Posts filed under ‘History and Origins’

2012 Olympic Gold Medals are Mostly Silver

By Chad Upton | Editor

A gold medal has been awarded to the top Olympic athlete in an event since the 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics. Although this tradition has stuck, many things have changed since the St. Louis games.

I hadn’t planned on writing much about the St. Louis Olympics, but some of the research proved too bizarre to hold back. For starters, the games were supposed to be in Chicago; but, the World Fair organizers in St. Louis promised to hold their own sporting event that would eclipse the Olympic games, unless they were awarded the games. So, the games were awarded to St. Louis.

During the marathon, Frederick Lorz dropped out of the race after nine miles and rode a car back to the start/finish to collect his clothes. But, the car broke down so he had to run the rest of the way. Officials thought he was the first to finish and he went along with it, but was later caught and banned for a year. The following year, he did win the Boston Marathon fair and square.

The actual winner of the marathon, Thomas Hicks, had a bit of help from his trainers who gave him a mix of brandy and strychnine sulfate — a poison which isn’t lethal in small doses and “stimulates” the nervous system. A postman from Cuba, Felix Carbajal, also ran in the marathon. He he snacked on rotten apples in an orchard, took a nap and then finished in fourth place. (more…)

July 25, 2012 at 2:00 am 5 comments

UPS Co-Founder Wanted Yellow Trucks

By Chad Upton | Editor

In 1915, Merchants Parcel Delivery (now UPS) decided they needed a consistent color scheme across all of their vehicles — four cars and five motorcycles. Co-founder James Casey consulted a local adman, who suggested yellow. Charlie Soderstrom, another partner, argued that yellow would be too difficult to keep clean.

Another company had already considered this. Railroad cars manufactured by Pullman Company were brown because they hid dirt better than other colors which meant they required less washing. That settled the argument, Casey conceded and brown has been UPS’s color ever since.

Half a century later, competing package delivery service DHL forms and chooses yellow.

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Photos: Jeremy Vandel (cc), wolfgang (cc)

Sources: cnn, wikipedia (ups, pullman company)

July 4, 2012 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Serial Killers Were Once Associated With Vampires and Werewolves

By Chad Upton | Editor

The more new things I learn, the more I realize how little we truly know about our world. Although we’ve made incredible discoveries and developed amazing technology, many things have yet be explained. Throughout history, supernatural beings have been used to explain the otherwise unexplainable. Serial murder is one unusual example.

When a string of brutal murders happened in pre-modern times, it was not attributed to a person, but rather a supernatural force. This was particularly true when the murders appeared to be done in a similar or ritualistic manner.

In 16th century Europe, stories of vampires and werewolves became intertwined with serial murder cases. One legendary character is the werewolf who is associated with brutal mutilations during full moons.

In the year 1573, a French man was arrested for a series of gruesome attacks and murders that included strangulation and cannibalism. The court took him very seriously when he claimed that he was a werewolf. Although he was punished, this was a legitimate explanation for his crimes.

Another famous werewolf was Peter Stumpp, a German farmer executed in 1589 for his killing and cannibalization of sixteen people. He confessed to practicing black magic which he claims earned him a magic belt from the devil. The belt allegedly gave him the ability to morph into a wolf who could devour animals and humans. This earned him the nickname, “The Werewolf of Bedburg.”

Because of his alleged supernatural powers, people were very  worried that he would return from the grave, so his execution was particularly gruesome. They sentenced him to the wheel where flesh was torn from his body, then they broke his bones with an axe before they beheaded and burned his body — you know, just to be sure he was dead.

Do you believe in any supernatural beings? Leave a comment…

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Sources:, wikipedia (serial killer. Peter Stumpp)

March 15, 2012 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Some People Believe Running an Electric Fan in a Closed Room Can Kill You

By Chad Upton | Editor

In South Korea, it is a commonly held belief that an electric fan can cause death if it is blowing on you overnight in a closed room.

To prevent “fan death”, the Korean government’s Consumer Protection Board urges everyone to leave a door or window open and use the oscillate function or a timer that automatically shuts the fan off. They also list fan death as one of the top five fatal summer accidents.

The exact origin of this phenomenon is not known for sure, although it allegedly emerged in the 1970s. Some people believe the Korean government may have created this ideology in an effort to save energy during the energy crisis. Oh, and fan death is not limited to just fans, it also includes air conditioners.

South Korean media outlets credit fans and air conditioners for deaths too. In fact, between 2003 and 2005, some 20 deaths were reported to Korea’s Consumer Injury Surveillance System.

Many experts in South Korea firmly believe in fan death, including respected doctors and scientists. South Koreans don’t always agree on why fans can cause death but the following theories are often cited. (more…)

February 10, 2012 at 2:00 am 10 comments

Goodbye means “God Be With Ye”

By Chad Upton | Editor

Many words we use today are twisted versions of words used long ago. In fact, we can often watch words get twisted in our own lifetime. Technology is having a huge impact on the way we use language and will shape words we know into words that we don’t recognize. Thanks to technology, this transformation will be visible for future generations to study.

Thanks to the written word, we can study the evolution of the words we know as normal. Goodbye is a very common word, but it’s actually a contraction — it was a whole sentence 500 years ago. The first written usage of goodbye is from a 1573 letter written Gabriel Harvey. “To requite your [gallon] of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes.”

Today, saying “bye” has the same basic meaning as “goodbye” since we’ve completely lost the original meaning of the phrase. Really, we’re just saying “be with ye” which doesn’t really make any sense. Etymologists believe a similar situation lead to “good” replacing “god” in that phrase too, people lost the sense of where the phrase came from and what its original meaning was so there was nothing to shape the way it was said.

