Friday, December 31, 2010

Father Time

Here's to the bright New Year
And a fond farewell to the old;
Here's to the things that are yet to come
And to the memories that we hold.

- Anonymous

A happy new year to all.

What better way to start the new year than with some history, trivia, myth, murder, incest and intrigue.  A lengthy Bytes but hopefully you will find it interesting.

Father Time, aka Old Man Time, is usually depicted as an elderly bearded man, dressed in a robe, carrying a scythe and an hourglass or other timekeeping device. Sometimes he is pictured with an infant or young child, the symbol of the coming new year…

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Inappropriate Children's Ads: Du Pont

So, dear Byters, did we all enjoy Christmas lunch? And when it was finished, were the leftovers tucked away in the fridge under Glad Wrap? Wonderful stuff, cling wrap, although a bit of a bastard to put on and take off, especially from a rolled up newspaper.

Before cling wrap there was cellophane, still hugely in use today. It was invented in 1912 by one Jacques E Brandenberger who in 1900 saw red wine spilled on a tablecloth and wanted to come up with a material that repelled such spills, instead of absorbing them. Eventually he got the consistencies and attributes right and named his invention cellophane, from the words cellulose and diaphane ("transparent").

Originally manufactured in France, a manufacturing company was established in the US in 1924. The chemical company Du Pont then spent 3 years on coming up with a means of making the cellophane fully water proof. Whilst the product had been able to hold water, it was nonetheless permeable to water vapour. By 1927 Du Pont succeeded in making the product moisture proof. By 1938, cellophane accounted for 10% of Du Pont's sales and 25% of its profits.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

As you see in the new year in a few days, joining crossed arms in a circle, you will no doubt either sing or hear Auld Lang Syne. It’s the traditional music for the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Some info and trivia:

• It is a Scottish poem written by Robbie Burns (above) in 1788 and put to the melody of an old Scottish folk round.

• “Auld Lang Syne” means “old long since” in the sense of “long, long ago” / ”days gone by”.

• It has been commented that this is the most popular song that no one knows the lyrics to.

• The phrase “auld lang syne” was in use in the Scots language well before the writing of this poem. It has been used by other authors, including the commencement of Scots fairy tales with the words “In the days of auld lang syne…” meaning “Once upon a time…”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ask Otto

Byter Steve, who suggested an Ask Otto regular feature, has also submitted the first items for that feature.

Steve writes:
Here is my first submission(s) for ASK OTTO. A couple of things that have always interested me, and I would love to know their origins :

Boxing Day? What’s with the “boxing” ?

And talking of boxing :

“seconds out” the start of each round. Does this mean “time is out, so let’s get on with it” or does it mean “assistants out – assistants being the ‘seconds’ that attend to boxers during breaks?
Here are the responses:

Kylie Minogue

I have never been a fan of Kylie Mionogue, who was unkindly referred to in her early recording days as "The Singing Budgie".  I was partial to her duet with Nick Cave in Where the Wild Roses Grow but she never appealed to me otherwise.  Until now.

I caught her appearance on the TV prior to Christmas singing Santa Baby at the Rockefeller Centre.

Not only does she sing it superbly in Marilyn Monroe style, she is also drop dead gorgeous and includes a wonderful acting performance.  Every sideways glance, wink, bump, facial mannerism and hand movement is perfect.

By the way, Marilyn Monroe never sang the breathy version that everyone associates with her.  That version dates from 1997 and was sung by Cynthia Basinet, a recording made for Jack Nicholson.  Basinet says that her version was a tribute to Eartha Kitt and had nothing to do with Marilyn Monroe.  Internet dissemination and wrong atribution has reinforced the Monroe connection.  - 

See and hear the delightful Kylie version at:

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Clink

The expression “the clink” for jail derives from a notorious prison in Southwark England.

The prison, nicknamed the Clink Prison or The Clink for short, eventually gave that name to the area.  It functioned from 1151 until 1780 and was built and owned by the Bishop of Winchester, that person usually being the Chancellor, or the Treasurer, of the King. The prison functioned both as a general prison by virtue of his royal appointments and court functions, and as part of his responsibility for the keeping of the peace of the manor.

