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Posts Tagged ‘History’

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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The Questions…

1. Whales are classified as either baleen whales, which feed on krill and plankton, or toothed whales, which hunt prey (orcas, dolphins, porpoises). To what land creatures are whales most closely related?

2. Which came first, the band the Rolling Stones or the magazine Rolling Stone?

3. In the mid-1600s, lemonade vendors in Venice began selling a new drink that purported to offer great medicinal benefits. What was it?

4. Which planet in the solar system is the hottest?

5. Pogonophobia is the fear of what?

The Answers…

1. Hippopotamuses.

2. The band was started in 1962, the magazine in 1967. Both are named after the 1948 song “Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters.

3. Coffee, a new sensation from the Muslim world.

4. Venus. Mercury is closer to the sun and gets more direct heat, but it has no atmosphere to hold the heat. Venus has a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide that traps heat (the greenhouse effect thing). The surface temperature on Venus is a constant 865 degrees F.

5. Beards.

Hippo

Beards

 

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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.

Merriam-1

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.

Merriam-2

Merriam-3

Merriam-4

Merriam-5

 

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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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The Questions…

1. In 2002, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Why?

2. When pop star Katy Perry began her career as a teenager, what kind of music did she sing?

3. Two American Presidents had the first name of Thomas. Name the one that isn’t Thomas Jefferson.

4. What do the Ms in M&M’s stand for?

5. Which came first, the color orange or the fruit orange?

The Answers…

1. Because it lost a court battle with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which trademarked the initials WWF in 1961.

2. Christian music. Both of her parents were Pentecostal ministers, and she started singing in church at age nine. Her first gospel album in 2001 flopped, so she made adjustments.

3. Thomas Woodrow Wilson. As a kid, he was called Tommy.

4. The Ms represent company founders Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars was the son of the founder of Mars, Inc., and Bruce Murrie was the son of the president of Hershey’s. In 1941, Forrest held the patent for making the colored candy-coated chocolates, and Bruce had access to the chocolate. Their company now manufactures 400 million M&M’s per day.

5. The fruit came first. The word entered the English language in the 1300s, evolving from the French term pomme d’orenge. The first known use in English of orange to describe the color was in 1512. Before that, people called it yellow-red.

WWE

Orange

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The sea otter has the densest fur of any mammal, with up to a million hairs per square inch of skin. They have an undercoat of dense fur and an outer layer of longer “guard hairs.” Air trapped between the layers keeps the skin dry.

The world’s largest lake is the Caspian Sea, located between Iran and Russia. The Caspian is landlocked, but once was connected to the open ocean. Tectonic uplifting closed it off a few million years ago.

The Caspian is neither a sea nor a freshwater lake. The water is fresh at the north end, thanks to inflow from the Volga River, but the south end is brackish.

The first daytime radio soap opera in the U.S. was Painted Dreams, which ran on WGN in Chicago from 1930 until 1943. It was created by radio actress Irna Phillips, who went on to write The Guiding Light and As the World Turns. Her first TV soap was These Are My Children in 1949.

Phillips, the “Queen of the Soaps,” came up with the concepts of a musical transition between scenes (the “organ bridge”) and ending episodes with a cliffhanger.

Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry Night, a work almost as famous as the artist, while he was a patient at an asylum, being treated for paranoia, hallucinations, depression, and epileptic fits.

Van Gogh created the painting during a relapse of depression. It uses darker colors than his previous work and represents a break from his usual realism. Further, it was done entirely from memory; no such view exists near the asylum.

Starry Night

Elizabeth Barrett Browning the famous British poet of the Elizabethan era (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”) was plagued by dog-nappers. Her cocker spaniel Flush was stolen four times. Each time, Ms. Browning offered a reward of 10 pounds for the dog’s safe return, which probably explains why Flush kept disappearing.

The narrow strips of wood, metal, or plastic that separate the glass panes of a window are called “muntins” or “muntin bars.” The name comes from the French word monter (to mount).

Ebbets Field was the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 until 1957, when the Dodgers stiffed Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles. The stadium was promptly torn down and replaced by an apartment complex.

Undoubtedly, the hardiest, most resilient creature on earth is the tardigrade (aka water bear), a microscopic animal that lives in a wide range of wet environments — oceans, mountains, rain forests, the Arctic, and everywhere in between.

Tardigrades can survive temperatures as high as 300°F and as low as –458°F. They can withstand the vacuum of space; more than 1,200 times atmospheric pressure; and 1,000 times more radiation than any other animal. When subjected to dry conditions, they can hibernate for years and revive when moisture is restored.

Tardigrade

In many Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 40s, including The Wizard of Oz and Holiday Inn, a soft, fluffy substance called chrysolite was used to simulate snow. Chrysolite (aka white asbestos) later was discovered to be a major carcinogen, and it was banned.

Over the years, Hollywood has made snow out of salt, flour, and potato flakes. In the late 1940s, it was done by mixing the chemical foamite (used in fire extinguishers) with sugar and soap flakes. Today, most snow is simulated by a substance called SnowCell, which is made from recycled paper.

The word scuba (as in scuba diving) is an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

When the original Disneyland opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California, it consisted of five “lands” — Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.

At the time, Tomorrowland was set in the far-distant future: 1986. When the park was updated in the late 1960s, the 1986 thing was quietly dropped.

In pre-Columbian South America, the Incas built an extensive network of rope suspension bridges to cross canyons and rivers. They were made by weaving grass into lengths of rope, then weaving the rope into cables. Local peasants were tasked with annual repair and maintenance.

Eventually, the bridges were replaced by Spanish masonry bridges, and the Incas are long gone, but one famous rope bridge remains: the Keshwa Chaca bridge in Peru. Local villagers rebuild it every year using traditional Incan techniques.

Keshwa Chaca

 

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The Questions…

1. What is a lunette?

2. From 1987 until 1995, twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen played the role of young Michele Tanner in the TV series Full House. As the girls matured, what special accommodation became necessary on the set?

3. Lake Baikal in Siberia, at one mile deep, is the world’s deepest lake. What other superlative does Baikal have going for it?

4. Movie trailers have been around since 1913, when the Loew’s theater chain showed the first preview of an upcoming film. If previews are shown before the feature film, why are they called “trailers”?

5. Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

The Answers…

1. A lunette is the thing on a guillotine that holds the subject’s head in place. It consists of a bottom half, where the neck rests, and an upper half, which is lowered onto the back of the neck to immobilize the subject.

2. The twins lost their baby teeth at different times, so they had to be fitted with prosthetic teeth to maintain the same appearance.

3. It’s also the world’s oldest lake at some 25 million years old.

4. In the old days, trailers were shown after the feature film ended. That was a short-lived practice, since most people were busy leaving the theater and didn’t pay attention, but the name stuck.

5. The statue turned green because of oxidation of the copper. The original color in 1885 was dull brown. 30 years later, the green patina had formed. It protects the copper from further erosion.

Execution By Guillotine Taking Place

SL

 

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