A list of curious facts
One: Scientists have spent decades trying to understand the mathematics of origami—the Japanese art of folding paper into impossibly intricate forms. But in recent years, ‘origami engineering’ has gathered tremendous pace—spreading into fields as diverse as medicine, military, space and architecture.
Turns out there are tremendous benefits of designing tiny objects that can unfurl into their true form. It can be used to offer a more mundane solution—like this portable Oru Kayak that can be carried in a backpack:
Or it can offer a brilliant design for a Starshade—which can be snugly packed along with a space telescope on a rocket—and literally ‘bloom’ into a giant screen that blocks starlight so we can see objects more clearly:
The more cutting edge uses include a robot that can fold to fit into a pill capsule—and wander around your stomach.) But for now you can settle for creating your own paper starshade here:) (National Geographic, paywall, Smithsonian Magazine)
Two: In 1889, H Colley March noticed that some artefacts imitated elements from older objects that they had replaced—just for the visual effect. One example. Pottery bowls had patterns that resembled woven baskets. He named this phenomenon ‘skeuomorph’—(SKYOO-uh-morf), from Greek skéuos (container or tool) and morphḗ (shape). Now we’ve always had skeuomorphs—think, electric candles that look like their waxy predecessors. But the rise of tech has made them ubiquitous. The Cultural Tutor (a must-follow Twitter handle) put together a very neat thread of skeuomorphs we take entirely for granted. Like a floppy disk sign for ‘save’:
Here’s what’s really fascinating. Skeuomorphs exist because they are familiar and intuitive—we know what to expect when we see this sign:
But when is that last time you used a dial-up landline? As the Cultural Tutor points out:
Most interesting is that many people have never even used the objects imitated by these skeuomorphs. Corded telephones, floppy disks, film cameras, even envelopes - these are things from the past shaping the appearance of the present and the future.
And that’s pretty cool!
Three: This one is a curious but rather disheartening fact about one of the great writers in the English language—Charles Dickens. Did you know that a man valorised for his compassion for the English underclass had absolutely none for Indians—or any person of colour? In his 1853 essay titled ‘The Noble Savage’, Dickens writes: “I call a savage something highly desirable to be civilised off the face of the earth.” He wasn’t interested in ‘civilising’ brown folks on the subcontinent either. In the wake of the 1857 war for independence, he wrote in a letter to a friend:
I wish I were Commander in Chief over there [India]! I would address that Oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard, which should be vigorously translated into all native dialects, “I, The Inimitable, holding this office of mine, and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of Heaven and not by the appointment of Satan, have the honour to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities.
Yikes! His hatred for Indians would become the backdrop for his famous novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. This London School of Economics blog has more on that.