College of Curiosity http://collegeofcuriosity.com Four curious things, connected in ways that aren’t always obvious. Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:44:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.4 https://i0.wp.com/collegeofcuriosity.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/CofCFavIcon128.gif?fit=32%2C32 College of Curiosity http://collegeofcuriosity.com 32 32
Are you scared? Yes? That’s great! Because right now, you’re hurtling through space on a spinning wet rock with 7 billion other people who are just as terrified as you. In Pantophobia, you’ll get to know a few of them.

Even if you’ve never avoided a neighborhood bar because the wall art made your skin crawl, yelled vicious insults at a bridge, or lunged over a stack of Hawaiian dinner rolls to punch a guy in a gorilla suit (like our guests have), these stories will change the way you think about fear.]]>
College of Curiosity yes College of Curiosity jeff@wagg.com jeff@wagg.com (College of Curiosity) College of Curiosity Curiosity can be a cure. College of Curiosity http://collegeofcuriosity.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Pantophobia.jpg http://collegeofcuriosity.com TV-G Chicago, IL Daily 42381927 2-98. Hydrogen is Not Fuel http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-98-hydrogen-is-not-fuel/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 18:05:21 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=8654 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-98-hydrogen-is-not-fuel/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-98-hydrogen-is-not-fuel/feed/ 0 Is hydrogen a fuel? Or a battery? You may have heard that major auto manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda and GM are starting to make hydrogen fuel vehicles for production, and not just as experiments. This could spell the end of the hybrid fuel vehicles or it could be just another failed attempt to get us off of fossil fuels. But there’s something interesting about hydrogen as a fuel source: it’s not technically a fuel.

Hydrogen does not exist in nature in any appreciable quantities. We can’t mine it or harvest it: we have to create it. And the way we create it is through a process known as a electrolysis. No, this isn’t the zapping of unwanted body hair, instead it’s a very simple electrochemical reaction where DC current is applied to water, and the water breaks down into its constituent components, H2, diatomic hydrogen, and O, oxygen. This is something you can do at home, or may have done in school chemistry class. But there’s one thing that’s always true about this reaction: it takes more energy to create the hydrogen than the hydrogen will give off.

Fossil fuels are very dense energy stores, and they store energy that ultimately came from the sun, in some cases millions of years ago. And while it’s true that the sun gave more energy than we can get out of fossil fuels, WE, that is humans, don’t have to put very much energy into the equation in comparison to the energy we can extract. With hydrogen, we have to put in ALL the energy we can extract, and then some. Energy is always lost when hydrogen is created and used as fuel. Because of this, it’s best to think of hydrogen as an energy conveyance medium rather than a fuel. It’s a bit like a battery made of gas, in practical terms.

But that doesn’t mean hydrogen powered cars are a bad idea. Though it is extremely flammable, and thus dangerous (see airship Hindeburg), so is gasoline. And unlike gasoline, burning hydrogen whether directly or in a fuel cell, produces only one “waste” component, and that is – you can figure it out – water, or most likely water vapor. It would even be possible to store this water in the vehicle and use it for cooling or windshield washing. Hydrogen fuel cell have been used for decades on human-inhabited spacecraft for this reason.

There’s a lot of debate over the so-called “hydrogen economy” and we’ll leave that to experts.

You may or may not be driving a hydrogen powered car in a few years. But one things for certain: if hydrogen powered cars hit the mass market, it won’t be long for someone installs a device that shoots flames into the air. Count on it.

The hydrogen production cycle for power grid usage. (Photo by Delphi234)

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Is hydrogen a fuel? Or a battery? College of Curiosity yes 3:03 8654
2-97. Are You Conservative, Liberal, or Curious? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-97-are-you-conservative-liberal-or-curious/ Mon, 06 Feb 2017 21:48:46 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=8636 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-97-are-you-conservative-liberal-or-curious/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-97-are-you-conservative-liberal-or-curious/feed/ 0 Is Curiosity a political position? Should it be? Maybe. Is Curiosity a political position? Should it be? Maybe.

If there’s one thing political spectators agree about, it’s that people in the United States (and other parts of the world) are deeply polarized, perhaps in a way we’ve never seen before. But researchers Brian Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts and Samantha Luks, managing director of scientific research at YouGov think there’s hope to bridge this gap, and that hope lies in curiosity.

The Atlantic ran a story about the pair on January 26th, 2017. The research team recently ran a study where they quantified how curious people were, captured their demographic information and asked them some binary questions about images, such as photos of the inauguration crowd at the last two inaugurations.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the controversy, but for this experiment, the task was to compare two photos, which were labeled simply A and B. The photos could have been manipulated or taken at different times, or whatever. But it was clear that one photo had many more people than the other.

When asked which photo was for which inauguration, the photo with the largest crowd was identified most often with the political opinion of the person making the choice. Trump voters said the more populated photo was of Trump’s inauguration, and Clinton voters said it was for Obama’s. When they were told which photo was which, 15% of Trump supporters switched photos, and insisted the more sparse image had more people in it, despite the overwhelming visual evidence that the Obama photo had a crowd at least three times larger.

And lest you think this just proves what you may already believe about political parties, other tests showed the converse was true as well—Democrats also picked the choice that showed their view in a better light, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. And they weren’t lying. Studies indicate that they believe these things, but their reasoning is politically motivated.

This carries forward to a bias for news that agrees with one’ s point of view, creating an endless cycle that feeds political reasoning, but actually isn’t aligned with objective reality. Unless, the person has (as they term it) “Scientific Curiosity.”

Using a series of videos to determine how curious a participant was, a score was applied to each. Researchers found that people who scored highly in scientific curiosity had much closer opinions on things, despite their party affiliation. For example, most scientifically curious liberals believed fracking posed a moderately high risk to the environment, and most scientifically curious conservatives thought the same, though to a lesser degree.

And what’s fascinating is that this phenomenon carried forth when factored against the scientific knowledge of the participants. It didn’t matter if they were good at math or science, curious people share opinions just due to the fact that they’re curious.

While no one is pretending that curiosity is a panacea for bringing people together, if this study can be replicated, it suggests that curiosity would at least narrow the gap. People with differing values will disagree on policies regardless if they share the same facts, but if they’re curious, they’re more likely to agree on what is a “fact,” and that’s something that’s open for debate these days.

Here’s a link to the Atlantic article on the website, and you can also learn more about the photo experiment from The Washington Post. In the meantime, take a look at some headlines that might indicate a “truth” that hurts your cause. You could be doing a great deal to heal the political divides that make us all suffer.

Which is Obama and Which is Trump?

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Is Curiosity a political position? Should it be? Maybe. College of Curiosity yes 3:59 8636
2-96. How Slavery Tore DC Apart – Literally http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-96-how-slavery-tore-dc-apart-literally/ Thu, 02 Feb 2017 21:00:44 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=8624 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-96-how-slavery-tore-dc-apart-literally/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-96-how-slavery-tore-dc-apart-literally/feed/ 0 Why does Washington D.C. look "broken"? Have you ever wondered why Washington, D.C. or the District of Columbia got its strange shape? It started with James Madison, and his Federalist Number 43. His argument was simple: the federal government needed a home that was not included in any state. But where? In the complicated world of politics, it’s unsurprising that it was a compromise.

Though the United States won the Revolution, the new country was nearly bankrupt. For some relief, some founding fathers proposed that the federal government assume the debt incurred by the states. This was great for the Northern states, who still had a sizable amount of unpaid debt, but the Southern states had paid most of their foreign debt, so this deal wouldn’t help them at all. In fact, as they were responsible for a share of the Federal government’s debt, it would cost them money.

While the merits of this plan were being argued, the idea came for two Southern states, Maryland and Virginia, to donate land on either side of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers for the new seat of Federal government. This would give the South more influence simply due to proximity, and the hope was that this would be considered fair compensation for the imbalance in debt assumption. And it was! The deal was struck, and the Federal Government created a neat diamond shape called Washington: The Territory of Columbia, separate from all states. It was later called the District of Columbia when in 1801, Congress was given jurisdiction over the area. Washington is the name of the one and only city within the district, taking up the same amount of land.

Why a diamond? The Residence Act of 1790 declared that the District take up not more than 100 square miles, and the easiest way to calculate that would be to make a square ten miles long by ten miles wide. Once the general area was decided through more political wrangling, the committee emphasized the navigability of the river, and thus a diamond was formed, with the river running through the center.

But if you look at a map today, you’ll notice that this neat diamond has broken in half, right where the river is. What caused this? The answer is: Virginians and the pro-slavery movement. Since its inception, the District of Columbia was controversial to Virginians, who had given up land owned by powerful people. Not the least of these was George Washington himself, who owned a large tract of land on the river. The aggrieved Virginian’s initial effort to reduce their losses was an amendment that prevented public buildings from being built on the Virginia side. This set the stage for what was to come later.

The bickering never stopped completely, but it was in those heady days in the mid-19th century where words became action. States were being divided into “slave” and “free,” and the federal government was in constant struggle over which side would take control. With the talk of abolishing slavery, the residents of Virginia became alarmed at what they saw as a threat to their economy, and joined together to lobby for the return of their portion of DC. This additional land would give them two more representatives and help tip the scale towards the pro-slavery side of upcoming legislation.

And they were successful. In 1846, Congress signed the “Retrocession,” granting back to Virginia all the land on their side of the diamond. But it was not through legislation that the United States would settle the issue of slavery. That took a horrific civil war. But the Virginians did further their cause in one small way: they “enjoyed” eight more months of slavery than the rest of the what was the District of Columbia. Eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation set all slaves free in Confederate states (but not Union states, oddly), slaves were freed in the District, a place in the United States that has always had a large African American population.

The end of slavery did not bring the District back together. What was given back to Virginia in the Retrocession remains part of Virginia. But the broken-diamond of our Capitol is a cartographical reminder of the scars that remain due to slavery’s legacy in our country.

The original plan, with diamond shape.

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Why does Washington D.C. look "broken"? College of Curiosity yes 4:58 8624
2-95. Mysteries of the Camel’s Hump http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-95-mysteries-of-the-camels-hump/ Thu, 02 Jun 2016 19:40:36 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7677 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-95-mysteries-of-the-camels-hump/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-95-mysteries-of-the-camels-hump/feed/ 0 You know what a camel's hump contains, right? RIGHT? If a camel with one hump is a Dromedary and a camel with two humps is a Bactrian, what do you call a camel with no humps? Humphrey, of course. (badum tish).

Camels fascinate people, and the reason is obvious: they have humps. And what’s inside those humps? Inside those humps lies the core of this episode.

For many years, people thought that camels stored water in their humps. You can still find references to this on the Internet. It makes sense, right? They live in the desert where there is very little water, and when they find water, they drink massive quantities of it. It has to go somewhere, so it’s reasonable to assume that it goes into the hump.

But ask any camel butcher (and yes, camel meat is becoming more common in the US), and they’ll tell you that the hump is full of not water, but fat.

Where water is scarce, food is scarce, so this also makes sense. Rather than store their fat evenly around their body like many species, camels simply store it all in one or more humps. There is speculation that this helps the animal shed heat as all that insulating fat is in one place, but since camels also live in cold deserts, there’s probably more to it than that. It’s also interesting to note that camelids that don’t have humps, such as llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, etc. live in areas where food and water are more plentiful.

So, there you have it. The question is answered and we can move on.

And no, of course we can’t because I wouldn’t be talking about this if that’s all there was to it.

In 1981, a study by the University of Singapore proposed the idea that the fat in a camel’s hump could be turned into water through a process known as palmitate oxidation. If you break down fat with added oxygen, water is produced. And not a little. With enough oxygen, the potential amount of water in a camel’s hump could be measured in gallons.

So see? Camel’s humps do store water! Case closed. Take that grade-school science teacher!

Well, not so fast.

According to Dr. Anders Lundquist of Lund University in Sweden, it’s true that breaking down fat can produce water, but camels couldn’t use this water to quench their thirst. It would require so much oxygen to release water from fat stores that the animals would dehydrate from moisture lost during breathing in the arid environment. Most biologists agree with this conclusion.

So far as we can tell at this point, camel humps store fat which is used simply as a fuel reserve. Now go apologize to your grade-school science teacher, because they were right.

But a question does remain: how do camels store water? The same way many other animals do: throughout their body tissues. Camels do have ways of conserving moisture, though. Their noses have the ability to reabsorb water from their breath, and their digestive system is very good at removing water from food. It’s so good, that camel urine has the consistency of motor oil and their droppings are completely dry.

Camel humps provide a good example of how curiosity works: ideas are constantly questioned in light of new evidence, and no answer is ever complete or final. And because I can’t think of a way to wrap this up, here are five camel facts that you may not be aware of:

  1. The genus for the giraffe is Camelopardalis, which translates to Leopard Camel.
  2. Australia has the highest population of camels. None of them are native.
  3. Annoyed camels don’t spit. They’re actually regurgitating on you.
  4. Their red blood cells are circular rather than ovoid. This helps blood flow better when the animal is dehydrated.
  5. Male camels have an organ in their throats called a dulla, which can be inflated to attract females. It looks very much like the camel is sticking its tongue out and blowing a raspberry.
A bactrian camel. (Photo by J. Patrick Fischer.)

A bactrian camel. (Photo by J. Patrick Fischer.)

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You know what a camel's hump contains, right? RIGHT? College of Curiosity yes 4:41 7677
2-94. The Dark Side of Curiosity: A Beating in Kenya http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-94-the-dark-side-of-curiosity-a-beating-in-kenya/ Tue, 17 May 2016 14:36:09 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7614 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-94-the-dark-side-of-curiosity-a-beating-in-kenya/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-94-the-dark-side-of-curiosity-a-beating-in-kenya/feed/ 0 A picture is worth 1,000 words, but which ones? UPDATE AT THE END

This episode contains disturbing, violent content.

The word “curiosity” is popular these days. It’s associated with joy and wonder—isn’t it fun to learn things?!

But in reality, not everything we learn is entertaining. But it’s still vitally important.

This morning, May 17 2016, I watched a bit of CNN as i tried to wake up. It was non-stop Drumpf, with a book review about Wall Street. There was no mention of the police crushing a protest in Kenya while we in the US slept.

At this point, it would be helpful for you to look at an image. It’s not pleasant, and I won’t blame you for not clicking through. But if you’re curious, this will be worth your time and disgust. The image is here.

There image will become iconic. It’s a very clear picture of a police officer in full riot gear, “curb stomping” an unconscious man. If you’re unfamiliar with “curb stomping,” I’m sorry to inform you that it’s an act where you place someone’s head on a curbstone and stomp on it, with the goal of either crushing the skull or breaking the neck.

This is horrific stuff, and the image is proof-positive that police brutality is rampant.

But… the image doesn’t show what happened.

Before I explain, please know that I’m not defending the Kenyan police. Their actions were brutal and uncalled for. Chasing down protestors who are running away and clearly no threat, and then beating them with sticks, as other images show, can not be defended.

But while I was looking at the curb stomping image, I noticed a comment from a Kenyan who said “This picture doesn’t show what happened.” It’s such a clear image, that I wondered how that could be. I searched the news and found this brutal picture in a dozen locations. There are already memes that incorporate the picture and refer to the famous Orwell quote from 1984 “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” But I couldn’t find any explanation as to what actually happened in the photo.

When I did find the narrative, I was amazed. There was no stomping. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

There’s another quote, often attributed to Carl Sagan but one that’s existed for at least a century that says “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The claim that this photo, which clearly shows a police office about to curb stomp a protestor DOESN’T actually show that is an extraordinary claim. And yes, the evidence against that claim is also extraordinary.

That evidence is a video, showing the incident from another angle. You can click here to see an animated gif, or here to see the entire video. The cop’s foot was actually going backwards, not down. And at no time during the video did he do anything more than kick the man in the buttocks and hit him with his baton. Kicking an unconscious man is unforgivable, but it’s not the same as attempted murder, which is what a curb stomp is. The cops were not trying to kill this man.

The story as best as I can piece it together from the video and reportedly eye-witness accounts is that the man stole a purse, was subdued and savagely beaten. He wasn’t protesting; he was just taking advantage of the chaos. Again, that is not a defense of the police, but it does change the story and meaning substantially.

The video shows police brutality. The image shows attempted murder. That’s the difference, and only curiosity will lead us to the place where we can cut through what people want us to see and arrive at what actually happened.

And could another video come along showing police curb stomping people? Absolutely, and if it does, I’ll consider it . But insofar as this image is concerned, we can learn that a single frame from time often tells a history that never happened. My fear is that few people will care enough to appreciate that.

UPDATE 1
And before I’ve even finished recording this, there’s an update. The Kenyan website Zipo is reporting that the man’s name was Ben Ngari, and that he succumbed from his injuries. However, the news report also says that he was a protestor and that the man was indeed curb stomped. I can’t find another news source reporting this fact. Does Zipo have evidence that I haven’t seen? Did they not see the video? I don’t know.

But I do know that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and those words may not be telling the truth. I hope the truth is that the man in the green hoodie is currently recuperating from his unjust injuries. As for CNN, more Drumpf, and no mention of this event at all.

UPDATE 2

The Telegraph UK is reporting that the officers seen in the video are being sought out for questioning. They’re also reporting that the man was a protestor, not a purse snatcher. They can’t confirm his identity or death.

The article features are political cartoon that illustrates the now infamous photo, but adds blood that isn’t there.

UPDATE 3

This article from the Daily Mail contradicts the Zipo article above. It states that the man is named Boniface Manono, and he survived the beating and is now in the hospital. There are reports that he was caught looting, but he denies these (according to Mediamax), and he also denies that he was beaten about the head. It’s possible that the purse snatching claims stemmed from the piece of gear that fell off the primary attacker’s arm and landed near Manono’s unconscious body. Still nothing on CNN.

 

Detail from "Tyrant Boot" by Shepard Fairley

Detail from “Tyrant Boot” by Shepard Fairey

 

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A picture is worth 1,000 words, but which ones? College of Curiosity yes 5:15 7614
2-93. Wolves of the Magic Mountain http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-93-wolves-of-the-magic-mountain/ Mon, 16 May 2016 17:59:02 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7608 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-93-wolves-of-the-magic-mountain/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-93-wolves-of-the-magic-mountain/feed/ 0 A moving mountain. While folks in the Western US laugh when people in New England talk about their “mountains,” there are some interesting and majestic peaks that run up the northern edge of the Appalachians. Mt. Washington, for example, while only 6,288 feet above sea level, has an over 6,000 foot rise from the valley floor below. It also pokes into the jet stream, causing it to receive some of the most extreme weather in North America.

But it’s Mount Washington’s more southern cousin that was dubbed the “magic mountain” by Bostonians.

When highways were built circling the city and eventually heading north, drivers noticed something odd about Mount Monadnock, some 65 miles to the northwest: it disappears. And it’s true—as you head North on I-93, you’ll get a clear view of the mountain’s bald top, and then you never see it again—unless you drive all the way to it’s base, some 90 minutes away. The illusion is that the mountain disappears and reappears only when you approach it, but the solution is simple: the road starts off heading northwest and quickly changes to northeast and then north again as it makes it’s way into New Hampshire. Your car never faces towards the mountain again until you’re right on it.

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The Monadnock Building, once an island of height, now dwarfed by buildings over five times as tall.

Monadnock has a few other claims to fame. It stands alone. There are no other mountains adjacent, with the nearest members of the White Mountains being about 100 miles north. As such, it’s name, Monadnock, which means “mountain that stands alone” in Abenaki, has become a term for all mountains that stand alone. Not only that, when Chicago was inventing sky scrapers, one particularly tall building stood alone as it towered above the other structures downtown. This building, which still stands today, is known as the Monadnock Building.

Scientists noticed something else that was odd about this mountain. It’s bald on top, meaning that the top of the mountain has a tree line. This is a line beyond which trees don’t grow, and all tall mountains have one. But Monadnock is only 3,165′ above sea level, well below the tree line of the taller White Mountains to the north.

Why?

The answer can be found hidden in the overgrowth of what’s known as Lynn Woods, just north of Boston. With some effort and bushwhacking, you can find two narrow rock lined pits, deep enough that the park service has installed railing around them. Legend has it that these were wolf pits. They would be hidden by greenery and baited with a dead lamb or some such. When the wolves leapt the greenery, they’d fall into the pit, probably onto wooden spikes. If they didn’t die immediately, the’d be trapped and killed by farmers the next day. Others suggest that these structures might have been saw pits or the ubiquitous root cellars that dot New England, but one thing was sure: people in the early 1700s were obsessed with wolves.

They weren’t so afraid them attacking people, as that rarely happened, but wolves did find easy prey in livestock and farmers would stop at nothing to protect their investments. And this brings us back to Monadnock.

"Wolf pits" as they are today in Lynn Woods.

“Wolf pits” as they are today in Lynn Woods.

In the 1700s, the woods around Monadnock were burned and clearcut so that they could become pasture. Monadnock was covered with spruce, which is a tree that burns well even when green. Fire raged up the mountain and consumed it. Years later, famers and villagers believed that wolves had taken up residence in the fells, and decided to solve their problem once and for all. They deliberately set fire to the entire mountain, killing nearly every tree.

Without trees, there’s nothing to hold in the top soil, and over time, the peak of Monadnock was blown bare, leaving no place for any growth on the tallest several hundred feet of the peak. As for the wolves, they’re long gone. Today, coyotes have taken their place in the ecosystem, though there are reports of wolf sightings in the Adirondacks, one lake away from New England.

We started with the title “Wolves of Magic Mountain,” but as the story unwound, the wolves and the magic mountain were destroyed, but hopefully a little bit of curiosity was stirred in you. Should you visit Monadnock, which is the most hiked peak outside of Asia, think of the wolves and the settlers and the trees and the Abenaki, and think about how something as immovable as a mountain can be so easily changed by the blind wheels of “progress.”

Picnickers near the top of Mount Monadnock, many years after the burning.

Picnickers near the top of Mount Monadnock, many years after the burning.

 

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A moving mountain. College of Curiosity yes 4:58 7608
2-92. Ignoring The Lighthouse http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-92-ignoring-the-lighthouse/ Mon, 09 May 2016 22:51:43 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7582 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-92-ignoring-the-lighthouse/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-92-ignoring-the-lighthouse/feed/ 2 The Sorcerer's Apprentice has more accuracy in it than you might think. I had that good fortune to visit Tulum recently. These stunning Mayan ruins command a cliff over the Gulf of Mexico, and are noted for being heavily defended not only by the sea, but also by 30 foot thick walls. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in the region, and hosts thousands a visitors each day.

If you take a tour, you’ll start at a “tourist village,” where locals sell crafts, t-shirts, and Chinese goods with the words “Mexico” and “Tulum” embossed on them. There’s even a Starbucks and a Subway if you’re afraid of local cuisine.

While this might take away from the ambience of Pre-Columbian ruins, they did a good job of separating it from the actual site. You have to walk five minutes through a wooded path to get to see ruins, and then once you’re there, there’s only minimal invasion from modern society.

Most people visit with a highly trained guide. Mexico has pretty high standards for guides, including extensive testing and licensure. Many of the guides are of Mayan ancestry, so to them, this place is more than just a collection of old buildings—it’s their heritage.

The safe landing beach.

The safe landing beach.

And yet, despite all their knowledge, the two times I’ve been there, one amazing fact about Tulum hasn’t been mentioned. And I couldn’t find it on the plaques. In fact, let me read you what the plaque says for the main pyramid, known as El Castilo:

The is one of the most beautiful temples in Tulum. Neither the walls nor the door adjust to a straight vertical line. This is not a result of the passage of time, but rather the way it was originally designed. It was constructed upon another temple which was filled in, in order to serve as a base. In the recess above the door, there is a sculpture representing a personage descending from the heavens with a headdress crowning his head and holding an object in his hands. The temple was decorated inside and out with a mural painting of several representations of gods, which unfortunately, can no longer be admired.

By “no longer be admired,” the plaque means that the public is no longer admitted to this space. The language leads me to believe that it was written in Spanish and then translated to English. But what’s striking is what’s omitted: the temple was much more than that: it was a very clever light house.

The Mayans were a seafaring people. They constructed 50-60 foot long canoes and may have travelled as far as Panama and Costa Rica. Tulum was a seaport as well as a temple and fortress, and El Castillo is dramatically visible from the sea. At the top of the structure are two windows. The walls are thick, so the openings have a tunnel aspect to them. Imagine a fire burning behind each one. From the sea, there is exactly one place where you could see both lights… and that place is directly opposite a break in the barrier reef—the safest place to paddle through to the landing beach below the temple. It’s possible that the entire site was chosen because of its advantages as a protected port site.

That’s a remarkable achievement, and a fascinating story. Is it true? That’s another interesting story. All of history is “story.” In the case of the Mayans, we have very little written history, thanks to the Catholic Spaniards efforts to wipe out all but their own culture. We do have logs and reports from those Spaniards, as well as some archeological interpretations and it’s from these that we form the modern story of the area. But the lighthouse idea just seems to fit.

The real mystery for me is—why wasn’t the lighthouse theory mentioned to me on my two visits or on the official plaque?

What was mentioned was human sacrifice and astronomy. Any enclosed area is going to have points that line up with astronomical occurrences, but it seems pretty clear that the Mayans were interested in making sure the sun came back at the end of each winter. And as for the human sacrifice? One Mayan guide was adamant that it was the Toltecs who practiced that ancient art, and that the Mayans were only participants under pressure.

So it’s clear to me that the guides at Tulum and in all places, tell a narrative that’s dictated by a bit of politics and a bit of personal preference. But as I and others have noted, I can’t think of a good reason for omitting the lighthouse. Maybe they just think such a topic is of no interest to Americans.

The two windows of the lighthouse.

The two windows of the lighthouse.

 

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The Sorcerer's Apprentice has more accuracy in it than you might think. College of Curiosity yes 4:54 7582
Season 1 Wrapup http://collegeofcuriosity.com/1wrapup/ Mon, 09 May 2016 04:26:47 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7566 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/1wrapup/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/1wrapup/feed/ 0 The hosts talk about what it was like recording a podcast about fear and anxiety, and what the future holds. pantophobia_wrap-1024x1024

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 13: Season 1 Wrap-up.

Mark, Aubrey and Jeff eat some raw oysters and discuss what it was like making Season 1 of Pantophobia.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

 

References:

Cover Photo: Pacific oysters (not the kind we were eating) from Wikipedia Commons.

Acre – Best Oysters in Chicago.

YouTube: The Uncanny Valley

Credits:

Thanks to Jennifer for supporting us throughout this podcast, and for making some poignant comments during this episode.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
The hosts talk about what it was like recording a podcast about fear and anxiety, and what the future holds. College of Curiosity yes 34:49 7566
Masks (Maskaphobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/masks-maskaphobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 23:57:35 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7483 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/masks-maskaphobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/masks-maskaphobia/feed/ 0 What’s so scary about the Easter bunny? Nothing, unless he’s a weird guy in a costume. Jenna tells about all the times people in masks have ruined her day. pantophobia_masks

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 12: Masks (Maskaphobia)

Jen hates clowns, but who doesn’t? We talk to some clowns to find out.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

 

References:

Cover Photo: One mask viewed three different ways. Photo by Wmpearl.

 

Credits:

Thanks to Jenna for sharing her story.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
What’s so scary about the Easter bunny? Nothing, unless he’s a weird guy in a costume. Jenna tells about all the times people in masks have ruined her day. College of Curiosity yes 7483
Clowns (Coulrophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/clowns-coulrophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 23:18:26 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7476 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/clowns-coulrophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/clowns-coulrophobia/feed/ 0 Jen hates clowns, but who doesn’t? We talk to some clowns to find out. pantophobia_clown

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 11: Clowns (Coulrophobia)

Jen hates clowns, but who doesn’t? We talk to some clowns to find out.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

 

References:

Cover Photo: Dave Schultz as “Evil Clown.” Photo by Katie Hovany.

