Category Archives: Odds and Ends

Tis the season to be jolly

This is one of those very occasional blog posts that has nothing whatsoever to do with #histSTM, so if you come here just for that, you don’t need to read further.

We have entered that time of year with the winter solstice, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years and all the rest, when celebration in all its various forms is written big in most peoples calendars: office parties, department parties, club parties, private parties or just more trips to restaurants or the pub. It is a period when many people eat and drink to excess, which is their choice and not mine to comment on but I do want to say a few words for those, who don’t drink alcohol.


There are various reasons why people don’t, won’t or can’t drink alcohol. Not just Islam but other religious communities forbid the consumption, some, like myself, are alcoholics, addicted to alcohol, who no longer imbibe, others have medical conditions or take medicament that make it unwise or even possibly dangerous for them to consume alcohol, some sensible car drivers only sit behind the steering wheel with zero per mil, lastly there are those, who simply don’t like alcohol. Given this fact there are some points that anybody planning or hosting a party or other form of gathering with refreshments should take into consideration.

If you are going to a restaurant or bar then you don’t have to do anything, as they should have a range of non-alcoholic drinks on offer. However, I experienced, all too often, that especially restaurant have a very small range of mostly poor quality alcohol free drinks at extortionate prices.

The following is purely fictitious but I have experienced variations on the described scenario very often over the years that I have abstained from drinking alcohol. Your genial host, Mr Important (it’s always a man), explains that he drove thirty kilometres to this small private brewery to fetch a couple of barrels of their really special bitter or he knows this chap who does this deal on this super vintage Bordeaux from a little vineyard or your might not know this dry white but it’s a super drop from South Africa that’s equal to anything from Germany and half the price or he’s got Dave the barman from the luxury hotel down the road to mix cocktails for the evening, two of those will put you flat on your back. If you are lucky he remembered at the last moment that there might be some poor sods, who don’t drink alcohol, so he got a couple of plastic bottles of cheap fizzy sugar water from the discounter down the road. Not only is this totally inadequate it is totally insulting. Mr Important is keen to impress his boozing friend by going to a lot of trouble and expense to get them something of real quality to drink but he doesn’t give a shit about the teetotallers. Don’t be Mr Important.

If you are organising a gathering or party with refreshments, as well as getting an attractive range of alcoholic drinks, make sure that you have an equally attractive range of alcohol free ones, too. The abstemious car driver might enjoy an alcohol free beer or wine but not all non-drinkers do. A selection of good quality fruit juices and both fizzy and still mineral waters is a good place to start. Some of the traditional mixers, bitter lemon, ginger ale, etc. are also often enjoyed by people who don’t drink alcohol. I’m rather partial to a St Clement’s myself, bitter lemon and orange juice, fifty-fifty. These days there are good ranges of, often organic, fizzy drinks without too much sugar available, buy a selection. You can also offer both tea and coffee, which will probably also be appreciated by some of your alcohol drinking guest at the end of the evening.

If you do employ Dave the barman to mix cocktails, make sure that he also has ingredients and recipes for a range of mocktails, that’s cocktails without alcohol if you didn’t know. If you offer your guests a welcoming drink, a glass of sparkling wine for example, or an aperitif then make sure you have an attractive alcohol free alternative on offer as well.

My final point is perhaps the most important if you wish to be a good and conscientious host. If you offer somebody an alcoholic drink and they decline, do not under any circumstances try to persuade them to change their mind. Simply accept their choice and offer them something alcohol free instead.

I hope you all enjoy your seasonal festivities and that if you are throwing a party that you make it possible for the non-drinkers to also enjoy theirs. All of this, of course, applies when you are organising a party at other times of the year.



