Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For The Truth – Part Thirty Five

Why are most display watches set to ten past 10?

I have been thinking about buying a new watch over the last few weeks. With the ubiquity of mobile devices such as smart phones, there is something anachronistic about feeling you need something on your wrist for you to consult if you need to know what time it is. At my time of life, I hardly need the chronological precision that a decent watch gives me to regulate my activities. Sometimes I barely know what day it is.

But old habits die hard. For over half a century I have had a timepiece strapped to my left wrist and on the occasions I have not worn one, either because I have forgotten to put it on or it has broken, I somehow feel under-dressed. It is a kind of comfort blanket and wear one I will continue to do.

What struck me as I browsed at jewellers’ window displays and catalogues was that invariably those watches which had a conventional face as opposed to those digital abominations were invariably photographed as showing the time as ten past 10 or, for those manufacturers showing a rebellious streak, ten to 2. Why was that, I wondered?

It has not always been thus. Back in the 1920s and 30s watches were invariably set to 8:20. The Hamilton Watch Company bucked the trend in 1926 when their watches in advertisements showed the time as 10:10. Rolex followed suit in the 1940s and Timex, with their Marlin model in 1953, began to move their advertisements to the now accepted default time. Other manufacturers bowed to peer pressure and by the 1960s ten past 10 it was.

The reasons for the transition are quite easy to understand and it is all about presenting the watch to its best advantage. The hands are symmetrical, a look most people find more appealing than an asymmetrical one, and the two hands, as well as not overlapping so that they can be admired, allow the manufacturer’s logo, usually placed immediately below the figure of 12, to be seen clearly. The lower part of the face, where other features of the watch such as the date and day of the week are displayed, is unobstructed. The clincher is that the V-shape that the hands make represent a smile, a happy face, whereas the inverted V of 8:20 looks like a frown. And we all respond positively to a smile, don’t we?

Marketeers have long been associated with the dark arts, so is there a deeper, psychological reason behind the portrayal of watches? To answer this question we need to look at some research conducted by Ahmed Karim, Britta Lutzenkirchen, Eman Khedr, and Radwa Khalil, reported in the August 2017 edition of Frontiers in Psychology.

The first of their experiments involved showing a group of people pictures of twenty watches, with their faces set at one of the following settings, 10:10 (the happy face), 8:20 (the sad face) and 11:30, the latter selected because it was neutral and had no associations with human physiognomy. In what the uncharitable may view as a scientific demonstration of the bloomin’ obvious, the results showed that the happy face setting elicited greater feelings of pleasure amongst the viewers than the other two settings.

Perhaps of greater interest was the finding that the sad face setting did not affect feelings one way or the other. For those keen to understand the differences between the sexes, the research showed that the female participants registered stronger expressions of pleasure from the 10:10 setting than did their male counterparts. The researchers thought that this was in line with earlier studies in which women were shown to be better at recognising facial expressions and empathising with them than men.

Showing the watch faces alongside pictograms of happy and sad faces confirmed the assumption that the upturned V-shape was associated with a smile and the inverted V with a frown. However, the good vibes generated by the cheerful 10:10 setting were not strong enough to convince the participants to buy, although the inclination to buy was stronger than that generated by the other settings.

I think the case for any deeper psychological significance in the face display is unproven. In any event, if you are presented with a page of smiling watch faces on a page, the good feelings engendered by one are neutralised by the same feelings that come from the others, forcing you to make your selection based on other criteria.

So, the answer is simply a case of aesthetics, one that has clearly stood the test of time.

If you enjoyed this, check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone


There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Ninety Two

Charles Francis Jenkins (1867 – 1934)

Whether we like it or not, popular entertainment was transformed in the early 20th century by the development of television and cinematography. Someone who could justifiably claim to be at the birth of both media is the latest inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame, Charles Francis Jenkins. Much good it did him.

Born to a Quaker family who moved, when Jenkins was just two, to farm in Fountain City, Indiana, as a boy he was forever tinkering with machinery and soon proved to be a dab hand at fixing broken down implements. He also showed an inventive streak, developing a jack to lift wagons so their axles could be greased.

