The origin of “OK”

O.K. or “Oll Korrect” was originally a corny joke amongst Boston intellectuals in 1830s Boston who would intentionally misspell abbreviations.

The Boston Post printed in what is the first known print of the word OK in 1839. Martin Van Buren even adopted the idiom during his 1840 reelection campaign as a nickname. His supporters called him “Old Kinderhook” after the New York town where he was born.

Van Buren lost the election, but OK took off, emerging from slang into practical use thanks to the invention of the telegraph in 1844. It was easier to tap out the word “OK” versus anything else for operators on the railroad to confirm receipt.

Part of the reason OK continued to supplant itself into vernacular in the 20th century was the way in which marketers used the letter “K.” Very few words started with the letter K, so brand strategists modified the C in words like Kraft, Kleenex, Krispy Kreme, and Koolaid to sell products.

Today, OK is universal. Used as an adjective, noun, verb, and adverb, it is most commonly understood as “the ultimate neutral affirmative.” As Alan Metcalf writes in OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, OK does the “affirming without evaluating.” People use the word to convey the acceptance of information and not necessarily its confirmation.

So the word OK started off as awkwardly as it persisted. Yet, there never goes a day where you can avoid the ubiquity of the two-letter word.

NASA’s “women computers” 🚀

Katherine Johnson helped launch America’s first orbit around Earth. She also “computed the path” that would eventually get Neil Armstrong to the moon. 

In 1962’s Mercury-Atlas launch, astronaut John Glenn personally requested that she hand-crunch the machine’s calculations around the planet.  She confirmed the math a day and a half later.

The 2016 film Hidden Figures pays tribute to Johnson’s seminal role in one of the most important NASA missions in America’s spaceflight history.

The pigeon camera, a precursor to the drone

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Before airplanes, skyscrapers, Google Earth, drones, and GoPros brought us aerial views, there was pigeon camera.

In 1907, just a few years after the Wright brothers lifted off in Kitty Hawk, and while human flight was still being measured in metres and minutes, Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera. The device was precisely what it sounds like—a small camera fitted with straps and equipped with a timer so that pigeons could carry it and take photos in flight.

Neubronner developed the pigeon camera for practical purposes. At first, he was simply hoping to track the flights of the birds in his flock. But his invention also represented a more sublime achievement. The images his pigeons captured, featured in “The Pigeon Photographer,” a recent book from Rorhof, are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement.

Naturally, the photos captured by the pigeons were randomly timed. This resulted in images with feathers and swooping side shots.  

Ancient Roman fleeing Mount Vesuvius crushed by flying rock

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Imagine fleeing the ash that swept Pompeii during the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., only to crushed by a flying stone.

According to the Telegram, the archeologists also found that the 30-year old merchant was carrying 22 silver and bronze coins in a leather pouch. They also found a house key buried underneath the skeleton.

Naturally, the extraordinary discovery has become a target for jokes, including one individiual setting up a GoFundMe account.

The British Museum adds Mo Salah’s boots to its collection

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Image via the British Museum

In preparation for the Champions League final this Saturday, the British Museum has decided to include the football boots of Mo Salah in the Egyptian collection.

The Egyptian star scored the most goals in a Premier League season with 32. The museum’s curator said the boots were “a modern Egyptian icon, performing in the UK, with a truly global impact.” However, others like Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass finds the opportunism inappropriate, saying “If the British Museum wanted to honor Salah, it should have built a museum for him or put the shoe in a special room.”

You be the judge.

Below are some of Salah’s top goals from the 2017 – 2018 season.

In fingerprints we trust

Your fingerprints are uniquely yours. No two people have the same friction ridges, not even twins. Writes The Paris Review:

“Scientists describe the basic patterns of fingerprints in terms of arches, whorls, and loops. (Seventy percent of a fingerprint is made up of loops.) Closer features include dots, lakes, islands, spurs, crossings, and bifurcations. It is true that every print is unique to every finger, even for identical twins, who share the same genetic code.”

Before the fingerprint became a forensic science, its original purpose was economic. Thumbs acted as a stamp of approval.

“Thumb marks were used as personal seals to close business in Babylonia, and, in 1303, a Persian vizier recounted the use of fingerprints as signatures during the Qin and Han Dynasties, noting, “Experience has shown that no two individuals have fingers precisely alike.” The Chinese had realized that before anyone: a Qin dynasty document from the third-century B.C.E, titled “The Volume of Crime Scene Investigation—Burglary,” pointed up fingerprints as a means of evincing whodunnit.”

Even more interesting is how fingerprints form, made permanent by Week 19 of pregnancy. “Fingerprints are formed by friction from touching the walls of our mother’s womb. Sometimes they are called “chanced impressions.””

Technically, your fingerprints or eyeballs could your access key to anything. You don’t need the phone to act as your digital keys or wallet. Logging into a smartphone with a thumb, the mobile device merely serves as an interlocutor for checking out at places like Starbucks or the bank.

