Archive for the ‘Miraculous discoveries’ Category


Tautological translation

In French,Interesting unique life-changing links,Language-matters,Miraculous discoveries,Random fun stuff on Friday 4th September, 2009 by Guy Tagged: , ,

How do you say “Do you remember me?” in French? According to Google’s translation service, the answer is… “Do you remember me?”. No accents needed. Try it yourself. While stocks last at all good food shops.

Obligatory screenshot:

Translation as equality!

Translation as equality!

Hmm, it seems to happen with Galician and Afrikaans too, but not Danish and Macedonian and some others I checked. Is this a function of the statistical algorithm that Google use for automatic translations? Perhaps there are not enough French people (or South Africans or Galicians) plaintively asking if their conversation partner even knows who they are…



The Ainu of Japan believe that the world is supported by a Giant Trout and that sin is caused by otters.

In Facty facts,Miraculous discoveries,Otter,Random fun stuff on Monday 25th May, 2009 by Guy

It started with a twit, as it can tend to these days. This twitticism was from the QI Elves, the small people behind Quite Interesting, which is most prominently a television show on the BBC. It went as follows:

The Ainu of Japan believe that the world is supported by a Giant Trout and that sin is caused by otters.

That sentence contains a remarkable otter fact which I didn’t recall having come across before! Certainly none of my otter colleagues had mentioned it to me, unless I misinterpreted their high-pitched squealing for hunger. So, was it a true fact?

I hereby maintain that it is, after some hardy lutran sniffing. At the least, I have traced the fact to someone who wrote a book about the Ainu after living amongst them.

The Ainu are a group indigenous to the northern parts of Japan, though these days they have almost completely assimilated into the general population for various reasons, including discrimination and lack of official recognition until relatively recently. Alas and alack.

In 1901 a book was published by the Religious Tract Society of London entitled “The Ainu and their folk-lore”, written by a missionary called John Batchelor. Some crazedly-written details of his life can be had here. I found a scanned copy of his tome at the mighty which weighs in at a similarly mighty 33MB in PDF form. [These sort of sentences are always amusing a few years after being written, because of advances in technology. Go ahead, laugh at me, Generation A! Or Generation 笑, whatever we get to]. The American broadcaster PBS quotes the relevant section (though no kudos to them for quoting the last word of the title of the book as “Folklore” rather than “folk-lore”, as that made it harder for me to find references to it elsewhere):

“When God was in the act of making the first man and had nearly finished His task, it happened to be necessary for Him to unexpectedly return to heaven on important business. Before setting out for the return journey, He called an otter, which happened to be near at the time, and told him that He was going away, but would quickly send another deity to finish the work He Himself had already begun, and he (the otter) was to deliver a message to him, explaining what to do.

“Now, although this animal said he would deliver the message without fail, he grew careless and did nothing but amuse himself by swimming up and down the rivers, catching and eating fish; he fixed his whole attention on this, and thought of nothing else. So intent was he on his fishing that he entirely forgot the message God gave him to deliver; yea, the otter forgot all about it. This is the reason why the first man was made so imperfect, and why all human beings are not quite in the fashion God originally intended. As a punishment for this deliquency and astonishing forgetfulness, God punished the otter with a bad memory; yea, he took his memory completely away. This is why no otter can now remember anything”….

“The otter’s head must not lightly be used as an article of food, for unless people are very careful they will, if they eat it, become as forgetful as that creature. And hence it happens that when an otter has been killed the people do not usually eat the head.

“But if they are seized with a very strong desire for a feast of otter’s head, they may partake thereof, providing proper precautions are taken. When eating it the people must take their swords, knives, axes, bows and arrows, tobacco boxes and pipes, trays, cups, garden tools, and everything they possess, tie them up in bundles with carrying slings, and sit with them attached to their heads while in the act of eating … If this method be carefully adhered to, there will be no danger of forgetting where a thing has been placed, otherwise loss of memory will be the result.”

So otters are more the cause of original sin, in a way, than sin per se. But it is still a fascinatingly weird theology to have.

I miss the animists, I really do.

(The trout fact was also given by Batchelor. It’s worth checking out all the quotes on the dedicated PBS website from his book.)

A similar story is recorded by Basil Hall Chamberlain in “Aino Folk-Tales”, published by the Folk-lore Society in 1888:

At the beginning of the world it had been the Creator’s intention to place both men’s and women’s genitals on their foreheads so that they might be able to procreate children easily. But the otter made a mistake in conveying the message to that effect; and that is how the genitals come to be in the inconvenient place they are now in. —(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 11th July, 1886.)



