The King of Jordan once played an officer on Star Trek
Lots of TV shows have special guest stars – usually celebrities of some kind – but Star Trek: Voyager is unusual in that one of its shows featured an actual prince, the man who later became King Abdullah II of Jordan. Abdullah's cameo was arranged as a surprise for him by his US advisor. The prince – who, at the time of his cameo, was thirty-four years old – enthused, "I would have been thrilled just to visit the set but this is too much." After being put into makeup, given pointed sideburns and then fitted for his uniform (a lieutenant of the sciences division), he rehearsed and shot his scene. He appears in the episode's opening scene as a science officer who speaks with Harry Kim as the scene fades in. He was not given any spoken lines, however, because he was not a member of the Screen Actors Guild.
The amazing, record-holding migratory journey of the bar-tailed godwit
Tens of thousands of bar-tailed godwits travel every year from the mud flats and muskeg of southern Alaska, south across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, to the beaches of New Zealand and eastern Australia. They fly more than 7,000 miles, night and day, without stopping to eat, drink, or rest. Scientists say it is the longest non-stop migratory flight of any bird in the world – lasting eight to 10 days, through high winds and pounding rain. It is so extreme, and so far beyond what researchers knew about long-distance bird migration, that it has required new investigations. "The more I learn, the more amazing I find them," said Theunis Piersma, a professor of global flyway ecology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and an expert in the endurance physiology of migratory birds.
Remembering, with fondness, the group known as the ‘worst orchestra in the world’
In the 1970s, a group called the Portsmouth Sinfonia became briefly famous for butchering classical music. The original Sinfonia consisted of 13 members, mostly students who had little to no musical experience. The “scratch” orchestra was meant as a one-off joke, part of a larger collection of silly acts. But their playful irreverence hit a nerve. Spurred on by an outpouring of enthusiasm for their initial performance, the Sinfonia continued to play, growing in size over the next several years. Their policy was that anyone, of any skill level, could join, with the exception being that skilled musicians could not join and simply play poorly on purpose. Another rule was that all members had to show up for practice.
How Hans Christian Andersen destroyed his friendship with Charles Dickens
The burgeoning friendship between a pair of literary stars, Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen, started off well – but it could not survive an extended stay by the Danish author at the British novelist’s family home in Kent. In March 1857, Andersen announced he was coming over for a short summer stay, a fortnight at the most. He left more than five weeks later, at which point Dickens confided to former prime minister Lord John Russell that Andersen was a terrible house guest. The Danish author complained about the cold, and was upset that no one was available to shave him in the mornings. His mood swings also became a problem – at one point, he lay down on the lawn and wept after receiving a bad review. But the visit wasn't a total loss: Dickens allegedly based the whining toady Uriah Heep in his book David Copperfield on Andersen.
Why are red and green peppers called by the same name as black pepper? Blame Columbus
Columbus had a problem: he had promised the riches of Asia to his patrons, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, but he had arrived instead in the Caribbean, where the people ate plants and foods that Europeans had never seen or tasted. These included members of the capsicum family, which today range from sweet bells, to the ubiquitous jalapeño, to the lethally hot Carolina Reaper. Their heat gave Columbus an idea: He could equate the fleshy fruits with pepper, or pimiento. Pepper was a hot (sorry) commodity in Europe, and it was in short supply because the rise of the Ottoman Empire had cut off the traditional pepper routes from Asia. So promising the King and Queen a different kind of pepper, Columbus thought, might make his journey seem more rewarding.
His girlfriend died, so he tried to recreate her using an AI chatbot
A 33-year-old freelance writer, Joshua had existed in quasi-isolation for years even before the COVID pandemic, confined by bouts of anxiety and depression. Once a theater geek, with dreams of being an actor, he supported himself by writing articles about D&D and selling them to gaming sites. Many days he left the apartment only to walk his dog, Chauncey, a black-and-white Border collie. Jessica, his fiancee, had died eight years earlier, at 23, from a rare liver disease, and Joshua had never gotten over it. So when he discovered an AI-based experimental chatbot called Project December, he thought: Why not use the site's advanced artificial intelligence to recreate the personality of his dead fiancee?