The Cessna CG-2 primary glider, which cost about $5,500 (USD 2016)
The Cessna CG-2 primary glider, which cost about $5,500 (USD 2016)

At the beginning of Out Of Africa (1937), Karen Blixen writes

The wind runs straight against the Ngong Hills, and the slopes of the hills would be the ideal place for setting up a glider, that would be lifted upwards by the currents, over the mountain top.

It’s surprising how Blixen is comfortable enough with the idea of a glider in 1937 to use the concept so casually, since hang gliding and paragliding didn’t really get started until the 1950s. It turns out that gliding was a very popular sport in the 1930s, using a predecessor of the sailplane called a primary glider:

Primary gliders were generally launched by bungee cord, whereby a rubber rope was arranged in a “V” with the glider at the apex. The ends of the rope were pulled by hand to launch the glider from a slope.

Modern sailplanes (commonly launched by towing them behind a plane) can also be launched similarly, using a winch system.


Ivan Bilibin - The Pyramids (1924)
Ivan Bilibin – The Pyramids (1924)

When we eat protein, our bodies break it down into individual amino acids. These amino acids are then reassembled to make the specific proteins we actually need. So, when we think about eating “protein”, we should keep in mind that we’re really just gathering proteinogenic (“protein creating”) amino acids.

There are only 23 proteinogenic amino acids used by life, as we know it. Of these, 21 are present in eukaryotes: 20 are represented surjectively from codons, and the 21st (selenocysteine) is oddly encoded by the stop codon.

Of the 21 proteinogenic amino acids we use, 9 essential ones can’t be created by our bodies, and therefore need to be attained through food. Many foods are complete proteins, though, meaning they contain sufficient proportions of all essential amino acids. This is why thinking of “protein” rather than “amino acid” as a dietary element is usually sufficient.

Regarding the header picture of the pyramids above, the laborers of the pyramids consumed extreme quantities of meat:

In an area of the world where people have traditionally reserved meat eating mostly for special occasions and feast-days, we have found evidence that the ancient state provisioned the pyramid city with enough cattle, sheep, and goat to feed thousands of people prime cuts of meat for more than a generation—even if they ate it every day.

I learned about this from the amazing The Egyptian History Podcast.

Jane Digby

Carl Haag - Jane Digby In Palmyra (1859)
Carl Haag – Jane Digby In Palmyra (1859)

Jane Digby (1807–1881) is a fascinating character. In Europe, she became known for her scandals and promiscuity:

In 1838, Jane found a new lover in the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis (born 1805). [Her previous lover with whom she had children] Venningen found out and challenged Theotokis to a duel, in which the latter was wounded. Venningen generously released Jane from the marriage and took care of their children. They remained friends for the rest of their lives.

[…] Jane converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in Marseille in 1841. The couple moved to Greece with their son Leonidas. In 1846, after their son’s fatal fall off a balcony, Theotokis and Jane divorced. Greece’s King Otto became her next lover.

Next came an affair with a hero of Greek revolution, Thessalian general Christodoulos Chatzipetros, acting as ‘queen’ of his brigand army, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the mountains.

She then moved to Syria, where she married a sheik twenty years her junior:

Jane adopted Arab dress and learned Arabic in addition to the other eight languages in which she was fluent. Half of each year was spent in the nomadic style, living in goat-hair tents in the desert, while the rest was enjoyed in a palatial villa that she had built in Damascus.

[…] She was buried [in Damascus] with her horse in attendance at the funeral. Upon her footstone–a block of pink limestone from Palmyra–is her name, written in Arabic.

In fact, click on the header image (above) to see that the ruins of Palmyra are in the background. Unfortunately, the Islamic State destroyed most of these ruins in 2015.

Related to the idea of traveling far away against social norms, I came across a blog by an Austrian train fanatic, Helmut. In 2008, Helmut traveled from Vienna to Pyongyang by train. He was able to ride the train into North Korea from Russia using a clever visa loophole:

Tumangan [in North Korea] is by default listed on every North Korean visa, despite the fact that KITC [Korea International Travel Company] doesn’t offer this route to tourists.

This was an important information. At least it is not totally illegal to enter at Tumangan…

[…] So if Tumangan is listed on the visa – it could be possible to just book an ordinary trip to North Korea via Sinujiu [from China] but then in reality arrive via Tumangan [from Russia]…. hmmmm

Incarceration in Greenland

The prisoner population per 100000 people for each country country
The prisoner population per 100,000 people for each country

I came across the above map on Wikipedia showing the incarceration rate (number of prisoners per 100,000 people) for each country. Greenland caught my eye since its rate is much higher than Denmark, which it’s part of. It turns out that incarceration in Greenland is quite interesting:

The Greenlandic prison system runs with a uniquely open model. Prisoners must report to prison between 9:30pm and 6:30am each day, but may go to work, visit relatives and complete errands while in the community. They also may hunt with firearms if they are escorted by a prison guard. Prisoners have keys to their own cells, as this is regarded as a form of privacy. A failure to attend prison will result in 7 days in solitary confinement once the escapee returns. […] There are presently 160 places in the Greenlandic prison system.