 

Credits:

Thanks to Jennifer for sharing her uncomfortable stories with us, and to Dave for shedding light on what it’s like to be an evil clown. Thanks also to Becky and Ida for telling the Clown’s side of the story.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Jen hates clowns, but who doesn’t? We talk to some clowns to find out. College of Curiosity yes 7476
Being Watched by Monsters (Scopophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/being-watched-by-monsters-scopophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 23:14:57 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7468 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/being-watched-by-monsters-scopophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/being-watched-by-monsters-scopophobia/feed/ 0 Randy will not sleep on the first floor of any building. Why? None of your business, and get away from the window! Just kidding—he says why. pantophobia_fearfirstfloor

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 10: Sleeping on the First Floor (Scopophobia)

Randy will not sleep on the first floor of any building. Why? None of your business, and get away from the window! Just kidding—he says why.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

 

Loosely based on an H.G. Wells story.

Loosely based on an H.G. Wells story.

References:

Cover Photo: Unknown.

Food of the Gods: Trailer.

Grizzly: Trailer.

Michigan Dogman: Wikipedia.

Books by Randy Pischel: Amazon.com.

 

Credits:

Thanks to Randy Pischel  for sharing his story and to Jenna for discussing the case with us.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Randy will not sleep on the first floor of any building. Why? None of your business, and get away from the window! Just kidding—he says why. College of Curiosity yes 7468
Monsters (Teratophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/monsters-teratophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 22:48:19 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7462 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/monsters-teratophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/monsters-teratophobia/feed/ 0 Monsters aren’t even real. Why are we so scared of them? And what should we be scared of instead? We ask some kids. pantophobia_monsters

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 9: Monsters (Teratophobia)

Monsters aren’t even real. Why are we so scared of them? And what should we be scared of instead? We ask some kids.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

The Skunk Ape Research Headquarters

The Skunk Ape Research Headquarters

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

 

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

 

 

 

References:

Cover Photo: Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. Photo by Jeff Wagg.

How Not to Be Afraid of the Dark: Daily Curio.

Skunk Ape Research Headquarters: Official Site

CBS Chicago: 2 Investigators: Creepy Clown Trespasses At Chicago Cemetery, In Dead Of Night.

 

Credits:

jeffandsaSpecial thanks to Randy Pischel,  for sharing his story and exposing himself to the very thing that effects him, and  to the wonderful kids, Julian, Rebecca, Lyla, Naomi, Alissa, Nina, Rebecca, Leon and Ely, as well as parents Andrew and Francesca who allowed us to make a lot of monsters in their yard.

Scooby Doo Theme performed by Larry Marks: Wikipedia.

Other music by Sirmooge (Simon Wagg) and Bensound.com.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Monsters aren’t even real. Why are we so scared of them? And what should we be scared of instead? We ask some kids. College of Curiosity yes 7462
Poison Oak (Acarophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/poison-oak-acarophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 22:05:29 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7457 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/poison-oak-acarophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/poison-oak-acarophobia/feed/ 0 Non (who hates peeing in public) talks about his old nemesis, poison oak—and how a lifelong fear of it did not save him. Bring calamine. pantophobia_plant

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 8: Poison Oak (Acarophobia)

Non (who hates peeing in public) talks about his old nemesis, poison oak—and how a lifelong fear of it did not save him. Bring calamine.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine Lotion

References:

Cover Photo: Poison Oak. Photo by Elf.

Calamine Lotion: Amazon.com.

Poison Ivy by The Coasters: YouTube.

Technu for cleaning urishol off skin: Amazon.com.

Joy Sandwich is the podcast for more from Non Wells.

Credits:

Special thanks to Non for sharing his story and exposing himself to the very thing that effects him, and to Jenna for talking about some of the psychological aspects of phobias.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Non (who hates peeing in public) talks about his old nemesis, poison oak—and how a lifelong fear of it did not save him. Bring calamine. College of Curiosity yes 7457
Peeing in Public (Paruresis) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/peeing-in-public-paruresis/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 21:49:36 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7451 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/peeing-in-public-paruresis/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/peeing-in-public-paruresis/feed/ 0 Non (who is also afraid of poison oak) tells us why the urinals at Wrigley Field made him break out in a cold sweat. pantophobia_pee

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 7: Peeing in Public (Paruresis)

Non (who is also afraid of poison oak) tells us why the urinals at Wrigley Field made him break out in a cold sweat.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

References:

Cover Photo: The troughs at Wrigley Field from this WGN article.

 

International Paruresis Association (offers support and advice): IPA

Non’s podcast: Joy Sandwich iTunes

Credits:

Special thanks to Non for sharing his story and exposing himself to the very thing that effects him, and to Jenna for talking about some of the psychological aspects of phobias.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Non (who is also afraid of poison oak) tells us why the urinals at Wrigley Field made him break out in a cold sweat. College of Curiosity yes 7451
Clusters of Holes (Trypophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/clusters-of-holes-trypophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 20:55:58 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7448 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/clusters-of-holes-trypophobia/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/clusters-of-holes-trypophobia/feed/ 2 If the mere title of this episode made your scalp tingle, you probably have trypophobia. If it didn’t, OH BOY, have we got a fear for you. pantophobia_tryp

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 6: Clustered Holes (Trypophobia)

If the mere title of this episode made your scalp tingle, you probably have trypophobia. If it didn’t, OH BOY, have we got a fear for you.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

References:

Cover Photo: Puppies, supposedly a fix for trypophobic angst. (Public Domain).

CBS News: (WARNING: trypophobic images) Understanding trypophobia: Why some people fear holes.

NPR: (WARNING: trypophobic images) Fear Of Cantaloupes And Crumpets? A ‘Phobia’ Rises From The Web.

Credits:

Special thanks to John for sharing his story and exposing himself to the very thing that effects him, and to Jenna for talking about some of the psychological aspects of phobias.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
If the mere title of this episode made your scalp tingle, you probably have trypophobia. If it didn’t, OH BOY, have we got a fear for you. College of Curiosity yes 7448
Popcorn (Maizophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/popcorn-maizophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 18:31:47 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7442 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/popcorn-maizophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/popcorn-maizophobia/feed/ 0 Fisher can spot a popcorn kernel stuck in the carpet from across the room. He tells us about the perils of working in retail when popcorn is afoot. pantophobia_popcorn

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 5: Popcorn (Maizophobia)

Fisher can spot a popcorn kernel stuck in the carpet from across the room. He tells us about the perils of working in retail when popcorn is afoot.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

References:

Cover Photo: Viral image of “evil face in popcorn.” Photographer unknown.

 

An entire site devoted to popcorn pareidolia: Popcornface.

Credits:

Special thanks to Fisher for sharing his story with us, and Jenna for talking about some of the psychological aspects of phobias.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Fisher can spot a popcorn kernel stuck in the carpet from across the room. He tells us about the perils of working in retail when popcorn is afoot. College of Curiosity yes 7442
Stepping on Fish (Ichthyphobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/stepping-on-fish-ichthyphobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 18:14:47 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7436 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/stepping-on-fish-ichthyphobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/stepping-on-fish-ichthyphobia/feed/ 0 Averil is afraid of stepping on fish—especially fish that jump out of aquariums unexpectedly. It happened to her sister-in-law once! pantophobia_fish

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 4: Stepping on Fish (Ichthyphobia)

Averil is afraid of stepping on fish—especially fish that jump out of aquariums unexpectedly. It happened to her sister-in-law once!

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark puts gravy on spaghetti, like you're supposed to.

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

References:

Cover Photo: A crappie that appeared on a Westmont (Chicago) street for no apparent reason. Photo by Katie Hovany.

Meijer, the grocery store chain with aquariums: Meijer.

Herald Times Reporter (Manitowoc) article about dead fish on the beach: Huge alewife die-off a sign of life for the lake.

 

Credits:

Thanks to Averil for sharing her story with us.

Logo design by Beth Voigt.

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Averil is afraid of stepping on fish—especially fish that jump out of aquariums unexpectedly. It happened to her sister-in-law once! College of Curiosity yes 7436
Bridges (Gephyrophobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/bridges-gephyrophobia/ Mon, 28 Mar 2016 17:24:09 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7428 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/bridges-gephyrophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/bridges-gephyrophobia/feed/ 0 An anonymous contributor shares a personal story about facing her fear of bridges. If that sounds too serene, don’t worry: There’s swearing. pantophobia_bridge

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 3: Bridges (Gephyrophobia)

An anonymous contributor shares a personal story about facing her fear of bridges. If that sounds too serene, don’t worry: There’s swearing.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

References:

Cover Photo: Rainbow Bridge in Texas. Photo by Aren Cambre.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Crossing Service: Kent Island Express.

BBC News Report Video: Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Saving drivers too scared to cross.

Credits:

Special thanks to our narrators Erin Reilly and Julie Lynn, as well to our anonymous bridge driver.

Logo design by Beth Voigt

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
An anonymous contributor shares a personal story about facing her fear of bridges. If that sounds too serene, don’t worry: There’s swearing. College of Curiosity yes 7428
Drowning (Aquaphobia) http://collegeofcuriosity.com/drowning-aquaphobia/ Sun, 27 Mar 2016 18:05:15 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7412 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/drowning-aquaphobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/drowning-aquaphobia/feed/ 0 When he’s 8, Mark almost drowns. He doesn’t tell anybody. When he’s 33, he lies to Jeff because he’s scared of drowning. He doesn’t tell anybody. Until now. pantophobia_drowning

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Episode 2: Drowning (Aquaphobia)

When he’s 8, Mark almost drowns. He doesn’t tell anybody.

When he’s 33, he lies to Jeff because he’s scared of drowning. He doesn’t tell anybody.

Until now.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

References:

Strategies for Overcoming Aquatic Phobias: http://waterphobias.com/

Credits:

Logo design by Beth Voigt

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
When he’s 8, Mark almost drowns. He doesn’t tell anybody. When he’s 33, he lies to Jeff because he’s scared of drowning. He doesn’t tell anybody. Until now. College of Curiosity yes 7412
Introducing Pantophobia! http://collegeofcuriosity.com/introducing-pantophobia/ Wed, 02 Mar 2016 01:24:33 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=7383 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/introducing-pantophobia/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/introducing-pantophobia/feed/ 0 Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity! Pantophobia

Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity!

Are you scared? Yes? That’s great! Because right now, you’re hurtling through space on a spinning wet rock with 7 billion other people who are just as terrified as you. In Pantophobia, you’ll get to know a few of them.

Even if you’ve never avoided a neighborhood bar because the wall art made your skin crawl, yelled vicious insults at a bridge, or lunged over a stack of Hawaiian dinner rolls to punch a guy in a gorilla suit (like our guests have), these stories will change the way you think about fear.

Pantophobia Main Page

Hosts:

Originally from Salem, Mass, Jeff now lives in Chicago.

Jeff Wagg

Jeff is the Curator of the College of Curiosity. He spends his days looking for curious people, things and points of view to share through words, audio and travel.

You can reach him at jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Aubrey is the best dressed of the team.

Aubrey Henretty

Aubrey is a writer and storyteller in Chicago. She has a lot of questions.

You can reach her at aubrey@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Mark Graunke

Mark Graunke

Mark is a pipefitter by trade and a mystery seeker by inclination. His hobbies include challenging his own fears and anxieties.

You can reach him at mark@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Credits:

Music: Curious Process by Podington Bear

Logo design by Beth Voigt

Produced with Audacity for Mac.

]]>
Welcome to Pantophobia, a podcast about fear and curiosity! College of Curiosity yes 2:08 7383
A Bag O’ Bees http://collegeofcuriosity.com/a-bag-o-bees/ Wed, 13 Jan 2016 00:23:06 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6995 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/a-bag-o-bees/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/a-bag-o-bees/feed/ 0 An outtake from an episode of our upcoming podcast, PANTOPHOBIA. In Mid-February 2016, we’ll be launching our new podcast, PANTOPHOBIA, which deals with issues of fear and anxiety, and how people have overcome them. We’re editing now, and of course, a lot of content is being cut. This little bit was too good to leave on the floor.

Oops.

Oops.

]]>
An outtake from an episode of our upcoming podcast, PANTOPHOBIA. College of Curiosity yes 4:45 6995
2-91. Hog Calling in 8,113 CE http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-91-hog-calling-in-8113-ce/ Thu, 07 Jan 2016 17:06:36 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6966 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-91-hog-calling-in-8113-ce/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-91-hog-calling-in-8113-ce/feed/ 1 Take one old swimming pool, add common objects from 1940s, and fill it with an inert gas. Then cover it with a seven foot stone slab, and you’ve created “The Crypt of Civilization." Take one old swimming pool, add common objects from 1940s, and fill it with an inert gas. Then cover it with a seven foot stone slab, and you’ve created “The Crypt of Civilization.”

With the discovery of King Tut’s tomb still fresh in the public’s mind and the rumblings of another world war beginning in Europe, Thornwell Jacobs thought up the idea of deliberately creating another Tut’s Tomb for future archaeologists, but instead of filling it with funerary articles, this one would be a representation of civilization at the time.

At Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia, an abandoned swimming pool was donated to the project. Its walls were reinforced with enamel plates, covered in tar, and objects were carefully placed inside. Some of the items include: the contents of a woman’s purse, voice recordings of major figures in the impending World War II, a Lone Ranger toy, a bottle of Budweiser and even a film copy of Gone with the Wind.

Books were important, but instead of taking up a lot of space with fragile paper, 800 works of historic value were recorded on microfilm. And of course there are film readers and projectors in there as well, so future archaeologists can actually read the Illiad or watch Gone with the Wind… providing the film survives. And yes, there’s an audio recording of the champion hog caller, which is a skill that may not be needed in the future.

How long are these things expected to survive? Jacobs calculated that the Egyptian calendar began 6,177 years before the idea of his crypt, so he figured it should be another 6,177 years before it should be opened. That date is in the year, 8,113 CE.

Concerned that treasure hunters might seek to enter the crypt before its time, Jacobs left a message at the door, which included the following lines:

This Crypt contains memorials of the civilization which existed in the United States and the world at large during the first half of the twentieth century. …No jewels or precious metals are included. …we beg of all persons that this door and the contents of the crypt within may remain inviolate.

Jacobs, it seems, didn’t know about the value of collectibles.

It’s a safe bet that 6,000 years from now, the English language will not exist. Because we found the Rosetta Stone, we can read Egyptian Hieroglyphics. But without that find, we’d likely still be baffled by that elaborate pictographic language . What will future archaeologists use to decipher what we’ve written? And how can they appreciate that this preserved moment in time, was but a moment? Even 80 years later, we might struggle to recognize many of the objects inside. Technology is moving so quickly that any time capsule can’t possibly speak for a period of more than a few years. With the Egyptians, we had a written language to decipher. In the future, archaeologists will be looking at iPhones, where nothing is apparent unless it’s powered on. Will they be able to plug it in and read its contents? A Kindle can hold thousands of books, but will anyone in the future know that?

And more important, will they even care to? Or will curiosity about the past go the way of flivvers and buggy whips?

Some of the objects sealed inside the Crypt of Civilization.

Some of the objects sealed inside the Crypt of Civilization.

 

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Take one old swimming pool, add common objects from 1940s, and fill it with an inert gas. Then cover it with a seven foot stone slab, and you’ve created “The Crypt of Civilization." College of Curiosity yes 4:18 6966
2-90. The Truth of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-90-the-truth-of-the-sorcerers-apprentice/ Thu, 17 Dec 2015 23:21:10 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6925 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-90-the-truth-of-the-sorcerers-apprentice/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-90-the-truth-of-the-sorcerers-apprentice/feed/ 0 The Sorcerer's Apprentice has more accuracy in it than you might think. No. Not the forgotten Nicholas Cage movie. I’m talking about Der Zauberlehrling, a poem by Goethe written in 1797. You may know it better as the bit from the original Fantasia (both, actually) that featured Mickey Mouse. That version was based on Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem, and featured the wizard Yen Sid (think about it) who, after performing alchemical miracles, retires for the evening, leaving his lab in the hands of his young apprentice. This apprentice apparently suffers from the Dunning-Kruger effect. In no time, he conjures up way too many demonic assistants, who wreak havoc until the wizard returns and sets things straight. You should watch it if you haven’t seen it; it’s a triumph of mid-century animation.

What’s interesting is that there’s a lot of accuracy depicted in the piece. Ok, we’ll forgive the anthropomorphic rodent and broomsticks, but overall, what’s depicted there has roots in the history of alchemy.

Most of our “Al” words stem from Arabic, with “Al” simply meaning “The.” “Chemy” comes from the Arabic word for the “art of transmuting metals.” While we think of alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, it’s perhaps better to think of it as the forerunner of metallurgy. Chemistry branched off some time later.

In the ancient world, blending metals was hugely important. There’s a very good reason we had a “bronze” age. Learning to combine copper and arsenic into a new metal changed the world by allowing societies with that technology to make better tools, weapons and art. Alchemists were the people who learned how to make these metals, and through experimentation, improve them. Arsenic gave way to tin, bronze gave way to iron, which gave way to steel and so on.

It was difficult to learn the specifics and intricacies of proper metal production. It was also extremely valuable, and only the chosen few were allowed into the guilds and given access to the formulas and techniques. These few were apprentices, just like Mickey.

Mickey would have been given the drudge work, such as grinding materials or stoking the fire and keeping it hot with bellows. His pay would be learning valuable skills, which he would protect from outsiders just as his master did. This gave the entire practice an air of “secrecy,” which in some societies was seen as unholy.

Common symbols used in alchemy and then, in other crafts.

Common symbols used in alchemy and then, in other crafts.

To the outsider, alchemy seemed like pure magic. Not only were common metals “changed” or “transmuted” into something more valuable, it was done while the practitioners combined precise and sometimes odd ingredients into crucibles, followed by specific chanting in strange clothing. Things glowed (molten metals) while producing strange smells and colorful smoke. Jars, vials and manuscripts marked with odd symbols filled the lab, and the whole scene may have seemed similar to religious rituals, which are often followed without explanation. This all contributes to the idea that somehow, alchemy and religion are related. Just think of turning water into wine and you can see the connection.The

In the animation, you see a man in a protective robe and cap standing over a cauldron. In reality, it probably would have been a crucible, and wearing protective clothing around molten metals is wise. As for the chanting, the mixing of metals requires precise timing. Reliable alarm clocks hadn’t been invented yet, so timing was done with hourglasses or, by the reciting of poems and songs. Each spoken bit of prose took a certain amount of time, so if you needed to wait one minute, you’d recite the poem that took one minute. It may have been in a classic language unfamiliar to the commoners of the time, so it sounded strange and mystical. The words weren’t doing anything other than telling the mixer when to add that little bit of lead or take the vial off the heat. The waving of hands could even be used for small timings—three waves over the pot takes a second, etc.

A "beer star" on the side of a 19th century brewery. It is based on alchemical symbols.

A “beer star” on the side of a 19th century brewery. It is based on alchemical symbols.

On his hat is a crescent moon, the alchemical symbol for silver. The star could represent many things, though the artists likely added it because it seems to go well with the moon. It may have meant quintessence, or life force, which makes sense given the context of the story. A six-pointed star would have been more likely, though in 1940, the Star of David had taken on a tragic connotation. In Alchemy, the unrelated-to-religion six pointed star was a combination of the symbols for the four elements, Earth, Air, Water and Fire. This causes some confusion on old buildings and in cemeteries, as the six sided star, often with intertwined lines, was the symbol for purity in brewing, the Beirstern, or “Brewer’s Star.” You can find it on old breweries and on the graves of brewers.

At the end of the Fantasia piece, Yen Sid does a Moses act and parts the waters brought in by Mickey’s minions. He subsequently gives Mickey a swat with a broom, and he scurries off, ending the film. In the original poem, the alchemist wasn’t upset with Mickey, but understanding that such misestimations of one’s knowledge are a part of learning. I think this is a more valuable lesson than “you shouldn’t mess with the master’s stuff,” but if you’ve taken nothing else from this piece, take a moment to look at the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s a simple and powerful explanation for the surety we see displayed by false experts, and it’s yet another fallacy that can be corrected through curiosity and humility.

Woodcut depicting Goethe's original work (with some modifications.)

Woodcut depicting Goethe’s original work (with some modifications.)

 

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The Sorcerer's Apprentice has more accuracy in it than you might think. College of Curiosity yes 6:45 6925
2-89. Stop the Presses! http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-89-stop-the-presses/ Mon, 14 Dec 2015 17:22:25 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6888 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-89-stop-the-presses/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-89-stop-the-presses/feed/ 2 People read headlines and think they know the story. They often know less than they knew before. Over the last couple of days, my social media feeds have been filling up with short articles and witty headlines pointing at the people of Woodland, North Carolina, who are reportedly afraid that solar panels will drain the sun.

A pause.

One oft-cited source is the Independent UK, a fairly respectable paper who ran the story in their “Americas” section with the headline “US town rejects solar panels amid fears they ‘suck up all the energy from the sun’. As of this writing, the article has been shared more than 148,000 times. (In the time it took to create this article, that number jumped to 167,000.)

Most people who are aware of this story know one more fact from the article “A retired science teacher said she was concerned the panels would prevent plants in the area from growing.”

And with that, people are having a Ha Ha! at Woodland, North Carolina. Folks in the North point to the South and say “Look how dumb they are.” People in the world, point at the US and say “What a ridiculous country.”

Here’s a representative comment from the Independent UK article:

“This is wonderful! Another laugh out loud too crazy to make it up goofy story from Amurica . It’s like the light hearted story segment at the end of the news – problem is, these are the majority of the news stories coming out of this literally joke nation.” (sic)

And when you look at the facts with curiosity, you find that those blanket assessments were based on the statements of two people, who may be married.

Sharon Hill of Doubtful News looked into this story, using the same articles that people were sharing around, except that she actually read them. The short version is this: there was a town planning meeting where public comments were accepted. Two people made unscientific complaints against the project, and one of them is a retired science teacher. Other people complained that there were already solar plants in town, and that these new plants weren’t a good enough reason to change zoning on this one parcel of farm land.

When I shared the Doubtful News article this morning, I’m not sure everyone read it, as some of the replies continued to make fun of people who are afraid of solar power. Again, those “people” were two individuals who were possibly married and had a political agenda against solar panels. Their comments are silly, but silly comments from two unknown citizens aren’t newsworthy.

Sharon’s article gives a MUCH better picture of the story. And it’s actually not much of a story: people at a town meeting voted down a zoning change for a variety of reasons, and two people said some laughable things during the comments portion.

So was the Independent UK just lazy? No, they wanted to write an article making fun of Americans. And while there’s plenty to make fun of, this doesn’t really qualify. Thankfully, some local papers reported the story factually. Keith Hoggard in the Roanoke-Chownan News-Herald reported a very matter-of-fact account of the meeting. His headline: Woodland rejects solar farm.

That’s the truth, but that doesn’t sell papers or online ads.

If you’re a curious person, and you see something and wonder “How could that be?” It’s ALWAYS worth it to take a deeper look. We live in a world where content creators are clamoring for your attention, and they know that if they skew a story in certain ways, you’re more likely to click. But that skewing does curiosity a disservice when it tells a story that isn’t there. And it ignores some truly interesting parts of the story, like the fact that fire departments need special training to deal with solar panel fires. That’s a fact I didn’t know today, and it’s not a fact I would have learned from the Independent UK.

Kudos to Sharon Hill for trying to bring the truth to light. She’s performing a service for curious people, everywhere.

Completely unrelated photo to grab your attention. (Photo from Underwriters Laboratory)

Completely unrelated photo to grab your attention. (Photo from Underwriters Laboratory)

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People read headlines and think they know the story. They often know less than they knew before. College of Curiosity yes 4:08 6888
2-88. Bottle Messages http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-88-bottle-messages/ Wed, 09 Dec 2015 18:20:59 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6875 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-88-bottle-messages/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-88-bottle-messages/feed/ 0 Bottle messages are icons in our culture, and interest in them continues unabated. Here are some facts about messages in bottles that add to the romance. You’ve heard the song, and read the book or seen the movie. You may even remember the screen saver that was based on a guy stuck on a desert island. Bottle messages are icons in our culture, and interest in them continues unabated. Search Google News for “Message in a bottle” and see how many articles there are, many of them recent. Here are some facts about messages in bottles that add to the romance.

  •  Bottle messages are not litter, as they are not discarded. Steps can be taken to reduce their environmental impact.
  • Bottles don’t have to be thrown into water. They can be left on transportation, mailed to random addresses, or left hidden in the woods, desert, or ice to be found far away in time if not in space.
  • As far back as 310BCE, Greeks were tossing bottles into the sea to test currents. They learned that the Mediterranean Sea was filled with water from the Atlantic.
  • In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I of England created an official position, “Uncorker of Ocean Bottles.” Anyone in England finding a bottle with a message was to bring it directly to the crown. The English had figured out ocean currents enough to use them as a conveyance for messages from spies.
  • The oldest bottle found to date had been afloat for 108 years. It was a science experiment.
  • Some bottle messages have traveled at least 10,000 miles.
  • One man, Harold Hackett, has thrown nearly 5,000 messages into the Atlantic. He has received over 3,100 responses. One took 13 years.
  • Bottle messages were dropped by the crew of Zeppelin L 19 before it crashed. The messages were recovered six months later.
  • Though not in bottles, NASA has sent messages into space aboard Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft. Voyager probes even included a record with an attached record player.
  • Balloons have been used to send messages through the air. (There are environmental and safety concerns with releasing balloons.)
  • Bottle messages have been used to track where drifting World War II mines were likely to end up. They’re also used to track trash movements and also how currents affect fisheries.
  • Bottle messages have actually saved lives. The crew of a cargo ship was being held hostage and dropped messages in bottles to give information about their location and condition to NATO forces in the area. NATO stormed the ship and rescued them.

Here at the College of Curiosity, we’ve recently launched our Message in a Bottle program. We have kits and instructions for the do-it-yourselfer, and we have online tracking of where the bottle was dropped, and should you be so lucky, where it was found. If you’d like to join, head over to collegeofcuriosity.com and click on the Bottle Messages link.

watercolormap

Bottles that have been launched and found with our Bottle of Curiosity project.

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Bottle messages are icons in our culture, and interest in them continues unabated. Here are some facts about messages in bottles that add to the romance. College of Curiosity yes 3:32 6875
2-87. The Other Christmas http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-87-the-other-christmas/ Mon, 07 Dec 2015 19:08:51 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6847 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-87-the-other-christmas/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-87-the-other-christmas/feed/ 0 Captain Cook named it Christmas Island, despite the fact that he actually arrived on Christmas Eve.

It’s in Kiribati, so you might think it’s pronounced Keer-ih-tih-mah-tee. But it’s actually pronounced KEER-iss-mass. And it’s not even in Keer-ih-batti, but in fact, KEER-ih-bahs.

Confused? Good.

Formerly known as Christmas Island, Kiritimati is an atoll smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s often confused with Christmas Island, which is part of Australia and located in the Indian Ocean, but they are vastly different places.

As you may have guessed, Kiritimati was discovered on Christmas Day. OK, that’s not true either. It was discovered in 1537 by the Spanish, who called it Acea. 240 years later, Captain Cook wandered to the island and named it Christmas Island, despite the fact that he actually arrived on Christmas Eve. Still, the name Christmas Island stuck and it was so noted on maps for centuries.

You can walk between the land in the lacework lagoon.

You can walk between the land in the lacework lagoon.

What did the people who lived there call it? In fact, there were no people living there. Some small groups of farmers and miners occupied the island on and off during the 19th century, but in 1905, the island was completely devoid of people once more. In 1912, a new group started a colony there, and today there are over 5,500 people who call Kiritimati home. These people are mainly Micronesians who converted to Protestantism or Catholicism in roughly equal numbers, though nearly 20% are agnostic. They speak English and Gilbertese, which is a native language that takes its name for a nearby group of islands known as the Gilbert Islands after a British sea captain.

