Today I learnt

This is a list of superficial but interesting facts I've come across. I've tried my best to verify these but some of them might be a better story than fact.

  • 2024-01-20: Up until the early 20th century the swiss had a national health crisis of goetre. In 1921, nearly 30 per cent of 19-year-old Swiss conscripts had a goitre. In the cantons of Luzern and Obwalden, one in four men were exempt from military service as a result of goitres so large they struggled to breathe. For every man with a goitre, three women suffered from the condition. Goetres are caused by a lack of Iodine. And switzerland's soil uniquely lacks iodine. This is because in the last ice age, a permanent ice sheet formed over the Alps. Up to one kilometre thick. It thawed and refroze in stages, and with every thaw, meltwater washed out the rubble. Over the course of 100,000 years, this ice sheet tore the top 250 metres of rock and soil from the surface of the Swiss Central Plateau removing it's iodine.
  • 2023-12-09: Some consider the first "Cyber attack" to have taken place in 1834. The Blanc brothers in France traded government bonds in Bordeaux, where information about market movements took several days to arrive from Paris by mail coach. If you could get the information sooner you could beat the market and make money, though no faster method existed, except for a visual semaphore network of towers that the government had setup. They bribed a tower operator in Paris to encode messages by adding spurious characters followed by a delete symbol. Depending on the character they'd know the direction of the market. They were finally caught in 1836 but were not convicted because there was no law against misuse of data networks.
  • 2023-11-23: In 1750 BCE you'd need to work ~50 hours for one hour of lamp light. Now less than a second will buy you an hour of light.
  • 2023-11-03: Harriet is a tortoise that was owned by both Charles Darwin & Steve Irwin. Harriet was initially collected by Charles Darwin during his 1835 expedition to the Galapagos Islands and later brought to the Australia Zoo which Steve and his wife Terri owned. Harriet died in 2006 at an estimated 175 years old.
  • 2023-10-08: Fish skin, namely code, can be used as human skin replacement for skin grafts.
  • 2023-09-20: There is a theory on the origin of bagels that bakers in 9th century Prussia or Poland who, hampered by antisemitic law that forbade them from baking their bread, began boiling it instead.
  • 2023-08-18: The golfing term "bogey", originally signified the number of strokes it should take for a good player to complete the designated hole, it was based on the term bogey man, old Scottish for ghost or spirit. The notion being that each player was scoring against a hypothetical bogey man. However, in 1898 when the rubber golf ball was invented, balls would travel farther and holes would generally require one fewer stoke, a new term "par" was introduced and bogey then denoted one over par.
  • 2023-08-05: Some of the cargo cults from which they get their namesakes are still active. The "John Frum V" cult, started during WII while the American soldiers were stationed on the island. Vast amounts of supplies were air dropped, which meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders. Cult members worshiped certain unspecified Americans having the name "John Frum" or "Tom Navy" who they claimed had brought cargo to their island during World War II and whom they identified as being the spiritual entity who would provide cargo to them in the future. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the military personnel use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day-to-day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and cut new military-style landing strips out of the jungle, hoping to attract more airplanes.
  • 2023-07-11: The Spanish Peso or Dollar was cut radially into 8 pieces to form change. These pieces were colloquially called bits. This still lingers today with term 2 bits (12.5 x 2 = 25) referring to a quarter. It's an interesting coincidence that computers use 8-bit bytes too.
  • 2023-06-30: Up until 1804 vice presidency of the USA was awarded to the runner up. This often meant rivals would serve in office together. The position was often used to frustrate the presidents policies until the system was overhauled with the 12th amendment.
  • 2023-05-09: Some Wikipedia ant facts - Ants have existed as long as dinosaurs. Today ant's estimated biomass is about 20% of the total human populations contribution which is greater than that of the wild birds and mammals combined. Some queen ants can live up to 30 years.
  • 2023-04-07: There are whales alive today that were born before Moby Dick was written. Bowhead whales are considered to be the longest-living mammals, living for over 200 years. In May 2007, a 15 m (49 ft) specimen caught off the Alaskan coast was discovered with the 90 mm (3.5 in) head of an explosive bomb lance of a model manufactured between 1879 and 1885, so the whale was probably bomb lanced sometime between those years, and its age at the time of death was estimated at between 115 and 130 years. Spurred by this discovery, scientists measured the ages of other bowhead whales; one specimen was estimated to be 211 years old.
  • 2023-03-18: A coal mine fire has been burning beneath the town of Centralia Pennsylvania since 1962. The town's population has declined from 1,000 in 1980 to five residents in 2020. The town is in an anthracite coal belt, a coal which is 95% carbon and so the fire is incredibly hard to put out. Some have estimated that the fire could burn for a 1000 years.
