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Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Useless Facts

— In 1804, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, he instructed the men to be on the lookout for woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths. In Jefferson’s day, extinction was a fuzzy concept.

— The television network C-SPAN was created in 1979 by the cable TV industry as a public service. C-SPAN is an acronym for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

— Eric Clapton is the only musician elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times. He was inducted in 1992 as a member of The Yardbirds, in 1993 as a member of Cream, and in 2000 as a solo performer.

— The resting heart rate of a hummingbird is about 250 beats per minute. (In adult humans, the rate is 75-80 beats per minute.) When a hummingbird is in flight, the rate can increase to 1,200 beats per minute.

Hummingbird wings do not flap. They rotate in a full circle, at up to 70 rotations per second.

Hummingbird

The French equivalent of the acronym “LOL” (laughing out loud) is “MDR,” which means “mort de rire” (dying of laughter).

— The British Museum in London, usually considered the largest and most comprehensive in the world, houses a vast collection that documents the entirety of human culture. Over 230 million objects are preserved by the institution, and its website hosts the world’s largest online museum database.

— In 1957, two business partners in New Jersey tried to develop a new type of wallpaper by sealing two shower curtains together. The idea proved impractical, but the material they created was ideal for protecting products in shipment. Their company still manufactures a wide range of Bubble Wrap® products today.

— The first known e-commerce transaction, in which an online buyer used a credit card protected by encryption technology, occurred on August 11, 1994. On that date, the website NetMarket, operated by a 21-year-old entrepreneur from New Hampshire, sold a Sting CD to a buyer in Philadelphia for $12.48 plus shipping.

Sting CD

— Between 1964 and 1966, The Beatles visited the U.S. four times and performed 56 live concerts. At each concert, the band’s legal contract stipulated that they would not perform before a racially segregated audience.

— Sixteen percent of the population suffers from trypophobia, the fear of clusters of irregular holes, such as those found in sponges and honeycombs.

— The record for the world’s tallest known man is held by Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) of Alton, Illinois. His height was verified as 8 feet, 11.1 inches. The title of the world’s tallest known woman is held by Zeng Jinlian (1964-1982) of Hunan, China. She was 8 feet, 1.75 inches tall.

— The scarlet jellyfish, a small species found in the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, has the unique ability to rejuvenate itself rather than die. When old, sick, or stressed, it can revert to its polyp stage and basically start its life over. Theoretically, this process can go on indefinitely, making the animal biologically immortal. In nature, however, they eventually succumb to disease or predation.

Scarlet jellyfish

 

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The Number Seven

The number seven has juice like no other number. For thousands of years, civilizations have empowered seven with a special mystique and significance. Just look around…

— The week has seven days.

— The Earth has seven continents. (Not really, but it sounds good.)

138-world-continents-bathymetry-political-vm-wkworld-c8-1

— God created the world and rested on the seventh day.

— The Koran and the Talmud both speak of seven heavens.

— Hinduism describes the existence of seven “upper worlds” out of 14.

— Hell, according to the Jain religion of ancient India, consists of seven levels.

— The Japanese are protected by the Seven Gods of Fortune.

— Christianity teaches of the Seven Deadly Sins. Dante listed them as avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

— Catholicism tells of the Seven Heavenly Virtues — justice, fortitude, prudence, temperance, faith, hope, and charity.

— The Japanese code of Bushido sets down the Seven Virtues of a Samurai warrior.

Seven-2

— In some parts of the world, the seventh son of a seventh son is said to have supernatural powers.

— Spouses, beware of the seven-year itch.

Want more?

— We define a rainbow as having seven colors (red orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).

— The earth has seven major oceans — aka the “Seven Seas” — the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic.

— We celebrate not the five, not the 10, but the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — specifically, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

— Shakespeare described the Seven Ages of Man (helpless infant, whining schoolboy, emotional lover, devoted soldier, wise judge, on the decline, and incapacitated).

— The seven visible stars in the constellation Taurus, known as the Seven Sisters, are named for the seven daughters of Atlas from Greek mythology (Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Electra, Maia, Merope, and Taygete).

— In the world of gambling, seven is the big kahuna. Score triple sevens on a slot machine and reap the big payout.

— Dice are six-sided, with opposing sides of one and six, two and five, and three and four. In each case, a total of seven.

Seven’s legacy dates back to the dawn of civilization, and it remains on a roll today.

— In Rogers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” the Von Trapp family had seven children: Brigitta, Friedrich, Gretyl, Kurt, Liesel, Louisa, and Marta.

