What species has the greatest combined mass? All the world’s African elephants, or the oceans’ stock of blue whales (respectively the largest land and sea mammals)? Neither. It is the Antartic krill, weighing in at just two grams and growing to six centimetres long. What the Antartic krill lacks in individual size it more than makes up in collective heft. It has a combined biomass of between 300 and 700 million tonnes, […]

Big Bertha

In the last months of the First World War, Parisians lived under the menacing shadow of a long-range German artillery gun, the Paris Gun. The French nicknamed it Big Bertha, after the powerful German howitzer, whilst the German’s gave it the sycophantic title of the Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz (the Emperor William Gun). The original ‘Big Bertha’ (Dicke Bertha in German) was one of the most powerful guns built by the Krupp armaments factory in Essen. Its proper name […]

Magic line

The American-Canadian border is often referred to as the 49th parallel as it runs for much of its length along the 49th parallel north. It is the longest border between two countries in the world, stretching 8,891 kilometers (5,525 miles) (including the Alaska-Yukon/British Columbia frontier). The continuous border stretches 6,416 kilometres (3987 miles) between Douglas (British Columbia) and Blaine (Washington) on the Pacific coast to Lubeck (Maine) and Welshpool (New Brunswick).   A Convention […]

Monkey business

Shimla is currently the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. Under its former name, Simla, it was the summer capital of the British Raj. As temperatures and humidity soared on the sweltering plains below, the ruling classes of the sub-continent would head to the mountains, climbing into the cooler climes of the Himilayan foothills. Apparently a slice of Surrey in the foothills, it is an architecturally arresting sight. Sir Edward Lutyens was on his […]

Uncivil war

In the seven years between 1642 and 1649 astaggering one in ten of the adult male population of the British Isles died.This was more than three times the proportion that died in the First World Warand more than five times the proportion that died in World War Two.   If disease, dislocation and famine are added tobattle deaths, and the timeframe extended to include the Cromwellian conquestof Ireland (1649 – 1653) the […]

>I have sinned

> In the frontier thrusting early years of the nineteenth century, the British Armyattracted some of the boldest, bravest, most eccentric and unorthodox officersever to grace the field. Looming large over them all was General Sir CharlesJames Napier, Commander-in-Chief in India and Governor of Bombay Presidency. His most notable campaign led to the subjugationSindh in modern day Pakistan. In conquering the province, Napier had far exceededhis mandate. He had been given orders […]

>Welcome to the world, number 7,000,000,000

> The United Nations has announced, with headline grabbing flair, that the world will welcome its seven billionth inhabitant on 31 October 2011. The prophetic accuracy is tempered by caveats that the date is merely a projection, based on current statistical assumptions.  Of course, nothing nearly as accurate can be achieved in a world of imperfect census data. United Nations officials have merely balanced guesses on global birth and death rates to […]