The Clink was possibly the oldest men's prison and probably the oldest women's prison in England, women being confined there from 1246. It was used for the detention of religious non-conformists (both Protestant and Catholic), depending upon which faith was in control.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Quote: Lao Tzu

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

- Lazo Tzu (c 6th century BCE)

I will be away for a few days and there will be no new Bytes for that period.
If you feel deprived by not receiving your emailed Bytes, or if you are loooking for some holiday reading, the past Bytes are archived under the respective months on the right side of the Bytes blog page.
To go to that site, either click on the words bytes daily at the top of the emails or click on the following link:
Happy holidays, people.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

(Click on pics to enlarge).

A Merry Christmas to all Byters.

May you have warm words on a cold evening,
a full moon on a dark night,
and the road downhill all the way to your door.

A bit late for me to give you some gift ideas, but these past Christmas advertisements may assist for next Christmas…

The Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and I was wondering what to post for Bytes.

Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from St Nicholas”, the well known classic that begins with the words " 'Twas the night before Christmas",  was first published (anonymously) in 1823. Despite his other accomplishments (he was a professor of Oriental and Greek literature, a professor of Biblical learning, the compiler of a two volume Hebrew dictionary and a noted philanthropist), he is today best remembered for that poem.

The poem redefined how people saw Christmas and Santa Claus, not just in the US but worldwide. Before 1823 images of Santa Claus and Christmas varied widely. Moore’s poem introduced and standardised images of Santa’s physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer and the tradition that he brings toys to children.

There is another poem that begins with the same words and closes with a stanza that is a variation of Moore’s final verse:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Quote:Abraham Lincoln

"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

- Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)

More Sledges and Comments

Rival teams have exploited an Australian side scared to sledge for fear of a backlash from Cricket Australia and the public following the bitter Sydney Test against India in 2008, the players' union said.

Australian coach Tim Nielsen said the toning down of aggression followed the backlash but also a changing of the guard. ''When you are a young guy that has just come into the team you are not going to start sledging opposition players immediately. They have to build up a bit of confidence in their game and their place in the side.''

- News Report, Sydney Morning Herald 22.12.2010

Some More Sledging and Commentary Moments:

Caution:  Risque language...

Batsman Darryl Cullinan used to struggle against Shane Warne. The Australian had him on toast in one Test series in South Africa. Two years pass and, in the return series Down Under, Cullinan comes out to bat. Warne says: "I've waited two years for this." Cullinan replies: "Yeah, and it looks like you spent them eating."

Monday, December 20, 2010


Stephen King, the master of horror and fear, once said that the thing he found most scary was clowns. There is actually a name for fear of clowns: coulrophobia.

If clowns are the most scary, Santa isn’t far behind. This comes within a category known as hagiophobia, the fear of saints and holy things.

To me, it makes good sense. Think about it… little kids being told that there is a bearded old man who is keeping close surveillance on them, putting their names on a list that he checks at the end of the year, and checks not just once but twice. If they have been good, he will sneak into the house and leave gifts under the tree. In some households he is known to sneak into children’s bedrooms and leave the gifts at the foot of the bed. How near to the child has he physically been to do that? Freaky.

As if that’s not enough, look how close the word Santa is to Satan. Like Satan, he wears bright red and, although he is not cloven hoofed himself, his favourite form of transport with the ominous word “sleigh” is drawn by flying, cloven hoofed reindeer.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reader Comment and The Wedding Night

Byter Steve has suggested that there be a regular Bytes item "Ask Otto" where readers can seek responses to questions asked.

I don't profess to have all the answers, or even to know where to look for answers, but I am willing to follow up any posted queries.

Anyone wanting to do so can email me at:

And congrats to Steve and his lovely lady Diane on their recent bethrothal.

Which is a good segue to a favourite story with a message for newlyweds...
A couple, just married, were in their honeymoon suite on their wedding night.

As they undressed for bed, the husband tossed his pants to his bride and said "Here put these on." She put them on and the waist was twice the size of her body.

"I can't wear your pants," she said.

"That's right," said the husband, "and don't forget it. I'm the man who wears the pants in this family!"