Like many a youth, Jenkins could not resist the lure of the city and at the age of nineteen moved to Washington DC, working as a stenographer in the early incarnation of the US Coast Guard. Although he had left his country roots behind, Charles could not shake off his inquisitiveness.

By 1890 Jenkins began working on what he described as a “motion picture projecting box” and called a Phantoscope. By the spring of 1894 he was sufficiently satisfied with his progress that he wrote to his parents that he was coming back to Indiana to show them his latest invention, instructing them to assemble a crowd of relatives and interested bystanders at his cousin’s jewellery store in Richmond on 6th June.

The gadget was packed up and sent to Richmond, Jenkins following on, completing the 700-mile journey by bicycle.

After some technical issues, according to the Richmond Telegraph, “there began a sputtering sound as the machine kicked into life and out of the lens shot light onto the wall and a girl clad in garments more picturesque than protective stepped lively. She did not seem bashful thus displayed, while those in the audience were taken aback.” The shameful hussy was Annabelle, a vaudeville favourite.

The audience, after recovering from the assault on their sensibilities, went behind the screen to check that there had been no sleight of hand. Not only was this the earliest documented performance of moving pictures to an audience but, astonishingly, it was in colour as each frame had been stained or coloured by hand. Moreover, it used reeled film and an electric light to project the images.

In the winter of 1894 Jenkins was introduced to Thomas Armat who was looking for investment opportunities. Jenkins was strapped for cash and by March 1895 they concluded an agreement by which Armat would “finance and promote the invention” of Jenkins.

The duo patented the Phantoscope on 28th August 1895 and gave a public demonstration of their device at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta in the autumn of 1895. A modified Phantoscope was patented on 20th July 1897 but relations between the two began to deteriorate. Jenkins eventually sold his interest in the projector to Armat who then sold the rights to Thomas Edison and the rest is history.

But Jenkins wasn’t finished as an inventor.

He developed a spiral-wound cardboard container, the design is still used today, a car with an engine in the front rather than under the driver (in 1898), an early version of a sightseeing bus (in 1901), an automatic starter for cars (1911), and an improved internal combustion engine (in 1912).

In an article entitled Motion Pictures by Wireless – Wonderful possibilities of Motion Picture Progress which appeared in the Movie Picture News of 27th September 1913, Jenkins announced that he had developed a mechanism which enabled him to view distant scenes by radio or, what we would nowadays know as television. Notwithstanding his enthusiasm, it took him another ten years before he was able to transmit a picture, of President Harding, from Washington to Philadelphia but by 1925 he was beaming moving pictures.

Granted a patent (US No 1,544,156 for Transmitting Pictures over Wireless) on June 30th 1925, Jenkins established the first commercially licensed TV station in America, W3XK, which made its first transmission on 2nd July 1928 from Washington. In 1929 it was broadcasting five nights a week.

It initially broadcast silhouettes but later moved on to transmitting black and white programmes. Jenkins’ company even produced the equipment that early adopters would have to use to receive the pictures.

But timing is everything. Selling expensive and, essentially, novelty equipment and services as America was plunging into the depths of the Depression was not a smart move. Jenkins’ company was declared bankrupt in 1931, opening up a space for RCA to exploit.

For your part in developing the cinema and television and failing to profit from it, Charles, you are a worthy inductee into our Hall of Fame.

If you enjoyed this, check out Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone

Recycling Tip Of The Week

I like to think I’m doing my bit for the environment by assiduously recycling everything that I can. Such is the plethora of well-meaning advice that we are inundated with that it is often difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

And this seems to be a problem that is besetting the recycling plants that the detritus of our modern lifestyle is delivered to.

Take aluminium cans. There is something deeply satisfying about crushing a can before putting it into the recycling bin. As well as the marvellous crunching sound pleasing my aesthetic sensibilities, the mangled can takes up less room in the bin.

But, I learned this week, it buggers up the system.

The majority of refuse sorting plants dump all of the refuse on to one conveyor belt and rely on a machine, which recognises items by its shape and material, to sort it out into the appropriate bins. However, it cannot cope with a mangled can and sticks it into the non-recyclable pile.

Either the machinery needs to be consigned to the scrapheap or we will have to change our habits.

