Current affairs, engineering, Uncategorized

PPFF #173: Tally Sticks

Good morning,

It has taken a while for this one to sink in with me and an even longer while for me to form any kind of opinion on this ever more baffling phenomenon.

I’ve recently read this Guardian article; terribly negative about the whole cryptocurrency thing. The gist of it was; ‘don’t do it’ by calling it collective insanity and a modern day tulip mania or whatever disparaging remarks must have come to their mind, which I found a little lazy – If you asked me, it seems to be a perfectly rational(ised) response to the underlying conditions that gave rise to this ‘mania’. Low interest rates. Low wage rises. Overvalued and saturated traditional asset prices. Crisis of faith in the traditional economic/monetary system. Growing inequality. Cheap money from loose monetary policies. ‘Shrinkflation’. Etc. Certainly more rational than waiting in the hope that the next lottery draw would hit our lucky numbers, or blaming Mexicans and Romanians for all our social ills yet again)

In any case, the other day, I also came across a podcast where Pippa Malmgren (author of Signals: the Breakdown of the Social Contract and the Rise of Geopolitics), started talking about bitcoins and cryptocurrencies in general, and how they could, overnight make conventional fiat currencies obsolete. A little far-fetched I thought, but it made me wonder how many bitcoins she might have bought before that lecture.

What was more interesting, mentioned in the same talk was the 1782 Act of Parliament,  which basically stipulated that all accounting should be on paper ledgers, and abolished the widely circulated ‘tally sticks’ as a part of accounting procedures.

Now, you might be wondering, what on earth are tally sticks? Simply put, tallies were a tamper-proof way of recording lending/borrowing transactions back in the days. The stick containing a record of a debt, would be split in half, down its length. The debtor would retain one half, called the ‘foil’ while the creditor would retain the other half, called the ‘stock’, and because of the way the wood split, every split tally record would be unique and virtually tamper-proof. Does that remind you of anything?

Normally, these transaction records would be kept in a ledger somewhere. However, something cool happened; tally stocks (the creditor’s half) began being traded. For example, a stock showing, say ‘John Smith owed £11,563’, would actually be traded for £11,563 more or less, assuming John Smith was creditworthy. Basically a ‘stock’ market was born, where it was possible to use stocks to pay for goods and services as a convenient form of payment, not relying on officially minted coins or gold. Does that remind you of anything?

Well, to find out how it all ended, google ‘16 October 1834’

Have a good Friday

Current affairs, Uncategorized

PPFF #172: Moscow Metro

Good morning/Happy New Year (or some other things one says to greet people),

It’s going to be another amazing year of the same great stuff which life in 2016 was made of. So round and round it goes, the nature of life, though progressive at times, seems also (wonderfully) cyclical – like circles (quoting Lion King obviously). You know what else is like circles? Merry-go-round but more pertinently Moscow Metro Central Circle Line.

I heard this on some radio podcast a few days ago on my jolly commute, and subsequently checked the fact (it was such a cool fact that I made up that terrible intro you’ve just read). Anyhow, on Moscow Metro Central Circle Line, announcements of upcoming clockwise trains are made by a male voice whilst anti/counter-clockwise trains by a female voice. Furthermore, upcoming trains toward the city centre are announced by a male voice whilst trains away from the city centre by a female voice – particularly helpful if you’re one of those clueless, ‘checking-the-tube-map-in-everyone’s-way’ tourists.

Notwithstanding Putin, Crimea and now Trump, well done Russia.

Have a good Friday and a great year

origin, Uncategorized

PPFF #170: love

Good morning,

I thought about folding this little Friday routine but I realised I really have nothing else to do outside work other than to feed and wash myself; no social or familial obligations, responsibilities or duties whatsoever that I needed some sense of continuity and rhythm for the sake of sanity and temporality, which I knew would inevitably lead to needless introspection, pointless questioning of existence, meanings, narratives, and the ensuing fall down the rabbit-hole etc. So here they are, a tad hackneyed, but nonetheless worth 5 minutes of your time the (possible) origins of ‘love’, 15, 30, and 40; the bizarre scoring system of modern tennis.

