Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Διαφορές Ελλήνων και Άγγλων - Feta Report

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jan 29th 1845 - 'The Raven' is published

'The Raven' is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Alan Poe. It is often noted for its musicality, stylised language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven's mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man's slow fall into madness. The poem makes a number of folk and classical references.

The poem publication made Poe widely popular in his lifetime, although it did not bring him much financial success. Soon reprinted, parodied and illustrated, critical opinion is divided as to the poem's status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written.

The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Jan 28th 1813 - Pride and prejudice is published

Pride and prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th century England.

Though the story is set at the turn of the century, it retains a fascination for modern readers, continuing near the top of lists of 'most loved books'. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature and receives considerable attention from literary scholars.

Source: Wikipedia

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

None for the road

At the end of our street in Johannesburg’s sleepy northern suburbs, a homemade sign marks a little roundabout called “Stef’s Circle.” Late one Friday night, not long after moving to South Africa, I heard a screech and a resounding thump: a car had flown over the circle and into the perimeter wall of a neighbouring property.

This would be the first thump of many. On weekend mornings, the roundabout would appear trashed from the night before: road signs knocked off their posts, a cement bin in the centre of the circle shattered into smithereens. Cars would careen off the roundabout and through walls with disturbing regularity. An acquaintance told me about nearly crashing at that very spot while driving home after a night of heavy drinking. Never mind that it was built to calm traffic after a teenage girl, Stef, was killed by a speeding car.

When I first moved to South Africa, I worried about the crime. You hear terrible stories, and the atmosphere is ominous: driving through Johannesburg at night, the streets are dark and empty, and the houses have high walls topped with electric fences. Signs at some intersections warn of “hijacking hot spots.” But no one warned me about the drivers. According to the World Health Organisation, there are 134 road deaths per 100,000 vehicles a year in South Africa, compared with ten a year in Canada, where I’m from. This is a rainbow nation of reckless motorists, a scourge that cuts across race and class. They race like demons, zipping around you via the oncoming lane, or following so closely you can count nose hairs.

Most frighteningly, South Africans very often drive drunk. The country has the highest proportion of alcohol-related road deaths in the world, at 58% (compared to 16% for Britain or 31% for the United States). At weekends, especially at the end of the month after payday, it is safe to assume the roads are teeming with drink-drivers. Best to act proactively, as if everyone were trying to take you out. Even morning trips can be a hazard: a colleague was broadsided by a drunk driver in Cape Town while heading to the airport for an early flight.

South Africa is a country with a drinking culture and a car culture. It is a real pain to get anywhere without wheels. Cities sprawl over a vast territory – the apartheid regime went to great lengths to keep black and white people living far away from each other. Public transit was next to non-existent, and remains terrible today. Privately owned minibus taxis ply key routes during rush hours – they are another hazard of the roads – but bus and rail routes are extremely limited. There are very few private taxicabs, and they are expensive, inconvenient and unreliable. You can’t just hail one off the street. At the end of the night, it is easier to climb into your car and drive home, even if you’ve been drinking.

There is also a broad social acceptability. Witnessing South African attitudes towards drink-driving is like stepping back in time. Once, not long after moving here, we tried to take keys away from a visibly stumbling friend at the end of a long night. This is the sort of socially responsible gesture that public information films back home in Canada tell you to do. In South Africa our friend was baffled and hostile to the notion. There was no question that everyone would drive after a boozy party. Friends would share a laugh about not remembering how they got their cars home the night before.

Such behaviour comes with near-impunity. Very few people who are arrested for drink-driving are actually convicted. Corruption is a serious factor: if caught, drivers can sometimes pay a bribe to evade arrest or have the police file “lost”. There are often problems with evidence, including long delays in getting blood alcohol test results, leading to cases being thrown out of court.

But despite all of this, in the past few years, attitudes toward drink-driving are starting to change. Announcing the holiday road-death toll a few weeks ago – it was grim as usual – South Africa’s transport minister said she wanted to have drink-driving reclassified to be as serious a crime as rape and murder. The arrival of Uber could be a game changer. In the big cities where the ride-sharing app is available, people who would never take a private taxi are regularly using it. As an international brand, Uber came with cachet and intrigue. The service is cheap, convenient and relatively safe (there have been attacks on Uber drivers by other taxi drivers who resent the competition). Uber said it grew much faster during its first year in Johannesburg and Cape Town than it did in San Francisco and London. Friends who once would have driven home after a big night now pointedly take Uber. Diligent hosts make sure their guests are Uber-ing. There is no longer an excuse to drive drunk.

