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Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The “#” symbol aka hashtag, pound sign, crosshatch, number sign officially is called an octothorpe. The word probably was invented in the late 1960s at Bell Labs when they added the symbol to telephone keypads and needed a word to describe it. Note: an octothorpe has eight protruding lines, and octo means eight.

The 2019-20 brush fires in Australia burned an area of about 63,000 square miles, roughly the size of Florida. Smoke from the fires reached Argentina, which is 6,000 miles away.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, 12 dogs were aboard. Two Pomeranians and a Pekingese survived in lifeboats, but the other nine dogs were lost.

The Sargasso Sea, a region of the eastern Atlantic Ocean, is the only body of water in the world with no land boundaries. It is bordered by four ocean currents: the Gulf Stream, the Canary Current, the North Atlantic Current, and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current.

The Sargasso is named for its abundance of sargassum, a rich brown seaweed that is important to marine life. The Sargasso Sea is known for its exceptionally clear water and deep blue color.

Sargasso

The population of New Delhi, the capitol of India, is 28.5 million. The city’s air is so polluted that breathing it is the equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. In 2018, of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air pollution, nine were in India.

In the periodic table of the elements, the symbol for silver is Ag, which comes from argentum, the Latin word for silver.

Right now, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s.

The blue whale is believed to be the largest animal that ever lived. An adult is about 100 feet long and weighs almost 200 tons. Its tongue weighs as much as an elephant.

Blue whale

The nuclear meltdown in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan means the area will be lethal and mostly unusable for a few lifetimes. Meanwhile, the resourceful Japanese plan to build wind farms and solar arrays there.

70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and 97 percent of that water is seawater. Of the paltry three percent that is fresh water, 69 percent of that is locked up in glaciers and ice caps.

● “Plyboo” is a brand of plywood made of bamboo.

Pringles potato “crisps” and the Pringles container were designed and patented in the 1960s by organic chemist Fredric Baur. He had been hired by Proctor & Gamble to develop a new kind of potato chip because of consumer complaints about bagged chips being broken, stale, and greasy.

Baur died in 2008. As stipulated in his will, he was cremated, and a portion of his ashes was interred in a Pringles can.

Pringles

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In the 1970s, Sweden sold 1,000 Volvo automobiles to North Korea for 200 million krona. Sweden delivered the cars, but North Korea didn’t pay up. Since then, twice a year, Sweden has sent Pyongyang a bill for the money. In today’s U.S. dollars, the tab is about $22 million.

Boxing became an Olympic sport at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis. A total of 18 boxers competed. All 18 were from America, so we won all the medals.

The verb abscond means to depart quickly and secretly. The verb squattle means to duck into hiding. The word perambulate means to wander about. With its usual panache, the English language combined those three words into absquatulate, which means to leave abruptly in order to save yourself. Think of an overthrown dictator fleeing to a friendly country.

Absquatulate originated in the 1830s as part of a whimsical fad of making up playful words that sound impressive and vaguely Latin. Discombobulate, which means to totally confuse someone, also came from that era.

The crater formed by the impact of a meteorite is called an astrobleme.

Astrobleme

Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet, which means they can land on a plant and check it out for nectar at the same time.

If you were an astronaut in space and you cried, the tears would not fall because there is no gravity. Instead, the fluid simply would pool up on your eyeballs.

A pizzly is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. The hybrid also is called (groan) a grolar bear.

The smallest known mammal in the world is the bumblebee bat, a native of Thailand and Myanmar. Adult bats are a little over an inch long and weigh half an ounce.

Bumblebee bat

The Empire State Building has its own ZIP code. 10118.

The pineapple plant originated in South America. We associate it with Hawaii because of the success of the Dole Pineapple Plantation on Oahu. The plantation opened in 1901 and grew to become the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables.

The popular French-Canadian dish poutine consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy.

Vanilla ice cream is made with milk and cream, plus the manufacturers’ chemicals of choice. French vanilla ice cream also includes egg yolks, which make the product creamier and add a yellowish hue.

French vanilla

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Star Wars character Yoda was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Originally, George Lucas named the character Buffy, which horrified Leigh Brackett, the screenwriter. She convinced Lucas to go with Minch Yoda, which soon was shortened to Yoda.

The Turkish city of Istanbul straddles the Bosporus, the strait separating Europe and Asia. Two-thirds of Istanbul is in Europe, one-third is in Asia. With a population of 15 million, it is Europe’s largest city and the world’s fourth-largest.