The common rubbish (albeit neat) we’re led to believe is that in medieval France clocks were used to keep scores with each point being indicated by moving the minute hand by increment of 15 minutes; 15, 30, 45, and game (or 60/0), and when later deuce was introduced, the 3rd point or 45 was changed to 40, so that 50 could be used to indicate ‘advantage’ in a deuce situation.

One of the reasons why this is rubbish is that clocks were a pretty precious commodity such that it would have been very unusual to find these things in sports courts; I mean I don’t really play tennis but have you noticed how fast these balls fly at Wimbledon? Another reason is that minute hands weren’t really a thing until quite late in the development of clocks.

A little less inspiring but a more convincing theory is that ‘jeu de paume’, a precursor to tennis (‘jeu de paume’ is to tennis as ‘fives’ is to squash) used to be played on a 90 ft long court, divided into 45 ft on each side. For the first two points, the player would move forward toward the net by 15 ft per point, but for the third point they would move only 10 ft to avoid being too close to the net.

And what about ‘love’ as zero? Find out more, read this (or this). It’s got something to do with eggs.

Have a lovely Friday





















etymology, Uncategorized

PPFF #169: Callipygian

Good morning,

“We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head.”

– Conservative MP Nigel Evans on 2017 UK general election resulting in hung parliament.

I’m pretty sure this is all everyone’s going to talk about throughout today; so I’ll let you all just get on with it, but leave you with a word of the day, which may or may not take your mind off of yet another election fiasco.

Callipygian – having beautiful buttocks – from Ancient Greek κάλλος (kállos) meaning beauty, and πυγή (pugḗ) meaning buttocks, referring to the Roman statue of very naked Venus Callipyge (originally Aphrodite Kallipygos).

If you’re going to be lewd and vulgar when describing someone’s body part(s), I suggest that you at least be articulate.

Have a good Friday





Current affairs, Uncategorized

PPFF #168: Star Wars


I watched Star Wars Episode 4 for the first time in a long time. Never mind the special effects, details and intricacies of the film, I kept thinking ‘wow, isn’t this just like Harry Potter films’.

Now please, put down the stones; those of you fervent worshippers of ‘the force’. Let me explain.

Any real Star Wars fan would know that the structure of the Star Wars Ep. 4 follows that of monomyth (or hero’s journey), a highly influential concept proposed by Joseph Campbell a mythologies/literary scholar in a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory has it that pretty much every mythical story under the sun follows the same structure, be it Jesus, Buddha or Moses. It goes something like this:

The hero in his ordinary world receives a call to embark on an adventure, accompanied by a mentor, who usually dies (Departure). He then crosses the boundary between the ordinary and the unknown world (Initiation), where he faces the central crisis of his adventure. Against all odds, he defeats the archenemy (Ordeal) and wins a reward. Then he returns to the ordinary world but nothing is quite the same (Return).

Having read about this, I was reminded of last year’s US presidential election and thought ‘That sounds awfully like Donald Trump’. Call me crazy but upon this thought, I happened to google “hero’s journey and trump”. You’d be surprised how many articles have already likened his election campaign and victory to the structure of monomyth.

Basically, Trump (the hero) is a businessman and an entertainer (ordinary world). The failing state of American politics compels him (the call) to declare his intention to run for presidential office. But in the realm of politics (the unknown world) he is ridiculed and mocked but against all predictions and odds he defeats Hilary (archenemy), wins the election (the reward) and nothing is quite the same again.

Well, Trump certainly isn’t my hero (besides his political views, I can’t get over his hair) but you could just about see the parallel in how his story unfolded.

Then I thought, ‘hang on a minute. Isn’t this how Obama’s and Macron’s election campaigns panned out? They both came out of nowhere; unexpected and inexperienced underdogs formerly outside the major political scene and against all odds they both overcame their obstacles and won a decisive victory.

So I came to this conclusion. Maybe, we’re hardwired to think this way; the hero’s narrative is what people buy into. Now, with regard to the UK general election next Thursday, the question is this; which of the two potential PMs’ campaigns resembles Campbell’s hero’s journey? May? Or Corbyn?

