Weekly Wrap Volume 113

This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here.

gay-flagThe U.S. Military’s Proposed “Gay” Bomb

One doesn’t commonly associate the slogan “make love not war” with the U.S. military. Indeed, the United States military is feared and formidable precisely because it has proven so effective at conceptualizing clever and innovative ways to search, find and destroy, often with the simple push of a button. However, in a departure from these hostile traditions, in 1994 the Wright Laboratory, part of the U.S. Air Force, produced a three page proposal for a “gay bomb”. Documentation obtained by the Sunshine Project, an anti-biological weapons non-governmental organization, found that the Ohio-based Wright Lab requested a 6 year, $7.5 million grant to create a variety of non-lethal weapons. The bluntly titled project…(more)

view-from-airplane-340x191Why Aren’t the Windows and Rows of Seats Aligned on Commercial Aircraft?

While airplane manufacturers do design the planes with general row positioning and pitch (the measurement from one seat to the same exact point on the seat in front or behind it) in mind, with the windows often lining up with the seats, the designers’ exact recommended arrangement is rarely, if ever, followed. You see, the final placement of seats is left up to the individual airlines that purchase the plane. To make the seating arrangement as flexible as possible for airlines, there are multiple tracks on the floors that the seats are mounted on. This allows the seats to easily be moved closer together or farther apart. The airlines can even switch the aisle arrangement via moving a line of seats to a completely different track. For example, on some versions of the Boeing 777, Boeing recommends a layout of 3+3+3 with a 32 inch (81.2 cm) pitch for economy passengers. In this layout…(more)

oil-seepageThe Mysterious Black Goo of Venezuela: La Mancha Negra

First appearing in 1986 on a highway between the city of Caracas and its airport, La Mancha Negra, meaning literally a black stain, began as an approximately 50-yard (46 meter) long smudge, seen by highway workers who were resurfacing the road with asphalt concrete. Ultimately the spot grew to cover about an 8 mile (13 km) stretch. In 1991 it was widely reported that the slippery goo had caused over 1,800 deaths and countless other injuries. So what is it and is it still there today? Many hypotheses have been proposed over the years as to the cause of La Mancha Negra, such as that it’s the result of raw sewage from slums that line the road, with the idea being the sewage runs downhill and under the asphalt where it mixes with the compounds in the road, breaking it down and producing…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • Poon Lim once had the unfortunate honor of being the longest lone individual to survive at sea in a life raft, at 133 days. Lim was a second steward on the British ship Ben Lomond, which was sunk by a Nazi U-boat about 750 miles east of the mouth of the Amazon river. All aboard were killed except Lim who floated around for a couple hours in the water with nothing but a life jacket before spotting an 8 foot life boat. About four and a half months later, after surviving on the blood of animals and rain water for drink and fish and birds (even catching a shark at one point) for food, he was rescued by Brazilian fisherman. For a time, the Royal Navy included his story and survival techniques in their survival manuals.
  • While Ben Franklin is remembered as one of the founding fathers of America, his son, William Franklin, was a staunch Loyalist who was ultimately imprisoned during the war and later released as a part of a prisoner exchange in 1778. At this point, he move to British controlled New York City and became President of the Board of Associated Loyalists there. He eventually left for Britain, never to return to America. Needless to say, the relationship between father and son after that was permanently damaged and the two had little contact from then on, with Ben Franklin also leaving his son almost nothing in his will.
  • In Ancient Rome, if you wanted to commit suicide and you weren’t a soldier, a slave, or someone accused of a capital crime, you could simply apply to the Senate for the right to kill yourself. If the Senate did not object, you would then be given hemlock to end your life with.
  • The Lone Ranger’s sidekick’s name, Tonto, means “moron/fool/stupid” in Spanish. As a result, in the dubbed Spanish version, the character’s name is change to “Toro,” meaning “bull.”
  • The patron saint of protecting against oversleeping is Saint Vitus, who is also the patron of dancers, epileptics, comedians, and actors. June 28th on the Gregorian calendar (traditionally June 15th by the Julian Calendar) is St. Vitus’ day, if you care to celebrate by oversleeping.
  • From 1912 to 1948, art was an official Olympic event. Submissions had to be in the categories of architecture, literature, music, painting, or sculpture, and must in all cases be inspired by sports. The art works submitted also had to be original works never before seen publicly before being submitted to the Olympics. The art was then judged by a panel, with the winners being awarded medals the same as other Olympians. Art was removed from the Olympic games (as a judged event) after a report was done showing that almost all of the contestants who submitted works to the Olympics were professionals.