With that she flipped him her panties and said "Try these on."

He tried them on and could only get them on as far as his kneecaps. He said, "Hell, I can't get into your knickers."

“That's right,” she replied, “ and that's the way it's going to be until you change your attitude." 

Quote: Galileo Galilei

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him.”

- Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Military Replies

Some great replies in military contexts...

Byters who have watched the movies 300 Spartans and 300 will be familiar with one of the shortest and most defiant responses to a call to surrender, that of Leonidas, leader of the Spartans.  Leonidas defended the pass at Thermopylae, holding it against a much larger Persian army.

Envoys sent by the Persian leader called upon Leonidas to surrender, saying “You are fools to resist. The Persian archers alone are so numerous that their arrows will darken the sun.”

"Then we shall fight in the shade” replied Leonidas.

Of History, Dutchmen and Plates...

It is interesting to note the role of the Dutch, the Dutch East India Company and pewter plates in early Australian history.

Following is a chronology of some of those events:


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Travellers

A man was walking a very long road from one village to another.

As he approached the village, but still on its outskirts, he encountered a farmer from the village who was labouring in his field, cutting hay. He walked up to the farmer and said, “I have walked a great distance to come to this village of yours. I have left my village looking for a new home, perhaps I will find it in this village. Can you tell me, how are the people in this village? What kind of people are they?”

The man in the field thought a moment before replying, then asked, “What were the people like in the village you came from?”

The traveller replied, “They were uncaring, self-absorbed, cynical and unfriendly. That’s why I left.”

The farmer paused before replying and then said, “I think that’s how you’ll find the people here, too.”

The traveller replied, “In that case, I’ll just move on and look somewhere else.”

A couple of days later, the farmer was again out in his field when a different man approached him and said, “My village was destroyed and the people scattered. I am looking to find myself a new home, perhaps in this village. Can you tell me, how are the people in this village? What kind of people are they?”

The farmer asked, “What were the people like in the village you came from?”

The traveller replied, “They were wonderful people. Loving, close, helpful, and I will miss them terribly.”

The farmer said, “I think that’s how you’ll find the people here, too.”

Swimsuit Pics...

The following pics come from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

They are fascinating glimpses of different times...

(Click on the images to enlarge).

The caption with the pic reads:
Women in bathing suits on Collaroy Beach, 1908, photographed by Colin Caird

Models from left to right: M. Throwden, S. Norris, B. Emery, E. Williams, Ivy Throwden

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oprah Facts

"With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice."

-  Oprah Winfrey

Think about the following next time you're feeling a bit sorry for yourself,,,

- Oprah Winfrey was named Orpah after Ruth’s sister in the Bible, Ruth 1:4:
3. Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
4.They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.
Inability of family members to pronounce the name led to a transposing of the “R”, so that she was called Oprah in everything but her birth certificate.

- She was born in Mississippi to unwed teenage parents. Conceived after a single sexual encounter, her parents split shortly afterwards.

Mona Leo

High magnification techniques of the pupils of the Mona Lisa has revealed letters and numbers, placed there by Leonardo da Vinci. Although the numbers and letters have lost some definition in the 500 years since it was painted, experts believe that amongst the letters are LV, the initials of the artist's name. They have not worked out what the remainder of the letters and numbers designate. The search was initiated after an Italian expert discovered an old book in an antique shop which referred to symbols in the Mona Lisa’s eyes.

Permission is being sought by other experts to exhume da Vinci’s remains from his tomb at Amboise Castle in France’s Loire Valley. It is hoped to locate Da Vinci’s skull and to recreate his face so as to determine whether the hypothesis that the Mona Lisa is actually a self portrait, is correct.

News report, The Daily Mail, 13 December 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some Christmas Trivia

The term Christmas is from “Christ’s Mass”,  first used in 1038.

The use of the letter X in Xmas is from the Greek letter chi, the first letter in the word Christ.