In 2005, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, obtained a patent for an improved ballet slipper. His design features added support around the toes and along the outsole to reduce pressure on the feet, which lessens pain and helps prevent injuries.

Grapevines differ according to variety, soil type, and planting location. But on average, a vine produces about 40 clusters of 100 grapes each. The rule of thumb: the yield of one vine is about ten 450ml bottles of wine. Ergo, it takes about 400 grapes to make a bottle of wine.

Grapes

The National Basketball Association was founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America. It became the NBA in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League.

In 1954, the league introduced the 24-second shot clock to stop the strategy of stalling. In 1976, the NBA merged with the pesky American Basketball Association, and in 1979, the league adopted the ABA’s three-point field goal to “open up” the game further.

Every summer, a beauty pageant for goats is held in the Lithuanian city of Ramygala, which adopted the goat as its symbol in the 16th century. The pageant does not include a talent competition; the winner is chosen strictly based on good looks.

In 1921, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of “the law of the photoelectric effect.” What is that? Well, when light above a certain frequency hits a thing, energy is transferred from the light to the thing, and particles are emitted.

Einstein explained how it works: the light interacts with photons, causing electrons (called photoelectrons in this case) to be shed. Einstein was the first to identify the photon as an elementary particle.

In 2002, English artist Andy Brown created a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II consisting of over 1,000 teabags, new and used, sewn onto burlap.

Queen E

Prohibition was established in the United States when the Volstead Act was enacted in 1920. The act was repealed in 1933 when Congress legalized the sale of 3.2 percent alcohol. When President Roosevelt signed the repeal, he reportedly said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

English businessman John Cadbury founded the chocolate company Cadbury’s in 1824. His son Richard took over the company in 1861 and was the first to sell chocolates in a box. Specifically, the boxes were adorned with roses and cupids for Valentine’s Day.

Fashion icon Ralph Lauren, the son of immigrants from Belarus, was born Ralph Lifshitz. He changed his last name while attending high school in the Bronx, in an attempt to stop the constant teasing and bullying.

Halley’s Comet swings close to the earth (relatively) every 75 years. Records of its passing go back to 240 BC, but nobody knew it was the same comet until 1705, when English astronomer Edward Halley figured it out. The comet’s most recent appearance was in 1986. Unless events conspire to prevent it, the comet will return in 2061.

Halley's

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1909, a portion of Woodward Avenue in Detroit became the first road in the United States to be paved. Woodward Avenue was built in 1805, following the route of an Indian trail between Detroit and Pontiac.

The Tower of London, built in 1066, was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. Its first prisoner was a financial minister to King Rufus, Ranulf Flambard, who became a scapegoat for the financial crimes of his bosses.

The last prisoners were London mobsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray who, in 1952, refused to report for service in the Royal Fusiliers. They were held in the Tower until they were court-martialed. They were given dishonorable discharges, which probably hurt their feelings real bad.

Virginia was founded in 1607, when Jamestown became the first permanent English settlement. Over the next 200 years, the Commonwealth lost substantial territory as new states were created. Areas that once were part of Virginia now belong to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The novel This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald used the words “T-shirt” and “daiquiri” in print for the first time. It also included the first known use of the word “wicked” to mean cool or excellent.

This Side

Delaware Bay, the outlet of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Delaware, is the country’s second-busiest waterway (after the Mississippi River). Its wetlands make it an important breeding site for many aquatic species.

The bay is prime oystering ground and home of the world’s largest concentration of horseshoe crabs. Each spring, thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay their eggs, which provide food for bird migrations.

Elvis Presley had naturally blond hair that turned sandy brown by the time he was a teenager. When he started singing professionally, he dyed his hair black because he thought it made him look edgy and cool.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, and the Colossus of Rhodes, also a statue.

In 2007, 100 million people voted and declared the New Seven Wonders of the World to be the Great Wall of China, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the ruins of the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the ruins of the Arab city of Petra in Jordan, the Roman Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal.

Flamingos are born with gray feathers, but the feathers gradually turn pink because of beta carotene, a natural dye occurring in their diet of brine shrimp, algae, and larvae.

Flamingos

Spain got its name from the Roman word Hispania, which is the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). The origin and meaning of the word Hispania is unclear.

