John Farrier's Blog Posts

Medieval Fact: Bears Are Humans' Closest Relatives among Animals

bear and unicorn

I am currently reading The Bear: History of a Fallen King by Michel Pastoureau. It is a history of the bear as a symbol and as a living creature in Europe, especially medieval Europe.

Pastoureau describes how medieval intellectuals classified and described the European brown bear. It was deeply controversial to even contemplate that any animal was related to man, as this conflicted with the belief that man and man alone was made in the image of God. Nonetheless, some people considered three possible animals to be close to humanity: the monkey, the pig and the bear. Pastoureau writes:

For Aristotle and Pliny, the monkey was the closest to humans. This idea found support in some zoological learning in the High Middle Ages, but it considerably troubled Christian values, not only because man had been created in the image of God and any animal of any species was an imperfect creature that could not resemble him, but also because, for medieval sensibilities, the monkey no doubt represented everything that was most ugly, vile, and diabolical; it was an obscene and repugnant creature that it was impossible to associate with the human species [...] Scholasticism finally found a solution in the mid-thirteenth century; the monkey did not resemble man per naturam (by nature) but per imitationem (by imitation); it seemed to resemble man when it really did not resemble him at all. It "simulated," as the word for monkey in Latin indicated: simius. It therefore seemed even more demonic, because it tricked and deceived. [...]

Greek medicine considered the pig the animal closest to man because of its internal organization, notably with regard to the anatomy of the major organs and functioning of the digestive system [...] And medieval Christian medicine, the heir of both, also taught that the pig was "internally" the animal that most resembled man. Moreover, since the Church prohibited the dissection of the human body, at least up to the fourteenth century, human anatomy was often learned through the dissection of a sow or a boar. But that was not done without some reluctance: the pig was in no way an admirable animal. It was an impure creature, an emblem of dirtiness (sorditas) and gluttony (gula), sometimes of laziness (pigritia) and debauchery (luxuria); like the monkey, it found a place in the Devil's bestiary. This is why, although doctors knew that the pig was anatomically a cousin to man, they did not declare the fact too openly and allow clerics to assert that the animal that most resembled humans was neither the pig nor the monkey, but the bear (60-61).

Bears can stand up, grasp and throw objects, climb and dance. When they walk, they plant their entire foot on the ground. Bears are omnivorous. At least one medieval intellectual (William of Auvergne) claimed that bear meat tastes like human flesh. There were also widespread (but inaccurate) beliefs that ursine sexual practices resemble human sexual practices and that humans and bears are interfertile.

Image via Got Medieval

Love trivia? Find more neat trivia over at NeatoFacto

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Netflix for the Library: Hiring a Personal Librarian

reference desk

Jeff O'Neal writes:

True story: I bribed a librarian (after a brief conversation about my general reading interests) to constantly stick new/interesting things in my hold queue. Best. Thing. Ever. It’s like Netflix for the library, now!

He's talking about what librarians call readers' advisory. In a readers' advisory reference interview, the librarian asks questions about the patron's reading tastes and suggests books to read based upon the patron's answers.

But O'Neal's librarian went even further. S/he automatically adds relevant reading materials to his hold queue without being specifically requested to do so. Kim Ukura thinks this is a great idea that could be expanded:

I am in love with this idea. How fun would it be to task a well-read person to develop a personally curated queue of books that will arrive for you to borrow intermittently, at no charge, based on what is new or exciting that seems to fit with your general reading tastes? It sounds almost too good to be true!

Most readers already find ways to build their own “librarian” for recommendations, finding friends or bloggers or book reviewers who seem to have similar tastes then seeking out their recommendations. But that system still has an element of choice — this Frankenstein’s monster of a librarian may cobble together a list of books that seem interesting, but you as the reader still end up making the choice of what to buy/borrow/bypass.

Having a real-life personal librarian could be so much better. Once the relationship was built, and with enough feedback about which books were interesting and which books fell flat, you could almost guarantee that your personal librarian would pick out some things that would be of interest to you. And since it’s a queue of library books, the decision about whether to spend money on an unfamiliar book is eliminated, making the barrier to trying something new really low.

Link -via @brainpicker | Photo: radical.librarian

Would you find this kind of readers' advisory service helpful?

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I Wear a Fez Now. Fezzes Are Cool.


Fezzes are cool. Some people doubt it, but they are wrong. Especially if you have a fez that travels through time and space, such as this one made by Coregeek and his daughter. And yes, the lantern on top lights up.

