Weekly Wrap Volume 138

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valentines-day-candy-340x510The Origin of Valentines Day

While not thought to be directly related to modern Valentine’s Day traditions, the beginnings of celebrating love (of a sort) in February date back to the Romans. The feast of Lupercalia was a pagan fertility and health festival, observed from February 13th through the 15th, that was celebrated at least as far back as 44 BCE (the year Julius Caesar was assassinated). Some historians believe it goes back even further, though with possibly a different name. Connected to the Roman god Lupercus, (the equivalent to the Greek god Pan), the festival was originally supposed to be about shepherds and bringing health and fertility to their sheep and cows. When it became more ingrained into Roman culture, it additionally celebrated Lupa (also another possible reason it is named what it is), the she-wolf who nursed the legendary founders of…(more)

Charles_Vance_MillarThe Last Laugh – Millionaire Charles Vance Millar and His Practical Jokes From Beyond the Grave

For many people, being dead is a fairly limiting handicap that prevents them from doing most of the things the living take for granted. In the 1930s, a man called Charles Vance Millar challenged that unfair stereotype via various stipulations of his will that allowed him to continue playing jokes on people despite being dead. A lawyer by trade, Millar possessed a daunting intellect and an incredibly sharp legal mind. Born in Canada in 1853, he excelled at nearly everything he tried his hand at, reportedly scoring near-perfect marks at university, before settling on studying law. Along with ultimately becoming a highly-respected lawyer, Vance had a keen eye for investments, making him a millionaire in his lifetime- money Vance used to fund his true passion of playing practical jokes. Millar’s sense of humour was legendary and in particular…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • Despite sharing their genes, identical twins do not have identical fingerprints, even at birth. Why? Fingerprints are not entirely a genetic characteristic. They are partially determined by the interaction of an individual’s genes and the intrauterine environment (differing hormonal levels, nutrition, blood pressure, position in the womb and the growth rate of the fingers at the end of the first trimester, among other things). Thus, minor differences in fingerprints arise from these random local events during fetal development, though the genes do determine the general characteristics of the patterns of fingerprints. So, in the end, while identical twins will have somewhat similar fingerprints, enough of these differing local events occur that the resulting fingerprints of each child will have very marked differences.
  • German Chocolate Cake isn’t German and had nothing to do with the country. It owes its name to American Sam German, who developed a type of dark baking chocolate for the American Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852. Over a century later, a woman by the name of George Clay got her recipe for a cake using “German’s Chocolate” published in the Dallas Morning Star on June 3, 1957, under the name “German’s Chocolate Cake.” General Foods, who now owned the German’s Chocolate brand, heavily promoted this recipe. It became a national hit, but not as “German’s Chocolate Cake,” as it was originally listed. Instead, it soon was called “German Chocolate Cake,” helping give rise to the myth that it was invented in Germany.
  • Eilleen Edwards is one of the most famous women in the world today. Haven’t heard of her? Her father left when she was only two, but two years later she was adopted by her stepfather, an Ojibwa Indian named Jerry Twain. At the age of 25, she took the name “Shania.” Of course we are talking of Shania Twain. As for why she picked that first name, it has been reported that it is an Ojibwa word meaning “on my way,” but according to biographer Robin Eggar no such word or phrase exists in Ojibwa.
  • At 12 years old, Simon Cowell hijacked a bus. He stated about the specific event, “We had these pea guns, and I was living in England in a place called Radlett and I wanted to go to Watford, which was ten miles away. So I got on this bus – and as a joke- it was a joke- I put the gun to the driver’s head and I said ‘take me to Watford.’ And I remember thinking ‘God, he’s really playing the part here because we’re not stopping.” Of course, the police were waiting for him at his destination. Little came of it after the police realized they were dealing with kids with toy guns. However, Cowell said, “My mum and dad came in and my mum was actually worse than the police…she was furious with me.”
  • While most have heard the term “nymphomania,” for “a woman who has abnormally excessive and uncontrollable sexual desire,” few know the male counterpart term- satyriasis, “a neurotic condition in men in which the symptoms are a compulsion to have sexual intercourse with as many women as possible and an inability to have lasting relationships with them .” As for the former, “nymphomania” derives from the Greek “nymphe,” meaning “bride” (from the Greek semi-divine female spirits) and “mania,” meaning “madness.” The latter, “satyriasis” ultimately derives from the Greek “satyr,” who were lustful woodland deities with certain horse or goat-like features.
  • While people often exaggerate tiny hailstones as “golf-ball size” when describing them to others, in June of 2003 Aurora, Nebraska experienced one hail of a hailstorm. The National Climate Extremes Committee documented the hail size that fell in that storm, with many being about the size of a soft ball. One particular hailstone found from that storm is the largest ever well documented, a full seven inches in diameter, or just a little smaller than a standard soccer ball.
  • Despite most movie fans connecting the nickname “Braveheart” with William Wallace because of the award winning film with Mel Gibson (1995), in real life the specific nickname actually belonged to one of the semi-bad guys depicted in the film- Robert the Bruce. In real life, while Robert (then the Earl of Carrick) really did switch sides several times during the Wars of Scottish Independence, there is no record of him betraying Wallace and the Battle of Bannockburn wasn’t waged spontaneously as it seemed in the movie. He had been battling the English for nearly a decade up to that point. Robert ultimately became the King of Scots from 1306 and held that title until his death in 1329.