Filed under Autobiographical, Odds and Ends

Christmas at the Renaissance Mathematicus – A guide for new readers


Being new to the Renaissance Mathematicus one might be excused if one assumed that the blogging activities were wound down over the Christmas period. However, exactly the opposite is true with the Renaissance Mathematicus going into hyper-drive posting its annual Christmas Trilogy, three blog posts in three days. Three of my favourite scientific figures have their birthday over Christmas–Isaac Newton 25thDecember, Charles Babbage 26thDecember and Johannes Kepler 27thDecember–and I write a blog post for each of them on their respective birthdays. Before somebody quibbles I am aware that the birthdays of Newton and Kepler are both old style, i.e. on the Julian Calendar, and Babbage new style, i.e. on the Gregorian Calendar but to be honest, in this case I don’t give a shit. So if you are looking for some #histSTM entertainment or possibly enlightenment over the holiday period the Renaissance Mathematicus is your number one address. In case the new trilogy is not enough for you:

The Trilogies of Christmas Past

Christmas Trilogy 2009 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2009 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2009 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2010 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2010 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2010 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2011 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2011 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2011 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2012 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2012 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2012 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2013 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2013 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2013 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2014 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2014 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2014 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2015 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2015 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2015 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2016 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2016 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2016 Post 3

Christmas Trilogy 2017 Post 1

Christmas Trilogy 2017 Post 2

Christmas Trilogy 2017 Post 3



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Filed under Odds and Ends, Uncategorized

It’s Solstice Time Again!

We are deep in what is commonly called the holiday season. For personal reasons I don’t celebrate Christmas and as I explained in this post starting the New Year on 1 January on the Gregorian Calendar is/was a purely arbitrary decision. I wrote there that I consider the winter solstice to be the best choice to celebrate the end and beginning of a solar cycle in the northern hemisphere.


Stonehenge Winter Solstice

Today at 22:23 UTC the sun will turn at the Tropic of Capricorn and begin its journey northwards to the Tropic of Cancer and the summer solstice.  Tropic comes from the Latin tropicus “pertaining to a turn,” from Greek tropikos “of or pertaining to a turn or change.”

I wish all of my readers a happy solstice and may the next 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds bring you much light, joy, peace and wisdom. We can only hope that they will be better than the last 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds (length of the mean tropical or solar year).

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Filed under Autobiographical, Odds and Ends, Uncategorized

Words matter

This morning, as usual, I caught the beginning of Thought for the Day on BBC Radio’s Today Programme (I know, I know), as I was preparing to leave my flat at 7:50 am. This morning the speaker, Bishop James Jones, took as his topic Yorkshire Day, the yearly celebration of God’s own county, as the natives like to call it. Bishop Jones, informed us that Yorkshire has 10% of the population of the UK (it’s actually nearer to 7% but who’s quibbling) and then went on to say, “Yorkshire is the most British region in the UK with over 40% of the population having Anglo-Saxon ancestry.

Now I’ve got nothing against Yorkshire, some of my best friends live there, but I fail to see how being of Anglo-Saxon descent makes somebody most British, in fact when I heard this my inner historian cringed. For those of my readers who are not up on the etymology of the terms of parts of the UK and its populations I will explain why this is fundamentally wrong. If the speaker had said most English I probably wouldn’t have reacted the way I did, as the words England and English are in fact derived from our Angle ancestors – England being Angle-Land. The problem is equating Britain or British with Anglo-Saxon.

The first mention of the origin of word Britain turns up in the reports of the Greek geographer explorer Pytheas of Massalia who voyaged around the British Isles in about 300 BCE and referred to them as the Prettanikē or something similar (Pytheas’ original writings are lost and we only have later secondary accounts of his report). This evolves to Britannia in the writings of Latin scholars. Now Pytheas undertook his voyages about four hundred years before Tacitus makes the first know reference to the Anglii, then still firmly on the continent, in his Germania and at least eight hundred years before the Angles invaded North East England.

Possible locations of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes before their migration to Britain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Possible locations of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes before their migration to Britain.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Viewed historically, the term British references the pre-Germanic pre-Roman, Celtic, population of the British Isles in contrast to the term English, which references the Germanic post Roman invaders. Etymologically the phrase of Anglo-Saxon descent would at best indicate most English and definitely not most but rather least British.