  • 2023-03-14: The population of Ireland, as of 2022, has still not fully recovered to pre-Great Famine levels. The 2022 census recorded an estimated 7.1m, still short of the 8.18m recorded in 1841.
  • 2023-03-05: After the death of his mother Shaka Zulu ordered that no crops should be planted during the following year of mourning, no milk (the basis of the Zulu diet at the time) was to be used, and any woman who became pregnant was to be killed along with her husband. At least 7000 people who were deemed to be insufficiently grief-stricken were executed, although the killing was not restricted to humans: cows were slaughtered so that their calves would know what losing a mother felt like. Shaka was killed by three assassins sometime later in that year of mourning.
  • 2023-03-03: Olga Boberg was a famous doorkeeper at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. Students used to send her postcards from their trips abroad. It became so popular that it was enough to write "Olga, Sweden" for her to get the letters.
  • 2023-02-16: Sasol's Secunda CTL plant is as of 2020 the world's largest single emitter of greenhouse gas, at 56.5 million tonnes CO2 a year. However, if Afşin-Elbistan C power station in Turkey is built and operated at planned capacity it would emit over 60 million tonnes a year.
  • 2023-02-12: In the USA there is a ban on trading onion futures. Futures are generally used in agriculture to shield farmers from price volatility. In 1955 Vincent Kosuga & Sam Siegel bought 98% of the onions on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The stored the onions to inflate the price. Then taking a short position before flooding the market with there onions. At one point, 50 pounds (23 kg) of onions were selling in Chicago for less than the bags that held them. Separately, Kosuga once bribed a weather bureau to issue a frost warning in order to inflate the price of futures contracts that he owned. The weather bureau did issue the warning, though the temperature never fell below 50 °F (10 °C).
  • 2023-02-08: The UK had a clock and watch tax. During the last three decades of the eighteenth century, the price of watches declined and consequently they increased in popularity. William Pitt, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, decided to tax watches and clocks. The tax reduced the number of time pieces in circulation and so clocks quickly appeared on buildings and in public places. These timepieces, usually large in size and of relatively plain design, were known as ‘Act of Parliament Clocks’ or 'Tavern Clocks'. The tax was universally unpopular and repealed in less than a year.
  • 2023-01-28: The Tithingman of the puritan church would use a long staff to poke people awake if they fell asleep during sermon. Puritanism was a Protestant movement that emerged in 16th-century England with the goal of transforming it into a godly society by reforming or purifying the Church of England of all remaining Roman Catholic teachings and practices.
  • 2023-01-10: Thousands of people who thought they were watching pirated streams of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were in fact watching pixelated replays from famous soccer video game FIFA 23. The streamers did this to earn money via youtube advertising.
  • 2022-12-28: The word "orient" is derived from Latin oriens, meaning east. In the Middle Ages many maps were drawn with east at the top. For example, Jerusalem would be centered for religious reasons with Asia a above. The term orientate is word orientate is derived from this, even though now it's convention to put north at the top of a map because of the importance of using compasses.
  • 2022-12-20: Map makers add fictious features like Trap Streets or Phantom towns to protect themselves against plagary. In one case, Agloe, New York, was invented on a 1930s map as a copyright trap. In 1950, a general store was built there and named Agloe General Store, as that was the name seen on the map. Thus, the phantom settlement became a real one.
  • 2022-11-30: London was well serviced by electric trams from 1903 to around 1950, until they were replaced with diesel buses, because they were "eminently flexible and much cheaper". Ironically now we are trying to electricity the transport system again.
  • 2022-11-22: 9 states in the USA implement the Idaho stop law, which allows cyclists to treat traffic lights as stop signs and stop signs as yields, meaning that they can ride through both if it is safe to do so.
  • 2022-11-11: A standard cup of coffee requires 140 litres of water to produce. Most of which is used to grow the coffee plant itself. On the other for a standard cup of tea requires 34 litre. of water. This means that tea requires about eight times less water than coffee.
  • 2022-11-4: Aimo Koivunen was a Finnish soldier, assigned to a ski patrol on 20 April 1944. He was also the sole carrier of army-issued Pervitin, or methamphetamine, a stimulant used to remain awake while on duty. He took them all and had a short burst of energy, but then entered into a state of delirium, and lost consciousness. Koivunen remembered waking up the following morning, separated from his patrol and having no supplies. In the following days, he escaped Soviet forces once again, was injured by a land mine which also set fire to a nearby Russian camp, and lay in a ditch for a week waiting for help. Having skied more than 400 km (248.5 mi) he was found and admitted to a nearby hospital, where his heart rate was measured at 200 beats per minute, triple the average human heartbeat and weighing only 43 kg (94.8 lbs). In the week Koivunen was gone, he subsisted only on pine buds and a single Siberian jay that he caught and ate raw. He ended up surviving and died peacefully at the age of 71.