Link -via Technabob

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In the Mountains of Fraggle Rock

Fraggle Rock

Fraggle Rock

The company will need help to get to Moria. Sign on a hobbit? No, they'll need professionals. Licia, a skilled painter who specializes in popular television and movies, imagined an alternate version of The Hobbit.

Artist's Gallery -via Ian Brooks

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Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Cup Stuffed Oreos


Brooks made these sugary delights for a baby shower. First split an Oreo, add a peanut butter cup and reassemble the Oreo. Dip the entire thing in liquified chocolate, cool, then add sprinkles. My suggestion: add another Oreo layer, then dip it in chocolate again.

Link -via Foodbeast

We dish up more neat food posts at the Neatolicious blog

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Jabba and Leia Purse Set


You can take the Leia coin purse off its chain, but you'll probably need the chain later to strangle Jabba. Cat Penfold painted these purses and added a decorative zipper to shape Jabba's face.

Link -via Mecha Melissa

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Bubbles Popping in Super Slow Motion

(Video Link)

A bubble doesn't appear to pop instantly when you view it at 18,000 frames per second. The Slow Mo Guys used their Phanton v1610 camera to capture these dazzling moments. What would you like to see them shoot in super slow motion next?

-via It's Okay to Be Smart

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Nuclear Explosions as Units of Measurement


UPDATE 2/24/12: Commenter Chew Bird notes that some scientists commenting at The Atlantic and Wellestein's own blog strongly disagree with him. They argue that a nuclear detonation is a reasonable measurement of energy output.


Last week, a meteor exploded over Russia with, according to some press descriptions "the force of 30 Hiroshima bombs." These were references to the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945. Atomic historian Alex Wellerstein says that the analogy makes little sense:

"In general," he added, "What I don't like is ... the idea that kiloton or a megaton is just an energy unit, that it's equivalent to so many joules or something. Because you could do that. You could claim that your house runs so many tons of TNT worth of electricity per year, but it sort of trivializes the notion." [...]

But nuclear weapons deliver more than just sheer force; there's also incredible heat, orders of magnitude hotter than a meteor's explosion, (most of the people who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Wellerstein says, died of fire), and, of course, the radiation. The radiation brings sickness, makes land uninhabitable in the long term, and can have residual genetic effects that long outlast the bomb's immediate destruction. "It's sort of the sum of these effects that we think of when we think of what's the problem with nuclear weapons," he says. To only think of an atomic weapon in terms of the kilotons of energy released glosses over the totality of the terror these bombs bring.

It's one thing to use an atomic explosion as a unit for describing a meteor's explosion -- the two are similar in that much of their energy is released as a blast wave -- but the comparison is even worse when applied to other sorts of disasters, Wellerstein contends. "My least favorite is when this sort of thing is applied to literally non-explosive phenomena: tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes. These are sometimes talked about in terms of their energy release. And you can always quantify an energy release -- you can just do the conversion to nuclear units and say, 'Oh my God look how much energy this is!' But, you know: An earthquake is a very different release of energy; a tsunami is a very different release of energy. The effects are just not comparable. They're nothing like nuclear weapons."

Link | Photo: US Department of Energy

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Duct Tape Landscape

Duct Tape

Whether he's got toothbrush bristles, bath towels or duct tape, Takahiro Iwasaki can build a landscape out of it. This detailed, delicately carved roll of duct tape is my favorite. You can view more examples of his work at the link.


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Chart: Parenting over Time


Jorge Cham of PHD Comics charts an essential truth: parenting is a long period of anxiety punctuated by moments of sheer terror or joy. When it's all over, which will you remember the most easily?

Link -via Joe Carter

See more about baby and kids at NeatoBambino

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Letter from the Tooth Fairy

tooth fairy

The Tooth Fairy tried to get the tooth. But Emily's room was a mess, especially the bed. It was covered with toys, blankets and Emily's sister. So she left a note saying that she would come back if Emily cleaned up and made the tooth accessible. Amy, Emily's mom, reports that the child responded favorably and it's likely that the Tooth Fairy will return.

Link -via GeekDad

See more about baby and kids at NeatoBambino

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Official US Marine Corps Dog Begins Recruit Training


Since 1922, the official mascot of the US Marine Corps has been an English bulldog. Marion F. Sturkey writes:

At the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, the Marines obtained a registered English Bulldog, King Bulwark. In a formal ceremony on 14 October 1922, Brig. Gen. Smedley D. Butler signed documents enlisting the bulldog, renamed Jiggs, for the ‘term of life.’ Pvt. Jiggs then began his official duties in the U.S. Marine Corps.

