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When one thing leads to another for science

Steve Jones is the author of How We Got to Now — Six Innovations that Made the Modern World, a thought-provoking book that has been adapted as a TV series.

For example, the bikini came into existence only after the efforts of Dr David Leal, whose father died as a result of drinking bacterially-infected water during the American Civil War. This led Dr Leal into a lifetime of public health research, culminating in the chlorination of water pipelines between the years 1900 to 1930.

The chlorination policy was adopted and infant mortality dropped by some 75 per cent, while overall mortality was reduced by 34 per cent.

But the upshot was that the safer water gave rise to more outdoor bathing facilities, which had the knock-on effect of making it more acceptable for women to wear less clothes outdoors. Jones notes that between the two World Wars, the amount of coverage in women’s bathing attire shrank from 10 yards to just one yard of judiciously-placed material.

Then there’s Reginald Fessenden, who developed echo technology following the Titanic disaster of 1912 to help detect icebergs. This was later refined into sonar technology and its descendant is the ultrasound technology we all know and love.

But one technological development resulted in a rather less-than-satisfactory development, many would say — the election of George W Bush.

The advent of air conditioning in the 1920s allowed droves of Republican retirees to migrate to the Southern states, which were previously way too hot for the wrinkly right-wingers. In places like Florida, the population exploded from one million to 10 million, with more Republican-voting citizens than not.

According to Jones, we also have Gallileo to thank for GPS navigation. In 1583, he noticed a lamp swinging in a regular motion in a cathedral, which led him to conceive clocks that were more accurate than a sun-dial. Today’s atomic clocks in satellites around earth allow us to enjoy the delights of GPS navigation.

So next time you pop out to the shop for milk and your GPS leads you down a cul-de-sac and into a chicken farm in Connemara, you know who to thank.

A swing to the left

Sinn Féin looks set to do well in the next general election and whatever your opinion of the party and its leader, you have to admire the cahones of Gerry Adams. Especially if you’re his neighbour.

Disturbing news emerged recently on how Gerry beats the stress of his job, which led to this immortal headline in the Belfast Telegraph: ‘Gerry Adams trampolines naked with his dog.’

He was speaking on Sean Moncrieff’s radio show, when the subject came up of how the SF leader likes to unwind.

Here’s a sample from Gerry’s Twitter feed: “I’ve had a busy, beautiful morning. Trampolining from dawn. Peeling spuds. Listening 2 Joan Baez. Chopping turnips & carrots.”

But on further questioning from Moncrieff, Gerry revealed that he prefers to trampoline in the buff. “Yeah, I do it naked,” he explained.

“I don’t do it with any great expertise, it’s more the joy of it — the dog does it with me. It saves me going for a walk.”

So far there has been no comment from others in the Republican community, who have been quite shy in speaking out on the matter.

Oh, those diffident Republicans…

Admission ceremony

From one type of bouncer to another. Night-club door security staff in Birmingham have been asked to breathalyse club-goers on their way into clubs and those deemed to have had too much ‘milk of amnesia’ will be turned away.

The concept of ‘pre-drinking’ is part of the alcohol culture these days. One wonders if the move has more to do with money than public health, but it may be a bit of both, as Police Sergeant Dave Francis explained: “People who ‘pre-load’ are more likely to get into trouble. It creates a vicious circle because if venues aren’t making money, they may be tempted to put on drinks promotions that lead to more drunkenness.”

Might not be a bad idea for emergency departments too.

Operation consternation

I’m grateful to the reader who kindly sent me this particular nugget.

A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, when he spotted a well-known heart surgeon in his shop.

The surgeon was waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his beloved bike.

The mechanic shouted across the garage: “Hey, doc, can I ask you a question?” The surgeon, a bit surprised, walked over to the mechanic working on the motorcycle. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked: “So doc, look at this engine. I open its heart, take the valves out, fix ‘em, put ‘em back in, and when I finish, it works just like new. So how come I get such a small salary and you get the really big bucks, when you and I are doing basically the same work?”

The surgeon paused, smiled and leaned over and whispered to the mechanic: “Try doing it with the engine running.”

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