Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

There's nothing trivial about Twitter...

It was Marvin, the manically depressed robot in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, who said: "Life. Don't talk to me about life."

You get that a lot. "London. Don't talk to me about London," said one of Samuel Johnson's friends. "Twitter. Don't talk to me about Twitter," said Trevor Kavanagh, political columnist on The Sun, this week.

Of his online misery, he said: "I stopped reading books, had rows with complete strangers, and risked damnation every time I attempted irony."

Ah, yes: irony. It never really works. Kavanagh would have been better advised to stick to the jokes. Jokes. And the joy of knowledge. If it hadn't been for Twitter, I would not have discovered that 8068 is the least common PIN. Or, at least, it was.

If it hadn't been for Twitter, I would not have known that Amazon was at one stage going to be called Relentless, which would have been an accurate description of its attempt to devour the whole of capitalism. If you type relentless.com into the internet, it still redirects to the US Amazon page.

I wouldn't have known about the pancake number. I discovered that because Simon Singh chose 22, the highest known pancake number, as his number of the year.

You have a stack of different-sized pancakes and you want to put them in order, the smallest at the top and the largest at the bottom. You can stick a spatula anywhere in the stack and flip over all the pancakes above that point: what is the largest number of flips required?

For a stack of two, the pancake number is one. For a stack of 19, it is 22. But no one has been able to calculate the pancake number for a stack of 20. "The only research paper that Bill Gates ever wrote was on the subject of pancake numbers," said Singh.

I would not have known that Haribo sweets are named from the first two letters of founder Hans Riegel and Bonn, his home town. I would not have known that the English surnames Temples, Hatman, Rummage, Nithercott, Raynott, Southwark and Woodbead have died out.

The most delightful fact I discovered recently, though, started with a BBC list of 100 things we learnt last year. One of the items on it was that the French for walkie-talkie is talkie-walkie.

And Trevor Kavanagh complains that Twitter stopped him reading books? Books? Don't talk to me about books.

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