Some experts think the Romans borrowed the word from an earlier language, and we may never know. Others believe it means “Land where metals are forged,” “Land of the setting sun,” and “Land of rabbits.”

A 150th anniversary is called a sesquicentennial because the Latin prefix sesqui- means “one and a half times.” Likewise, a person given to using long words (by implication, in a pretentious manner) is called a sesquipedalian.

The Roman poet Horace once cautioned young writers to avoid “sesquipedalia verba” — which literally means words a foot and a half long.

A tetrachromat is an organism with four color receptors in the eyes instead of the usual three (trichromat). Four receptors allows more vision on the color spectrum. This abnormality, or superpower, occurs in some fish, birds, insects, and mammals, including humans.

Women are more likely to be tetrachromatic than men. One study found that 50 percent of women and eight percent of men are tetrachromatic to some degree.

A nut is a type of fruit consisting of an edible seed inside an inedible shell. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc. all qualify. Peanuts, however, are not nuts. They are legumes, related to beans and peas. Rule to remember: nuts grow on trees, legumes grow underground or on bushes.

Peanuts

 

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The Bad Old Days

The 1800s has been called the “patent medicine” era, a golden age of quack medications that claimed to relieve a wide range of ailments. They were noted for being sold with sensational claims, but scant evidence that they worked.

Syrup-1

Back then, no laws regulated the sale of medicines or narcotics. The manufacturers weren’t even required to disclose what their products contained. Because government oversight did not yet exist, miracle cures and snake oil remedies flourished.

Sometimes, the patent medicines did no harm. For example, when 7-Up first came on the market, it contained a trace of lithium, a substance known for its mood-stabilizing properties. At the time, 7-Up was sold as a hangover cure, not as a soft drink.

But the amount of lithium in a bottle of 7-Up was teeny-tiny, essentially useless and harmless. (Lithium continued to be added to the product until 1948.)

A similar example: Buffalo Lithium Water was sold as a treatment for “fevers and nervous disorders.” Later, it was found to contain so little lithium that a useful dose would require drinking 150,000 gallons a day.

To be fair, patent medicines occasionally worked, even if accidentally. Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People was touted as a cure for paralysis, heart palpitations, sallow complexions, general weakness, and more. The main ingredient was iron, and the pills were an effective treatment for iron deficiency anemia, a common condition in that era.

Syrup-2

Nevertheless, many potions and nostrums of the time were dangerous and often deadly.

A.B.C. Liniment, which promised to relieve pain from sciatica, rheumatism, and lower back pain, was named for its primary ingredients aconite (a plant toxin), belladonna (another toxin, AKA deadly nightshade), and chloroform (a sedative and carcinogen).

Users of the product were regularly poisoned, but likely had no idea what sickened them.

A product called Chlorodyne was invented in the 1840s by a British doctor as a pain-reliever. Decades later, it was marketed as a treatment for diarrhea, insomnia, and migraine headaches.

Chlorodyne was a mixture of tincture of opium, tincture of cannabis, and chloroform. The product relieved pain like a boss, but its use led to countless overdoses and cases of addiction. And again, people often didn’t realize Chlorodyne was the cause.

Sozodont Tooth Powder claimed to “harden and invigorate the gums, purify and perfume the breath and beautify and preserve the teeth from youth to old age.” Not really. Sozodont contained acids, astringents, and abrasives that eroded tooth enamel.

In some cases, the public knew full well what they were getting. Medications were an under-the-table way for proper ladies and gentlemen to get high or tipsy.

Most tragic of all, some mothers of teething babies or infants with colic, often tired and desperate, turned to an especially nasty category of patent medicines: sedatives to stop babies from crying.

Dalby’s Carminative and Godfrey’s Cordial were sold precisely for that purpose. Both products contained opium and led to unknown numbers of poisonings and deaths over the years.

Among the most infamous of the calmatives was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a product that did, indeed, stop babies from crying, pretty much instantly, with a combination of morphine and alcohol.

Syrup-3

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was created in the 1840s by Charlotte Winslow, a pediatric nurse in Bangor, Maine. She used the syrup to treat her own children as well as those in her care.

In 1849, her son-in-law, Jeremiah Curtis, formed a company to market the product. The syrup became popular throughout North America and Britain. By 1868, Curtis reported annual sales of 1.5 million bottles.

Syrup-4

But the syrup easily could be lethal. One fluid ounce contained 65mg of morphine. As little as 5mg of morphine can be fatal to a newborn.

