly just time, hands and space: I’ve been making props (see below) – to be precise, a stage-prop sized crown (that will serve as a piñata, and then an offering basket), and a life-sized helmet, shield, and sword (the latter is still in progress). In between those times of brain-work, I started to wonder where the word prop came from, and where it’s gone over its lifetime in English. And when did props become another word for congratulations, good job? It’s a noun, a verb, and an entire phrase or concept.
As an object used in a play, it came into English as properties and was in use in that theatrical context from the early 15th century; it became props around 1840 (we’re not the only generation to shorten words for convenience). In German, the word is “das Requisit” which is related to the English word “requisite” (indispensable, required, essential) which is kinda the point of theatre props. Prop can also be used to mean support, both literally (for plants and the like) and figuratively (e.g. when a person is in a position of either authority or notoriety for no reason – yet not quite the same as a goldbrick, shirker, malingerer, or tool). It can be the shortened term for a propeller (e.g. prop plane or turboprop), or proposal (e.g. a political issue up for vote). Props as a shortened slang for proper respect due for (a job well done) started popping up around 1999. In that context, it’s closely related to kudos (an uncountable noun meaning praise or accolades), which entered English as university slang in 1799, and comes from the Greek kydos meaning glory or fame (in battle).
That’s what I love about English – a simple word can have quite a pedigree!
There’s no denying the fact that computers are huge blessings – combined with that little invention called “internet” they’re an unstoppable pair… until they stop, and life comes to a screeching halt.
That happened last week, as our main office computer gave up the ghost, after fighting a long, painful demise. My own laptop, from which I write, has been limping and is in need of repair, but it was our only lifeline to ordering a replacement… done, and three days later, the packages arrived! I’ve spent the better hours of 5 days sorting out things like transfer of emails and contact lists, programmes, updates, software and hardware setups, and patch-jobs to get old programmes to understand the new ones and vice-versa!
Instead of the “old fashioned” desktop computer with a huge processor that either stands on the floor and collects cat hairs and dust bunnies or stands on our desk and collects dust bunnies and cat hairs, we decided to go with a laptop hooked up to a docking station and two screens. Sweet! And yes, I can use both… it’s great when I’ve got research documents open while writing, or doing translations or editing two documents simultaneously. Now, to get my laptop repaired.
It’s amazing how we’ve become so dependent on computers, isn’t’ it? Personal computers didn’t really begin to enter households in any significant way until around 1990; technically, they hit the market in the early ’80’s, but the products were mostly limited to electronics geeks and university libraries. We got our first home computer in 1993, and it had RAM of a whopping 256 MB!! How could anyone ever use THAT much?? Now we’ve passed Gigabytes, and we’re into terabytes (TB, 10004 ), and it won’t be long until we’re into petabytes (PB, 10005), exabytes (EB, 10006 ), zettabytes (ZB, 10007) and yottabytes (YB, 10008). I remember writing business letters in DOS – back before Windows, virtual desktops or virtual wallpaper had even been dreamt of. I remember floppy discs – the latest in technology, now used as drink coasters somewhere in the world, I’m sure. 5-inch floppy discs became passé with the advent of (gasp!) 2-inch version… how could anything that small have so much space on it (1.44 MB). Imagine – back in the advent of computers, there was no Microsoft, no Amazon, no internet, no cloud storage, no dropbox, no websites, no Skype… they were essentially an information processor, with transfer of information only possible through a floppy disc or good ol’ fashioned printouts and photocopies (we won’t even go into the whole issue of the love-hate relationship most secretaries had with the first few generations of photocopiers).
Do you remember cassette tapes? Polaroid cameras? Now music is on a cloud or virtual shelf, and selfies and Instagram have made physical print photos nearly obsolete, except as an art form.
These images show how far we’ve come in less than 40 years. But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Check out these up-and-coming products or concepts that are in the making: Just hover your cursor over each image for more information.
For you Sci-Fi buffs out there, that title will be very familiar, as it is the opening line of the Star Trek manifesto. The novel I’m working on at the moment is just that – Sci-Fi, albeit not Star Trek. It nevertheless takes me into space, and that’s always a fascinating thing! So here are a few fun facts about what lies beyond our atmosphere:
- Jupiter’s Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and is even larger than the planet of Mercury.
- Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, with a surface temperature of 460°C. A day on Venus is 243 Earth-days long, but its year is only 224.7 days; Venus spins backwards on its axis.
- Oxygen is the third most common element on the Sun, after helium and hydrogen.
