Weekly Wrap Volume 62
How Birds Grip Things When They Sleep
Everyone needs sleep, but for many birds, by necessity this has to happen while perched on a branch or other place that must be gripped. Anyone who has ever fallen asleep reading and found her book on the floor knows how difficult it can be to hold onto something while snoozing. So how do perching birds do it? Powered by tendons, the feet of grasping birds (think perching birds and raptors) have a pair of them in the back, flexor digitorum longus and flexor halluciss longus, which are connected to deep flexor muscles in the leg. The digitorum branches and works the three toes in the front, while the hallucis works the back toe, known as the hallux. Both… (more)
Frederick Banting and the Relatively Recent Discovery That Has Saved Hundreds of Millions of Lives
According to the World Health Organization, about 347 million people worldwide have diabetes. Because diabetes treatments are so common today, it can be easy to forget that the disease can be fatal. In fact, it is approximately the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. Luckily, many people diagnosed with diabetes today enjoy healthy, otherwise normal, lives thanks to advances in treatment, and most notably insulin. However, this development is relatively recent, and only 100 years ago to receive a diabetes diagnosis was to be condemned to a life of near starvation and early death. Known to the ancients, diabetes is one of the first diseases ever classified. Both the Vedic-period Indians and the Egyptians… (more)
The First Known Robot Built in 400 BC
Archytas, who is known as the “father of mechanical engineering,” constructed his bird out of wood and used steam to power the movements of the robot. This bird was then suspended from a pivot bar. In its best recorded run, it “flew” about 200 meters before running out of steam. This is not only the first known robot, but was also one of the first recorded instances of a scientist doing research on how birds fly. If you’re not familiar with the man, Archytas was a very famous philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, commander, statesman… (more)
Child Actors and Coogan’s Bill
Born into acting, by the age of five Jackie Coogan, Jr. was a veteran stage performer when Charlie Chaplin first spotted him in 1919. Immediately cast in Chaplin’s A Day’s Pleasure, the hard-working Coogan went on to star in The Kid (1919), Daddy (1923), Long Live the King (1923), Tom Sawyer (1930) and Huckleberry Finn (1931). As a child, he was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, but at the age of 21, when he tried to get access to the approximately $4 million (about $67 million today) he had earned up to that point, he learned that his mother and stepfather had spent most of it. He was only able to garner $126,000 of the remaining $250,000 or so they hadn’t spent after suing the two. His mother, Lillian Coogan, argued during the case that Jackie… (more)
One of the softest fabrics on the planet, shiny, breathable and comfortable, silk has been a highly prized cloth since it was first harvested thousands of years ago. And despite advances in production methods and new possibilities for cultivation, still today the only reasonable way to glean the thread in mass quantities is by killing the thing that made it. Silkworms are caterpillars of (usually) the Bombyx mori moth. During its 3 to 8 day pupating period, the silkworm secretes fibroin, a sticky liquid protein, from its two sericteries (special salivary glands). Pushed… (more)
Bonus Quick Daylight Saving Time Facts:
- It’s “daylight saving time,” not “daylight savings time.” “Daylight saving time” uses the present participle “saving” as an adjective, as in “labor saving device.”
- The modern day version of DST was first proposed by the New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson in 1895. However, the credit for the modern day DST system is often incorrectly given to William Willett who independently thought up and lobbied for DST in 1905. He was riding through London one day in the early morning and noticed that a good portion of London’s population slept through several hours of the sunlit summer days. Willet lobbied for DST until his death in 1915. It was one year later in 1916 that certain European countries began adopting DST.
- Daylight saving time once single handedly thwarted a terrorist attack, causing the would-be terrorists to blow themselves up instead of other people. In September of 1999, the West Bank was on daylight saving time while Israel was on standard time; West Bank terrorists prepared bombs set on timers and smuggled them to their associates in Israel. As a result, the bombs exploded one hour sooner than the terrorists in Israel thought they would, resulting in three terrorists dying instead of the two busloads of people who were the intended targets.
- In March of 2007, an honor student in Pennsylvania was accused of threatening his school with a bomb. It was later found he had actually called an automated school phone line to get information about class schedules; someone else made the bomb threat exactly an hour later, but, due to DST, the time seemed to match up to when the honor student called.