Seven-3

The 1954 movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers could have been about any number of brothers and brides, but seven it was.

Also in 1954, the acclaimed Japanese film “Shichinin No Samurai” (Seven Samurai) celebrated the gallant warriors Kambei, Gorōbei, Shichirōji, Kyūzō, Heihachi, Katsushirō, and Kikuchiyo.

— In 1960, the same story became an American western, “The Magnificent Seven.” This time, the warriors were gunslingers Chris, Vin, Bernardo, Britt, Harry, Lee, and Chico.

— The Brothers Grimm published the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1812. The Disney cartoon version in 1937 popularized them as Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy.

— Between 1940 and 1962, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made seven “Road to” movies. The seven destinations: Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali, and Hong Kong.

So, what’s going on with the number seven? Why the attraction to that number above others? The experts have some thoughts about that.

First, of course, we are conditioned to see seven as special because of its long history of being linked to the mystical, the spiritual, and the superstitious. No surprise there.

Second, seven is unique in actual fact. It’s a prime number. It can’t be divided neatly into smaller parts. It has two syllables, whereas all the other single-digit numbers have one. And it sounds good. “Six Brides for Six Brothers?” The Eight Dwarfs? Puh-leeze.

Third, there is scientific evidence that we are naturally attracted to the number seven because of the way our brains function.

In 1956, psychologist George Miller argued that our short-term memories seem to function best when handling between five and nine — ideally, seven — chunks of information.

That theory was bolstered in 2008 by a study of neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory specialist. The study found that the neurons appear to function best when their dendrites have seven branches.

(I looked it up. Dendrites are spiny little extensions on nerve cells. The job of the dendrites is to transmit information via chemical synapse. Seven spines per dendrite is thought to be the most optimal for learning and memory.)

So, our brains seem to have a natural affinity for the number seven. The science is, of course, subject to change when new information surfaces, as it assuredly will.

But for the moment, it appears that we gravitate to the number seven because it feels right. And it feels right because it’s ingrained in us — hard-wired in our brains down to the very synapses.

Which probably explains why your lucky number is seven.

Seven-4

 

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Merrick and Mitchell

Few places in the country are as spectacular and scenic, or as iconic, as Arizona’s Monument Valley. When people think of the desert southwest, this may be the landscape they envision.

Monument Valley

The earliest inhabitants were Paleo-Indian hunters, who arrived around 12,000 BC. They were followed by Archaic hunter-gatherers from about 6,000 BC to 1 AD; then by Anasazi farmers through the 1300s; then by Paiutes and Navajos. Today, the place is Navajo country.

As you may know, Monument Valley isn’t a valley, but a plateau. Over the last 50 million years, wind and water have eroded most of the rock, leaving behind the majestic buttes and mesas. In time, they will be gone, too.

Monument Valley came to popular national attention in 1939, when John Ford filmed the movie “Stagecoach” there. Dozens of films have been made in the valley since.

One of the most memorable episodes in the history of Monument Valley is a tale worthy of a Hollywood western: the story of James Merrick and Ernest Mitchell, two ill-fated fortune-hunters of the post-Civil-War years.

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Many of the early Spanish explorers visited the Four Corners region, often clashing with the Navajo and Paiutes, but no expedition reported seeing Monument Valley. Apparently, the first outsiders to find it were Mexican soldiers in 1822.

For the most part, white settlers dismissed the place as ugly and useless. In 1849, one year after the Mexican-American War, an Army captain mapping the area called it “as desolate and repulsive looking a country as can be imagined.”

By 1863, as European expansion was accelerating and the pesky natives were in the way, Army Col. Kit Carson and his men were detailed to round up and relocate the Navajo people — the Diné — en masse. The soldiers marched the captives in small groups 350 miles south to the compound of Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

In all, about 9,000 Navajo made the “Long Walk.” At least 200 died on the way.

The internment camps at Bosque Redondo were a disaster. Food, water, and supplies were inadequate, and most of the crops became diseased and failed. The overseers were inept and corrupt. The relocation was costing the U.S. government unexpected millions.

That was unacceptable. The idea was to remove the Navajo to make room for white settlers, not to spend money. Thus, in 1868, to correct the situation, the U.S. relented and signed a treaty with the tribe. A reservation was established on part of their original land, and the Diné set out on the Long Walk home.

When the Army first rounded up the Navajo in 1863, two of the young soldiers serving under Kit Carson were Jack Merrick, a Colorado miner, and Ernest Mitchell, newly-arrived from the east. Merrick and Mitchell became keenly interested in the finely-tooled pendants, bracelets, and other silver jewelry crafted by the Navajo.

