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Posts Tagged ‘People’

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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Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.

— Desmond Tutu

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Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

— Marcel Proust

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I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

— Douglas Adams

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Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

— Anne Lamott

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Tutu

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Lamott

 

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Tune o’ the Day

Roy Orbison (1936-1988) was an unlikely guy to become a rock star. But his operatic voice was captivating — angelic, otherworldly — and he sang sad songs about unrequited love. (“Pretty Woman” being the exception because he got the girl.)

Most of Orbison’s love songs were melodramatic, sometimes cheesy, yet still beautiful and memorable. A few examples: “Only the Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Running Scared,” “Dream Baby.”

Then there is the classic “Crying.” Orbison at the top of his game.

Orbison R

Crying

By Roy Orbison, 1962
Written by Roy Orbison

I was all right for a while.
I could smile for a while.
But I saw you last night.
You held my hand so tight
As you stopped to say hello.

Oh, you wished me well.
You couldn’t tell
That I’d been crying
Over you.
Crying
Over you.

When you said so long,
Left me standing all alone,
Alone and crying.
Crying.
Crying.
Crying.

It’s hard to understand,
But the touch of your hand
Can start me crying.

I thought that I was over you,
But it’s true, so true:
I love you even more
Than I did before,
But, darling, what can I do?


For you don’t love me,
And I’ll always be
Crying
Over you.
Crying
Over you.

Yes, now you’re gone,
And from this moment on,
I’ll be crying,
Crying,
Crying,
Crying,
Yeah, crying,
Crying
Over you.

 

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This Just In

MENOMONIE, WISCONSIN — A BASE jumper who parachuted illegally from the top of a cellphone tower ended up calling the police for help after his parachute got caught on a guy wire, leaving him dangling 50 feet in the air.

Police said the 20-year-old man jumped from a 300-foot Charter Communications tower. After his rescue and treatment at a local clinic, he was arrested for criminal trespass.

Note: BASE is an acronym for the most common fixed objects from which the jumpers launch themselves: buildings, antennas, spans, and earth (mountains, cliffs). BASE jumping occasionally is permitted, but most jumps are done illegally by grandstanding knuckleheads.

BASE

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA A 19-year-old female set her apartment on fire while burning love letters from a former boyfriend.

Police said the woman sat on the floor of her bedroom and used a butane torch to burn the stash of letters, then went into another room to take a nap. She woke up later to find the carpet burning.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which caused an estimated $4,000 in damage to the building. No injuries were reported.

The woman was cited for negligent burning.

Burn

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — A woman who dreamed she swallowed her engagement ring woke up to discover it actually happened.

The newly-engaged San Diego woman said she dreamed she was aboard a train and was approached by “bad guys” attempting to steal the ring. To thwart them, she swallowed the ring with the help of a glass of water.

When she awoke the next morning and discovered that the ring was missing, she called her fiance. They went to an urgent care clinic, where an X-ray confirmed the location of the ring. An emergency endoscopy retrieved it.

Ring

 

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We never really grow up. We only learn how to act in public.

— Bryan White

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Whoever is happy will make others happy, too.

— Anne Frank

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Everyone thinks they have the best dog, and none of them are wrong.

— Attributed to W. R. Purche

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A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.

— Frank Lloyd Wright

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White

Wright-FL

Wright

 

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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.

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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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