Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Russia is massive, extending across eight time zones and bordering 14 other countries. But its economy is puny — roughly equivalent to the combined GDPs of Belgium and the Netherlands.

● The average automobile contains 30,000 parts, counting bolts and screws.

● The main ingredients of the spread Nutella are sugar, cocoa, and hazelnuts. A medium-size jar of Nutella (26 oz.) contains about 97 hazelnuts. Annually, 25 percent of the world’s hazelnut crop is used to manufacture Nutella.

● Europa, the fourth-largest of Jupiter’s 80 known moons, is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon. Its surface is believed to be largely a crust of ice. Beneath it, scientists now think, is a liquid ocean that holds more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

● The first sharks evolved about 400 million years ago, which makes them 50 million years older than the earliest known trees.

● In the card game of whist, and in the game of bridge that evolved from it, a yarborough is a hand of 13 cards with none higher than a nine. The term is named for the 2nd Earl of Yarborough (1809-1897), who regularly bet 1000-1 against being dealt such a hand. He usually won; the probability of being dealt a yarborough is 1 in 1,828.

● The rubber band was invented in 1845 by Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturer Messers Perry and Co., London.

● Polar bears have two layers of fur: a dense undercoat for insulation and a coarse, protective outer coat. Both layers are colorless. The bears appear white because the hairs are transparent, and they reflect all wavelengths of light instead of absorbing some and manifesting color. Polar bear skin is black, which absorbs sunlight for warmth. Mother Nature is a smart cookie.

Read Full Post »

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● When King James V of Scotland died in 1542, his daughter Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland — at the age of six days old.

● Cheese is the world’s most commonly shoplifted food item.

● Every year, scientists discover about 18,000 new species of plants and animals, half of which are insects.

● In 1887, a partial skeleton of the three-horned dinosaur Triceratops was unearthed by geologist George L. Cannon near Denver. Dinosaurs being a bit of a new concept in those days, Cannon thought the bones were those of an especially large and unusual bison. Only after a third and more complete skeleton was found did Cannon see his mistake.

● The National Park System consists of 423 sites, 63 of which are full-blown National Parks.

Bonasa umbellus, the ruffed grouse, is a game bird native to Canada and the eastern US. Umbellus is Latin for umbrella or sunshade, referring to the bird’s showy neck plumage. Bonasa comes from the Latin words bonus (good)and assum (roasted).

● An ant can lift about 50 times its own weight.

● The word orangutan comes from the Malaysian words orang, meaning “person,” and hutan, meaning “forest.” It usually is translated as “man of the forest.”

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The first novel depicting time travel was “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain, 1889.

● Alexander the Great had a favorite horse, Bucephalus, which meant “ox-head” because of a branding mark depicting the head of an ox. Bucephalus died in battle in 326 BC. Alexander buried him with full honors and founded the city of Bucephala in Pakistan as a memorial.

● All nine species of the flowering plant Datura are poisonous if eaten and can cause fever, hallucinations, psychosis, and even death. Datura also is known as thornapple, jimsonweed, devil’s weed, and hell’s bells.

● In October 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibit featuring works by Henri Matisse, and they managed to hang one of them upside down. It remained that way for 47 days until an observant visitor informed MOMA of the error. To be fair, the work in question, “Le Bateau” (the boat) is a simple paper cutout depicting a sailboat and its reflection, so…

● The Akita dog breed originated in Japan in the 1500s. In the past, Akitas were used to hunt elk, bear, and wild boar and often were the companions of samurai warriors.

● In informal use, a jiffy is a rough measure of time that means “real quick” or “right away.” Technically, however, a jiffy is a precise unit of time: how long it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum. The answer, as determined by chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875-1946) in the early 1900s, is one-trillionth of a second.

● C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963.

● The KattenKabinet is an art museum in Amsterdam dedicated to works that depicts cats. On display are paintings, sketches, sculptures, etc. by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt, and others. The museum was founded in 1990 by Bob Meijer in honor of his cat J. P. Morgan.

Read Full Post »

Vikings

A few years ago, I got serious about researching the Smith family tree, and I did much better than I expected. I was able to trace us back to a Danish Viking king born circa 760 AD. I stopped tracing there, but may continue at some point.