A tangent: I made a simple plot showing the population of the largest city throughout history. You can hover over points to see the name of the respective city.

Fathers And Sons

Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883), author of Fathers And Sons
Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883), author of Fathers And Sons

I just read Fathers And Sons by Ivan Turgenev. You can find some quotes I found interesting here, for example:

“And this Monsieur Bazarov, what is he exactly?” [Pavel Petrovich] inquired with deliberation.

“What is Bazarov?” Arkady smiled. “Would you like me to tell you, uncle, what he is exactly?”

“Please do, nephew.”

“He is a nihilist!”

“A nihilist,” said Nikolai Petrovich. “[…] The term must signify a man who … who recognizes nothing?”

“Say—who respects nothing,” put in Pavel Petrovich, and set to work with the butter again.

“Who looks at everything critically,” observed Arkady.

“Isn’t that the same thing?” asked Pavel Petrovich.

“No, it’s not the same thing. A nihilist is a person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered.”

Also, Turgenev makes a fun historical mistake at the beginning of Chapter 21:

“Here am I, as you can see, like some Cincinnatus, marking out a bed for late turnips. […] I’m used to it; you see, I’m a plebeian.

But Cincinnatus—aside from peacefully stepping down from a position of absolute power—is famous for strongly opposing the plebeian class, of which he was certainly not a member. In fact, the reason he had to become a farmer in the first place was because of the fines imposed on his family by their abuse of the plebeians.

Animal Trials

An excerpt from a list of excommunications and prosecutions of animals in Appendix F of The criminal prosecution and capital punishment of animals
An excerpt from a list of excommunications and prosecutions of animals in Appendix F of The Criminal Prosecution And Capital Punishment Of Animals

Edward Payson Evans (1831–1917) collected a number of extremely interesting cases of animal trials and strange legal disputes in his book The Criminal Prosecution And Capital Punishment Of Animals (1906). For example:

Bartholomew Chassenee, a distinguished French jurist of the sixteenth century […], made his reputation at the bar as counsel for some rats, which had been put on trial before the ecclesiastical court of Autun on the charge of having feloniously eaten up and wantonly destroyed the barley-crop of that province. […] In view of the bad repute and notorious guilt of his clients, Chassenee was forced to employ legal shifts and chicane, dilatory pleas and other technical objections. […] He urged, in the first place, that inasmuch as the defendants were dispersed over a large tract of country and dwelt in numerous villages, a single summons was insufficient to notify them all; he succeeded, therefore, in obtaining a second citation, to be published from the pulpits of all the parishes inhabited by the said rats. […] He excused the default or non-appearance of his clients on the ground of the length and difficulty of the journey and the serious perils which attended it, owing to the unwearied vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats, who watched all their movements, and, with fell intent, lay in wait for them at every corner and passage.

(Pages 18–19)

Another interesting rat-related anecdote:

A faded and somewhat droll survival of excommunication and exorcism is the custom, still prevailing in European countries and some portions of the United States, of serving a writ of ejectment on rats or simply sending them a friendly letter of advice in order to induce them to quit any house, in which their presence is deemed undesirable. Lest the rats should overlook and thus fail to read the epistle, it is rubbed with grease, so as to attract their attention, rolled up and thrust into their holes.

(Page 129)

Similar legal disputes were brought against all sorts of animals including insects:

In the fourteenth century the peasants of the Electorate of Mayence brought a complaint against some Spanish flies, which were accordingly cited to appear at a specified time and answer for their conduct; but “in consideration of their small size and the fact that they had not yet reached their majority,” the judge appointed for them a curator, who “defended them with great dignity”; and, although he was unable to prevent the banishment of his wards, he obtained for them the use of a piece of land, to which they were permitted peaceably to retire.

(Pages 110–111)

Humans have even punished plants:

Among the Kukis, if a man falls from a tree and is killed, it is the sacred duty of the next of kin to fell the tree, and cut it up and scatter the chips abroad. The spirit of the tree was supposed to have caused the mishap, and the blood of the slain was not thought to be thoroughly avenged until the offending object had been effaced from the earth.

(Page 171)

This is a fun aside that caught my eye:

A Frenchman bequeathed his property to his own corpse, in behalf of which his entire estate was to be administered, the income to be expended for the preservation of his mortal remains and the adornment of the magnificent mausoleum in which they were sepulchred.

(Page 110)