Only three nations have not switched officially to the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.
Charles Osmond Frederick was a mild-mannered British engineer at the British Railway Technical Centre in Derby in the 1970s.
Or so everyone thought. Earlier this year, patent researchers discovered that in 1973 Frederick had designed a nuclear-powered space vehicle for intergalactic travel, and even got the British Railways Board to patent it. Apparently no one was paying attention.
When the plans resurfaced, a group of nuclear scientists examined them and declared them to be unworkable; Michel van Baal of the European Space Agency said, “I have had a look at the plans, and they don’t look very serious to me at all.”
But if you like, you can try them out yourself — the patent lapsed when the Railways Board neglected to renew it.
Too much optimism is a bad thing. In 1897, Swedish engineer S.A. Andrée planned to reach the North Pole in a leaky and untested balloon, steering only by dragging ropes. He and two companions lifted off from Svalbard in July, drifted north and disappeared for 33 years.
It wasn’t until 1930 that their last camp was discovered — they had crashed after only two days and spent three freezing months trying to walk home.
“Morale remains good,” Andrée had written before his diary became incoherent. “With such comrades as these, one ought to be able to manage under practically any circumstances whatsoever.”
Evidently somebody thought this was a good idea. In the late 19th century, lamplighters used this “giraffe bicycle” to travel between gas streetlamps. If you could keep your balance you’d be sitting more than 7 feet above the ground. Watch the road.
If you think your commute is bad, check out the Kinetic Sculpture Race, held every Memorial Day weekend in Ferndale, Calif. In three days, participants must cover 42 miles of mud, sand, water, gravel and pavement in vehicles powered only by people (“and friendly extraterrestrials”). Arrows, anchors and grappling hooks are strictly disallowed.
The race’s slogan is “adults having fun so children want to get older.”
The Internet is a great way to publicize your business, but be careful in choosing a Web address:
- Who Represents, a database of artists and agents, found itself with the URL whorepresents.com.
- Therapist Finder, a network for therapists, is at therapistfinder.com.
- Experts Exchange, a programmers’ site, is at expertsexchange.com.
- Pen Island, a seller of custom pens, is at penisland.net.
Amazingly, all four of these are still using these addresses. Maybe the novelty value brings in some customers.
Sonic booms can get on your nerves.
NASA and the FAA learned this the hard way in 1964, when their testing over Oklahoma City caused eight booms per day for six months. It led to 15,000 complaints and a class action lawsuit — which they lost.
The idea seems to have caught Israel’s attention — last October it started using F-16 jet planes to create sonic booms over the Gaza Strip, to bug the Palestinians. Extra points for creativity, I guess.
On Aug. 10, 2003, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko became the first person to be married in space.
He was in the international space station, 240 miles over New Zealand, when he married Ekaterina Dmitrieva, who was in Texas.
“With the prospect of coal becoming as rare as the dodo itself, the world, we are told by scientists, may still regard with complacency the failure of our ordinary carbon supply. The natural gases and oils of the world will provide the human race with combustible material for untold ages — such at least is the opinion of those who are best informed on the subject.”
— Glasgow Herald, quoted in Scientific American Supplement No. 717, Sept. 28, 1889
In 1959, the U.S. Postal Service tried delivering mail with a cruise missile — they replaced its warhead with two mail containers and fired it from Virginia to Florida.
When it hit the target, the postmaster general announced a new era. “Before man reaches the moon,” he said, “mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
But the program went no further. “The post office has a great charm at one point of our lives,” wrote Jane Austen. “When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for.”