A Danish Viking 1,200 years ago. Awesome.

The truth is, I knew very little about the Vikings, beyond the fact that they were Scandinavian pirates who terrorized Europe for a time. So, like any red-blooded American, I did my research on the internet and learned some interesting stuff. Which, with luck, is accurate.

Historians mark the Viking Age as from about 790 AD to 1066 AD. Those were the Dark Ages in Europe, and most people lived in small groups — clans and fiefdoms that were subservient to, and more or less under the protection of, local strongmen.

Early on, many of the Norse clans became skilled sailors who ventured out in specialized longships. These highly-maneuverable vessels were equally at home on the open sea and in rivers and bays.

The Norsemen were aggressive and badass by nature, and they soon discovered that the coasts of Europe were dotted with cities and towns that were poorly defended and easy marks for plunder and piracy.

The word “vikingar,” by the way, means “pirates” in the early Scandinavian languages.

Numerous Viking raiding parties took to the sea, led by members of the strongman class. The longship crews primarily were farmers and other ordinary dudes attracted to the pirate life for the adventure and the booty.

History mentions other motivations, such as overpopulation and competition for farmland, but it makes sense that the primary cause was the presence of helpless victims, ripe for plundering.

Further, the Vikings probably made exploratory voyages to size things up before the major raiding began. But the first two known Viking raids of Britain were memorable.

In 789 AD, a group of Danish Vikings landed on the Isle of Portland, off the southern coast of England. They were met by a local official who assumed they were traders and told them they owed a business tax. The Vikings promptly killed him, plundered the island villages, and returned home with their spoils.

In 793 AD, Vikings from Norway raided an abbey on the island of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England. They carried away the church treasures, took some of the monks as slaves, and killed the rest.

Reportedly, the raid on the abbey gave rise to an Anglo-Saxon prayer: Free us from the fury of the Northmen, Lord.

Over the next couple of centuries, what began as hit-and-run raids evolved into conquests and colonization. Norsemen spread across Britain, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Normandy, Iceland, Greenland, and along the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Briefly, Vikings settled in Newfoundland and thus were the first Europeans to reach North America.

Not all of their intended victims were helpless. At various times, the Franks on the mainland, the Frisians on the North Sea, and some Anglo-Saxon tribes in the British Isles were able to repel the Viking raiders. In such cases, the Vikings simply raided elsewhere.

But the world was changing. Most of Scandinavia converted to Christianity, and clans across Europe were merging and evolving into nations. With fewer helpless victims around, the Viking threat subsided.

In effect, the Viking Age slowly sputtered out over several centuries. But many experts define its end as the historic year of 1066 AD.

In early 1066, the Anglo-Saxon King Harold repelled an invasion of England by a Viking force from Norway.

But Harold had little time to celebrate. Within months, the forces of the Duke of Normandy, AKA William the Conqueror, defeated Harold’s army at the Battle of Hastings, ushering in the Norman conquest of England.

Ironically, William the Conqueror was of Viking descent.


A badass Viking longship.

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Mormon Lake in northern Arizona has a surface area of 12 square miles, but averages only about 10 feet deep. During dry seasons, the lake sometimes disappears entirely.

● Caesar salad was invented in Mexico.

● Mike Ditka played pro football as a tight end for the Bears, Eagles, and Cowboys from 1961 to 1972, then coached until 1999. He won Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach, and head coach.

● The Ford Mustang is named after the P-51 Mustang, the leading propeller-driven fighter-bomber in WWII. The Mustang also was the main fighter at the beginning of the Korean War, but jets such as the F-86 soon succeeded it.

● Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands choose not to observe Daylight Saving Time. Mostly due to their locations, they say they have enough daylight as it is.

● A dragonfly eats about 300 mosquitoes a day.

● The elements of the periodic table are organized by atomic number, which is the number of protons in the nucleus.

● The Roman emperor Caligula, son of the Roman general Germanicus, was born Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. As a child, he was given the nickname Caligula, which means “little soldier’s boot,” by his father’s troops.

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Leonardo da Vinci invented scissors.

● Originally, John Hughes planned to release his 1985 film The Breakfast Club as The Lunch Bunch.