Jewelry

Being familiar with the Monument Valley area after months of patrols, they concluded that the silver was being mined locally, not brought in from elsewhere. The Navajo, when pressed for information on the subject, denied that any silver mines existed in the valley.

In the late 1860s, at about the time the Navajo returned to Monument Valley from Bosque Redondo, Merrick and Mitchell mustered out of the Army. They resolved that they would return to the valley someday and find the source of the Navajo silver.

At this point, Historians relate two versions of the story. In one, Merrick went to Monument Valley alone in the late 1870s, discovered a silver lode, and enlisted Mitchell’s help to transport ore samples to the assay office in Colorado.

In the other version, Merrick and Mitchell entered the valley together, carrying the gear of typical fur trappers. While they set lines of traps as a cover, they surreptitiously looked for evidence of mining activity.

In both versions of the story, the men were being watched.

Kit Carson‘s soldiers had apprehended most of the Navajo in the valley, but some resourceful warriors eluded them. That group was led by Hoskaninni, “The Angry One.” When the Navajo returned home from exile in New Mexico, Hoskaninni became their chief.

Hoskaninni soon concluded that Merrick and Mitchell were searching for silver. He went to their camp and ordered them to leave the valley, vowing to kill them if they returned.

As Merrick and Mitchell agonized over their plight -- fearing for their lives, but obsessed with finding silver -- fate intervened. The two men stumbled upon a hidden silver mine with tantalizing amounts of high-quality ore.

With samples in their saddlebags, the two men fled Monument Valley and rode east to Cortez, Colorado.

For the next few months, Merrick and Mitchell traveled around Southwest Colorado with the ore samples, trying to find financial backers. Setting up the mining operation would be costly.

Finally, they succeeded in lining up several investors. But the backers had a condition: they wanted to see a new set of ore samples to confirm the existence of the mine and the quality of the silver.

Merrick and Mitchell had told no one about Hoskaninni's threat, so asking them to return to the valley was a reasonable business request.

In the end, the lure of imminent riches seems to have convinced the two men that the mission was worth the risk.

Cautiously, Merrick and Mitchell returned to the mine and collected more ore samples. There was no sign of Hoskaninni's warriors. According to some accounts, the two men relaxed, concluding that Hoskaninni had not spotted them or perhaps was away from the area.

They were wrong. The following night, as the men rested at the base of a butte, cooking supper over a campfire, Hoskaninni's warriors attacked out of the darkness.

Merrick was shot and killed on the spot. Mitchell was wounded, but managed to escape into the darkness. He fled west across the valley on foot.

Several miles later, at the base of a large butte, he found a crevice formed where a large slab of rock had fallen. He hid inside.

When he emerged at daybreak, Hoskaninni's men were waiting. Mitchell was killed.

Weeks later, word of the deaths reached Cortez. A posse of 20 men rode to Monument Valley and confronted Hoskaninni.

The chief claimed that Merrick and Mitchell had been killed by a band of Paiutes, led by a renegade called No-Neck, when the men were caught stealing water. Graciously, the Navajo had buried the bodies. Members of the posse were shown the burial sites. Hoskaninni said the Navajo knew of no silver mines in Monument Valley.

The members of the posse believed otherwise, and some wanted to search for the mine themselves, but the Diné outnumbered them. They returned to Cortez.

---------

The present-day Navajo admit that silver mines, do, in fact, exist in Monument Valley. But they explain that, by tradition, only a few select tribal leaders at a time knew their locations. Unfortunately, some decades ago, the last chief who held the secret died before relaying the information to his successor. Thus, the locations of the mines are now unknown. A complete mystery. Yep.

Today, the butte in Monument Valley where Merrick and Mitchell cooked their last meal, and where Jack Merrick went to his reward, is known as Merrick Butte.

A few miles away, the landform that towers over the grave of Ernest Mitchell is called Mitchell Butte.

Those are the Anglo names. I assume the Diné call them something else.

Merrick Butte

Merrick Butte.

Mitchell Butte

Mitchell Butte.

Monument Valley map

 

 

 

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Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

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— Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. President (serving 1837-1841) was the first president to be born an American citizen. All presidents before him were born as English subjects.

— The word “chortle” was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass as a combination of “chuckle” and “snort.”

— In 1974, the German band Kraftwerk (avant-garde and electropop music) released “Autobahn,” the longest non-classical song ever recorded. The 22-minute song simulates a drive on the Autobahn (Germany’s interstate highway system), featuring the cacophony of high-speed traffic, the tuning of a car radio, the monotonous stretches, etc.

