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A weekly show where knowledge junkies get their fix of trivia-tastic information. This week, John looks at some of the ways technology has improved our lives.

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 intro


Hi I'm John Green, welcome to my salon. This is mental_floss on YouTube and did you know that before dating apps and social media helped usher a romance along, people used all kinds of terrible techniques to alert their crushes.

Like in 19th century Austria, women would put an apple slice under their arms during a town dance and if they fancied a boy, they'd hand the apple to him and if he liked her back, he'd eat it.
 
I prefer swiping right all things being equal but at least the apple action was straightforward. Victorian men had to memorize a whole slew of signals to know whether or not to approach a woman. If a woman put her fan on her left cheek, it meant she wasn't interested. if she fanned herself slowly, she was spoken for. Fanning quickly meant she's on the market. Fan on the right cheek? she just might like you...or she might be blocking the sun from her face...one of the other. Thankfully, today we have air conditioning. And also Tinder.

And those are just two of the many ways that technology has made our lives ridiculously better than I'm going to share with you today in this video, sponsored by our friends at Intel.

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 video


So these days getting the time is as simple as looking at your cell phone but of course that wasn't always the case. Back in the 19th century, merchants in London would literally buy the time from a woman named Ruth Belville. Belville would visit the Greenwich observatory every morning to set a chronometer to the exact time, accurate to within 1/10th of a second and then she'd hop on a train and sell the correct time to clock makers who would check their time against hers for a price.

And then when a standard time company tried to run a smear campaign against Belville, it only increased her sales. Sounds like they had a little bit too much TIME on their hands.

So of course now we can all brew coffee at home, although we choose not to, going to cafes instead. But back in the early 20th century the beverage was often disgusting because people had no good way to filter out the grounds. In fact before a German woman invented coffee filters in 1908, people had ridiculous methods for getting rid of the grounds. 

Like some people added pieces of salted cod to the coffee. In theory the gelatin would help coagulate the grounds so they would sink to the bottom of the cup, but in practise adding a piece of salted flesh to your drink results in like disgusting fish flavored coffee. It was just like this.

Back in the 19th century, there was quite a large business for art forgers who wanted to hawk fake masterpieces. And art critics used to authenticate painting by looking at how the ears or the eyes or the fingernails were shaped because those are the things that are difficult for artists, the tiny details and stylistic habits. But these days we can use algorithms to analyze painting for authenticity or imaging to analyze the cracks in a painting that create a topographic map of the painter's surfaces and show whether the paint would've cracked that way over 50 years, or 500. Curators and conservationists can even use spectroscopy to ID a paint's chemical fingerprint, and determine whether it was actually from the same time as the artist who supposedly painted it.

All right, now let's talk about directions. There used to be these crazy things that we would print on thinly sliced trees called maps. They were basically like physical representation of Google Maps- in fact, that's why Google Maps are called Google Maps. But they were huge, like, even bigger than the iPhone 6+.

Right, so this is the world that Alice Ramsey lived in in 1909, when she and her three friends decided to cross the country to prove that women were perfectly capable of driving. They didn't have the benefit of an atlas, but instead just had,like, a bunch of, like, local maps, none of which had standardized measures, and many of which had inaccuracies. But they made it, from Manhattan to San Francisco, driving 3800 miles, only 152 of which were paved, in just 59 days!
It was a remarkable feat at the time- you might say that is was paved the way for future road trips. Meredith! What did I tell you about puns?

Even opening cans used to be extremely complicated. Like,the technology for canning food has existed since Napoleon's time, when he ran a contest to help store foods for his army, but opening a can? That's a whole different ball of wax. Actually, it's a whole different can of soup. It took nearly 50 years before Ezra Warner of Connecticut came up with the can opener, and even then, they were inconvenient things that never left the grocery store, so instead of using your hammer to crack open you food at home, you'd simply open your cans at the store, before leaving.
 
Now that the weather's nicer, you may have forgotten that you spent six months of the last year shoveling snow at least if you are/were me. Many cities have embedded sidewalks with foil that uses electricity and hot water or geothermal heat to stay snow-free. And the systems offer a green alternative to salting, and they keep walks and driveways clear. I need one of those desperately. Meanwhile here in Indianapolis, we have exactly one snowplow which was built in 1907 and then Alice Ramsey drove it from New York to Indianapolis.

Speaking of weather, you know what's pretty recent? Knowing what the weather will be in 24 hours. The first report with somewhat scientific predictions of the weather was made in 1861 by a British naval officer named Robert FitzRoy after clipper carrying 450 people got wrecked in a storm. So FitzRoy cleverly asked fellow officers to telegraph the weather where they were to him, and then he created a little map to forecast the weather. Of course the predictions weren't nearly as sophisticated as anything on your iPhone. The first report included lines like "North: moderate westerly wind, fine. South: fresh westerly, fine." What FitzRoy couldn't predict was North West, who I forecast to have fresh and fine fashion sense for a baby.

Back in the 1820s if a restaurant wanted ice, they had to import from it a New England ice farm where laborers sawed giant 300 pound cubes of ice from frozen ponds and then used horses to drag the blocks to ships that delivered the ice around the country. I know this is going to come as a terrible surprise to the people of Maine, but while you guys are still up there working at your ice farms, we have like uuuh ice in our fridges now. 

Burnt popcorn used to ruin the whole bag, but thanks to a popcorn app that listens to the popping sounds coming from your microwave, and then reveals the perfect time to pull the bag out, home movie snacking has effectively been saved forever.

But of course there are many inventions currently trying to solve problems of the palate. MIT's intelligent spoon will taste your cooking and offer suggestions for improving it as you cook, whether it's by adding more salt to brine your pickles perfectly, or adjusting the butter in your cookie dough. 

While auto correct has the occasional effect of changing your text's meaning, at least your spelling is always ducking accurate. I never mean ducking iPhone. I have never meant ducking. But anyway, back in the days of typewriters, getting rid of a little text error was no easy task. Because whiteout and correction tape didn't work well on onion skin, the thin paper regularly used for making carbon copies, typists and writers had to put their elbows to work using a typewriter eraser, this really abrasive stick with bristles on the end, that helped brush away the  inky debris made from cleaning away a mistake. 

And finally I return to my salon to tell you that a good night's sleep has gotten a lot easier thanks to things like white noise machines, and Sleep Number mattresses, just consider how beds have changed over the years: like a plush mattress in nineteenth century England was stuffed with like straw and hair and corn husks and disease. The ancient Chinese used wood and metal pillows, and the Egyptians kept their heads elevated on stones so insects couldn't crawl up their nostrils. What do we use now to keep insects from crawling up our nostrils? Maybe that's what those Sleep Numbers are for.

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Anyway thanks for watching Mental Floss on YouTube which was made with the help of all of these nice people, and also thanks to our friends at Intel whose innovative technologies bringing a smarter future into your world right now. To find out what's next from Intel check out their innovation hub, we've put some links below. Thanks to them, thanks to you for watching, and thanks to those ridiculous people who made that popcorn app.

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