Weekly Wrap 141

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horses2-340x512Why Engines are Often Measured in Horsepower

We owe this unit of engine power measurement to Scottish engineer James Watt. In the early 1780s, after making a vastly superior steam engine to the then classic Newcomen steam engine, Watt was looking for a way to market his invention, advertising the fact that his engine used about 75% less fuel than a similarly powered Newcomen, among many other improvements. At first, he tried selling his engine on a royalty scheme, where the customers would owe him one-third of the money they saved by using his engine over other steam engines. Of course, many at the time used horses, not…(more)

dead-fishWhy Fish Often Float Upside Down When They Die

Few things in childhood are more traumatizing than waking up one morning to find your beloved pet fish, Michael Scofield, floating upside down in his tank (true story); his tiny fishy light cruelly extinguished before his time. But why do they float upside down when they decide it’s time to take a ride on the porcelain express? The answer to this question has a lot to do with how they maintain proper buoyancy when they’re alive. As you may or may not know, most fish are in possession of an organ commonly known as a “swim bladder”. This organ can be filled or emptied of air by a fish at will via its gills, allowing them to either float higher, sink lower or stay suspended at about the same depth, not unlike a…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • When Parcel Post Service first launched in America on January 1, 1913, there were few guidelines on what could be mailed. As a result, a handful of parents, spotting a bargain, began mailing their children. The first known case of this was the child of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Beauge of Ohio only a few weeks after the launch of Parcel Post. They sent their son to his grandmother’s house for a fee of just 15 cents (about $3.72 today). On January 27, 1913, Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Savis of Pennsylvania mailed their daughter to relatives for a fee of 45 cents. More famously, 5 year old May Pierstorff of Idaho was mailed on February 19, 1914 73 miles to her grandmother’s house at a cost of just 53 cents (about $13.13 today). This was significantly cheaper than sending her on a passenger train, with the train ticket in question costing $1.55 according to the book, Mailing May. May’s case helped push forward an inquiry on the matter of mailing children and ultimately led to Postmaster General Albert Burleson declaring that, from that point forward, it was against the rules to mail human beings. Despite this, the practice continued for about two more years, finally stopping after an investigation into why three year old Maud Smith of Missouri was allowed to be mailed to her grandparents’ house in Kentucky. While you might have visions of children being put in boxes with holes in the side for air, this was not how the children were mailed. The appropriate number of stamps were simply affixed to their clothing along with the address they were to be sent. From there, they accompanied postal workers on the trains along with normal packages and then were escorted to their destinations.
  • Hippopotamus milk is bright pink, thanks to the fact that it contains Hipposudoric acid and Norhipposudoric acid, with the former being reddish and the latter being bright orange. When combined with the white milk, this makes a pink color.
  • Safe cracker Danai Raiwet of Bangkok was arrested in January of 2012 after stealing the money out of a Metro Praken safe. When police arrested him, they discovered money wasn’t all he was stealing. They found over 10,000 women’s panties in his home and another 1,000 or so in his car. He had been developing this collection, breaking into houses and stealing the used women’s underwear, since he was 18 (about three decades ago).
  • Buzz Aldrin was the first person to pee while on the surface of the Moon. Take THAT Neil Armstrong.
  • Cecil Chubb was the last person to own Stonehenge, purchasing it in 1915 on a whim for about the equivalent of $800,000 today. According to the BBC, he gave it to his wife as a gift, which she in turn didn’t appreciate. Three years later, he donated it to England.
  • Magic Johnson signed a $25 million, 25 year contract with the Lakers in 1981, the highest paying contract in sports history at the time. This comprised the bulk of his earnings from his playing career (though of course he didn’t complete the contract). Today, Magic Johnson Enterprises is estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion, including, among many other things, owning several fast food restaurants and 24-Hour Fitness locations… which is sort of the perfect scheme if you think about it.
  • The “Like” button in Facebook originally was going to say “Awesome”, rather than “Like” according to Facebook Engineer Andrew Bosworth. Zuckerberg eventually vetoed the “Awesome” button in favor of the shorter “Like”.

Other Interesting Stuff

frozen-womanWhy Does Hypothermia Help People Survive in Some Situations?

We’ve all probably heard of a person being pulled from cold water after a seemingly unrevivable timeframe. Miraculously, they survive and more or less make full recoveries. A 7-year-old girl named Stella Berndtsson from Sweden currently holds the record for having the coldest body temperature and still surviving. After falling into the sea on the island of Lyr, in Sweden, she was found lifeless, without a heartbeat or spontaneous breathing. Her core body temperature was down to 55.7° F (13.2° C). She’s now made a full recovery. Stella is one of countless people who have survived extended periods of time without oxygen. What about hypothermia makes…(more)

public-restroomToilet Seat Liners:Effective Safeguard or Useless Waste?

Flimsy white sheets shaped like the seat, paper toilet liners can be found in many public bathrooms. Notably, however, while they may provide reassurance to the germaphobic and finicky, toilet seat covers have little else to offer in terms of decreasing your odds of being infected with some pathogen when sitting on the toilet seat. Once thought to be capable of conducting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), contrary to popular belief, today scientists know that toilet seats are very poor vehicles for spreading such maladies (like herpes and HIV). This is due to the relative fragility…(more)

ship1-340x509Pirates Rarely Make People Walk the Plank

For thousands of years, pirates of various sorts have preyed on innocent ships at sea. Their exploits have been documented by the likes of Cicero and Homer in ancient Rome and Greece, and Vikings were once the scourge of the sea, plaguing seaside towns throughout the middle ages. However, the bloodthirsty pirates most commonly portrayed in movies and books today are those from the Golden Age of Piracy—that is, the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time, pirates were not only common, but many of them—the “privateers”—were actually hired by various governments to steal from other states. Spain dominated the new world and had ships carting riches back to the motherland constantly. The lure of gold, silver, and…(more)

ambulance-340x227Can Ambulance Drivers Get Speeding Tickets?

Subject to the same rules of the road as other drivers, with a few exceptions for emergencies, ambulances can be pulled over and ticketed for speeding and other traffic violations, although it is exceedingly rare. Generally speaking, ambulance drivers should observe all traffic laws and regulations; however, some of those laws are waived when the ambulance needs to respond to an emergency (sometimes called “Code 3”). Typical exceptions (which usually apply to other emergency response vehicles like fire trucks as well), include: (1) allowing the vehicle to…(more)

dad-340x226Why Do We Call Parents “Mom” and “Dad”

Calling our parents anything other than mom, dad or one of the many variations thereof is an almost alien concept to many (and in some cultures is considered downright rude). So why is it we refer to our parents in this way? Where did it come from and perhaps, more curiously, is there any culture that forgoes this seemingly universal nickname custom for parental figures? The words can be traced back to the 1500s for “dad” and the 1800s for “mom”. As with so many etymologies, where these words were first uttered and by whom is a mystery. Even the Oxford English Dictionary has admitted that they have “no evidence” on…(more)


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