To paraphrase Aristotle, you can’t do right for doing wrong.

Motivated By Curiosity And A Desire For The Truth – Part Thirty Four

Is there anything in grape or grain, but never the twain?

It has always struck me that there is something of the puritan about a hangover. After all, you pay at leisure for some momentary pleasure. Oscar Wilde, perhaps, got it right; moderation in everything, including moderation.

Seasoned topers have their own tried and tested methods of avoiding hangovers. Mine is to stick to one type of drinks and on no account to mix beer and wine. My hangover cure is to have a hair of the dog, the original phrase was to have a hair of the dog that bit you, as soon as I can stomach it.

But am I being unnecessarily cautious in my choice of drinks? Is it just quantity and not type that leads to a hangover?

My attention was drawn to the February 1st 2019 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, not part of my staple fare of reading material, I must confess, and an article with the unappetising subtitle of “A randomised controlled multi-arm matched triplet cross-over trial of beer and wine”. It outlined the research carried out by four principal researchers at the German university of Witten/Herdecke.

I will not bore you with the minutiae of the study, if you’re interested, follow this link , but they set out to find, in a controlled experiment, whether drinking beer and then wine or wine and then beer or just beer on its own or simply wine had any effect on the intensity of your hangover. It is gratifying to learn that the best brains are plying their grey cells to these problems of our diurnal existence.

They assembled a group of 90 volunteers, I can’t imagine they were hard to come by, who were aged between 19 and 40. Each was given the same meal, the condemned man and all that, and then they were split up into groups.

The first group drank two and half pints of lager, donated by Carlsberg, and then four large glasses of white wine. The second group drank the wine first, followed by the lager. The third group drank either only lager or just wine. Each participant was monitored regularly and when their breath alcohol concentration reached 0.11%, they stopped drinking and were packed off to bed with a glass of water of a size commensurate with their body weight.

The next day, they were quizzed as to how they felt, just what you want after a night on the tiles, and their responses were scored against the Acute Hangover Scale, developed by some scientists in the early 21st century to measure immediate hangover symptoms. I must look into this. Around 10% of the participants reported what the Australians colourfully term an upchucky moment.

A week later, the groups reassembled and drank the reverse of what they had consumed the previous time. Again, they were monitored and the intensity of their hangovers were recorded.

When it came to comparing the results, the scientists found no obvious correlation between the order that you consumed beer and wine or whether you restricted yourself to one or the other on the intensity of your hangover. In a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, for which scientific endeavour has been renowned over the centuries, they were forced to admit that it was quantity that impacted your hangover and that warning signs such as feeling tipsy and/or nauseous were reliable indicators that you might feel under par the following morning. You don’t say!

The veracity of the results has already been challenged. One scientist pointed out that the researchers had studiously avoided dark drinks, like red wine and beer. These alcoholic beverages contain congeners which, whilst adding flavour and character, have unpleasant side-effects which can increase the likelihood and intensity of your hangover.

But if the German study is to be believed, we can rid ourselves of the canards that you should never mix beer with wine or if you do, drink beer first.

I will enjoy testing out their results.

If you enjoyed this, check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone

Cure Of The Week

I have a long-standing interest in quack medicine and a couple of recent examples caught my eye.

The pain from a bad back can be debilitating and sufferers are often desperate to get their hands on anything that will relieve their pain. But here’s one remedy not to try – injecting yourself with semen.

The Irish Medical Journal, a must-read in any household, reported, in an article wittily called Semenly Harmless Back Pain: An unusual presentation of a Subcutaneous Abscess, that a 33 year-old man had injected himself with his own semen to cure his chronic back pain.

It didn’t seem to help and on a visit to the quack to get a more conventional treatment, the doctor noticed that the man’s arm was red and swollen. Further investigation showed that the man had a skin infection and that an abscess had formed under his skin.

He was put on an intravenous antimicrobial drip which seemed to have helped relieve his back pain but the patient discharged himself before the medics had the opportunity to drain his arm. Perhaps he was attached to it.

In other parts of the world, they swear by camel’s urine, claiming scriptural provenance for its healing qualities from a passage in the Hadith, a collection of sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad. Bottles of the stuff fly off the shelves in Saudi Arabia and if you get your hands on one, be sure to mix it with milk is supposed to release its healing properties.

