Weekly Wrap 143

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ghost storyA Real Life Ghost Story

Are you scared of the dark? Do you sleep with the light on? Do you hear noises in other parts of the house when you know you’re alone? You’re about to read a ghostly tale with an incredible twist: It really happened! DOCTOR WHO? William Wilmer, an ophthalmologist who practiced in Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s, was one of the most distinguished eye doctors of his era. Among his patients were eight different presidents, from William McKinley to Franklin Roosevelt. He also treated Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator; Joseph Pulitzer, the New York newspaper tycoon and creator of the Pulitzer Prize; and countless other prominent Americans. But perhaps his most unusual claim to fame is the fact that in 1921…(more)

fluCan the Flu Vaccine Give You the Flu?

Vaccines, in general, have been a massive boon to humanity. They’ve rid the world of an affliction that has plagued humanity for thousands of years in smallpox (for reference killing over 300 million people in the 20th century alone before it was eradicated), and have almost completely wiped out polio, all while preventing millions of deaths from countless other viruses every single year. As for the flu vaccine, it’s recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Health, and almost every other major health organization around the world. Despite this, outside of whether certain vaccines can give babies autism (see our article: Do Vaccines Cause Autism?), few vaccines garner as much controversy as the flu vaccine. So if vaccines are so great- and they unequivocally…(more)

alien-DJNASA and Their Real Life Space DJs

Nobody is really quite sure how the tradition of waking up NASA astronauts with pieces of music got started; NASA itself only notes that “Wake-up calls are a long-standing NASA tradition.” However, archivist and historian Colin Fries, who has painstakingly tracked down every example of a song or clip played by NASA in such a scenario going all the way back to 1965, is fairly confident that the earliest example of such a wake-up call occurred during the 1965 Gemini 6 mission on December 16th, likely as a joke. During this mission, astronauts Walter Schirra and Tom Stafford were woken up by a recording of singer Jack Jones and Hello Dolly. According to Fries, earlier missions in the Gemini…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • The only word in the English language to end with “mt” is “dreamt”, unless of course you consider “undreamt” to be a separate word.
  • The name for “Baskin-Robbins” was decided by a coin-flip, with Burt Baskin winning the toss, making his name go first.
  • The United States once planned on nuking the Moon. The project was labeled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights” or “Project A119” and was developed by the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s. It was felt that this would be a relatively easy thing to do and would also boost public perception of how the U.S. was doing in comparison to the Soviet Union in terms of the space race. A young Carl Sagan was one of the scientists who worked on this project, hired to study how exactly the resulting cloud would expand on the Moon so that they could be sure it would be clearly visible from Earth. Sagan felt the project had scientific merit in that the cloud could be closely examined by scientists. The project was eventually scrapped as it was determined that the public would not respond favorably to the U.S. dropping a nuclear bomb on the Moon.
  • The slinky was invented by accident when its creator, marine engineer Richard James, was working at a shipyard designing a device to measure horsepower output on naval battleships. The device required special springs for stabilization, one of which James accidentally knocked off his desk. It fell on a pile of stacked books and then continued on to the floor in slinky-like fashion. After playing around with it a bit, Richard thought this would make a good toy and got a loan to have several hundred slinkies made and packaged. He then managed to get his invention on the shelves of a local store… No one bought any for several days. Things changed when he went to the store and demonstrated the toy to people as they shopped, resulting in the whole stock selling out within two hours. And the rest, as they say, is history.
  • During WWII, all the snakes and dangerous insects were killed in the London Zoo by the Zoo keepers in case they managed to escape after a bombing.
  • More U.S. soldiers committed suicide in Afghanistan than were killed in action there in 2012.
  • The favorite childhood book of George W. Bush, according to him, was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle… written when George W. Bush was 23 years old.

Other Interesting Stuff

electric-wires-340x510Why Are Electric Wires Color Coded the Way They Are?

Black, white, green, red, blue, orange, brown and grey, the color of the insulating sheath on an electrical wire generally designates its purpose. So, before you start fiddling around with that new light fixture, besides switching off the breaker to a given circuit, it’s a good idea to determine what the color of each of the wires you’re about to touch means. Residential electricity in the United States didn’t begin with an organized system of color-coded wires, or even a set of standards on how to run them. Since shortly after Thomas Edison first introduced the electric lamp in 1879, the insurance industry began…(more)

800px-PeanutButter-340x253The Momentous Peanut Butter Trials

An average American child eats about 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches prior to graduating from high school. That is about a sandwich every four or five days. Americans eat a lot of peanut butter. Besides it being popular and delicious, peanut butter also has had a tremendous impact on how foods are made and labeled today. Thanks to the “Peanut Butter Hearings,” we can now be reasonably sure what we think we are eating is actually what we are eating. Contrary to popular belief, peanut butter was not invented by George Washington Carver. For instance, around the 14th and 15th centuries, the Aztecs of Mexico made peanut paste by mashing up…(more)

White-feather-340x271The Order of the White Feather

The commonly held notion that WW1 was started out of outrage over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie at the hands of the Serbian nationalist secret society known as the “Black Hand” isn’t entirely correct. In fact, the Emperor Franz Josef himself expressed relief over the assassination because it rid him of an heir that he deeply disliked. The Emperor commented that “God will not be mocked. A higher power had put back the order I couldn’t maintain.”It wasn’t just the Emperor who was relieved; it was reported by an Austrian newspaper that the general consensus among the various political circles was that the assassination, though a tragedy, was for the best. As far as the Austrian people were concerned…(more)

scrabble-340x225The Great Depression and Scrabble

There aren’t a great number of positive things that can be attributed to the Great Depression. However, Scrabble is a game that probably wouldn’t have existed without it. It all began with an unemployed architect by the name of Alfred Mosher Butts of Poughkeepsie, New York. Thanks to his excessive free time while unemployed, he decided to invent a word game that was inspired by anagrams and crossword puzzles. (Incidentally, Leo Fender of Fender guitar fame was also out of work thanks to the Great Depression when he decided to start his own company, Fender Radio and Record Shop. He was previously an accountant. Despite going on to be famous for his guitars…(more)

screw-340x223Why do 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)

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