After Britain converted to Christianity in the 7th century, Christmas was referred to as geol, the name of the pre- Christmas winter festival, hence the word Yule.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Sandwich that Led to WW1

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost
For want of a shoe, a horse was lost
For want of a horse, a rider was lost
For want of a rider, a message was lost
For want of a message, a battle was lost
For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost
All for want of a nail

- George Herbert (1593-1632)

I know that the above item is a bit corny but it gets the message across that sometimes events can be set on their course by the slightest of items, often with considerable flow on effect.

So it is that much of the history of the 20th and 21st centuries can be attributed to a simple sandwich.

Judge William Young

During the week just ended I came across some comments by an American judge in sentencing a terrorist. I was surprised that the comments had not had a wider distribution at the time and since, and I set them out below.

Interesting Facts #31: Cat Pee

Cat urine glows fluorescent under a black light.

Other items which will do the same:
White paper
Tonic water
Body fluids (blood, water, semen – watch CSI or NCIS)
Laundry detergents

Friday, December 10, 2010

Last Words: Todd Beamer

“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

- Todd Beamer (1968-2001)

Todd Beamer was a passenger on the hijacked 9/11 United Airlines Flight 93.

During the hijacking in 2001, he and other passengers communicated with people on the ground via in-plane phones and mobile phones. From this, they learned of the other hijackings and planes having been flown into the World Trade Centre buildings. Beamer tried to place a credit card call through a phone located on the back of the plane seat but was routed to a customer-service representative instead, who passed him on to supervisor Lisa Jefferson. Beamer reported that one passenger was killed and, later, that a flight attendant had told him the pilot and co-pilot had been forced from the cockpit and may have been wounded.

Beamer asked the operator to tell his wife and two sons that he loved them, and that some of the plane's passengers were planning to "jump on" the hijackers and force the plane into the ground rather than to allow it to be crashed into a building.

According to Jefferson, Beamer's last audible words were "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

There is widespread speculation that Beamer and the other passengers intended to use a wheeled food cart to break open the cockpit door and attack the hijackers.  A short time after the final call, the plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 44 on board.

Todd Beamer’s daughter, Morgan Kay Beamer, was born on 10 January 2002. Morgan was Todd Beamer’s middle name.

Interesting Facts #31: Gold

Carat weight can be 10, 12, 14, 18, 22, or 24. The higher the number, the greater the purity. To be called “solid gold,” gold must have a minimum weight of 10 carats. “Pure gold” must have a carat weight of 24, (though there is still a small amount of copper in it). Pure gold is so soft that it can be moulded by hand.

The term “carat” comes from “carob seed,” which was the standard for weighing small quantities in the Middle East. It was believed that carob seeds had a uniform weight but studies have shown that these seeds display as many variations as any other seed.

The carat system is increasingly being complemented or superseded by the millesimal fineness system in which the purity of precious metals is denoted by parts per thousand of pure metal in the alloy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Ferrari Logo

Ferrari S p A, the Italian car manufacturer, was founded in 1929 by Enzo Ferrari as Scuderia Ferrari.

The famous Cavallino Rampante ("prancing horse") emblem came about when Ferrari won an Itlian motor race in 1923 and met Countess Paolina, mother of WW1 ace and national hero Count Francesco Baracca. Baracca used to paint a horse on the side of his planes (see below) and it was suggested by the Countess that Ferrari should do likewise with his racing cars, to bring him luck

(Click on images to enlarge).

Interesting Facts #30: Size Matters

Australia is just about twice as large as all of Europe and is two thirds as large as the continental United States.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quotes: Abraham Lincoln

"When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion."

- Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Interesting Facts #29: Silent Movie

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the movie Silent Movie has the fewest spoken words of any sound movie.

The story concerns the attempts of aspiring filmmakers Mel Funn (Mel Brooks), Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom Deluise) to make the first silent film in 40 years. The first part of the movie records their attempts to secure big name stars, all playing themselves, to appear in the movie. The second part depicts the filming and attempts to sabotage the screening by the villains.

The movie is itself filmed as a silent movie with old time flash cards on the screen setting out the dialogue.

In various comic and slapstick ways Funn, Eggs, and Bell succeed in recruiting Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, and Paul Newman.