— The Riddler, one of Batman’s evil foes, is known for leaving riddles as clues to his crimes. He first appeared in comic books in 1948. His real name was Edward Nigma. (“E. Nigma,” get it?)

Riddler

— TV stars Dick Van Dyke and Julia Louis-Dreyfus both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and both of their ceremonies were botched for the same reason. When Van Dyke was honored, the name on his star was misspelled as Vandyke. On Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ star, her name was misspelled as Julia Luis Dreyfus. Corrections were made.

— Bald eagles reuse their nests each year and continually expand them by adding new material. The largest known nest, found near St. Petersburg, Florida, was nine feet in diameter and 20 feet deep and weighed three tons.

— Henry Ford never had a driver’s license.

— In Japanese culture, napping in the office, on a bus, or elsewhere in public is called inemuri, which translates as “sleeping on duty.” Inemuri isn’t considered bad or embarrassing, but evidence that you are conscientious and hard-working.

Inemuri

— The first known use of the name Jessica was in 1596, when Shakespeare used it as the name of Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice. For the next few centuries, virtually no daughters anywhere were named Jessica. Then, in the early 1900s, the name became popular. Weird.

— A century ago, the Vanderbilt family was the wealthiest in the country, and Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest dude in America. Times have changed. The most notable Vanderbilts today are Anderson Cooper, his mother Gloria, and Anderson’s cousin, actor Timothy Olyphant.

The Vanderbilt family symbol is an acorn. The family motto is, “From the acorn grows the mighty oak.”

— Your fingernails grow four times faster than your toenails.

— The common coffee cup sleeve, typically made of cardboard, evolved from a Turkish gadget developed in the 13th-century called a zarf. Zarfs were made of metal, wood, or bone and sometimes were elaborately decorated. They served the same purpose as today: protecting the fingers from a hot cup.

Zarf

 

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Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

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— According to NASA, 100 tons of material from space strikes the Earth every day. About once a month, an asteroid the size of a golf cart lands somewhere on the planet.

— In 1886, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s wrote his first short story about master sleuth Sherlock Holmes. In that original story, the main characters were “Sherringford Holmes” and his sidekick “Dr. Ormond Sacker.”

— When photographers set up cameras in the wild to capture images of tigers, cheetahs, snow leopards, etc., they often mark the location with the fragrance Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein. A study at the Bronx Zoo found that big cats are more attracted to Obsession than to any other scent tested.

— The only insect that can turn its head is the praying mantis.

Praying mantis

— Clarence Thomas became a Supreme Court Justice in 1991, and he quickly established a reputation for reticence; he rarely speaks or asks questions during oral arguments. In February 2016, Thomas asked a question during a court session for the first time since February 2006.

— The tongue is the only muscle in the body that is attached at only one end.

— In 1953, the National Hurricane Center began using female names to identify Atlantic tropical storms. Previously, storms were named using the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie). In 1979, the naming system was modified again to include male names in the mix. The first “male” storm was Hurricane Bob, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico in July 1979.

— Displayed in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California is a portrait of Reagan made out of 10,000 jelly beans.

Jelly beans

— The first American movie to show a toilet and feature the sound of a toilet flushing was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960.

— As Christopher Columbus approached Haiti on his first voyage in 1493, he claimed that he saw three mermaids surface near the Niña. The ship’s journal reported, “The Admiral said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea, but they were not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.” Historians say he probably saw manatees.

— James Madison, the fourth U.S. President (served 1809-1817) was 5′ 4” tall and weighed 98 pounds.

— Dogs are able to perform the familiar full body shake because their skin hangs loose. In a four-second shake, a wet dog can eliminate up to 70 percent of the water in its fur.

Dog Shaking Off Water

 

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Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

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— The thin strip of paper protruding from the top of a Hershey’s Kiss is called a niggly wiggly.

— The board game Clue (known in the UK as Cluedo) was invented in 1944 by a British musician, Anthony Pratt, as a diversion for people waiting it out in London air raid shelters.

— In the 1983 “Dirty Harry” movie Sudden Impact, Clint Eastwood snarled, “Go ahead, make my day.” The phrase was later voted #6 of the top 100 movie quotes of all time. In truth, the line was first used in the 1982 film Vice Squad by Gary Swanson, who sneered, “Go ahead, scumbag, make my day.”

— In 1972, Andy Warhol released a rather ghoulish print of Richard Nixon with “Vote McGovern” beneath it. Warhol was audited by the IRS every year from 1972 until he died in 1987.