- Daylight saving time was first used during WWI to conserve fuel. The theory was that by adding an hour of sunlight to people’s normal “awake time,” it would cut down on the nations need for artificial light. This may have actually been effective then, but because of our vastly different energy usage today (only 3.5% of our energy usage goes towards lighting), it has generally been shown that the effect on energy usage is negligible; though it has been shown to be a profitable thing for many stores, particularly those that sell product related to outdoor leisure activities.
- Daylight saving time once got a man out of being drafted for the Vietnam War. When drafted, he argued that standard time, not daylight saving time, was the official time for recording births in his state of Delaware at the time of his birth. Thus, he was actually born the previous day using standard time, so he should have had a higher draft lottery number. This defense worked and he didn’t have to go to war.
Other Interesting Stuff:
Is It True That a T-Rex Couldn’t See You If You Didn’t Move?
In the immensely popular (despite the sins) movie Jurassic Park, there’s the famous scene where the giant T-Rex is attacking a jeep during a thunder storm. As it attacks, Dr. Alan Grant, a self-respecting paleontologist, yells, “Don’t move! He can’t see you, if you don’t move.” Here’s the thing – that’s wrong. (If that comes as a blow, you’re definitely not going to want to learn the shocking truth about Velociraptors.) The Tyrannous Rex not only could see just fine, whether the object was moving or non-moving (which helps one not run into things), there’s also quite a bit of evidence that the T-Rex’s sight was extremely good, very possibly better than modern-day hawks and eagles. This non-moving “fact” from the hit 1993 movie inspired a good deal of research into the subject. Professor Kent Stevens at the University of Oregon began the project DinoMorph in 1993. His goal was to develop “a means to create scientifically useful yet simplified digital models of dinosaur skeletons.” Using digital technology, he wanted… (more)
Is the Recipe for Coca-Cola Really Only Known By Two People?
The idea that the secret formula for Coca-Cola is only known by two people who are never to be allowed near one another in case of some disaster resulting in the recipe being lost forever is one of those pop culture staples people can’t help but perpetuate. Given this, it’s perhaps not surprising that the spread of this idea has also been helped by various advertising campaigns done by Coca-Cola claiming just this. In fact, this idea actually started as a result of a Coca-Cola advertisement, but we’ll get to that in a bit. First things first, the exact number of people privy to the knowledge of how to make Coca-Cola… (more)
What Happens to Your Social Security Number When You Die?
Since 1935, the Social Security Administration has been issuing numbers to permanent residents of the United States. Nine simple digits distinguish each American from his or her fellow residents. Today, assigned randomly and never recycled, a social security number is as unique an identifier as your fingerprints. (Although, in the past, duplicates are known to have been issued accidentally.) Early on, SSNs were issued through the states, and the first three digits designated the state where the person obtained the number; some states had more than one number, and this continued through 1972. Beginning in 1973, the numbers and cards were issued centrally, from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in Baltimore, MD, with the first three digits being assigned based on the zip code included on the application. Most people can verify that their number coincides with the place where they… (more)
Ben Franklin’s Proposal of Something Like Daylight Saving Time was Written as a Joke
In a comedic letter he wrote, An Economical Project (published in 1784), “to the authors of the journal of Paris”, Franklin mentions something like daylight saving time. Although, instead of changing clocks, he suggested ringing church bells and firing cannons, among other things, as the sun rises to maximize the amount of time people would be awake during times when the sun is providing free light. The letter was meant to be a satire, rather than actually suggesting these changes be made. Here’s an excerpt of the letter: You often entertain us with accounts of new discoveries. Permit me to communicate to the public, through your paper, one that has lately been made by myself, and which I conceive may be of great utility. “I was the other evening in a grand company, where the new lamp of Messrs. Quinquet and Lange was introduced, and much admired for its splendor; but a general inquiry was made, whether the oil it consumed was not in proportion to the light it afforded, in which case there would be no savoring in the use of it. No one present could”… (more)
This Week’s Podcast Episodes:
- Podcast Episode #260: Marilyn Monroe And Her Infamous Calendar
- Podcast Episode #261: White Toilet Paper
- Podcast Episode #262: The Names of the Seasons
- Podcast Episode #263: The Truth About Halloween and Poisoned Candy
- Podcast Episode #264: Why We Celebrate Halloween
Quote of the Week:
- “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” -Babe Ruth
|Share the Knowledge!|