The directions recommended six to 10 drops for newborns, half a teaspoon for a six-month-old, and a full teaspoon for older children — in all cases, three or four times a day. At that dosage, a toddler could get 260mg of morphine in 24 hours.

In other words, a teaspoonful of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup could kill, depending on the age and health of the child. And, indeed, many children took the syrup and never woke up.

Syrup-5

In truth, science was just beginning to understand the effects of morphine, opium, and other narcotics. Most parents thought of the syrup as a useful, modern remedy, not a dangerous drug.

But deaths occurred regularly, and by the 1880s, many physicians began raising the alarm, calling the syrup and products like it “baby killers.”

Finally, in 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act became law. It required ingredients to be listed, and it enforced purity standards.

In 1911, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was denounced by the American Medical Association for its lethal history. Soon after, the manufacturer was forced to remove morphine from the product and to remove “soothing” from the name.

The syrup continued to be sold until the 1930s.

It’s impossible to know how many infants and children died from morphine overdoses or the complications of addiction and withdrawal. Most likely, many thousands.

Charlotte Winslow died in 1851, probably unaware of the toll her product was taking.

Her son-in-law, however, lived long enough to be aware of the stories documenting the product’s lethal history. Jeremiah Curtis died a millionaire in 1883.

Many patent medicines from the Bad Old Days were reformulated and are still on the market today.

Originally, Coca-Cola contained a small amount of cocaine and was sold as a cure for impotence and morphine addiction. Later, when the dangers of cocaine were better understood, the drug was quietly dropped from the ingredients.

Although they contained no cringeworthy ingredients, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Hire’s Root Beer all made medicinal claims back in the day. Ads for Dr. Pepper said it “aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality.” Hires claimed it could “purify the blood and make rosy cheeks.”

Carter’s Little Liver Pills began as a cure for “headache, constipation, dyspepsia, and biliousness,” but today is sold simply as a laxative.

Consider this eye-opening statistic: in 1800, 43 percent of children worldwide died before age five. By 1900, the rate was 36 percent. Better, but still appalling.

Today, the rate is four percent, thanks to scientific advancements and government oversight.

Government regulations are a wonderful thing. They protect your vulnerable, unsuspecting self from the consequences of quackery, fakery, deception, cheating, and ignorance. Which is a fine thing for government to be doing.

Corruption in high places no doubt is inevitable. But it’s wrong to vilify government so completely, as the conservative herd is wont to do.

What government needs is sensible guidance — support, protection, and encouragement to be fair and do the right thing for the benefit of us all.

But I digress.

Syrup-6

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Virginia is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents, the most among the states. Seven presidents were born in Ohio, five in New York, four in Massachusetts, and the remaining presidents were from 17 other states. Six states have produced none.

During the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard brought out a folding 6-iron and drove two golf balls into the lunar distance. He shanked the first drive, but the second traveled about 200 yards. Shepard got the okay of his NASA bosses in advance.

Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of the United States from 1933 until 1945. In 1935, she began writing “My Day,” a syndicated newspaper column about issues of the time. The popular column was published six days a week until 1961, when the schedule was changed to every other day due to her failing health. Her last column appeared in 1962, two months before her death.

In days of yore, humans measured time with the clepsydra or water clock. Clepsydra is Greek for water thief. The device measures the flow of water through an opening, and marking on the container show the passage of time.

Two versions existed: one measured outflow, and one measured inflow. Their accuracy was… fair to okay. The pendulum clocks that replaced them in the 1600s were much more accurate.

Clepsydra

The real name of lead singer Bono of the rock band U2 is Paul David Hewson. “Bono,” he says, is derived from the Latin word “bonavox,” which means good voice.

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is a seep of natural asphalt. Because the tar preserves the bones of the unlucky animals who died there, La Brea has been a fossil excavation site and a popular tourist attraction since the early 1900s.

“La Brea” is Spanish for “the tar,” so technically, “The La Brea Tar Pits” means “The the tar tar pits.”

When the first president of Israel died in 1952, the Israeli prime minister asked Albert Einstein to become president. Einstein would have to relocate to Israel, but would be free to continue his scientific work. Einstein said he was “deeply moved,” but declined on grounds that he lacked “the natural aptitude and the experience” for the position.