Angles, Saxons and Jutes throughout England Source: Wikimedia Commons

Angles, Saxons and Jutes throughout England
Source: Wikimedia Commons



Filed under Odds and Ends

The Renaissance Road Show – November 2014

If you happen to be in Nürnberg tomorrow evening (Wed 12 Nov) I shall be babbling on about Christoph Clavius in the Nicolaus Copernicus Planetarium (in German) at 7:00pm MET. This is an updated version of the lecture I held five years ago in Bamberg, a summary of which forms the first substantive post on this blog. You are welcome to come along and throw peanuts or whatever and if you’re nice to me I’ll even let you buy me a coffee.

For those who miss the blogging activity around here, you can rest assured that normal posting will resume next week, the Norns willing. For those waiting patiently or maybe not so patiently for reviews of their books, and there are a couple, all review obligations will be fulfilled before the end of the year. (But which year? – Just kidding).




Filed under Odds and Ends


Crunch, Crunch, Crunch, Crunch, Crunch,…

That’s the sound of me banging my head against a concrete wall to relieve the pain I suffered on reading the latest pearl of wisdom that world famous astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson imparted to his 1, 228, 112 adoring acolytes on Twitter.

Not that anybody asked, but the symbol “lb” for pound comes from an abbreviation of the constellation Libra, the scales. Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson)

This is the sort of comment, which if made by one of his students, my twitter friend @grummpyhistorian tweets with a hash tag such as #epicetymologicalfail.

The Latin word libra has two meanings it is both the Roman standard unit of weight (approx. 327g) as well as a balance or set of scales. It is the former that is the origin of the abbreviation lb for pound, the standard unit of weight in the imperial system, and the latter, which supplied the name of the constellation. It is of course also the former that is the origin of the £ symbol for the pound unit of money, originally a pound or libra of some precious metal. This, if my memory serves me correctly, however comes into English via the French word for pound, livre. Instead of lb we might have had pf as abbreviation for the pound from the German word Pfund.

As to the asterism it would appear that it was the Babylonian who first called it a balance as explained here by Ian Ridpath in his excellent book Star Tales:

Now there has been a lot of deriding and decrying of the humanities and their usefulness or lack there of in recent times but if Neil deGrasse Tyson had paid a little more attention to the humanities in his education he might not have put his foot straight into his mouth when he opened it. He could have saved me a lot of mental pain if he had a) learnt some Latin or b) read an etymological dictionary or c) consulted the much-maligned Wikipedia anyone of which would have prevented him from exposing himself as an ignoramus, a Latin term meaning, “we do not know”.


Filed under Myths of Science, Odds and Ends

Carnivalesque #93 Pre-Modern History with Added Cats

Hello I’m the Renaissance Mathematicus and actually I’m a historian of science and this blog is normally mostly about the history of the mathematical sciences mostly in the Early Modern Period. However as far as I’m concerned a historian of science is also just a historian, a point of view not shared by some historians of science, and so just for a change I’m hosting Carnivalesque the blog carnival for pre-modern history.

Now I’m a trained archaeologist and spent several happy years digging up various bits of Britain and I’m also the son of a pre-historian so for me archaeology and pre-history are also pre-modern history. With this in mind I’ve been collecting blog post that I found interesting since Sharon hosted Carnivalesque #92 in January and the list has got somewhat gargantuan and completely unmanageable, so I didn’t even try.

Look through the list and if a blog post title catches your imagination then click and read! You won’t be disappointed they’re all good!

Now as all denizens of the Intertubes know they real secret of cyberspace success is cats. If your blog post has cats then it’s a guaranteed runner. With this in mind Carnivalesque #93 has added cats! For those who only read cat posts the feline section closes out the list and at the request of co-host Sascha who says, “dogs are much better than cats” begins with medieval dogs.

Carnivalesque #94 will be hosted by the many-headed monster in April. Nominations can be made either direct to the host of through the nominations form here.