The roundabout near our house, Stef’s Circle, has been gradually reinforced over the past few years: adorned with reflector lights, ringed by metal barricades, the road embedded with rumble strips to slow drivers upon approach. All of this (and Uber) is helping. Overall the number of road accidents in South Africa remains absurdly high and there seems to be no decline in fatalities. But with views about drink-driving starting to shift, the road ahead will hopefully look a little less terrifying.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Jan 25th 1919 - The league of nations is founded

The league of Nations was an intergovernmental organisation founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended First World War. It was the first international organisation, whose principal mission was to maintain world peace.

After a number of notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis powers in the 1930s. The onset of World War II showed that the League had failed its primary purpose, which was to prevent any future world war. The League lasted 27 years. The United Nations (UN) replaced it after the end of war and inherited a number of agencies and organisations founded by the League.

Source: Wikipedia

What is the difference between United Nations and League of Nations?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

History of narcotics - Everyone did it

“Absolute sobriety is not a natural or primary human state,” asserts Richard Davenport-Hines at the beginning of this voluminous and comprehensive history of drug-taking. The evidence he produces is overwhelming. For the past three centuries (he barely glances at the previous two), humanity has found ever more ingenious and effective routes to oblivion. Until the second half of the 19th century, governments made little serious effort to intervene.

Apart from the ubiquitous desire to get stoned, the other constant attribute of the past is hypocrisy. Narcotics, it emerges, have always been a passion mainly of the upper classes and the lower orders. The first group tends to grumble about the debauchery of the second. There, for instance, is Samuel Taylor Coleridge demanding “legislative interference” because he was shocked by the quantities of laudanum (opium in alcohol) sold by country druggists to the poor. Rather rich from a man whom Dorothy Wordsworth described as “the slave of stimulants”.

However, he was not alone. Every familiar name in British history, it seems from Mr Davenport-Hines's painstaking research, was swallowing, sniffing or (after the helpful invention of the hypodermic syringe) injecting something. George IV's “ungovernable” affection for laudanum (and cherry brandy) horrified the increasingly prim middle classes: he needed 100 drops of laudanum before he could face Lord Aberdeen, the foreign secretary. William Wilberforce, scourge of slavers, ascribed to opium his powers of public speaking. Wilkie Collins described in his novels how boredom and the social stigma of alcohol consumption drove wealthy Victorian women to share his addiction to laudanum.

Hypocrisy marked Britain's approach to the drug trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. In spite of the scruples felt by William Ewart Gladstone, that puritanical prime minister, who sipped laudanum before appearing in the House of Commons, great trading barons such as the founders of Jardine Matheson made fortunes from shipping opium to China. In the 1890s, the British government was still dithering over allowing its colonies to export drugs.

A greater hypocrisy has coloured the 20th century's approach, and especially that of the United States. America was quick to ban the sale and consumption of heroin and cocaine: by 1919, it had even banned maintenance prescriptions by doctors to suffering addicts, something that Britain long allowed. And, while the British government was deeply reluctant to outlaw hashish in the 1920s, America pushed through an international agreement to do so. But drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies escaped such treatment. Barbiturates became one of the century's most popular drugs. American troops in Vietnam were fed huge quantities of amphetamines, in order to stimulate their fighting zeal. When President Nixon came to the White House and launched a “war” on drugs, American pharmaceutical companies were producing 8 billion amphetamines a year. The 1972 Vienna convention, which constrains national drug policies, treated such stimulants and depressants far more lightly than heroin, cocaine and marijuana.

Mr Davenport-Hines's prejudices are firmly on the side of the liberalisers. “Drugs remain dangerous, but they can also be rewarding to both suppliers and users; accordingly they remain ineradicable,” he argues. In a few final paragraphs, he suggests some wiser policies than the harsh criminalisation of the past 30 years that has over-crowded prisons with narcotics offenders and manifestly failed to alter people's drug habits.

His book's main shortcoming is a lack of sign-posting, so that chapters often lack argument or form. Had he allowed the passion of his final argument to shape his account, he would have written an even better book.

Published at THE ECONOMIST

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Jan 10th 1863 - The London underground is open

he London Underground is a rapid transit system in the United Kingdom, serving a large part of Greater London and some parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. It incorporates the oldest section of underground railway in the world, which opened in 1863. It is also the first line to operate electric trains, in 1890, now part of the Northern line.