  • 2022-10-28: The United States Egg industry has been successfully sued for making false claims about the misleading claims about the healthiness of eggs. Since the 1960s the National Commission on Egg nutrition have run false adverts, funded studies which were deliberately designed to distort facts about cholesterol, eggs and their relationship to health.
  • 2022-10-20: Vanilla cultivation is interesting. Only 1% of wild Vanilla will pollinate. This is because their flower only opens for one day and it only has one known pollinator, orchid bees. For this reason all commercial pollination takes place via hand pollination, a technique first discovered in 1819 by Edmond Albius who was a 12 year old slave from Reunion islands at the time. Because of all this Vanilla is the second most expensive spice. It's estimated that 95% of "vanilla" products are actually the synthetic vanillin.
  • 2022-10-16: Leeches as still commonly used in surgery today.. They add chemicals that dilate blood vessels and anticoagulants that reduce blood clots which make them useful in reattachment operations, skin grafts, and reconstructive plastic surgery.
  • 2022-10-07: Birds are not affected by Capsicum, the active ingredient in chili peppers. This is advantageous to the plant because birds don't have molars like mammals which destroy the seeds and prevent germination. Thus, natural selection may have led to increasing capsaicin production because it makes the plant less likely to be eaten by animals that do not help it disperse.
  • 2022-09-23: Research suggests that cats are more likely to dislike cat people. Reasoning that cat-people are less likely to follow cat best practices. Like waiting for a cat to approach them and only stroking them in specific areas.
  • 2022-09-11: In Victorian London postal delivery routes would go by every house 12 times a day
  • 2022-08-25: Llanfairpwllgwyngyll a large village in Wales. It's name with a length of 58 characters is the second longest place name in the world, coming runner up to a New Zealand hill. The long name was supposedly contrived in 1869 as an early publicity stunt to give the station the longest name of any railway station in Britain.
  • 2022-08-16: In upper class western Europe the tomato was thought to be poisonous for ~200 years. This was because wealthy Europeans used pewter plates, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this particular tableware, the fruit would leach lead from the plate, resulting in lead poisoning.
  • 2022-12-08: The Knights Templar was a catholic military order in the middle ages and one of the first private banks. While Christians held the holy land Jerusalem, pilgrims would travel from Europe, but taking money on the journey would endanger them to thieves. The pilgrims would deposit their funds in for instance London or Paris and cash their "cheque" in Jerusalem.
  • 2022-12-08: Alexander Selkirk the model for the fictional character of Robinson Crusoe was not shipwrecked like Crusoe, but decided to maroon the ship because he was concerned for it's seaworthiness. The ship did later sink. Selkirk spent 4 years and 4 months on the island before being rescued.
  • 2022-07-20: The Celsius temperature scale was initially created in reverse with 100 degrees as freezing and 0 as boiling. I think this was because waters melting point changes in relation to air pressure while freezing doesn't and perhaps their thermometer was easier to configure in "reverse".
  • 2022-07-16: The aubergine, is also called the eggplant because there is a white variety that looks very much like hens eggs. They were also at one point called vegetable eggs.
  • 2022-06-28: In the UK according to 2021 figures 21309 chickens are slaughtered every 10 minutes. Chicken is the only meat whose consumption has increased in recent years.
  • 2022-06-15: In Britain, the initial postal pricing structure was confusing. Costs depended on the number of pages sent, distance & the distance they travelled, also the receiver of the post would pay the fee. Several techniques developed to get around this like writing crossed ways to reduce the number of pages or hiding a message on the outside of the letter so receiver could reject the post without paying but still get the "message".
  • 2022-06-15: British bank notes carry serial numbers on both sides, because people used to tear them in half and send them separately via the post to foil robberies.
  • 2022-06-15: The early british postal service allowed people to send game in the mail. Rabbits could be sent as long as they included a neck label & "no liquid was likely to exude".
  • 2022-05-31: The Greeks used the term barbarian for all non-Greek-speaking peoples emphasizing their otherness. According to Greek writers, this was because the language they spoke sounded to Greeks like gibberish represented by the sounds "bar..bar.."; the alleged root of the word βάρβαρος, which is anonomatopoeic word.
  • 2022-05-14: Forty percent of the world’s ocean freight shipping, consists of just sending fossil fuels around the world to be burned. Who knows how much of that will be replaced with cobalt and lithium as batteries become more common place in industry, but it's likely good news for the earth.
  • 2022-05-14: Early Greek & Latin texts employed "Scriptio continua", which is the style of writing without punctuation or spaces. Usually texts were read as performance pieces and so quick parsing wasn't concern. The reader had the liberty to insert pauses and dictate tone, making the act of reading a significantly more subjective activity than it is today. However, the lack of spacing also led to some ambiguity because a minor discrepancy in word parsing could give the text a different meaning. For example, a phrase written in scriptio continua as collectamexiliopubem may be interpreted as collectam ex Ilio pubem, meaning "a people gathered from Troy", or collectam exilio pubem, "a people gathered for exile". Thus, readers had to be much more cognisant of the context to which the text referred. Later, this evolved to “boustrophedon”, which included lines written in alternating directions.
  • 2022-05-01: The raw metals in a USA nickel cost ~9 cents so you'd almost double the value by melting down and selling the coin instead of trading with it, though it is illegal to export, melt or treat either a five-cent or one cent coin.
  • 2022-04-21: Lorem ipsum was written in 45 BC making it over 2000 years old. The text is derived from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of Cicero's 'De finibus bonorum et malorum' (The Extremes of Good and Evil). The translation is worth a read.
  • 2022-04-15: Coca-Cola, held the cost of a 6.5-ounce bottle at five cents for more than 70 years, from 1886 to 1959. Coca-Cola agreed to sell its syrup to bottlers at a fixed price in perpetuity, thinking bottling was just a fad. Then, when the company managed to renegotiate, there was so much five-cent price advertising and so many vending machines that only accepted nickels that it took another couple of decades before Coca-Cola could break the nickel’s spell. Since then Arizona Ice tea have maintained there 99c price for 30 years. Side note the Arizona ice-tea founders had never stepped foot in Arizona when launching the brand.
  • 2022-04-08: The Lobster War was a dispute over spiny lobsters that occurred from 1961 to 1963 between Brazil and France. The Brazilian government refused to allow French fishing vessels to catch spiny lobsters 160 km off Brazil's northeastern coast by arguing that lobsters "crawl along the continental shelf." However, the French maintained that "lobsters swim" and so they could be caught by any fishing vessel from any country. The situation became very tense once the French rejected that demand and radioed a message asking for the French government to send a destroyer to accompany the lobster boats, which prompted the Brazilian government to put its many ships on a state of alert. The dispute was resolved unilaterally by Brazil, which extended its territorial waters to a 370 km zone and took in the disputed lobsters' bed.
  • 2022-03-28: Figure skating (pre 1990) used to be judged based on how the skater drew special figures while skating on the ice
  • 2022-03-22: There is a mosquito festival in Russia with an event called "tastiest girl", were girls go into the forest and pick berries for 20mins, winner is decide by who has the most mosquito bites.
  • 2022-03-21: The great french wine blight was a severe blight of the mid-19th century that destroyed many of the vineyards in France and laid waste to the wine industry, it was caused by an aphid that originated in North America and was carried across the Atlantic in the late 1850s. The solution was to graft American vines which are resistant to the aphids at the root of European ones, today only a small number of vines are not graft.
  • 2022-02-20: Kansas City is in Missouri not Kansas.
  • 2022-02-16: The band the KLF burnt a million quid on the Scottish island of Jura, in an act of performance art.
  • 2022-02-01: Tarrare, A french soldier and showman, known for his unusual appetite and eating habits. He was also caught several times within the hospital drinking from patients undergoing bloodletting, and attempting to eat the bodies in the hospital mortuary. This is the most ridiculous Wikipedia entry, hard to believe most of it, but well worth a read.
  • 2022-01-31: The Magic Minute The magic minute is a custom in the United States House of Representatives that allows leaders to speak for as long as they wish, in contrast with other members, who have to adhere to strict time limits. The convention was notably used by Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy in 2018 and 2021 respectively to speak for records of over eight hours.
  • 2022-01-20: The MGM Lion roar is dubbed with the roar of a tiger.
  • 2022-01-11: Due to Japan's aging population, adult nappies have over taken baby nappy sales.
  • 2022-01-06: Goose egg addling is a wildlife management method of population control for Canada geese and other bird species. The process of addling involves temporarily removing fertilized eggs from the nest, testing for embryo development, terminating embryo development, and placing the egg back in the nest. Returning the egg to the nest misleads the goose into believing the egg is still developing. Otherwise, the goose would begin laying again. Goose egg addling was predominantly used in the aftermath of the plane crash of US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009. Following an investigation by officials, which determined the plane crash was caused by a bird strike of Canada geese, an estimated 1,739 goose eggs were coated with oil in an effort to prevent any similar incidents from occurring. There is an interesting document which details all you need to know about addling. From defending oneself from the geese with umbrellas and trash cans, the float test to determine if the embryo is fertilized to alternate termination strategies to oiling method like using dummy eggs.
  • 2021-12-27: The Gospel of Matthew is the only one of the four canonical gospels to mention the Magi (aka the Three wise men). The gospel never mentions the number of Magi. Still, most western Christian denominations have traditionally assumed them to have been three in number, based on the statement that they brought three gifts. In Eastern Christianity, especially the Syriac churches, the Magi often number twelve.
  • 2021-12-23: There is no wifi and cell phone signal in Green Bank West Virginia, Resident's who live within 10 miles of the Green Bank observatory are banned from Bluetooth devices and microwaves, unless they are contained in a metal box, known as a Faraday cage, which blocks electromagnetic fields. I worked at snowshoe a ski resort within the national quiet zone and it had restrictions on cell service but there was (very bad) wifi. The resort obviously doesn't advertise this so it was interesting to see how people coped without their phones, most arrived in late and in a mood because the couldn't load google maps and couldn't call the hotel for directions either.
  • 2021-12-15: Every one of 850+ Wetherspoon's pubs has a unique carpet specifically designed for each location. The makers of the carpets also have a royal warrant which means carpets for the queen & Wetherspoons come from the same place.
  • 2021-12-07: 10% of US electricity for the last two decades was generated from old Russian nuclear warheads..
  • 2021-12-05: The Dewey decimal system heavily favors Christianity, dedicating nearly all of the 200 division to it: the world's thousands of other religions were listed under the 290s. For example, Islam is under just DDC 297, despite being almost as large as Christianity by population. There are other biases for example: some categories regarding women were adjacent to categories on etiquette and in 1932 topics relating to homosexuality were first added to the system under 132 (mental derangements) and 159.9 (abnormal psychology). In 1996, homosexuality was added to 306.7 (sexual relations); this remains the preferred location in the current edition. Although books can also be found under 616.8583 (sexual practices viewed as medical disorders).
  • 2021-12-02: clickers, commonly used to train dogs, were used in World War II by Allied paratroopers preceding and during Operation Overlord as a way of covertly identifying friend from foe. A soldier would click once and if two clicks were received in return from an unidentifiable soldier then his identification was confirmed. (Seems like an easy code to crack.)
  • 2021-12-01: In the wake of Napster (2000), Rednex, the swedish band behind "cotten eye joe", outlined a new strategy to become a entertainment group rather than a band. This meant they'd hire different artists in different regions (Australasia, Europe, America) to perform their songs live increasing their concert revenue.
  • 2021-11-26: The Apgar score is a quick way for doctors to evaluate the health of all newborns at 1 and 5 minutes after birth. My mother told me in med school they used the Apgar score to evaluate men too.
  • 2021-11-24: 17th century Japanese Fire Fighters would wet their uniforms to be come less flammable then with hooks and polls try pull down the building in order to smother the fire.
  • 2021-11-22: Company gardens in get's it namesake from the Dutch East India company. They farmed fresh produce for ships passing by as well as the local settlement.
  • 2021-11-12: The lena image widely used as a standard in the field of digital image processing since 1973, when it was used in developing the jpeg, is from a Playboy centrefold of a Playboy Magazine. Later Lena, the model, worked for Kodak and became a Shirley girl which was a photo card sent to Kodak printers to standardise film prints.
  • 2021-11-06: The first man to walk across the USA did it when he was 70, it took just over a 100 days.
  • 2021-11-06: The first woman to run for US president ran in 1872.
  • 2021-11-01: In New Zealand they call civies day 'Mufti' day. This originates from India where British military wore robes on their days off and were said to look like a Mufti. A Mufti is an Islamic Scholar. As of writing this some schools in NZ have changed the name of their casual clothes day.
  • 2021-10-31: A milkman in Cornwall has saved a row of shops by dousing a fire with 320 pints of milk.
  • 2021-10-28: Female African Elephants Are Evolving Without Tusks Due to Ivory Poaching.
  • 2021-10-22: The inventor of the boogey board was a qualified mathematician from USC. He invented a bunch of other things like the remove-able fin system and a board that you could break into 3 for traveling.
  • 2021-10-20: There used to be laws up until as late as the early 2000s which meant margarine had to be coloured (pink) or couldn't be coloured yellow (to mimic butter).
  • 2021-10-19: The Irish main diet prior to potatoes, for ~1000 years was dairy & oats. Perhaps the reason I can stomach so many milkshakes.