- A neutron star is the strongest known magnet in the universe, and such stars are among the fastest-spinning objects observed, spinning up to 500 times per second.
- Since 1992, when the first exoplanet was discovered, there have been 3,728 confirmed planets in 2,794 systems, with 622 systems having more than one planet.
- About 1 in 5 stars comparable to our sun have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone (known to scientists as the “Goldilocks Zone”). It is assumed that there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone; based on that, there would be 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in our galaxy (and up to 40 billion if you count red dwarf stars as well).
- Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to us beyond the Sun.
- Russia is larger than the entire surface area of Pluto.
- The largest known star is Westerlund 1-26, which is 2,000 times bigger than the Sun.
- Olympus Mons, on Mars, is the largest volcano in the solar system. Due to the low gravity of Mars and the lack of plate tectonics, it has been able to grow to three times higher than Mount Everest.
- Dark matter and dark energy are thought to make up nearly 95% of all matter in the universe.
- The Boomerang Nebula (also known as “the Bow Tie Nebula”) is the coldest known place in the universe, with a temperature of 1 K (−272.15°C; −457.87°F).
- The Sun is growing, but we won’t have to worry about it for a few billion years, when it will become close enough to swallow the Earth.
- On Mercury during the day, the Sun rises, stops, and then sets where it rose. It rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun, meaning that, if you lived on Mercury, you would only see one day every two years.
- The Sun’s core releases the equivalent of 100 billion nuclear bombs every second, and its energy is emitted as heat and light.
- The storm on Jupiter known as the ‘Great Red Spot’ has been going on for at least 350 years; it’s so large that dozens of Earths would fit into it.
- A supermassive black hole is thought to be present in the centre of nearly every galaxy, including our own (ours is a runt compared to the average size).
- Shooting stars really aren’t stars; they’re meteors – and even then, they are often only dust particles falling through our atmosphere that vaporize due to the heat of friction with the atmospheric gases. If they are large enough to survive the journey through our atmosphere and impact on the ground, they are called meteorites.
- We are in constant motion; planets move within the solar system, the solar system moves within the Milky Way Galaxy, which in turn moves within The Local Group of Galaxies; the local group is moving toward the Virgo Cluster.
- Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard left two golf balls on the Moon in 1971. They’re still there: One is in the Javelin Crater, and the second fell near where the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment) was deployed.
- The Moon’s Javelin Crater gets its name because on the Apollo 14 mission, fellow astronaut to Shepard, Ed Mitchell, threw the Solar Wind Collector staff as a make-shift javelin.
- Uranus has 27 known moons, all of which are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.
- Jupiter has 69 known moons.
- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have no solid surface to land on, being comprised of gas.
- Did you know that the Earth is actually a ringed planet by now? At the last official count (2013), more than 170 million pieces of space junk debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in), about 670,000 debris 1–10 cm, and around 29,000 larger debris were estimated to be in orbit; these clouds (in both the geosynchronous Earth orbit and the low Earth orbit) make it hazardous for spacecraft, due to the dangers of collisions; they basically sandblast craft, which makes the launch of equipment like telescopes or solar panels extremely susceptible to damage.
- Below 2,000 km (1,200 mi) Earth-altitude, debris are denser than meteoroids; most are dust from solid rocket motors, surface erosion debris like paint flakes, and frozen coolant from RORSAT nuclear-powered satellites (according to Wikipedia). Maybe it’s actually a good thing that we can’t make it to other planets to colonize…
Below are images from APOD – enjoy!
Sometimes famous last words occur long before the individual dies; what I mean by that is that a pivotal statement is made, and thereafter (whether immediately, or down through history ever after) the person ends up eating their hat. Here’s an example:
Charles H. Duell, director of the US patent office 1899, is thought to have said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
But we should never judge a book by its cover; because he never said this! What he actually said was, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” ( The Friend, Volume 76, 1902) Quite a different matter.
It was, in fact, an earlier Patent Office Commissioner, Henry Ellsworth that may have been responsible for the sentiment: In a report to the 1843 Congress, Ellsworth states, “The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.“*
Oddly, you will find the misquote in published books and all over the web; let that be a reminder to us to do a bit of investigation of our own. Don’t even trust news sources such as newspapers or television news, as they are known to hype up, propagandize, invent, or at the very least embellish events. This last link is a short talk about journalism in the US, and it’s an important reminder for everyone in the world that just because it’s in print or on the news doesn’t mean you can fully trust its veracity.