This week we’re looking at what “things” are made of, some great autumn festivals to look forward to, why there are 24 hours in the day and what happens when new tech meets old laws.
Welcome to Lifehacker’s Thinking Cap, a new series where we round up interesting, informative and thought-provoking podcasts, interviews, articles and other media that will teach you something new, inspire you and hopefully cap off your week nicely. Let’s get started.
Why There Are 24 Hours in the Day
Most of us haven’t given much thought to why, exactly, the day is made up of 24 discrete hours. Why 24, why not 25, or 100? Especially when so many of our other numerical systems are all base 10? Well, this video from Mental Floss has the answer, and like many things, it actually goes back to the ancient Egyptians, and the Sumerians who came before and inspired them. The Sumerians broke the day into three parts: A 12 hour “night”, 2 hour “twilight” and a 10 hour “day”.
The Egyptians, for their part, were likely some of the first people to accurately measure the length of the day, and while they had adopted base 10 as the core of their numbering system, they also used 10 for other things too, like the number of days in their weeks. This meant there were 36 weeks in the Egyptian calendar, each made of 10 days, and they chose 36 evenly distributed stars in the night sky to represent each week. Since they were evenly distributed though, on summer nights, 12 of them rose above the horizon at roughly equal intervals, with each star representing the start of a new hour. But that’s just the beginning. Twelve also corresponds with the number of lunar cycles in a year, which made it an equally solid number to revolve short periods of time around.
The history of the 24-hour day continues on from there, but that’s the root of the story. Click play on the video above (it’s only two minutes) for the whole thing and a trip through history. [via Mental Floss]
The Coolest Autumn Festivals Around the World
Though summer is approaching in Australia, the weather is turning a bit cooler in the Northern Hemisphere, and while many of us may already be thinking about holidays on the horizon beach weather, it might be a great time to plan a trip. Oyster has a great list of the best autumn festivals all over the globe to look forward to, including Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, coming in November, the mid-October Diwali (or the Fesitval of Lights) and Paris’ Nuit Blanche.
The full list has more than few others you might want to consider, but they’re all beautiful, all will take you to some spectacular places and all are worth reading up about, if not actually planning a trip to. [via Oyster]
Old US Laws, New Tech and How an Old System Hasn’t Adjusted to Digital Romance
On this week’s episode of Note to Self, host Manoush Zomorodi (a friend of Lifehacker, by the by) heads to North Carolina to chat with a high school star quarterback who’s facing five felony charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. Sounds serious, and of course it is, but where did the charges come from? He sexted his girlfriend — who is also in high school.
That’s the issue too — it’s not that she’s vastly different in age, or something else that might easily explain the issue. The show notes explain:
Depending on where you live, teens who send or receive a sext to/from anyone under 18 can be charged with child pornography. In Fayetteville, things took a turn for the Kafkaesque because of a North Carolina law that treats 16-year-olds as adults if they are charged with a crime. Fayetteville Observer reporter, Paul Woolverton, explains, “We’re one of two states that say that if you are 16 or older, if you’re charged with a crime, you’re an adult. But if you’re the victim of a crime, you’re a minor. So in these cases, since they were under 18 but over 16, they were both the adult criminals who exploited their minor selves.”
These types of cases aren’t terribly new — in fact parents of teenagers have been worried about this since texting and smartphones became common with high school students, and goodness knows they are. This episode examines the issues with US law, the reactions of the people behind this case, the law that’s guiding it and, of course, what it means for the US going forward. [via Note to Self]
Rarely Mentioned and Little Known Facts About the Roman Empire
Most of us probably understand on some level exactly how influential the Roman Empire has been to western civilisation, even if we haven’t explicitly studied its history in some form or another (and I encourage you to study it if you haven’t). Even so, the thing about history is that it’s a long, incredibly massive thing, and a lot gets lost in the cracks, even if you do spend semesters at a time on a topic. So this Quora thread sought out to uncover some often-overlooked facts about the Roman Empire, and the results are amazing to read.
