Weekly Wrap 120

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the-blue-ridge-parkway-340x227Why We Drive on Parkways and Park on Driveways

To most people the fact that we drive on parkways and park on driveways is rarely pondered upon. This only comes to mind when pointed out by particularly cringe-worthy comedians, who no doubt are also likely to muse on why the Royal Mail service delivers “post” while the U.S. Postal Service delivers “mail”. But once pointed out, it does all make you wonder… As it turns out, there’s a perfectly valid explanation for why we drive on parkways and park on driveways- the majority of words have been around longer than cars and many have seen their definitions evolve over time, as parkways and driveways have likewise evolved. For example, if you went back to the 19th century…(more)

screw-340x223Why Screws Tighten Clockwise

One of the six simple machines, a screw is nothing more than an inclined plane wrapped around a center pole. While today screws come in standard sizes, and typically are tightened by turning clockwise (and loosened by turning counterclockwise), this is a recent invention. A great example of how things that seem simple can be really hard to do right, the development of the predicable system we enjoy today took 2,000 years to invent. Archytas of Tarentum (428 BC – 350 BC), a friend of Plato, is believed to have invented the screw around 400 BC, while Archimedes (287 BC – 212 BC) was one of the first to realize the screw’s ability to fix things together, as well as to lift water. The Romans developed…(more)

death-of-george-washington-340x191The Death of George Washington

After the Revolutionary War, George Washington looked forward to a quiet retirement as a gentleman farmer in Virginia. But this was not to be as he was repeatedly called back to serve the needs of the new nation he helped create. When he was called to serve as the United States’ first president in 1789, Washington said on April 16 of that year, “My love of retirement is so great, that no earthly consideration, short of a conviction of duty, could have prevailed upon me to depart from my resolution ‘never more to take any share in transactions of a public nature.” When his term was up, he was unanimously re-elected, keeping him away from his home, Mount Vernon, for another four years. As war was looming on the horizon in 1798, Washington accepted command…(more)
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Bonus Quick Facts

  • Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double through the first six Harry Potter films, David Holmes, was paralyzed from the waist down during the sixth film while practicing a flying scene that included an explosion.
  • In order to become acquainted with the films’ three main stars, director Alfonso Cuaron had each of them write an essay about their characters. True to their roles, Emma Watson wrote a 16-page essay; Daniel Radcliffe wrote a simple, one-page paper; and Rupert Grint never turned his in.
  • In 2005, a 22 year old man by the name of Ronald MacDonald robbed a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant (stealing the money in the store’s safe) where he worked at the time.
  • “Odd” and “Even” are popular names for male children in Norway, but they have nothing to do with mathematics. The name “Odd”, in this instance, is after the Old Norse word “Oddr”, a word for the “sharp end” of some object or “edge of a blade”. “Even”, in this case, is from the Norse “Eivindr”, which in turn comes from the Old Norse “auja-“ and “-winduR”, meaning “gift” or “winner”.
  • Famed writer and Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers was the first to translate Bambi: A life in the Woods, into English. Disney would later, of course, base a movie off this work.
  • One of the founders of Chuck E. Cheese’s, Nolan Bushnell, also helped found Atari.
  • The hit Carpenters song “We’ve Only Just Begun”, ranked as the 405th best song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, was originally written for a wedding themed Crocker National Bank commercial.
  • The voice of Tony the Tiger was done by the same guy who sung “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, Thurl Ravenscroft.


Other Interesting Stuff

chewing-gum-340x227Chewing On Gum’s History

Gum is everywhere. It could be in someone’s pocket, in a woman’s purse, underneath a classroom’s desk or lining the checkout lines at the local grocery store. Or it could be in a person’s mouth- teeth chomping away on a stick that rapidly loses its flavor. Gum is one of the most ubiquitous confectioneries in our culture, yet few know its origins. So who invented gum and how did it become popular? There’s some evidence that as far back as nine thousand years ago, ancient northern Europeans were chewing tree bark to help with toothaches. There’s also some evidence ancient Scandinavians chewed bark tar and the ancient Greeks enjoyed chomping away on different substances from various plants…(more)

larry_doby-340x523The Forgotten Hero: Larry Doby

On April 15, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, the great Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first African-American in 67 years to play in the Major Leagues. (Yes, Robinson was not the first, as is often stated.) Less than three months later, on July 5, 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio, Larry Doby became the second African-American ball player break the color barrier, and the first on an American League team. Although history tends to forget Doby’s much-less hyped debut and subsequent stellar performance, his life, career, and path to the majors were just as interesting and courageous as Robinson’s. As Dave Anderson wrote in a 1987 New York Times article, “In glorifying those who are first, the second is often forgotten … Larry Doby integrated all those American League ball parks where Jackie Robinson never appeared. And he did it with…(more)

rubiks-cube-e1318489095276Every Possible State of a Standard Rubik’s Cube Can be Solved in 20 Moves or Less

Anyone who is serious about solving a Rubik’s Cube uses some sort of algorithm, or sequence of steps to help them solve the puzzle. There are many different algorithms, varying in complexity and number of moves required, but those that can be memorized and used by a human typically require more than forty moves.  It turns out though, this number is a bit high, in terms of actually using the most efficient solution for a given position on a standard Rubik’s Cube. This was proved in July of 2010 by Tomas Rokicki, Herbert Kociemba, Morley Davidson, and John Dethridge who used 35 “CPU years”* worth of computing time, donated by Google, to prove that one only needs a maximum of 20 moves to solve any position on a standard Rubik’s Cube. Interestingly, the researchers did not solve every position by its optimal solution.  Rather, once they discovered one position that definitely needed…(more)

blurry-image-340x227Saccadic Masking

Unknown to most, thousands of times each day we momentarily lose sight of the world around us. Known as saccadic masking, it is a function of the brain protecting us from suffering through blurred images that would otherwise be produced when our eyes move or shift. A saccade is a rapid eye movement between the places where the eye rests (called fixation points). When scanning a scene, we don’t actually see everything in a continuous, smooth stream; rather, although we are unaware of the phenomenon, we actually view it as a series of discrete images (when the eye pauses at fixation points), each separated by a period of blindness…(more)

fire-hydrant-e1357766954902-340x317Fire Hydrant Colors Actually Mean Something

One of the first challenges that firefighters face when they arrive at a fire is finding a suitable water source that provides enough water for the type of fire they are fighting. Common sense tells us a car on fire will require much less water than a burning apartment building. There are formulas used by firefighters that will tell them approximately how much water is needed to fight a given fire (see bonus facts below).  Fire hydrants are commonly color coded to indicate how much water a particular hydrant will provide.  This allows for quick decision making when they are deciding which hydrant to access. Water supply for firefighting is rated in gallons per minute (GPM) available. In most urban and suburban areas, water supply is from a far away source such as a reservoir or lake. This water is…(more)

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