Brougham [Noun.]

A four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, designed in 1839. It had an open seat for the driver in front of the closed cabin for two or four passengers. Named after its designer Henry Peter, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778–1868).

‘Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,’
– Gerard Nolst Trenité, The Chaos

Control Of Fire

Burn stuff
1 million years ago?

Nobody knows when our ancestors learned to control fire. The oldest direct evidence comes from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, which contains ashes and burned bones from 1 million years ago. But there is evidence hominins were processing food even earlier, and that might have included cooking with fire.

See other: What Makes Humans Human?

Rubik’s Cube

The Rubik’s Cube is a 3D combination puzzle. It is the brainchild of the Hungarian professor of architecture Ernő Rubik, who invented in it 1974. Since then, over 300 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold worldwide. If they were stacked on top of each other, they would reach the top of Mount Everest, twice.

It is estimated that in the mid-eighties about a fifth of the world’s population had, at some point, handled a Rubik’s Cube. And because of its simple design, people continue to be astounded by its devilish complexity. The percentage of people that has ever solved the Cube, is more somewhat more difficult to ascertain.

Obviously, there is only one solution in which all six sides of the Cube have the same colour; as for all the different unsolved states, the original 3x3x3 Cube has 43252003274489856000 (that is to say, over 43 quintillion) possible Cubes. If there was a Cube for every permutation, they would cover the Earth with 273 layers – a sea of Cubes 15,5 meters (50 foot) deep. If there was a cube scrambled for every permutation and they were laid end to end then they would stretch approximately 261 light years – from Earth to Alpha Columbae.

Because of the vast amount different Cubes, algorithms (a sequence of moves that has a desired effect) are used to solve the Cube. Without algorithms to solve the Cube, it could take ages: if you made a single turn of one of the Cube’s faces every second, it would take you 1371,51 billion years to go through all the possible configurations. The universe is only 13,82 billion years old. If you had started this project during the Big Bang, you still would not be done yet.

Amazingly, the best speed cubers (people who take part in speed cubing – a sport where competitors try and solve the cube as quickly as possible) can solve the cube in under six seconds. At the time of writing, the world record is 4,90 seconds; the record for blindfolded solving (including memorization beforehand) is 21,05 seconds.

Mike: Look I don’t know, ok; it’s like a fucking Rubik’s Cube! I mean, it’s impossible at this point.
Selina: What? Mike, a Rubik’s cube is not impossible to solve.
Gary: Yeah, I saw an Asian kid do it in like ten seconds.
Selina: Ten seconds Mike.
– Veep (2012) Season 1, Episode 3; “Catherine” [No. 3]

How the Churches Have Retarded Progress

‘You may think that I am going too far when I say that that[1] is still so. I do not think that I am. Take one fact. You will bear with me if I mention it. It is not a pleasant fact, but the churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man; in that case the Catholic Church says, “This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must endure celibacy or stay together. And if you stay together, you must not use birth control to prevent the birth of syphilitic children.” Nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.

That is only an example. There are a great many ways in which, at the present moment, the church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all. “What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy.”‘

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 596

[1] ‘I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.’ p. 595

Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

Apparently Obvious Innovations

‘I’ll tell you what I like about Chinese people: they’re hanging in there with the chop sticks, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen the fork. They’re staying with the sticks. I’m impressed by that.

I don’t know how they missed it. A Chinese farmer, gets up, works in the field with the shovel all day… Shovel… Spoon… Come on… There it is! You’re not ploughing 40 acres with a couple of pool cues.’

Seinfeld, J. (1998). I’m Telling You For The Last Time. Broadhurst Theatre, New York: Universal Records.

Priorities of Science

‘I’m very impressed with this seedless watermelon product that they have for us. They’ve done it. We now have seedless watermelon. Pretty amazing. What are they planting to grow the seedless watermelon, I wonder? The melons aren’t humping’, are they? They must be planting something. How does this work? And what kind of scientists do this type of work? I read this thing was 15 years in development. In the laboratories with gene splicing or, you know, whatever they do there… I mean, other scientists are working on AIDS, cancer, heart disease. These guys are going: “No, I’m going to devote myself to melon. I think that’s much more important. Sure thousands are dying needlessly but this… that’s gotta stop. Have you ever tried to pick a wet one off the floor, it’s almost impossible. I really think we should devote the money to these studies.”‘

Seinfeld, J. (1998). I’m Telling You For The Last Time. Broadhurst Theatre, New York: Universal Records.