watervole: (Light in dark places)
I'm a long time lover of the classic Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life".

Like many others, I've often wondered about Clarance the angel and the line: "every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings." 

It seems an odd line to come from nowhere.  What was in the scrip-writer's mind when he wrote it?  To have the line actually be related to the overall story suggests that he was familiar with such a belief/custom/saying.

I think I may have found a possible origin.  

I was browsing Wikipedia and ended up in the article on Indulgences   (For those who don't know, the over-simplified explanation is that by buying an indulgence, a sinner could avoid part of the punishment in purgatory for a sin)

Luther, who was a key figure in the Protestant reformation was strongly opposed to the sale of indulgences.  

 In Thesis 28 Luther objected to a saying attributed to Tetzel: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs".[40] 

I think that quote of Tetzel is the likely origin of the Angel getting his wings saying.  


Feb. 27th, 2010 08:57 am
watervole: (Default)
I came across a lovely word today while wandering around the web. Tumbarumba.  It's when one word is inserted into  another like Sheridan's 'Abso- fragging- lutely' , and, as one might expect, it has an Australian origin.  I rather liked the poem that is the likely derivation for it.
watervole: (Default)
Ever wondered where these funny old units of measurement come from?  They were originally very practical units of measurement.

eg. Allotments are typically 5 or 10 rods in length. (a pole is the same measurement as a rod)

Plot sizes are measured in rods, an old Anglo-Saxon unit so-called because it was the length of the rod used to control a team of eight oxen (thus an item of standard length that was likely to be around and handy for measuring stuff).

A rod is 5.5 yards (5.03 metres).

An acre is the area of land that could be ploughed in a day, being a furrow long (one 'furlong')and a chain wide.

Turning a team of oxen was difficult, so the typical acre on the ground was a long narrow shape.  Short furrows would drain better, but long ones were easier to plough. The furlong was a compromise between the two factors.

A furlong = 10 chains.

But the chain has an extra layer of meaning.  It was the measuring tool of surveyors and had to be strong enough to not stretch, but light enough so that the surveyor could still carry it.  It was literally a chain, typically made with 100 links.

A chain = 4 rods = 22yd (20.12m) and is the length of a cricket wicket.  (I guess the surveyor's chain was another handy item)

A mile is 8 furlongs or 80 chains.

A foot is pretty self-evident.

An inch is derived from the width of a man's thumb at the broadest point. Again, one can see this as an easy practical measurement.

A fathom is used mainly at sea for measuring depth.  6 ft, fingertip to fingertip of outstretched arms.  Think of how you quickly measure the length of a rope and you can see why depth measurements made by a man dropping a lead on the end of a piece of thin rope would obviously be measured in fathoms.


A mile = 8 furlongs.

An acre is the area of land that could be ploughed in a day, being a furrow long (furlong)and a chain wide, or 160 square rods.

watervole: (Default)
Two stories from opposite sides of the globe.  Hachiko and Greyfriars Bobby.  (Scatmania mentions that Fry's dog in Futurama was inspired by these stories)

It's good to see that both dogs were fed by people who recognised their loyalty to their dead owners.

watervole: (Folk music)
It strikes me that one of the reasons I find alternative names for Jew's Harps to be mildly annoying is that names of musical instruments have a cultural context for me.

One (of many possible) derivations suggested for the name was its popularity among people like the Khazars, who were largely Jewish.  That's a link back to areas of the world where the instrument is still used.

I'd be equally irritated if Appalachian dulcimers, or Irish Harps underwent a name change.

I still can't pronounce 'bodhran' correctly (it's the drum in the icon), but I'd never want to change the name as that would be to lose the cultural context and history of the instrument.  Speaking of which, I really need to get mine out and play it more often...

watervole: (Default)
I was delighted to discover today that Murphy's Law was named for a real person, Edward A Murphy, an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems.  Murphy regarded the law as crystallizing a key principle of defensive design, in which one should always assume worst-case scenarios.

I found Edward Murphy while looking up John Paul Stapp, who is probably responsible for the fact that two of my friends are still alive this morning.  John Paul Stapp Stapp's life was dedicated to aerospace safety in particular, and safety in general; he was one of the principal advocates of automotive safety belts.
watervole: (Default)
I was reading the letters page of the local paper last week and saw two separate letters from people thanking the unknown strangers who had handed their lost wallets (complete with money) in to the police.