Kiribati is actually the local pronunciation of “Gilbert.” The Kiribati people adopted latin script for their writing, and phonetically spell words with some differences in how they’re spelled in English. They also write the “ess” sound as “ti,” which lends confusion when one applies American pronunciation to their words.

Today, you may hear about the islands (in varying pronunciations) as they are subject to inundation if global warming predictions come true. At only a few feet above sea level, the residents of Kiribati along with relatively nearby Tuvalu are often given as examples of populations that will soon be homeless.

Kiritimati is also the site where the UK detonated their first H-bomb as it hung from balloons attached to the island. While testing suggests that fallout levels were not enough to affect the thousands of Commonwealth sailors in the area or the ecology of the islands, lawsuits in this regard raged on for decades, with a British court finally ruling in 2012 that the cancers found in Navy personnel happened too long ago to have any judicial merit.

If you’d like to visit Kiritimati, you’d be most welcome. Fiji Airways has flights from Hawaii for about $1100. And it’s one of the few places in the world you can walk from London to Paris to Poland in a day. Those are the names of three of the villages on the island. Or you can hitch a ride on the back of a truck for a tour, as this video provides.

What a view...

What a view…

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Captain Cook named it Christmas Island, despite the fact that he actually arrived on Christmas Eve. College of Curiosity yes 3:18 6847
2-86. Prisoners Cinema http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-86-prisoners-cinema/ Thu, 19 Nov 2015 18:36:21 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6788 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-86-prisoners-cinema/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-86-prisoners-cinema/feed/ 0 Prisoners Cinema plays 24/7. Even if you don't want it to.

Imagine if you could have Netflix access no matter where you are. Actually, we’re almost there. I counted, and I have 17 devices in my home right now that can play Netflix. Ok, forget all that. Imagine this instead…

You’re in the dark. Total dark. The kind of dark that people don’t often experience. The kind of dark you’d experience inside a cave, where there’s no light at all and you can’t see anything.

Except you do see things. If you look carefully, you may see lights or patterns, or vivid colors. Even with your eyes closed, you continue to see things that you know can’t possibly be there.

This is a real phenomenon that you’ve probably experienced, and if not, you can simply head to the darkest place in your home and close your eyes for fifteen minutes. Pay attention, and you’ll find that you’ve tuned into Prisoners Cinema.

Prisoners locked in dark cells often had literally nothing to distract them. This gave them the forced opportunity to pay attention to what they were “seeing” in the dark. But, since there was no light, could they say to be truly “seeing”?

Yes, and no. Vision is not formed in our eyes, but in our minds. Think of your eyes as the lens of a camera, and your mind as the film, or sensor. If you put the lens cap on, a camera records nothing. But there may actually be something there. Maybe a little static from a loose connection or a faulty pixel. If you apply filters to the blank photo, eventually it will become shapes and colors. And your mind is doing the same thing.

We can’t turn our eyes or our brains off. At least not without medical intervention. As such, our brains are constantly looking to interpret input from the eyes, even if that input is just noise. The signal our eyes send to our brains is pretty noisy, and if we remove all the light, noise is all that’s left. These bits of pseudo-light are called phosphenes, and they make up the basis for Prisoners Cinema.

What the phosphenes become is up to your brain. Our brains are excellent at recognizing patterns. We learn what a “dog” looks like because we see the pattern of light that people have told us means “dog.” By the time we’re adults, we’ve seen just about everything and our brain has words and associations for each pattern. But when it’s just noise, our brain has nothing to work with, though it will keep on trying.

The images you’re “seeing,”in Prisoners Cinema are just an interpretation of noise. One quick way to demonstrate this is to close your eyes and press hard (not too hard!) on one of them. You may see a white light, which of course, isn’t there. You’re “seeing” the signals the pressure is forcing your eye to send to your brain, and your brain knows to interpret signals from the eyes as “light.”

Do blind people see this? At least some of them do. One man lost his sight as a child and could detect no light at all. He said it was like being in front of a movie screen showing a constant array of bright, moving colors. It sounds something like a screensaver, and unfortunately for the man, he found it quite distracting at times. He described it as “visual tinnitus,” which is a ringing in the ears. The eyes were useless, but the brain was still interpreting the best it could.

So while you may not have access to Netflix everywhere just yet, you’ll always be able to watch Prisoners Cinema. What’s being featured is up to your brain.

Music in this episode: BenSound.com

Something approximating what people see as "Prisoners Cinema"

Something approximating what people see as “Prisoners Cinema”

 

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Prisoners Cinema plays 24/7. Even if you don't want it to. College of Curiosity yes 4:09 6788
2-85. Play It Forward http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-85-play-it-forward/ Tue, 03 Nov 2015 19:57:41 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6553 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-85-play-it-forward/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-85-play-it-forward/feed/ 1 I’m holding in my hand a deck of cards, and they’re wonderful.

I’m holding in my hand a deck of cards, and they’re wonderful.

The concept of “paying it forward,” where you do something nice for someone in the hopes that they’ll in turn do something nice for someone else, is an intriguing concept despite the imperfect movie bearing the name. You hear about it popping up at Starbucks and Tim Hortons from time to time.

Now, there’s a card game that employs that concept in order to get folks to interact a bit more in the real world.

It started in 2009 when Boing Boing had a contest with the Institute for the Future to design a card game. Henry Lee, then 16-years old, came up with a concept of creating social interactions by completing tasks on cards and leaving them for others to find. Now, Cody Borst has produced a commercial version, and you can buy it today.

The cards give you instructions, and you have to follow them. They can be as simple as “Challenge someone to a duel” (a game of rock, paper, scissors) or “Hide this card in a locker.” If appropriate, there’s a different set of instructions for the person who finds or is given the card. And each card has a unique serial number that allows it to be tracked online. So, if someone finds that card you left in a locker at the Greyhound station, you’ll know about it.

Some cards require a bit more work, like the one asking you to volunteer for an organization you’ve never helped out before, or attending a new class. Some will require you to step out of your comfort zone as you’re asked to “Take a selfie with a stranger.” And some ask you to create things, whether a new poem, handshake, or something out of recyclables. Each of these involves an interaction with another person, which is the point.

This isn’t just about having fun, it’s about spreading the idea that the world is full of riches, and we should be sharing them more often. You can download the free version or you can buy the nicely produced version at amazon.com. Either way, if you care about curiosity, this is a game for you.

Music in this episode:

Acoustic Breeze from BenSound.com

Promote curiosity with this intriguing card game.

Promote curiosity with this intriguing card game.

 

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I’m holding in my hand a deck of cards, and they’re wonderful. College of Curiosity yes 2:20 6553
2-84. You’re Pronouncing it Wrong! http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-84-youre-pronouncing-it-wrong/ Fri, 30 Oct 2015 18:29:47 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6529 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-84-youre-pronouncing-it-wrong/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-84-youre-pronouncing-it-wrong/feed/ 3 Fire up a Google for a moment. Type in the words “How do you pronounce…” and then look at the autofill results. If you get the results I did, the first hit will be “gyro.’ Or is that “gyro” or “gyro”? The second hit will be “GIF.” An acronym is a word that’s made out […]

Fire up a Google for a moment. Type in the words “How do you pronounce…” and then look at the autofill results. If you get the results I did, the first hit will be “gyro.’ Or is that “gyro” or “gyro”? The second hit will be “GIF.”

An acronym is a word that’s made out of the initials of a phrase. FBI is not an acronym, but RAM is. The only difference between the two is how easily they can be said as a word rather than the corresponding letters.

We have rules on how words are pronounced. The word “cat” is pronounced “kat,” even tough the letter “c” can also make the same sound as “s.” There is no controversy over this, because the word has been around long enough that we all learned it when we were young. Names are a bit more difficult. The name “Björk” is pronounced “Byork” by most folks in the US, but she pronounces it “Byerk.” It’s her name, so she should choose how it’s pronounced. Seems fair.

But GIF is a problem. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Many argue that since the word “graphics” has a hard ‘g,’ the word should be pronounced “GIF.” But the man who created the file format, Steve Wilhite, claims it’s pronounced “JIF.”

When Wilhite announced this in 2013, the media informed the world that the debate was over. Yay! It will be “JIF” forever!

Not so fast. Others claim that just because you’ve created an acronym, you don’t get to change how the language works. It shall always be “GIF.”

So who’s right?

There’s an odd element to this. Both sides of the argument are thoroughly convinced that they’re right. People who refuse to comply, are WRONG, and it must be publicly announced. And yet a solution is obvious.

The Oxford dictionary lists both ways of saying it as valid. Just as they do with many other words, like ab-DUH-men & ab-DO-men and aunt & aunt (ant). We seem more accepting of these then we are with GIF, which some have taken to pronounce as HIFF just to annoy people.

Some words listed with two pronunciations like pecan (PEE-cahn vs. pih-CAHN) also cause controversy. “Only people from THERE say it that way.”

And that points to the problem.

As social primates, we expect people in our group to comply to our expectations of how words are pronounced. Any variation is seen as “other,” and therefor antisocial. And if we’re called out, we immediately become defensive in order to protect our place in the social strata. And we’ll come up with arguments about why we’re obviously right. For pecan, the arguments boil down to “because that’s how it’s pronounced” or “only ignorant people say it the other way.” For computer terms which were created recently, there needs to be justification.

There was another computer term for a connection between devices. It was called Shugart Associates Computer Interface, or SCSI. The creator, Larry Boucher (or is that boo-shay?), intended for it to be pronounced “sexy.” But nearly everyone saw SCSI and pronounced it “scuzzy.” Even today, if you ask for a “sexy” cable, you’ll be asked what kind, but most older IT folks will know what a “scuzzy” cable is right away. There was virtually no controversy, because “scuzzy” became popular so quickly that most people didn’t even know about the “sexy” declaration. Thus, there was no threat to one’s social status for pronouncing it “wrong.”

It’s unusual to have to make a decision on how to pronounce a word, but having moved to different areas of the country, I find myself conforming to the people around me unconsciously. I used to say GIF, and now I say GIF because when I was working with that format, that’s what the people around me said. I used to say “aunt,” and now I say “ant” often as I’ve lived in parts of the country where that’s the preferred way. Upon moving to the midwest, I learned that people found my pronunciation of the word “tour” (toor) odd, whereas in my native New England the midwestern “too-er” seems incorrect.

We may be social primates, but we are also humans. As such, we can reason and tolerate differences in language. At least we should be able to. So maybe we should work on that rather than trying to so hard to defend our one true set of sounds.

UPDATE: SCSI is derived from SASI, which is Shugart Associates Computer Interface. SCSI actually stands for Small Computer Systems Interface. We apologize for the error.

It's pronounced GIF!!! (Photo by Harald)

It’s pronounced GIF!!! (Photo by Harald)

 

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Fire up a Google for a moment. Type in the words “How do you pronounce…” and then look at the autofill results. If you get the results I did, the first hit will be “gyro.’ Or is that “gyro” or “gyro”? The second hit will be “GIF. College of Curiosity yes 5:25 6529
2-83. The Other Kamikaze http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-83-the-other-kamikaze/ Mon, 26 Oct 2015 21:40:04 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6508 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-83-the-other-kamikaze/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-83-the-other-kamikaze/feed/ 1 Most history buffs know that Japanese suicide pilots, know as Kamikaze, were devastating to allied vessels. The word “Kamikaze” means “divine wind,” and refers to a series of typhoons that wiped out invading Mongols off the Japanese coast in the 13th century. When the tide turned against the Japanese during World War II, they called […]

Most history buffs know that Japanese suicide pilots, know as Kamikaze, were devastating to allied vessels. The word “Kamikaze” means “divine wind,” and refers to a series of typhoons that wiped out invading Mongols off the Japanese coast in the 13th century. When the tide turned against the Japanese during World War II, they called on young pilots to fly human-guided missiles directly into targets with no regard for their own lives. It was hoped that they would have the same effect as the 13th century typhoons did, and so they were called “Kamikaze.”

What many don’t know is that planes weren’t the only form of suicide attack devised. There were also Shinyo speedboats, Kaiten submarines, and Fukuryu divers.

Shinyo means “sea quake,” and consisted of a fast one-manned boat packed with 700 pounds of explosives. The pilot would charge at an enemy ship and either explode the bomb manually, or smash into the hull which would cause detonation. There were also two rockets mounted that could be launched during the attack. Some 6,200 of these craft were built, but as they were designed to defend Japan for an invasion that never came, they were never used.

Kaiten submarines were little more than torpedoes with one or more pilots. The name means “heaven shaker.” Unlike the Shinyo, these were actually employed during combat. Launched from submarines, they were effective in sinking two allied warships, with 187 men dying as a result. During the course of the program, 106 Kaiten pilots died, and while that seems to put the Japanese at the advantage, an additional 1,000 Japanese sailors died supporting the program, most them when the mother submarines were sunk during operations.

Perhaps the most desperate weapon was the Fukuryu, or “crouching dragon.” This was simply a diver with a bomb on a bamboo stick. The idea was that they’d walk into the sea, surface under an enemy ship, and explode along with the bomb when it came in contact with the hull. While there were a couple of incidents involving suicide divers, this weapon was not widely deployed.

There were other suicide weapons as well, including the Nikaku—a man with an antitank bomb strapped on, and the Shusui, actually a copy of the German Me163 rocket plane designed to take down allied bombers.

The idea of suicide attacks didn’t begin in the 1940s, and certainly hasn’t disappeared since. Between 1981 and June of 2015, over 45,000 people have been killed in 4,620 attacks.

Today, the word “kamikaze” is used in western culture to describe cocktails, cars, software, amusement park rides and even shoes. This displays a certain reverence for the concept, at least as it applies to those men willing to sacrifice their lives attacking military targets during war time. The word istishhad refers to an act of martyrdom in the cause of Islam. It is increasingly applied to Islamic suicide bombers in a way analogous to the kamikaze.

Could it be that fifty years from now we’ll be able to buy a pair of Nike Istishhads?

Moku Shurai + Istishhad

Moku Shurai + Istishhad

 

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Most history buffs know that Japanese suicide pilots, know as Kamikaze, were devastating to allied vessels. The word “Kamikaze” means “divine wind,” and refers to a series of typhoons that wiped out invading Mongols off the Japanese coast in the 13th c... College of Curiosity yes 4:06 6508
2-82. Island of the Devils http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-82-island-of-the-devils/ Wed, 21 Oct 2015 19:21:05 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6495 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-82-island-of-the-devils/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-82-island-of-the-devils/feed/ 0 Ahh Bermuda, that beautiful Caribbean island filled where natives in grass skirts offer you exotic drinks under palm trees by a waterfall and where planes and ships suddenly disappear in vast numbers! Well, hopefully you picked up on the fact that everything in that sentence is wrong, except for the occasional palm tree. Let’s take […]

Ahh Bermuda, that beautiful Caribbean island filled where natives in grass skirts offer you exotic drinks under palm trees by a waterfall and where planes and ships suddenly disappear in vast numbers!

Well, hopefully you picked up on the fact that everything in that sentence is wrong, except for the occasional palm tree. Let’s take a closer look at a place that many people get all wrong.

Bermuda is not in the Caribbean… it’s nearly 900 miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina in the middle of the North Atlantic. It’s nearly 1000 miles from North of the Bahamas which ALSO aren’t in the Caribbean. There are no waterfalls, as there is no water. Bermuda is a desert island, and the only fresh water comes from rainfall. The first natives were English shipwreck survivors, and today they tend to wear expensive shorts rather than grass skirts.

Explorer Sebastian Cabot may have named the island “Ya de demonios” (this is disputed) because of the strange sounds he heard from the shore. These were probably just the native wildlife or perhaps the growing population of feral pigs, but in any event, the name Bermuda for original discoverer Juan de Bermudez is the one that stuck.

Bermuda has always been a place of danger. It was first discovered by the Spanish in 1505, but there’s no record that anyone lived there. They did drop off some pigs, though, to provide a source of food should anyone try to colonize the island. In 1609, the crew and passengers of the ship Sea Venture did just that, but not on purpose. Their ship had gotten separated from a fleet heading to Jamestown and was forced on the rocks. All 150 survived, and were happy to find a source of food in the pigs. Their leader, George Sommers died from eating pork, though we’re not entirely sure how. The official cause of death is “surfeit of pork” which literally means “too much pork.” It was probably food poisoning, though.

Water was a bigger problem, and it still is today: most Bermudian’s get their water from rain that falls on specially designed roofs and is collected in cisterns. The picturesque limestone buildings that typify Bermuda aren’t there for your enjoyment so much as to provide a source of water for the residents.

Though the island was a salvation for the Sea Venture, if it hadn’t been there, the crew would have probably made it to Jamestown. Bermuda is a wrecker of ships. There are more than 300 known wrecks on the hidden reefs that surround the island. Wreckage is so common that it often intermingles, with ships foundering and falling on the unfortunate remains of a ship that suffered the same fate years if not centuries earlier.

Planes were similarly challenged with Bermuda. When tourism started in the 30s, wealthy folks would fly there and some of them never made it. At this time, there was an unknown, invisible force that could make planes disappear. Today, we call it the jet stream. It’s a fast moving river of air that can push against a plane and secretly impede its forward movement. Early planes had no way to determine ground speed at night, and flying into the jet stream, they’d assume they were making good time. In reality they were flying very slowly… while burning up fuel as though they were traveling hundreds of miles an hour. And if you miss Bermuda, there’s nothing else for a 1000 miles to land on. Though never proven, the hypothesis is that planes such as the Ariel Tiger may have simply run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.

Today, the island is an insurance center and tourist spot. They drive on the left, and scooters are common. American tourists plus scooters plus driving on the left means a lot of accidents, and cruise lines inform passengers that renting scooters is not advised. They estimate that for every cruise, there’s at least one broken arm from a scooter accident.

Should you visit Bermuda? Of course I’m going to say yes. It has a fascinating history with old forts and caves to explore, interesting wildlife and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Just don’t expect Jamaica.

A rather unfortunate modification of an old PanAm poster by a New Zealand artist.

A rather unfortunate modification of an old PanAm poster by a New Zealand artist.

 

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Ahh Bermuda, that beautiful Caribbean island filled where natives in grass skirts offer you exotic drinks under palm trees by a waterfall and where planes and ships suddenly disappear in vast numbers! Well, College of Curiosity yes 4:36 6495
2-81. Defending Profanity http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-81-defending-profanity/ Thu, 15 Oct 2015 18:07:56 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6456 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-81-defending-profanity/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-81-defending-profanity/feed/ 1 Words are powerful, but why do we have some words that are taboo or bad?

Words are powerful, but why do we have some words that are taboo or bad?

Think about this for a second. There are some words that are illegal to utter on broadcast television. It’s like we think we’ll summon Voldemort if certain sounds are incanted. Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Candyman! Candyman! Candyman!

I’m sorry if some unwanted entity has just appeared in your presence.

In the beginning, profanity was language that was irreverent towards religion. In other cases, culture has deemed another culture’s terms for bodily functions “vulgar,” which ironically means “common.”

And if there’s one thing that’s true about these “bad words,” it’s that they change all the time.

1939’s Gone With the Wind had the word “Damn” uttered in the final scene. While this wasn’t the first utterance of “profanity” in a film, it was the first found in such a successful film. And contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t illegal at the time. The Production Code was modified just a month earlier. And I just have to read this paragraph from the code to illustrate how silly the concept of profanity is:

No approval by the Production Code Administration shall be given to the use of words and phrases in motion pictures, including, but not limited to, the following:

Alley cat (applied to a woman); bat (applied to a woman); broad (applied to a woman); Bronx cheer (the sound); chippie; cocotte; God, Lord, Jesus, Christ (unless used reverently); cripes; fanny; fairy (in a vulgar sense); finger (the); fire, cries of; Gawd; goose (in a vulgar sense); “hold your hat” or “hats”; hot (applied to a woman); “in your hat”; Louse; lousy; Madam (relating to prostitution); nance, nerts; nuts (except when meaning crazy); pansy, razzberry (the sound); slut (applied to a woman); S.O.B.; son-of-a; tart; toilet gags; tom cat (applied to a man); traveling salesman and farmer’s daughter jokes; whore; damn, hell (excepting when the use of said last two words shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore, or for the presentations in proper literary context of a Biblical, or other religious quotation, or a quotation from a literary work provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste).

For those, like me, who didn’t know what a cocotte is, the dictionary provides that it is a covered, heatproof dish such as a Dutch oven. Oh, and it’s also an old term for a fashionable prostitute.

So, if I were making a movie in the 1930s, and this dialogue appeared in it, I’d be fined to oblivion.

For years my argument has been, words are just sounds; it’s the meanings that matter. The only difference there should be between the words “piss” and “urine” are that you save a letter by using the word “piss.”

I thought my argument unassailable, until my co-hosts on an upcoming College of Curiosity podcast pointed something out to me.

One of them is a writer and the other a pipe fitter, and they both agree that we need taboo words to better express ourselves. After a moment’s consideration, I realized they were right.

If someone says “move the box,” they’ll never be able to match the power of “move the damn box!” or something stronger. My idea of removing the taboo of words would eliminate some of our ability to express ourselves, and I can’t see that as a good thing. And thus my opinion has changed. Some words should be reserved for use in situations that require a power boost.

And though I don’t agree with censorship of the arts, our current code that prohibits certain words on television enhances the power of these words. I’m still against it, but I concede that it makes our language richer.

So fuck it, I was wrong.

Parents should not listen to this.

Parents should not listen to this.

 

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Words are powerful, but why do we have some words that are taboo or bad? College of Curiosity yes 5:00 6456
2-80. A Tale of Two Canadian Mugs http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-80-a-tale-of-two-canadian-mugs/ Wed, 14 Oct 2015 17:18:35 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6443 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-80-a-tale-of-two-canadian-mugs/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-80-a-tale-of-two-canadian-mugs/feed/ 3 I made my wife a cup of coffee this morning, and an image of totem poles came to mind. You’re due an explanation. About ten years ago, James “The Amazing” Randi and I were in the small kitchen at the former James Randi Educational Foundation headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Most mornings, this rooms was […]

I made my wife a cup of coffee this morning, and an image of totem poles came to mind. You’re due an explanation.

About ten years ago, James “The Amazing” Randi and I were in the small kitchen at the former James Randi Educational Foundation headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Most mornings, this rooms was filled with heady conversation about politics and philosophy, but for whatever reason, it was just the two of us this time.

We were both there for coffee. Randi had an odd habit of drinking coffee that was left in the pot from the day before, but I insisted on making a new pot. As the Mr. Coffee dripped and sputtered, Randi took a mug from the rack and handed it to me.

He said, “This is a special mug, and I think a special person should have it.”

I took the mug with gratitude, but I was a bit confused. It wasn’t an attractive mug. It had a confusing logo on it that looked like a bird being hanged over a Canadian flag. But the shape was interesting. It was tall, and flat on one side. The bottom had 12 little ceramic feet that prevented the cup from leaving rings, and it felt good in my hand.

“That mug was given to me by Dean Gunnarson. He bought my escape act.”

For those who don’t know, James Randi was a magician and escape artist. When he turned 60, he gave it all up, and sold his props and secrets to Dean. Randi went on to tell the story about how, like Randi himself, Dean came close to death in an escape gone wrong, leading their mutual friend Johnny Carson to refer to him as the “Crazy Canadian.”

I’ve kept that mug for ten years, and there’s no telling how long Randi had it. It’s my favorite mug and I use it often. But today, as I put it under the coffee machine, I felt something odd on the handle. I expected that it hadn’t been cleaned well, but on closer observation, I learned that the handle was cracked, and the glazing was coming off. This mug was finished.

A wave of loss came over me, only to be followed by a mental image of a majestic totem pole. Most people see totem poles in museums or in curated places. The stack of figures is cared for and preserved so as to last as long as possible. But as part of their creation, totem poles were meant to rot in place. Not only did the figures tell a story (from bottom to top), but the decay did as well. It reminded people that all things return to the soil and that it’s OK. When they’re preserved, their story is put on hold. It’s as if the museum pressed the pause button, and only a single image from a feature length is visible.

When I realized that I valued the mug, I thought “I shouldn’t use this lest it get broken.” Yeah, I really use the word ‘lest’ in my head. But then I thought, no, it’s a mug. It should be used. And when it breaks, that will be the end of its story.

I learned from the totem poles not to be afraid to use things that I like. Yes, they will get damaged, lost or destroyed. But the alternative is to put them in a box and never see them again. If someone finds them many years later, they’ll find an old mug and have no idea of its significance to me. Far better, I think, to use the thing, and let it live.

I won’t save the broken mug, even though it could still hold pencils or something. It’s going in the trash. I’ll keep the memories. And tomorrow I’ll drink coffee from a mug given to me by another Canadian friend. It seems I have an entire forest of totem poles.

The story continues...

The story continues…

 

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I made my wife a cup of coffee this morning, and an image of totem poles came to mind. You’re due an explanation. About ten years ago, James “The Amazing” Randi and I were in the small kitchen at the former James Randi Educational Foundation headquarte... College of Curiosity yes 4:11 6443
2-79.The Vanishing Audience http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-79-the-vanishing-audience/ Tue, 13 Oct 2015 17:33:28 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6430 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-79-the-vanishing-audience/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-79-the-vanishing-audience/feed/ 0 There’s a routine that’s been done only once, and it is arguably the greatest magic trick ever performed.

Magicians have a tradition of outdoing one another, much in the way that sports figures try to set new world records. Who can escape from the most chains, or hold their breath underwater the longest… or produce the most coins from thin air—there’s a competition and one-upmanship that promotes the performer and furthers the art.

But to date, there’s a routine that’s been done only once, and it is arguably the greatest magic trick ever performed.

It was 1942, in September. Harry Blackstone, already a legendary performer, was on stage at a sold out performance. The venue was Decatur, Illinois’ legendary Lincoln Theater, a place associated with hauntings now. But that’s not because of Blackstone… if anything, he helped prevent some ghost stories.

While waiting to start his performance, someone whispered to him backstage. That whisper caused Blackstone to conceive of an entirely new trick on the spot, a trick so large, that it would involve the entire audience.

He walked to the front of the stage with his complete stage crew and announced “Boys and girls, today I’m going to do the most spectacular trick ever seen, and it is so big that you will have to step outside to see it!” Full of smiles and excitement, he asked the 1,000 children in the audience to exit the theater through the side doors in an orderly fashion so that they might see the illusion properly. When some of the adults suggested that they’d just wait inside, Blackstone insisted that they wouldn’t want to miss this, and urged them outside as well.

Once everyone was safely outside, Blackstone returned to his dressing room and cried. The illusion had already been performed. After recomposing himself, he joined the audience on the sidewalk across the street from the theater for the “prestige” portion of his act.

Those 1,000 kids stood in awe as they watched the buildings surrounding the theater engulfed in an inferno. The little whisper that Blackstone received was from the fire marshall telling him that a fire had broken out in the adjacent drugstore, and that they needed to evacuate the theater. Blackstone, a creature of theater, knew very well the horrors of panicked audiences rushing the doors, so he told the most exquisite lie of his career and saw 1,000 children safely out of a dangerous situation.

In the end, the Lincoln Theater didn’t burn to the ground. Changes made in public hall construction after the Iroquois Theater disaster helped avert its burning, but it was Blackstone’s quick thinking and showmanship that prevented a possible stampede.

Other tricks may be more amazing or spectacular, but none have come close to saving the lives of 1,000 children on a September afternoon.

It turns out that there’s even more to this story, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. The best telling is in my friend and mentor James “The Amazing” Randi’s book, Conjuring.

