Port and starboard: Quintessential nautical know-how

Steering oar on the right side

At the basis of these terms lies the fact that most people on the planet are right handed (around 80%) so it stands to reason that in the early days of sailing a boat captain would steer with his right hand. To that end, steering oars were attached to the right side of the ship towards the back. The Old Norse word for “rudder” (in this case referring to the steering oar) is “styri” and “board” has long referred to the side of a ship (probably due to the fact that ships were built with wooden boards). Therefore “starboard” became synonymous with the right side of a ship.
Because a ship’s steering oar is attached to the right side of the ship then clearly one would not want to dock on that side for fear of damaging the oar therefore sailors would dock on the left side when in port. The left side of the ship thereby became known as the “port” side as that was the docking side when in port.

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Heinz 57: A Sauce for the Ages

A Heinz 57 variety

Starting the company from the ground up, Henry John Heinz formed the H.J. Heinz Company in 1876. Though he was trained as a brick layer he decided to go into the food industry. Being very aware of the power of good advertising Heinz gained a lot of brand recognition in the early days by giving away a pickle shaped watch charm. The company was able to ride the momentum of their notable brand recognition to success all the while introducing new sauces to their line-up. It wasn’t until 1896 that Heinz noticed a shoe seller advertising “21 styles of shoes” and decided to advertise Heinz in a similar fashion. Though at the time Heinz offered over 60 flavors the number 57 was settled on as the slogan. From that point on the bottle read “Heinz 57 varieties”.

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WD-40’s beginning

Beginning in 1953 a small company in San Diego attempted to come up with a chemical mixture that would effectively protect metal parts from rust. This small company made up of only 3 men was called Rocket Chemical Company and it took these chemists quite a few tries to come up with the right formula. It wasn’t until the 40th try that the WD-40 that we know today was born. The “WD” portion of the name stands for Water Displacement and the “40” is, of course, the 40th attempt at getting the mix right.

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Starting “from scratch”

a line drawn (or scratched) in the dirt

If you were going to make something in the kitchen with just the basic components one would say you were starting from scratch.  This phrase (in America) can be traced back to the 1850’s when someone would draw or “scratch” a line in the dirt that would signify the starting line of a footrace.  If you were starting from this scratched line then you were given no advantage above anyone else – you were, in that case, “starting from scratch”.  Over the years the term has evolved to relate to anything started from the beginning with no advantage.

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Adidas: A shoe company is born

Adidas Logo

He began by making sports shoes in his mother’s laundry room in Southern Germany.  His name was Adolf  Dassler (his first name shortened to “Adi”) and he was later joined by his brother Rudolf (or Rudi”).  The two made shoes under the company name “Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory” thanks to their experience working in a shoe factory with their father before WWI.  During the 1936 Olympics Adi convinced an American sprinter, Jesse Owens, to wear some of his shoes.  After winning several gold medals word soon spread about the quality of the Dassler brother’s shoes.  After WWII the brothers had a falling out and split the company.  Rudi started a shoe company that would eventually become Puma and Adi continued making shoes, this time under the name Adidas (Adi Dassler).  From that point on a shoe making rivalry began between Adidas and Puma and the brothers would remain split until the end. 

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It’s Sabotage!


Typical Sabot Wooden Shoe

In the 1400’s Netherlands textile mills were undergoing some changes.  Factories were starting to mechanize certain elements of textile looms.  Workers in these factories feared that the factories were going to become so dependent on machines that the security of their jobs was in the balance.  Workers in the Netherlands at the time wore a traditional wooden shoe call a “sabot” and consequently the gears of the textile looms were constructed of wood.  In order to prevent machines from essentially taking over their jobs the workers threw their sabots into the wooden gears of the textile looms to break them-  hence was born the term “sabotage”.

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Don’t be an April Fool

Recognized throughout most of the countries of the world, the origin April Fool’s Day can be traced back to the 1500’s.  The Julian Calender was instituted in 45 BC and it wasn’t until 1582 that a few changes were made to update the existing calendar into what is used today, the Gregorian Calender.  April 1st marked the beginning of the New Year based on the previous Julian Calender.  So if someone failed to change over to the new Gregorian Calender and celebrated the new year on April 1st they were dubbed “April Fools”.  Since that time April 1st has evolved into a day of pranks and trickery.  In Scotland April 1st is called “Hunt the Gowk” (fool) day while other countries such as France try to pin a picture of a fish on another’s back without being discovered.

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Laser’s high-tech origins

Typical laser array

The precursor to the laser actually involved manipulating microwave frequencies. This work occurred in the early 50’s and it wasn’t until the late 50’s (1957) that researchers at Bell Laboratories were able to amplify visible light into a focused beam of energy. Originally, the laser was termed “optic maser” but later was abandoned for the more pertinent name “laser” which is actually an acronym that stands for: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Today, lasers have dozens of applications including everything from medical use to military weapons.

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Qantas: The Airline from Down under

Official logo of Qantas

This airline began in Queensland in 1920 and is one of the oldest continuously operating airlines in the world. Initially, Qantas operated an airmail service in Australia then gradually expanded and joined up with the British Imperial Airways in 1934. From 1934 to 1967 they were known as Qantas Empire Airways Limited then changed their name in 1967 to what is it now. Qantas is actually an acronym for Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Service. They also hold the record for most passengers on a single flight with 673 people on a 747 being evacuated after a cyclone hit Darwin.

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Sting’s Story

Sting (Gordon Sumner)

Perhaps best known for his time with the Police, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, better known as Sting , began his career near the Northumberland area of England. He would often play on the weekends with various jazz bands at local night clubs. After a particular performance at a local jazz club, the bandleader of the Phoenix Jazzmen (whom Gordon was playing with) commented that Gordon’s black and yellow striped sweater made him look like a bee. This observation sparked the nickname “Sting” to be forever associated with the musician.

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