It's worth remembering that there are still a lot of honest people in the world.  (I remember both the occasion when my son found a wallet on the train and fortunately the lady's address and bus pass were inside so we were able to post it to her, and the time someone else found his wallet and handed it in)

I'm now the owner of a pretty, blue topaz ring - which by a handy coincidence fits my index finger perfectly.  I handed it into the police after I found it on the pavement, but no one reported it as missing, so it's now mine as the apropriate time has passed since I found it.  I find it a little sad that the owner never reported losing it.  Did they assume that no one would hand it in?  (It's probably not massively valuable, but a gold ring, even if only 9 carat, is still a gold ring) 

Moral, if you lose something, tell the police.  You've nothing to lose and you might well get a happy surprise.
watervole: (Default)
I found this to be absolutely amazing. Being a natural sceptic, I checked with Snopes.com  (the use of perspective on the legs suggested human input) It isn't a fake (which is what I first wondered), though the elephants are trained. But even so, what age would a human need to be (even with training) to be able to draw that well? What does this say about the intelligent of elephants? PS. Can anyone tell me how to embed the clip in my journal?
watervole: (Default)
Just look at these fantastic cloud photos.  Some are beautiful in their own right, but I can see Thor in one and ET in another, and there's the rabbit and the fish...


May. 2nd, 2008 07:32 pm
watervole: (Default)
Slash fans may read Ansible and snigger in total disbelief at a quote there.  A writer called Toby Litt is not going to live this one down for a long time...
watervole: (Default)
LJ are going to be using ReCaptcha for sorting people from spammers.  This is a great idea and one that actually helps in the process of digitising old books.  I've long hoped that more people would adopt this particular system.
watervole: (Eye of Horus)
Unless your baby is in a breach position, the risk of a Cesarean birth is double that of a vaginal delivery.  (I hadn't expected the difference to be so great, but that is the result of a massive study, and interestingly enough, the risk is to the baby as well as the mother)
watervole: (Default)
There are some very strange, and very beautiful, life forms out there.  Take a look at the Pompeii worm
watervole: (Default)
Oliver Postgate (the man behind Bagpuss and the Clangers and Ivor the Engine, etc) comments here on one of the inherent problems of a government (independent of what political party it is) that wants to stay in power - namely that you have to keep the people happy, even if this means acting against the long term interests of your country.

He's got an interesting style of writing - very narrative - which is what I'd expect really.
watervole: (Eye of Horus)
This isn't actually very recent news, but I was reminded of it by a friend who linked to an article in the Guardian showing that the link between obesity and lack of exercise isn't as clear cut as often assumed.

I became very aware of the link between lack of sleep and obesity through having two friends who suffered from sleep apnea - that's a nasty condition that keeps waking you up in the night.  Obesity makes sleep apnea worse - but - and it's a big but - sleep apnea also makes the obesity worse, setting up a vicious circle that is staggeringly difficult to break out of.

There seems to be a connection with hormones.  In a nutshell, if you don't get enough sleep, it affects the hormones that regulate appetite.

So, if you have a weight problem, try going to bed an hour or two earlier.  You may find it makes a surprising difference.

There's also a connection between lack of sleep and depression  It used to be thought that lack of sleep was  a symptom of depression.  It now seems likely that it's another of those circles and that lack of sleep can actually help cause depression.

In the case of depression, I suspect it's not only necessary to get more sleep, but to try and find techniques to relax and unwind before going to sleep.

(One of the many reasons I enjoy cross stitch is that it's a very good way of mentally relaxing in the last half hour before going to bed.  I'd recommend it to anyone)


Oct. 3rd, 2007 12:36 pm
watervole: (Default)
Just saw this in [personal profile] undyingking's journal and thought it was a really neat idea.

There's a project scanning old books where the OCR often can't identify the word correctly.  They're using the power of massed real people by making their hard to read words available for all those places where web sites need to distinguish between spambots and real people.


They also have a way for you to use their scheme to list your email address on web sites without getting spammed to death.
watervole: (Default)
I found this from the vegatarian society while reading up on vitamin B12...  (It's sort of yukky, but fascinating)

"The current nutritional consensus is that no plant foods can be relied on as a safe source of vitamin B12.

Bacteria present in the large intestine are able to synthesise B12. In the past, it has been thought that the B12 produced by these colonic bacteria could be absorbed and utilised by humans. However, the bacteria produce B12 too far down the intestine for absorption to occur, B12 not being absorbed through the colon lining.

Human faeces can contain significant B12. A study has shown that a group of Iranian vegans obtained adequate B12 from unwashed vegetables which had been fertilised with human manure. Faecal contamination of vegetables and other plant foods can make a significant contribution to dietary needs, particularly in areas where hygiene standards may be low. This may be responsible for the lack of aneamia due to B12 deficiency in vegan communities in developing countries."

watervole: (Default)
While looking for a suitable ceilidh for [profile] orbital_2008, I contacted someone via the EFDSS (English Folk Dance and Song Society) web site.

The person I contacted turns out to be familiar with the requirements for an Eastercon ceilidh because she goes to Eastercons - not only that, she recognises my name from [profile] allotments_anon 

It's a small world.