The trick has already been performed. (Photo by Ryan.brownell)

The trick has already been performed. (Photo by Ryan.brownell)

 

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There’s a routine that’s been done only once, and it is arguably the greatest magic trick ever performed. College of Curiosity yes 3:24 6430
2-78. By the Pale Moonlight http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-78-by-the-pale-moonlight/ Mon, 12 Oct 2015 18:36:36 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6422 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-78-by-the-pale-moonlight/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-78-by-the-pale-moonlight/feed/ 2 Chicago has a long history of fire. While the Chicago Fire is well known, there were several other fires that made national headlines, and none was deadlier than the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903. And this one changed your life. In an all too familiar story, something the “newest and best” was promoted as being […]
Chicago has a long history of fire. While the Chicago Fire is well known, there were several other fires that made national headlines, and none was deadlier than the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903. And this one changed your life.
In an all too familiar story, something the “newest and best” was promoted as being impervious to the ravages of the natural world. And according to one inspector, the Iroquois Theater was “Absolutely Fireproof.” With a sprinkler system and dozens of doors for a quick exit, as well as an asbestos curtain designed to smother any flames that might occur on stage, it was billed as the safest theater in town.
On a cold December day, the theater was filled to standing capacity with women and children watching the vaudeville comedy Mr. Bluebeard with the famous Eddie Foy. The ornate stage was lit with calcium lights, also known as lime lights, which gave off intense light, and intense heat. This heat had caused many fires before, and  when a spotlight operator noticed flames during a performance of “Swear to Me by the Pale Moonlight,” he wasn’t too concerned. But when the stagehands were unable to put it out quickly, and the flames rose to the roof, everyone knew something was wrong.
Theater fires were tragically common at the time, which was why the Iroquois was advertised as fireproof. The audience could see the flames and smoke, and thinking of all the previous disasters, they rushed towards the exits, increasing the chances that they would become victims in their own tragedy.
Eddie Foy, seeing what was happening,  got on stage with the fire burning behind him and urged people to stay in their seats. The asbestos curtain was being lowered to separate the fire from the audience, and there was more danger from trampling then from fire at that point.
The curtain came down, and got stuck on a ladder. Someone backstage opened the giant loading doors, and a gust of fresh air fed the fire. Flames came through the opening in the curtain and into the theater. Absolute panic ensued, and Eddie Foy was helpless to stop it.
What happens next is a gruesome story, and one that’s often told. If you’d like to learn it, you can find it for yourself. Know that 602 people, mostly women and children died that day, from a combination of trampling, smoke inhalation, burning and falling.
After the fire, several things were learned. Most of the doors that were installed to prevent this type of thing were locked to prevent people from sneaking in. Ushers were supposed to unlock the doors in case of fire, but they were the first to run out, their duty unfulfilled. Even if they had unlocked the doors, the hinges opened inward, meaning that a crush of people would have prevented them from opening at all.
The sprinkler system was not fully installed, and did nothing to stop the flames. Much of the fireproof material was actually dry wood, and even the asbestos curtain later proved to be made of paper. It looked like asbestos, but would have been useless in holding back the fire.
In short, the Iroquois Theater was a death trap from the day it opened its doors. Short cuts were taken to get ticket sales coming in as soon as possible, always with the promise that these deficiencies would be rectified later. Though many people including the theater owners, inspectors and even the mayor were investigated, there were no criminal charges filed against any of them.
So, an awful story. How does this affect you?
Go into any fairly modern public building, turn around, and look at the doors. You won’t see a doorknob, but instead, a bar that’s pushed to open the door. That bar is called a “panic bar,” and it was created by Carl Prinzler, who was supposed to be at the Iroquois Theater that very night. Horrified by what had happened, he dedicated the next five years of his life to creating a device that would prevent panicked mobs from being caught behind a door. He worked with engineer Henry H. DuPont and sold the device through the Vonnegut Hardware Company (yes, that Vonnegut.) When the three created a firm just for selling these devices, they combined their names into Von Duprin, and that company is still in business today, improving on the original design.
Chances are you use this product a few times a week if not everyday, and while to you it’s just a way to open the door, it’s saved countless lives, maybe even yours.
A modern version of the panic bar.

A modern version of the panic bar.

 

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Chicago has a long history of fire. While the Chicago Fire is well known, there were several other fires that made national headlines, and none was deadlier than the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903. And this one changed your life. College of Curiosity yes 5:09 6422
2-77. Why Polka Dots and Bikinis? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-77-why-polka-dots-and-bikinis/ Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:57:51 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6405 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-77-why-polka-dots-and-bikinis/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-77-why-polka-dots-and-bikinis/feed/ 0 If I say “polka dots” you likely imagine dots of the exact same size evenly spaced on a highly contrasting background. And I’ll bet you’ve never thought of them like that before. But why do we call them that? In medieval times, dots were sometimes considered taboo, or sinister. Remember the black spot of Treasure […]

If I say “polka dots” you likely imagine dots of the exact same size evenly spaced on a highly contrasting background. And I’ll bet you’ve never thought of them like that before. But why do we call them that?

In medieval times, dots were sometimes considered taboo, or sinister. Remember the black spot of Treasure Island? That could be a reference to this idea. It’s also possible that dots were shunned because they resembled some of the dread diseases that spread through Europe during those times.

Dotted fabric is difficult to make by hand, especially in a uniform pattern. The 19th century’s advance in textile manufacture made patterns of uniform dots trivial, in fact, they’re easier to produce than some more traditional patterns. Bolts of cloth with uniform dots began to appear in stores somewhere in the mid-19th century. And here things get murky.

polkadotsAt the same time the cloth came out, polka music was very popular. German-speaking people often wore a hand-made dotted cloth similar to what we now call polka dots, and they were also associated with polka music. When the machine made fabric became available, they wore that. It’s possible that the two just merged in people’s minds, or it could be that people wore colorful dotted clothes when dancing to polka. At any rate, the name “polka dots” was coined and has stuck with us.

For the record, it seems you can never have just a polka “dot.” It’s always plural unless being used as an adjective, because it’s the uniform relationship that the dots have with each other that makes them “polka dots.” One dot is just a circle until context is added.

After World War II, America became obsessed with polka dots, perhaps as a contrast to the olive drab that dominated the previous 10 years. In a way, polka dots were reinvented, and their meaning in American culture took on an air of frivolity and fun. But there isn’t now and never has been a direct relationship between polka dots and polka music.

The same is true for the Bikini. Bikini is an island in the South Pacific that was used for nuclear testing in the 1940’s. The swimwear called “bikini” was named four days after this testing began, and French designer Louis Réard hoped his abbreviated bathing costume would cause a nuclear reaction in the fashion industry.

At first, it didn’t. The suit was seen as obscene and was officially declared “sinful” by the Vatican. (Ironically, a similar design was popular in Biblical times.) And then it was combined with polka dots.

In 1960, Brian Hyland wrote a song about a woman who dons a Bikini and is too embarrassed to be seen in it. It was called “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” and it was a top 10 hit in many countries. The song was meant to poke risqué fun at the idea of wearing such a thing, but the public had a different idea. As the song’s popularity grew, people began wearing the abbreviated swimwear more often. There are even some who say the wave of surf movies popular in the1960s came about because of this song, and the bikini. If you doubt the song’s impact, just take a look at Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition which features nothing but bikinis, often with polka dots.

Why was it a “polka dot” bikini? Likely because the pattern was popular in 1960 and Hyland needed three syllables in that space. The song’s pattern fits perfectly with the words “yellow polkadot bikini.” The song also fits well with the 2/4 rhythm meter common to polka music, and it even begins with a polka-esque ditty, which finally brings 19th century fabric styles, popular music, and irradiated islands together at last.

Clothing from Biblical Times

Clothing from Biblical Times

 

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If I say “polka dots” you likely imagine dots of the exact same size evenly spaced on a highly contrasting background. And I’ll bet you’ve never thought of them like that before. But why do we call them that? In medieval times, College of Curiosity yes 4:34 6405
2-76. No Names, No Words http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-76-no-names-no-words/ Fri, 02 Oct 2015 17:03:41 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6391 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-76-no-names-no-words/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-76-no-names-no-words/feed/ 0 I’ve made a concerted effort not to bring up political views in anything the College of Curiosity does. Of course, my own political views will seep in from time to time, but my goal in producing this content is not to sway opinions, but to create more questions. Today, I have the same question on […]

I’ve made a concerted effort not to bring up political views in anything the College of Curiosity does. Of course, my own political views will seep in from time to time, but my goal in producing this content is not to sway opinions, but to create more questions.

Today, I have the same question on my mind that is on everyone’s minds: what can we do to stop these mass shootings? Many people propose “obvious” answers. We should take away the guns or we should give people more guns. We should fund mental healthcare (that one is pretty easy to agree with) or we should at least make our schools more secure… somehow.

Everyone agrees we should do something. And that’s where the agreement ends. I would like to amplify one simple idea of something that we can do that might make things better.

As I made breakfast, I had CNN on. It was what you’d expect: helicopter shots of stretchers, crying classmates and family, and people demanding that something be done immediately. Then the Sheriff who is responsible for law enforcement in the area was on, briefly, and he did one thing that I found intriguing: he refused to mention the shooter’s name.

I looked online to find more on the story, and found an article from news10.com, an Albany, NY ABC affiliate. The headline was “Oregon Sherif refusing to report mass school shooters name (sic).” You could probably write the article yourself, and it only made a mention of the sheriff who said “he will not get the attention he likely sought.”

Except that the News 10 article mentions the shooter’s name, but not the name of the sheriff.

The sheriff’s name is John Hanlin. And he realizes as many of us do that a big part of the problem of mass shootings is the motivation of the shooter. In many cases, that motivation is media attention. CNN posted a social media message from the shooter that said words to the effect of “the more people you kill, the more limelight you get.” And that is something we can address.

I’m a strong proponent of freedom of the press, and I am not in favor of any new government-imposed restrictions on the media. But if the media chose to simply not report these incidents in anything more than a matter-of-fact way, I think there would be fewer to report.

Imagine if today’s shooting was reported like this: “A shooter opened fire in a school today in Oregon. Nine people were killed, plus the shooter. Ten more are in the hospital. The scene is now secure. And now the weather…” If a news outlet were brave enough to do that, they’d have earned a great deal of respect from me.

That might seem a bit extreme, but you get the idea: the media is treating these shooters like celebrities. You likely know many of their names, and yet I’ll wager that you can’t remember a single name amongst the victims. You are part of the reason these shootings happen.

Let’s make these stories page 4 news, including any trials that result. Remove the motivation of fame. And yes, it’s fame, not necessarily infamy. Potential shooters look up to these people, see the attention they get, and imagine themselves in the spotlight. Let’s turn it off.

If you’re watching the news and a report about a mass shooting comes on, turn it off. Change the channel. Ignore it. Flip the page. Do not share it. Do not comment on it. Do not remember the name of the shooter. Forget the shooter. We can do these things and still honor the memories of the victims and the trauma that the community is facing.

And yes, I seem to be denying curiosity. I, of all people, should be asking you to be more curious about the shooting. But in this case, your curiosity is being used against you. It’s the man in the van telling your six year old self that he has a hurt puppy he needs your help with. It’s the unusual balloon that dropped from the Oregon skies on May 5, 1945. Leave it alone, and back away slowly. Be more curious about why these things happen, and less curious about the specifics of any individual. They are not important.

These events are not just tragedies: each is an act of someone’s motivated will. Let’s see if we can do a bit to remove that motivation, while we argue and struggle over how legislation might help.

This is the last time I’ll be writing on or discussing mass shootings. My thoughts today, are with the victims, and the people who haven’t become victims yet.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

 

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I’ve made a concerted effort not to bring up political views in anything the College of Curiosity does. Of course, my own political views will seep in from time to time, but my goal in producing this content is not to sway opinions, College of Curiosity yes 5:03 6391
2-75. Where Did Your Tires Go? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-75-where-did-your-tires-go/ Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:43:54 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6382 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-75-where-did-your-tires-go/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-75-where-did-your-tires-go/feed/ 0 Winter is coming. For those that live in the snow belt, it’s time to think about switching over to snow tires or at least check the all-seasons to make sure there’s enough tread there. Most modern tires have tread-wear indicators, but there’s always the tried and true Lincoln test…. stick an upside down US penny […]

Winter is coming. For those that live in the snow belt, it’s time to think about switching over to snow tires or at least check the all-seasons to make sure there’s enough tread there. Most modern tires have tread-wear indicators, but there’s always the tried and true Lincoln test…. stick an upside down US penny in the tread, and if you can see Lincoln’s hair, think about getting new tires.

But… when the tires were new, poor Lincoln had most of his head buried in there. Where did the rubber go? I first thought of this when I was staying with a friend in the city. Though she was fastidious, there was a fine layer of dirt on the windowsills. It was pure black—much blacker than the dust I was used to in the country. And there was a lot of it. Outside the window there was a constant stream of traffic, and I thought maybe the dust was caused by diesel exhaust. And no doubt, some portion of it was, but the bulk of it was rubber from tires.

Tires wear constantly as long as a vehicle is in motion. If you’re braking or cornering, they wear faster, and if your tires are under inflated, the wear MUCH faster. Snow tires have more traction, and that also means more rolling resistance, so they wear faster. And those big gnarly off-road tires? They wear really fast on pavement, as do the tires on four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles. There’s a trade-off between traction and tire conservation, and generally you want to err on the side of traction.

When the rubber wears, two things happen. Tiny particles enter the air and stay there until they hit something like a windowsill or the inside of your lungs. Large particles end up as dirt on the side of the road, and then eventually in our waterways as rain washes them away.

How much rubber are talking about? Millions of tons. And it’s not just latex—tire rubber is a mixture of compounds, including some heavy metals which can be harmful in quantity. Also, the latex itself can cause problems in people with a sensitivity.

So what do we do about this problem? There’s really not much we can do except reduce the number of cars on the road. Tires that don’t wear down don’t have traction, so better wearing tires can only offer so much of a solution. If you’re really sensitive, you might consider moving out of the city and away from highways.

Recently, when cleaning the windows inside our downtown Chicago mid-rise apartment, I notice something odd. Not only was the dirt very black, like tires, but it was also glittery. It seemed that there were tiny particles of metal in there as well. Could this be from the wheels of the elevated train that runs every five minutes just outside? Possibly. But rather than panic about all the substances that are “out to get me,” I think I’ll just take comfort in the fact that I’m living under these conditions with literally millions of neighbors, and we seem to be doing just fine.

And if I’m wrong, there’s very little that can be done about it.

Lincoln's thinkin' that it's time to get new tires.

Lincoln’s thinkin’ that it’s time to get new tires.

 

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Winter is coming. For those that live in the snow belt, it’s time to think about switching over to snow tires or at least check the all-seasons to make sure there’s enough tread there. Most modern tires have tread-wear indicators, College of Curiosity yes 3:19 6382
2-74. Wine Dark Birds http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-74-wine-dark-birds/ Wed, 30 Sep 2015 17:57:26 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6375 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-74-wine-dark-birds/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-74-wine-dark-birds/feed/ 0 We have bluebirds and blue jays. We have blue and hyacinth macaws, and even blue parakeets. Some swallows are blue, and visitors to the Pacific Northwest of the United States can find Steller Jays. And all of these birds have this one thing in common: They’re not blue. And now you’re saying “Of course, they […]

We have bluebirds and blue jays. We have blue and hyacinth macaws, and even blue parakeets. Some swallows are blue, and visitors to the Pacific Northwest of the United States can find Steller Jays. And all of these birds have this one thing in common:

They’re not blue.

And now you’re saying “Of course, they are.” And I agree that they “look” blue, but what you’re seeing is a trick of light.

Blue is a rare color in nature, and historians debate over whether ancient western civilizations even knew what blue was. When we see blue birds or butterflies such as the striking blue morpho, they stand out because it’s an unusual thing to see. And standing out is what you want if you’re a bird, usually a male, trying to attract a mate.

Many animals get their pigment from what they eat. Flamingoes, for example, are pink because of the algae they consume. The algae contains chemicals called carotenoids, which yes, give carrots their orange color. Oh, and if you’ve heard that flamingoes get their color from shrimp, that’s only somewhat true. The shrimp get their color from the algae, the primary source of the pigment.

If flamingoes stop eating carotenoids, their feathers turn grayish-white. So, what if they ate something blue like blueberries? Blueberries are colored with anthocyanins, which differ from carotenoids in that they are broken down by the bird’s digestive system. Flamingoes who eat blueberries will stay grayish-white.

Birds you see that are blue accomplish this feat without the use of pigments at all. As the feathers or scales form, they create a pattern that cancels out red and yellow light and reflects back blue. This is called a structural color, because there’s no actual blue pigment involved. If you crush a blue feather into dust and look at it, it will probably be brown or yellow. Try that with a pink flamingo feather, and it will stay pink. Also, if you shine light through a feather or butterfly wing, the blue will disappear. The prismatic effect only works with reflected light, not light that passes through. Click for a longer, higher resolution video of the blue morpho wing.

And of course, now that that’s all explained, a bird comes along to ruin everything. One bird manages the seemingly impossible and creates its own blue pigment. The great blue turaco is well-named as it has bright blue feathers. The pigment is made of copper and comes directly from their food, though it can take up to a year to accumulate enough to start coloring feathers. Different turacos have unique red and green pigments as well, making this a special genus of birds. And some mandarin fish have blue pigment too, but in general, if you’re seeing a blue animal, it’s only blue because light is being filtered through a structure. And though there are birds with green pigments, many of the green birds you see are employing this prismatic effect.

So, the next time you see a blue jay or even a common pigeon, take a closer look at the colors you’re seeing that aren’t really there.

This hyacinth macaw is not blue. (Photo by Hank Gillette)

This hyacinth macaw is not blue. (Photo by Hank Gillette)

 

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We have bluebirds and blue jays. We have blue and hyacinth macaws, and even blue parakeets. Some swallows are blue, and visitors to the Pacific Northwest of the United States can find Steller Jays. And all of these birds have this one thing in common: ... College of Curiosity yes 3:33 6375
2-73. Why Aren’t You Wearing A Hat? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-73-why-arent-you-wearing-a-hat/ Mon, 28 Sep 2015 13:50:48 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6348 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-73-why-arent-you-wearing-a-hat/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-73-why-arent-you-wearing-a-hat/feed/ 0 If you are wearing hat, you’re unusual in this day and age. (What does that mean, anyway? Day and age? I’ll have to do that one another time.) Look at a picture of any public gathering before, say, 1955, and you’ll find most men and women wearing hats. Often, the men would be wearing the […]

If you are wearing hat, you’re unusual in this day and age. (What does that mean, anyway? Day and age? I’ll have to do that one another time.)

Look at a picture of any public gathering before, say, 1955, and you’ll find most men and women wearing hats. Often, the men would be wearing the exact same hat, almost as a uniform. And uniforms may have something to do with the fact that we don’t wear them today.

One theory is that the decline of hats, especially men’s hats, began after World War II. Men were forced to wear head coverings in the military, and after they go out, not wearing a hat was a freedom they wished to take advantage of. There are a couple of problems with this theory. If you look at photos of crowds in the 1930s, nearly everyone is wearing a hat. Photos of crowds in the 1940s, say at a war bond rally, show fewer people wearing hats. Also, a survey showed that while about 15% of men said they stopped wearing hats once they got out of the military, the same number said that they wear hats now after learning the habit in the military.

Another common explanation is the car. Before WW2, private automobile ownership was relatively rare. People took public transportation nearly everywhere they went. There were streetcars back then, and trains went nearly everywhere. Buses picked up the slack. And those conveyances all have one thing that cars don’t: headroom. The theory is that because hats are inconvenient in cars, they stopped being worn. Some say that headrests made wearing a hat impossible, but headrests weren’t widely available until the late 1960s.

Cars may have affected headwear in indirect ways as well. Before the personal automobile, people spent a lot more time outside. Wearing a hat was practical as it kept sun and rain off your head. Even if you took a bus, you’d have to wait for it outside, and if there was no bus, train or streetcar, you were walking.

And there’s another car connection that I haven’t seen mentioned, and that’s the rise of suburbia. Personal automobiles meant people could live outside cities, and they apparently wanted to because they moved there in droves. Along with a home, a lawn, and 2.5 kids came a more relaxed lifestyle, and the formality of hats fell by the wayside. In fact, all formality fell by the wayside. The decline of hats seems to coincide with a decline in men wearing suits in public as well.

And finally, there was John F. Kennedy. Tradition held that presidents were inaugurated while wearing a top hat, considered the literal height of formal wear for men. Kennedy had a top hat, but he often didn’t wear it. Most of the photos of Kennedy’s inauguration showed him hatless. He was a popular guy to emulate, and so the theory goes that people saw Kennedy and decided not to wear a hat to be more like him.

The timing matches up: by the mid-1960s, hat wear was seen as optional, rather than de rigueur. Many worker uniforms stopped including hats. Cabbies, milk men, nurses, and fast food workers all lost their hats in time.

And in 1973, we find another icon of fashion ditching his hat: James Bond movie ’s opening “gun barrel” scene had Roger Moore with an unprotected pate. By the way, the earliest versions of this scene weren’t Sean Connery. The actor was stuntman Bob Simmons, who could argue that he played James Bond in the first three movies. Er, with a hat.

And with the decline of hats, came the decline of “hat etiquette,” which was mostly aimed at men. The various and sometimes complex rules of doffing caps is now only standardized in the military. Religious institutions also maintain rules about headwear, some in stark contrast with others. If you’d like to start an argument, jump on a forum and suggest that woman should or should not wear a head covering in church. Bring popcorn.

So, which is the true story? Chances are they all had a role to play. Fashion is a fickle beast, and for whichever combination of reasons, wearing a hat fell out. But hats have been making a comeback. They aren’t worn to “fit in” now so much as to stand out. And when we all want to stand out, maybe we’ll start wearing hats again so that we fit in.

Who is that mysterious hatless man in the background???

Who is that mysterious hatless man in the background???

 

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If you are wearing hat, you’re unusual in this day and age. (What does that mean, anyway? Day and age? I’ll have to do that one another time.) Look at a picture of any public gathering before, say, 1955, and you’ll find most men and women wearing hats.... College of Curiosity yes 4:45 6348
2-72. What the Deuce? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-72-what-the-deuce/ Thu, 24 Sep 2015 18:05:02 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6327 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-72-what-the-deuce/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-72-what-the-deuce/feed/ 2 You can call it a “deuce,” a “Tom,” or even a “whore note,” but chances are you won’t spend one. The $2 bill is an oddity in US currency, despite the fact that it’s legal tender good for all debts public and private. But why won’t we use them? Other countries have a $2 denomination […]

US_$2_reverse

You can call it a “deuce,” a “Tom,” or even a “whore note,” but chances are you won’t spend one. The $2 bill is an oddity in US currency, despite the fact that it’s legal tender good for all debts public and private.

But why won’t we use them?

Other countries have a $2 denomination such as the Canadian “toonie,” which is spent with the same abandon as other coins. (Their smallest paper note is a reasonable $5.) But in the US, a $2 bill seems rare and special, and must be preserved. In our home, we have a jar just for $2 bills, and there are currently five sitting in there, collecting no interest, and never attracting attention when we need cash to tip the pizza guy.

Sociologists have studied this, and determined that people don’t spend their $2 bills because… people don’t spend their $2 bills. They’re rare only because people see them as special and hoard them, but in fact, they’re not rare or special at all.

One myth is that they are an “old” currency that hasn’t been printed for a long time. In fact, they’ve been printed as recently as 2014. Stores don’t give them as change because they don’t want to have to explain to the customer what it is. Also, few cash drawers have a space for them. What typically happens when a $2 is presented for payment is that an employee will keep it, replacing it with two $1 bills from their own wallet.

Some groups take advantage of this perceived specialness. Proponents of 2nd Amendment rights will use the bills to show their position. Strip club bars will give change in $2 bills in the hopes that the performers will earn more as each carefully placed bill has twice the value of the traditional $1 note. And survey companies will include them with their paper mailings in the hopes that you’ll fill out their survey after receiving such a valuable prize.

If you come across one, spend it as you will. If a shop won’t accept it, they’re acting outside the law, though it’s probably not worth the effort to report them to the treasury. Before you do though, take a look at it: it’s an odd bill. It’s the only US currency that doesn’t have a building on the back, and it’s the only one that doesn’t depict an eagle anywhere on the bill. It also features the most people, and it’s the only bill that shows someone wearing a hat.

Declaration_independence

The image on the back is taken from John Trumbull’s famous painting Declaration of Independence. It’s a massive 12 foot by 18 foot canvas that sits in the congressional rotunda today. Trumbull depicted 42 of the 56 signers of the Declaration, but it’s not an image of the actual signing—it’s of the planning committee, those five men standing by the desk. And this large group of men never all met in the same room. In fact, some of the people depicted didn’t sign the declaration at all. There are 42 signers and 5 people who contributed to the process in some way.

While that’s odd, the image on the $2 bill is even odder: it only depicts forty people. Those folks on the end of the painting were omitted, presumably for space reasons. That’s easy enough to understand, but what’s harder to understand are the two mystery figures who appear in the middle, and aren’t on Trumbull’s painting in the rotunda. There are also some people missing as well. It’s a mystery!

Engraving of the Yale version

Engraving of the Yale version

Well, not so much. Trumbull didn’t paint just one version of his Declaration of Independence. He painted a smaller, earlier version that currently resides at the Yale University Gallery of Art. And in that version, we find the same people that are depicted on the $2 bill’s version, save for those omitted on the sides. The mystery man in the featured photo accompanying this piece is Abraham Clark of New Jersey. He’s in the rotunda version too, just sitting in a different space. Trumbull moved people around quite a bit between the two versions, and different people were depicted in similar poses, adding to the confusion. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has a complete explanation of the differences between the two paintings and the $2 bill on their website.

mysterymanBut there’s another mystery: if you look under the N in “United,” you’ll see what appears to be a stout black man. His name was George Walton, and a look at the original paintings shows he wasn’t black. His dark complexion on the $2 bill is just an artifact of the engraving process. Sorry conspiracy theorists! A mundane explanation has once again ruined your day.

If the $2 bill isn’t the most used note in US currency, it might be the most interesting. The next time you run across one, take a close look at the images before you stuff it in your sock drawer or a jar. And if you’re really curious, take the time to learn about each of the men depicted. There are some unexpected stories hiding there.

Who is this mystery man?

Who is this mystery man?

 

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You can call it a “deuce,” a “Tom,” or even a “whore note,” but chances are you won’t spend one. The $2 bill is an oddity in US currency, despite the fact that it’s legal tender good for all debts public and private. But why won’t we use them? College of Curiosity yes 5:13 6327
2-71. The Man Who Is No Longer Benjaman Kyle http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-71-the-man-who-is-no-longer-benjaman-kyle/ Wed, 23 Sep 2015 16:14:05 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6323 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-71-the-man-who-is-no-longer-benjaman-kyle/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-71-the-man-who-is-no-longer-benjaman-kyle/feed/ 2 Time for an update. (And another below!) Back in January 2014, the Daily Curio reported on the strange case of Benjaman Kyle, a name chosen by a man with dissociative amnesia. From that article: If you ask him his name, he’ll tell you it’s “Ben.” At least he thinks it is, because he doesn’t really […]

Time for an update. (And another below!)

Back in January 2014, the Daily Curio reported on the strange case of Benjaman Kyle, a name chosen by a man with dissociative amnesia.

From that article:

If you ask him his name, he’ll tell you it’s “Ben.” At least he thinks it is, because he doesn’t really know. The man referred to as Benjaman Kyle suffers from dissociative amnesia, also known as “Hollywood amnesia” because it’s so often portrayed in movies and soap operas. In short, though he has some memories, he doesn’t know who he is or where he’s from.

His current story begins in Richmond Hill, GA (where I’m writing this) in 2004. Employees of the local Burger King found a naked, bleeding and possibly dead man behind their dumpsters. They called the police who cared for the man, but when they tried to ID him, they couldn’t. Years later, they still can’t.

Ben can’t get a job or even a library card as he doesn’t have an official ID or Social Security Number. A documentary was made and because of that, he does have some employment and a shack to live in, but he still doesn’t know who he is and still can’t move on with his life.