● The growling, gurgling, rumbling sound your stomach makes due to gas and fluid moving around is called borborygmus (pronounced bor-borIG-mus).

● Edwin Aldrin, Sr., father of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was an eyewitness to the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. 63 years later, as a NASA consultant, he watched on live TV as his son walked on the moon. Bonus fact: the maiden name of Buzz Aldrin’s mother was Marion Moon.

● 25 cities in seven countries are named Rome. 35 more are named Roma.

● The Trump administration twice tried to give Dolly Parton a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and twice she declined. She said Biden approached her recently, too, but she probably would decline because accepting it now would seem political.

● In Alabama, it is illegal to dress as a priest or nun.

● Most caterpillars have 12 eyes, six on each side of the head. The eyes are simple structures thought to be only vaguely light-sensitive. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or moth, it develops compound eyes capable of seeing details (such as pollen) in the ultra-violet spectrum.

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Roman emperor Caligula (reigned 37-41 AD) announced that he intended to appoint his horse Incitatus to the position of Roman Consul. However, he was assassinated before making the appointment official. Historians say Caligula was implying that a horse could perform the duties of a politician.

● In 1986, Wimbledon began using yellow tennis balls instead of white because yellow is more visible to TV viewers.

● Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet high, is the world’s tallest mountain, but there’s a catch. Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which is only 20,702 feet tall, sits atop a bulge in the earth’s crust and sticks out about 7,000 feet further into space than Everest.

● American Gothic, the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood, depicts a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a house with a large Gothic-style window. The model for the daughter was Wood’s sister Nan, the model for the farmer was Dr. Byron McKeeby, Wood’s dentist, and the house is a real place Wood spotted in Eldon, Iowa — and which is open to the public today.

● The first crime for which Billy the Kid was arrested and jailed was stealing clothes from a laundry. He escaped jail by climbing up a chimney.

● In 1964, in Gene Roddenberry’s first treatment of the original Star Trek TV series, the story took place aboard the starship S.S. Yorktown commanded by Captain Robert April. By the time the show premiered in 1966, Roddenberry had changed the name of the starship to the Enterprise, and Robert April became Captain Christopher Pike, the predecessor to James T. Kirk.

● Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

● The official national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. Scotland has long considered unicorns to be symbols of power and purity, and they first appeared on royal coats of arms in the 1500s.

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The highest cliff on earth is the west face of Mount Thor on Baffin Island, Canada. The face measures 4,101 feet, which is .78 miles.

● The amount of copper on the roof of the Arizona Capitol Building in Phoenix is equivalent to 4,800,000 pennies.

● A person who practices karate is known as a karateka.

● Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907 in the family home, which was known as La Casa Azul (the Blue House). She lived in the house on and off for the rest of her life and died there in 1954. Per her wishes, the house was made into a museum.

● The saxophone was patented in 1846 by Antione-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, a Belgian instrument maker. In all, Sax created 14 variations of the saxophone covering a range of sounds.

● Until the 1700s, adult rabbits were called coneys — from conil, the French word for rabbits (and also the origin of the name Coney Island).

● The only metal that is liquid at room temperature is mercury.

● The world’s smallest known snake is the Barbados thread snake, which was discovered in 2008 on its namesake island in the Caribbean. Adults are about four inches long and the thickness of a spaghetti noodle.

Read Full Post »

Sylvester Graham

I’ll bet you didn’t know that the graham cracker is named for a crusading American preacher, teetotaler, and vegetarian who neither manufactured the crackers nor profited from them. The story is interesting and rather unexpected.

He was Sylvester Graham, born in Connecticut in 1794, the 17th child of a 70-year-old minister and a mother with serious mental issues — which became overwhelming when the minister died.

Accordingly, young Sylvester was raised by a succession of relatives. In one case, the relative ran a tavern where Sylvester was put to work. Seeing alcohol use up close led him to abstain from using, and to vehemently oppose, booze.

In his late 20s, having worked as a farm hand and a teacher, Graham enrolled at Amherst Academy to become a minister. He was expelled when classmates claimed he “improperly approached a woman.”

Humiliated and devastated, Graham had what was described as a nervous breakdown. He moved to Rhode Island and recovered with the help of a woman he later married. In 1828, he began studying theology privately and found work as an itinerant (traveling) Presbyterian minister.

