The More Things Change | Issue 22

The More Things Change | Issue 22

9-15 September

This week, people say a lot of things – some more useful than others.

14 September, 1752: In the British Empire, this day came after 2 September. This was due to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the one that’s still used today, in place of the Julian calendar. Because Britain changed calendars a couple of hundred years after almost everyone else, they had to correct by a few more days. Apparently, though, the claims that rioters flooded the streets demanding, “give us back our eleven days,” are untrue, and the general population was in fact a bit smarter than that.

15 September, 1835: The HMS Beagle reached the Galápagos Islands carrying none other than Charles Darwin, and subsequently became far more famous than it might otherwise have been. It was Darwin’s observations of the Islands’ endemic species that led to his theory of evolution by natural selection: everyone’s heard about the tortoises, but some birds were important too (Darwin’s finches have their own Wikipedia page). Darwin was a bit unsure about his theory, famously writing “I think” next to some drawings in one of his notebooks, but with the current evidence one suspects that he was probably right.

9 September, 1947: Some computer at Harvard stopped working properly, and investigation into the failure revealed the first recorded computer bug. It wasn’t a cute little metaphor either, but an actual bug – a poor, innocent moth had gotten stuck in the computer somehow. The incident (if you could call it that) is the reason we use the phrase “computer bug,” and has been immortalised in the Smithsonian Museum, where the computer’s logbook, complete with moth, is on display.

10 September, 2001: Charles Ingram, a former British Army major who participated in a number of reality TV programmes, allegedly cheated his way to winning the one million pounds on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He was accused of having his wife and an accomplice cough when the correct answer to each question was read out, which seems like a very amateur kind of strategy. He ended up being convicted of deception, and says he’s been suffering ever since.

11 September, 2007: Russia tested the largest conventional weapon ever, as Russia is wont to do. It’s technically called the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power, but is generally referred to as the Father of All Bombs: it’s the equivalent of 44 tons of TNT. The bomb is thought to have a similar effect to that of a small nuclear weapon, and someone from the Russian armed forces described its capabilities in the following terms: “it simply evaporates everything that’s alive.” That’s one for the dash cams.
This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2013.
Posted 1:51pm Sunday 8th September 2013 by Jessica Bromell.