In case you didn’t catch it, “Benjaman Kyle” has the same initials as “Burger King,” where he was found. The strange spelling of Benjaman with no “i” and two “a’s” was from the man himself.

Fast forward to September, 2015, and Benjaman Kyle believes he has an answer to his identity. From Kyle himself:

MY IDENTITY HAS BEEN FOUND! It is now the start of the eleventh year since this began and I never thought this day would come. A little over two months ago I was informed by CeCe Moore that that they had established my Identity using DNA. Many people have shared their DNA profiles so that they may be compared with mine. Through a process of elimination they determined my ancestral bloodline and who my relatives were. A DNA test taken by a close relative has confirmed that we are related.

So who is he? He won’t tell until he meets his relatives, which will hopefully happen this fall. If we find out, we’ll let you know.

There are those who say that his story is completely made up, and that he simply passed out behind a dumpster and lied about being beaten to hide whatever really happened.

There are a few odd things about the story. The website findingbenjaman.com which was dedicated to the search for his identity expired on September 14, 2015—just before he announced that his identity had been found. At one point in the search, a forensic genealogist doing DNA testing said she was close to finding out who he was, when Kyle stopped communicating with her. Also, given Kyle’s age, it’s very likely that he would have been called for the draft in the Vietnam War, yet there are no records that match his physical characteristics.

What’s the truth? It’s hard to say, but when and if he reveals his true identity, we might learn some more.

UPDATE: Matt Wolfe of the New Republic has published an extensive article that will likely be the last word on Benjamin Kyle. We now know his name, and some of his history. Thanks Matt!

Not Benjaman Kyle (Photo from Georgia Bureau of Investigation)

Not Benjaman Kyle (Photo from Georgia Bureau of Investigation)

 

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Time for an update. (And another below!) Back in January 2014, the Daily Curio reported on the strange case of Benjaman Kyle, a name chosen by a man with dissociative amnesia. From that article: If you ask him his name, he’ll tell you it’s “Ben. College of Curiosity yes 3:37 6323
2-70. The Beaver Tail Hill People http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-70-the-beaver-tail-hill-people/ Mon, 21 Sep 2015 16:13:05 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6294 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-70-the-beaver-tail-hill-people/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-70-the-beaver-tail-hill-people/feed/ 0 The early 1600s saw the pre-Columbian tribes of what would become the Northeastern United States at the height of their civilization. Dozens if not hundreds of groups, each with their own culture and languages, competed for resources while at the same time maintaining a complex trading network that crossed hundreds of miles. When European fishermen […]

The early 1600s saw the pre-Columbian tribes of what would become the Northeastern United States at the height of their civilization. Dozens if not hundreds of groups, each with their own culture and languages, competed for resources while at the same time maintaining a complex trading network that crossed hundreds of miles.

When European fishermen began appearing on the coasts, they introduced diseases that decimated the population, and by the time colonists arrived in what is now New England in 1620, much of the previous civilization was gone.

Salem, Massachusetts was to be the English capital of the new colony, but after Governor Winthrop’s son drowned while swimming, Winthrop moved the government to present day Charlestown, where there was no food. They soon crossed the river to present day Boston, where there was very little water.

By 1630, the colonists were starving. Unable to master living on this new land, their supplies were running short, and their people were dying. And along came a Nipmuc named John Acquittamaug with a supply of maize to sell to these new, strange, and rather pathetic people. Nipmuc means “by the fresh water lake,” as the people lived around a large lake in western Massachusetts. But they knew themselves as the “Beaver Tail Hill People.”

Boston survived, and the European colonists showed they’re gratitude by forcibly converting the Nipmuc and other local tribes into “praying indians.” Under this plan, natives would be forced to live in certain areas, similar to reservations. Because they had been converted to protestant Christianity, they were treated with more respect than non-converted natives.

Many of the Nipmuc went along with this plan because they saw it as a way to defend themselves against other tribes like the Pequot, with whom they were frequently at war. Instead, the progression of European influence over the continent began, and they found themselves being pushed out of the land that was set aside for them. As an agricultural people, this was disastrous as each move meant years preparing fields for crops. To make matters worse, the local beaver population was in massive decline due to European hunting for fur.

By the 1670s, they had had enough, and joined with the Wampanoag chief Metacom in what was called a “rebellion” by their European overlords. The non-praying Metacom was known as King Philip by the colonists, and thus the war was known as King Philip’s War.

For three years, the bloody conflict raged, with a full 50% of colonial towns being attacked. But in the end, the colonists prevailed, killing some 3,000 of the 3,600 native combatants. Many of the remaining Nipmuc were executed or enslaved, and their culture was effectively destroyed.

But not entirely. Though the Nipmuc do not officially exist according the the Federal government, they still own a three-acre parcel of land from an original praying town from the 17th century. The rest of their land has long ago been absorbed into the colony. In 1869, the few remaining Nipmuc were recognized as citizens of the United States.

Today, the remaining Nipmuc number about 1400, divided sometimes bitterly into at least three separate groups. They live as most modern Americans do. Their language died out long ago, and scholars argue about whether they even existed as a distinct tribe. Their history has been mostly forgotten, as has the history of most of the people living on this continent before the Europeans came.

But a Nipmuc is still saving Boston. In Western Massachusetts, a large reservoir was created to provide desperately needed fresh water to Boston. It’s called Quabbin reservoir, and Quabbin was the name of a now-forgotten Nipmuc chief.

Flag of the Bandera Nipmuc

Flag of the Bandera Nipmuc

 

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The early 1600s saw the pre-Columbian tribes of what would become the Northeastern United States at the height of their civilization. Dozens if not hundreds of groups, each with their own culture and languages, College of Curiosity yes 4:23 6294
2-69. The Tragedy of Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-69-the-tragedy-of-lake-char%c2%adgogg%c2%ada%c2%adgogg%c2%adman%c2%adchaugg%c2%ada%c2%adgogg%c2%adchau%c2%adbun%c2%ada%c2%adgung%c2%ada%c2%admaugg/ Fri, 11 Sep 2015 16:47:22 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6270 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-69-the-tragedy-of-lake-char%c2%adgogg%c2%ada%c2%adgogg%c2%adman%c2%adchaugg%c2%ada%c2%adgogg%c2%adchau%c2%adbun%c2%ada%c2%adgung%c2%ada%c2%admaugg/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-69-the-tragedy-of-lake-char%c2%adgogg%c2%ada%c2%adgogg%c2%adman%c2%adchaugg%c2%ada%c2%adgogg%c2%adchau%c2%adbun%c2%ada%c2%adgung%c2%ada%c2%admaugg/feed/ 0 A recent viral video shows a weather man pronouncing the name of an impossibly long Welsh town on a newscast. I will not attempt it. But it calls to mind the “longest place name in the United States,” Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg found in Webster, Massachusetts. The story goes that two tribes (one of them English settlers) […]

A recent viral video shows a weather man pronouncing the name of an impossibly long Welsh town on a newscast. I will not attempt it. But it calls to mind the “longest place name in the United States,” Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg found in Webster, Massachusetts.

The story goes that two tribes (one of them English settlers) were competing over the lake, and as a peaceful resolution, they decided to divide it. To remind themselves of their agreement, they named the lake with the conditions they’d set, and those were “You fish on your side, we’ll fish on our side, and no one fishes in the middle.” That sentiment, in the Nipmuc language gives us the 45 letter name.

The problem is that as close as we can tell, that actually means “English knifemen and Nipmuc Indians at the Fishing Place at the Boundary.” Close, but not quite the same.

Called Webster Lake by people who are actually trying to communicate rather than impress tourists, the lake is also known as Lake Chaubunagungamaugg. That’s actually its historic name. And while long and “funny sounding” to Anglo-phones, it seems to translate to the sensical “lake divided by islands.”

In 1921, The Webster Times editor Laurence J. Daly wrote an article about the lake’s “true name.” It was the first time the 45-letter appellation had been seen, but it was instantly regarded as fact, and today, most locals will tell you the true name of the lake is Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg.

That new name has been incorporated into the patches of civil servants, the school’s logo and it greets visitors to the town on the official “Welcome to Webster” signs.

But, the story isn’t true, and the lake’s name was never officially 45 letters long. It’s not even spelled the same around town. It stems from a time in American history where Native Americans, having been completely conquered just a few decades earlier, were the object of ridicule.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, give a listen to a piece of this song by Ethel Merman, Sy Oliver, and Ray Bolger circa 1954.

A town established for converted natives.

A town established for converted natives.

So while the sign is good for attracting tourists, it’s also good for reminding us that our history is rife with examples of the dominant culture mocking others. As a further insult, signs around town refer to the “praying Indians” who lived there in the 1600’s. “Praying Indians” means Native Americans who’ve abandoned their culture, and submitted to what the European’s though was proper.

As a final insult, just beneath the humorous signs are the words, “Home of the Nipmuc Indians,” as though they tacitly approve this rather extreme example of cultural mockery.

Times change, and attitudes change. But if you take a moment to examine a popular and fun tale, you’ll find that there’s something much more interesting that’s not being told. This name was created to mock a people’s language, and I find it interesting that people would rather keep mocking than learn more about the people being mocked.

In case you weren’t aware, it was the Nipmuc who saved the people of Boston Massachusetts in 1630. And we’ll dedicate the next Daily Curio to that story.

Official word on the average size of the Nipmuc Indians is pending investigation.

Official word on the average size of the Nipmuc Indians is pending investigation.

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A recent viral video shows a weather man pronouncing the name of an impossibly long Welsh town on a newscast. I will not attempt it. But it calls to mind the “longest place name in the United States,” Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­... College of Curiosity yes 5:06 6270
2-68. A Very Unique Virus http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-68-a-very-unique-virus/ Thu, 10 Sep 2015 15:04:30 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6250 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-68-a-very-unique-virus/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-68-a-very-unique-virus/feed/ 0 Language is a virus, from outer space. ~ William S. Burroughs. I had a friendly argument with a friend today about the term “most unique.” Since the word “unique” means “the only one of its kind,” the term “most unique” doesn’t make sense. There can be no degrees of uniqueness since that state of being […]

Language is a virus, from outer space. ~ William S. Burroughs.

I had a friendly argument with a friend today about the term “most unique.” Since the word “unique” means “the only one of its kind,” the term “most unique” doesn’t make sense. There can be no degrees of uniqueness since that state of being unique means it’s the only one.

My argument was that there are varying degrees of uniqueness. While a duck with a purple feather is unique, a purple duck is more unique.

Which one of us is right? I’m going to guess you have a strong opinion on that.

Most if not all style guides will frown on any modification of “unique.” If something is “most unique,” it’s far better to describe it as “interesting” or “highly unusual.” And since style guides are what journalists use, we should bend to their pronouncements.

Except that journalists are using modifiers for “unique” all the time. You can find examples in nearly every newspaper.

So, let’s go to the dictionary! Sure enough, the dictionary says:

unique. Adjective. existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics.

There, problem solved. I’m wrong. Except… there are MORE definitions listed below, and one of those states:

unique. Adjective. not typical; unusual.

And the example sentence given is:

She has a very unique smile.

I can hear some of you cringing from here, and remember, I’m in the past. That’s some powerful cringing you’ve got.

Like the double-space after a period argument, there are those who hold on to tradition as the “correct” way of doing things. There are strong reasons for switching to one space after a period—this wasn’t a case of something arbitrary. Programming languages and typography don’t work as well with two spaces.

But for words like “unique,” the change in meaning isn’t intentional. Over time, people who don’t understand the rules of grammar use words improperly, and that usage spreads such that it becomes common.

So what are we to do with phrases like “very unique’? If you’re writing professionally and you’re following a style guide, someone has made the decision for you. But if you’re a casual writer, you have to make a choice about your art: what message do you want to convey?

And it is art. I may say “very unique” instead of “very unusual” for reasons of tone or temperament. And if I do so, I’ll know that “very unique” is frowned upon by well-educated people. But I also know that saying “very unique” conjures up a different image than “very unusual” or “very strange” or even “unique.” And as such, I’ll choose the words that most closely match the meaning I’m trying to convey.

Of course, this requires a knowledge of the rules to begin with, and a strong argument can be made that most people using the phrase “very unique” simply don’t know the intricacies of the definition. This is a fair argument, but railing against ignorance is going to do little good. The way a word is used will always assign its meaning no matter what a dictionary or style guide says.

So, if I want to make Christian cringe, I’ll say “very unique.” If I want to appear more acceptable the the literati, I’ll avoid the word altogether. One thing I won’t do is demand that language fit some set of rules. Clarity is all that matters, and rules should be applied only if they aid that end.

How unique is this feather? (Original photo by Gabriel VanHelsing)

How unique is this feather? (Original photo by Gabriel VanHelsing)

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Language is a virus, from outer space. ~ William S. Burroughs. I had a friendly argument with a friend today about the term “most unique.” Since the word “unique” means “the only one of its kind,” the term “most unique” doesn’t make sense. College of Curiosity yes 4:17 6250
2-67. A New Home http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-67-a-new-home/ Wed, 09 Sep 2015 21:08:17 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6241 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-67-a-new-home/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-67-a-new-home/feed/ 0 A few weeks ago, I was touring Ausable Chasm with my kids. Called the Grand Canyon of the East, which might be just a bit too strong, the chasm is nonetheless impressive with its waterfalls and 500’ cliffs. There is hiking, rafting and rope climbing for the adventurous, and for the nature watcher, there’s a […]

A few weeks ago, I was touring Ausable Chasm with my kids. Called the Grand Canyon of the East, which might be just a bit too strong, the chasm is nonetheless impressive with its waterfalls and 500’ cliffs. There is hiking, rafting and rope climbing for the adventurous, and for the nature watcher, there’s a little something special, though you might not think so at first.

The cliffs are craggy, and waterfalls of various sizes drip or stream down the sides. In some of these, small rock ledges can be found. While an experienced free climber might be able to climb up them, if they did, they’d find them already occupied, for this is the home of the Rock Dove.

Rock Doves are birds that you’re familiar with. In most major cities, they’re called simply “pigeons.” Though people enjoy feeding them, they’re often referred to as vermin, “flying rats,” “gutter birds” or even “flying ashtrays.” They leave droppings in large quantities, and are thought by some to spread disease.

Why do these birds invade our cities?

They were originally invited guests. Captured in the wild and domesticated over time, pigeons have lived with humans for thousands of years. They served as a food source, pets, communication carriers, and as decorations which explains all the fancy breeds out there. As with many domestic animals, some escaped and lived on their own.

In cities, pigeons feel at home… because we’ve perfectly duplicated their original homes. Pigeons are sea-side cliff dwellers from Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. Our cities mimic these cliffs with their extreme variations in height and numerous places to roost.

At Ausable Chasm, some of these pigeons have taken up home in the chasm itself, which is the exact environment they’re suited for. Though they’re not native to North America, neither are humans if you take the case to an extreme.

It occurs to me that these birds would be celebrated if one saw them in the chasm and weren’t sure what they were. “My, look at those majestic birds up there! Look at the iridescent colors and the flaming eyes! This is truly a land of wondrous creatures.”

And it is. And so is the city. Because they’re common, we find it easy to be unimpressed by these birds, even though they can see UV light, navigate by magnetic fields and have several innovative ways to moderate body temperature.

You evolved on the plains of Africa. Pigeons evolved on the cliffs. In modern cities, we live together. You may not like pigeons or what they leave behind, but they have a fascinating heritage and might be worth a second look.

Rock Doves at home in Ausable Chasm

Rock Doves at home in Ausable Chasm

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A few weeks ago, I was touring Ausable Chasm with my kids. Called the Grand Canyon of the East, which might be just a bit too strong, the chasm is nonetheless impressive with its waterfalls and 500’ cliffs. There is hiking, College of Curiosity yes 3:00 6241
2-66. The Beach Part 2 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-66-the-beach-part-2/ Fri, 04 Sep 2015 23:29:12 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6210 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-66-the-beach-part-2/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-66-the-beach-part-2/feed/ 0 Another live episode, so there’s no transcript. We’ll be back next week with our normal format. Part 2 of our walk on the beach, which concludes with an unexpected encounter. We’ve added some photos so you can see what we is being talked about. Another live episode, so there’s no transcript. We’ll be back next week with our normal format.

Part 2 of our walk on the beach, which concludes with an unexpected encounter. We’ve added some photos so you can see what we is being talked about.

Click to view slideshow. ]]>
Another live episode, so there’s no transcript. We’ll be back next week with our normal format. Part 2 of our walk on the beach, which concludes with an unexpected encounter. We’ve added some photos so you can see what we is being talked about. College of Curiosity yes 13:27 6210
2-65. The Beach Part 1 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-65-the-beach-part-1/ Thu, 03 Sep 2015 19:53:10 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6192 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-65-the-beach-part-1/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-65-the-beach-part-1/feed/ 0 Another live episode, so there’s no transcript. We’ll be back next week with our normal format. A walk on the beach is never just sand between your toes on Sanibel. This morning, we encountered some creatures that most people never see in the wild. Another live episode, so there’s no transcript. We’ll be back next week with our normal format.

A walk on the beach is never just sand between your toes on Sanibel. This morning, we encountered some creatures that most people never see in the wild.

More shells than sand

More shells than sand

Baby turtle tracks

Baby turtle tracks

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Another live episode, so there’s no transcript. We’ll be back next week with our normal format. A walk on the beach is never just sand between your toes on Sanibel. This morning, we encountered some creatures that most people never see in the wild. College of Curiosity yes 7:39 6192
2-64. Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-64-bailey-matthews-national-shell-museum/ Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:33:37 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6181 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-64-bailey-matthews-national-shell-museum/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-64-bailey-matthews-national-shell-museum/feed/ 0 This is something new we’re trying: a live Daily Curio. We’re on a sub-tropical island, and you’ll have to listen to hear about where we are, who was here before us, and what’s going on around us. Today, we visited the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum, the world’s largest shell museum. It holds a number […]

This is something new we’re trying: a live Daily Curio. We’re on a sub-tropical island, and you’ll have to listen to hear about where we are, who was here before us, and what’s going on around us.

Today, we visited the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum, the world’s largest shell museum. It holds a number of world record specimens among its large collection, and even features a number of live shells, collected locally.

And like many small museums, it has some unusual things hidden in the corners…

Shells can kill.

Shells can kill.

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This is something new we’re trying: a live Daily Curio. We’re on a sub-tropical island, and you’ll have to listen to hear about where we are, who was here before us, and what’s going on around us. Today, we visited the Bailey Matthews National Shell Mu... College of Curiosity yes 6:02 6181
2-63. A Night Walk http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-63-a-night-walk/ Wed, 02 Sep 2015 03:43:20 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6170 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-63-a-night-walk/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-63-a-night-walk/feed/ 0   This is something new we’re trying: a live Daily Curio. We’re on a sub-tropical island, and you’ll have to listen to hear about where we are, who was here before us, and what’s going on around us. And if you can’t listen, at least take a look at this short, silent video by Noel […]

 

This is something new we’re trying: a live Daily Curio. We’re on a sub-tropical island, and you’ll have to listen to hear about where we are, who was here before us, and what’s going on around us.

And if you can’t listen, at least take a look at this short, silent video by Noel Benadom that was shot near where we were standing for our recording.
Still from Noel Benadom's video.

Still from Noel Benadom’s video.

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  This is something new we’re trying: a live Daily Curio. We’re on a sub-tropical island, and you’ll have to listen to hear about where we are, who was here before us, and what’s going on around us. And if you can’t listen, College of Curiosity yes 6:34 6170
2-62. It Glows http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-62-it-glows/ Mon, 31 Aug 2015 15:38:32 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6144 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-62-it-glows/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-62-it-glows/feed/ 1 I’m in the fortunate position of having people come up to me and say, “Hey, have you ever seen one of these before?” Hmm, usually it’s not as creepy as that sounds. Last week, my good friend Mark Graunke came over and handed me something for the curiosity collection. It’s a very small metal cage, […]

I’m in the fortunate position of having people come up to me and say, “Hey, have you ever seen one of these before?” Hmm, usually it’s not as creepy as that sounds.

Last week, my good friend Mark Graunke came over and handed me something for the curiosity collection. It’s a very small metal cage, with a pale yellow tube in it. It looks all the world like some sort of nano-bot capsule that you would swallow to gain super powers. And that impression didn’t go away when I learned what it was.

He told me to take it somewhere dark, so into the bathroom I went and it was there I discovered how cool this thing was. The vial was giving off a steady green glow. Certainly not bright, but definitely strong. It was the kind of glow you’d expect from something radioactive.

Which it was.

Keys found!

Keys found!

He had given me a vial of tritium gas. Tritium is H3, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. It has a half-life of about 12 years, and as such, this thing can be expected to glow for about 25 years. As it decays, it will form He3, which is the substance being mined in the film “Moon.”

Though it’s sold ostensibly as a keychain finder (it glows!), there’s a lot to learn from it. Our perception of radioactive things “glowing” has more to do with us watching too many episodes of the Simpsons than our experience with radiation. In most case, radiation doesn’t glow.

The complete concept of “radiation” is too complex for this short piece. There are many different kinds of radiation, including some you’re familiar with such as light and radio waves, but this device is radioactive in the same way the fuel in a nuclear power plant is.

The basic concept of ionizing radiation is this: a radioactive element emits a particle at a regular rate. This is called “decay,” and that particle can do things, like detect smoke, show what your bones look like, boil water for a turbine, or excite phosphor on a glass tube.

This little vial of tritium is actually a fluorescent light bulb. Electrons from the decaying tritium gas hit the phosphor coated glass causing it to glow. This seems like “magic” since we’re so used to electricity being needed for such things, but because the tritium is supplying electrons, the electricity is integral to the device. At least for the next 25 years or so.

Green is the most common color because it’s the brightest glow. You can find bulbs of red, blue, purple etc, but in general, white will be the dimmest, and green will be the brightest.

So yes, if you see me on the street, it’s very likely that I’ll have a vial of a radioactive substance in my pocket. And that substance can be used in the making of nuclear weapons. And this may have you wondering… is this safe?

Yes, by every measure, this is safe. The radiation is leaving the vial only in the form of visible light. That’s it. If this tiny vial somehow broke (it’s in a cage of titanium), the amount is so small that a few minutes of airing would remove the slightest danger. Even if I intentionally broke the vial and inhaled the gas, there’s little risk as the biologic half-life is only a few days, and can be reduced by drinking a lot of water.

Radiation isn’t evil or even inherently dangerous. It’s just something that exists, and the more we understand it, the more we can use it for important things.

If the word “radiation” fills you with fear, there’s a known cure for that. It’s curiosity.

Hmm... looks radioactive.

Hmm… looks radioactive.

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I’m in the fortunate position of having people come up to me and say, “Hey, have you ever seen one of these before?” Hmm, usually it’s not as creepy as that sounds. Last week, my good friend Mark Graunke came over and handed me something for the curios... College of Curiosity yes 3:58 6144
2-61. Solving Problems the Wonder Woman Way http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-61-solving-problems-the-wonder-woman-way/ Fri, 28 Aug 2015 17:27:28 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6136 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-61-solving-problems-the-wonder-woman-way/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-61-solving-problems-the-wonder-woman-way/feed/ 4 It’s something many of us do. You see a post on Facebook, feel a bit of outrage, and post a snarky comment. I did this a few days ago when I saw a post about a girl sent home from school with a note saying that her Wonder Woman lunchbox was against the schools “anti-violence” […]

It’s something many of us do. You see a post on Facebook, feel a bit of outrage, and post a snarky comment. I did this a few days ago when I saw a post about a girl sent home from school with a note saying that her Wonder Woman lunchbox was against the schools “anti-violence” dress code. The lunch box featured a headshot of Wonder Woman, and another view of her full body, smiling and running with her golden lasso. There was no violence anywhere. In fact, the only words were “As lovely as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena.”

wwAccording to the official, type-written note, the school’s anti-violence campaign also targetd super heroes who “solve problems with violence.” This seems like an example of taking a point too far, and without much thought, I posted a comment to the effect of “I guess they can’t bring money to class either. I’m pretty sure George Washington solved problems with violence too.”

And then Dave, one of my Facebook friends, sent me a message.

“This sounds like another urban legend to me.”

I hadn’t given it much thought, but now that he’d said that, I felt compelled to find the source.

The original piece that I saw on Facebook was from somecards.com. It points out how over the top the note was, and how it completely ignored feminist issues, and the fact that Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth is actually a tool for avoiding violence. The last line of the piece is:

“So far, there’s been no response from the school, but we’ll let you know if the universal “WTF?” reaction online has any effect on this policy, which really just makes you want to punch something.”

Ok, so they’ve been in touch with the school, and we’re awaiting a response. And let me look up the name of that school…. hmm, it’s not mentioned the article. So let’s see if I can figure out where they lived… nope. There’s a photo of the note in the article, but it’s addressed to Daniel and Sarah, who apparently have a daughter. The top and bottom of the note are covered with napkins, presumably obscuring both the addressee and the writer.

So how did somecards.com contact the school?

I’m going to guess that they didn’t.

I did a Google image search on the picture of the lunchbox, and found dozens of sites using it in stories, complete with the same outrage as the somecards.com piece. Uproxx, The Mary Sue, Discussionist… all using each other as sources for the material. No names, no school, no location.

Each of these pieces had comments—many, many comments. The vast majority of them expressing outrage at this policy, and pointing out how ironic it was that they chose Wonder Woman to represent “solving problems with violence.”

A few of the pieces note that the story came from “a friend’s daughter.” Uh oh, big red flag there. And when you drill down through all these links and find the first source, it’s a picture on Imgur, the picture service most associated with Reddit. And when we trace it back to the account that posted it, the account has been deleted.

If you browse through the comments, interspersed between the profanity-laced expressions of outrage, you’ll see a few that say “Hey, are we sure this is real?”

No, we’re not. And neither is Snopes. As usual, I needn’t have done my own detective work because the folks at Snopes had already done it. Actually, that’s a lie. Even Snopes should be checked, and I found exactly what they did. They list the claim as “Undetermined.”

Is the note real? Is there a school banning super hero lunch boxes? It’s possible, but it’s far from proven. It’s possible that a “friend” heard this story, took a picture of the note, and posted it only to delete their account later when their “friend” protested that they didn’t want the publicity. The post remains, though.

It’s also possible that someone is fed up with what they see as “political correctness run amok,” and that they created a fake note to stir up controversy. Which they did.

Or it could be something else entirely. We simply don’t know.

But that’s not interesting to most people. Those comments that said “Is this real?” receive very few “up votes” on Reddit for example. The ones that make a sarcastic joke receive the most.

If people are given a choice between “It’s outrageous” and “It’s true,” it seems that a great many folks will choose “it’s outrageous.”

The folks at somecards.com “want to punch something.” I want to apply the lasso of truth. Thank you Wonder Woman, for showing us that we can solve problems without violence.

The social Internet could use a bit of time in the golden lasso. (Photo by arbyreed)

The social Internet could use a bit of time in the golden lasso. (Photo by arbyreed)

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It’s something many of us do. You see a post on Facebook, feel a bit of outrage, and post a snarky comment. I did this a few days ago when I saw a post about a girl sent home from school with a note saying that her Wonder Woman lunchbox was against the... College of Curiosity yes 5:20 6136
2-60. Tiny Mountain Monkey Mice http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-60-tiny-mountain-monkey-mice/ Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:11:13 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6126 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-60-tiny-mountain-monkey-mice/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-60-tiny-mountain-monkey-mice/feed/ 1 I sat down to write about a new marsupial that was found in South America. I wanted to check some facts before I wrote, and I’m glad I did because I was wrong about some basic things. Here are some things I thought I knew… 1) Marsupials come from Australia, except for the Opossum. I […]

I sat down to write about a new marsupial that was found in South America. I wanted to check some facts before I wrote, and I’m glad I did because I was wrong about some basic things. Here are some things I thought I knew…

1) Marsupials come from Australia, except for the Opossum.

