Tag History

Citation Needed

wikipedia

This year marks the tenth birthday of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that anyone (with a computer, an Internet connection, and nothing better to do) can edit. Quite often I fit those categories to a T, but the sad truth is that in my years of wikiresearching, wikiquoting, and wikiforwarding article links to unsuspecting friends, I have only one edit to my name (or rather, my IP address). It’s not that I haven’t found mistakes, or inconsistencies, or editorial potholes: rather, it’s that those are part of what I’ve come to love Wikipedia—all ten years and 3.5 million entries of it—for.

The joys and perils of overlapping reading

cc Shutterhacks/flickr

There are many reasons why I was never able to finish reading Crime and Punishment—the type was a bit on the small side, the names and the chapters were a little too long, the plot reminded me of a bad experience I had in high school—but, in hindsight, I’d say the blame falls heaviest at the feet of two men. I am speaking, of course, of Gandhi and Hitler.

Allow me to explain.

How not to do your physics homework

covilha/flickr

Foucault’s pendulum has fallen. On April 6, the steel cable snapped and sent it crashing onto the polished floor of the Musée des Artes et Metiers in Paris. The 28 kilogram brass weight ended its 159-year career—the dented bob is, a museum spokesperson affirmed, beyond repair—doing what it was meant to do: obeying the law of gravity. I have to admit I shed a tear (or at least the idea of a tear) for the fallen bit of scientific history, not because I’d visited the pendulum myself, or even read the 1988 Umberto Eco novel which takes its title and climax from the now-not-swinging orb. I have my own tangled history with pendulums—one stretching back, depending how you count it, decades, even centuries. It’s quite a bit of weight to bear, but a tale worth telling.

Subtleties

Still from Fellini’s (1963). Not the movie I’ve been talking about, but you get the idea.

One Friday night in the early 1990s, my family rented an old black-and-white foreign film for our weekend’s entertainment. I don’t recall the movie’s title, let alone what any of us thought of it when we viewed it, but I remember very clearly a bit of promotional copy on the front of the VHS cassette’s cardboard slipcase, in the space usually reserved for Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs: NOW WITH YELLOW SUBTITLES!

You had me at ‘hello’

Telephone Booths

image cc Richard Stowey/flickr

A few days ago I followed a link to Omniglot, a treasure-trove of comparative linguistics for laymen and the lovers of global alphabets, of which I am both. The page I landed on was titled Translations of Hello in many languages and featured a giant three-column table offering standard greetings in 182 languages, scrolling from goeie dag (Afrikaans) all the way to sanibonani (Zulu). Perusing this chart brought two questions to my mind. First, why do I have a link to Kanye West’s blog on my browser’s toolbar, but not one for Omniglot? And second, wait, a three-column chart? For along with “Language” and “Hello” there was the distinct-yet-apparently-essential column labelled “Hello (on phone).”

A star in the East: The enduring myth of Prester John

wikipedia

The first world map to include the Western Hemisphere was drawn in 1507 by an Alsatian cartographer named Martin Waldseemuller. Its initial printing ran a thousand copies, of which only one complete version—purchased recently by the Library of Congress for $10 million—is known to exist. Even in the tantalizingly low-resolution copies available on the Internet, Waldseemüller’s map is a thing of beauty, brilliantly illustrated and full of written descriptions and details about seas and cities and rivers.