“Wallets and keys might get lost for good if we can pay for cappuccinos and power up cars with our eyeballs or fingers. In the early aughts, when we were increasingly imagining a future where people moved through the world—for better or worse—without anonymity, those people were chipped. But who needs computer chips when you’ve got fingerprints? “The future of biometrics has never been better,” said Becker. “Biometrics have gone mainstream—now people have expectations and habits. People are checking into every Delta Sky Club in the country with biometrics.””

The grooves within your fingerprints can also predict your future.

“The patterns on our fingers do seem to correspond to the lobes of our brains. Some researchers are hailing fingerprints as blueprints. “Fingerprints are the mirrors to our inborn talents and potentials, knacks and likings,” write the authors of one recent paper, who believe people may be able to use their fingerprints to unlock their best selves.”

Fascinating.

Views of Tokyo (1913-1915)

Views of Tokyo (1913-1915)

Last week, I blogged about a trip through Golden Gate City: San Francisco (1939). This week’s archival video goes back in time to views of Tokyo, 1913-1915.

Some observations:

  • Notice the clash of those wearing modern (Western) clothing versus the traditional feudal garb
  • A lot these kids (and their kids) probably went on to fight in both World Wars
  • The girl with the bouncing ball (see gif) has impressive football and basketball skills

Another fascinating look at black and white footage augmented with a sound for added ambiance. Be sure to check out the archival footage of New York (1911) as well.

The treadmill was originally a torture device

Treadmills were originally torture devices, meant to break the mind, body, and spirit of English prisoners.

Two hundred years ago, the treadmill was invented in England as a prison rehabilitation device. It was meant to cause the incarcerated to suffer and learn from their sweat.

Treadmills were originally installed as an outlet for exercise and milling corn and water as rewards. But they quickly escalated into a mechanism for punishment to prevent poor people from committing crimes to take advantage of the necessities in jail.

The treadmill was originally a torture device
via Jstor/Getty

Britain banned treadmills in 1989, seeing their punishment no longer useful.

An 1885 British Medical Journalarticle called “Death on the Treadmill,” chastized Durham Prison for the treadmill-induced death of a prisoner with heart disease. Its overall high death rate—one fatality a week—prompted the conclusion that “[t]he ‘mill’ is not useful, and has proved itself occasionally injurious.”

Having banned treadmills in 1828 to adopt a “collective industry” where prisoners became factory workers, America revamped the treadmill as an exercise machine.

It resurfaced in 1913 with a U.S. patent for a “training-machine.” In the 1960s, the American mechanical engineer William Staub created a home fitness machine called the PaceMaster 600. He began manufacturing home treadmills in New Jersey. (He used it often himself, right up until the months before his death at the age of 96.)

As this article points out, treadmills are the top-selling training equipment in the US but still come with all the baggage (injuries and boredom) that prisoners endured in England.

Western record hunters race to the past

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1960s London record store
Photographer Alex Bartsch retraces reggae record sleeves in London
Your records should be uniquely, YOU

Reader in Music and Media at the University of Gloucestershire and author of PJ Harvey and Music Video Performance Abigail Gardner, writes an interesting take in Quartz on the recent trend of collecting and reissuing African music.

Are Western crate diggers the new colonists?

John Peel liked the freshness of The Bhundu Boys, they were contemporary. He didn’t live long enough to experience this recent race to the past in music, this tracking down of the undocumented curiosity, this search for music that sounds old but is new, this new colonialism. If he were alive now, he’d be playing Ata Kak’s new songs and moving things forward.

A 20-year-old Nas released Illmatic on this day in 1994

Today marks the 24th anniversary of [easyazon_link identifier=”B00DFQDNOQ” locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]Illmatic[/easyazon_link], considered one of the greatest rap albums of all-time. It saw 20-year-old Queens-bred Nas pair up with New York producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and Large Professor. Below is the promo video introducing the release.


The Streets Disciple

“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” – Nas, [easyazon_link identifier=”B00DFQDOW2″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]“NY State of Mind”[/easyazon_link]

Nas went on to become one of the greatest lyricists. In 2013, Harvard University established the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship to provide scholars with creative opportunities in the arts. In 2017, Nas sat down with Harvard poetry professor Elisa New to discuss his track “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” from the Illmatic album.

Nasty Nas made his recorded debut on Main Source’s [easyazon_link identifier=”B00B24ZU8A” locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]Live at the Barbeque[/easyazon_link] album as an 18-year-old. He wrote the verse when he was 16. Check out the live clip below:

A trip through New York City, 1911

In 1911, Swedish film company Svenska Biografteatern recorded its trip to New York.

Fortunately, the footage survived and most recently was speed-corrected and reproduced with added street sounds of car horns, horses, and police whistles to give us a sense of the environment back then.

Some observations:

  • Notice all the people wearing hats
  • The streets look a bit empty compared to today’s zoo
  • Cable powered trolleys
  • The kids go nuts when the camera is on them. Nothing’s changed!

What’s your favorite scene?