I was wrong about this, but not too surprised. Marsupials actually come from South America. The ones in Australia got their from South America when the two land masses were attached. While marsupials thrived in Australia, they faced competition from placental mammals in South America and thus they’re an “also ran” rather than what one associates with the place.

Opossums are the only marsupial found in North America, so I got that part right. And I knew that the animal called “possum” in Australia was not closely related to the opossum, which is also called “possum” in the US.

2) There are no native marsupials except in Australia and North America

I was really sure I was right on this, but no. There are native marsupials in Australia, South America, Central America, North America, New Guinea, Borneo, and other nearby islands. There’s an interesting feature called The Wallace Line that separates Australian animals from Southeast Asia’s animals. I should probably do a separate piece on that.

So while 70% of the world’s marsupial species live in Australia, a full 30% live elsewhere.

3) Monotremes are not marsupials.

True! Monotremes are the egg-laying mammals, including the echidna and the platypus. I found a few sources that said they were a suborder of marsupials, which surprised me. A deeper look shows that they’re not considered marsupials at all. They’re in the same class (mammalia), but that’s as close as they get. That’s a close as we get too.

So I got one thing right out of three. Is that good? Bad? I don’t care. What I really got was a whole bunch of new information about the dozens of species of South American marsupials. They’ve got fishing opossums, tiny mouse-like opossums, and several species of four-eyed opossum, so-named because of the white spot above each eye. And they’ve got the new one, the Monito del monte, which means “little monkey of the mountains.”

While it’s not much news to biologists that there’s a marsupial in South America, this find is a big deal. This critter is the only known representative of the order Microbiotheria. And it’s cute. If you can imagine a tiny cross between a monkey, a mouse and a koala, you’ve got a pretty good idea about these guys. Give “Monito del monte” a Google if you’d like to know more.

As for me, I’m always glad to learn I was wrong about something like this. As of today, my world is a bigger, more wondrous place. And it has tiny mountain monkey mice in it.

Little monkey of the mountains!

Little monkey of the mountains!

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I sat down to write about a new marsupial that was found in South America. I wanted to check some facts before I wrote, and I’m glad I did because I was wrong about some basic things. Here are some things I thought I knew… 1) Marsupials come from Austr... College of Curiosity yes 3:14 6126
2-59. Lies My Tour Guide Told Me http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-59-lies-my-tour-guide-told-me/ Wed, 26 Aug 2015 16:32:50 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6091 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-59-lies-my-tour-guide-told-me/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-59-lies-my-tour-guide-told-me/feed/ 3 On a whim, I drove up to St. Alban’s, Vermont and visited their excellent historical society. I love these small town museums, and their eclectic collections of things that are only connected by proximity. If you’vre read or listened to the Daily Curio, you probably also know that the College of Curiosity has a Mystery […]

On a whim, I drove up to St. Alban’s, Vermont and visited their excellent historical society. I love these small town museums, and their eclectic collections of things that are only connected by proximity.

If you’vre read or listened to the Daily Curio, you probably also know that the College of Curiosity has a Mystery Object project as well. Every day, we put up photos of an object and ask readers to identify it. Small museums provide a great many of these photos.

My tour guide in St. Albans was polite, but a bit standoffish. As soon as I started asking questions about things… questions she’d never heard before, she grew animated and started pointing out exactly the bits I wanted to see. The odd things. The things that people pass by and don’t think about.

Finally, she left me to my own devices and I set off to collect as many photos as I could. I was attempting to get a shot through a glass case (the bane of this project) when she burst into the gallery and said, “Do you know what THIS is?”

She was holding an object that looked like a ruler with five looped wire hooks on it.

“I do! I’m old enough to remember using them. That’s to hold chalk, and draw a music staff on a chalk board!”

“Aha! That’s what I thought too. But I was wrong. Look at this…”

I was wrong? I was certain of my identification as I’d seen the object in use. She continued.

“Back in the 1800s, kids didn’t have paper. They used small chalk boards. And to practice their letters, they needed lines to draw on.”

She took the object, now with three of the five chalk holders filled, and drew three perfectly straight lines that filled the small chalkboard. It looked exactly like those green penmanship practice papers I hated so much in second grade.

“See? This is what it was really used for. It wasn’t until later that people used it for teaching music.”

What she demonstrated made perfect sense, but I couldn’t fathom it. You can’t fit five lines on the small board, so why not make a chalk holder that held three pieces?

It wasn’t until i got home that I realized, it could also make five vertical lines on the chalkboard, and those fit perfectly.

So, there you go. I was wrong. This object that I was absolutely sure I knew, turned out to be for something else.

But that’s not the end.

While my explanation of the device made perfect sense, especially since I’d seen it used that way, so does hers. Which is the correct one?

Now we enter the realm of pure speculation. I have been a tour guide in an historic place: the Old Round Church in Richmond, VT. This involved hours of being alone in an unusual, 200 year old building. And, being the curious person I am, I found things and figured out things that weren’t part of my training.

For example, the doorstep looks like the type of limestone you find at Chazy Reef, an important paleontological site in the middle of Lake Champlain. I found some prominent fossils in the stone, and presumed that it had been chosen specifically from that site for this church.

I added this to my tour, and I was delighted that when i returned to the church ten years after my departure, the new guide also included the bit about the doorstep.

But… it was a guess. I’m not an historian, and I just assumed I was right because “it fit.” But was I right? Possibly, but not positively. The little research I’ve done shows that it’s plausible. There was a quarry there, and the Vermont State House also features similar fossil stones. Such a stone would have been considered decorative, and it made sense to place one at the doorway of the largest building in town. But I can’t know for sure.

Now consider the situation with the chalk holder. Did she simply figure out that it could be used for drawing lines on small slates and presume that’s what it was for, as I had with the doorstep? And did her excitement of discovery lead her to incorporate it into her tour? Possibly. Googling shows that these devices were used to draw lines for any purpose the teacher deemed fit, so there is no correct answer in the end. The only question is what the original manufacturer intended, and that’s far less interesting.

The lesson of all this is at the core of the College of Curiosity. Facts are not monoliths that we absorb and re-transmit. They’re ideas, and they’re subject to change. Your teacher and tour guides will lie to you. It will be largely unintentional, and it won’t detract from your tour. But it’s wise to have a loose grip on the things you learn. They need to wiggle a bit so they can grow and add to your knowledge. And for those times you need things to not wiggle, someone has invented a chalk holder that will draw five straight lines. You can use it for whatever you’d like.

Last bit of music by Possimiste.

How many lines is it supposed to draw?

How many lines is it supposed to draw?

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On a whim, I drove up to St. Alban’s, Vermont and visited their excellent historical society. I love these small town museums, and their eclectic collections of things that are only connected by proximity. If you’vre read or listened to the Daily Curio... College of Curiosity yes 5:39 6091
2-58. 5 Glass Facts or Myths http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-58-5-glass-facts-or-myths/ Tue, 25 Aug 2015 17:50:39 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6078 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-58-5-glass-facts-or-myths/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-58-5-glass-facts-or-myths/feed/ 0 After our last episode with ghosts and glass, I got thinking about the nature of glass itself and how interesting it is. But I also came across some “facts” about glass that aren’t actually true. Here are five common facts or myths about glass: 1) You can shatter a glass with your voice. Maybe you […]

After our last episode with ghosts and glass, I got thinking about the nature of glass itself and how interesting it is. But I also came across some “facts” about glass that aren’t actually true. Here are five common facts or myths about glass:

1) You can shatter a glass with your voice.

Maybe you can, but I sure can’t. And while this trope is seen in countless movies and tv shows, it has only happened a few times in reality. But it has happened, as the Mythbusters proved in a 2005 episode. Not only do you need a very strong voice, you also need to find the resonant frequency of the glass, which varies from glass to glass. And you also need a glass that has some defect in it, as a perfect glass with just go on vibrating without shattering.

2) Glass flows very slowly, and that’s why glass in old windows is thicker at the bottom.

This one is a myth. While it’s true that glass in very old windows is thicker at the bottom, it’s not because the glass flowed that way. It’s because that’s the way it was installed. Before plate glass was invented, that is, the process by which glass could be made perfectly flat, there was always some variation in thickness. As such, glaziers would look at each pane and find the thickest end, and put that on the bottom.

3) Glass is a liquid.
Well, not in any way that makes sense in the real world. Glass does not flow at room temperature. That makes it a solid, but it’s a specific one. The vast majority of solids have a crystalline structure, and while we may think of “crystal” glass, that’s a mixing of terms. Glass itself has no crystalline structure, making it an amorphous solid. This property allows it to soften and melt gradually rather than all at once like most crystals. If you’ve ever soldered anything, you can see the difference in how metals melt vs. how glass or sugar candy or plastic or some other amorphous solid melts.

4) Lead Crystal Glass contains lead.
Yes, this is true. Most glass is silicon dioxide, also known as quartz or most simply as sand. But it order to impart specific properties like clarity or color, other substances are added. Lead is added to some glass to make it more workable and to increase “brightness.” This brightness is a result of the change of refractive index in the glass, and it can be best demonstrated when this glass is formed into “crystal” prisms which create bright rainbows. But there is no crystal here: this type of glass was used in Italy to create crystal shapes.

And yes, there is a chance of ingesting some lead if you drink from a lead crystal glass. It’s a small risk so long as the glass was cleaned properly, but it’s enough of a risk that lead glass is reserved mostly for artwork these days.

5) Glass is stronger than concrete.

This is true! And there’s no reason that glass can’t be used structurally. But “strength” isn’t all that matters. Cost of materials, weight, workability and repairability are all important concerns, and concrete wins out in all of these categories.

So there are five things about glass worth considering. Imagine all the things around you right now which wouldn’t be possible without glass. Those include the screen on your device, the fiber optic cables that got the signal to you, and in my case, the desk I’m typing this script on. Now if we could only get it not to break so easily…

Removing the putty on an old piece of glazing. (Photo by Andy Dingley.)

Removing the putty on an old piece of glazing. (Photo by Andy Dingley.)

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After our last episode with ghosts and glass, I got thinking about the nature of glass itself and how interesting it is. But I also came across some “facts” about glass that aren’t actually true. Here are five common facts or myths about glass: 1) You ... College of Curiosity yes 4:05 6078
2-57. It Was A Ghost http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-57-it-was-a-ghost/ Mon, 24 Aug 2015 18:44:41 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6067 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-57-it-was-a-ghost/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-57-it-was-a-ghost/feed/ 1 It started with a bang! At first, I wasn’t sure what happened. As I was sitting alone and quietly on a couch 17 stories in the air, I couldn’t imagine what glass had broken. I could tell it was tempered glass by the sound. It was dull, and didn’t ring. But the only tempered glass […]

It started with a bang! At first, I wasn’t sure what happened. As I was sitting alone and quietly on a couch 17 stories in the air, I couldn’t imagine what glass had broken. I could tell it was tempered glass by the sound. It was dull, and didn’t ring. But the only tempered glass I could think of was the sliding glass door. Did a bird slam into it? Was someone shooting at it?

Without moving, I examined the doors and could see no evidence that they had shattered. In fact, despite the noise, I couldn’t see broken glass anywhere. And then I took a closer look at the pinball machine.

There were small diamonds of broken glass all around it. But it wasn’t the glass covering the play field that was broken, it was the glass where the score is displayed. Somehow, this 26 x 18 section had shattered into thousands of pieces.

A bit too much magic.

A bit too much magic.

This glass is called a back glass, and it usually features some art associated with the machine. In our 1995 Theatre of Magic machine, there is an illustration of a magician throwing steel balls. But why had the glass shattered? My first thought was that something had hit the glass. But I was in a sealed room, alone. Though there were three parakeets in there, they were safely in their cage 15 feet from the pinball machine. There were no cats to blame, and no windows were open. I was motionless when it happened.

So maybe the sun was hitting it? No, it was cloudy and the top of the machine would have been room temperature. I should add that the machine was off as well, so there was nothing going on inside the machine that could have caused it.

I knew a bit about tempered glass and how it spontaneously shattered sometimes, but I decided to head to Google for a better explanation. And a common one that I saw was… ghosts. Yep, that’s right, if something unexplained happens, the explanation is always ghosts. Case closed. You can stop reading or listening now. Or you can keep on and learn some interesting things about tempered glass.

Tempered glass is made of normal glass treated with heat to make it stronger. Water is used to cool the outside of the glass quickly, while the hotter inside is left to cool slowly. This creates tension in the glass, and that tension gives the glass strength against blunt impacts. If you were to take a baseball bat to a sliding glass door, you might be surprised how hard it was to break.

As a bonus, when tempered glass does break, it forms tiny pieces, making it much less dangerous.

But there’s a problem. Because the glass is under tension, it can spontaneously shatter. A small scratch or a chip near the edge, where the tension is most easily released, can cause the glass to shatter in spectacular fashion. There can be as much as 10,000 PSI stored in a sheet of window glass, and when it breaks, it does so at speeds up 14x the speed of sound.

People have tried to take slow motion videos of tempered glass with their smartphones only to find that the glass goes from whole to entirely shattered in just one frame.

The sound you’re hearing now is the broken glass popping ten minutes after the original explosion. Some pieces were actually jumping onto the floor.

So did a ghost do this? Probably not. The glass was twenty years old, and it probably had some very minor damage that gave way. A minuscule crack could have been spreading until it finally attained the geometry necessary to release all that pressure.

So it’s Physics: 1 and Ghosts: 0. If the ghosts want to prove it was them, they can simply put all the glass back together again. Then I might believe.

This glass broke at 14 times the speed of sound.

This glass broke at 14 times the speed of sound.

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It started with a bang! At first, I wasn’t sure what happened. As I was sitting alone and quietly on a couch 17 stories in the air, I couldn’t imagine what glass had broken. I could tell it was tempered glass by the sound. It was dull, College of Curiosity yes 4:22 6067
2-56. Tumbleweeds http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-56-tumbleweeds/ Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:18:40 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6049 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-56-tumbleweeds/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-56-tumbleweeds/feed/ 0 Tumbleweeds have become an icon of film. When one rolls across the screen, the viewer knows that they’re looking at a desolate place where hope is lost and the future is bleak. But it wasn’t until well after the Civil War that Americans even knew what a tumbleweed was. Tumbleweeds are produced by many plants, […]
Tumbleweeds have become an icon of film. When one rolls across the screen, the viewer knows that they’re looking at a desolate place where hope is lost and the future is bleak.

But it wasn’t until well after the Civil War that Americans even knew what a tumbleweed was.

Tumbleweeds are produced by many plants, but in the American West, it’s the Russian Thistle that’s responsible. Probably introduced accidentally through seeds planted along with Russian flax, Russian Thistles loved their new home and spread throughout the western United States and Canada.

They tumble for a reason: after the flowers have produced seeds, the plant dies, and the “ball” or “globe” breaks free from the roots, allowing the plants to roll away. As they bounce across the landscape, seeds fall out to hopefully form new plants.

While the plants can be eaten by wildlife, they are mostly a nuisance, and in some places, tumbleweeds are numerous enough to drift like snow, causing many of the same problems. Roads can become impassable and people have even reported being trapped in their homes by twelve foot walls of tumbleweed. They also clog irrigation and create a fire risk during exceptionally dry seasons.

So the next time you see a tumbleweed roll by on the screen, think about how you’re seeing a Russian plant spreading its seeds. There may not be hope for the people in the film, but the plants will be just fine.

Is this gas station doomed? (Photo by A. Balet)

Is this gas station doomed? (Photo by A. Balet)

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Tumbleweeds have become an icon of film. When one rolls across the screen, the viewer knows that they’re looking at a desolate place where hope is lost and the future is bleak. But it wasn’t until well after the Civil War that Americans even knew what ... College of Curiosity yes 1:48 6049
2-55. The Desert of Maine http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-55-the-desert-of-maine/ Wed, 12 Aug 2015 16:40:10 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=6010 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-55-the-desert-of-maine/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-55-the-desert-of-maine/feed/ 0 Travelers from New York and New England have long headed to Maine to escape the summer heat. Maine license plates read “Vacationland” as if that wasn’t made obvious by the line of cars heading north every Friday night. Most of those folks are heading for mountains, pine trees and rocky shores. But one attraction hopes […] Travelers from New York and New England have long headed to Maine to escape the summer heat. Maine license plates read “Vacationland” as if that wasn’t made obvious by the line of cars heading north every Friday night.

Most of those folks are heading for mountains, pine trees and rocky shores. But one attraction hopes to offer them something completely different: a Sahara-like desert.

For nearly 100 years, this heavily advertised tourist trap has caught the uninformed vacationer off guard. How can there be a desert in Maine? There’s one way to find out.

Upon arrival, you’re greeted with signs saying “You’ll be glad you came” and pictures of camels and men in stereotypical desert garb. But what you see is a very large fence… if you want to experience the desert, you must pay your admission fee.

Once you’ve paid, you’re allowed through the gate at the expectedly large gift shop, and you see, well, something that’s pretty much just as it was advertised. In front of you is a landscape of sand, with some dunes topping 75 feet. There’s a jeep tour, and a model camel you can pose with.

But it’s not quite the Sahara. It rains often, and the area is lined with large pine trees, and in places, greenery pokes through the sand to bely the idea that these are “desert” conditions. In fact, there isn’t even “sand” here.

Freeport was first settled by Europeans in 1700. It was in a good location where a river met the sea, and it thrived. At the turn of the 19th century, the Tuttle family had a farm on the then fertile property. After a 100 years, the top soil was tired and eroding, and when the descendants of the original Tuttles took to potato farming, which is hard on soil and finally sheep grazing, they noticed that patches of sand started to appear in their fields.

Over time, the sand spread and actually increased as though it were flowing from the ground. All vegetation was consumed, and finally the spring house and other buildings were being covered by the fine, crop-killing dunes.

In 1919, with 40 acres of the farm covered, the Tuttles abandoned the property as useless. But Henry Goldrup didn’t see a useless farm when he paid $300 for the property. He saw gold in the sand, in the form of tourist dollars.

In 1925, he opened the Desert of Maine as a natural curiosity complete with a gift shop. The surviving Tuttle barn was made into a farming museum, and 90 years later, the attraction still exists.

But this is no desert. It’s an exposed pocket of sand-like glacial silt, left over from the ice age. As the glaciers moved over the mountains to the north, they ground the rock into a fine silt, and carried it south. Much of it was deposited in present-day Freeport when the glaciers melted, and over the course of 10,000 years, the compressed silt was covered with top soil.

This is what the Tuttles were farming, and when the top soil eroded, the sand-like silt was free. No longer compressed by glaciers or topsoil, the silt vegetation-killing silt expanded, causing erosion, until it finally engulfed the entire area.

So, despite the advertisements, there is no “desert” in Maine, but there is an interesting bit of geology and a lesson to famers to take care of their topsoil.

 

Map of the Desert of Maine.

Map of the Desert of Maine.

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Travelers from New York and New England have long headed to Maine to escape the summer heat. Maine license plates read “Vacationland” as if that wasn’t made obvious by the line of cars heading north every Friday night. College of Curiosity yes 3:55 6010
2-54. Tachymeter? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-54-tachymeter/ Thu, 09 Jul 2015 19:20:52 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5939 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-54-tachymeter/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-54-tachymeter/feed/ 0 People have known for centuries that watches can do more than tell time without adding special gizmos. For example, you can tell which general direction you’re facing if you point the small hand at the sun, and then look down the line between the the small hand and Noon. That line points to South if […] People have known for centuries that watches can do more than tell time without adding special gizmos. For example, you can tell which general direction you’re facing if you point the small hand at the sun, and then look down the line between the the small hand and Noon. That line points to South if you’re in the northern hemisphere. This works a bit different in the southern hemisphere.

Some sport watches, usually for men, have extra numbers around the face, sometimes on a moving bezel. If you look closely, you’ll see the word “tachymeter” written in tiny letters. What’s it for?

I had one of these watches when I was a kid, and I figured it was similar to a tachometer, but I had no idea how it would tell me how fast the engine was revving in a car. In fact, it’s more useful with horses.

A tachymeter does exactly on thing: it divides the number 3600 by the number of seconds that have elapsed. While that may sound arbitrary, it’s not. 3600 is the number of seconds in an hour. So long as you have a measured distance, you can learn the average speed of an object traveling between point A and point B.

In the real world, it might look like this: you’re watching a horse race and it’s a 1/2 mile long. Before the race, you stop your watch so the second hand is at Noon. When you hear the gun, you start your watch. Your horse is blazing the track, and wins by a full length! You stop your watch at the exact moment he crosses the finish line. 38 seconds have elapsed, and the tachymeter reads 94. Your horse ran at a pace of 94 half miles an hour, or 37 miles per hour. That’s as fast as Secreteriat!

While tachymeters do work, they have some severe limitations. Stopping your watch at Noon is tedious, which is why the fancier watches have rotating bezels that allow you to start wherever the second hand is. But what if you’re measured distance takes longer than sixty seconds to complete? Then, you’re out of luck.

If your watch has a tachymeter, now you know what it’s for. But have no illusion that watchmakers expect you to use this feature—it’s really there just to make your watch look snazzy.

 

tachymeter

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People have known for centuries that watches can do more than tell time without adding special gizmos. For example, you can tell which general direction you’re facing if you point the small hand at the sun, College of Curiosity yes 2:40 5939
2-53. How Not to Be Afraid of the Dark http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-53-how-not-to-be-afraid-of-the-dark/ Wed, 01 Jul 2015 18:14:56 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5924 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-53-how-not-to-be-afraid-of-the-dark/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-53-how-not-to-be-afraid-of-the-dark/feed/ 0 As a teenager, there was nothing I loved more than camping. I spent many summers away from home at Boy Scout camps in New Hampshire. Most Boy Scouts go to camp with their troops, so they already know who they’re camping with. For kids who came alone, they were put together in a temporary troop […] As a teenager, there was nothing I loved more than camping. I spent many summers away from home at Boy Scout camps in New Hampshire. Most Boy Scouts go to camp with their troops, so they already know who they’re camping with. For kids who came alone, they were put together in a temporary troop known as “Provisional” or “Provo” for short.

One year, and under the supervision of an actual adult, I was in charge of Provo and was responsible for the campers’ well-being. Many of them had never camped before, and that meant it was their first time living without electricity. It also meant that the 200’ walk to the outhouse though the thick forest in the middle of the night was terrifying.

As a child, I was afraid of the dark as many kids are. It didn’t take long for me realize it was an irrational fear—the things in the dark are the same things that are there in the light—but emotionally, that didn’t matter. If I had to walk through a dark room, especially an unknown one, I’d tense up and overreact to any stimulus.

At some point during my camping experience, late night nature calls being inevitable, I taught myself two techniques to deal with these emotions. They were so effective that I taught them to the campers under my charge as well.

First, see in the dark as much as you can. Turn off your flashlight, and close your eyes. Count to 10 slowly. When you open your eyes, your pupils will have dilated as much as possible, and you’ll be seeing at your best. Use the flashlight sparingly.

This is a practical technique as much as a psychological one. The flashlight and its moving, angled light makes things look more scary.

Second, you are now the monster. You are the most dangerous thing in the forest. This is your dark, where you are the master. Anything meeting up with you is in big trouble.

That may sound silly, but i found it fairly effective. Like any psychological trick, it worked as well as you could believe in it, and I learned to believe in it quite well. Perhaps… too well, perhaps.

A couple of years later, I was in college studying to be a professional Boy Scout. That’s a story for another time. One of my favorite professors asked me to participate in a 10K run, and having run track in high school, I agreed.

The event was coming up, and I hadn’t done nearly enough training. I had a very full class schedule, and only had free time at night, so I forced myself to run then. On empty roads. In rural West Virginia. In the dark.

I didn’t use a flashlight, and if I felt that creepy feeling welling up, I’d imagine myself as the scariest thing out there. This was fine, as I was nearly always the ONLY thing out there. And then there was the time I wasn’t.

I was running up a hill, around a bend when I saw something in the road. Before I had time to figure out what it was, I took off after it. This wasn’t a decision I’d made; my “be the scariest thing” had flipped my fight or flight response full to fight, and I was running as fast as I could after some vaguely animal-like shape.

i remember thinking “what the hell am I doing?” as I grew in determination to catch this thing. I was angry at it. It had invaded my space. It must pay.

Fortunately for the “thing,” it was much more suited to fleeing than I was to chasing, and it soon lost me in the bushes. It turned out to be a rabbit, a creature more afraid of the light than the dark.

I stopped a bit to catch my breath, and wondered whether my fear-avoiding strategy should be used with caution. Would I have done the same thing if it was a bear? Or a person? I don’t think so, but I didn’t expect to take off after a rabbit either.

Decades later, I find I have a much better technique for dealing with the dark. I’ve wandered through the Amazon Rainforest and the woods of New Zealand in near total darkness and loved every minute. This would have absolutely terrified me as a child, but now any trace of hesitation I might have is easily overwhelmed by the curiosity of won dering what’s out there. I know I’m not the scariest thing in the woods, and I don’t care. It’s exhilarating having a bat swoop by your ear so close that you can feel the wind from its wings. There’s nothing the least bit scary about it.

Curiosity conquers fear, though it’s probably harder to teach to a scared kid than the “be scarier” technique. But if you can start with curiosity, it may be that you’ll never be afraid in the first place.

 

What's in the dark?

What’s in the dark?

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As a teenager, there was nothing I loved more than camping. I spent many summers away from home at Boy Scout camps in New Hampshire. Most Boy Scouts go to camp with their troops, so they already know who they’re camping with. For kids who came alone, College of Curiosity yes 5:13 5924
2-52. The Dark Chieftan in your Pocket http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-52-the-dark-chieftan-in-your-pocket/ Tue, 30 Jun 2015 16:24:46 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5910 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-52-the-dark-chieftan-in-your-pocket/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-52-the-dark-chieftan-in-your-pocket/feed/ 0 By now, you’ve probably heard of Bluetooth. And you can probably recognize its little symbol on your phone or headset or car or whatever. You may not know about King Harald. King Harald Blâtan was a viking and King of Denmark and Sweden over 1000 years ago. He was truly known as just Harald—Blâtan was […] By now, you’ve probably heard of Bluetooth. And you can probably recognize its little Bluetooth symbol on your phone or headset or car or whatever. You may not know about King Harald.

King Harald Blâtan was a viking and King of Denmark and Sweden over 1000 years ago. He was truly known as just Harald—Blâtan was an epithet. It means literally “Blue Tooth,” but why he was called that is up for debate.

Some say it was because he had bad teeth, blue being synonymous with dark. Others claim he was named for blue clothing that he wore. Blue has always been a rare pigment, and only the wealthiest and most powerful could afford to wear it.

Some suggest that “tooth” is a mistaken translation of the English word Thane, meaning “chief.” Thane was mistranslated to “tan” in Old Norse, which means tooth. Blue Thane would properly translate to “Dark Chieftain” rather than “Blue Tooth.”

So we know where the word “Bluetooth” came from more or less, but how is it associated with modern personal network protocols?

Jim Kardach invented the system in 1997, and he proposed the name. At the time, he was reading the book “The Long Ships,” which mentions the story of King Harald’s joining of Norway and Denmark, much the way current Bluetooth protocol joins devices.

As for the symbol, it’s a joining of the Norse runes Runic letter ior.svg H (hagall) and Runic letter berkanan.svg B (berkanan), which stand for the name Harald Bluetooth.

And there you have it. I think if King Harald could have known this would be his legacy, he’d be pleased.