During this period, Graham became involved in both the temperance movement and vegetarianism. He concluded that eating meat was as bad as drinking alcohol for the body and soul and as detrimental to families and society.

Like most in the temperance movement, Graham believed that sex, physical pleasure, or anything that triggered lust should be avoided. He urged people to eat only plants (as had Adam and Eve), chill out, drink pure water, and avoid impure thoughts. Sex more than once a month, he said, was excessive.

To maintain health and prevent disease, he promoted an austere lifestyle, including sleeping on a hard bed, taking cold baths, and exercising vigorously. The Graham Diet consisted of bland, simple foods — whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — eaten in small quantities twice a day. Meat, alcohol, tobacco, and spices, even black pepper, were forbidden.

Because of fears related to a cholera epidemic sweeping the world at the time, his message resonated with the public, and his notoriety spread.

Graham was troubled by the common practice of using chemical additives in food, especially bread, to hide spoilage odors. He urged people to make their own bread at home from plain, whole-wheat flour, coarsely-ground and unsifted, that contained no spices of other additives.

In 1837, he published Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making and began lecturing in Boston and New York City. In the foreword to the book, he wrote:

Thousands in civic life will, for years, and perhaps for as long as they live, eat the most miserable trash that can be imagined, in the form of bread, and never seem to think that they can possibly have anything better, not even that it is an evil to eat such vile stuff as they do.

I have thought, therefore, that I could hardly do society a better service, than to publish the following treatise on a subject, which, whether people are aware of it or not, is, in reality, of very great importance too the health and comfort of everyone.

Grahamism became a nationwide movement. Soon, various companies were marketing graham flour, graham bread, and graham crackers.

Alas, in the end, Graham violated his own teachings and paid the price.

In 1851, at age 57, he became ill at his home in Massachusetts. His doctor diagnosed the problem as weak blood circulation. To stimulate it, he convinced Graham to eat meat, drink alcohol, and submit to a series of opium enemas.

Graham submitted to the new regimen and quickly died.

Outraged that one of their own had fallen off the wagon so dramatically, vegetarians and members of the temperance movement nationwide denounced and disowned Graham. (Apparently, no one thought of renaming the cracker.)

Sylvester Graham believed that his place in history was secure, and he once predicted that, after his death, his home in Northampton, Massachusetts, would become a national shrine.

That didn’t happen. The house is occupied today by Sylvester’s Restaurant, which is, indeed, named for Graham, but has a decidedly un-Graham-like menu.

Sylvester’s offers a range of rich, lavish homemade breads, awash in spices, that take pains to be the opposite of bland.

It also serves a salad topped with a bacon cheddar cheeseburger patty, a char-grilled hamburger covered with muenster cheese, and tacos.

Sylvester Graham (1794-1851)

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● In 1965, astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard the Gemini 3 spacecraft. The sandwich broke apart in the weightless environment and sent crumbs floating around the cabin. Today, astronauts regularly make sandwiches while in orbit, but they use tortillas to solve the crumb problem.

● The average adult cat sleeps 15-20 hours per day. The average adult dog sleeps 12-14 hours per day.

● At the time of his death, Charles Dickers was writing a novel entitled The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Mr. Drood disappears in the story, but Dickens did not get far enough to explain what happened.

● The mammal with the longest lifespan is the bowhead whale, which can live more than 200 years. Bowheads live in Arctic waters and are known for using their massive skulls to break through the ice.

● In 1892, Paul Hubbard, the quarterback of the football team at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, invented the huddle. Gallaudet is a private college for people with hearing impairments, and the players communicated with hand signals. Standing in a tight circle blocked the other team from seeing what was being signed.

● Machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by a dentist and introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair as “fairy floss.” In 1921, improvements were made to the spinning machine (ironically, by another dentist), and the name “cotton candy” was coined.

● The fastest land animal is the cheetah, which can run at up to 75 mph.

● The world’s smallest known vertebrate is Paedophryne amauensis, a species of frog native to Papua New Guinea. Averaging .3 inches long, the frog was discovered in 2009 by herpetologists from Louisiana State University.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »