Category Archives: Milestones

600

In the second hour of the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the year of Our Lord twenty-ten, A Compendium of Awesome Things received its 600th view. This is a very exciting moment in this awesome-compen-doer’s personal history of bloggery. It took more than three months to reach 200 views, and in the one month since we have reached 600 views. And it is all thanks to you, my beloved reader.

I don’t want to overstate the importance of this moment, but it reminds me more than a little of another significant venture in history involving the number 600. If you haven’t guessed it already, I refer, of course, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were finished in the year 600 BC. The crown jewel of the Babylonian Empire, the Hanging Gardens were the apogee of Babylonian architectural achievement, earning them a place among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (along with the Pyramids of Giza, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the statue of Zeus at Olympia and the lighthouse of Alexandria), not to be confused with the New Seven Wonders of the World (the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Christ the Redeemer, Machu Picchu, the Pyramid of Chichen Itza, the Colosseum, and perhaps the greatest wonder of the modern world, Stevie Wonder).

There were purported to be over twenty species of Skittle trees alone in the Hanging Gardens.

Much like this blog, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a very awesome thing dedicated to the most awesome thing of all: bacon pop rocks time machines kung fu movies love. You see, everyone’s favourite bible villain — the Barbarian of Babylon, the Assyrian Assassin, the Mesopotamian Masochist, the Angry Akkadian, the Schadenfroh Shinarian, the Cantankerous Chaldean — Nebuchadnezzar himself, was conquered by the love of a woman. And so he built the Gardens for his wife Amytis, who was desperately homesick for the lush gardens of her native Media. The Hanging Gardens are sometimes called by the name of another queen — a legendary one — named Semiramis (not to be confused with Sam Raimi).

The legendary Semiramis, seen here in her fabled posture of petulant boredom

Also much like this blog, although the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the marvels of their time, virtually no one alive today has seen them or is even aware of their existence. So in a way, the fact that you read this blog makes you a blog archaeologist of sorts, which is simultaneously exciting and lame. Much like real archaeology.

So this Compendium of Awesome Things is my Hanging Gardens of Babylon and you, dear reader, you are my Amytis for whom I write. But not in a creepy way.

Thank you for continuing to read my blog. It has rewarded me with much joy and inflated my ego like only anonymous internet-based community can.

Nebuchadnezzar with an expression that reads, "Where did I put my pants?"

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Filed under History, Lore and Legend, Milestones

Liquid Pencils

Despite its gloomy title, 'The Book of the Dead' topped the summer reading lists of all of Egypt's fashionable periodicals.

Pencil technology hasn’t changed very much over the millennia.

Long before paper made its way over the long silk road from China, the western world recorded information on papyrus, a paper-like material made from the eponymous Egyptian reed. The ancient Romans would use a tool called the stylus to write on papyrus. Styli were small rods, pointed at one end and blunt at the other. When inscribing in soft materials like wax, the sharp end was used to etch letters while the blunt end was used to scrape away the writing entirely. Styli were generally made of lead, a very soft metal. So when a scribe was writing on papyrus, the stylus not only scratched but left faint grey lead markings.

In other words, the stylus was to the pencil what the quill is to the modern pen.

There was very little development in pencil technology for well over a thousand years until the 16th century, when a large deposit of graphite was discovered in England. Graphite has many qualities similar to lead that make it ideal for pencil use: it’s a soft, brittle material that leaves a mark when scratched against another surface. In fact, graphite leaves a much darker mark than lead. It also helps that, unlike lead, graphite isn’t a dangerous poison. Of course they didn’t know or care about this at the time. They were eagerly putting lead in everything: water pipes, paint, makeup, dishes, toys.

One of the earliest wooden pencils

Originally people wrapped the graphite in string to make it easier to handle, but eventually someone came up with the idea of digging a groove into a stick of wood to contain the graphite, and thus the first modern pencil was born. It was in the late 1600s in Germany that the first mass-produced pencil was made. Other companies caught pencil fever and were scrambling to get a piece of the pencil pie.[i] One of these companies, Faber-Castell, established in 1761, is still a major player in the winner-take-all battle for pencil supremacy, a battle the outcome of which only time will tell.

That is until this year, the year twenty-ten, when Sharpie changed everything.

Once people figured out how to jam a brittle stick of graphite into a tiny hollowed out log, they figured they’d reached the pinnacle of pencil technology. There was little left to challenge them, so no progress was made for the next two hundred years. Frankly, they got lazy.

Some developments were made in the periphery of pencil production: pencil sharpeners were invented and later replaced by the superior electric pencil sharpener. But the design of the pencil itself remained relatively unchanged until the invention of the mechanical pencil.

The mechanical pencil sounds cooler than it is. Instead of encasing graphite in wood, pencil companies encased it in plastic and found a way to retract the lead when it isn’t being used. This eliminated the need for pencil sharpeners but created the need for those little plastic boxes of graphite refills. In spite of its snazzy new shell, the mechanical pencil still works on the same principles as the wooden, plus the wooden is still the standard in the pencil industry. Little has changed.

That’s where Sharpie comes in. Sharpie recently announced the result of what must’ve been some dark Faustian bargain, an innovation that defies the natural order and seeks to seat mankind among the gods. It is an event simultaneously celestial and diabolical, exhilarating and terrifying. I speak of none other than the liquid pencil.

The harbinger of our doom

Through undisclosed means — some mixture of science and dark alchemy — Sharpie has discovered a way to turn graphite into a strange liquid metal. The new pencil writes with liquid like a pen, but once on paper it acts like, and erases like, solid graphite. After three days, whatever has been written on the page becomes permanent.