The Underground serves 270 stations and has 402 kilometres (250 mi) of track, 45 per cent of which is underground. It is the third largest metro system in the world in terms of route miles. In 2007, more than one billion passenger journeys were recorded, and in the year 2011/12 passenger numbers were just under 1.2 billion making it the third busiest metro system in Europe, after Moscow and Paris.

Source: Wikipedia.org

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Wage war

Illegal immigration from Mexico is not quite a century old. A law of 1917 was the first to regulate the southern border. Stricter controls gradually followed all through the 20th century, often during the low points of a recurring cycle of sentiment towards immigrants. Economic booms have lured workers across the Rio Grande, encouraged by American firms. Downturns have led to demonisation of “wetbacks”. The 1930s and 1950s both saw indiscriminate mass-deportations; in 1976 President Gerald Ford wondered how best to “get rid of those six to eight million aliens who are interfering with our economic prosperity”.

The latest bout of Trumpian immigrant-bashing fits the mould in one respect: it comes on the heels of an economic downturn. But it is also strange because the undocumented population levelled off after 2007. In 2015 there were just 188,000 apprehensions of Mexicans at the border, down from 1.6m in 2000 (see chart). This is partly because the recession reduced the magnetism of America’s labour market. But it also reflects a much more secure border—the number of border agents quintupled between 1992 and 2010—and changing demography in Mexico, where the birth rate has been falling since the early 1970s.

Nonetheless, undocumented immigrants still constitute 5% of America's labour force. Distinguishing their impact from that of other immigrants is hard because they are tricky to identify. Instead, researchers typically just rely on nationality. There is almost no way for low-skilled Mexicans who lack American relatives to migrate north legally. As a result, Mexicans make up about half of all illegal immigrants, but only a fifth of all legal ones.

Mexicans tend to be less educated than other immigrants. In 2014 nearly 60% had less than a high-school education, compared with less than 20% of immigrants from other countries, according to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank. Undocumented migrants are more likely than legal ones to work in unskilled occupations like services and construction.

There is a vigorous—and sometimes ill-tempered—debate among academics about the impact of low-skilled migration, both legal and illegal, on wages. Most recently this has centred on a dispute between two economists, David Card at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Borjas, at Harvard University, over the effect of an unexpected surge in Cuban migrants to Miami in 1980 (the so-called “Mariel boatlift”). In 1990 Mr Card found this influx had no effect on the wages of low-skilled workers in Miami; Mr Borjas has now revisited the analysis, and claims that wages of high-school dropouts, in fact fell substantially.

This dispute, however, is only part of a much broader debate. Most other research finds that immigrant flows harm at least some workers, as economic theory usually predicts they should when immigration changes the balance of skills in an economy. The debate is over precisely who suffers, and how much.

The findings depend on two factors. The first is how to define unskilled workers. Mr Card and others like to include both high-school graduates and dropouts. In 2014, there were 64m such workers aged between 25 and 64 in America. Mr Borjas prefers to treat high-school dropouts separately in his research, so that the lowest-skilled migrants compete with fewer existing workers: 20m, at last count.

The second factor is whether, among those with similar education, migrants and native workers are substitutes or complements for each other. In 2011 a study by Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, two economists, found that immigrants seem to compete mostly with other immigrants, even when controlling for age and education. One possible explanation is that unskilled natives respond to an increase in migration by specialising in work that makes better use of their command of English. Messrs Ottaviano and Peri concluded that between 1990 and 2006 immigration had a small positive effect on the wages of unskilled American-born workers, but reduced the wages of previous generations of migrants by 6.7%.

Mr Card says the “worst-case scenario” is that immigration has cut the wages of high-school dropouts by about 5% over 20 years, which, compared with the effect of technology and other trends, is not much. Mr Borjas says larger effects are possible. But everyone agrees that the more workers and new immigrants can substitute for each other, the more likely it is that immigration will change relative wages.

If the workers most comparable to illegal Mexican immigrants are legal ones, they will be most likely to have seen their wages depressed by illegal migration. Any such effects would probably have been compounded by the fact that firms who hire undocumented workers off-the-books need not pay them minimum wage or adhere to other regulations. One survey of low - wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in  2008 found that 37% of undocumented workers has been paid less than the minimum wage, compared to 21% of legal migrant workers.

Illegal migrants also may find it hard to move jobs, especially in states that require employers to check their papers. Their immobility could reduce their bargaining power. It certainly seems to stunt their wage growth. In 2009 Pew found that among those who had been in the country for less than ten years, legal migrants earned 18% more than illegal ones; among those with more than a decade under their belts, the gap was fully 42%. It is possible, though, that the wages of both these groups had still been dragged down relative to those of their native workers.

The flipside of low wages for illegal immigrants, though, greater economic benefits for those who are not competing with them for work. A rare study of the effect of illegal immigrants specifically found that Georgia, a one-percentage-point increase in the undocumented workers in firms boosted wages by about 0.01%. One explanation is that such firms benefit from richer mix of skills within their workforce. Another explanation is that sharing the spoils of the savings that stem from hiring workers on the black market.

Were a President Trump to deport all illegal immigrants, the economy would suffer greatly. Just ask Arizona, where a crackdown on illegal immigrants in 2007 shrank the economy by 2%, according to a private analysis by Moody's, a rating agency, for the Wall Street Journal. The incomes of most workers would fall. Yet strangely enough, those best placed to benefit from mass deportation would be those who had crossed the border legally.


Saturday, January 07, 2017

A History of the Twelfth Night Cake

In the beginning, there was Saturn…
Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture. He was venerated in a celebration called Saturnalia around the time of the winter solstice (21st December). Once the serious business of going to the temple was out of the way, the Romans would have a jolly good knees-up involving feasting and exchanging gifts.

The usual social order was overturned, with masters serving slaves at table. As part of these festivities, someone would be chosen by lot as master of ceremonies or ‘king’ to preside over the celebrations. However, ludicrous his commands (such as 'sing naked'), they had to be obeyed by the guests.

The origins of Twelfth Night
The early Christians quickly realised that if they wanted the populace to adopt their new religion, they needed to give them an incentive. Rather than abolishing pagan festivals, the Christian church often rebranded them as their own. So Saturnalia would eventually morph into Christmas, and the 25th of December, previously honoured as ‘the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’, was celebrated instead as the birthday of Christ.

Christmas was preceded by a 40 day Advent fast. This would be broken on Christmas Day, when the season’s festivities would begin with a great feast. The celebrations continued in one form or another for a further twelve days, ending with a final feast on ‘Twelfth Night’ – the evening before 6th of January, also known as Epiphany, the day on which the Magi are believed to have visited Jesus..

During this festive period food played an important role. By the medieval era it was common for a celebration bread to be baked, often containing fruit and spices, to be served at the Epiphany or Twelfth Night Feast.

Master of Mayhem
Part of the fun of the Twelfth Night Feast was the appointment of a Lord of Misrule. As in Roman times, he organised the games and entertainments at the final feast. To select the Lord of Misrule, a bean was baked inside a cake.

Whoever received the slice containing the bean was ‘crowned’ the Lord of Misrule, otherwise known as the King of the Bean. Sometimes a pea was also included, and its discoverer would be declared Queen of the Pea. This practice was particularly popular during the early Tudor period. Henry VII had an Abbot of Unreason – another name for the Lord of Misrule – at his festive gatherings.

Let them eat cake

The popularity of Twelfth Night traditions began to wane after the Reformation, when Epiphany as a religious festival was observed with decreasing enthusiasm. Instead Twelfth Night became a purely secular feast, although the cake endured. By the early nineteenth century the tokens inside the cake had evolved from a bean and pea to silver trinkets such as thimbles or charms.

During the medieval and Tudor periods, the Twelfth Night Cake was leavened with yeast, rather like a fruit-laden brioche. The introduction of cake hoops in the late seventeenth century and the discovery during the early eighteenth century that beaten eggs could be used to raise a cake meant that the fruit breads of earlier times were replaced by a plum cake.

These cakes could be elaborately decorated for feasts with sugar and almond pastes, although elaborately decorated Twelfth Night Cakes weren’t really that popular until the late 18th- and early 19th- centuries.

New festive traditions
As we Brits wholeheartedly embraced ‘new’ Christmas traditions during the reign of Queen Victoria, such as the Christmas Tree and sending Christmas cards, the Twelfth Night Cake was gradually replaced by the Christmas Cake, and its hidden charms sometimes migrated to the Christmas Pudding.

However, the tradition has not been entirely lost. An eighteenth-century actor called Robert Baddeley left a legacy to the Drury Lane Theatre so that actors appearing there on Twelfth Night could still enjoy a traditional cake and toast the production in punch.

Making a cake for Twelfth Night
Strictly speaking you won’t find dedicated recipe for Twelfth Night Cake, as a rich fruit cake is usually served. All you need to do is include a bean (I used a dried butter bean) along with the fruit when you make the cake.


225g butter
225g dark muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
4 large eggs
225g raisins
225g currants
225g sultanas
50g chopped mixed peel
50g glacé cherries, halved
50g ground almonds
1 tablespoon brandy


Preheat the oven to 160℃.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and then beat in the treacle.

Sift the flour, spice and salt into the bowl. Lightly whisk the eggs with a fork and then beat them gently into the butter and sugar mixture, together with the flour. When thoroughly mixed, stir in the fruits, nuts and brandy and then pile into a greased and lined 18cm/7inch round cake tin.

Place in the centre of the oven. Bake for approximately 1½ hours, then reduce the temperature to 120℃ and bake for a further 1 hour or until the cake is well risen, golden brown and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out cleanly.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin, covered with a clean cloth. Turn out when completely cold.

Originally posted: English Heritage

Friday, January 06, 2017

Jan 6th 1912 - Theory of continental drift is presented

Continental drift is the movement of the Earth's continents relative to each other by appearing to drift across the ocean bed. The speculation that continents might have drifted was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596.

The concept was independently (and more fully) developed by Alfred Wegener in 1912. He proposed that the continents had once formed a single landmass before breaking apart and drifting to their present locations.

The theory of continental drift was superseded by the theory of plate tectonics, which builds upon and better explains why the continents move.

Source Wikipedia

Thursday, January 05, 2017

What is the point of spam e-mail?

ACCORDING to internet folklore, the very first spam e-mail was sent in 1978, to around 400 recipients. The sender was given a ticking-off and told not to do it again. Alas for that golden age. These days, a torrent of poorly spelled e-mails promising to cure wrinkles, enlarge penises, banish fat or wire millions in unclaimed offshore wealth is the fate of almost everyone with an e-mail address. Other e-mails aim to harvest usernames and passwords or contain obfuscated links to malicious software designed to capture a user's computer. According to one estimate from SecureList, a cyber-security firm, roughly 60% of all e-mail is spam. But why? What is the point of the avalanche of spam?

In a word, money. Spam is the digital cousin of ordinary, paper-based junk mail. Firms send this out because they think it will drum up business. By reducing the cost of communication, the internet turbocharges that business model. Real-world junk mail might be profitable if only one recipient in a thousand decides she needs double-glazed windows or a greasy pizza. But sending an e-mail is far cheaper than sending a piece of paper. Consumer internet packages cost dozens of dollars, for data allowances measured in the hundreds of gigabytes. Spending that on e-mail would yield a cost of a tiny fraction of a dollar per message, plus a little surcharge for the electricity necessary to run the computer. (And bandwidth for consumers is relatively expensive; businesses or big users get bulk discounts). Even if only one user in a million is conned into buying some dubious pills, the revenues far outweigh the costs.

The relative anonymity offered by the internet also allows spammers to hide their identities, which allows more obviously criminal uses of e-mail. Phishing e-mails, which try to persuade users to enter sensitive details such as banking passwords into convincing-looking, but fake, websites, can be very profitable since the data they harvest can allow their controllers to loot bank accounts or go on buying sprees with stolen credit-card information. Malicious attachments can subvert a user’s machine, perhaps recruiting it into a “botnet”, a horde of compromised machines that can be used by attackers to knock websites offline. Others encrypt all the files on victims’ computer, then display instructions asking them to pay the senders if they want their files back. All this is made possible by giant lists of e-mail addresses that are bought, sold and swapped between spammers. Those, in turn, are generated from leaks, hacks, guesswork and addresses collected from users of shady websites and subsequently sold on.

Busts are not unheard of (a big Nigerian spammer believed to be behind thousands of online scams, earning more than $60m, was arrested in August 2016). But they are not common enough to put a meaningful dent in the business. Instead, computer firms such as Microsoft and Google have become locked in an arms race with the spammers. Spam filters began appearing in the 1990s, as the internet gained mainstream popularity. Spammers altered their tactics to work around them (this is why spam is full of deliberate misspellings such as “v1agr*”). For now, tech firms have the advantage: artificial intelligence filters can be trained to recognise the characteristics of spam messages and reroute them to spam folders. Training those filters requires them to have plenty of examples to practise on. With spam, at least, that is not a problem.

Today's explainer was suggested by Marjan Mashhadi and Mark Chamberlain. This is the third in a series of five. Other explainers in this series include:
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