In recent decades, the mascot has been named "Chesty" after the legendary Marine Corps General Chesty Puller. After the retirement of the most recent Chesty, a 9-week old old English bulldog puppy was invited to enlist. He did so and is currently in recruit training. Jennifer Harper of the Washington Times writes:

The handsome and distinguished young Chesty will enter obedience school and canine “recruit training,” earn the title of Marine and be named the next Marine Corps mascot on March 29. His official duties include marching in myriad events, including the Friday twilight parades at the facility, looking tough but buff in his own custom dress blues.

Link -via Ace of Spades HQ | Photo: US Marine Corps

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Pac-Man Chairs

Pac-Man chair

Want to feel like a pac-dot on the verge of being devoured? Portuguese designer Bruno Marques has the right chair for you. His polypropylene chair design looks like that great icon of the early 80s.

Link -via Nerd Bastards

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Otter Playing Basketball

(Video Link)

Eddie has an impressive vertical leap. Watch him dunk ball after ball into the basket. This sea otter lives at the Oregon Zoo. At 15, he's quite elderly. As a treatment for his arthritis, veterinarians recommended that he work his elbows. Local humans suggested basketball and Eddie took to it like a pro.

-via Daily of the Day

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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Hobbit Hole Bonsai Tree


It was a bonsai, and that means comfort. Chris Guise's detailed model of Bag End is also a living bonsai tree. At the link, you can see step-by-step photos showing how he made it. Also: a cute wintertime version covered with snow and a featuring a snowman. Er, I mean, a snowhobbit.

Link -via Nerd Approved

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Chemical States

venn diagram

While taking a shower with his periodic table of elements shower curtain, redditor Smashinator came to a shocking realization.

In the comments, compose a conspiracy theory to explain this overlap.

Link -via Blame It on the Voices

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Medieval Manuscript Peed on by a Cat


Cursed cats! They are so fond of disrupting human work, especially medieval manuscript composition. In 1420, a scribe in what is now the Netherlands discovered that a cat had urinated on a page that he had written. He added illustrations of the event and the subsequent damage to the book, as well as provided helpful advice:

Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum ostum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem uni cattie venire possunt.

When translated into English, that reads:

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

Link -via Alexis Madrigal | Photo: Historical Archives of Cologne

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The Magic Carpet

Flying Carpet

These kids can enjoy a flying carpet ride high over Bettona, Italy, thanks to the amazing work of Kurt Wenner. You may remember his 3D depiction of Spider-Man rendered on pavement. You can see even more at his site, but be warned: you'll spend an hour there looking through his whole gallery.

Artist's Website -via Global Street Art

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Knitted Stop Sign Flower

stop sign flower

Bryan, the "Knitting Guy", is a mad yarn bomber who turns stop signs in Clairemont, California into flowers. He's planted, er, crafted at least a hundred of them and has an interactive map at this site so that you can visit them. Last year, Enrique Limon of San Diego City Beat accompanied Bryan on one of his covert missions:

Guiding his buddy as he sewed up the stockinette-stitched sleeve along the stop-sign rod, he recounted the tale of his first stop-sign flower: “I put it up in the middle of the night—it must have been 11:30 or midnight. I wanted to make sure no one saw me doing it, and then chuckled all the way home and waited to see people’s reactions.”

He figured that if it lasted three days, the $10 he spent on yarn would have been worth it. Fourteen months later, it’s still there.

A few more quickly followed.

“I find it lightens people’s mood,” he said, adding that, recently, when he went back to do some maintenance work on that first flower, someone had already rewired its leaves.

Official Site and News Story -via Makin'ology

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Missing Backpacker Survived on Contact Lens Fluid

contact lenses

Samuel Woodhead, 18, went for a run in Australia's Outback. He was missing for thee days. If it wasn't for the contact lens fluid accidentally left in his backpack, he would have died of thirst before rescuers found him:

The teenager was said to be a little sunburned following his ordeal, but was hydrated and otherwise well.

His relieved mother Claire, 54, described how her son survived in the 40C heat.

"His father had packed boxes of contact lenses in his rucksack in an outside pocket and he'd forgotten to take them out," she revealed.

"He's lived on the fluid that the contact lenses ... you know the little packs of contact lenses? He's literally lived on those packs of contact lenses for three nights."

Link -via Glenn Reynolds | Photo: Lenore Marie

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Industrial Chess


Though he made them with just nuts and bolts, Balázs's chess pieces are immediately recognizable. He writes, "You can imagine the shopkeeper's face when I told him I need only one of each screw...." Do you recognize what he's written for the dividing lines? They're physics formulae. Nerd Pride!