Vote McGovern

— Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, a superstitious fellow, was obsessed with finding a bent nail backstage before every performance. Usually, a stagehand was assigned to scatter a few bent nails between the dressing rooms and the stage to make sure Pavarotti found one.

— Only two animal species wage war on their own kind: humans and ants.

— In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of certain classic French cheeses that contain high levels of bacteria. The ban affects such soft, unpasteurized cheeses as Roquefort, Brie, and others that depend on bacteria to create the desired flavor and consistency.

Critics of the ban point out that cheese lovers have consumed these products for centuries with no ill effects. The FDA has stood firm, however. Today, the only Roquefort you can get legally in the U.S. is made from pasteurized goat’s milk. Most agree that, compared to the real stuff, it sucks.

— In 1996, to celebrate the production of the one hundred billionth Crayola crayon, TV’s Mister Rogers poured a ceremonial batch of limited-edition “blue ribbon” crayons. They were wrapped in foil and quickly became collectibles.

Mr. Rogers

— The Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York City, is named after the Bronx River, which flows south through the borough. Originally, the river was called “Bronck’s river” after Jonas Bronck, who settled the area in 1639, but the name evolved to Bronx.

Rafflesia arnoldii, a plant found in the Indonesian rain forests, is called the “corpse flower” because it emits an odor disturbingly similar to that of decaying flesh. It’s also the largest flower on earth, with blooms up to three feet wide.

— When you speak, you spray microscopic saliva droplets into the air. On average, you spew about 2.5 droplets per word or 300 droplets per minute.

— The motor scooter, a type of motorcycle with a flat platform for the rider’s feet, was invented in 1946 by the Italian manufacturer Piaggio. WWII had left Italy’s economy and roads in ruins, so Piaggio created the Vespa, an efficient, low-cost mode of transportation for the masses. Vespa is Italian for wasp.

Vespa

 

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Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

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— For the last 10 years of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven was completely deaf, yet he continued to compose music. To compensate for his loss of hearing, he worked seated on the floor in front of a legless piano, so he could feel the vibrations.

— Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president born in a hospital.

— In 1958, international jewelry kingpin Harry Winston donated the fabled Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. The 45.52-carat mega-diamond, which is worth $250 million, was packed in a plain brown wrapper and sent by first class mail at a cost of $145.29. The postage was $2.44, and the rest was for $1 million in insurance.

— The world’s fastest land insect is the Australian tiger beetle, which can skitter at 5.6 MPH. Compare that to the speed of the average spider (1.1 MPH) and house mouse (8 MPH).

Australian Tiger Beetle - fastest running insect

— A “capitonym” is a word that has a different meaning, and sometimes a different pronunciation, depending on whether or not it is capitalized. Examples:

August (the month)
august (majestic)

Cancer (the constellation)
cancer (the disease)

March (the month)
march (as in forward, march)

Mercury (the planet)
mercury (the chemical element).

Polish (from Poland)
polish (furniture polish)

— When Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, the first telephone call he took was from President Bush. The 2nd call was from Vice President Quayle. The 3rd call was from Whoopie Goldberg.

— Buckingham Palace in London, the home of the Queen and a symbol of the British monarchy, has 775 rooms. 78 are toilets.

— Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, originally intended to open a bagel shop. When they discovered the high cost of bagel-making equipment, however, they went to Plan B, an ice cream parlor. The business opened in an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont, in 1978.

Ben and Jerry's

— Roy Sullivan (1912-1983), a ranger at Shenandoah National Park, survived being struck by lightning seven times, more than any person known. The strikes happened between 1942 and 1977, mostly while he was on duty in the park, a storm-prone area in a storm-prone state.

Naturally, Sullivan got spooked when bad weather threatened, and often he would leave the area. The lightning got him anyway. Several of the strikes set his hair on fire, so he carried a container of water with him at all times.

— Based on scientific research, the 10,000 laborers who built the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt subsisted on a diet of meat, bread, and beer to keep them healthy and productive. Massive bakeries and great herds of sheep, goats, and cattle were maintained near the work sites. The daily rations included the equivalent of about a dozen 12-ounce bottles or beer per man.

— In 1907, teenagers James Casey and Claude Ryan borrowed $100 to start the American Messenger Company in Seattle. They employed several other teens to make deliveries with bikes and on foot. Business was good, and by 1913, they purchased their first delivery vehicle, a Model T Ford.

In 1919, the company expanded to Oakland, California, changed its name to United Parcel Service, and hasn’t slowed down since.

— The full name of the Spanish artist Picasso (1881-1973) was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. The names were in honor of assorted relatives and saints.

Picasso

 

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