Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who knew (or needed to)...

... that there was a reason beyond sheer Victorian amazingness for the enormous front wheels on those penny-farthing bicycles. In their heyday, pedals on bicycles were brand-new, and the concept of chains, sprockets, and gearing had not yet taken hold. As long as pedals were right on the wheel and to drove the wheel directly, basic physics determined that the only way to get much speed up without gearing ... was to have the largest possible circumference of wheel. Hence the enormous wheel. Once they figured out chains and sprockets and all, presto, the enormous but unstable (but very cool) penny-farthing gave way to the safety bicycle, or what we call the bicycle.

Thanks to geographer Glen Norcliffe's 2001 book The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada 1869-1900, which made this clear to me. Damn good book, actually, and the photographs are extraordinary and very well integrated into the argument.

... or that "archive" comes from the same root as "archon," the ruler or chief magistrate of a Greek city-state. The archive was the place of residence of the ruler, and hence the place he kept his documents. There's a Derridean trope to be worked here about how documents are power and the printed work is a tool of authority and control, blah blah blah. But I like the derivation anyway... and the OED confirms it, so there.
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