The “Temple of a Million Bottles” in Thailand is a complex of buildings constructed by Buddhist monks to keep beer bottles out of landfills. The original temple was completed in 1986. Today, the site consists of 20 buildings and some 1.5 million bottles. The monks use green and brown bottles for the construction, and they use bottle caps to create mosaics.

Temple

Commercial coffee growers raise two varieties of beans: Robusta and Arabica. Robusta accounts for 30 percent of world production. It is hardier, easier to grow, harsher in taste, and higher in caffeine. The other 70 percent of plants are Arabica, which require more attention, but produce a higher-quality brew.

Robusta is used to make instant coffee, and cheaper brands mix it, to varying degrees, with Arabica. Lesson: check the label and go with Arabica.

When the singer Pink (technically, P!nk) was a young teenager, her friends teased her by saying she looked like Mr. Pink, the character played by Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. She reacted by embracing the name and later used it professionally. Her real name is Alecia Beth Moore.

In 1960, while performing Verde’s La Forza Del Destino (The Force of Destiny) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, baritone Leonard Warren suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and dropped dead on the stage.

His last words were the opening lines of an aria that begins “Morir, tremenda cosa,” which means “To die, a momentous thing.”

“The world’s narrowest house” is the Keret House in Warsaw, Poland, built in the four-foot space between two adjacent building. It consists of three levels containing a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The structure is considered an art project because it doesn’t fully meet building codes.

Keret House

 

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Magic Mud

In 1920, in a baseball game with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians batter Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball. Witnesses said Chapman apparently lost sight of the ball, because he made no attempt to move or duck.

Hours later, he died. Chapman is the only major league player ever killed in this manner.

The condition of the ball was considered a factor in Chapman’s death. In those days, pitchers were expected to “break in” new baseballs, which are glossy and slick and hard to grip. Pitchers rubbed the baseballs with anything handy — dirt, mud, spit, tobacco juice, shoe polish. They nicked the leather with blades and roughed it up with sandpaper.

As a result, game balls varied widely in condition. They could be damp. They could wobble in flight. Worse, they tended to be dark and mottled in color, making them harder to see.

After the Chapman incident, Major League Baseball was motivated anew to find a way to season new baseballs without the negative side effects. Nothing surfaced.

Finally, in the late 1930s, a third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics, Lena Blackburne, found a solution that wasn’t quite magic, but came close. His method is still used today by every MLB team and most minor league and college teams.

Blackburne grew up in Palmyra, New Jersey, a small town on the Delaware River just north of Philadelphia. He knew from his childhood that the river mud near Palmyra is unique. It has an unusually smooth, creamy, clay-like consistency and holds minimal moisture. He decided to try the mud on a baseball.

Blackburne found that a tiny amount of the river mud — one finger dipped in the stuff — was enough to spread over a baseball and work the magic. The mud seasoned the leather, eliminated the gloss, and slightly roughened the surface, all without discoloring the ball. Baseballs looked the same before and after treatment.

Blackburne’s rubbing mud was an instant hit with the Athletics. Word soon spread around the league, and other teams began asking Blackburne for a supply of the river mud.

At that point, Blackburne officially went into the business of selling Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud — Baseball’s Magic Mud.

Experts say the mud gets its characteristics from the type and amount of clay in the soil and the chemistry of the river. The Delaware is a “blackwater” river, rich in iron oxide, and it flows through highly acidic soil.

It’s also a fact that mud from anywhere along the river won’t do. Blackburne found that only along about a one-mile stretch of the river do ideal conditions for the rubbing mud exist.

Blackburne kept the location secret. He confided only in his friend John Haas, who became his partner in the business.

The process Blackburne and Haas developed was to collect the mud in buckets, run it through a strainer to remove leaves and other debris, add water, and let it sit in large cans.

Periodically over about six weeks, excess water was drained, and the mud was strained several more times. When no water remained and the mud was perfectly smooth — reduced to the consistency of cold cream or pudding — it was ready to be packaged.

Blackburne and Haas prepared the mud over the fall and winter and were ready to supply the teams the following spring. By the 1950s, every team in baseball was rubbing the magic mud on every baseball.

The mud was a big deal for baseball, but certainly not a money-maker for Blackburne. The market is limited, and a couple of containers will last a team all season. Blackburne’s enterprise was a service to the game and a labor of love.

(Each team needs about two one-pint containers of the mud per year. In 1981, a container sold for $20. The price today is $100. The mud business currently nets about $15,000 to $20,000 per year.)

