COMPUTERS: The personal computer is 70 years old this year, although the original machine bears little resemblance to those of today. On June 21, 1948, Manchester University scientists switched on Baby, the first computer to use a stored memory facility. Baby was 4.87 m long and 2 m high. Today, the same computing power is held on a bit of a silicon chip smaller than a pinhead.
CUTLERY: While the spoon dates back some 20,000 years, the fork wasn’t regarded as civilised until less than 200 years ago. Forks were invented in the 11th century, but for centuries the clergy condemned its use, arguing that only human fingers, created by God, were worthy to touch His bounty. Also, use of the fork – especially by a man – was considered effeminate. Finally, in the 18th century the aristocracy started eating with forks on separate place settings to distinguish themselves from the lower classes, who would still share bowls and glasses.
PAMPERS: After Marion Donovan was inundated by the wild success of her invention of waterproof diaper covers in 1946, she was surprised when her prototype for disposable paper diapers was met with disinterest and ridicule. She journeyed to all the major U.S. paper companies, and was laughed at for proposing such an “unnecessary and impractical item to replace cotton diapers”. Victor Mills had the foresight to capitalise on it and he became the creator of Pampers.
TURN A BLIND EYE: Britain’s most famous hero, Viscount Horatio Nelson, gave us this expression – used when something is ignored. At the battle of Copenhagen in 1801 Nelson was subordinate to Sir Hyde Parker, who hoisted a flag signalling British ships should retreat as he felt Danish resistance was too strong. “Now damn me if I do,” Nelson said. “I have a right to be blind sometimes.” He put his spyglass to his right eye, which he had lost in battle seven years earlier. Nelson carried on the fight and the Danes ended up surrendering.