The good news is this is probably the first genuinely exciting news to come out of the pencil industry since coloured pencils. And it’s truly revolutionary. The very core of what makes a pencil a pencil has been changed. Literally. The graphite core has been changed into a futuristic liquid metal. This also bridges the seemingly eternal gap between pen and pencil. There were erasable pens in the past, but they never really worked as they were intended. And so if one wanted something dark and permanent, they needed pens, but if they wanted to erase they needed pencils. Now we finally have a tool that is both fully erasable because it’s truly a pencil, but fully permanent because it’s truly a liquid pen. Surely this is an irrefutable indicator that we have arrived in the Future.

And thus the bad news. We all know where this is going. Liquid metal pencils utilizing strangely advanced technology. It’s only a matter of time before Sharpie is bought out by a shadowy corporation called Cyberdyne, bringing us one step closer to Judgment Day and the war against the machines. The Sharpie liquid graphite technology will eventually form the basis of the T-1000 who will be sent back in time to kill John Connor. I’m even inclined to believe that the Sharpie pencil itself was sent back in time by the machines, utilizing technology that will push the Judgment Day timeline ahead by several years.

Robert Patrick playing a Sharpie liquid pencil

So as cool and exciting as Sharpie’s new pencil is, in creating it they have doomed the human race to nuclear destruction and a post-apocalyptic robot war. Fortunately for us, there is a fundamental yearning in the human soul to kill robots, and — I would argue — it’s the only time we truly shine.  So I say bring on the liquid pencils, and bring on the war with the machines.
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[i] A real dish in England, by the way, and even nastier than it sounds.

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Filed under History, Milestones, Technology, The Future

Having 200 Views

One of the most significant moments of my life occurred while I was in university.

I went to a large, urban university. At the time there were almost 40,000 students on one campus, and we were located in Toronto, a city of 3 million people. Because of this and because of how modern my school was, there wasn’t very much green to be found on campus. It was all concrete, sidewalks, statues and steel. There were the occasional clusters of trees that were quickly sat under by weary undergrads in the few short weeks each year when the weather was temperate enough for anyone to be outside; but it was by no means what one would call a beautiful or a natural-looking campus.

I should also explain that in that part of Ontario there are no grey or red squirrels, or at least in the years I was there I never saw any. All of the squirrels I ever saw were black. We didn’t have black squirrels in any of the places I grew up, so it was an unpleasant change to move to Toronto and find that’s all they had. Compared to their red and grey cousins, black squirrels are small — about half the size of grey squirrels – and evil looking. Truth be told, I didn’t trust them. Squirrels can also stand on their hind legs, after all.

One day I was walking back to my dorm via the fine arts college. There existed between the dorm of this college and my own a little walkway lined with trees. It was one of the most pleasant corners of the campus where I could listen to the breeze in the trees, hear some birds sing and feel like I was connecting with nature, even if only for two or three minutes. At the end of this sidwalk was a short staircase down to my dorm. As I descended the staircase on this particular day, I suddenly halted. Because there, across from me, perched atop a trash can was a grey squirrel. The only grey squirrel I had seen in three years. He was a huge squirrel, as well. Easily twice the size of other grey squirrels.

I stared at him in wonder. And then, he looked at me. Our eyes locked for what was probably only two or three seconds, but felt like an hour. This squirrel was no regular squirrel. He had such wisdom, such kindness in his eyes. I almost imagine his eyes twinkled at me, giving the impression of a wink. I like to think this was his way of blessing me. And then, he broke his gaze. The world, which almost seemed to disappear in that moment, came back in around me.

And I knew — like someone knows they are loved by another, or like a girl knows she’s become a woman — that I had just met the King of the Squirrels.

I have never been the same since.

An artist's rendition of His Royal Highness

This moment, gentle reader, is nearly as awesome an experience as that day when I met the King of the Squirrels. And I doubt I would be here had he not blessed me as he did. So I dedicate this small milestone to the King of the Squirrels, may he live long and rule in wisdom .And to you, dear reader, for staying with me these past few months. Here’s to many more years of awesome-compendilating.

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Filed under Animals, Milestones, Ridiculon

Having 100 Views

Just a little over  a month after launching this blog, we have officially reached 100 views.

On the one hand, only having 100 views in the last thirty plus days is embarrassing and hardly worth mentioning (100 views in 36 days is less than three views a day, assuming this blog gets traffick everyday, which it definitely doesn’t).

On the other hand, 100 views is a milestone, even if it is a small one. The first mile on a road trip is just as important as the last, after all.

On the other hand[i], 100 views is quite an impressive feat. That means that up to 100 individual people have read my words in the past month. As a high school teacher by trade, I understand how difficult it is to get 20 people to pay attention to you, let alone 100. Then again, it could also mean that as few as one or two people may have been reading this blog regularly – one might even say nigh obsessively – over the last month. That’s even cooler than having 100 individual people reading this blog once.

On the other hand, this is a blog dedicated exclusively to sharing awesome things, all the more if they are not universally recognized as being awesome. Implicit in this standard is a prohibition of posting anything negative and an obligation to celebrate even the smallest forms of awesome.

Well, that’s three hands of Vishnu versus one in favour of 100 views being an awesome thing. That settles it.

Vishnu

I would like to thank the hypothetical 100 people for reading my blog once. I hope you may find your way back again. I would like to thank the hypothetical, but more plausible, two people who have read my blog 50 times a piece over these two fortnights and eight days. May the Lord reward your diligence with amusing and insightful posts to read. And, of course, anyone in between for being kinder than the hypothetical 100 by returning here at all, and for being less creepy than the hypothetical two for not returning here too frequently. Finally, I’d like to thank Vishnu for being very helpful in this post. Your four arms have come in quite handy. I would’ve been lost without them.


[i] I’m weighing the pros and cons on the hands of Vishnu. That gives us four to work with.

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