Blackburne died in 1968 and left the company to Haas. Haas continued the business, still keeping the location secret. When he retired, his son-in-law, Burns Bintliff, took over.

Like Blackburne and Haas, Bintliff ran the mud business in his spare time, holding a job elsewhere to pay the bills. Eventually, he passed the business along to his son Jim, who runs the company today.

Jim Bintliff and his wife Joanne both worked for a small printing company and ran the mud business on the side. Joanne said they were married five years and had two children before Jim finally revealed to her the secret location where the mud is collected.

Eventually, their youngest daughter Rachel is expected to take over the business — if demand for the mud continues.

In 2016, MLB asked the equipment manufacturer Rawlings to develop a ball that didn’t need rubbing mud — a ball that is broken-in and ready to use upon delivery. The rubbing mud, they said, is a hassle for equipment managers, and Mother Nature could decide to stop making it available.

Rawlings continues trying to create a pre-seasoned baseball, but so far has struck out. Pitchers are accustomed to the feel of Lena Blackburne‘s Magic Mud, and the chemists and engineers at Rawlings haven’t been able to replicate that feel to the players’ satisfaction.

Mud is mud,” said Mike Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer at Rawlings. “But, obviously, mud isn’t mud.”

Meanwhile, Jim Bintliff has been working on another angle for the business. The mud, it seems, works just as well on a football. Many NFL teams now place regular orders.

Mud-1

Jim Bintliff at work.

Mud-2

 

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Useless Facts

Imagine that you bored a large hole from the surface of the earth, through the center, and out the other side. According to a physicist, if you jumped into the hole, it would take you about 38 minutes to “fall” to the other side.

During the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1936 and 1937, 11 workers died in falls, and 19 were saved by safety nets. The survivors dubbed themselves the Halfway to Hell Club.

Lemons float in water, but limes sink. The reason: lemons are slightly less dense than water, and limes are slightly more dense.

The practice of carving jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland. The Irish began carving them several centuries ago out of turnips and potatoes. Irish immigrants to America applied the technique to pumpkins.

Turnip

The Norse explorer Leif Erikson is the first known European to set foot on continental North America. He landed somewhere on the coast of Newfoundland or Labrador in the year 1000. Erikson made the voyage because an Icelandic merchant told him he had sighted land west of Greenland in 986, but didn’t make landfall.

But there is evidence that Erikson wasn’t the first. When he reached the coast, he rescued two shipwrecked men whom the historic record does not name, but implies were European.

When the Star Trek TV series was in development in the early 1960s, the idea was for the Spock character to be from Mars and to have red skin. By the time filming began, Spock’s heritage was “human-Vulcan,” and his skin was yellow-tinged. The idea of red was dropped because it looked black on a black-and-white TV.

Sean Connery played Agent 007 in the first five James Bond movies, and he wore a toupee in all five. Connery began going bald as a teenager.

The narwhal is a medium-sized, Arctic-dwelling whale notable for (1) its long, unicorn-like tusk and (2) the absence of a dorsal fin. Adult narwhals are 13-18 feet long, not counting the tusk. The tusk is an elongated tooth like those of elephants, walruses, and pigs.

Narwhal

Capoeira is a form of martial art developed in the 1700s by escaped African slaves hiding in the jungles of Brazil. It incorporates a variety of fast, complex kicks and spins similar to acrobatics and dance moves. Capoeira was a highly effective fighting technique, and in the past, the government made its practice a crime. Today. It is Brazil’s official national sport, although soccer is more popular.

The Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, which has 255 rooms and occupies an estate of 125,000 acres, is the largest residence ever built for a private citizen. It was completed in 1895 as the home of George Washington Vanderbilt II, who needed a way to spend some of his money. It was opened to the public in 1930.

An agelast (adge-uh-lest) is a person who never laughs and seems to have no sense of humor.

Armadillos (from the Spanish for “little armored one”) are small, timid mammals related to anteaters and sloths. They have sharp claws used to dig for insects and to make dens.

The nine-banded armadillo usually seen in the U.S. is about the size of a housecat. The largest species, the giant armadillo, is the size of a small pig. The smallest species, the pink fairy armadillo of central Argentina, is about four inches long and weighs only a few ounces.

Pink fairy armadillo

 

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C. Hart Merriam

I’m always impressed by, and more than a little envious of, people who make genuine contributions to society. Most people, including me, and maybe you, are just taking up space. No offense intended; that’s just the way it is.

