Weekly Wrap Volume 139

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snowdriftHow Many Words for Snow do Eskimos Really Have

It’s impossible to say precisely how many words for snow certain native peoples of the far north have. Why? To begin with, we are talking about a group of related languages, not just one, and even within these languages there are variations from specific region to specific region. Much more important to the discussion at hand, it depends on how you categorize what constitutes different “words” in the polysynthetic group of Eskimo-Aleut languages. (And yes, when speaking of these different groups’ languages broadly…(more)



The M247 Sergeant York and its Propensity to Lock Onto Latrines Instead of Enemy Aircraft

The M247 Sergeant York was officially designated as a “self-propelled anti-aircraft gun” but was for all intents and purposes a tank chassis with anti-aircraft guns attached to the top. The vehicle was named for one Alvin York, a famous and highly decorated WW1 hero who captured over 100 German soldiers pretty much single handedly. Unfortunately for the U.S. tax payers who spent just shy of $2 billion on it (about $4.8 billion today or, humourously enough, after appropriately adjusting for inflation to make the dollar values match, about 1/11th what the entire Apollo program cost), the final version of the weapon ended up being so useless its automatic targeting system couldn’t distinguish between a toilet vent fan and a jet plane, the vehicle itself couldn’t keep up with the tanks it was designed to protect, and it was made obsolete by advances in…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in The Silence of the Lambs… a film he only appeared in for just over 16 minutes. While you’ll often read this is a record for a Best Actor Oscar, the real record is held by David Niven, for his performance in Separate Tables (1958), which he appeared in for 15 minutes and 38 seconds. The overall record for any Oscar winning performance is held by Beatrice Straight who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Network (1976), in which she appeared for just one scene that was 5 minutes and 40 seconds long (which in truth is a phenomenally well acted scene).
  • Mickey Rourke, most recently known for his parts in Iron Man 2 and The Expendables, shocked Hollywood back in the early 90s when he decided to quit acting and become a professional boxer. Rourke intended to fight until he got a title shot, but after three years and a series of serious injuries he decided to quit. However, he did manage to retire undefeated with 6 wins and 2 draws, joining an elite club of boxers who retired undefeated such as the great Rocky Marciano and arguably the greatest super middleweight boxer of all time, Joe Calzaghe.
  • The late Michael Jackson once approached J.K. Rowling about the possibility of doing a musical version of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling said no to the idea. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she said that she felt that it wouldn’t be successful. She told Oprah, “Michael Jackson wanted to do a musical. I said no to a lot of things. For me, I love the films; I love the books; and there’s elements that I love around it, like the theme park. But I only wanted to do it because I knew it would be incredible.”
  • Since 2012, Brazilian prisoners get a chance to reduce their sentence four days for every approved book they read and then write an essay on. Approved books include various science, philosophy, and “classic” literature novels. They can reduce their sentence by a maximum of 48 days per year doing this. As 70% of Brazil’s prison population never completed primary education, this was thought up as a way to motivate them to become somewhat educated, and in many cases, literate.
  • While everybody knows the name of the chief character in Pac-Man, Pac-Man, you may not know the names of the ghosts. They are named Blinky (Red Ghost), Pinky (Pink Ghost), Inky (Cyan Ghost), and Clyde (Orange Ghost).
  • Despite what most think, Nintendo’s Mario hits blocks with his hand, not his head.
  • The cast of “Glee” has more Hot 100 Billboard chart entries than any other group in history. To date, Glee has a total 207 Hot 100 entries while the runner up, Elvis, had 149. However, only 51 of Glee’s songs made it to the top 40, while Elvis had 114 of his 149 Hot entries make it up that far on the charts.

Other Interesting Stuff

DeadliftIs it Actually Possible to be Allergic to Exercise?

Most couch-potatoes have probably at some point in their lives said, “I can’t run a mile without feeling like I’m going to die!” They might also sarcastically proclaim they must be allergic to exercise. And, amazingly enough, it turns out there is a rare disorder in which someone can be deathly allergic to exercise, a condition known as Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis (EIA). Allergies, in general, come with a wide range of symptoms, and can range from mild to deadly. Fortunately for most, a deadly allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, is rare. It’s generally accepted..(more)

circumcision-340x227When Did Men Start Getting Circumcised?

Having served variously as a mark of virility, servility and gentility, circumcision has throughout the centuries worn many symbolic hats. While anthropologists disagree as to the definitive origins of circumcision, the earliest hard evidence comes from the first ancient Egyptian mummies of considerable vintage, around 2300 BC. That being said, Egyptian paintings date circumcision to centuries prior, depicting ritual circumcision as prerequisite to entering the priesthood. Contention remains as to whether circumcision was a sign of pride rather than prejudice among the ancient Egyptian world. While popular among the elite, forced circumcision was inflicted on…(more)

Booker-Taliaferro-Washington-340x480The First AfricanAmerican Invited to Dinner at the White House

In the autumn of 1901, Booker T. Washington, the great educator, author, and orator, was on a speaking tour. In Mississippi, he received a telegram from President Theodore Roosevelt. (President William McKinley had been assassinated less than two months before, an event which led to Roosevelt being sworn in as President.) The telegram asked Washington to come to the capitol for a conference. When Washington arrived on the afternoon of October 16, 1901, he received an invitation to dine with the President at 8:00p that evening. According to Roosevelt biographer…(more)

lifesavers2-e1263653909578All Lifesavers Spark When Chewed, Not Just Wintergreen

Today I fount out that all lifesavers spark when chewed, not just the Wintergreen Lifesavers (also known as Wint-O-Green). The flash you see when these hard sugar candies are crunched is caused by triboluminescence, which is similar to the electrical charge build-up that produces lightning, except on a much smaller scale here. With most hard sugar candies, this flash tends to be mostly outside of the human visual spectrum; typically giving off most of the flash in the ultra-violet spectrum. However, many other kinds of hard sugar candies, such as normal fruit lifesavers will give off a very dim flash in the visual spectrum if crunched and a nice bright flash in the ultra-violet spectrum. This phenomenon has been noticed…(more)

braille-340x226Who Invented Braille?

Braille was invented by a nineteenth century man named Louis Braille, who was completely blind. Braille’s story starts when he was three years old. He was playing in his father’s shop in Coupvray, France, and somehow managed to injure his eye. Though he was offered the best medical attention available at the time, it wasn’t enough—an infection soon developed and spread to his other eye, rendering him blind in both eyes. While a tragedy for him, had this accident not happened, we wouldn’t have braille today. There was a system of reading in place for the blind at the time, which consisted of tracing a finger along raised letters. However, this system meant that reading was painfully slow…(more)

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