Collection Folio No. 1 — what is the first Folio book?

In Facty facts,French,Language-matters,Miraculous discoveries,Random fun stuff,Uncategorized on Thursday 7th May, 2009 by Guy

This one really had me stumped, and I’m surprised at how hard it was to solve.

One of France’s largest publishers, Gallimard, releases many books under the “Folio” imprint. For me, these books are the quintessence of French book publishing. They invariably have a white background, a simple cover, and a very serious, classic text inside. They look like this.

On the spine there is a number, which I suppose represents how many books have previously been published under the Folio imprint, but I couldn’t confirm this. They are up to four digits now… They are truly ubiquitous in any French bookshop.

An obvious question arises if one is as easily distracted by pointless questions as I am: which book has the number 1 on its spine? Purely by chance (helped no doubt by its fame), I found that Albert Camus’ “L’étranger” is number 2. It couldn’t be much harder to find its predecessor, surely? A quick google search or three should suffice…

But of course it wasn’t sufficient, otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it. [Oh, selection and publication bias, how I adore thee!] Incredibly, I could not find a simple list of all the Folio books every published along with their associated number. Yes, of course the Folio collection has its own site. But it didn’t burp up the simple list I required.

Anywho, after much speculative clicking, I managed to order all Folio books in order of publication date. And thus it was that I found that the “first ever” Folio book — albeit published on the same day as “L’étranger”, on the 7th of January 1972 — is…

André Malraux’s

“La condition humaine”

Never heard of it either, but it looks serious and classic.

Now I can sleep safely.


More trouble in the Middle East — with the y-axis

In Miraculous discoveries,Politics,Random fun stuff,Statistics on Tuesday 10th February, 2009 by Guy Tagged: , , ,

Who is going to get how many seats in the Israeli general election today? Let’s look at the exit polls, courtesy of Ha’aretz:

Exit poll results... sort of

Exit poll results... sort of

Wow, the Labor Party and Yisrael Beitenu are doing pretty badly. They are only predicted to gain one quarter of the seats that Likud and Kadima are projected to get! But, wait a second. 15 is one half of 30, not a quarter, right? So how did they get the graph to look like that? The bars match up perfectly with the y-axis; they have interpolated the numbers between 15 and 30 correctly. What’s going on??

Oh. I see. It’s a, *cough*, “non-linear scale”. Got it. And this is the country with one of the highest per-capita levels of PhD holdership in the world. Come on Ha’aretz, wake up!

[source: Ha’aretz home page, although they have corrected the graph for their special election coverage page].


Bloomer’s bloopers

In Media,Miraculous discoveries on Thursday 11th September, 2008 by Guy

Apart from the mistake of transmitting their biased guff funded by their mistaken license fee, the BBC can make funnier, smaller, cuter mistakes like the following:



And for an article about the 9/11 anniversary of all things! How unfortunate!

No, I can’t explain why this, of all things, breaks my blogsilence. Maybe I’m just petty… Fine, I admit it, I am petty. So what? Go back to work and stop gawking.


On an actual otter-cat

In Animals,Cat,Miraculous discoveries,Otter,Random fun stuff on Wednesday 3rd January, 2007 by Guy

Its existence had been formerly hypothesised, but never did I expect to be given evidence that there is a species of actual otter-cat — known to its sadly misinformed friends as a jaguarundi, and to its grandmother as Herpailurus yaguarondi — roaming this otherwise-godforsaken earth. I’m not sure whether the fact it earns an entry on wikipedia makes it more or less likely that it’s all a hoax. For now, I’ll believe it, because it would be so wonderful if it were true. There is some hope for this world yet, although according to the IUCN, who are in turn trusting the plainly and modestly named Cat Specialist Group [oh, how I would love to attend their annual meetings], there is concern over the otter-cat’s “conservation status”, or in normal-speak, their chances of survival in this cruel universe, though on their scale this concern is described as LC, which stands for “[Of] Least Concern”, which is indeed confusing, until one realises it is only relative to concern for other endangered species. Someone should really sort that out.

Some pictures of the poor, poor animal are necessary at this juncture:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [courtesy of]

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [courtesy of, but no thanks to, wikipedia and its acolytes]