You decide. Literally.
Have a monomythic Friday

science, Technology, Uncategorized

PPFF #167: Minoa


I was travelling last week. I was sitting outside this bar, having just eaten and had a couple of beers when this quite awkward looking middle-aged man approached my table sheepishly and asked if he could sit there. I looked up and as he looked harmless enough I consented with a nod. He sat down and I guessed he was travelling alone and probably looking for someone to talk to. So I struck up a conversation and went through the usual; ‘what brings you here’, ‘what do you do’ etc. He was a little reluctant to tell me at first what he was there for. Perhaps he assumed that I was being polite but would find it rather boring but I pressed on and this is what he actually told me:

The story begins in 1929 when Andrew Douglass pioneered a scientific method called dendrochronology or ‘tree ring dating’. He was the first scientist (in modern times; some say da Vinci discovered it) to discover that tree rings record time. Its concept is simple. You cut down a living tree then count the number of rings which would give you the number of years it has lived as well as from which to which years it lived. But it gets a little tricky if you don’t know when the tree was cut down. It would tell you how long it lived but not necessarily when it lived and died. But by comparing trees across the same region and climate, Douglass noticed that trees develop rings in the same patterns; hence by creating a database of trees with known living date(s), and comparing their rings to the pattern of unidentified tree samples, you could nail down the dates (in years) those trees lived in.

Now moving onto radiocarbon dating – when tree ring dating isn’t possible due to lack of comparable dated tree samples, carbon dating comes very handy. A radioactive isotope of carbon called Carbon-14 or C14 is in every living organism. And since some clever chaps discovered its half-life, it’s possible to date pretty much anything within the accuracy of 50 or 100 years.

Then there is this thing called solar storm. It’s a powerful explosion on the sun, whose energy can be likened to thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. In 1989 this actually happened when the magnetic forces and a cloud of gas rushed to the Earth at a million miles an hour, and the solar flare from this solar storm shut down the entire power grid in the province of Quebec.

Now researchers found that trees that live(d) through short term events, like solar flares or volcanic eruptions record unusually high levels of radiocarbon content up to 20 times the normal level. Long story short, through calibration by using carbon-dating in conjunction with tree-ring dating, solar flares or volcanic eruptions can act as chronological anchors to more accurately date things.

So why had this guy I randomly met told me all this?

Well, some of you might be familiar with the eruption of volcano in Thera (now called Santorini) in the Aegean Sea, which supposedly happened anytime between 1645 BC to 1500 BC, which historians suspect created large tsunamis that significantly damaged the nearby island of Crete, the then centre of the Minoan civilisation. This makes the date of this volcanic eruption a turning point in the history of Western civilisation. Depending on which year these researchers settle on, they might have to re-write a significant chunk of the history as we know it, rendering a lot of what we know rubbish.

So, this guy was an archaeologist on his way to collect a wood sample they think they found which could potentially determine this date once and for all.

Have a good Friday.

etymology, Uncategorized

PPFF #166: names, again

Good morning,

I often hear people complain. Complaining about ‘other people’. And recently I heard someone quite subtly and passive-aggressively grumble about Chinese people and ‘their’ practice of adopting ‘English’ names. They sounded almost offended by what is basically a lazy attempt at ‘cultural assimilation’ through ‘nominal appropriation’ – such that it caught my attention. But it also made me wonder, ‘English names’? What are English names? John? Kimberly? Peter? Kevin? I had to google for hours to no avail; at least as far as the origins of these common ‘English’ names are concerned, I couldn’t find an English name. Not one. It turns out, a lot of the names we give to children in the UK are either Celtic or Hebrew in origin (I don’t know the respective percentage).

Take John for example, a very common English name, but really how English is it, when you consider that it is an anglicised Hebrew name originally transliterated into Greek and then Latin Ioannes, meaning “Yahweh is Gracious”. Peter? Peter It’s from the Greek word ‘petros’ meaning stone/rock, a direct translation of ‘cephas’ or ‘keppa’, an Aramaic word meaning the same. Kevin? That’s just a failed attempt to pronounce and spell a common Irish name ‘Caoimhín’, by the English.

Long story short, if a Jewish singer can change his German name (Zimmerman) to a distinctly Welsh-sounding name (Dylan), and get away with it, I’d say, leave them Chinese people alone.

Have an open-minded Friday.