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Location: United Kingdom

John May is a generalist. A lifelong free-lance author, editor, producer and writer, he has worked on 15 books and written for many major newspapers and magazines. He is a published poet, a semi-professional musician and songwriter, a part-time painter and a dedicated photographer.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The Colour of Memory (Photo: John May)

Two linguists – Paul Kay and Brent Berlin – began studying the language of colour when they were comparing their field notes in the early 1960s. Kay had just returned from
Tahiti; Berlin from studying a Mayan language in southern Mexico. To their surprise, they discovered that, in both languages, all the major colour terms but one were exactly like those in English; the exception was also the same in both languages (grouping green and blue together in what the linguists call ‘grue’).

Intrigued, Kay and Berlin sampled the colour terms used in 110 languages. They found that colour vocabulary certainly varies in size: English has 11 basic terms: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, pink, orange, purple and grey. Russian adds goluboy (light blue). By contrast, Dani, a New Guinea language, only has two: one is for ‘cool’ colours, encompassing black, green and blue; the other for ‘warm colours, including white red and yellow. Those languages having only three terms, almost always have ‘black-cool’, white-light’ and ‘red-yellow-warm’; those having four, usually add ‘grue.’

The variation in the number of colour words, Kay believes, is due to the fact that hunter-gatherers need fewer colour words because colour data rarely provides crucial information about a natural object or scene. The number of colour words in a society corresponds to its degree of industrialisation.

The publication of their book Basic Colour Terms (1969), which suggests that people everywhere see colour in quite similar ways, triggered off years of speculation as to whether the patterns they had discovered had a common neurophysiological basis but, according to Kay (2004) ‘there is no physiological evidence for or against this view.’

A more recent theory suggests that universals in colour vocabularies can be attributed to the way the world is coloured i.e. to the natural distribution of wavelengths.

Source: Philip E. Ross, 'Draining the Language of Colour (Scientific Smerican. April 2004. p24)


Aconcagua at dawn/7 Summits

The highest mountains on each of Earth’s continents were first named the Seven Summits by Dick Bass, who was the first to climb them all. He completed this amazing feat on April 30th 1985, when he became the oldest climber (at that time) to reach the top of Mount Everest. He was 55.

They are: Aconcagua (6,959m) in South America, Kosciusko (222.8m) in Australia, Everest (8,848m) in Asia, Elbrus (5,642m) in Europe, Kilimanjaro (5,895m) in Africa, Vinson Massif (4,897m) in Antarctica and Mount McKinley (6,194m) in North America.

Another list was proposed by the legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner in which he substituted Oceania for Australia and chose the Carstensz Pyramid (4,884m) to replace Kosciuszko.

Pat Morrow was the first to climb this list followed by Messner himself, both in 1986. By 2003, more than 100 climbers had climbed all seven on one or other of these lists; 40% had climbed all eight to complete both lists. The fastest time to complete either list was set by a climber who made the seven ascents in about seven months, using Kosciuszko; another did it in ten months, using Carstensz Pyramid.

Carstensz Pyramid is located on what was Irian Jaya (named Papua since 2000), Indonesia, at Lat/Lon: 4.08°S, 137.18°E. It was first climbed by Heinrich Harrer who describes the experience in his book ‘I Come From the Stone Age’: ‘It's a steep granite wall with sharp good climbable rock. Only a few hundred people have climbed Carstensz due to the political instability and the fact that it is hidden in dense jungle. Be prepared to climb in snow, rain, with your gloves being torn by the sharp rock, while seeing the Freeport company tearing down other nearby mountains, the last glaciers near the equator and men wearing nothing but penis gourds!’

Harrer died in January 2006 at the age of 93. Quicktime movie of Harrer with Dalai Lama here
If you want to climb Carstensz Pyramid go here


'Seven Summits'
- Dick Bass, Frank Wells (with Frank Ridgeway).
Warner Books 1988

'Seven Summits: The Quest to reach the Highest Point on Seven Continents'
- (Editor) Steve Bell (Forewords: Dick Bass and Pat Morrow).
Gramercy Books. 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The paper clip must be one of the simplest and most ingenious of all inventions. Legend has it that New Yorker Walter Hunt, a prolific inventor and mechanic, was fiddling around with a piece of wire whilst trying to think of something that could help him pay off a $15 debt. He made his first safety pin out of a piece of brass wire about eight inches long, coiled at the centre and shielded at one end. He went on to patent it on April 10, 1849 as a ‘dress pin’ but later sold the rights to it for $400.

Hunt came up with his first invention - a flax spinner - when he was in his late teens He also invented: a fire engine gong, a forest saw, paper collars, a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, a hard-coal- burning stove, artificial stone, road sweeping machinery, velocipedes, ice ploughs and mail making machinery. None of them, it seems, achieved significant commercial success as Hunt had problems marketing them effectively.

In 1834, he built America's first sewing machine - the first to employ an eye-pointed needle. He lost interest in patenting it because he believed the invention would cause unemployment amongst seamstresses.

Today In Science History

See Hunt's original patent here

According to Wikipedia: The origin of the safety pin dates back to the Mycenaeans c.1050 B.C. They were known as "Fibulae". It is also possible that it was invented by the iron age Hallstatt culture who lived in what is modern day Austria.

Accordimg to the website Find A Grave: Walter Hunt was born on July 29th 1796 and died on June 8th 1859. He is buried in Green-wood Cemetry,
Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, USA. There is a portrait of him on this site and pictures of an ornate tombstone and an obelix, both erected in his memory.

The website claims that Walter Hunt died of gangrene, from an unattended pin-prick at the age of 63.


The smallest seahorse so far discovered was identified amongst the delicate corals of the Flores Sea off the coast of Indonesia in 2003 by Sara Lourie, a member of the UBC-based Project Seahorse marine conservation team and a doctoral student at McGill University in Montreal. Adults of the new species, a pygmy seahorse to be known as Hippocampus denise, are typically just 16 mm long -- smaller than most fingernails.

In the past they have been mistaken for the offspring of another of the 32 known species of seahorses.

(Above): Close up of Sara Lourie's hands holding a test tube containing Hippocampus denise. Photo: Joerg Adam. (Right): Hippocampus denise with its tail entwined around the stem of a gorgonian seafan, its natural habitat. Photo: Denise Tackett

'A New Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus denise (Teleostei: Syngnathidae),
from the Indo-Pacific', Sara A. Lourie and John E. Randall Zoological Studies 42(2): 284-291.