Other Interesting Stuff

Binette-typoWho Invented the Emoticon?

“Emoticons,” short for “emotive Icons,” (emotive meaning “appealing to or expression emotion” hence “icons that express emotions”) have been around in vertical form for some time. However, sideways emoticons seem to be a surprisingly recent invention, going back just about three decades. “B4” the days of LOL and apps to aid parents in understanding their teenager’s “textspeak”, a man named Scott E. Fahlman wanted his colleagues and students to understand the difference between a sarcastic joke and a nasty barb when typed. Fahlman was part of a group of scientists and students at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who frequently communicated via an early online newsgroup to discuss a wide variety of topics. In these groups…(more)

pimple-340x226What Causes Acne?

Ah, acne! The facial blemish that powers many a pubescent date request rejection. Like millions of people worldwide, in my youth I waged a war with this aesthetic foe, with many a “Pizza-face” comment thrown my way. Medically known as Acne Vulgaris, this affliction is largely cosmetic and does not usually cause any debilitating problems, except maybe trouble getting a date in high school… The most common cause of acne is a class of bacteria called Propionibacterium (P- bacteria). They are named this due to their ability to manufacture propionic acid. According to the National Institute of Health, there are currently 90 known types of P-bacteria that cause acne. P-bacteria is an extremely common inhabitant of adult skin. They tend to reside in…(more)

albert-22-340x255A Space Race For the Dogs….and Monkeys and Fruit Flies

The first Earthlings sent into space were brave, calm under pressure, and heroic. They were also not human and many of them were furry. Yes, before Apollo 13, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin, humans sent fruit flies, monkeys, and dogs into space to determine if living beings could survive the trip. These tests helped prove that, given a certain amount of precautions and protections, humans could endure space flight. Here is the little told story of these mostly cute and cuddly astronauts. The V-2 rocket developed by the Germans was the first man-made object to reach the so-called fringes of space. The first test flight of this massive rocket was in May of 1944. When successful (at least, by standards of the day), it was rushed into war. By August 1944, Nazi Germany was raining down…(more)

did-you-know-340x226The High School Dropout Who Co-Created Trivial Pursuit

In December 1979, in the depths of a Montreal winter, two Canadian newspapermen created one of the most popular board games the world has ever known. High school dropout Chris Haney was the photo editor of The Gazette. He had originally dropped out of school at the age of 17 in order to take a copy boy job with the Canadian Press, the company his dad worked for. After his eventual Trivial Pursuit fame and riches, he would state he regretted his decision to drop out of school… at the age of 17; he stated he wished he’d done it at 12. (Incidentally, Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s and the man partially responsible for saving KFC, was also a high school dropout.) In any event, Haney’s buddy, Scott Abbott, was the sports editor for The Canadian Press. According…(more)

pop-rocks1-e1294144874433Why Pop Rocks Pop

Much like other hard sugar candies, Pop Rocks are made primarily of sugar, corn syrup, water, and artificial flavoring. It turns out, what causes it to pop when it comes in contact with the moisture and heat in your mouth is not due to any ingredient. Rather, it is due to the way the candy is made, which we know in detail thanks to the fact that the manufacturing process is patented and thus the process is laid out for all to see in the patent. Basically, what they do is heat the ingredients together, bringing the mixture to boil. They continue to boil it until the moisture level descends suitably so that a thick syrupy substance remains. In normal hard sugar candies, this substance is then put in molds and allowed to cool and harden. With pop rocks, they expose the hot mix to carbon dioxide at about 600 pounds per square inch worth of pressure. This ends up…(more)

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