Other Interesting Stuff

heartWhy Do Drawn Hearts Look Nothing Like Real Hearts?

The heart symbol is one of the single most enduring and widely recognised symbols in modern culture. But where did it come from?Something like the familiar heart symbol goes back many thousands of years. Specifically, several pieces of pottery going back as far as 3000BC clearly show the unmistakable symbol. However, in these instances, the symbol is noted to be a simplification of either a fig or ivy leaf, not a crude representation of the human heart, and seemingly, at least initially, not having anything to do with love. Fast-forwarding through history and we find many cultures using a similar symbol, such as depicted in Grecian, Cretian, Minoan, Mycean, Roman and Corinthian pottery, along with many others. In these instances…(more)

post-officeGeorge Washington and the United States Postal Service

It was presumably a cold, wintry February day in the United States capital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the capital would not move to DC until 1800) when President George Washington put pen to paper and signed the Postal Service Act of 1792. While a rudimentary colonial mailing service had been around since for nearly a century and a half, this new law changed the mailing game entirely. It gave the United States Postal Service a two-year window that would be quickly extended indefinitely. As the law was written, it gave the federal government the ability to establish official mail routes. It also allowed newspapers to be included in mail deliveries at reduced rates. The reason for this, as The New York Times describes, was to ensure the spread of information from the urban centers to the furthest frontiers of this growing nation. In addition, it gave the President and Vice-President the perk of free mailing and made it illegal…(more)

chicken-and-potatoes-340x227Why Chicken Goes Bad So Quickly

Food-borne bacteria are the primary cause of spoilage and food poisonings. Thriving in moist, low-acid environments where lots of protein is present, pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli live with the bird during its life and stay with its meat after slaughter; likewise, other bacteria, such a Acinetobacter and Pseudomonads fluroescens, putida or fragi, thrive on the meat after it’s processed. Given chicken’s somewhat unique qualities, quick spoilage is inevitable, and can only be mitigated by careful attention to time, temperature and moisture. Bacteria need water to survive, and grow on foods with a water activity of at least 0.85. Chicken, like most other fresh meats, has a water activity of 0.99, and thus provides an ideal environment. In addition, unlike many other meats…(more)

one-way-mirror-e1302687873770How One-Way Mirrors Work

Interestingly, there is no such thing as a true one way mirror. This would actually violate the laws of physics (for more on that see the Bonus Factoids below). What’s actually going on here with one-way mirrors is that we have a piece of glass with an extremely thin coating of some reflective material like silver (as is often used on normal mirrors). Unlike normal mirrors though, the silver layer is so thin that it only actually reflects about half the light back. The other half passes through the glass. This layer is actually so thin, that if you were to look at it at a molecular level, you’d see that only about half the glass was actually coated with the silver; the silver would appear to be speckled on the glass more or less evenly. The problem with allowing half the light through though is that…(more)

police-taser-340x239Can Stun Guns Cause Cardiac Arrest?

Most of us have probably laughed at someone on television getting shocked by a stun gun. They tense up and fall to the ground, seizing like an epileptic. Once the shocking stops, the person gets up, seemingly unharmed. The occasional wet-your-pants complication is classic humor! All joking aside, there have been several reports showing the use of high voltage stun guns, like the Taser, (known in the medical world as electronic control devices { ECD’s}) can (rarely) cause cardiac arrest. Arguably, the most famous was published on April 20, 2012 in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation. In it, Dr. Douglas Zipes, at the Indiana University School of Medicine, reports on…(more)

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