Pompeii “Wall Posts” Reveal Ancient Social Networks

Christine de Pizan in her Study

Toothy Tumor Found in 1,600-Year-Old Roman Corpse …

Medieval warfare had well-organised ‘ransom market’

‘Weird’ remedies and the problem of ‘folklore’

A French-Peruvian-Spanish team discovers a chamber in Machu Picchu

Review: Emotion and Cognitive Life in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy

Fishbourne Roman Palace pottery ‘was toilet paper’

Technology and autonomous mechanisms in the mediterranean from Ancient Greece to Byzantium

The Art of Swimming

The Royal Amour Workshops at Greenwich

The Recipe Collection of the Last Medici Princess

Mourning Coffee

The Mystery of Curry

Margaret Stewart of Scotland, Dauphine of France

It is Richard III: ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

Archaic Native Americans built massive Louisiana mound in less than 90 days

35 Ancient Pyramids Discovered in Sudan Necropolis

Alexander the Great and the Rain of Burning Sand

Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind

The Regular Canons and the Use of Food c. 1200 – 1350

Listening to the Book: Medieval Music Manuscripts

Virtual Autopsy: explore a natural mummy from early Egypt

Late surviving pterosaur

My first year on Twitter: How I became @erik_kwakkel

The European No. 3 Johann Gutenberg

On Pins and Needles: Stylist Turns Ancient Hairdo Debate on its Head

Silent Voices in History: The Searchers of the Dead

The Last Time a Pope Resigned Mass Media was Called…Mass

Eat Your Heart Out

The Little French Renaissance Book of Love

Syphilis, Misogyny, and Witchcraft in 16th Century Europe

Romeo and the Apothecary

Beowulf Online

A 13th Century Tally Stick

An Environmental History of the Middle Ages: The Crucible of Nature

Mystery of Henry IV’s missing head divides France

Elizabeth Tanfield Cary 1598 manuscript published

Why Yes

Merlin: International man of mystery

What was the Investiture Controversy a Controversy About?

Ignorance and Experience: An Illuminator’s Trajectory

Israel Antiquities Authority: An ancient industrial installation was revealed beneath the asphalt in Yafo

The History of Libraries Through the Ages

Goose Quills and Iron Gall Ink

For Valentine’s Day: The 17th Century Method for Knowing When Your Heart is Broken

Behold, the Kindle of the 16th Century

Byzantine wine press discovered in Jaffa

Oranges and Lemons

How to see naked people in Renaissance Italy

Time and Motion Studies

Myths and Mandrakes

Mussolini looks at Jan Hus and the Bohemian Reformation

Gamma ray burst hit earth in 8th century

150 Mexican Skulls that reveal the largest mass sacrifice in the region’s bloody history

Animals in Medieval Sports, Entertainment and Menageries

When Taking Multiple Husbands Make Sense

Carved medieval head in Wexford

Famed Warrior Medici Died from Gangrene

Ice Age Art

The Dumb Proctor of Lochwinnoch

Briton finds 500 year old arrest warrant for Machiavelli

Roman Bones in Istanbul

The Ice-age flute can play The Star-Spangled Banner

Memeing the Early Modern: Danse Harlem Shake Macabre #WoodcutWednesday

From the wtf department a rotating book server designed during the renaissance recreated and mis-built by architecture students destroyed by terrorists

So, what did the Romans do for us?

In Praise of Small Data

It’s the Manuscript Stupid

Thinking Big About Medieval Data

Eighteenth-century DIY

Have some ginger dear

Pilau eighteenth-century style

REED all about it III: Some musings on music and the micro-politics of Sabbath-breaking in Jacobethan Lancashire

Next Pope what happens now?

Diadems are forever

I blame Gerald of Wales

Sealed with a Roman Kiss

Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead oft he Month: January

Baby Bones Were Trash to Romans

PTSD in Antiquity

Concussion and PTSD in the Ancient World

The Tale of the Leather Asses: Numa Pompilius and Leather Coinage

The History of Menstruation


Nothin’ but a Hound Dog

Lolcats in the Middle Ages

1 Kitty, 2 Empires, 2000 Years: World History Told through a Brick

A Rocket Cat? Early Modern Explosives Treatises at Penn.

Of Cats and Manuscripts

Grumpy Cat Responds to the Medieval Cat–Print Manuscript


Filed under Odds and Ends