One such person who left his mark is the naturalist and zoologist C. Hart Merriam (1855-1942). Merriam was born wealthy and well-connected, and he could have settled back and lived a life of indolence and privilege. Instead, he built upon his status, applied himself, and made a difference.

Clinton Hart Merriam was born in New York City, the son of Clinton Levi Merriam, a member of Congress, and Carolyn Hart Merriam, the daughter of a judge. The younger Merriam chose to go by “C. Hart” because his father already had a claim on the name Clinton.

The Merriam family wintered in New York City, but otherwise lived at Locust Grove, an estate in rural Lewis County in upstate New York. Growing up there, young Merriam developed an interest in the natural world.

By the time he was 15, he had learned the basics of taxidermy and amassed a sizable collection of animal specimens. To encourage the boy, his father introduced him to Spencer Baird, a naturalist at the Smithsonian Institution. Impressed by young Merriam’s collection, Baird arranged for him to take professional lessons in taxidermy.

In 1871, when Merriam was 16, Baird appointed him to accompany the Hayden Geological Survey to Wyoming as a naturalist. The Hayden expedition explored the territory that later became Yellowstone National Park.

Merriam returned with hundreds of bird and nest specimens. His report on the trip was his first contribution to scientific literature.

In 1874, at Baird’s urging, Merriam enrolled at Yale University, where he studied anatomy and natural history. While at Yale, he published several scientific papers, including “A Review of the Birds of Connecticut” and, following a trip to Florida with his father, “Ornithological Notes From the South.”

Merriam’s interest in anatomy soon led him to leave Yale and enter medical school at Columbia University. He earned his M.D. degree in 1879 and returned to Locust Grove and Lewis County, where he established a successful medical practice.

Merriam stayed in touch with his naturalist friends and continued to add specimens to his collection. He also began studying mammals as well as birds.

Another interest that surfaced was the question of species distribution — understanding the factors that determine where living things make their homes. Preparing for future study, Merriam hired a clerk to research weather statistics and to document monthly temperatures at different locations and altitudes.

In 1883, a group of scientists created the American Ornithologists’ Union, patterned after a similar British organization. Merriam was elected secretary and treasurer as well as chairman of the committees on Bird Migration and Geographic Distribution.

Merriam’s grand plans for his committees far exceeded the organization’s resources. But Merriam had resources of his own: a father serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and friendships with John Muir, John Wesley Powell, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The elder Merriam arranged the creation of an ornithology section within the Department of Agriculture, plus $10,000 annually for a chief ornithologist. In 1886, the younger Merriam was chosen for the job. Through the magic of political connections, he thus transitioned from medical doctor to scientist.

In time, the ornithology section became the Bureau of Biological Survey, which Merriam headed for 25 years. In 1940, it evolved into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1886, Merriam married his secretary, Virginia Gosnell. In 1888, he was among the 33 notable Americans who founded the National Geographic Society.

Then, in July 1889, he set forth on a scientific expedition in Northern Arizona that led to the insight for which he is best remembered.

Bankrolled by a $600 grant from his department, Merriam and a small team conducted a survey of plants and animals in the Flagstaff area. The survey extended from the San Francisco Peaks to the Painted Desert to the floor of Grand Canyon.

For several months, they worked from a series of remote base camps in the region. One, located about 20 miles north of Flagstaff, is today a National Historic Landmark.

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Merriam (center), his wife Virginia, and staff members at the base camp near Flagstaff.

The team’s findings led Merriam to conclude that the changes occurring in flora and fauna as you gain altitude are the same as changes occurring as you travel north. Most naturalists at the time thought of “zones” in terms of eastern, central, and western.

Going further, Merriam identified seven “life zones” that support specific types of plant and animal life.

The zones, from highest to lowest in altitude:

1 – Alpine (arctic)
2 – Sub-Alpine (tundra)
3 – Hudsonian (spruce, fir)
4 – Canadian (mixed conifer)
5 – Transition (ponderosa pine)
6 – Upper Sonoran (grasslands)
7 – Lower Sonoran (desert)

Merriam said the zones are based on differences in temperature and humidity and are applicable everywhere.

In truth, it isn’t that simple. Other factors besides temperature and humidity affect the distribution of plants and animals. The direction in which a slope faces, for example, and the type of soil.

But Merriam’s general concept was quickly recognized as significant. Over time, a few tweaks were necessary, but his zone system remains in use today.

