what i learned last week

1. wikipedia is less reliable than even i give it credit for. for example, see here, here or here, just as a start…

2. the onion is even funnier than i gave it credit for.

3. the ancient jordanian city of petra is astonishing for a multitude of reasons, including al khazne, the tunnel dug to re-route floodwaters from the siq, and the hydraulic engineering required to maintain water into the city.

4. we are more fortunate than we know. i heard an interview with one of sudan’s lost boys who lives in halifax, nova scotia. he talked about how he wakes up every morning, and feels astonished that he has the luxury of running water, having come from a life where this was indeed a luxury…

5. monsters are real (but skeletons are not)

what i learned last week

1. children who have autism get temporarily relieved of their symptoms when they have a fever, becoming more social and talkative.

2. the last time we had a swine flu outbreak (in 1976) the vaccine that was used to protect people from it caused more deaths than the flu itself.

3. in 1918 the spanish flu pandemic resulted in 40% of the world’s population infected, and more than 50,000,000 people died.

4. normal, yearly seasonal flu results in 250,000 – 500,000 deaths worldwide each year.

5. five ants is more than four elephants.

alternative theories

while i am not averse to dismissing things as complete lunacy, i am a firm believer in collecting a modicum of information on a given topic before doing so, just to make sure that i’m right and everyone else is wrong. lately, i saw a really good documentary on the early history of the intelligent design movement in the states and its ties to creationism via an evolutionary missing link with the odd name of “cdesign proponentsists“. as a result, i’ve been looking at alternative and possibly competing theories. a small collection is listed below…

it is left to the reader to decide on the relative significance of each of these…

what i learned last week

1. hitler thought that berlin would become the world capital re-named germania. he planned a massive architectural project for this transformation that included a triumphal arch based on (but much bigger than) the one in paris, and a volkshalle (or “people’s hall”) that was a dome based on (but much, much bigger than) the pantheon in rome. hitler’s architect, albert speer, wasn’t convinced that the swampland that berlin was built on could withstand the weight of the triumphal arch, so he devised an experiment to find out. this consisted of a large block of concrete (called the schwerbelastungskörper) that was constructed on the proposed site of the arch to measure how much, and how quickly, it would sink. turned out that it sank too fast, so the conclusion was that the arch wouldn’t work – it was just too heavy. interestingly, the block is still sitting there, and is now a historic site.

2. there was a little ice age that consisted of three dips in temperature world-wide between the 16th and the 19th centuries.

3. global warming might result in global cooling. if we have enough global warning, then the polar ice caps melt. this causes an increase in fresh water in the north atlantic ocean, which could result in a re-routing of ocean currents, potentially resulting in a repeat of the little ice age (see above…).

4. people who are raised from birth in bilingual environments are better able to shift attention, organise, prioritise and avoid falling into habitual responses. see here.

5. maurice jarre died.