what i learned last week

1. the humber river drains 1/5th of the water in england every day.

2. the fall of the berlin wall increased germany’s population by a quarter, its territory by two-fifths and its economy by a tenth.

3. kidnappers, prostitutes and corrupt government officials in iraq often demand payment in mobile phone credit.

4. about 70% of the connections between your ear and your brain bring messages from the brain to the ear, not the other way around.

5. approximately 767,000,000 kg of cigarette butts wind up as litter worldwide every year.

what i learned last week

1. according to volvo, the carbon footprint of building a car is equivalent to driving it for 1500 km.

2. adolf hitler’s biological father’s original name (before he changed it to alois hitler) was aloios schicklgruber.

3. alois shicklgruber’s father (and therefore adolf hitler’s grandfather) was possibly jewish.

what i learned last week

1. it takes 50,000 pounds of raw materials to make a 3,000 pound car.

2. the number of the beast might be 616 and not 666.

3. in 1896, a large garbage heap was excavated at oxyrhynchus, egypt by two archeologists from oxford university. apart from finding the usual things you’d find in the trash, they found lots and lots of papyrus fragments with writing on them. these fragments were collected, boxed up, and shipped off to oxford where they still sit today, some 100 years later. so far, about 1% of these fragments have been cleaned and read (through various means) however, some of the stuff that’s been found has made for interesting reading. for example, see point #2, above… in addition, a version of the seige of troy was found that is a little different from homer’s (and therefore brad pitt’s) version. in the oxyrhynchus the greeks don’t win – they chicken out and run away… oh, they also found some porn in there as well. link and look for the “detective stories” podcast at this radiolab

4. in order to maintain a population, every couple should have 2.1 children in rich countries and a little more than 3.0 children in poor ones. globally, the average is 2.33. link

5. genghis khan probably had a lot of kids. actually, not just a lot – a whole lot! in fact, he had so many kids that, if you are a male living on planet earth, you have a 0.5% chance of being his descendant. link

6. denmark isn’t as friendly as most danes that i know seem to be. link

7. spain receives about the same amount of money from the european union as the united kingdom pays into it.

8. you can buy authentic olympic torches (slightly used…) on ebay. (when i wrote this sentence, torches from the 2010 vancouver, 1988 seoul and the 1936 berlin (!) olympics were available for bidding.) olympic medals are also available for about $20…

9. voyager 1 spacecraft is travelling at 13 km per second. one if its missions is to make contact with an extraterrestrial life, should they find it. however, even if it were heading in the direction of our nearest star, it would take about 98,000 years to get there. this makes it unlikely that anyone will find voyager, unless they’re right in the neighbourhood.

10. the universe is expanding, however, it is not expanding into a pre-existing space (like a balloon taking up a larger volume in a room). it is expanding in all directions uniformly, which means that the space that the universe occupies after it has expanded didn’t exist before the expansion happened. to put it another way, the larger space that space inhabits after it expanded didn’t exist before it did.

11. pelicans in malgas, south africa, have taken to eating gannet chicks, likely as a result of dwindling fish stocks. link

12. if you build a box that has the same footprint as the base of the eiffel tower, and then melt the eiffel tower and fill up the box, it will be 6 cm deep.

13. the eiffel tower was supposed to be taken apart only 20 years after it was built (for the universal exposition in 1899), but it was saved because it became a radio tower.

14. it takes 60 tons of paint to cover the eiffel tower, it’s painted every 7 years by 25 people who take 12-18 months to complete the job. link

what i learned last week

1. sir frederick banting (discoverer of insulin) was killed in a plane crash in newfoundland. link.

2. curry is good for you. link

3. cocoa puffs are 44% sugar. link

4. the pacific ocean appeared on a map before it was discovered. link

5. australia was on a map before it was discovered by captain cook. same link

6. america was possibly not named after amerigo vespucci (as i was taught in school) but after richard ameryk – the bristol merchant that funded john cabot’s trip across the atlantic where he discovered newfoundland. same link

7. mishpucha is yiddish for “family”.

what i learned last week

1. becoming a member of a social group will half your probability of dying in the next 12 months. this is roughly equivalent to the effect of smoking. so, if 1) you smoke, and 2) you have no friends, these two are equally dangerous to your health.

2. cells replicate themselves by creating two copies that go on to create two new cells each. human cells can regenerate themselves about 50 times before the process stops. by the time this finishes happening (after 50 generations) the “descendents” of a single cell could cover an area roughly equivalent to manhattan. (listen to the “mortality” episode of radiolab for more info on this.)

3. vaccines are incubated in cells that are grown in human cells that have been regenerated in a lab. in the 1950’s the source of these human cells was aborted fetuses. everyone that hase been vaccinated against smallpox, polio and a number of other diseases (totalling about 1,000,000,000 persons) has been vaccinated with viruses that were incubated in the cells of a single fetus aborted by a swedish woman living in the usa. (listen to the “mortality” episode of radiolab for more info on this.)

4. while it is illegal to sell human organs for transplantation in the usa, it is not illegal to sell human tissue (such as bone, tendons and skin). the american tissue donation industry is a $1,000,000,000 a year business. (link)

what i learned last week

1. 94% of the world’s languages are spoken by only 6% of the population. the top three most-spoken languages (in order of most to fewest) are mandarin, spanish and english. 133 of the world’s languages are each spoken by fewer than 10 persons. 473 languages are currently listed as endangered. link

2. hebrew was a dead language at the beginning of the 19th century, but was revived by israeli jews. link

3. approximately 20% of the young women in 18th-century london, england, were prostitutes. link

what i learned last week

1. silvio berlusconi is even more of a loonie than i had thought. link.