His work also tied in nicely with other thinking about species distribution that led to the new science of ecology.

During his research trips over the years, Merriam found that “the locals,” aka Native Americans, were valuable sources of information about the plants and animals he was studying. Eventually, he became interested in the tribes themselves, particularly those in California. He even picked up enough of several native languages to communicate with his contacts.

As the 20th Century arrived, the native populations were decreasing rapidly. Concerned that their knowledge, languages, and traditions were being lost, Merriam resolved to collect as much information as possible about the tribes before it was too late.

From about 1910 to 1939, leaving his previous scientific life behind, Merriam began collecting information about the tribes. Taking advantage of his notoriety, he also advocated for and assisted them.

Merriam collected vast amounts of data on 157 tribes and published much of it. Today, his field notes are housed in the Anthropology Museum at the University of California Berkeley.

He died in Berkeley in 1942, age 86.

Merriam was a dynamic, driven guy. He was, it seems, a bit flighty and erratic, but his curiosity always seemed to lead him down worthwhile paths.

He was a medical doctor, naturalist, zoologist, ornithologist, mammalogist, ethnographer, anthropologist, and more, always fully committed to the project of the moment.

A full and eclectic life that made a difference.

Impressive, indeed.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1778, two American sailors were arrested because they accused the Navy’s commander of torturing British prisoners. The Continental Congress stepped in and passed the first law protecting whistle-blowers. The commander was fired.

The maximum number of clubs a golfer can carry, according to the rules of the U.S. Golf Association, is 14. The accepted standard is 12.

President William Jefferson Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III. His father, Blythe Jr., died in a car accident three months before Blythe III was born. Widow Blythe later married Roger Clinton, Sr.

At age 15, the future president began using the last name Clinton, but he later wrote that his stepfather was a gambler, an alcoholic, and a wife-beater.

Two of the 12 countries in South America are landlocked. One is Bolivia, which stretches from the Andes Mountains to the Atacama Desert to the Amazon rain forest. The other is Paraguay, which is mostly swampy lowlands, but does have a route to the sea via the Paraguay River.

South America

The force of gravity varies with mass, so different planets have different gravitational forces. A person weighing 200 pounds on Earth would weigh 76 pounds on Mars and 12 pounds on Pluto.

Hedgehogs are small, nocturnal mammals distantly related to shrews. The word hedgehog, which dates back to the 1400s, probably arose because the animals frequent hedgerows and have a pig-like snout. Prior to that, they were called urchins.

Bonus fact: sea urchins (related to starfish, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers) are so named because their appearance is similar to the animals formerly known as urchins.

The Polish-born French scientist Marie Curie (1867-1934), was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two Nobels, and the only person to win a Nobel in two different fields.

Curie received a Nobel in Physics in 1903 for the discovery of radioactivity. She won a Nobel in Chemistry in 1911 for discovering the elements radium and polonium. She died of aplastic anemia caused by exposure to radiation.

The first person to make a high-altitude parachute jump was André-Jacques Garnerin (1769-1823), a French balloonist. He made the descent in 1797, riding in a basket suspended from a silk parachute.

In 1798, his wife Jeanne Labrosse Garnerin (1775-1847) became the first woman to ascend solo in a hot-air balloon. In 1799, she became the first woman to descend in a parachute.

Balloonists

Author Edith Wharton, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize (for The Age of Innocence, 1920), was a dog lover. She owned dozens of dogs during her lifetime, and her Massachusetts estate featured a dog cemetery within view of her bedroom window.

She and her husband were founding members of the SPCA, and they campaigned to place water bowls for dogs on the streets of New York City. Wharton once published a short poem that read, “My little old dog: A heart-beat At my feet.”

The 180 species of woodpeckers around the world peck trees mostly in search of insects for food. They can peck up to 20 pecks per second and, on average, 8,000 to 12,000 pecks per day.

The first serious, large-scale electronic computer in the U.S. was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). It was completed in 1945 at the University of Pennsylvania and initially was used to calculate artillery ballistics for the Army.

ENIAC could calculate the trajectory of an artillery shell in 30 seconds, a task that took a human 20 hours. In 1947, ENIAC was moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where it ran in continuous operation until 1955.

In April 2002, the Muppet character Elmo appeared before a House subcommittee to ask for increased funding for music education. His appearance stands as the only testimony before Congress by a non-human.

Elmo

 

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