There is only one spoken word in the whole movie – “Non!” – when a French star refuses their request to take part in the movie. It is spoken by Marcel Marceau.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pearl Harbour, 7 December 1941

On this day 69 years ago, 353 aircraft launched from 6 aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the Unites States Naval Base in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The attack came in two waves and was intended to prevent the US Pacific Fleet from influencing the war that Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against Britain, the Netherlands and against the US in the Philippines. It was Japan’s intention to have access to the area’s natural resources such as oil and rubber. The US lost 2,402 lives in the attack on Pearl Harbour, with 1,282 wounded. Japan suffered 65 killed or wounded.

As a result of the surprise attack, the policy of isolationism favoured by a large proportion of US citizens and politicians gave way to outrage and hostility. Naval Commander Isoroku Yamamoto had intended the attack to take place thirty minutes after a declaration of war arrived in Washington, D.C. However, due to delays in delivery of the declaration, the attack occurred several hours before the declaration was received.

Speaking as the voice of America’s people and focusing on the perceived treachery of the attack, President Franklin D Roosevelt declared
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. … No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.”
One hour after the conclusion of the six and a half minute speech, Congress declared war on Japan.

Interesting Facts #28: Alan Jones

In 1977, Australian Allan Jones scored a surprise victory in the Austrian Grand Prix.

His win was so unexpected that officials did not have the Australian national anthem to play.

Initially officials were going to play the Austrian anthem but then realised that Australia and Austria were not the same country.

They overcame not having the Australian anthem by having a local drunk play "Happy Birthday to You" on a trumpet through the PA system.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Interesting Facts #27: Pandas

A 2007 report showed that there were 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and 27 outside the country. Estimates of the population in the wild vary. One estimate is that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild while a 2006 study via DNA analysis estimated that this figure could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000.

The panda is under threat because bamboo, which forms 99% of its diet, is being cut down to create farmland.

Enola Gay and Bockscar

The plane which dropped the first atomic bomb on a city, Hiroshima (below), on 6 August 1945 was known as the Enola Gay and was under the command of Colonel Paul Tibbets (above). The plane had been named by him after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. Interviewed after the mission, Tibbets confessed that he was embarrassed at having attached his mother’s name to such a fateful mission. The bomb that was dropped was nicknamed Little Boy

The Paradox of Our Time

I am not a fan of emails which bemoan our modern society and look back at a simpler, better yesteryear. As attractive as the past may seem, memories conveniently forget such ugly aspects as polio, smallpox, racism, sexism, censorship, pressures to conform, the cold war and numerous other wars.

There has been such an email circulating called The Paradox of Our Time.

It has the objections mentioned above and then some. Philosophically it is a load of rubbish. It suggests, by juxtaposing images, that we have lost values and spirituality and that as a result we have also lost our way. The implicit suggestion is that if we return to those lost values and matters of the spirit, things will be all right. It’s short, sweet and simple, and suits our modern lifestyle of wanting things quick and packaged. (Shit! Now I'm doing it myself!)

George Carlin, who is often attributed as the author, has called it “ a sappy load of shit”, which is probably an accurate summation.

Interesting Facts #26: The Red Vineyard

The only one of Van Gogh’s artworks purchased during his lifetime (1853-1890) was The Red Vineyard.

It was purchased in 1890 shortly before his death, having been shown in an exhibition in Brussels. The artwork was purchased by Anna Boch, an impressionist painter, the sister of one of his friends.  She paid the equivalent of $1,000 in today's value for the work.

Like The Night CafĂ©  - see earlier Byte at
it was acquired by the famous Russian collector Segei Shchukin, was then nationalised by the Bolsheviks with the rest of his collection and eventually passed to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dem Bones

I was driving to work yesterday and for no apparent reason began humming dem dry bones. Everyone knows the song, even Generation Z, also known as the Internet Generation, who have lost the power of speech in that they are forever texting, twittering, facebooking or emailing.

It started me thinking: Why did someone write a song describing which bones are connected to which other bones? Why did it become so popular? And why does it have a refrain of “Hear the word of the Lord”? It was truly a strange thing mystifying.

The more I thought about, the more the damn song kept going around in my head, so eventually I looked into the lyrics.

You can hear the song, using the version from that delightful Pommy series The Singing Detective, at: