Rome brain drain

One in every two people live in cities. Some 200 cities have a population of more than a million. Cities have almost always been centers of creativity, attracting artists of all genres. Paris was known for its painters, London for writers, New York for musicals. An exception to the city-creativity rule, however, was Rome.

Though the Renaissance flourished in Rome, almost all the famous architects, painters, sculptors, and musicians departed from Rome as soon as they had completed their projects.

First audio and video recordings

Magnetic recording was invented in 1898 by Valdemar Poulson of Denmark. But it wasn’t used for recording music. Called the “telegraphone,” it was used to record telephone messages by applying magnetic pulses to a steel wire.

The process of recording onto a membrane or thin paper was invented earlier, in 1857, by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. Called the phonautograph, at that time it could not, however, replay the sound. But it did inspire Thomas Edison, Emile Berliner and others to experiment with sound recording. In 1878, Oberlin Smith made the first mechanical recording of sound. Motivated by a visit to Edison’s laboratory, Smith recorded Jules Levy playing Yankee Doodle on a cornet. Read more…

Death penalty for selling sour wine

The French Revolution started when revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison in Paris in 1789. Meant to rid the country of the nobles once and for all, far more members of the general public than the nobles met with the guillotine. Of the approximately 16,000 people killed in the three following years, only 10% were nobles, most having escaped.

A large number of people were executed on the denouncements of jealous friends or neighbors. For instance, selling sour wine was considered against national interest and the merchant was promptly executed.

Most kisses in a movie

Don Juan is the name of a fictional Spanish nobleman whose womanizing career ended when a stone statue carried him off to hell. He has been capturing the imagination of poets and playwrights since 1630.

In 1823, George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) observed of the strange relationship between Don Juan and Lady Adeline Amundeville in Canto XIV of his satiric poem called Don Juan, “Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange, – stranger than fiction,” thus coining the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction.” Read more…

Odd garbage control

Although Athens, in 500 BC, was the first city to control garbage, Europeans heaved garbage out their windows until the 1300’s. They also threw the contents of their pee pots out the window, simply shouting “garde a l’eau!” (“Watch out for the water!”). It is from this we get “loo” and, eventually, toilets. Plagues in the 14th century put an end to this odd behavior, encouraging tidier living. Read more…

World’s largest encyclopedia

The word encyclopedia comes from two Greek words meaning “a circle of learning.” The oldest known encyclopedia was written in Greece about 2000 years ago. It’s no longer in existence. The oldest encyclopedia in existence was written in the 1st century by Roman scholar Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder). His encyclopaedia, called Natural History, has 37 volumes.

The largest ever encyclopedia is the Yung-Lo Ta-Tien encyclopedia. It was commissioned in 1403 by Emperor Yongle and is also known as the Yongle Encyclopedia. Written by 2000 writers, it was completed in 1408 and bound in 11,095 volumes, of which some 400 volumes survived.

Human eye detects sound

The human eye can detect millions of colors and is sensitive to light and sounds. Yes, sound. University research studies show that mild and incidental noises cause the pupils of the eyes to dilate.

According to David Louis’s book of Fascinating Facts, it is believed that this is why surgeons, watchmakers, and others who perform delicate manual operations are so bothered by uninvited noise: the sounds cause their pupils to change focus and blur their vision. Read more…

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