The whole thread is worth a look, but this answer, from Alberto Yagos, stood out to me:
With the time, the gladiators became a second class entertainment compared to another kind of spectacle: the venatores (hunters).
From around 100 BC to 50 AD, gladiators were a great crowd-pleaser: although they were slaves, they were well trained and well equiped and they learnt to injure their opponents with bloody cuts without killing them necessarily. Most were spared and survived for fighting another day.
But good training and good alimentation are expensive and with the time it was considered too sophisticated so the quality of the fights decayed and they had to improvise: the gladiators, now prisoners with no formal training were launched at the arena in big groups, sometimes chained between them, sometimes with rusted weapons or with helmets that left them blind. The “coreographied” combat where a gladiator could die became a mass of people beating themselves to the death without preparation.
That’s why Marcus Aurelius became bored with the games and used to dictate letter to his secretaries during them.
But if the quality of the combats decayed, the fighting of men against beats became more popular: Sila (93 BC) had exhibited a combat against a 100 lions. Julius Caesar, 400, Pompey 600 lions, 20 elephants and 400 leopards. Augustus (10 AD) brought the first tiger and 3,500 elephants. Trajan (102 AD) killed 11,000 animals in the arena.
Contrary to the bestiarii, prisoners condemned to the death by beasts, the venatores were highly skilled profesionals (like the gladiators had been). Sometimes they were from rich families that enjoyed the thrill of killing the beasts with relatively security (they used bows, which were quite exotic in Rome) but with the time they fought much more close (Strabo told us about a venator that jumped on the back of a crocodile and stabbed it to death with a knife), with a wide variety of weapons and their prowess made the crowd go wild.
By the 80 — 90 AD they were the very best part of the games. Martial for example, dedicated a lot of his epigrams to the ability of the venatores, including this one:
[…] doesn’t compare to Carpophorus! He blew down a wild boar [with a spear]! He followed by sinking his darts in a bear, the biggest one […] and then he ran through a lion [with his spear] and throwing his javelin he killed a fast leopard in mid air. And he still had forces to receive his prizes!
So a boar, a bear, a lion and a leopard one after the other. The venatores made people cheer to the max.
Of course, the venatores took their toll as well. This answer from Truman Sharp discusses the impact they — and the spectacle of watching them — took on Europe’s native fauna:
You often hear of the spectacular gladiator fights. Wild, ferocious animals made a common appearance. Thousands of animals were slaughtered in a day; what do you think happened to the fauna of Europe as a result? Indeed, you hardly ever hear of the extinctions caused by the Roman Empire.
Exotic animals were so much desired for the arena, that certain species of lions and leopard indigenous to Asia Minor became extinct. The larger elephants of Northern Africa were extremely over-hunted, and became extinct. Rhinos, crocs, leopards, bears, ostriches and many more species all became critically endangered as a result of the bloodthirsty desires of the Roman people. Hippotami were wiped out near the Nile Delta, the European wild horse became extinct, and the Auroch, the ancestor of domesticated cattle, was slaughtered for sport.
Another answer mentioned the Venatores, the hunters of the arena. These were the very “fighters” who slaughtered these countless numbers of animals.
It is a truly sad fact that so many animals went extinct for no purpose other than for raw entertainment. It’s also one that few historians find heroic or dramatic enough to include in books.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole thread discusses everything from Rome’s massive trade in live plants, the dental habits of Roman citizens, the engineering marvel that was the Coliseum and, as alluded above, the fact that gladiatorial fights were only rarely to the death. [via Quora]
What Is a Thing, and What Is It Made Of?
More specifically, what are things? What is something, and what makes up “things”, or rather, “everything?” This fun, animated explainer from the always-amazing Kurzgesagt dives into both how complicated a question that really is, but also how simple the answer actually is when you look at it like a physicist (which, full disclosure, is my general perspective on things).
Also I’m totally that bird. Questions like this keep me up at night, then I start scribbling in a notebook and go find my old textbooks for reference material. Have a great weekend. [via Kurzgesagt- In a Nutshell]
That’s all for this week. If you have thought-provoking stories, interesting podcasts or eye-opening videos, share them in the comments below!