Listen to the band here.  I wasn't sure until I was about 30 seconds in, and then the music really started to swing.  (It's only a kitchen rehersal session, but I'm smiling happily as I listen to it)
watervole: (Eye of Horus)
This will be brief (as the tooth is aching), but I was listening to an interesting phone in on Radio 4 this afternoon which had a number of very intelligent contributions.

It seems to me that a Muslim woman's veil has very different meanings in different parts of the world.

There are parts of the world where it can, and is, used to subjugate women; but in Britain, some women wear it very much as a positive gesture - as an outward declaration of their faith. (I felt really sorry for one woman who had worn it until recently and had been forced to give it up as she could no longer bear the name-calling from people in the street) There are families where some daughters freely choose to wear it and some do not. There are women of Anglo-Saxon ethnic origin who choose to wear it after converting to Islam.

It actually seems to me that wearing the veil in many countries shows a lack of freedom/independence for women, but that in Britain (for some women at least), it is the wearing of it that demonstrates freedom and independence.

I don't like it - I find it alienating not to see someone's face - but I'm starting to understand why some women choose to wear it.
watervole: (Fontmell Down)
Here's the five questions I was asked by [livejournal.com profile] dougs. If you want me to interview you, leave a note in the comments.

1. Often, when something good happens, some group of worthy people gets casually omitted when the credit gets handed out. Pick one such good thing, one such uncredited group, and praise them.

2. Default behaviour on this meme is to ask questions which draw the victim out on their favoured topics. In this case, the strong temptation is to ask questions about the environment. Which questions do you often itch to be asked, but which never arise because people ask you questions about the environment instead?

3. Intermittent voice trouble, intermittent shoulder trouble. You have to choose -- you could pick a complete and permanent cure for one of them, in exchange for constant serious problems with the other. Which way round do you make the choice?

4. Imagine you'd had two daughters instead of two sons. Describe your life.

5. You're well known for your activities in B7 and SG fandoms. What are your other fannish obsessions? Any other shows you'd eagerly recommend to someone with time on their hands?

my answers )
watervole: (Bear (family))
I was pondering this one yesterday, because the answer is very different for different people.

Some people find a sense of security in having posessions, others in people, some in a particular place. Or it may be a combination of several of these.
Read more... )
watervole: (Concertina)
I was watching an episode of Carnivale today (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] sugoll) and noticed that even a series that looks good for overall detail managed to make a classic mistake (It's not alone. Every film I've seen with a concertina does the same).

The person playing the concertina in the background hasn't a clue how to fake it. The concertina is like the one in my icon - the strap passes over the back of the hand. That means it's an Anglo concertina and they are played in short, jerky, in and out movements. The person holding it on screen is pulling it out a long way on the bellows and then doing a couple of seconds squeezing it together, then a few seconds out again. You can't play an Anglo that way (unless you're very skilled and playing it Irish style and frankly if you want to play that style it's much simpler to buy an 'English' concertina rather than an 'Anglo' as the keys are totally different and more suited to long bellows pulls). Anglos are a dance instrument, suited to bouncy tunes with lots of oomph and a bellows push for every bounce/beat. 'English' concertinas have very different straps as you're using different fingers to play with.

I'm sure we all notice our own instruments in this way.

What poor fakes do other people notice?

My other favourite is the bowed psaltery in the opening credits of the first season of BAbylon 5 (An instrument like an isocleles triangle being held by a Minbari priest) He's holding it the wrong way round and plucking it.
watervole: (Default)
I'm still reading 'Watching the English' which is pretty interesting, though I think occasionally overstates its case.

Her suggestions as to which mannerisms come from which social class is interesting as it makes me aware of what I picked up from each of my parents (who came from fairly different backgrounds).

She comments on the custom of passing the bottle of port to the left around a table and says that no one has any idea where this custom originated. Well, my family never followed that particular custome, but I should have thought it was blindingly obvious where it originates.

It's got to be a pun. It it was called 'starboard' then we'd pass it to the right.
watervole: (Default)
Cultures are very different in how people use names, which name they use and how/when people introduce themselves.

For instance, I get very irritated when salesmen address me by my first name. My first name is for my friends. If someone wants to sell me a mortgage/gas company/sofa, he can darn well call me 'Mrs Proctor'. They only do it to make me feel I'm with a friend - you know they've been trained to do it for that reason - and it *grates*.

I love name badges at conventions - they remove all the awkwardness of asking people's names, especially when there's too many new people and you've forgotten...

If you meet someone at a party or in a social setting (assuming you haven't just arrived and been formally introduced by your host) how long would you wait before asking the name of someone you're talking to or before telling them what your name is? Would you do it immediately, after ten mins or so, maybe after a couple of hours, or never unless they asked you first?

(This isn't just about how easily you make friends or if you have Aspergers or whatever, I'm interested in English/american/Australian differences.)


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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