Sideswipe: May 20: Gendered ready meals

How the microwave was invented

The microwave oven is of the all-time great “accidental” discoveries of science. In the 1940s, American engineer Percy Spencer was working at Raytheon Technologies testing an active radar while he had a chocolate bar in his pocket. At some point, he noticed that the chocolate had melted into his pocket. Rather than merely changing his trousers, he realised the potential to heat food using a high-density electromagnetic field (and presumably also changed his trousers). He first experimented by getting a bag of popcorn, and attempting to heat that. It worked. He pushed his luck and tried to heat an egg, which exploded spectacularly, thus also inventing the “don’t put an egg in the microwave” rule. Spencer next worked on putting magnetrons (which create microwave radiation) inside a Faraday cage (which blocks electromagnetic fields). The result was a massive microwave oven – around the size of a fridge – which Raytheon began to sell commercially to restaurants in 1947, at $5000 (around $60,000 today). However, the microwave was not widespread until it was made smaller and cheaper, which wouldn’t really happen until the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Great suffering post eviction

After being evicted from the townhouse he was renting in 1979, the tenant filed a lawsuit against his former landlord seeking US$11,000 in compensation. The tenant claimed that the eviction had caused him and his family to suffer from “colds, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhoea, dysentery, loss of hair, sweating palms, the need to void, the inability to void, nightmares, insomnia, dandruff, bad breath, dirty fingernails, odoriferous body odours (especially of the feet), palm itching, the blues and the blahs, nervousness, dry heaves and crying spells”. He didn’t win.

Re-imagined book covers

Nature calls for jiggly child

“Waiting to cross at the lights in a busy city centre, a very jiggly child of about 5 years old suddenly pulled down his trousers and pants and peed,” writes a reader. “Mum had a few more kids so maybe didn’t notice or seem at all mortified, but surely she should have grabbed him and moved him away? She tried pouring water over it but it just made it more obvious and it was too late by then! Am I being unreasonable to think she should have raised him with better manners than to pee outside? Is this really what the world’s come to?”

Did you know …

1. French writer Guy de Maupassant called the Eiffel tower “this high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney”. It was said that he ate his lunch in the tower’s restaurant each day because it was the one spot in Paris from which the rising structure wasn’t visible.
2. Scrabble’s inventor assigned values to letters by painstakingly counting their frequencies in the Saturday Evening Post and New York Times.
3. The Godfather’s famous cat-in-lap scene was entirely unscripted. A stray cat randomly wandered onto the set, so director Francis Ford Coppola grabbed it and put it in Marlon Brando’s lap without a word.

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