 

 

Harald Blâtan

Harald Blâtan

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By now, you’ve probably heard of Bluetooth. And you can probably recognize its little symbol on your phone or headset or car or whatever. You may not know about King Harald. King Harald Blâtan was a viking and King of Denmark and Sweden over 1000 years... College of Curiosity yes 2:02 5910
2-51. Haint Blue http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-51-haint-blue/ Mon, 29 Jun 2015 18:47:16 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5900 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-51-haint-blue/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-51-haint-blue/feed/ 0 About 15 years ago, I had occasion to stay at the famous Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. This sprawling resort has been a play land for the nation’s wealthy since 1778, and is famous for housing a secret bunker that was intended to be used by Congress in the event of a nuclear […] About 15 years ago, I had occasion to stay at the famous Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. This sprawling resort has been a play land for the nation’s wealthy since 1778, and is famous for housing a secret bunker that was intended to be used by Congress in the event of a nuclear attack.

And while all that is plenty interesting and worth a Google, I was curious about the paint used above the entryways in the massive building.

First off, you have to know everything is white at the Greenbrier. And while that statement could be a taken as social commentary, I’m referring to the walls in and out of the hotel. The only exception is when there is a wainscoted ceiling above an exterior doorway. These are all painted a greenish sky blue. Since this can’t be seen unless you look up as you enter the building, I thought it odd that they wouldn’t just use the same white that was everywhere else.

I happened upon a doorperson and I asked him about the blue color. He explained that it was useful for keeping insects from building nests up there. They’d interpret the color as the sky, and not realize there was anything to build on.

I accepted this answer, even though it didn’t seem like something that would really work. Later on I learned that the name for the color was “haint blue,” and that “haint” was a southern word for “ghost.”

According to Sherwin-Williams, a company that should know something about paint, the idea that the color distracts insects is held by many people, though there’s no evidence that it actually works. But before that, the color was was believed to confuse “haints.” Apparently, ghosts would see the blue and think it was water. And well… everyone knows ghosts can’t cross water, right? So the paint kept the ghosts out—unless the owners needed to drum up business during the Halloween season.

Haint blue is especially common in the Gullah culture of South Carolina and Georgia, but it can also be found in Victorian homes and hotels across the country. Just look up as you enter an old building, and you may see a sky blue to greenish blue paint. The color of “haint blue” isn’t strictly established.

As to its effectiveness, the Greenbrier isn’t known for its ghosts, which says something for an 18th century hotel.

 

 

A typical haint blue porch ceiling. (Photo by Lake Lou)

A typical haint blue porch ceiling. (Photo by Lake Lou)

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About 15 years ago, I had occasion to stay at the famous Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. This sprawling resort has been a play land for the nation’s wealthy since 1778, and is famous for housing a secret bunker that was intended to be u... College of Curiosity yes 2:36 5900
2-50. Secrets of the Driftless Area http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-50-secrets-of-the-driftless-area/ Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:58:23 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5878 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-50-secrets-of-the-driftless-area/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-50-secrets-of-the-driftless-area/feed/ 0 While it may sound like part of an old West town where drifters were discouraged from visiting, the term “driftless” actually means an area without glacial debris, or drift. This is the rocks, silt, clay, stones, etc. left behind when the glaciers retreated from North America a bit over 10,000 years ago. Starting nearly 100,000 […] While it may sound like part of an old West town where drifters were discouraged from visiting, the term “driftless” actually means an area without glacial debris, or drift. This is the rocks, silt, clay, stones, etc. left behind when the glaciers retreated from North America a bit over 10,000 years ago.

Starting nearly 100,000 years ago, the Earth cooled and massive glaciers, some miles thick, covered the northern parts of North America. These massive flows of ice destroyed everything in their path, completely rearranging the topography. Mountains were leveled, valleys were carved, and when the ice melted, this newly revealed landscape became what we now know as Canada and the Northern United States.

In the Midwest, specifically parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa, the glaciers went around large, low mountains known as “domes,” and left the land south of them untouched. These are now known as the driftless area, and they’re unique, as the land there hasn’t been drastically altered for at least 500,000 years.

While the glaciers didn’t reach these areas, water from their melting did, and caves, blind valleys, and disappearing streams are common. It’s some of the most beautiful land in the country, and it has secrets.

Algific talus slopes, with algific meaning “cold producing” are only found here. They’re a form of natural air conditioner, where warm air is pulled into a sinkhole, through cold and even ice-filled caves, and then forced out onto the slope through another opening. This chilled air can reduce the temperature by as much as 30 degrees on a hot summer’s day.

Because of this, the ecosystem there resembles Northern Canada more than the Midwestern US. Local Forests favor ancient lineages of plants such as ferns, liverworts and yew, with relatively few hardwoods. Some plants and snails here are either extremely rare or only found in this area. Most algific talus slope land is off limits to the public due to the fragility of the ecosystem.

Another secret of the driftless area is its many effigy mounds. These are hundreds of piles of earth up to 150 feet high built by people 1000 years ago. About 15% of them have an earthen sculpture of a larger-than-life animal on the top. Many different mammals, birds and reptiles are featured. With one exception in Ohio, the style of these mounds is unique to the driftless area. No one living today knows exactly what they were for.

So, if you’re in the Midwest and you’d like to walk on land that may have once been the home of a woolly mammoth or a pre-Columbian family, the driftless area of the rural Midwest has that for you.

National Park Service photo of Bear Mound

National Park Service photo of Bear Mound

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While it may sound like part of an old West town where drifters were discouraged from visiting, the term “driftless” actually means an area without glacial debris, or drift. This is the rocks, silt, clay, stones, etc. College of Curiosity yes 3:09 5878
2-49. The Great Gadsby http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-49-the-great-gadsby/ Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:58:39 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5858 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-49-the-great-gadsby/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-49-the-great-gadsby/feed/ 0 In 1939, Ernest Vincent Wright finished his difficult novel, “Gadsby.” Not to be confused with “The Great Gatsby,” which was written earlier but didn’t become popular until later, “Gadsby” was a novel about a man who rallies a town’s youth to civic improvement. It sold well and received literary praise, despite the fact that it […] In 1939, Ernest Vincent Wright finished his difficult novel, “Gadsby.” Not to be confused with “The Great Gatsby,” which was written earlier but didn’t become popular until later, “Gadsby” was a novel about a man who rallies a town’s youth to civic improvement. It sold well and received literary praise, despite the fact that it was missing something that virtually all other novels have: the letter ‘e.’

Throughout this 50,000-word book, the letter ‘e’ is missing. Wright explains in the foreword that he literally tied down the ‘e’ key on his typewriter to force himself to come up with other ways of saying things like “yellow” (saffron) or “cake” (loaf).

Here’s a sample of the writing:

And with that big Municipal Band a-booming and blaring, and a crowd of our old Organization girls pushing forward, did Branton Hills look good to Nancy? And did Nancy look good to Branton Hills? What a glorious tan, from days and days on shipboard! And was that old Atlantic ugly? Ask Frank, poor chap, who, as on that big Pacific, had found out just what a ship’s rail is for! And that stomachs can turn most amazing flip-flops if an old boat is too frisky!

Wright wrote this novel as a lipogram, writing that omits a letter, simply to see if he could do it. He points out that his effort might help aspiring writers hone their craft, and indeed, if you try to tell a simple story, for example, how to make a piece of toast, without the letter ‘e,’ you’ll quickly find yourself using unfamiliar sentence structures, which in time could become valuable tools.

So, if you’re sitting with a fresh cup of writer’s block and an endless scroll of empty screen in front of you, maybe try a paragraph without a vowel of your choosing. It might lead you to a place you want to be.

DON'T PRESS THAT KEY!

DON’T PRESS THAT KEY!

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In 1939, Ernest Vincent Wright finished his difficult novel, “Gadsby.” Not to be confused with “The Great Gatsby,” which was written earlier but didn’t become popular until later, “Gadsby” was a novel about a man who rallies a town’s youth to civic imp... College of Curiosity yes 2:07 5858
2-48. Two Curiosities http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-48-two-curiosities/ Tue, 26 May 2015 17:16:04 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5844 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-48-two-curiosities/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-48-two-curiosities/feed/ 0 I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend traveling with my wife, and saw many wondrous things. But now that I’m home, I find my mind wandering to two distinct events. The first occurred in Galena, Illinois a town named for its historic lead mines and the ore found there. Ulysses S. Grant lived here […]

I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend traveling with my wife, and saw many wondrous things. But now that I’m home, I find my mind wandering to two distinct events.

The first occurred in Galena, Illinois a town named for its historic lead mines and the ore found there. Ulysses S. Grant lived here for a short time, and there’s even a mine in his old home.

The downtown area has been turned into a tourist district, with all the shops one would expect: antiques, cheese and wine, odd gifts that light up and spin.

One of these shops was full of spices and oils. We wandered around a bit looking at the odd combination of things. The furniture was a mishmash of antiques, and near the check out was a strange bureau. It had a number of drawers and doors, and was clearly purpose-built for something particular. It might have been an ice chest or an elaborate liquor cabinet, so being who I am, asked the person behind the counter what it was.

She was confused. “What do you mean?” She asked.

“I’m just wondering what this cabinet was for. It’s interesting.”

“It’s just a cabinet.” She rolled her eyes at me and walked away, apparently annoyed that I wasn’t asking about the pouches of spice that were for sale.

I left the store.

I can appreciate that she was likely just an employee and was concerned with her job, and not the provenance of the store’s fixtures. But her disdain for my curiosity left me cold. It’s not that she didn’t know, it’s that she couldn’t understand how someone could wonder about something so unimportant.

I can’t actually know what her thought process was. Perhaps she was annoyed because it was busy and I was asking a non-essential question. Maybe there was something else going on that I missed entirely. But that moment stuck with me for awhile, and made me think about what it must be like to be incurious.

After getting back to Chicago, my wife and I decided to get some late-night provisions in celebration of the glorious weekend we just had. We’re adults; we get to do that.

The only place open at late hours is a grocery store that we avoid. The lines are long and slow, and it’s painfully obvious that the staff hate working there. But, snacks must be had.

As we entered the checkout, we noticed a bag of Dorito’s Roulette. I had encountered these in New Zealand a couple of months ago, and it’s a fun idea: every fifth chip is super hot and spicy. You are playing “Dorito’s Roulette” every time you take a chip from the bag. We had fun with them on the bus, and we picked up a bag for more fun.

As we were checking out, the unusually friendly cashier said “Oh, these look like fun. I’d like to try them.” I explained that they were fun, and that we had tried them in New Zealand.

She said, “Wow, New Zealand. That’s one of those places you need a passport for, right?”

I was a bit taken aback, but only for a second. I knew I had found one of the lucky 10,000.

In an all too brief conversation, I told her that it was a wonderful place, but very far away. Traveling there took a long time, and that when you arrived, you had missed a whole day. Her response took me aback once more.

“What language do they speak there?”

I explained that they spoke English… and then added that some also spoke Maori. As we left, I heard her telling her coworkers that we had just been to New Zealand, as though she had just had some minor celebrities come through her line.

But that wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about us, it was about her. Somehow, in her life, she had heard of New Zealand but never learned anything about it. For someone like me, this seems hard to believe, but rather than wonder how she could have missed the Lord of the Rings movies, I realized that whatever her life was full of, it wasn’t full of the chance to travel to far off lands.

And yet, she was curious. She wanted to know more. She understood the wonder of visiting foreign countries, and I hope our short exchange somehow gave her the hope that she will also be able to visit someplace that needs a passport.

The two clerks, one in a posh tourist town and the other in a rundown grocery store, demonstrated polar opposites of curiosity. And the latter, more important encounter demonstrated the idea that having a pride in your knowledge is merely a responsibility to share it wisely. If someone doesn’t know something you consider obvious, don’t shut them down. Honor their curiosity. Share your experiences. Encourage them to keep asking questions.

A cabinet is never just a cabinet.

 

 

Take a chance.

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I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend traveling with my wife, and saw many wondrous things. But now that I’m home, I find my mind wandering to two distinct events. The first occurred in Galena, Illinois a town named for its historic lead mines an... College of Curiosity yes 5:08 5844
2-47. A Failure of Curiosity http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-47-a-failure-of-curiosity/ Fri, 22 May 2015 22:07:42 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5837 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-47-a-failure-of-curiosity/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-47-a-failure-of-curiosity/feed/ 2 Recently, there was an “unexplained” sighting at the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville. In their small library, a security camera caught a “glowing orb” floating around the room, as if under its own volition. This has happened twice, suggesting that the phenomenon is real. What could it be? Predictably, the president of […]

Recently, there was an “unexplained” sighting at the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville. In their small library, a security camera caught a “glowing orb” floating around the room, as if under its own volition. This has happened twice, suggesting that the phenomenon is real.

What could it be? Predictably, the president of the museum said “We can’t explain it, nor can the fella who put in the system for us.” When some of the museum’s staff members suggested that it might be dust, it was pointed out that the air conditioning was off at the time, so there was nothing to blow the dust around.

But rather than explore further, President Charlie Mars reinforced his own idea of what was causing the phenomenon. Mr. Mars said:

There are many items in here that were brought in by people who are no longer with us. They could be coming back to check on it.

Later, he added:

We have had a number of things like this (occur) in the past 10 or 12 years that we didn’t have an explanation for.

Finally, in what seems like the height of curiosity, Charlie adds this:

We love having something come in unexplainable. It gives us a chance to interchange with each other and talk about what it could possibly be.

Except that’s not the height of curiosity. It’s the opposite.

I’m positive that as someone who’s responsible for a small museum, Charlie Mars is someone I’d like to have a beer with. But it saddens me that a person who runs a facility dedicated to exploration, isn’t willing to explore. At one point he suggests that it could be the ghost of Neil Armstrong, who apparently would rather haunt a minor museum than the Kennedy Space Center, Houston Mission Control, or the Moon itself.

Could it be a ghost? Sure. Could it be an alien? Equally likely. How one can tell the difference between the two is beyond me. What it most likely is is an insect. There have been many videos displaying exactly the same phenomenon, and the culprit was shown to be insects. I’ve even made my own.

Security cameras are focussed to the distance, as they’re mounted high and trying to capture as much of the room as possible. Objects within a few feet of the lens are fuzzy. When the insect flies far enough away not to be fuzzy, it’s too small to be picked up by the lo-definition camera.

That’s a far more likely explanation than anything else, and just a little bit of curiosity would have shown that. It’s true that the media wouldn’t have picked the story up then, but there really wasn’t a story to pick up.

Occams Razor is a mental tool that says that the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one. It’s also a tool for the curious.

Now maybe a curious person can invent a security lens that will focus at any distance. Or perhaps another can invent a better bug trap.

Here’s a video showing the alleged ghost.

Here’s the antidote from Captain Disillusion.

 

Ghosts on the moon?

Ghosts on the moon?

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Recently, there was an “unexplained” sighting at the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville. In their small library, a security camera caught a “glowing orb” floating around the room, as if under its own volition. This has happened twice, College of Curiosity yes 3:19 5837
2-46. Not Alone http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-46-not-alone/ Wed, 20 May 2015 17:49:08 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5819 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-46-not-alone/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-46-not-alone/feed/ 0 It’s July 21, 1969. Two American men are on the surface of the moon, preparing to leave it. This is the first time in history that humans have landed on this satellite, and they’re hoping to make it back home, something that’s never been done before. Above them, a single man waits for their return […] It’s July 21, 1969. Two American men are on the surface of the moon, preparing to leave it. This is the first time in history that humans have landed on this satellite, and they’re hoping to make it back home, something that’s never been done before. Above them, a single man waits for their return to the command module.

The command module of Apollo 11 was not the only spacecraft orbiting the moon. In a nearly parallel mission, the USSR had launched Luna 15, an unmanned probe, and it was also in orbit around the moon, taking pictures and analyzing surface features. But it was supposed to do what Apollo 11 was doing: land on the moon and return to Earth with samples. Apollo 11 and Luna 15 were in a literal space race.

This was at the height of the cold war. There were no joint space efforts between the two nations, but the Soviets did release the flight path of Luna 15 to the Americans, making this the first ever sharing of information about space exploration between the two world powers. There was no concern that the two vehicles would collide, after all, space is big. But there was concern that communications would interfere with each other, and coordination was necessary to prevent this.

The Soviets had gotten to the moon first with Luna 2 in 1959. Its hard landing made it the first manmade object to ever land on a celestial body that wasn’t Earth. Luna 3 managed to get pictures of the moon’s badly-named “dark side.” If all went to plan, Luna 15 would land on the moon and then send samples back to Earth. And if the Soviets were successful and the Americans weren’t, it would just demonstrate how superior the Soviet program was. And how reckless of the Americans to risk lives unnecessarily!

But the exact opposite happened. Luna 15 crashed into the moon while the Americans were in the Lunar Module making final preparations to return home. The Soviet Union’s effort to keep pace with the Americans had faltered, and Luna 15 still sits on the Moon among the samples it had hoped to return to its creators.

Its ambitious mission is largely forgotten, while everyone knows that Americans were the first to walk on the moon and return with samples.

But Luna 15 leaves us with this question: why were we risking the lives of astronauts to go to the moon? If it was theoretically possible for robots to do the same thing, shouldn’t we have focussed our efforts on that?

From a scientific standpoint, that argument has merit. But from an emotional standpoint, “man walks on moon” is a statement unparalleled in human history. Is the moon as majestic if there’s no one who has been there? I guess we know the answer to that now, as people prepare to visit Mars, a planet populated entirely by robots. The answer is… no.

Here’s a link to the entire recording from the Jodrell Bank Centre as they listened to Luna 15 on that fateful day.

 

Luna 15. Designed for greatness, destined for obscurity.

Luna 15. Designed for greatness, destined for obscurity.

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It’s July 21, 1969. Two American men are on the surface of the moon, preparing to leave it. This is the first time in history that humans have landed on this satellite, and they’re hoping to make it back home, something that’s never been done before. College of Curiosity yes 4:01 5819
2-45. Song-O-Phone http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-45-song-o-phone/ Mon, 18 May 2015 16:53:17 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5809 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-45-song-o-phone/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-45-song-o-phone/feed/ 0 Remember the “Chinese Telephone Game?” Fortunately, an awareness of linguistic racism has changed this to just the “Telephone Game.” The idea is that one person tells another a sentence. That person tells the sentence to someone else, and so on. After a few people, a sentence like “The fish is in the water” turns into […]

Remember the “Chinese Telephone Game?” Fortunately, an awareness of linguistic racism has changed this to just the “Telephone Game.” The idea is that one person tells another a sentence. That person tells the sentence to someone else, and so on. After a few people, a sentence like “The fish is in the water” turns into “peanut butter and jelly” or something like that.

Communication tends to deteriorate as it’s copied. The simplest demonstration of this is to photocopy a document, and then copy the copy, etc. Your 10th copy will be a blurry mess. But it could also be a bit artistic, so what if it was done… with music?

The Free Music Archive is a storage house of music that’s accessible to everyone. And rather than just serve as a warehouse, they’re also providing inspiration for composers and musicians with their Song-O-Phone project. With Song-O-Phone, an artist composes a piece of music, and sends it to another. The second artist listens and has 24 hours to produce their version of the song, and then pass it to another. After 18 iterations of this, something amazing happens.

You can see the progression here. Play Track I and then Track XVII

 

Of course, they’re not trying to duplicate the song perfectly. They’re encouraged to add their own style and flavor to the piece. But after 18 iterations of the same piece of music, the comparison between the first and last piece shows us what was essential in the original recording, and that tells us something about music and that artistic process.

Or, if you’d rather not analyze such, just sit back and enjoy. You can listen several albums produced this way at freemusicarchive.org/music/Song-O-Phone/.

 

The "Dial," an artifact now.

The “Dial,” an artifact now.

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Remember the “Chinese Telephone Game?” Fortunately, an awareness of linguistic racism has changed this to just the “Telephone Game.” The idea is that one person tells another a sentence. That person tells the sentence to someone else, and so on. College of Curiosity yes 3:52 5809
2-44. Happy Fun Rock! http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-44-happy-fun-rock/ Fri, 15 May 2015 16:13:05 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5791 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-44-happy-fun-rock/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-44-happy-fun-rock/feed/ 0 We had travelled to the other side of the globe, and found ourselves on a fantastic beach on the Isle of Pines, part of New Caledonia. The beach was sandy, the sky was blue, and the water was comfy. Strange limestone structures rose out of the sea, and odd trees covered the dune behind us. […]
We had travelled to the other side of the globe, and found ourselves on a fantastic beach on the Isle of Pines, part of New Caledonia. The beach was sandy, the sky was blue, and the water was comfy. Strange limestone structures rose out of the sea, and odd trees covered the dune behind us. It could be mistaken for paradise.But paradise had something strange in it: floating rocks. About 10 feet from the surf was a long line what looked like popcorn stretching down the beach. In the surf, larger stones were found, some of which were teeming with sea life, including gooseneck barnacles that waved and snapped whentheywere removed from the water.It was pumice, of course, but why was it washing up on this non-volcanic island? The answer lay over 1,000 miles away in somewhere called the Kermadec arc. The Havre Volcano had erupted, and released enough material to make a pumice raft that measured between 7,500 and 10,000 square MILES. That’s larger than Israel.In time, the giant pumice raft had broken up and pieces as large a basketballs made their way to the islands of the South Pacific, including our idyllic beach.

If you’d like to visit this volcano, you’ll need some equipment: namely a submarine. The Havre Volcano is about a half mile underwater. But each time it erupts, it gets a bit closer to the surface.

Why Happy Fun Rock? Some of our group took to playing catch with a baseball-sized piece of stone. It was all in good fun until someone missed a catch, and then the pumice’s stoney nature came out: it hurt. Thus, there was to be no taunting of happy fun rock forever more. If you’ve missed the reference, you’ll need to research some old Saturday Night Live clips.

Happy Fun Rock now resides in the permanent collection of the College of Curiosity.

UPDATE: reader Deb noticed that there already is a Happy Fun Rock: it’s an item in World of Warcraft!

Do not taunt. (Photo by Bahnfrend)

Do not taunt. (Photo by Bahnfrend)

Happy Fun Rock attacking David after an unprovoked taunt (photo by Paul).

Happy Fun Rock attacking David after an unprovoked taunt (photo by Paul).

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We had travelled to the other side of the globe, and found ourselves on a fantastic beach on the Isle of Pines, part of New Caledonia. The beach was sandy, the sky was blue, and the water was comfy. Strange limestone structures rose out of the sea, College of Curiosity yes 2:17 5791
2-43. A Bold Book http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-43-a-bold-book/ Tue, 12 May 2015 16:25:52 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5767 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-43-a-bold-book/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-43-a-bold-book/feed/ 0 Today’s Daily Curio is based on Mystery Object 265: Bold Book. We suggest you listen to if if you can. If you can’t, check out the link and see if you can solve the mystery.   Today’s Daily Curio is based on Mystery Object 265: Bold Book. We suggest you listen to if if you can. If you can’t, check out the link and see if you can solve the mystery.
Originally just a blank maroon front.

Originally just a blank maroon front.

 

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Today’s Daily Curio is based on Mystery Object 265: Bold Book. We suggest you listen to if if you can. If you can’t, check out the link and see if you can solve the mystery.   College of Curiosity yes 2:28 5767
2-42. Rat Kings http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-42-rat-kings/ Mon, 11 May 2015 21:15:15 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5752 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-42-rat-kings/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-42-rat-kings/feed/ 0 When you hear the term “Rat King” the first time, your mind may go immediately to the villain from the Nutcracker Suite, or perhaps you’re just thinking of a very large rat that no other rat wishes to challenge. In fact, rat kings are something quite different. Imagine a group of rats with their tails […]

When you hear the term “Rat King” the first time, your mind may go immediately to the villain from the Nutcracker Suite, or perhaps you’re just thinking of a very large rat that no other rat wishes to challenge.

In fact, rat kings are something quite different. Imagine a group of rats with their tails tangled. They’re still alive, and can move. In some cases, they live long enough for their tails to grow together, permanently sealing their loss of independence. But, so long as they can reach food and water, they’ll continue living.

Though uncommon, history and folklore have many stories of rat kings. It’s unclear why the name was chosen for a group of tangled rats. Some have suggested that these rats would allow a “king rat” to sit on their tails, and they’d carry them around. Martin Luther referred to the Pope as a rat king, but there’s no clear connection.

Animals with long tails who live in nests can find their tails tangled when nesting material or some foreign substance enters the nest. One famous case in New Zealand found a group of rats bound together by horse hair which the mother had used in the nest. Others have been linked with ice, blood, tree sap, tar… any sticky substance can do it. The more the animals move, the more tangled they become.

The largest known rat king contains 32 mummified individuals. It now resides in a German museum.

On a personal note, we received a call recently from my wife’s father who had discovered a squirrel king in the park behind his home. He bravely removed them from behind a fence, and my wife came over to try and free them. A bit of Googling reveals that olive oil and peanut butter are just the right things to use when you wish to dissolve pine tar, which was the adhesive in this case.

We’re happy to report that all six young squirrels survived, and they’re now in a local wildlife rehab facility awaiting release.

Update: here’s a video that tells the story of the squirrel king we found.

A rat king.

A rat king.

 

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When you hear the term “Rat King” the first time, your mind may go immediately to the villain from the Nutcracker Suite, or perhaps you’re just thinking of a very large rat that no other rat wishes to challenge. In fact, College of Curiosity yes 2:12 5752
2-41. Guru Meditation http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-41-guru-meditation/ Fri, 08 May 2015 19:07:32 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5744 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-41-guru-meditation/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-41-guru-meditation/feed/ 2 Long before the blue screen of death and the unhappy Mac face, there was the Guru Meditation. You’d normally see this when you were in the middle of one of the fantastic games that were available for the late Commodore Computer’s Amiga system. Seeing the black screen with the red flashing message meant you were […]

Long before the blue screen of death and the unhappy Mac face, there was the Guru Meditation. You’d normally see this when you were in the middle of one of the fantastic games that were available for the late Commodore Computer’s Amiga system.

Seeing the black screen with the red flashing message meant you were done. Whatever you were working on was lost, and there was a small chance that your floppy drive was corrupt as well. It was not a good thing to see, but it was a common one. But why was it a “guru meditation”?

The story goes that when the first Amiga computer, the Amiga 1000 was being developed, a new type of controller would accompany it. This controller was a basically a joystick you could stand on so you could simulate surfing, skateboarding, sumo wresting—whatever game designers could come up with.

While the hardware folks were working on that, the software folks were battling frequent errors, and they were getting frustrated. Finally, someone suggested they should all meditate to relieve their stress, and one thing led to another… and a nascent game was developed: mediate in a balancing state on the new joystick board, and whoever can balance the longest wins!

As with many things in technology, the game and the joystick board never made it to market. But the folks at Commodore had a sense of humor, and decided to remind themselves to relax in every error message. Thus, the Guru Meditation error was born.

Though both Commodore and the Amiga are long gone, the guru meditation lives on in the form of error messages from the Varnish web caching software. You may see it if you try to access a web page that has a cache problem.

But the ultimate nod to the guru meditation is in the Wii Fit system, where the Wii Balance Board game “Lotus Focus” recreates the game those Amiga developers thought up 30 years ago.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the “sad mac” was available to the public eighteen months before the Guru Meditation. The “chimes of death” that accompanied the sad mac, didn’t appear until much later.

Everything you love has died.

Everything you love has died.

 

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Long before the blue screen of death and the unhappy Mac face, there was the Guru Meditation. You’d normally see this when you were in the middle of one of the fantastic games that were available for the late Commodore Computer’s Amiga system. College of Curiosity yes 2:06 5744
2-40. A Horse’s Ass http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-40-a-horses-ass/ Thu, 07 May 2015 17:44:32 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5734 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-40-a-horses-ass/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-40-a-horses-ass/feed/ 1   It seems obvious that for railways to work, the distance between tracks must be standardized. In the United States, that standard is four feet, 8 1/2 inches, or about 144 centimeters. This seems an oddly precise measurement, so how did it come to be? The legend goes like this: US rail systems are based […]

 

It seems obvious that for railways to work, the distance between tracks must be standardized. In the United States, that standard is four feet, 8 1/2 inches, or about 144 centimeters. This seems an oddly precise measurement, so how did it come to be?