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Cheese-Covered Sticky Buns


They're called golfeados--a unique Venezuelan take on sticky buns. They're baked with grated sugar cane, pecorino cheese and anise seed in the dough. Once they're out of the oven, the baker slaps a slice of fresh mozzarella on top. I've never had cheese in a sweet pastry, but I can certainly imagine how mozzarella would work on one.

You can find a complete recipe at the link.

Link | Photo: Harry's Pizzeria

We dish up more neat food posts at the Neatolicious blog

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Innovative Idea for Libraries: Loaning Roku Boxes

Roku boxThe Roku company produces digital media receivers that let people route streaming audio and video to their television sets. Last year, the Ephrata Public Library in Pennsylvania began loaning Roku boxes to patrons. The program has been so successful that the library is expanding it. Matt Enis of The Digital Shift talked to Penny Talbert, the library director, about the program:

EPL purchased two Rokus last Spring at the suggestion of the library’s technology manager. As Talbert noted, the units didn’t require a huge initial investment to try. The basic Roku LT units cost $50. For each unit, the library purchases dedicated subscriptions to Netflix and/or Hulu Plus, which currently cost $7.99 per month each, as well as other content from TED,, the BBC, and other sources. Subscriptions are set up so that patrons can’t use EPL’s account to make additional purchases while they have the units.

For comparison’s sake, Talbert noted that the total cost of the Roku and a dedicated subscription is less than libraries pay for content in many other formats. Many individual ebooks, audiobooks, or single seasons of a television series on DVD cost more than one Roku unit, she said.

“If that television series is available on Hulu, do the math. It’s not only cost savings, but space savings, and what you can offer your patrons. …This is a great way to send, basically, 100,000 movies home with a patron.”

Link -via Josh Hadro | Photo: brownpau

Would you like for your local public library to loan Roku boxes?

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A Cow Wearing Pants

cow pants

Well, I should think so! Young lady, you are not leaving this barn without looking decent. Call it research if you like, but as this article from a 1937 issue of Modern Mechanix reminds us, even cows must comport themselves with modesty.

Link -via Retronaut

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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How Bad Are You at Twitter? Pretty Bad


In which Doghouse Diaries compiles the worst offenses of Twitter usage #notabigdeal. Retweet if you agree. Then read the rest of the test at the link and calculate your score.


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Swiss Army Keys



Redditor colonelcrunch ingeniously replaced blades in his penknife with his car keys. It could lead to fun pranks, such as fooling first-time passengers into thinking that he's trying to steal his own car.

To find out how to make your own, watch a video at Hack A Day.

Link -via Hack A Day

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Brick from the Roman Empire Discovered in Washington State


Chemical analysis indicates that this brick--embelished with a cat's pawprints--is of Roman origin. How did it end up in the western United States? It is likely that the Hudson's Bay Company, a British corporation that explored and settled the Pacific Northwest, shipped it to Fort Vancouver all the way from Britain. Alexis Madrigal writes in The Atlantic:

While there were roughly 25 Native American tribes in the region, there were not any brickmakers among them, which meant there weren't any bricks. So, the Hudson's Bay Company, which ran the Fort, had to order them from a world away.

"You can certainly bring over brickmakers to look at the local lays and the Columbia River silts are great for making common brick. But at the time, when they are out there establishing their post, if they want some brick for their chimney, there just isn't any," Gurcke said, when I reached him at his job with the Park Service in Skagway, Alaska. "So they ship them from, in this case, England. We do have some records of them shipping bricks very early from England."

Link | Photo: Fort Vancouver Historic Site

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The Shortest Possible Game of Monopoly is 4 Turns Long

(Video Link)

Got 21 seconds to spare? You can play a complete game of Monopoly. Dan Myers worked out the shortest theoretically possible game between two players. The winner bankrupts the loser within 4 rounds. You can find a complete list of the necessary dice rolls, Chance and Community Chest cards and player actions at the link.

Link -via GeekDad

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Bicycles Made from Scrapped Cars


Now here is an eminently sensible art project. The craftsmen at Lola Madrid are developing a highly marketable post-apocalyptic skill: turning useless old car parts into bikes. Transmission belts become drive chains, car seats become bike seats and turn signals become reflectors. Each one is a unique, handmade machine that will transport you across future wastelands.

Link -via Designboom

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This Barber Can Cut Your Hair Blindfolded

(Video Link)

Actually, I suspect that most barbers could, but Ukranian hairdresser Olek Maksakov will cut your hair blindfolded and do a good job of it. Even better: Maksakov usually charges customers for haircuts. But if you agree to let him wear the blindfold, he'll cut your hair for free (he needs the practice).


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Profile for John Farrier

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