2. every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography, 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography, and 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. link

3. the data centre industry emits about the same amount of co2 as the airline industry, but it’s growing much faster. this may have an economic impact on iceland. link

4. swedes burn bunny rabbits to heat their homes. link

5. in 1931, a piano company made concrete pianos. link

6. you can make $300,000 a year being a prison guard in california. also, the average employee of the city of new york makes $100,000 a year. link

7. deep-fried butter is becoming a popular snack food in texas. as a side note, the person that invented the recipe for this also came up with deep-fried coca-cola. link

what i learned last week

1. it was fashionable during the american civil war for officers to be bearded. the reason it was fashionable was that almost every man in britain in the 19th century was bearded. this was because the men were imitating the returning soldiers from the crimean war. they grew beards to help keep warm in the winters outside sebastopol. link

2. it is apparently more wrong for a canadian christian brother to have forcible sex with a child than it is for a french film director.

3. carl linnaeus proposed a “flower clock” which was a garden that contained flowers that would bloom at different times of the day. you would therefore be able to tell the time by looking at which flower was in bloom. link.

4. a spice clock was also invented in which a different spice would be automatically dispensed at each hour of the day. you could therefore smell or taste the time, if, say, you didn’t want to turn on the lights to have a look…

5. before about 1850 in the u.s.a., time was relative. (technically, according to einstein, i suppose, it still is… i’ll try to be more clear….) the time on the clock at the post office was not necessarily the same as the time on the clock in the hotel or in your house. in addition, for a given place, “noon” was set to be the time when the sun was directly overhead (or at least as close as it got on that day…). it was not until the railroads were laid across the country that a standard time was adopted, primarily so that people wouldn’t miss the train. this caused some debate, since towns were asked to move “noon” to a time when the sun was over someone else’s head.

6. oliver sacks reports that he has met some patients who have a different “clock rate” in their brains. in one example, he talks about a man who takes 2 hours to scratch his nose without knowing that, in our perception, it takes a very long time. as far as he’s concerned, he’s just scratching.

what i learned last week

1. there is a tapeworm-like parasite called a “bloodfluke” that can inhabit your body on a trip to africa. if you’re really unlucky, you’ll be the home for a male and a female who can hang out together, swimming around in your bloodstream, for decades.

2. there is a 50% reduction in probability of a person with a hookworm infection to have asthma. in addition, becoming infected with a hookworm may cure asthma and allergies. if you would like to try it, you can buy hookworms HERE.

3. there is a parasite called toxoplasma that has some interesting characteristics and even more interesting associated theories:

3a. toxoplasma can only reproduce (sexually, if you’re interested) inside the gut of a cat. after doing so, however, it lays eggs which are excreted by the cat. now the parasite (once the eggs hatch) wants to get back into another cat, so it sits there (in the cat poo) until a rat comes along to eat it. once inside the rat’s gut (which is not where it wants to be) it starts migrating to the rat’s brain (this takes about 6 weeks). now, remember that the toxoplasma is trying to get back into a cat, but it’s stuck inside a rat which is typically afraid of cats and the way they smell… so, the toxoplasma heads for the amygdala (the part of the brain where fear resides) which happens to be next-door to the part of the brain where sexual arousal resides. the toxoplasma then is able to “cross the wires” between these two brain bits, thus making the smell of cat urine sexy to the rat. the rat looks for a cat, who eats it, and the toxoplasma is back inside a cat where it wanted to be in the first place…

3b. before reading this one, you have to read the previous one, since it’s important to know that toxoplasma changes the rat’s behaviour by rewiring its brain. there is an theory that the rise in incidence of schizophrenia (which practically didn’t exist in humans about 500 years ago…) is directly attributable to having cats as pets. it seems that there may be a link between having toxoplasmosis (being infected by the toxoplasma parasite) and schizophrenia.

3c. people with toxoplasmosis are 2 to 3 times more likely to be in a car accident. remember from (3a) that the toxo parasite is able to make the rat think that dangerous things are sexy? the theory goes that they may also be able to do this to humans, thus removing the fear associated with driving recklessly.

3d. if proven to be true, this may have implications on the issue of “free will”.

4. the new head of unesco – the united nations’ agency that is supposed to promote education, science and culture – is an egyptian who once said that he would burn all israeli books found in egypt’s libraries. see here.

5. salaries for porn stars are dropping. see here.

6. given enough time, it is possible to take a photograph of the entire sky. see here.

7. cows with names give more milk than those without. see here.

8. “probiotic” food doesn’t have any proven benefit over food that isn’t. see here.

what i learned last week

1. girls who grow up in a home without a father reach sexual maturity before those in a home with a father. girls in a home with a step-father reach sexual maturity even earlier. those who grow up in a home with one or more step-brothers are earlier still.
2. all lamb and goat meat exported by australia is slaughtered in accordance with halal custom.
3. halal customs vary not only from country to country but between certification organisations.

(seems like it was a slow week, educationally speaking… oh well…)