But, you need to be sure that what you are drinking is the real deal.

Reports have reached me that Saudi health inspectors raided a shop in the port city of Al Qufudhah after receiving reports that the crafty shopkeeper was selling his own urine instead of going to the trouble of getting a camel, a notoriously bad-tempered creature at the best of times, to point Percy at a bucket. Seventy bottles were taken away for analysis.


Island Of The Week (2)

Farewell, Esanbe Hanakita Kojima. You were hardly missed.

The disappearance of the Japanese island off Hokkaido was only noticed by author, Hiroshi Shimizu, when he visited the area, saw a void where the island once stood and consulted sea charts.

Last surveyed in 1987 when it poked five feet out of the sea, it was only named in 2014 when the Japanese were trying to cement their ownership of the 158 or so uninhabited islands around their coastline. Esanbe was seized by the Soviets at the end of the Pacific War and a peace treaty between the two nations is yet to be signed because of the ongoing dispute over these islands.

What happened to Esanbe?

Experts think that erosion from wind and ice floes that form in the Sea of Okhotsk persuaded the island to make a graceful disappearance.

Perhaps it is a case of yin and yang. After all, in 2013 a landslide caused a 1,000-foot strip of land on Hokkaido to rise out of the sea.

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Eighty Five

Ole Johansen Winstrup (1782 – 1867)

It must have been chastening as a 25-year-old to see your capital city set on fire by the Brits and what remained of your navy towed away. The aftermath of the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807 caused the latest inductee into our Hall of Fame, Danish-born Ole Johansen Winstrup to exercise his grey cells to come up with an ingenious method of strengthening Copenhagen’s sea defences.

In 1808 the guardsman worked long and hard in his workshop to develop a model of what he called Hvalfisken, the Whale. And a pretty Heath-Robinsonish affair it was too. The idea behind the vessel was that the best way of surprising an enemy’s fleet was to creep up on it from below. In essence, The Whale was what we would now know as a submarine.

According to Winstrup’s patent application, in preparation for an attack a diver would drill numerous holes into the submarine’s hull and seal them with corks. When the vessel was in the requisite position, the diver would simply remove the corks, causing it to sink, forming a barrier against naval attack. Presumably, once the diver had removed all the corks, he would swim to safety. Quite how many would have to be removed before the vessel became unstable was not made clear.

Of course, there was the risk that the vessel would be detected and boarded by the curious enemy. Naturally, Winstrup had thought of that. “Should it happen that they send a ship’s carpenter to examine the ship,” he wrote, “then the harpoon shown in the model should be used.

Clearly satisfied that he had come up with a workable model and what would have been a game changer in the field of naval combat, Winstrup submitted his patent application to the Danish authorities. He even invited the Danish Crown Prince, later Frederik VI, to take a ride on the boat but the palace declined the kind offer. It may have been this act of hubris on Winstrup’s part that proved his undoing as the patent was refused “because of technical shortcomings” and the Whale was consigned to the scrap heap of history.

Bonkers as the idea of removing corks from holes to make a vessel sink may have been, careful inspection of Winstrup’s plans would reveal one revolutionary idea – the vessel used propellers. Experimentation into the way mechanical power, principally steam, was underway in various parts of the world in the early 19th century but Winstrup was ahead of the curve. It was not until 1815 that Richard Trevithick had designed a steam-powered propeller and the late 1830s that John Ericsson came up with the two-screw propeller system for use on naval vessels. The Danes had cavalierly thrown away a technological edge.

Although Winstrup gave up on the Whale, he did continue to blaze a technological trail. In 1826 he built a two-horse steam engine, which was adopted by a Copenhagen brewery owned by Hans Bagger Momme. It was the first steam engine to be used in Denmark, built by a Dane. Winstrup built a few more steam engines and in 1827 he set up an iron foundry. He even operated a wind turbine.

But by coming up with the use of a propeller to drive a boat and not being able to convince the authorities to adopt the idea, Ole Johansen Winstrup, you are a worthy inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame.

If you enjoyed, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone