What I Learn Each Day

A wise man once said that you should strive to learn something new every day. This web page will contain the most interesting thing I've learned each day (newest to oldest). I may not be able to enter something every day, but I will try to enter something at least once per week.

I take no responsibility for the accuracy of this information. I hope it will still be interesting and entertaining.

If you want to tell me something new, you can send e-mail to Kevin.Lowey@Usask.CA. You can also visit my web site at http://homepage.usask.ca/~lowey/.


February 16, 2005 - Saskatchewan Time Zone

Well, its that time of year again. The great Saskatchewan clock debate. Happens every year in the few months before Daylight Savings Time goes into effect.

You see, Saskatchewan (except for an area around Lloydminster) does not change clocks in the spring and fall. It stays on Central Standard Time (GMT -6) all the time. So while most people "fall forward" and "spring back", we just stay the same (and get the late night talk shows an hour earlier in the summer).

Every year, there are people in the province who insist that we should change our clocks with the rest of the world. Usually its the people on the east side of the province who want to have shop hours the same as Manitoba all the time instead of just in the winter.

The funny thing is that they can never win, because Saskatchewan is supposed to be in the Mountain time zone. So we are already permanently observing daylight savings time (Mountain Daylight Time). If we change times, we won't get up an hour earlier in the summer, we'll get up an hour later in the winter. We will be on the same time as Alberta, not Manitoba.

You see there are 24 time zones in the world (one for each hour). 360 degrees divided by 24 gives 15 degrees. So every 15 degrees there are meridians that define the center of the time zone. The time zone ranges from 7.5 degrees before and after those meridians.

The Mountain time zone is supposed to be centered around 105 Degrees longitude, a little west of Regina Saskatchewan. It ranges from 97.5 to 112.5 degrees West Longitude. In other words, from about 20 miles west of Winnipeg Manitoba to about about 20 miles east of Lethbridge Alberta. The entire province of Saskatchewan is dead square in the middle of the Mountain time zone.

So why do we call it Central Standard time instead of Mountain Daylight time? Well, it turns out those are both identical (six hours behind GMT). It's just less confusing to the rest of the world to say we are on Central Standard time.

So to the people on the Manitoba border, be careful what you wish for. As it is now, you are the same time as Manitoba for half the year. If you get your way and get us to change clocks, then you'll never be the same time as Manitoba.

For more information, refer to this PDF file from the Government of Saskatchewan web site. Also see this map of Canadian time zones in summer and winter from the National Research Council of Canada. It clearly shows how Saskatchewan should be in the Mountain time zone, not the Central time zone.

February 10, 2005 - Messy toilets

Tonight on Discovery Channel Canada's "Daily Planet" they had an interesting article about toilets.

They wanted to show how difficult it is to predict the movement of water accurately. A dye was added to the water in a toilet that glows brightly under an ultraviolet light. Then they flushed the toilet, turned off the lights, and turned on the ultraviolet light.

The UV light showed small water droplets from the toilet as far away as several feet up the walls beside the toilet.

Moral of the story? Always close the lid before flushing the toilet, and always wash your hands after.

June 9, 2004 - How to fold a T-Shirt in 3 seconds

A friend sent me this mpeg video in email. I have no idea where the original came from. It shows an interesting method of quickly folding a T-Shirt.

View the Video

Friday, March 12, 2004 - How fast are you moving?

So, you're sitting there in front of your computer reading this right now, so you aren't moving at all right?

Wrong! Just sitting there you are travelling at over 66,000 miles per hour.

The Sun is on average 93 million miles away. Assuming the orbit of the earth is circular (it's not, but it's close), then the diameter of that circle is 186 million miles. The circumference of the circle is thus 186 million times pi (3.1415926...). which works out to 584,336,223.6 miles. That gives us the distance the earth travels around the Sun in a year.

Divide that by 356.25 days in a year, and 24 hours in a day, and that gives us 66,659 miles per hour. So, relative to the Sun, we are travelling at over 66 thousand miles per hour.

Of course, calculating our "speed" is all relative to what we are comparing against. Above I was comparing our speed relative to the Sun. However, we could also do our speed relative to the centre of our galaxy.

Our solar system is about 26,000 light-years from the centre of our galaxy, so the diameter of our orbit is 52,000 light years. That means the circumference of the orbit is pi times that, or about 163,363 light years.

The solar system takes about 250 million years to travel that far. So the speed we are travelling is 163,363/250 = 653 light years every million years. Now we just have to convert that to miles per hour.

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. That means it is 5,869,313,600,000 miles in a year. So the speed we are going is that times 653 divided by a million, or 3,832,922,980 miles per year, or about 437,551 miles per hour.

So it's all relative ...

Saturday, 14 Feb, 2004 - Story of the Hands

Today (Valentine's day) I was watching "Daily Planet" on Discovery Channel. They had a section on people's hands.

Men usually have ring fingers that are longer than their index fingers. Women normally have index fingers that are longer than their ring fingers. The reason for this is apparantly the exposure of the fetus to testostorone in the womb. The more testosterone you are exposed to, the longer your ring finger is.

Apparantly some women are exposed to more testosterone in the womb and end up with longer ring fingers, like men. Studies have shown that this extra testosterone also means these women have a higher sex drive, like men.

So, next time at the bar when you catch someone checking out your ring finger, they might not be simply checking for a ring!

Monday, 3 December, 2001 - Long term lease

I have a PDA with "Avantgo" installed. One of the channels is a daily Almanac. It mentioned that on December 3, 1868 a lease was signed in Ireland that granted a person the right to use a piece of land to store a sewage tank for the next ten million years. Now that's planning ahead!

Sunday, 2 December, 2001 - What Colour is a Polar Bear?

A polar bear is white right? Everyone knows that. Well, actually, that's not quite true. I saw a show about a zoo where they had to operate on a polar bear. They needed to shave a part of the bear. The Vet pointed out that a polar bear's skin is really black. It's just covered up by the white fur.

Sunday, 18 February, 2001 - Canadian Money

Here's an interesting thing about Canadian paper-money. If you rub Canadian bills hard against another piece of paper, the ink from the Canadian bills will leave a smear mark on the other paper. However, the bill itself will not smear.

This isn't because Canadian bills use cheap ink. In fact, this is intentional. It's a security feature that helps to distinguish real bills from fake ones, especially those done on a colour photocopier.

The person who told me this says that Canadian bills are the only ones in the world with this feature, but I haven't verified that.

Monday, 18 December, 2000 - First use of wireless in a ship disaster

Tonight I was watching "The American Experience" on PBS. It aired a documentary called "Rescue at Sea". Their web page is available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/rescue/.

The show talked about how on January 23, 1909, two ships, the "Florida" and the White-Star ship "Republic", collided on a very foggy night off Nantucket island.

At the time, "wireless" was a novelty that let rich passengers send farewell messages from the ship, or check stock quotes. It had never been used in an emergency before.

During the collision, Jack Binns, the wireless operator, after reparing his wireless, sent out the "CQD" ... "Seek You - Danger". This was the distress call used before the more familiar "SOS". During the next 24 hours he worked with the wireless operator of the rescue ship "Baltic", helping to direct the two ships together in the thick fog.

In the end, over 1500 people were saved. The only casualties were from the collision itself, not from the sinking of the Republic. Jack Binns was hailed as a hero, and given a ticker tape parade. However, his pleas to Congress to make 24 hour monitoring and improvements to the wireless use on ships went unheaded.

One interesting postscript to this story. Jack Binns went back to England and was assigned a new ship in 1912 by the White Star Line. Personal circumstances intervened however. He had fallen in love and couldn't make the trip. The ship he missed ... the Titanic. The 1500 people lost on the Titanic was almost identical to the number saved in the Republic/Florida accident. For more information on Titanic, see this excellent web site at http://www.titanic.cc/.

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000 - Finding the lows and highs

Here's a trick to find out where the nearest low pressure system is (usually accompanied by storms) and where the nearest high pressure system is (usually clear skies). Pilots in airplanes use this trick to avoid flying through storms.

The reason you have to turn about 15 degrees when you are on the ground is because surface winds are affected by friction with the earth as it passes over them and end up "curving" more than the upper winds. They didn't say this, but I assume in the southern hemisphere you would have to turn to the left, not the right.

I learned this off one of the "weather facts" on "The Weather Network" in Canada.

Saturday, 11 November, 2000 - Time until Sunset

Have you ever been someplace in the late evening, and wondered how long it will be until the sun sets? Well, here's a trick you can use to find out.

Hold your arm out in front of you, then curl your hand in so that your palm is at right angles to your arm. Put the bottom of your little finger on the horizon. Now look at where the sun is. Each "finger" between the horizon and the sun is about 15 minutes.

A geologist friend of mine told me about this at a party today.

Friday, 19 November, 1999 - 19/11/1999

Here's an interesting bit of trivia. Today's date (19/11/1999) is the last day which will have all "odd digits" in the date until 1/1/3111.

That's right, you will have seen the last 'odd digit day' in your lifetime. In fact it's the last 'odd digit' day for approximately 37 generations to come!

(from Henri "Bringing you the important things" Konneh)

Tuesday, 16 November, 1999 - Typhoid Mary

This comes from the Merriam-Webster tip of the day at http://www.m-w.com.

Typhoid Mary has been synonymous with anyone who, by no fault of their own, becomes the source of an epidemic or some other undesireable action.

It turns out that Typhoid Mary was a real person: Mary Mallon. Her story is sad. She was a cook in New York city who, while immune to Typhoid, was a carrier of the disease. The disease spread from her to the food she prepared, causing an epidemic.

Officials quarantined her for three years, then released her with the provision she never cook professionally again. However, in 1915 she was caught working as a cook in a maternity hospital, the source of another typhoid outbreak. She was forcibly returned to quarantine where she stayed until she died in 1938.

Monday, 11 October, 1999 - Engineering Rings

Have you ever noticed the rings Engineers wear once they graduate? Apparantly the first engineering rings were built from the metal of a bridge that collapsed. The ring is intended to serve as a reminder to Engineers of the responsibility of their job, and the consequences of doing their jobs incorrectly.

Monday, 23 August, 1999 - Why Manhole Covers are Round

Manhole covers are very heavy, and are found in lots of public places like city streets. One thing you don't want is for a manhole cover to work it's way loose and fall into the sewer, leaving a large hole, or falling on people working below.

It turns out that a perfect circle is the most economical shape for a manhole cover that makes it impossible for the cover to fall through the hole. Square or rectangular covers can always be turned so they can go the hole diagonally. However, a cirle remains the same shape from all angles, so there's no way to turn it so it can fall through the hole.

Sunday, 15 August, 1999 - How we've all been "Indianized"

In 1774, the famous "Boston Teaparty" occured, where colonists dumped tea into the Boston Harbour to protest British taxation, and confiscation of gunpowder. By the time this protest was over, the United States, and democracy as we know it, was born. What a lot of people forget is that these people were dressed as Iroquois warriors. Why?

From the middle ages, European countries were based on a form of government where leadership came from father to son, no matter how suitable that son was for the job. Women were treated like property, religious freedom was curtailed, and the noble class' feudal subjects were treated like slaves.

At the same time, the Iroquois nations of North America were selecting leaders based on their suitability to the job. Everyone had one voice in the selection, including women and children. Power was never subject to the abuse of one individual. The ability to change leaders with a vote was a given.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, when building the first amendment to the American constitution:

"[Indian] leaders influence by their character alone; they follow, or not, as they please, him whose character for wisdom or war they have the highest opinion ... every man, with them, is perfectly free to follow his own inclinations. But if, in doing this, he violates the rights of another, if the case be slight, he is punished by the disesteem of society, or as we say, public opinion; if serious, he is tomahawked as a serious enemy."

In 1744, 30 years before the Boston Teaparty, Canassatego, leader of the Iroquois league told American colonists that if they were wise, they would form a union like the Iroquois league to protect themselves from their problems with the British Crown.

On August 25, 1775, one year after the Boston Teaparty, the colonists met with the Iroquois leaders to thank the Iroquois for the council of Canasetego, to say that they had taken is council to heart, and to announce the birth of a new confederacy of 12 United States.

Perhaps, if the American colonists had listened to the Iroquois more closely, it wouldn't have taken them so long to abolish slavery, give women the vote, recognise inalienable human rights, etc. We're just now getting to a democratic point that the Iroquis nations were at a thousand years ago.

This information came from the afterward in a book called "People of the Mist", by Kathleen O'neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. I highly recommend their "People of the ..." series for a fascinating look at prehistoric native american culture.

Saturday, 17 July, 1999 - Battling Bees

Today I found I had some bees making a home in the eaves if my garage. I talked to a friend about it, and he told me that some stores sell a spray foam to solve this problem. You find the bee's entranceway, stick the nozzle of the spray foam in this entrance, and fill the nest up with foam. It kills the bees, and blocks up the nest at the same time.

I'll have to try it tomorrow, and see how badly stung I get.

Saturday, 10 July, 1999 - Greasy Plastic

Have you ever noticed that some plastic or vinyl products occasionally get a "greasy" feel to them? I noticed it on my plastic dish drying rack.

Apparantly this greasy feel is from oils being released from the plastic. I tried to clean this off using dishwashing soap, but that didn't help. However, a friend told me to use a detergent as it reacts with the oils differently.

Sure enough, I tried using some of the detergent I used to wash clothes, and the greasy feel disappeared.

Tuesday, 8 June, 1999 - Our Little Friends

I watched a show on "The Learning Channel" tonight. In it they followed David Suzuki (from "The Nature of Things" around and showed all the little beasties that accompanied him. Everything from bacteria and mold on the dishcloths, to dust mites, and eyelash mites, to the bacteria inside the body.

Apparantly, the average adult human has about three pounds of bacteria in or on their body at any time. This includes bacteria on the skin (even after a shower), bacteria in the intestines, and the bacteria and other beasties that live in your mouth.

Another fact is that the bacteria in a baby's mouth comes from its mother. This bacteria is necessary to prevent infections in the mouth. When an "invading" bacteria shows up, these other bacteria release antibiotics to kill it. These bacteria are also responsible for developing plaque on your teeth. So, in some sense, good teeth is hereditary. Depending on what bacteria is passed on from your mother, you may have more or less of the bacteria that cause cavities in your teeth.

Monday, 17 May, 1999 - "Lorem Ipsum Dolor"

Some people may have noticed that "Loreum ipsum dolor" is the beginning of a nonsense paragraph often used to demonstrate different fonts. The idea is to make nonsense, so people will focus on the font, and not what the text is saying.

This is supposed to be nonsense latin-like text. However, someone has found that this text actually a slightly garbled version of de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, written in 45 BC.

For more information, look here.

Monday, 10 May, 1999 - Irish Potato Famine

The Irish Potato Famine of the 1800s was a terrible tragedy for Ireland. However, it's also a warning not to put all your eggs in one basket.

The cause of the potato famine was a fungus. Normally, this fungus would have killed a few plants and been a minor nuisance. However, the planting practices of the time changed this into a major problem.

You see, at the time it was more efficient to plant by cutting up a potato into halves, then planting each half in the ground to produce a new plant. This was much faster than growning from seed. Unfortunately, it eliminated the genetic diversity in the plants. In effect, every single potato plant in Ireland was a clone of all the other plants. Genetically identical.

When the fungus hit, unfortunately this particular potato plant had a genetic succeptability to the fungus. Since all the plants were clones, they all had this problem, so the fungus hit them all and wiped out the entire potato crop, instead of just a few plants.

(I got this from the same "Nature of Things" show discussed in the May 3, 1999 entry)

Monday, 3 May, 1999 - Measuring the Speed of Light

I was watching "The Nature Of Things" the other night. They had an episode where they asked famous scientists what their "Wonders of the World" are.

One scientist mentioned the first experiment to accurately measure the speed of light. It was done by Armande Fizeau in 1849. Here's how he did it.

He accurately measured the distance between two mountain tops that were more than 5 miles apart. On the top of one mountain he put a mirror. On the top of the other he had a bright light. Between the light and the mirror was a toothed wheel.

The idea is he could spin this wheel in front of the light to send pulses of light to the mirror. The mirror would then reflect the light back through the teeth in the wheel to an eyepiece for the observer. When the wheel spun at a certain speed, the teeth would get in the way of the reflected light returning from the mountain top, so the observer wouldn't see the reflection. From the speed of the rotation, and the distance between the mirror and the light, he could accurately calculate the speed of light to 313,000,000 meters per second. The actual value is 299,792,458 meters per second.

What impressed the scientist on the show was how well thought out, yet how simple the experiment was. Anyone could easily go out and repeat this experiment today without spending a lot of money. It's an excellent example of "good basic science".

Wednesday, 21 April, 1999 - Mmmm, Bacteria ....

I was watching "@discovery Canada" on the Discovery channel last night. One of their quizzes was this. If you took all the bacteria in the world and fit it into a cube, how big would the cube be. The answer? 11km by 11km. That's larger than Mount Everest.

Monday, 12 April, 1999 - And the animals came two by two ...

I was watching a show on The Learning Channel last night (sorry, didn't catch the name). The show was about scientific investigations that support the biblical story of Noah and the Ark.

It turns out that before 5,500 BCE the Black Sea was actually a fresh water lake, much lower than it is today. This has been proven because sediments before that time contain Zebra Mussels, which only live in fresh water. After that time the sediments contain clams, which only live in sea water.

The theory is that people lived in the fertile river valleys beside this lake. Then, around 5,600 BCE the natural dam holding back the Mediterranean sea burst with a force equal to about 200 Niagra Falls. Sea water rushed in at about 50 mph, flooding the lake, the river valleys, and everything else in the region up to sea level. The process is estimated to have taken about 300 days.

This would have been a truely "biblical" flood. Much more catastrophic than normal annual flooding of rivers, which most people thought were the basis of the flood stories. In addition, people may have had some warning that this would happen, and had time to prepare (such as building an ark).

There is evidence of settlements in the river valleys, and also evidence of "strangers" coming to areas around the Black Sea shortly after 5,500 BCE. These strangers all had common pottery and seemed to have had a common culture. This may be because they all came from the now flooded Black Sea river valleys.

What's even more intriguing is that some of these people settled in Sumaria. Sumaria has a legend of an ancient king named Gilgamesh. His chronicles contain a story very similar to the Noah story, down to building an ark, using birds to look for land, and even the Gods giving a sign that such a flood won't happen again. Many people think that the story of Noah came from the tale of Gilgamesh.

Many biblical scholars don't agree with this theory. The common belief is that the story of Noah was describing something that happened about 3,500 BCE, not 5,500 BCE, so according to them, the timing is all wrong. However, the story of Gilgamesh was written down on clay tablets about 200 years before the commonly held date of Noah's flood. If Noah's story did come from the Gilgamesh tale, then it may be much older than the commonly held time.

For more information, refer to:

Sunday, 21 March, 1999 - How to make a Pencil

So how is a pencil made? I was watching a show called "How'd they do that?" on the learning channel today which explained it all ...

First the "lead" is made. Actually there is no lead in a pencil "lead". Instead it is made by mixing water, clay, and various types of graphite together. The amount of clay determines how hard the pencil is. This mixture is then run through an "extruder" that squeezes out the leads in the right shape. These are then cooked in an oven for 8.5 hours.

Now, how do they drill the holes to put the leads into the wood? Well, actually, it doesn't work that way. Instead, the pencils are made up from two halfs with grooves in them. The lead is glued into the grooves, and then the two halves of the pencil are glued together.

The final step is to paint the pencils, and put the erasers on the end (unless it's a minigolf pencil #8-)

Wednesday, 10 March, 1999 - The Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu was an epidemic which killed between 30 and 50 million people worldwide in just 10 months during the first world war in 1918. It was one of the first influensa epidemics spread world-wide by human migration, namely the troop movements in WW1.

One interesting effect of the flu was in the Treaty of Versailles. A great debate was happening over how badly to punish the Germans for World War I. Woodrow Wilson, who grew up in the US South after the US Civil War, knew first hand about growing up in a country that lost a war. He was pushing for leniency, but the others at the table wanted harsher measures.

At a critical moment in the negotiations, Woodrow Wilson caught the Spanish flu and almost died. Weakened by his battle with the flu, he relented and the harsher punishments for Germany were enforced.

Years later a German WW I corporal used fighting against this harsh treatment for Germany as a propoganda tool to raise himself to power. The name of this corporal? Adolf Hitler.

I heard this on The Learning Channel. "Real History: The Great Epidemic"

Monday, 22 February, 1999 - Right side of the road

Ever wonder why some countries drive cars on the left side of the road and some drive on the right? Well, it has to do with horses and horse carriages, and how most humans are right handed.

When people walk a horse (or a horse drawing a carriage) they want to hold onto the horse with their dominant (usually right) hand. This puts the horse on the right, and the human on the left.

If two people are meeting on a road, they would want to keep the horses apart so they wouldn't fight and so the people could check the clearances of the carts as they pass. Since the horse was being held on the right side, people would naturally pass each other on the right side of the road and keep themselves between the passing horses.

In larger horse teams the horses were controlled by a whip. Since the whip was usually held in the right hand, people would often drive the team from the left side. In many countries, the drivers would ride the left horse in the back row of a team for this reason. So again, to get the best view for clearance while passing on the road, people would naturaly meet each other on the right side.

So how did the drive on the left rule happen? Well, in some countries, people would ride in the carriages instead of on the horses in the back. Often there would be passengers in the back of a carriage. If the driver tried to use the whip while sitting on the left side of the cart, the whip could hit the people sitting behind the driver. So the best place for the driver to sit was the right side of the cart. Since the driver was on the right, it was better to pass other carriages you meet on the left side of the road, so the driver could judge the distance between the carriages better.

So, the decision about whether vehicles drive on the left or the right depended upon which type of cart driving was most popular when the law was enforced. If the driver sat on the back horse, they passed on the right. If the people sat in the wagon, they passed on the left.

Currently, most countries drive on the right side. Most of the countries that drive on the left are island nations (like Britian and Japan), which don't have to worry about roads going between them and other countries.

I saw this on a TV show called "Inquiring Minds".

Monday, 15 February, 1999 - Valentine's Day Origins

Apparantly there were several Saint Valentines. All of them were martyrs. The modern "Valentine's Day" apparantly was a designated feast day (until 1969, when it was dropped from the Roman Catholic calendar) to honor two Christian saints (at least one named Saint Valentine) martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. The reason Saint Valentine was killed (beheaded, actually) was that he continued to marry young couples even though Claudius forbade it. Apparently Claudius thought that married soldiers weren't as good as single soldiers.

For more information, please see the the Catholic Encyclopedia's section on St. Valentine, or the site for St. Valentine's Day Legends

Monday, 14 December, 1998 - 12-bar blues

12-Bar Blues isn't a comment on a band's tour schedule. It's a style of blues music. To understand why, you have to understand a bit about how music is structured.

Most people can feel the beat of music, and count along or clap along with it. In a waltz (3/4 time) there's 3 beats per measure (or bar). In most other popular music there's four beats per bar (4/4 time).

In 12-bar blues, the song is structured so each section is 12 bars long. For example, the singer might sing for 12 bars, then the guitar will take a solo for 12 bars, then another singing verse for 12 bars, then a harmonica solo for 12 bars, ... If you were counting along you would count "1 two three four, 2 two three four, ... 12 two three four", and at the end of the counting you'll notice the music "starting over".

Sometimes you'll hear musicians play variations of this. For example, 2 guitar players may trade off in a solo, the first one playing for 2 bars, then the second for 2 bars. However, in the end, the entire solo works out to 12 bars, in time for the singer, or another instrument like a piano or drum solo, to come in for their 12 bars.

So there you have it, 12-bar blues explained.

Monday, 7 December, 1998 - Gettin' hit on the head

During the 1930's the American government decided to build the Boulder hydroelectric dam on the Columbia river. At the time it was touted as the greatest building project since the Pyramids.

The most common accident on the job was being hit on the head from falling debris. The people working on the site didn't have hard-hats. Instead, they wore fedora hats to keep the sun off.

Someone got the idea of painting the fedora hats with tar used in the project, then letting the hat dry in the hot sun. The dried tar became very hard, thus producing the first hard hats used in a construction site.

I saw this on a TV show about mega projects on The Learning Channel.

Monday, 30 November, 1998 - Chilly Brass Monkeys

Here's something some students can use to almost get in trouble with the teacher.

The term "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey", has nothing to do with the anatomy of monkeys. A brass monkey was actually a brass plate used to hold cannon balls on the old sailing vessels. When it got too cold the brass would contract (as most things do when they get cold) and the cannon balls wall fall off. Don't ask me why these brass plates were called brass monkeys - maybe that's something we can both learn another day.

I even found a picture of one (be it ever so small) at: http://www.alacarte-collections.com/collections/hmsviccan.html.

Thanks to Robert Robinson for sending me this tidbit.

Monday, 23 November, 1998 - Training a Horse

I saw something on "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki" the other day. There was a fellow (forget his name now) that had an amazing method for training horses, based on subtle horse "body language" that he'd observed. This may be the "horse whisperer" technique from the Robert Redford movie. The trainer could take a horse that was only halter trained and have it carrying a rider in less than 30 minutes. This is a far cry from the steriotypical cowboy "bustin bronc" version of getting a horse to carry a rider.

The whole approach is based on how wild horses deal with the lead horse in a herd, and how that lead horse disciplines other horses by threatening to kick them out of the herd. He demonstrated the method on the show. He would stand in the middle of the ring with the horse on a long lead. He would then act aggressive, waving his arms, looking the horse in the eye, standing square to the horse, and gently hitting the horse's back with some reins. This made him look like a predator to the horse.

The horse would start running around the pen. He mentioned that in wild horses, when pursued by a predator, they will normally run about 400 yards, then switch direction. Sure enough, the horse did.

After a while, the horse would start to pay the trainer some respect. The sign for this was very subtle. The ear closest to the trainer would "lock on" to the trainer, instead of facing forwards or backwards. This means, "Ok, you've got my attention, I'm starting to acknowledge that you are in control here".

As this continues, the horse will start showing other signs of acknowledging that the trainer was the "head of the herd". The horse would lower its head to the ground, and the sign the trainer waited for was when the horse would start licking it's lips. This was the sign that the horse felt it was "punished" enough, and wanted to come back into the herd.

At this point, the trainer starts acting completely differently. Instead of being the aggressive predator, the man would turn his back to the horse. This is the signal in the wild that the horse can return to the herd.

The horse is then so happy to be allowed back in the herd, it would walk right up beside the trainer in the ring. The trainer could then walk all over the ring and that horse would stay right at his shoulder, without using a halter to lead him.

From that point on, the horse as acknowledged the trainer as the leader of the herd, and a deep trust has built up between the horse and the trainer. The horse will then allow the trainer to put a saddle on. The horse will still buck for a minute or two because of the unfamiliar feel of the saddle, but as soon as it realizes it isn't a predator on it's back it'll come back to the trainer. He can then put on a bit and bridle with some long reigns so he can get the horse used to being led without actually getting on the horse.

The last step is to have a rider get on the horse. The horse may still buck a little bit, but nothing nearly as bad as the traditional method.

Total elapsed time from start to finish is less than 30 minutes.

The point is that by observing closely how animals communicate in the wild, we can adapt that "language" to develop more humane training techniqes for these animals.

Monday, 16 November, 1998 - Honey, food of the Gods

Honey is the only food that won't spoil. Apparantly it contains a natural preservative that prevents it from spoiling.

Monday, 9 November, 1998 - Beer History

This came to me in e-mail the other day. I think it's all true.

A very important history lesson about Beer.....

Now you can appreciate the importance of BEER throughout history...

Monday, 2 November, 1998 - Kill a Rat - Get him Drunk!

I was watching a show on A & E called "Inside Edition" about exterminators. In it one of the exterminators mentioned that rats love to drink beer. After drinking beer, they vomit it back up. Apparantly, rats cannot easily vomit, they usually choke on their own vomit and die.

So, you want to kill a rat? Leave a panfull of beer out!

Monday, 26 October, 1998 - Poultry Byproducts in Cat Food

This came from a salesman in a petfood store who was trying to sell me his cat food, so who knows if it's true or not.

Apparantly if a catfood label says "Poultry Meal" on it, then it contains actual meat from poultry. On the other hand, if it says "Poultry Byproducts", then it isn't necessarily meat. It could be ground up feathers, beaks, etc. That's why the higher quality (and more expensive) catfoot contains poultry meal instead of poultry byproducts.

Monday, 19 October, 1998 - Scuttlebutt

The following comes from the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day where they discussed the origin of the word "Scuttlebutt" meaning gossip or rumor.

Nowadays, office workers catch up on the latest scuttlebutt around the water cooler, and when they do, they are continuing a long-standing (although not necessarily honorable) tradition. That kind of gossip sharing probably also occurred on the sailing ships of yore. Back in the early 1800s, the cask containing a ship's daily supply of fresh water was called a "scuttlebutt"; that name was later applied to a drinking fountain on a ship or at a naval installation. Eventually, the term for the water source was also applied to the gossip and rumors generated around it, and the latest chatter has been "scuttlebutt" ever since.

Tuesday, 13 October, 1998 - Friday the 13th

I heard this on a TV show A & E dealing with superstition, and the number 13.

For a long time the number 13 has had mystical connotations, for either good or bad luck. 13 is associated with many natural phenomena important to ancient religions. Each year has just over 13 28-day lunar cycles in it. In addition, the 52 weeks in a year can be broken down into four sets of 13 weeks, corresponding to the length of time between the yearly solstices and equinoxes.

For the most part, these ancient religions saw 13 as a good number. However, there were a few religions that saw it as a bad number. In nordic mythology for example, an uninvited 13th guest at a dinner party for the Gods (the God of Evil) ended up killing the best loved God.

The bad-luck connotation of Friday the 13th comes from the Christian tradition of the last supper. Here, Christ and the 12 apostles made up the 13, with Judas playing the part of the dangerous 13th guest. As a result of his betrayal, Jesus was crucified ... on a Friday.

Monday, 5 October, 1998 - Red Herring

I received this from my subscription to the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day where they discussed the origin of the term "Red Herring", which means "something that distracts attention from the real issue".

Believe it or not, "red herring" has as much to do with hunting dogs as with brightly colored fish. Here's how: A herring is a soft-finned bony fish. People who like to eat herring have long preserved them by salting and slow smoking them. That process makes a herring turn red or dark brown -- and gives them a very strong smell. Dogs love to sniff such smelly treats, a fact that makes the fish a perfect diversion for anyone trying to distract hunting dogs from the trail of their quarry. The practice of using preserved fish to confuse hunting dogs led to the use of the term "red herring" for anything that diverts attention from the issue at hand.

Monday, 28 September, 1998 - QUERTY Keyboard

I received this as part of the Merriam Webster Word of the Day in their discussion of the word "QUERTY" as refering to the standard typewriter keyboard.

If you look at the topmost row of letters on your computer keyboard, you'll see where the "QWERTY" got its name. Why did Christopher Latham Sholes choose that particular arrangement of letters when he was developing the modern typewriter in the late 1860s and early 1870s? Popular myth holds that the "QWERTY" maximizes efficiency by placing the most often used letters in the most accessible places, but the truth is that the "QWERTY" was actually designed to slow typists down. Sholes' first typewriters were cumbersome and jammed easily if the keys were pressed too fast, so he picked letter positions that let the typist go faster than a pen, but not fast enough to bollix the machine.

Monday, 21 September, 1998 - Getting Sacked

I got this from a site called MailBits.com, who in turn got it from "Why You Say It" by Webb Garrison:

Why is a dismissed employee said to be "sacked"?

The Answer:

In the 17th century, craftsmen and artisans brought their own tools to work, storing them in a sack. If the boss wanted to dismiss one of these workers, he would often give him his sack. The implication being that he should put his tools in the sack and leave the shop. Today, you don't have to be an artisan or a craftsman to "get the sack." Even the boss can be "sacked."

Monday, 14 September, 1998 - How to Defrost a Turkey

I caught a bit of an interview with a chef today. One thing he mentioned is that many people cause health problems by incorrectly defrosting meat.

What most people do is put the meat (turkey, chicken, etc.) on the counter to defrost. The problem is that as soon as the outer layers defrost, they become a feeding ground for bacteria. If you leave the bird on the counter long enough for the entire bird to be defrosted, the outer layers are teeming with bacteria. Then, if you don't cook it long enough at 350 degrees to kill all the bacteria, you can have a health problem.

You know how sometimes after a turkey dinner you get a "bloated" feeling and mild upset stomach? That's actually caused by a very mild food poisoning from the bacteria still living in the turkey or chicken meat.

The solution is simple. All meat should be defrosted in the refrigerator, not in the open air. It will take longer, but there won't be as much bacteria on it because bacteria isn't as active in a cool refrigerator.

Monday, 7 September, 1998 - Dog Days of Summer

Ever wonder where the term "Dog days of Summer" came from? Well, turns out it's because of the star Sirius, named after the dog of the hunter Orion. Sirius is often called the "Dog Star" from it's latin name "Canicula" which means "small dog". The first visible rising of Sirius happens during the summer, so early July to September are called "dies caniculares" or in English "the dog days".

I got this from the Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 16 1998 where they were disussing the word "canicular" which means "of or relating to the dog days of summer".

Monday, 31 August, 1998 - Honeymoon

I was watching a show on TV featuring Desmond Morris, the author of The Human Animal. He was discussing the origin of the term "honeymoon".

The "Honey" part comes from the belief that honey was an aphrodesiac. Often during the honeymoon they would eat a lot of honey, or drink "mead", an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey.

Why would a newlywed couple need an aphrodesiac? Well, the "Moon" part comes from the fact that original honeymoons lasted a full month. This was done to ensure that the bride and groom had a good chance of conceiving their first child.

Monday, 24 August, 1998 - Greatest Poet in the World

A coworker who owns this book mentioned this to me.

Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) of China wrote a book of poetry titled simply "Poems of Mao Tse-tung". According to the introduction over 57 million copies of these poems have been sold. That's more copies than any other poet in history, and more than the combined total of all poets who have ever written in English.

Monday, 17 August, 1998 - How Times have Changed

I was watching a program called "Wings" on the Discovery Channel. The topic for this show was the Soviet MI-24 "Hind" helicopter. This helicopter was the main attack helicopter used by the Soviets in the Afghanistan war. Thousands of these gunships were used during the war.

Things have changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most of the remaining Hind helicopters are now grounded due to mechanical problems or lack of fuel. The average Russian Hind pilot gets to fly one training mission a month.

An interesting irony is that several Hind helicopters were captured by the Americans in the Iraqi war. They are now used by a training unit in Tennissee to acquaint ground troops with the machine they could meet in combat, and the tactics used by the pilots of these machines. The irony is that this team of Americans is now the most active flying Hind unit in the world, flying the machine originally designed to fight against them in a European World War III.

Monday, 10 August, 1998 - Smelly Play Clay

Ever wonder what elementary school teachers do at a party? They make "Smelly Play Clay" of course!! I was at a party with some teachers last night and we had fun making this stuff. Here's the recipe.

Materials

Directions

  1. Mix together the flower, drink mix, salt, and alum.
  2. Have an adult help boil water and add it to the dry mixture.
  3. Add the oil.
  4. Mix together with a fork for 3-4 minutes until it's cool enough to mix with your hands.
  5. Kneed the dough on wax paper until it's not sticky. Sprinkle a little extra flour if you need to.
  6. Store the play clay in used plastic containers that are air tight.

Monday, 3 August, 1998 - August

I subscribe to a the Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day mailing list. Each day they send information about another English Word. For more information check their web site at www.m-w.com.

Their word for Monday, August 3 was "August". Here's what they said about the origin of this word.

"August" comes from the Latin word "augustus," which in turn derives from "augere," a verb meaning "to make grow" or "to increase." The first Roman emperor was given the title "Augustus" to reflect his lofty status. During his reign (in 8 B.C.), the Roman Senate voted to use the title to replace the name of the month "Sextilis" in their calendar to honor their grand leader. English speakers inherited the name of the month of August with the rest of the Julian calendar, but it wasn't until the mid-1600s that the term came to be used generically in English to refer to someone with imperial qualities.

Monday, 27 July, 1998 - My what big ears you have ...

(From a show called "Inquiring Minds")

Have you ever wondered why the human ear is shaped the way it is? Well, there are two reasons.

  1. The ear sticks out from the head in order to amplify high frequency sounds from the front more than from the back. Our brain can then interpret this so that we can tell if a sound is in front of us or behind us. Without our outer ears, we could still hear sound, but could not as easily tell what direction the sound came from.

  2. The strange pattern of whorls in the outer ear is designed to amplify the sound frequencies associated with human speech.

Monday, 20 July, 1998 - Deaf Composers

(From a show called "Inquiring Minds")

Ludwig Van Beethovan was deaf in his later years. The deafness was caused by something interfering with sound travelling from the eardrum and the outer ear to the cochlia in the inner ear. However, Beethovan could still compose by holding a stick in his teeth, and have it touch the strings of his piano. The sound reached his inner ear through bone induction (see the July 13 entry) from the vibrating stick. There are now hearing aids which work on the same principle.

(The cochlia is the fluid-filled part of the ear that actually changes vibrations into nerve impulses in the auditory nerve. The ear-drum and bones of the ear are all designed to vibrate this cochlia, however the vibrations can also arrive via bone induction because the cochlia is firmly embeded in the skull).

Monday, 13 July, 1998 - Why you sound different on tape

(From a show called "Inquiring Minds")

Have you ever noticed that your recorded voice on tape sounds a lot different from what you hear when you talk? It's not as resonant, kind of thin sounding. The reason for that is because you actually hear your own voice in two ways. The first is through the air like any other noise. The second is through "bone induction", where the sound waves travel through the bones of your skull to the inner ear. Lower frequencies travel better this way, which is why your voice sounds more resonant. When you listen to your voice on tape, you don't get the benefit of bone induction, so your voice sounds different.

Monday, 6 July, 1998 - Washing away skunk smell

I was watching "@discovery.ca" on the Canadian Discovery Channel (actually the Tuesday 7 July episode). They had information on a great soap to use to wash skunk smell off of animals. They also went into the background of what kind of chemical the skunk smell was, how their remedy works, who developed it, etc. For more details see their site at www.exn.net.

Mix together one litre (quart for you Americans) of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide (as found in most drugstores), with about a quarter cup (60 ml for you Canadians) of Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda). That's the part that breaks down the smell chemical. Also add a dash of dishwashing liquid, which will lift the "smell chemical" off the animal fur (or whatever) so the other chemicals can destroy the smell.

Use this to wash the sprayed animal or object and the smell will disappear and won't come back like it will when washing only with soap and water (the smell chemical can recombine when using only soap and water).

As for tomato juice, it doesn't help one bit. However, a component in it does help prevent cancer. So wash the dogs with the above formula and drink the tomato juice yourself.

Monday, 29 June, 1998 - Forensic Entemology

Forensic Entemology is the science of using the behaviour of insects to solve crimes. For example, the maggot lifecycle is very precise. You can tell how old a body is by the distance the maggot has travelled from a dead body.

On "Forbidden Places" today there was a show about forensic science. In it they mentioned the first known use of Forensic Entemology. Apparantly in ancient China there was a murder done with a sickle. The village elder didn't know who killed the person, so he asked all the men to assemble in front of him in the square, and lay their sickle down before them.

The murderer had cleaned the weapon, but the flies in the courtyard could still smell the blood on the blade. Immediately the blade started attracting the flies in the courtyard. The owner took this to be a sign from God, and immediately confessed.

For more information on Forensic Science, check out this site.

Monday, 22 June, 1998 - bunny-hug

Everyone knows what a "bunny-hug" is right? If you don't recognize the term, don't be surprised. I just learned that it's a term specific to people from Saskatchewan. (A friend told me this, based on something he read in a Canadian dictionary someplace. Sorry I'm not more specific).

A "bunny-hug" is a specific type of hooded sweater. It is a "sweatshirt" type sweater (smooth on the outside, soft pile on the inside) that has a hood with a drawstring on it. There's also usually a "handwarmer" pocket in the front (a single pocket across the belly with openings on both sides for the hands). Usually this type of sweater is used a lot by joggers and other sports enthusiasts.

I have no idea how it came to be called a "bunny-hug" in Saskatchewan.

Monday, 15 June, 1998 - While you sleep ...

I heard this on a local radio station today. They had one of those call in contests where they said three things and you had to tell them which one was true to win the prize.

Apparantly, on average a person will eat 11 spiders while sleeping during their lifetime. MMmmmmm ... Spiders ....

Monday, 8 June, 1998 - Origin of the Unicorn

I've been reading an interesting book. It's called "The Final MAGIC Fantasy Collection", by Isaac Asimov, ISBN 0-06-105412-7 (yes, he did write more than science fiction). The book consists of some of his fantasy short stories, as well as some of his thoughts on writing, critics, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. One of his topics was Unicorns.

The oldest reference to the "Unicorn" is in the Bible, in several places. (Numbers 23:22, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:10, Psalms 22:21, Psalms 92:10, Isaiah 34:7). These passages point out the Unicorn's strength, and the magical powers of its horn. Since the Bible mentions it, it must have existed right?

Well, not exactly. The version of the Bible that mentions it is the "King James" version. Turns out the word translated as "unicorn" is acutally the hebrew word "re'em" which modern scholars translate to mean "wild ox", or "aurochs", a large (6 foot at the shoulder) bovine with huge horns and immense strength that made sense to use as a metaphore for strength in the Bible. The species went extinct in Poland in 1627.

Turns out the ancient Assyrian artists carved the wild ox in bas-relief as a side view. From the side, it looked like there was only one horn (the other was hidden behind the first one) so it looked like a one-horned beast. Thus the slang name for this in Greek was "monokeros", or "Unicorn" in latin.

The first person known to have described an animal that looks like the Unicorn is Ctesias, a greek physician and scholar around 400 B.C. He described an Indian animal that looked like a white ass with an 18 inch horn in its forhead. Asimov then goes on to explain how this came from confusing a real one-horned Indian animal (the Rhinoceros) and a rare type of antelope called the oryx, which from the side looks like a horse with only one horn, even though it has two horns. It's interesting that even today the Rhino is endangered because poachers hunt it for the "mystical" powers of its horn, the same mystical powers the Unicorn's horn supposedly had.

To further complicate matters, ancient sailors often brought home "Unicorn Horns" from distant lands. These were actually one of the teeth of the "narwhal", a type of whale where one tooth grows into a tusk up to nine feet long. The tusk has a leftward spiral, just like the horn portrayed on most Unicorns.

So, in the end the Unicorn is a mythical beast, made up of a confused combination of stories and artifacts from the wild ox, oryx, rhinoceros, narwhal, and people's imaginations. However, like most legends, there is some small grain of truth behind the stories, if we can sort out the fact from the fiction.

Monday, 18 May, 1998 - What sign is a Tank? Aquarius!!!

I was watching "Extreme Machines" on "The Learning Channel" tonight. It was all about military tanks. The first tanks were developed by the British during World War I in order to break the stalemate of trench warfare. They needed something that could breach all the obsticles while still protecting the soldiers inside, which their tank did admirably.

Why was it named a "tank"? For security reasons, the builders were not told what the real purpose of the tank was. Instead, they were told they were building a machine for "carrying water".

Monday, 11 May, 1998 - World's most Dangerous Animal

So I was watching a show about dangerous animals today. What animal do you think is the most dangerous? Sharks kill maybe 10 people a year. Grizzly bears, maybe 20. Snakes might kill a few hundred. But these are insignificant compared to an animal that is responsible for killing millions of people each year.

That animal is the common mosquito and the diseases carried by mosquitos, including Malaria. The world health organization estimates that one in 17 people around the world are killed by mosquito borne diseases each year.

(Note that the figures above may be out a bit, I don't remember for sure what they were, but the relative contribution of each animal is accurate)

Monday, 4 May, 1998 - Twins

I was watching a documentary on the Learning Channel about twins. Apparantly about one in eight pregnancies start out as twins, but there is something called the "Disappearing Twin Syndrome" where one of the twins is aborted, leaving only one child, so that only about 1 in 80 pregnancies result in twins.

There's also a study that shows that twins are more likely to be left-handed than single children.

Someone put these two facts together and thought it may mean that left-handed people are more likely to have had a "lost twin" than right handed people. However, there have been no studies to confirm this.

Monday, 27 April, 1998 - Cold Sores

If you have a cold sore, you should stop using your toothbrush. Part of the cycle that brings cold sores back is that the virus causing it is on the bristles of your toothbrush. By continuing to use the same toothbrush it just guarantees that a few weeks later another cold sore will come back. Instead, you should use your toothbrush until the current cold sore is healed, then switch to a new toothbrush.

Monday, 20 April, 1998 - Take a Pill

According to my cat "Boots", the easiest way to feed a cat a pill is to grind the pill up and mix it with wet catfood.

Monday, 13 April, 1998 - Neat Clothes

Here's a tip every bachelor should know. The easiest way to get wrinkles out of clothes is to throw them back in the drier for about 5 minutes. All the wrinkles will disappear. Just make sure to fold them properly this time!

Monday, 6 April, 1998 - Country Poetry

I heard this, of all places, from the TV show Babylon 5. Apparantly every Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas". Don't believe me? Check out this web page.

On a related note, try singing "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" to the tune of "The house of the Rising Sun" ...

Monday, 30 March, 1998 - Titanic Premonition

Since Titanic took so many Academy Awards, I thought I'd pass on this interesting piece of trivia:

One of the most remarkable coincidences concerns "Futility", a novel written by a retired Merchant Nay officer Morgan Robertson. His story told of a mighty British liner, the fastest and most luxurious ever built, which set out on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. On it were some 3000 passengers. But the ship was doomed. Mid-Atlantic, the starboard side of the side of the ship struck an iceberg and the vessel, advertised as "unsinkable", sank with a huge loss of life - because there were not enough lifeboats. Morgan Robertson wrote his book in 1898.

In 1912 the Titanic set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Mid-Atlantic the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank on April 14 (in the same spot described by Robertson in Futility!), taking with her 1513 souls. Most of the deaths were the result of too few lifeboats.

Truth is stranger than fiction. The name of the ship in Futility: "The Titan".

Monday, 23 March, 1998 - Origin of "Oz"

This came from an internet Trivia file and is unconfirmed.

The name for Oz in the 'Wizard of Oz' was thought up when the creator, Frank Baum, looked at his filing cabinet and saw A-N, and O-Z, hence 'Oz.'

A coworker tells me that the way he heard it, Frank Baum was an Encyclopedia Salesman, and the "O-Z" was on one of the index volumes for his Encyclopedia.

Monday, 16 March, 1998 - Bert and Ernie

(From a trivia file sent to me, not verified)

The characters Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver, in Frank Capra's, 'It's A Wonderful Life'.

Monday, 9 March, 1998 - Los Angeles?

(From a trivia file sent to me, not verified)

Los Angeles's full name is 'El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula' and can be abbreviated to 3.63% of its size, 'L.A.'.

Monday, 2 March, 1998 - Paswegin Saskatchewan

A while back my Dad heard a fellow on the radio talking about his book on the origins of Saskatchewan place names. The fellow mentioned that the only town in Saskatchewan he couldn't find the origin for was a village called "Paswegin". He checked for obvious things like words in the Cree language, but always came up empty.

My Dad said he knew the answer because he heard the story from his grandfather. Apparantly the Paswegin site was close to an intersection of two wagon-routes in the area back in the late 1800s. Right at this intersection lived a family named the "Wegins" (might have been spelled differently).

Their home became a landmark in the area. Whenever someone wanted directions the reply usually went "First you go down past wegin's" ... Over time "Past Wegin's" turned into "Paswegin".

Monday, 23 February, 1998 - Testimony

I found this from one of those "trivia" lists that are going around the Internet in e-mail. You may want to verify it with another source.

The origin of the word "testimony" is quite interesting. The Ancient Romans were not Christians, so when in court they did not swear they were telling the truth on the bible. Instead, the men swore on their testicles. (I believe women were not allowed to testify in court at the time). If they lied, well, lets just say they wouldn't be passing that lying gene along to future generations.

You know, I think that they might have something. There probably would be a lot less people lying in court if this were still in effect ...

Monday, 16 February, 1998 - Baby's Eyes

I forgot where I heard this. I think it was on a show on the Learning Channel or Discovery Channel about child development and the senses. If you're a student doing an essay or something, you may want to verify this with another source first (or look at your baby brother or sister #8-)

Apparantly, the size of a person's eyeballs stays the same throughout their entire life. A newborn baby's eyes are the same size as an adult's eyes. That's one reason baby animals (and people) look "cute". The size of their eyes in proportion to the rest of the face is bigger than an adult.

So does that mean the "gray aliens" are cute, because they have big eyes? Probably not, because we don't see "eyeballs", instead their eyes are more like dark sunglasses, so they look more menacing (kinda like cops writing you a speeding ticket #8-)

Monday, 9 February, 1998 - Titanic Radio

I got this from a show on the Titanic on the Learning Channel.

At the time of the sinking it is believed that the "Californian" was close by. The Titanic tried to radio the Californian for help, but there was no reply.

Earlier that evening, the Californian was sending out constant reports of iceburgs in the shipping lanes. The wireless operator of the Titanic, overworked by all the wireless messages from the passengers to shore, finally told the Californian wireless operator to stop cluttering the airwaves with all the warnings and keep the channel clear. The Californian operator turned off the wireless and went to bed. There was no requirement that the wireless be monitored all the time until after the Titanic disaster.

It's also believed that the people on the Californian saw the flares from the Titanic, but thought it was fireworks celebrating it's maiden voyage, and not emergency flares.

Monday 2 February 1998: Titanic Lifeboats

Unbelievable. The movie "Titanic" is still at the top of the movies attendance lists a month and a half after it was released!

One of the things people today find incredible is that the Titanic only had lifeboats for about half the people on the ship. However, we have to keep in mind that we are judging by today's standards. At the time of the Titanic tragedy, NONE of the North Atlantic passenger ships had lifeboats enough to hold everyone.

The theory at the time was that the North Atlantic shipping lanes were always busy. The invention of the new "wireless radio" meant that any nearby rescue ship could be summoned within the hour. The ships themselves were designed so even in the worst accident they would take hours to sink (as was the case in the Titanic).

The purpose of the lifeboat was not to keep people afloat until help arrived. Lifeboats were supposed to be used to ferry people from the sinking ship to the rescue ship. It wasn't until after the Titanic that the role of lifeboats were rethought.

I learned this while reading the information on this excellent Titanic web site.

Wednesday January 21: How to stop headaches.

I was chatting with a friend on the "Kevy Kam" and mentioned that I had a headache. She told me that I should try the accupressure point on my hand to get rid of the headache. It seemed to work, or it might have just been the ibuprofen kicking in.

Here's the instructions she gave me:

Okay, in between your thumb and first finger is all that spongy muscle, right?

Near the base of that muscle (take your thumb and third finger from your left hand to feel the right) is a very tender spot.

Find the spot that hurts with a minute amount of pressure.

Now when you've got the point that hurts with a little bit of pressure, take your thumb and third finger of the oppostie hand, and squeeze. REALLY hard... for as long as you can take it.

Tuesday, 20 January, 1998: Real Titanic Love Story

The movie "Titanic" is big right now, based on a fictional love story aboard the ship. However, tonight I was watching "American Journal" and saw a real Titanic love story.

Apparantly a recent salvage operation at the Titanic found some love letters from a vaudvillian actress (named Miss Shuttle I believe) to her lover, also a vaudvillian actor. The letters discussed their upcoming trip to America on the Titanic. However, there was no record of her or her lover as passengers on the ship.

The letter was briefly shown on a television special and some of the woman's family saw the signature at the bottom of the letter and identified the woman.

Turns out the woman was dying of pneumonia and couldn't make the trip. Her lover, who was booked on the Titanic, stayed with his love while she was dying. One of their friends did make the trip, and took some of their belongings ahead so they would be in America when the fellow followed later. The love-letters were among these items, which ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic when Titanic sank. The friend also died.

The woman was only in her twenties when she died. It is a tragedy that she died so young. However, it's interesting that her early death ended up saving the life of the man she loved.

Monday, 12 January, 1998: Interstate Bends

I received another trivia file in the mail. This is one of the things in it.

The Eisenhower interstate system requires that one mile in every five must be straight. These straight sections are usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.

Saturday, 3 January, 1998: Closest to the Sun

I was playing "You Don't Know Jack" and came across this tidbit. The Earth's orbit around the Sun is an ellipse. Sometimes it is closer to the sun than others. The day the earth comes closest to the sun is January 3rd. (Hard to belive when we're in the middle of a Saskatchewan Winter)

That's especially interesting to me, because January 3rd is also my birthday.

Monday, 22 December, 1997: Posh Accomodations

Everyone knows that "Posh" is an English term for very expensive and luxurious. However, according to the web site for the movie The Titanic, POSH is actually an abbreviation for "Port Out, Starboard Home".

On Trans-Atlantic voyages, the Port side faced South (towards the Sun) when going from London to New York, and the Starboard side faced South when returning from New York to London. So, the rich always insisted on travelling "Port Out, Starboard Home" (POSH) so they would have a room in the sun for the entire trip, not a room in the shade.

Monday, 15 December, 1997: Baby Tastebuds

Friends of mine just had their second child yesterday. That reminded me of something funny that happened with their first child (Vanessa).

Whenever we went to a restaurant, Vanessa always wanted a lemon wedge to suck on. She loved it. Then, one day about six months after she was born, she took a bite out of the lemon wedge and made the strangest face.

Turns out that a baby's sour taste buds don't develop until about six months after the baby is born. I just happened to be there the first time Vanessa took a bite out of a sour lemon after here brand new sour tastebuds took effect. Hilarious.

Monday, 8 December, 1997: Dust Mites

I was watching the Learning Channel a while ago, a show about Dust Mites. I think it was on "@discovery.ca". They mentioned that 10% of the weight of the average pillow, after three years, is made up of dust mites and dust mite droppings. (I think it was three years, it might have been three months).

Have a nice sleep ...

Monday, 24 November, 1997: Movie Accountability

If you are watching a Hollywood movie produced by "John Smithee", don't be surprised if the movie is really really bad. It isn't that "John Smithee" is a bad producer. In fact, there is no "John Smithee". This is the alias producer's use when they don't want their real name attached to a movie.

I learned this from the CD-ROM trivia game "You Don't Know Jack - Volume 2"

Tuesday, 11 November, 1997: Casualties of War

Tonight on "Biography" they were featuring "Hap Arnold", the person responsible for all the U.S. Air forces in World War II. One interesting figure they mentioned was that more American pilots died in WW2 than people in the navy and marine corps combined. Shows how dangerous air power was back then. A big change from "Desert Storm".

Thursday, 6 November, 1997: Competing Rock Concerts

I heard on the Radio today (C-95 morning show) that the Rolling Stones were NOT invited to play at the Woodstock concert in New York State. They were so upset they decided to stage a competing concert at the same time on the west coast at the Altamont Speedway. They had the Hell's Angels for security, who stabbed and killed one of the concert goers. Three other people also died accidentally (one drowning, two others run over while sleeping in their sleeping bags).

Monday, 27 October, 1997: Mask Glue

I was looking for some "spirit gum" to glue down a mask to my face on Halloween. A friend however suggested using glue for false eyelashes. Apparantly it works just as well, and is safe to use around eyes. I'll give it a try on Halloween and let you know how it works out.

Tuesday, 21 October, 1997: Taste Test

I saw this on "Discovery Canada" tonight. Here's a way to win a quick looney. Bet someone that if they are blindfolded, and they pinch their nose, they won't be able to tell the difference in taste between their favorite Cola, and a Sprite.

People won't be able to tell the difference. Apparantly much of the "taste" of softdrinks is actually "smell".

Monday, 13 October, 1997: Checkmate

The word "Checkmate" in chess comes from the Persian phrase "Shah Mat," which means "The King is dead".

Monday, 6 October, 1997: Pick a card, any card

From my friend's trivia file again:

Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king from history. Spades - King David, Clubs - Alexander the Great, Hearts - Charlemagne, and Diamonds - Julius Caesar.

Now all you need is an Elvis deck, and you can have ALL the great kings ...

Monday, 29 September, 1997: Firehouse Stairs

From my friend's trivia file again:

The reason firehouses have circular stairways is from the days of yore when the engines were pulled by horses. The horses were stabled on the ground floor and figured out how to walk up straight staircases.

I wonder if these are the same horses that know how to count (see below).

Monday, 22 September, 1997: Can YOU cut the mustard?

A friend sent this:

I was just checking out your web page and thought I'd send along something new I learned yesterday about aging and our sense of taste from "Adult Development and Aging" by John C. Cavanaugh

"The expression "too old to cut the mustard" dates back to when people made mustard at home by grinding mustard seed and adding just the right amount of vinegar ("cutting the mustard") to balance the taste. If too much vinegar was added, the whole concoction tasted terrible, so the balance was critical. Many families found that elderly members tended to add too much vinegar resulting in the saying." (pg 92)

Monday, 15 September, 1997: Australian Coat of Arms

Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards, and are on the Australian coat of arms for that reason.

Monday, 8 September, 1997: More word fun

The verb "cleave" is the only English word with two synonyms which are antonyms of each other: adhere and separate.

I can cleave a path through the forest with my machette, but only if rust doesn't cleave to the machette.

Monday, 1 September, 1997: Turn your head and ...ough

In the Engish language, the combination "ough" can be pronounced in nine different ways. The following sentence contains them all: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed."

Monday, 25 August, 1997: Why is there no channel 1 on TV?

(More trivia from my friend)

Apparantly, In the 1940s, the FCC assigned television's Channel 1 to mobile services (two-way radios in taxicabs, for instance) but did not re-number the other channel assignments. That is why your TV set has channels 2 and up, but no channel 1.

Given what's on TV most of the time these days, perhaps they should have reassigned a bunch more channels ...

Monday, 18 August, 1997: Bye, Bye Miss American Pie ...

A friend of mine sent me a file filled with all sorts of trivia. Here's one of the items:

The airplane Buddy Holly died in was the "American Pie." (Thus the name of the Don McLean song "American Pie".)

Monday, 11 August, 1997: In for a penny, in for a £

A friend of mine sent me a file filled with all sorts of trivia. Here's one of the items:

The word 'pound' is abbreviated 'lb.' after the constellation 'libra' because it means 'pound' in Latin, and also 'scales'. The abbreviation for the British Pound Sterling comes from the same source: it is an 'L' for Libra/Lb. with a stroke through it to indicate abbreviation (£). Same goes for the Italian lira which uses the same abbreviation ('lira' coming from 'libra'). So British currency (before it went metric) was always quoted as "pounds/shillings/pence", abbreviated "L/s/d" (libra/solidus/denarius).

So, can someone tell me why the Canadian Dollar is an "S" with a line through it ($) instead of a "D" with a line through it?

I received this answer to the above question from Vernon Woodward:

It comes from the abbreviation for US dollars. An "U" was written, then an "S" was written over it. Eventually it was shorthanded to an S slashed with two vertical lines. Print type further reduced this to an "S" with one vertical slash.

I'm assuming the Canadian dollar just inherited the symbol.

Monday, 4 August, 1997: More about "Amazons"

Two weeks ago I mentioned something about amazons. Here's some email from a friend with more information:

Do you know the etymology of "Amazon"? As you already know from "The Things I Learned Today" file, that Amazons cut off their left breast to accommodate their archery gear. Their name is therefore derived from that mythical mutilation.

a/mazo
 a = without/none
 mazo = breast

Isn't learning fun!!

Monday, 28 July, 1997: How to wither a root ...

A while ago I had a tree that was diseased, and had to be removed. A friend with a chainsaw cut down the tree for me, and cut it up into firewood.

That left the tree stump, cut flush with the ground but still there. I said something about going to a gardening store and buying some "Stump Rot" to get rid of the root. He told me not to waste my money. Apparantly Stump Rot is just Salt Peter that has been repackaged and is more expensive. He suggested I go down to the local pharmacy and get a bunch of salt peter, drill holes in the stump, and pour the salt peter into the holes. The root will then dry out and start to rot.

I thought it interesting that Salt Peter can have similar effects on both plants and animals #8-)

Monday, 21 July, 1997: Amazon Women ...

I even find this one hard to believe, because I thought the Amazons were a mythical race. However, a friend of mine who is a history major swears to me that Amazon women practiced self mutilation. According to him, these female warriors cut off one breast so it wouldn't interfere with using a bow. I tried to find confirmation of this, but I couldn't, so take this with a grain of salt. I just wonder what Xena thinks of this ...

Update ... Today I was playing the CD trivia game "You Don't Know Jack!" and this question came up. According to them, Amazon women burned of their right breast so it wouldn't interfere with the bow.

Monday, 14 July, 1997: Born Free ....

There's currently a debate in Saskatoon about whether or not there should be city bylaws to prevent cats from roaming the streets. People want laws that would force cat owners to keep the cats in their yards, keep cats on leashes, etc.

Today my Dad told me an interesting fact. Apparantly any such law would be illegal in Canada, or any other Commonwealth country. An English King during one of the plagues that hit England issued a Royal Decree stating that cats shall forever run free, and shall not be bound, locked up, etc. You see, the cats killed the rats which carried the plague so this Royal Decree was in effect a public health law.

The interesting thing is that the Royal Decree is the most powerful law in the land, even more powerful than Canadian federal law. After all, it was a Royal Decree which gave each Commonwealth country their own constitution. So in effect, this law could be considered the Magna Carta of the Cat world ...

Monday, 7 July, 1997: How to dry your car

An auto show on TV a while ago showed the proper way to use a chamois to dry a car after washing it. (For those who don't know, a chamois is a very soft piece of absorbant suede leather that picks up water and doesn't leave streaks on the vehicle finish like regular towels).

Most people use the chamois like a regular towel. They bunch it up and rub it against the vehicle to pick up water. This is the incorrect way.

The best way is to lay the entire chamois flat on the car, then grab two corners and pull the chamois towards you, wring the water out of the chamois, then repeat. For the side of the car, lay it flat against the side and then pull along the side to pick up the water droplets. This is much more effective in picking up the water droplets left after washing your vehicle, and provides a much better result.

Monday, 30 June, 1997: How to wash your car

I always used to start washing my car at the top and then work down. My theory was that this would get the best "use" of the water, because it would run down the side and pick up the dirt as it went down.

However, someone pointed out that you should wash your car starting at the bottom, and working your way up. That way you won't miss any spots. Anything that is wet has been washed, anything that is dry has not been washed. You won't accidentally skip over a spot you thought you had already washed.

Later, when it comes time to rinse, you start at the top and work down.

I actually got this tip on a home repair show (This Old House I think). They were washing the side of a house to prepare it for painting, and explained this reason for starting at the bottom and working up.

Monday, 23 June, 1997: From Freezing to Steaming

Everyone knows that 0 degrees Centigrade is the freezing point of water and 100 degrees Centigrade is the boiling point of water. But what about the old Fahrenheit temperatures?

Well, it's a long and complicated story. Turns out that Fahrenheit misunderstood the scale used by Olaus Roemer in 1701, and so decided the basis of calibrating the thermometer should be normal human body temperature, and that should be 90. He then decided the freezing point of water should be 30.

An article by Fahrenheit then said that the boiling point of water would be 212 degrees. However, that meant the other two numbers were "inconvenient and awkward fractions", so he adjusted his scale so the freezing point of water was 32, (180 less than 212) and then the human body temperature would be 98.

Now, it turns out that Fahrenheit was wrong. On his scale, 212 was actually several degrees higher than the boiling point of water. However, the people making the thermometers used Fahrenheit's 212 for boiling and 32 for freezing as the basis for calibrating their thermometers. This made human body temperature 98.6 degrees.

So the bottom line is that the Fahrenheit scale derived from an incorrect calculation and a manufacturing accident. The careful work to come up with the right scale was thrown off when his calculation of the boiling point of water was wrong.

Is it any wonder we went metric?

For more references, look at these sites:

Monday, 16 June, 1997: Chevy No Va

More on the Chevy Nova. Apparantly when it first came out, they couldn't figure out why the car sold great in Canada and the U.S., but not very well in Mexico. It took a spanish speaking employee to explain it to them. "Nova" = "No Va" = "no go".

That reminds me of another story I heard about a Japanese company who was developing a service to market on the Internet in North America. It was an Internet Search Tool, where you tell it what to search for and it "picks" the stuff off the Internet. They thought it would be great to use Woody Woodpecker as a mascot, as he's always fast, does the picking for you, etc. A few days before launch, an English speaking employee had to explain to them the other connotations for the name of their service - Woody the Internet Pecker. (I hope the service included a good virus checker).

Monday, 9 June, 1997: Chevy Nova

Here's an interesting thought. Did you know that a Chevy Nova is actually an accurate name for that car? The reason is that the heavier atoms (like iron) are produced only in the tremendous forces caused by the explosion of huge star, called a Super Nova. So, all of the metal in a Nova SS actually comes from stars which exploded billions of years ago.

Actually, many of the heavier atoms in our bodys also were produced this way. It's amazing to me to think that my body is actually composed of star dust. Maybe that's why my friends think I'm "spaced out" all the time ...

Monday, 2 June, 1997: Illegal Immigrants

A few friends of mine told me something today. Apparantly Dandilions are not a native plant of North America. I believe they came from Europe someplace. If anyone knows the story about where they came from and when I'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, 27 May, 1997: Watch your feet ...

Contrary to popular belief, a centipede doesn't have 100 feet. The difference between a Centipede and a Millipede is a Centipede has one pair of legs per body segment, while a Millipede has two pairs of legs in most body segments.

I wonder if there's a Gerald Ford of the Centipede world. Could you imagine tripping with that many legs?

Wednesday, 21 May, 1997: How to stop an Ambulance

Do you ever notice riding a bus or in your car that there's a mild "jolt" as the vehicle stops? Watch on the bus next time. People standing up will have to catch their balance at the instant the bus comes to a complete stop.

There is a way to prevent that. In the split second before the vehicle stops, ease up on the brake pedal. Instead of stopping suddenly (and causing the jolt), the vehicle stops more gradually for a smoother ride. Try it next time you're out driving. It works ... really!

I learned this when taking my Emergency Medical Technician course and driving ambulance part-time for my parents' ambulance company. In some cases, like when performing CPR, it is more important to have a smooth ride than a fast ride. (CPR is useless if the person doing CPR is being thrown off rhythm because she has to keep her balance all the time). This is one of the tips the instructors gave us for keeping things smooth.

Sunday, 18 May, 1997: Fertilizer is a lot of bull ...

This comes from an article called Big ugly bag of fertilizer best bet written by Brian Baldwin for the May 18th 1997 Saskatoon Sun. In it, he says forget about all the fancy packaging and advertising for plant fertilizer. Instead, focus on the three numbers printed on all fertilizer products, and choose the cheapest one that meets your needs.

Every fertilizer bag comes lists a series of munber, like 10-7-12.

The last rule to follow is to remember that you can dilute the fertilizer. For example, if you have one bag at "7-7-7" and another at "21-21-21" you can dilute the second fertilizer to get the equivalent of three bags of the first fertilizer. Since fertilizer will last for years, you may find the big ugly bags more economical than the nicely packaged but lower numbered bags.

For more information on gardening issues check out the University of Saskatchewan Department of Horticulture's Gardenline Online.

Friday, 9 May, 1997: Playing the Cosmic Odds

The odds of being hit by a meteorite is one in 20,000. The same as the odds of being killed in a plane crash. I learned that watching The Know Zone on the Discovery Channel.

I wonder what the odds are of being hit by a meteorite while waiting for a plane.

Thursday, 8 May, 1997: Hair Driers and Packing Tape

On The Next Step on the Canadian Discovery Channel they mentioned a fellow who made racing wheelchairs. He used one interesting trick to make his wheelchair more aerodymanic. He wrapped normal plastic packaging tape around key components on the bike to reduce drag caused by airflow, creating a nice wind fairing. One of the tricks he used was to heat the tape with a hair drier after wrapping the components. That tightened up the tape and made it nice and smooth.

Wednesday, 7 May, 1997: The way to a man's heart

I just learned today that "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach". At least, that's what a commando friend of mine said ...

Tuesday, 6 May, 1997: Dangers of dissolved gasses

Here's a funny story from the "Discovery Channel" tonight. It was a report about the volume of gas under pressure.

Apparantly a woman took a plane into Denver Colorado from a coastal city. She visited the hospital emergency department complaining about a "sloshing" sound in her breasts.

Turns out the woman had saline breast implants. Suspended in the saline solution were tiny air bubbles. The change in air pressure from sea level to Denver was enough that air bubbles formed in the saline, which caused the sloshing sound.

Monday, 5 May, 1997: Volcano Eruptions are BIG

I was watching an old "Nova" episode tonight about Volcanos that discussed the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in the Phillipines in 1991. Here's one fact that made me think. Their estimates say that between 5 and 8 cubic kilometers went into the air. That's a lot of dust. No wonder the earth's temperature was an average of 1 degree colder for a couple years after.

Sunday, 4 May, 1997: Children as Witnesses

Contrary to popular belief, children make terrible witnesses. Anyone who thinks a young child is too innocent to lie has never had dealings with young children.

Children are very willing to please, and also like to make up stories. Combine those two factors together, and you can get a very unreliable witness.

Imagine a child being asked by police about whether they were sexually abused or not. The child thinks he or she is in trouble because all these people are around, and is desperate to do anything to answer the questions "right", so they start telling storys. Just like the horse from a few days ago, they see the reaction on people's faces, and know when they hit the "right" answer. They then expand on those stories.

A common example, is the child who starts out talking about sexual abuse, then expands the story to talk about how the same person murdered their baby sister, then enhance the story again to how the same person cannabalized the sibling.

Often, untrained people doing the interviewing are like the "Assisted writing" people I talked about last day. They have no idea that they are soliciting these kinds of responses. They also tend to throw out the obviously impossible answers, but still keep the answers which they believe are probable. The problem is, nothing that the child says at this point can be trusted.

That is why the police and others have to be very careful about questioning techniques for children who are victims of sexual assault or other crimes. They cannot use leading questions, or through their actions give "hints" on what the child should answer.

(I forget where I saw this, I think it was on a news show like 20/20 or something about a year ago. I listed it now because it tied in nicely with my last two days)

Saturday, 3 May, 1997: Assisted Writing

Continuing on with my "experimental Design" theme from yesterday. I saw a show about severely autistic children, and a new "breakthrough" that unlocked their autism. The way it worked is that an assistant would hold the person's hand. The child would then spell things out on a spelling board. Apparantly the assistant was there to help reduce the shaking in the hand of the child, but the child was actually controlling what was said. I think this was called "assisted writing" or something like that.

Upon further study, very strange things were noticed. In all the cases, the "assistant" was very closely watching the spelling board, while often the child wasn't even looking at the board.

It turned out that the assistant was using the child's hand sort of like an Ouija Board. Subconciously moving the child's hand towards the "correct" answer.

The thing that really amazed me about this was what these "correct" answers were. Often the children complained about sexual abuse, actually resulting in some children being taken away from their parents. In the end, the children were in fact never abused, and instead it was the unconsious mind of the "assistant" that came up with these stories.

Kind of makes you think about Human Nature doesn't it.

Friday, 2 May, 1997: Counting Horses

You've all probably heard about the famous horse that could count. People would say "What is 2 + 3", the horse would stamp it's foot 5 times, and then stop.

Turns out the reason it stopped had nothing to do with counting. The horse just noticed when the crowd got more excited, and stopped. Everyone starts whispering and such when the horse got to the right answer, the horse noticed, and stopped stamping it's foot.

This shows why correct experiment design is required to prove or disprove any theory.

Thursday, 1 May, 1997: Be kind to your fine feathered friends

Parrots are a lot smarter than you think. Everyone knows that parrots can talk, but nobody knew until recently that they might even understand part of what they are saying.

Irene Pepperburg in Tucson Arizona's University of Arizona has trained Alex, her African Grey parrot to recognize colours. They show the parrot an object and say "What Colour" and the parrot says what colour the object is.

Now, you may think it is just luck, but these people have also trained the same parrot to recognize shapes. So, for example, they hold up a Circle and say "What Shape", and the parrot says "Circle".

But wait, there's more ... They also have taught the parrot different materials, like wood, plastic, and metal, as well as differnt sizes.

The really impressive part is when they ask the parrot questions it has never heard before. The parrot is shown a tray full of objects, and is asked things like "What colour wood triangle", and Alex gives the proper answer. He even asks the trainers questions, and verbalizes demands like "I'm tired, wanna go now". He also makes up his own words. For example, he called an apple a "banerry" (cross between banana and cherry) and called an almond a "cork nut".

Last I heard, they were teaching Alex about numbers, so they can ask "how many wood" or "how many blue" on the same tray of objects, and get the right result. They were also teaching Alex to read letters, already recognizing sounds like "sh", "t", and "or". Eventually, Alex is expected to be able to read fully. THEN it will be interesting to find out if he understands what he reads. For example, he could read a story about wooden objects and they could ask how many wooden triangles were in the story or something to see if Alex remembered.

Currently Alex is at about a 6 year old's cognitive level, hence the Sesame Street style counting of blocks and such.

There has also been success in using some of the teaching techniques on with Alex on learning challenged children.

For more information, check out the Discovery Channel article on Alex.

Wednesday, 30 April 1997: The Next Ice Age

I saw this on a show a few years ago about global warming, hosted by James Burk called "After the Warming". It was done as a news broadcastin 2050 talking about the effects global warming had.

One thing that came out of that was an interesting theory that global warming could actually cause the next ice age. It works like this. The earth gets warmer, so the polar ice caps start to melt. This makes the North Atlantic less salty. This change in water chemistry affects the "Atlantic Conveyer" and the Gulf stream, slowing it down and eventually stopping the flow of warm tropical water into the North Atlantic (and the Northern Hemisphere in general). Less warm tropical water means lower mean temperature in the North. The Ice begins to form again, but the Gulf Stream doesn't immediately start up again. That takes time. In the mean time, repeatedly cold summers mean the Ice doesn't go away as fast, it keeps accumulating, and we get the next Ice Age.

The interesting think is how fast this happens. From the start to global ice age takes about 70 years. I guess when that happens I'll have to buy up all the swamp land I can in Florida. When the Ice age starts, the sea level will get lower, and all that swamp will turn into an excellent new home after Saskatoon is covered by a mile of ice ...

Tuesday, 29 April, 1997: Remember to smoke ...

I was sitting in the Dean's office for the college of Agriculture today. In their waiting room, they have a bunch of "Nature" and "Science" magazines. As I was browsing through them I noticed an article in one "Nature" magazine. It says that studies have shown that nicotine actually helps to improve your memory. Something about how the nicotine chemistry reacts with your brain's chemistry.

Cool, I just browsed their site and found the article. Here it is: Nicotine and Alzheimer's Disease.

I wish I knew that when I was a student. I don't smoke, but I could tell my Doctor I did and get a Nicotine patch for studying ...

Monday, 28 April, 1997: Keep your doors closed

Another important note about fires. To make a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. One of the best ways to contain a fire is to keep your doors to your rooms closed. Even if there is a flash over fire, it will quickly use up all the oxygen and die down. However, if you open a door in the same room, enough oxygen will come into the room that the fire will flare up into a "backdraft" and create an uncontrollable fire.

Sunday, 27 April, 1997: What really causes fires

I was watching "The learning channel" tonight. They had a show about fires and fire-fighters. There was an interesting demonstration. They lit an armchair on fire. After about 2 minutes, the room was filled with smoke from the armchair. After 3 minutes, the gas released from the chair reached the critical "flash point" where it was hot enough that the smoke itself caught on fire. Just before that, it was about 1000 Celcius at the ceiling, and "only" 300 Celcius on the floor.

The point is that most damage isn't from the original object that caught on fire. Most damage is caused by the smoke that "flashes over" into a fire and sets the rest of the room on fire.

Saturday, 26 April, 1997: Fire Survival Trick

Here's something I learned from - of all places - the X-Files. If you are ever caught in a fire, remember that most interior walls in homes are made of flimsy material that you can easily kick a hole through. If your only exit is blocked by fire, and you are sure there is no fire on the other side of the wall, kick a hole in the wall to get to the next room.

Friday, 25 April, 1997: 40% Chance of Rain today

You may hear on the weather forecasts that "the probability of precipitation is 40%". Many people misunderstand what the 40% means. It doesn't mean it will be raining 40% of the time during the day. What it actually means is that in the past, when the weather conditions were similar to the current conditions (humidity, barometric pressure, etc.) then this developed into rain in 40% of the cases.

A side note. You will never hear 50% chance of rain. Environment Canada decided never to use the figure 50% because that sounds too much like they are just flipping a coin to guess the weather. I think the figures they use are 0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% but I may be wrong.

Thursday, 24 April, 1997: How to wear a Bra

Today I learned the proper way to put on a bra. Bend over at the waist and put on the bra, then adjust the breasts in the cups. Stand up straight and make sure your nipples are in the center of the cups. Also make sure the straps are not cutting into your shoulders. The back strap should be low on the back, not riding up high. Apparantly North American women are notorious for not wearing the proper sized bras.

Don't ask me how I learned this ...

Wednesday, 23 April, 1997: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A TV show the other day was talking about what Humans regard as beautiful faces. Test subjects were shown pictures of people and asked to rank the pictures according to beauty.

It turns out that what we consider to be the beautiful faces actually turns out to be the most average faces. Things like average sized noses, average sized ears, average spacing between the eyes, average sized lips, etc.

In other words, beauty appears to be an evolutionary mechanism to reduce the genetic influence of non-average facial features, which in extreme cases can be caused by genetic defects. We are attracted more to normal faces, and not abnormal faces, genetically speaking.

Now if you want to see abnormal, check out this altered picture of me.

Tuesday, 22 April, 1997: RMS Titanic was not alone ...

I'm sure that everyone knows the story of the ill-fated RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic, the "largest ocean liner in the world" that sank on her maiden voyage when it struck an Iceburg.

However, not many people know that the RMS Titanic had two sister ships:

RMS Olympic
was built before the RMS Titanic and had a lifespan of 25 years, after surviving a collision with the HMS Hawke on September 20, 1911.

HMHS Britannic
(originally called the Gigantic) was in fact larger than the RMS Titanic. She served for 351 days as a WW1 Hospital Ship before an explosion in the bulkhead between holds 2 and 3 caused the ship to sink on November 21, 1916. It is suspected that she struck a mine.
There is one interesting footnote to the history of these three ships. One crew member, Violet Jessup served on all three ships and survived both the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the HMHS Britannic, and also was on board the RMS Olympic when it collided with the RMS Hawke. Too bad they didn't have lottery tickets for her to buy back then ...

Monday, 21 April, 1997: Russian Space Shuttle

A while ago on TV I was watching a show on the history of the Russian space program, and found out something I didn't know before. The Russians actually built and flew their own space shuttle. It was called the "Buran" and was test flown without people on board November 15, 1988. It landed only 1.5 meters off the centerline on the runway, all controlled by computers.

Sunday, 20 April, 1997: The Funny Bone

Everyone knows what the funny bone is. It's that point on the elbow that makes your whole arm tingle when hit in just the right spot. But do you know WHY it's called the funny bone? I have a theory. It isn't because it makes your arm feel funny. I think it's actually because the funny bone is at the end of the Humerus, the bone that connects your shoulder to your elbow. It's pronounced the same as humorous (funny).

Saturday, 19 April, 1997: Stopping Creaks in floors

I was watching "Tool Time" (you know, the show within a show on Home Improvement). They were talking about how to stop "squeeks" and "creaks" in floors. A "squeek" is caused by wood rubbing against a nail. A "creak" is caused by wood rubbing against wood.

They said a good way of getting rid of "creaks" is to squirt some talcum powder between the pieces of wood that rubs together. Makes sense to me, so I decided to add it here. I don't know if it really works though.

Friday, 18 April, 1997: Feel Lucky ...

I was flipping through the channels tonight and caught the middle of something on "Dateline". They were discussing people who feel lucky or unlucky. It appears that studies show that usually it's optimistic people who feel lucky, and pessimistic people who feel unlucky.

They think that people's optimisim and luck may be related on how they remember their past. For example, if you remember mostly the good things and forget about the bad things, then you are likely to be optimistic and feel you are a lucky person. On the other hand, if you dwell on the bad things that have happened to you, then you are more likely to be pessimistic and feel you are unlucky.

It's an interesting theory, but I didn't see enough of the show to be convinced. I just don't know if there is a cause and effect here. For example, if I am unlucky and bad things keep happening to me, then I'll probably remember the bad things more vividly and be more pessimistic.

Oh well, I'm off to the bar. Who knows, maybe I'll get ... umm, skip it.

Thursday, 17 April, 1997 - Flippin' the Bird

Ok, it's been a while. I'm going to try to update this file more regularly from now on.

A friend of mine sent me this bit of trivia.

Debra Janzen wrote:

The 'Car Talk' show (on NPR) with Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, have a feature called the 'Puzzler'. Their most recent "Puzzler" was about the Battle of Agincourt. The French, who were overwhelmingly favored to win the battle, threatened to cut a certain body part off of all captured English soldiers so that they could never fight again. The English won in a major upset and waved the body part in question at the French in defiance. The puzzler was: What was this body part? This is the answer submitted by a listener:

Dear Click and Clack,

Thank you for the Agincourt 'Puzzler', which clears up some profound questions of etymology, folklore and emotional symbolism. The body part which the French proposed to cut off of the English after defeating them was , of course, the middle finger, without which it is impossible to draw the renowned English longbow. This famous weapon was made of the native English yew tree, and so the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking yew". Thus, when the victorious English waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, they said, "See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!"

Over the years some 'folk etymologies' have grown up around this symbolic gesture. Since "pluck yew" is rather difficult to say (like "pleasant mother pheasant plucker", which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows), the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'f', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird".

Sunday, 14 July, 1996 - Once in a Blue Moon

Today my brother just told me what the phrase "once in a blue moon" means. Occasionally, there are two full moons in a month. The second full moon is called a "blue moon". This only happens once every 4 years or so, or "once in a blue moon" ...

Tuesday 22 April, 1996 - Removing Silver Tarnish

On "@discovery.ca" on the Canadian Discovery channel a chemist explained how tarnish on silver is caused by sulpher dioxide in the atmosphere. He told how to use chemistry to remove the tarnish.

In a glass bowel (not metal) put some water and some baking soda. Wrap your silver in aluminum, then put it in the baking soda solution and heat it gently for about 1/2 hour.

The Sulpher in the tarnish will move to the Aluminum, and your silver will sparkle again.

Sunday, March 31, 1996 - Mind over Matter

I was watching a show called "The wonder of Hypnotism" on The Learning Channel today. They showed something I thought was really amazing. There was a woman who suffered severe near-sightnedness. The hypnotist convinced her under trance that she could control by will the muscles in the back of her eye to correct her vision.

What was amazing was this woman then went for an eye exam later, and her vision had improved by 40% over her pre-hypnosis vision. This wasn't just her thinking it was improved vision. She actually could see better.

Tuesday, March 26, 1996 - Acting like Animals

I was watching a show called "Behaving like Animals" on the The Discovery Channel tonight. In it they were comparing animal societies with our own.

Contrary to popular belief, the Common Chimpanzee is not our closest living relative. Our real closest relative is the Bonobo or Pygmy Chimpanzee, a completely separate species from the Common Chimpanzee. These animals are thought to be the closest living animal to the common ancestor to both humans and Chimpanzees.

Studies have shown that these animals can understand human sentences, communicate with each other in their own language, have complex social structures, have a sense of self (realize for example that it is them in a mirror, not another Bonobo), use tools, etc.

The most interesting aspect of Bonobo society is that they have substituted sex for agression. They treat sex like we treat a handshake. They use it for greeting, for stress relief, etc. It's also noted that unlike Chimpanzees (and Humans) Bonobos have never been seen to kill others of their own species.

Monday, March 15, 1996 - Finding Directions

Saw this on the Discovery Channel. Want to find directions without a compass? Here's two ways.
  1. Put a stick in the ground. Mark the tip of it's shadow with a stone. Wait about 30 minutes. Mark the shadow with another stone. The line from the second stone to the first stone is approximately due west.
  2. If you have an old-fashioned watch with the hour and minute hands, then point the hour hand at the sun. The difference half way between the hour hand and the shortest way to "12" on the watch is approximately due south.

Sunday, March 14, 1996 - Surviving Lightning

I saw this on a show on TV, forget the name right now. If you are ever caught in a lightning storm, here's some rules to follow so you don't get hit by lightning.

Thursday, February 15, 1996 - Testing Microwaves

A co-worker told me this one.

You can use a fluorescent bulb to test for leaks in microwaves. Use one of the small fluorescent bulbs you find in pocket flashlights. Remove it from the flashlight so you just have the bulb. Put a glass of water in the microwave and then run the microwave at 100%. As it runs, move the bulb around the seal on your microwave's door. If any microwaves are leaking out, they will make the bulb start to glow.

Of course, standard disclaimers apply. If you suspect a leak, have it tested properly and don't rely on this trick.

Thursday, January 25, 1996 - SGI Chips

My boss was at a conference on multimedia on the Internet, and found this little tidbit.

SGI (Silicon Graphics Inc.) develops high-end workstations for graphic animation and other high-speed high-demand graphics work. They've recently developed a new chip that will have a production run of 3.5 million chips. 80,000 will go into Silicon Graphics workstations. The rest will go into Nintendo games ...

Wednesday January 24, 1996 - David Letterman's Top Ten Lists

On the radio today they mentioned that the last joke (number 1) is NOT the most funniest. Apparantly the funniest jokes are number ten (because it's the first one), number 6 (because it is half way through) and number 2. They don't make number 1 the funniest because the effect of the joke is lost when the music starts playing to end the "top ten" segment.

Thursday, January 19, 1996 - Memory Tricks

I was watching "The Nature of Things" with David Suzuki. The show was about memory and how it works. I found it interesting how unreliable memories really are. There was an example of a man accused of kidnapping a young boy from a motel, then murdering him. There were 5 eye witnesses who identified the defendant with the boy.

It turns out the police questioning techniques were part of the problem. One person originally described the suspect as "tall, with long dark hair, and very muscular". After police questioning, the person she picked out of a lineup was short, thinning blonde hair, and very thin.

The reason the witnesses were identifying this man, is because during all the police lineups, plus the chance meetings in the motel, his face was the only one they recognized, so the witnesses started identifying his face with the crime.

Sunday, January 14, 1996 - Trucks blowing smoke rings

I thought this was kind of funny. I was out driving today and ended up at a light behind an older Chevy truck. It had the dual exhaust pipes that bend and turn off to the side at the end. It was a calm day, but about -20 degrees out. The exhaust pipes were blowing smoke rings! It looked like something from a children's book. This truck sitting there idling with all these smoke rings coming out of the tailpipe. Hilarious.

Saturday January 13, 1996 - Declawing Cats

A lot of people think that declawing a cat is a humane procedure where somehow the claws are magically removed from the paws with no other damage. The truth is that declawing a cat is equivalent to having someone amputate all your fingers at the joint nearest your fingernail. Nasty business, especially if the cat ends up outside and can no longer protect itself.

Friday, 12 January 1996 - Stopping Cat Scratching

From the book "Cat Watching" by Desmond Morris. Contrary to popular belief, cats are not sharpening their claws when they are scratching at funiture. They are really marking their territory with scent glands on their paws. They usually mark their territory in the places where the scent of their owners is strongest, like on the couch or laundry hampers.

If you want the cat to use a scratching post, make that the strongest scent. Put a dirty old t-shirt or sweater on the scratching post. The cats will start scratching there instead of on your couch.

That's a much better solution than declawing the cats.

Thursday, 11 January 1996 - Cosmic Teacups

This is from the "Cosmic Mind Boggling Book". If you took the solar system, and shrunk it down so the orbit of Pluto was the size of a rim on a teacup, then the Milky Way Galaxy we are in would be the size of North America. Kinda puts things in perspective ...

Wednesday, 10 January 1996 - Shooting at Snow

I was watching "Wonders of Weather" on The Learning Channel tonight. The topic was snow. Apparently in the Kootany Pass in British Columbia, Canada, there is a permanently mounted gun. They use this gun to fire shells to set of controlled avalanches. They shoot more than 1000 shells a year.

Tuesday, 9 January 1996 - Adult Ice Cream Toppings

Lori Weitzel, a coworker of mine, tells me that Bailey's Irish Cream makes a great ice-cream topping. The only problem is she doesn't get it very often because her kids want to have some too ...

Monday, 8 January 1996 - Spruce versus Pine

Do you know how to tell a Spruce tree from a Pine tree? In a Spruce, the needles come out from the stem in clumps of more than one. In pine, needles come out single. My coworker Cam Alexson told me that one.

Sunday, 7 January, 1996 - Origin of Excalibur?

Some friends came over hot-tubbing and talked about a book they were reading. It was part of a series called "Dream of Eagles" by Jack Whyte. The series is about King Arthur's court, but he writes the story from a "real" as opposed to "mythical" point of view.

In this story, he explained that around the time of the Romans, there was a sword-making technique called "calibre" (the spelling might be wrong) where they poured the sword from a mould. (Calibre originally came from the Arabic "qalib" for "mould".) When the sword was taken out of the mould, it was called (in Roman) Ex Calibre. The Celts under Roman rule in Britain may have anglicized this to Excalibur for "new sword" or "first sword".

Saturday, 6 January 1996 - Romans Painted Sculptures

I was watching a show on the Learning Channel about ancient Roman art. Something I didn't know before was that all the beautiful Roman marble statues used to be painted in gaudy flesh tones. Today that would be downright ugly, but back then, the unpainted statues we revere today would have been considered unfinished and ugly. Funny how things change.