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photo: knegtel (cc)


February 1, 2012 at 2:00 am 8 comments

Where the Phrase “Jumped the Shark” Comes From

By Chad Upton | Editor

Someone who has always been a good friend to me is my buddy Rick. He is always good for new ideas and he happens to be a TV fanatic.

Two seasons after LOST started, Rick knew I’d love the show. He ran down the plot summary from the first two seasons over lunch and I was hooked before I even saw the show. Another time, he was telling me about a show he liked but was unhappy because it had “jumped the shark.” I wasn’t familiar with the phrase so he explained it to me.

In 1977, during the the fifth season of the TV series Happy Days, the character Fonzie was water skiing and literally jumped over a shark. You can see it in this clip:

The show had been extremely popular, but this stunt was a pivotal point which marked a steady downturn in the quality of the show. It was a grave departure from the stories in previous seasons and seemed to indicate that the writers had run out of ideas.

These days, the phrase is generally used to indicate that something is past its prime or has reached a point that is the beginning of an end.

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Photo: Bill Ward (cc)

Sources: Rick … and wikipedia (Jumping the Shark)

January 17, 2012 at 2:00 am 6 comments


By Chad Upton | Editor

The HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles, California needs little introduction.

Although it is often associated with movies and television it was originally erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a new housing development named Hollywoodland. It originally cost $21,000 to build the 50-foot high letters on Mount Lee, including the four thousand 20 watt bulbs that illuminated them.

The letters quickly became a symbol of the movie industry. Ironically, actress Peg Entwistle became famous when she climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and allegedly jumped to her death in 1932. She was apparently unhappy about her failure as an actress. It’s true, she was not well known — it took two days for police to identify who she was, and only then because her uncle contacted them to see if it could be her.

In 1944, the housing developers transferred ownership of some land, including the Hollywoodland sign, to the City of Los Angeles. By 1949, the sign was in grave disrepair. As the city was demolishing it, public outcry turned the demolition into a refurbishing project, during which time it was shortened to HOLLYWOOD. The letters were shortened too, now standing 45 feet tall, instead of the original 50. More residents could identify with HOLLYWOOD since that was the name of the city from 1903 to 1910 and remains the name of the district today.

The 1949 sign was built from sheet metal and wood, which fared well considering its materials, but was falling apart by 1978. At this time, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a campaign to replace the sign with a more permanent version. Nine generous donors including, Hugh Hefner; Warner Brothers Records and Alice Cooper, each paid $27,700 to reconstruct a letter. In 2009, Hugh Hefner saved the sign again when he donated $1 million to The Trust for Public Land, an organization formed to protect the area from further real estate development.

Decades of temporary alterations to the sign began in 1976, some authorized and some not. A few of the more famous modifications include: HOLLYWEED, HOLYWOOD, GO NAVY, CALTECH, OLLYWOOD, OIL WAR, PEROTWOOD, GO UCLA, SAVE THE PEAK, JOLLYGOOD. To prevent further unauthorized modifications, the LAPD installed a motion detector alarm system in 2000.

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Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia (Hollywood Sign, Peg Entwistle), Film Bug, Beachwood Canyon

December 20, 2011 at 2:00 am 6 comments

Measuring Speed in Knots Started With Tying Knots in Rope

By Chad Upton | Editor

Sailors have it easy these days — an inexpensive GPS will tell you how fast your ship is travelling. Heck, even your smartphone can do it if you have the right app. That’s how I clocked the car ferry on Lake Michigan at 35 mph (56 km/h) last summer.

However, a blackberry could not measure your speed 450 years ago. That required a “chip log” (aka “ship log” or “log”). This was a spool of rope attached to a small piece of wood. The sailors would place the wood in the water where it would drag in the water, unspooling the knotted rope. One sailer count the knots passing over the haul and another would use a 30 second sandglass to measure the time. They had a table to lookup the speed (“knots”) based on the number of knots that passed by.

Although the method has changed significantly, the units are still called “knots.” To put that in a way that might have more meaning, one nautical mile translates to 1.151 miles or 1.852 km.

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Sources: wikipedia (knots, chip log)

Photo: Rémi Kaupp (gnu license)

November 10, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Disney Castle Based on Real Castle in Germany

By Chad Upton | Editor

Often inspired by the Disney fairytales of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, many young girls dress as princesses for Halloween.

While they are popular fairytales, these theme-park castles are largely based on a real castle in Germany — Neuschwanstein Castle. Look at the resemblance:

Disney has also noted the inspiration from structures in France too: Notre Dame de Paris and Hospices de Beaune.

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Sources: wikipedia (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Cinderella CastleNeuschwanstein Castle)

Photos: Katie Rommel-Esham (cc) Jack Versloot (cc)

October 31, 2011 at 4:00 am 7 comments

The QR in QR Code Means Quick Response

By Chad Upton | Editor

Although we typically use QR codes with our mobile phones, they were actually invented by a Japanese company (Denso) for tracking products during manufacturing. Even though they’ve been around since 1994, QR codes have only started to become popular in North America in the past few years. They’re also known as “matrix”, “2d” or “square” barcodes.

Traditional 1 dimensional barcodes are very limited in the amount of information they can store in a small space, generally an 8-24 digit number. The number in a traditional bar code is really only useful if you have a database or table where you can lookup that number to get more meaningful information, such as the price of the item at a grocery store. QR codes can contain a lot more data.

They’re called Quick Response codes because the data is in the code and it doesn’t have to be looked up in a table to be meaningful. For example, the QR code in this article contains a URL to another post on the blog related to bar codes. When you scan it with your phone’s QR app, your phone can decode the image into the URL, no remote lookup is required. QR codes can also be used to get text or send sms text messages and dial phone numbers.


October 24, 2011 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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