what i learned last week

1. the reason spammers hit blogs with comments is not to get people to read the spam. it’s to get google to pay attention. the way google decides the order of its list when you search for something is rather democratic. the more people that link to your site, the more likely you are for google to think you’re important, and therefore, worthy of a #1 listing on its results. the more people link to your site, the more google thinks that the links on your site to someone else’s are good, and therefore the more “votes” you get for someone else. so, if my site has a good standing with google, and a spammer can put a comment on my blog linking to his (or her) own site, then it’s more likely that his (or her) site will show up on google’s first page when someone is looking for viagra (as an example…) or free, pirated mp3’s (as another example…). so, the parasites (uh… people spamming my site) are truly parasitic – riding the coattails of my good name (at least, “good” as far as google’s link-counting servers are concerned…) i just activated the akismet wordpress-spam-killer on this blog – hopefully it’ll wipe out the parasites.

2. oliver sacks doesn’t eat kidneys (any more).

3. there are 3,000,000,000 letters (consisting of a, t, c and g) in your genome. this means, that if you were to read it out, letter by letter, at a rate of one letter per second, reading 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take you a little over 95 years to complete the project, so don’t bother…

4. cuban cigar factories have readers – people who read newpaper articles and books to the workers rolling the cigars.

5. bentford’s law is my favourite mathematical law.

6. if you do a preference test where the subjects have to tell you why they prefer something over another, they’ll give you the wrong answer – they actually prefer the other thing.

7. there is a lightbulb at the livermore pleasanton fire department that has been lit continuously for the past 106 years. link

8. a large explosion on the ground on an overcast day will result in the blast wave bouncing off the cloud cover and bouncing back down and breaking some windows.

what i learned last week

1. it is increasingly likely that there was once life on mars. link

2. some components of speech intelligibility are determined (or at least manipulatable) by air pressure on the skin of the listener. link

3. the definition of death has changed at least three times in the past 150 years or so. originally the moment of death was when you stopped breathing. then, it changed in the mid-1800’s to the moment when your heart stopped. since the beginning of the use of heart-lung machines (today known as respirators) we had to come up with a different definition which, these days, is the one we use: when there is no measurable brain activity. (however, there are some religious doctrines such as judaism that stick with the breath definition, since, as the belief goes, if you have air in your lungs, your soul’s still in there.)

4. important news for all you h1n1-paranoid folks: hand sanitizers only work well if your hands are already clean. link

5. chihuahua discrimination is frowned upon in ontario. link

6. the average american drinks more than 200 litres of soda each year. link

7. if you wanted to offset your carbon footprint (of, on average, 9 tons of c02 per year) by buying bottles of coca-cola and not opening it, you’d have to spend about $600,000 per year on coke. (assuming: you have 9 tons of co2 to offset, 1 litre of coke contains 6 g of co2, and 2 litres of coke costs $0.79) link

8. on thanksgiving, the average american eats twice his/her average daily caloric intake, and two and a half times the average daily fat intake. thanks!

9. there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on the earth.

10. if transatlantic passenger jets flew in formation like geese, (with a separation of a couple of nautical miles) they would save about 15% on fuel. have a similar reduction in co2 output, and a 25% reduction in nitrogen-oxide output.

what i learned last week

1. each american wastes 1400 calories each day. this is about 66% of my recommended daily intake to maintain my current weight. canada is not much different… toronto throws 17,500,000 kg of food in the garbage each month. link

2. the link between a type ‘a’ personality and heart disease was originally identified by an upholsterer. link – check out the episode on stress

3. under the philosophy of “kraft durch freude” or “strength through joy” the nazi’s built a resort called prora on the baltic island of rĂ¼gen, germany. it consists of 8 buildings, parallel to the beach, approximately 5 km long. it has 10,000 rooms and was designed to accomodate 20,000 guests. it still exists, but is empty. link

4. number of unvaccinated people thus far who have died of h1n1 in denmark: 0. number of people thus far who have died of h1n1 after being vaccinated for it: 2.

5. each month, 60,000 people call onstar to remotely unlock their cars in which they have accidentally left their keys.

6. monsanto was the company that made agent orange. today its pesticide division makes roundup. its gm seed division ensures that its products are “roundup ready” meaning that the plants that grow from those seeds, unlike lots of other plants, will survive being sprayed with the pesticide.

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