Luddite by Degrees

Douglas Adams’ “rules that describe our reactions to technologies”:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.

Left Turn at Albuquerque

Late last year, somewhere in the lonely New Mexico desert, someone began broadcasting a strange shortwave radio signal.

At regular intervals, on several frequencies, Yosemite Sam says, “Varmint, I’m a-gonna blow you to smithereens!”

The FCC thinks the signal is originating in the desert near Albuquerque, but no one knows who’s broadcasting it, or why.

One, Two, Three …
Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s ironic that hopscotch has come to be known as a little girl’s game, because it couldn’t have a more masculine pedigree. The first hopscotch courts were used in military training exercises in ancient Britain during the early Roman Empire. Footsoldiers wearing field packs and full body armor ran through courts 100 feet long, much as football players run through truck tires today.

Imitating the soldiers, Roman children drew their own smaller courts and added a scoring system, which has been preserved remarkably well for more than a thousand years as the game has spread to France (where it’s called “Marelles”), Germany (“Templehupfen”), the Netherlands (“Hinkelbaan”), India (“Ekaria Dukaria”), and even Vietnam (“Pico”) and Argentina (“Rayuela”).

Today’s children still draw their hopscotch courts with the word “London” at the top, without knowing that they’re representing the Great North Road, a 400-mile Roman road from Glasgow to London that was frequently used by the Roman military.


After years of work, some programmers unveil a new supercomputer. They say it knows everything.

A skeptical man asks the computer, “Where is my father?”

The computer thinks, then says, “Your father is fishing in Michigan.”

The man laughs. “See? I knew this was nonsense. My father has been dead for 20 years.”

“No,” the computer says. “Your mother’s husband has been dead for 20 years. Your father just landed a three-pound trout.”

Commuting Times

Average travel time to work:

  • New York: 39.0 minutes
  • Los Angeles: 28.1 minutes
  • Chicago: 33.1 minutes
  • Houston: 25.9 minutes
  • Philadelphia: 29.2 minutes
  • Phoenix: 24.7 minutes
  • San Diego: 22.6 minutes
  • Dallas: 25.2 minutes
  • San Antonio: 21.5 minutes
  • Detroit: 24.2 minutes

The average U.S. commute is 24.3 minutes.

Speak Up, Please

The appropriate word here is “Bleeaagh.” In 897, Pope Stephen VI dug up the decomposing body of his predecessor and put it on trial for violating church law. Formosus, who had been dead for nine months, was found guilty and buried again. Rome turned against Stephen, who was eventually strangled in prison. It’s known as the cadaver synod or, in Latin, the “synodus horrenda.”

Snake Oil

Contents of Stanley’s Snake Oil, produced by “Rattlesnake King” Clark Stanley in 1917, as determined by the federal government:

  • mineral oil
  • 1% fatty oil (presumed to be beef fat)
  • red pepper
  • turpentine
  • camphor

I.e., no actual snake oil. But it’s pretty close to modern-day capsaicin-based liniments, so it may still have worked pretty well as intended.