The legend goes like this: US rail systems are based on British rail systems. British rail systems are based on medieval carts. Medieval carts were based on the ruts left by Roman chariots. Roman chariots were sized to accommodate two horses, side by side, and the space needed for that is 4 feet, 8 ½ inches. An Internet meme about this mentions the space shuttle’s boosters, which were sized to accommodate railroad tunnels. This forces the conclusion that the space shuttle was designed by a horse’s ass.

It’s a great story, full of logic and history and… a good deal of fiction. All one needs to realize is that the Romans moved goods by human-powered handcarts, and our lovely meme falls apart.

The real story is one of arbitrary practicality.

Railroads evolved from mine carts that were pulled by an experimental steam engine. A Englishman named George Stephenson chose the gauge of four feet 8 ½ inches after of a bit of experimenting, but with no previous measurement in mind—it’s just what worked at the mine he was using for testing. When the idea of railroads became viable, his equipment was modified and that’s the gauge that was used.

But 50 years later, George’s arbitrary measurement was just one of twenty different gauges. Different companies and inventors adjusted track widths to their own purposes, and in the 1850s, it wasn’t uncommon to find mismatched lines meeting, and then cargoes being offloaded from one sized railway to another.

The Civil War changed that. The US government dictated that there be one single gauge for all railways, so as to facilitate the movement of troops and equipment as expeditiously as possible. And the gauge they chose was four feet, eight and half inches. They chose this simply because it was the most popular gauge, and gradually, lines with other gauges were converted or abandoned.

There are other sized lines today, called “narrow gauge” railways, but these are purpose built for a single need such as moving lumber, agriculture or ores a short distance. Since they’re purpose built, they’re not standardized, and rather use a gauge that’s most cost-effective for the purpose.

So, with a little curiosity, we can take a nice, neat story and destroy it. But the real story is at least as interesting, as we can now see patterns between railways, records, video tapes, electrical systems, and even mundane things like the length of paper towel rolls. Why are paper towel rolls all 11 inches? That would be a topic for another day.

Thanks to curious person, Steve Cuno for suggesting this topic.

 

One width does not fit all

One width does not fit all

 

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  It seems obvious that for railways to work, the distance between tracks must be standardized. In the United States, that standard is four feet, 8 1/2 inches, or about 144 centimeters. This seems an oddly precise measurement, College of Curiosity yes 3:15 5734
2-39. Obscura Day http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-39-obscura-day/ Wed, 06 May 2015 15:09:54 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5721 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-39-obscura-day/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-39-obscura-day/feed/ 0 For the past few months, I’ve been working with Atlas Obscura. If you haven’t heard of Atlas Obscura, I encourage you to head over to atlasobscura.com right now and take a look. We’ll wait. Ok, enough waiting. The Atlas Obscura is the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places. And it truly is… […]

For the past few months, I’ve been working with Atlas Obscura. If you haven’t heard of Atlas Obscura, I encourage you to head over to atlasobscura.com right now and take a look. We’ll wait. Ok, enough waiting. The Atlas Obscura is the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places. And it truly is… no matter where you live in the world, they will show you something near you that’s full of wonder. Like what? Let’s randomly type in “Topeka, Kansas.” And.. let’s see, we have an Oz Museum, a portrait of Amelia Earhart made of earthworks, an atomic cannon, and the standard creepy abandoned hospital for the criminally insane.

But Atlas Obscura is more than that. It’s also a way to find unusual tours in your area, and this coming May 30th marks this year’s Obscura Day, with hundreds of events all over the world. What kind of events? Well, would you like to tour Chernobyl? Or visit 100 year old robot clowns? Or maybe you’d rather visit Petra in Jordan, or take part of in a private pinball party? There’s a wealth of opportunity here, and it’s for one day only. Many of the events are free, some have costs. You’ll have to search and see what’s available in your area.

But if you think you live in a boring place, you probably don’t. Atlas Obscura and Obscura Day in particular can help you find the wonder in your neighborhood. At the bottom of their home page it reads, “This is what we believe: 1. There is something NEW under the sun, every day, all over the world. 2. Around the corner is something that will SURPRISE the hell out of you. 3. Atlas Obscura is for people who still believe in DISCOVERY.

And with that, I’m off to visit the Wolves at the Leaping Wall.

 

Obscura Day 2015

Obscura Day 2015

 

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For the past few months, I’ve been working with Atlas Obscura. If you haven’t heard of Atlas Obscura, I encourage you to head over to atlasobscura.com right now and take a look. We’ll wait. Ok, enough waiting. College of Curiosity yes 2:01 5721
2-38. Prejudiced Me http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-38-prejudiced-me/ Tue, 05 May 2015 14:39:21 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5680 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-38-prejudiced-me/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-38-prejudiced-me/feed/ 1 As I was idly thinking about future College of Curiosity events, my mind wandered to potential speakers and contributors I might invite. I put together a mental list of qualifications and desirable characteristics and went down the folks I knew who seem to meet the metrics I was looking for. A name popped up. It […]

As I was idly thinking about future College of Curiosity events, my mind wandered to potential speakers and contributors I might invite. I put together a mental list of qualifications and desirable characteristics and went down the folks I knew who seem to meet the metrics I was looking for.

A name popped up. It is someone I’ve never met, but she’s done good work over the past few years. She’s well-spoken, a good writer, and shares that ever-important curiosity that we’re trying to promote here.

Then I thought, “Oh, but she’s transgender.” And I crossed her off the list.

And then I sat down to write this Daily Curio. It is clear, from that transient thought, that I was being transphobic, or if that word is too ill-defined, I was at least being prejudicial towards someone who was transgender.

Why?

Was it because I think “transgenderism” is some sort of political statement rather than a real “condition”? No, I don’t think that at all. I think transgender people are sincere in who they believe they are, and that anyone telling them they’re not who they are should really take a closer look at how they came to their own identity.

Was it because I disapproved of their “lifestyle”? No, I don’t disapprove of their lifestyle. In fact, I don’t think being transgender is simply a lifestyle. I think it’s an important part of who those folks are as human beings.

Was it because I thought of them as somehow mentally challenged? Nope. It seems that most of the challenges that transgender people have to deal with come from other people who can’t accept them. And apparently, I’m one of them.

So why did I automatically discount someone who was transgender from being a speaker at an event I’m considering? The answer wasn’t hard to find: I was concerned that their status as a “transgender” person would get in the way of whatever their topic might be. It’s a real concern; I’ve seen it happen. A transgender person states an opinion or presents research on something, and the comments reflect on the person’s gender identity rather than what they’re saying.

And then I slapped myself hard, and wrote this article. Prejudice isn’t always generated by malice. I certainly bear no malice towards people who are transgender. But I am prejudiced just the same, and the end result is just as harmful. I am helping to perpetuate the idea that transgender people can’t fulfill the same roles that cisgendered people can. And that is the very definition of “bullshit.”

Fortunately, I have curiosity on my side. I don’t need to be defensive. I don’t need to hide my prejudice under a cloak of rationalization or anecdotes. I just need to recognize it for what it is, and then decide what I’m going to do to overcome it.

Curiosity can be a cure for prejudice. Or at the very least, it can be a treatment. And I invite you to try it the next time you catch yourself in a snap-judgement that’s based more on reaction than insight. Put away your horror, shame and defensiveness and replace them with a desire to learn more about what’s going on. You, and truly the entire world, will be better for it.

And now I have some work to do.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the term “transgendered” is not accurate, and that “transgender” is more appropriate. I’ve updated the text and added an update to the audio. That’s one more thing I learned today.

 

faceofprejudice

The Face of Prejudice

 

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As I was idly thinking about future College of Curiosity events, my mind wandered to potential speakers and contributors I might invite. I put together a mental list of qualifications and desirable characteristics and went down the folks I knew who see... College of Curiosity yes 3:32 5680
2-37. A Reward http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-37-a-reward/ Mon, 04 May 2015 14:52:28 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5672 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-37-a-reward/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-37-a-reward/feed/ 0 My e-mail is full of invitations to do things. Come to this conference! Travel to this place! Try this restaurant! I find it easy to weed through most of them with the thought “never heard of it.” And while most things of this nature are spam, sometimes it’s a good idea to take a closer […]

My e-mail is full of invitations to do things. Come to this conference! Travel to this place! Try this restaurant! I find it easy to weed through most of them with the thought “never heard of it.” And while most things of this nature are spam, sometimes it’s a good idea to take a closer look.

I received such an e-mail from someone I met at a conference who expressed an interest in the things I was doing. It was an invitation to see a play called “Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara.” It looked like some sort of musical tribute to a lounge act, and initially I was inclined to discard it with everything else. I did a quick bit of research and found out that “Louis” was “Louis Prima,” a name I had heard but didn’t know much about. I had no idea who “Keely” was.

On a whim, I asked my wife if she’d like to go, and as our schedule was open, she said “Sure, why not?”

The answer to “Why not?” is… it might be a waste of time. It was a gamble—we were risking an afternoon, which to me, is no small thing. I would be unhappy if this turned out to be something cheesy and boring.

I did a bit more research and learned that the opening scene featured a man in a coma. That seemed a very strange way to open a tribute act, but it also pushed me over the edge. There was something interesting here, and I decided to find out what it was.

My wife and I arrived at the theater to learn that we were not the typical guests. Being in our mid-40s, we found ourselves quite a bit younger than the rest of the audience, and not by a little bit. Images of Lawrence Welk filled my head as we took our seats. And then the lights dimmed, and a man in a hospital bed was wheeled out onto the stage. It was time for his sponge bath.

For the next 90 minutes, we sat in rapt attention as we laughed and cried at one of the best performances we’d seen in a long time. We learned who Louis Prima and Keely Smith were. We got a glimpse into a type of music that’s rarely performed anymore, and we came away enriched. Seeing this production made us more than we were going in.

I’ll not say much about the show because it’s my hope that you’ll see it too, but one of my favorite moments was this: an expletive was uttered by one of the characters, and some of the audience gasped. Yes, a swear word was shocking enough to cause an audible reaction in the audience. When was the last time that happened? Fascinating.

At any rate, I encourage all people to go to concerts by bands they’ve never heard of, go to movies without seeing the trailers, and buy books without reading the reviews. As a side note, Elizabeth’s Books in Sydney, Australia offers something called “Blind date with a book.” The book is wrapped in paper and string, and only a brief description is offered. You buy the book not knowing what it is. Like a blind date, you don’t know what you’re going to get, but it could be something wonderful. Or not.

And if it’s not, you’re still more than you were before. Seeing a bad act or reading a bad book may not be immediately pleasurable, but it will still open you up for new experiences and connections down the line.

So take a chance from time to time. And if you happen to see Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

So much more than expected

So much more than expected

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My e-mail is full of invitations to do things. Come to this conference! Travel to this place! Try this restaurant! I find it easy to weed through most of them with the thought “never heard of it.” And while most things of this nature are spam, College of Curiosity yes 3:51 5672
2-36. This Band Sucks! http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-36-this-band-sucks/ Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:21:22 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5654 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-36-this-band-sucks/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-36-this-band-sucks/feed/ 1 Dude, that band sucks. How can you listen to that garbage? That’s a pretty common way to describe something you don’t like. But isn’t there a difference between quality and preference? Do they really “suck,” or do you just not like them? It really doesn’t matter what band or artist we’re talking about, if you […]

Dude, that band sucks. How can you listen to that garbage?

That’s a pretty common way to describe something you don’t like. But isn’t there a difference between quality and preference? Do they really “suck,” or do you just not like them? It really doesn’t matter what band or artist we’re talking about, if you Google your favorite band and the word “sucks,” you’ll find responses. However, we must pick an example.

It’s become popular amongst some of my friends to consider “The Eagles” to be the worst band ever. Yes, even worse than Nickelback, Milli Vanilli or any other act that you make fun of despite their selling millions of records.

Given that they’re one of the most successful music acts in history with 17 top 40 hits, how exactly do the Eagles “suck”? As musicians? I don’t feel qualified to judge the quality of a musician, but the Eagles certainly sound like they know how to sing and play their instruments.

Is it the originality of their music? They’ve been copied so many times, it’s hard to know what original means.

I read some reviews about why the Eagles “suck,” and what I found weren’t criticisms of the music, but rather criticism of the people in the band. They’re too serious, they’re pretentious, rich, liberal, womanizing, etc. But those aren’t comments on the art, they’re comments on the artists. And if history has shown us anything, it’s shown us that bad people can make popular and enjoyable art.

So, I propose a simpler, more honest way of talking about art. Instead of saying “They suck,” try saying “I’m not a fan” or if you’d like to be stronger, “I really don’t like their stuff.” You’re then making a statement of truth, and if you’re looking to engage in a conversation, you’ve opened up the question “why don’t you like them?” rather than “Why do they suck?”

And really, do you think you can defend “suck”?

 

What is "suck," anyway?

What is “suck,” anyway?

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Dude, that band sucks. How can you listen to that garbage? That’s a pretty common way to describe something you don’t like. But isn’t there a difference between quality and preference? Do they really “suck,” or do you just not like them? College of Curiosity yes 2:25 5654
2-35. You Know This Woman http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-35-you-know-this-woman/ Fri, 10 Apr 2015 14:10:46 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5643 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-35-you-know-this-woman/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-35-you-know-this-woman/feed/ 2 She was born Charlotte Beysser, and if I showed you her picture, you’d say “Well of course, everyone knows her.” And yet you don’t know her name. There are a few faces that most people in the world know, but there are only a very few that belong to 19th century women. Can you think […]

She was born Charlotte Beysser, and if I showed you her picture, you’d say “Well of course, everyone knows her.” And yet you don’t know her name.

There are a few faces that most people in the world know, but there are only a very few that belong to 19th century women. Can you think of one? Would you recognize Louisa May Alcott or Harriet Beecher Stowe? How about Carrie Nation? There’s more hope there, as most history books have a picture of her wielding a hatchet in her attempt to drive alcohol from the land.

Here’s an interesting exercise. Google image search the term “famous 19th century men” and look at the results. See anyone you know? In my search, I recognized more than a dozen. Now do the same search, but with the term “famous 19th century women.” I couldn’t positively identify any. I did correctly guess Florence Nightingale and Susan B. Anthony. But the rest, I confess that even when they were identified by name, I didn’t know who they were.

But back to Charlotte Beysser. She was born in 1801 in France, and her original birth name was Augusta Charlotte Beysser. That’s no help, so maybe it’s helpful to mention that she had a son named George Washington? Oh, and her married name was Bartholdi.

Here’s another hint, she was made famous by two men, the more well-known of the two being none other than Gustave Eiffel, creator of the tower that bears his name. But still, this isn’t enough. While Eiffel is well known for his tower, he’s lesser known for an equally famous work that he built to the orders of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a sculptor who was very impressed with the Sphinx when he visited Egypt. So impressed was he that he designed a massive lighthouse to stand near the Suez Canal, but could find no one to back the plan.

So he pitched it to the United States, and after many years of fundraising, they agreed and the 151 foot tall statue of a woman was constructed and sent across the Atlantic in pieces. Pieces of the colossus were displayed in various cities in the Northeast, but the part that brings us back to Charlotte Beysser was dedicated in 1886. It is a statue of Liberatas, the Roman Goddess of liberty. And her face, based on comparisons to portraits, is that of Charlotte Beysser Bartholdi, the designer’s mother. And this is why there is at least one 19th century woman’s face that you can recognize.

As a side note, some Bartholdi scholars dispute this fact, but if you look at pictures of Charlotte, there is a strong resemblance. If Bartholdi didn’t base the face on his mother, who also acted as his agent, he was certainly influenced by it. As for the arm, that belonged to his wife Jeanne-Emilie, so yes, now you can say that you recognize the arm of a 19th century woman, as well.

You know her, but not her name.

You know her, but not her name

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She was born Charlotte Beysser, and if I showed you her picture, you’d say “Well of course, everyone knows her.” And yet you don’t know her name. There are a few faces that most people in the world know, but there are only a very few that belong to 19t... College of Curiosity yes 3:24 5643
2-34. Digging the Mound http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-34-digging-the-mound/ Thu, 09 Apr 2015 13:45:55 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5638 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-34-digging-the-mound/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-34-digging-the-mound/feed/ 0 Brian Lazzaro is a curious man, and when he first heard about the earthen mound located in his home town of Park Ridge, Illinois, he was curious why it was there. Illinois is the second flattest state in the US, and as the town’s name suggests, any elevation at all generates interest. The unassuming mound […]

Brian Lazzaro is a curious man, and when he first heard about the earthen mound located in his home town of Park Ridge, Illinois, he was curious why it was there.

Illinois is the second flattest state in the US, and as the town’s name suggests, any elevation at all generates interest. The unassuming mound in a local backyard had to have a reason behind its existence.

Lazzaro is a history buff and an amateur archaeologist, but he was smart enough to know that a professional archaeologist was needed to prevent damage to the site. University of Illinois archaeologist Kevin McGowan was called in to supervise the dig.

And dig they did. Near the surface, artifacts appeared. A bit of coal, probably left over from heating a nearby house. A penny, a political button, some broken pottery… and then stone flakes.

Stone flakes are indicative of Native American activity. Larger rocks were hammered down into spear and arrow heads, and the hard flakes stayed pretty much where they landed. Could this be a burial mound?

That’s a common thought when a mound is found in Illinois. Illinois is home to Cahokia, an impressively large mound city near St. Louis. Mounds here tend to be manmade, and those men could very well have been Native Americans.

Or, they could be landscapers. The core of the mound was determined to be filled with soil, and nothing else. The current theory is that the mounds were built to enhance the landscaping in this well-to-do Chicago suburb.

Lazzaro’s curiosity had uncovered an abandoned raised flowerbed.

The stone flakes are so common that they’re indicative of very little. Native Americans had been hunting in this area for thousands of years.

But here’s where things get interesting. Lazaro wasn’t disappointed: he was satisfied. HIs curiosity had paid off, even if it wasn’t in the direction he was anticipating. And while the mound no longer holds the mystery it once did, it provides insight into other mysteries that will present themselves in the future.

Curiosity is most often described as an emotion, but it can also be a behavior. And our hat, or pith helmet, is off to him and the others who helped solve this mystery.

Source: Chicago Tribune – Dig unearths truth behind Park Ridge ‘burial mound’

 

Sometimes curiosity is satisfied by NOT finding this

Sometimes curiosity is satisfied by NOT finding this (Photo by Herb Roe.)

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Brian Lazzaro is a curious man, and when he first heard about the earthen mound located in his home town of Park Ridge, Illinois, he was curious why it was there. Illinois is the second flattest state in the US, and as the town’s name suggests, College of Curiosity yes 2:35 5638
Oddments 22 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-22/ Wed, 08 Apr 2015 18:10:55 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5631 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-22/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-22/feed/ 0 This week, we’ll explore some Missing UFOs, Any Color (So Long as It’s Black), the Shellfish Conundrum, and Art-O-Mats. But first, it’s time for a Mother and Child Reunion, presented to you by one Paul Simon. REFERENCES MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION THE MISSING UFOS ANY COLOR SO LONG AS IT’S BLACK THE SHELLFISH CONUNDRUM ART-O-MAT […] This week, we’ll explore some Missing UFOs, Any Color (So Long as It’s Black), the Shellfish Conundrum, and Art-O-Mats. But first, it’s time for a Mother and Child Reunion, presented to you by one Paul Simon.


REFERENCES

MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION

THE MISSING UFOS

ANY COLOR SO LONG AS IT’S BLACK

THE SHELLFISH CONUNDRUM

ART-O-MAT

If you have a question, comment or recipe, please send them to jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Commentary by Jeff Wagg
Theme song by Fisher Wagg
Additional music from bensound.com and Trent Brusky

 

 

shellfish

What do these have in common? It’s not the sea…

 

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This week, we’ll explore some Missing UFOs, Any Color (So Long as It’s Black), the Shellfish Conundrum, and Art-O-Mats. But first, it’s time for a Mother and Child Reunion, presented to you by one Paul Simon. College of Curiosity yes 14:57 5631
2-33. The Dance of Pedestrians http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-33-the-dance-of-pedestrians/ Tue, 07 Apr 2015 15:12:58 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5624 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-33-the-dance-of-pedestrians/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-33-the-dance-of-pedestrians/feed/ 0 One travels for many reasons, but experiencing other cultures is usually found among them. And while driving in other countries is always a bit difficult, it’s well known that former colonies of the British Empire present a greater challenge as they drive on the left. I’ve made the decision not to drive in countries where […]

One travels for many reasons, but experiencing other cultures is usually found among them. And while driving in other countries is always a bit difficult, it’s well known that former colonies of the British Empire present a greater challenge as they drive on the left.

I’ve made the decision not to drive in countries where successful navigation requires me to act out a mirror image of my instincts. both for my safety and the safety of the general public. But I noticed that I have other instincts that are problematic in these countries.

First off, crossing the street is a hazard. You must look RIGHT for oncoming traffic, not left. In Sydney and London at least, there are signs in the crosswalks warning visitors of this. I found that most tourists just ended up looking both ways several times, and nervously stepping out into the street. But it turns out that there is cultural difficulty even if you stay on the sidewalk.

On our recent field trip to Sydney, Australia, I found that pedestrians were constantly “getting in my way.” At least that’s how it seemed to me. Sometimes it felt as though they deliberately moved in front of me. I stopped in a doorway and just watched for a bit… and found that there was a rather chaotic dance going on. Nearly everyone walked down the middle of the sidewalk, but when two parties met each other, the sides they chose varied. Sometimes they would spilt to the right, others they would split to the left. I could make no sense of this until I realized that people drove on the left here. Is it possible that they also walked on the left?

I asked our excellent guide Alex and he said that yes, you’re supposed to walk on the left. This is in contrast to London, where, though they drive on the left, they walk on the right. But in Sydney, international city that it was, there were so many people from countries that walk on the right that pedestrian activities turned into a bit of a dance. I observed this pattern several times: a walker goes to the right, then to the left, then to the right… as though they’re weaving the pattern of DNA on the sidewalk.

The city of Melbourne is trying to take action to encourage people to walk on the left, as the city council called right side walking “a daily threat” to the city’s livability.

After learning that left was the rule, I tried very hard to keep to the left… but it was futile. Not only was it difficult to remember after a lifetime of walking on the right, locals pegged me as an American quite often, and adjusted their stride as they expected me to move to the right. I was forced to dance whether I wanted to or not. In the end, I think that the custom of walking on a particular side of the street has less meaning here, as the rule can’t be reinforced due to the international makeup of pedestrians.

I did finally find a bit of a solution: walk slower. I tend to walk very fast, and this leaves no time for people who are approaching me to adjust. Walking slower gave other folks a chance to react. But that’s the best bit of advice I have. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In Sydney, the Romans are dancing, and you might as well resign yourself to joining in.

Waltzing in Sydney

Waltzing in Sydney

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One travels for many reasons, but experiencing other cultures is usually found among them. And while driving in other countries is always a bit difficult, it’s well known that former colonies of the British Empire present a greater challenge as they dr... College of Curiosity yes 3:35 5624
2-32. Reading in Dreams http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-32-reading-in-dreams/ Fri, 03 Apr 2015 15:48:10 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5607 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-32-reading-in-dreams/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-32-reading-in-dreams/feed/ 1 Start with this clip from Batman: The Animated Series episode called “Perchance to Dream.” In the episode, recurring villain Scarecrow Mad Hatter places Batman in a dream state, but Batman figures this out when he tries to read a newspaper… and can’t. Until very recently, and by very recently I mean this morning, I thought it […]

Start with this clip from Batman: The Animated Series episode called “Perchance to Dream.”

In the episode, recurring villain Scarecrow Mad Hatter places Batman in a dream state, but Batman figures this out when he tries to read a newspaper… and can’t.

Until very recently, and by very recently I mean this morning, I thought it was impossible to read in dreams. Batman’s oversimplified explanation has no scientific basis, but it is widely believed that reading in dreams isn’t possible.

This morning, I dreamt that I had received an odd packet in the mail. It was a jumble of documents, some demanding money, some showing money paid, and finally I found the text of a lawsuit. I know I was able to read it in my dream because I remember seeing that my name was spelled “Jeff Eagg” and I remember reading that I had allegedly paid $9 towards a $2,200 bill. I can remember the text, its position on the page, and the quality of the font.

After the relief of this being just a dream, I sat up and thought “I just read in a dream.” And off to Google I went.

If you’ve ever experienced “lucid dreaming,” that is the ability to control your actions in a dream, you may have wondered if you were dreaming. There are two good ways to answer this question. 1) Have you ever asked that question when you were awake? Probably not. And 2) Try to read something.

I’ve done this test and found that I couldn’t read anything. I could see the text, but it was much as is depicted in the Batman episode: just waves of lines and shapes with no actual words.

But I did read in a dream… what does that prove? Not much at all. Scientific American ran an article by Jordan Lite in 2010 called How Can You Control Your Dreams? In it, Jordan interviewed psychology professor Deirdre Barrett, author of the book The Committee of Sleep. She explains that for those folks who actually can read in dreams, they’ll likely encounter difficulty and only pick up a few words. In fact, that’s what I had experienced.

I suspect that rather than actually reading (after all, there wasn’t anything real to read!) I was dreaming that I was reading, and now, I’m just remembering that portion of the dream.

It’s a subtle difference, but it boils down to this: Trying to read requires your brain to interpret text, and dreaming that you’re reading doesn’t.

I can assure you that if you’re reading this, you are awake. If you’re listening to it in podcast form, well, I can’t be so sure.

 

A fairly accurate representation of reading in a dream

A fairly accurate representation of reading in a dream

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Start with this clip from Batman: The Animated Series episode called “Perchance to Dream.” In the episode, recurring villain Scarecrow Mad Hatter places Batman in a dream state, but Batman figures this out when he tries to read a newspaper… and can’t. College of Curiosity yes 3:33 5607
2-31. The Three Z-Lands http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-31-the-three-z-lands/ Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:27:20 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5591 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-31-the-three-z-lands/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-31-the-three-z-lands/feed/ 0 One aspect of being curious is asking simple questions. For example, if there is an England, surely there must be “Engs.” And is Ireland really a land of anger? The answer, it turns out, is yes, there were people called the “Engs,” roughly, who came from a land shaped like a fish hook, and no, […]

One aspect of being curious is asking simple questions. For example, if there is an England, surely there must be “Engs.” And is Ireland really a land of anger? The answer, it turns out, is yes, there were people called the “Engs,” roughly, who came from a land shaped like a fish hook, and no, Ireland is not named for induced rage but rather for a goddess.

New England gets it’s name from the old England. And there is actually a New Ireland, and it’s found in Papua New Guinea. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the new is better than the old.

But one place that deserves a question is New Zealand. Where, exactly, is old Zealand? England and Ireland are more well-known than New England and New Ireland, though New England is doing OK for itself. But at least in the U.S., very few people have heard of old Zealand, making New Zealand the clear winner in popularity.

It turns out that there are three Z-lands. Zealand, spelled with an ‘A,’ is the largest island in Denmark. It’s also called Sealand, which, given that it it’s an island, is a fine name.

Zeeland, with an “E” is a province of the Netherlands. And despite the spelling, it’s this place that New Zealand is named for. Those of us who were on the recent College of Curiosity field trip to Oceania will note that I got this wrong during our scavenger hunt. Oh, and it’s almost completely below sea level, helping to give the Netherlands (the low-lands) its name.

New Zealand was named by Dutch explorers in honor of the province.

But there is an even simpler question that remains unanswered. It’s quite common in New Zealand to refer to their country as En Zed, as in .NZ for Internet domains. Yes USAians, most of the world says “zed” for “z.”

Given that, shouldn’t they call their country New Zedland? Well, no… because that’s someplace else. Zedland is the slang term for the West Country of England, including Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

So there you have it… a simple question can often lead to a complex answer, and of course, each answer leads to more questions. I wonder why that is…

(Some music from bensound.com)

 

Z. Yes, that's the flag for Z.

Z. Yes, that’s the flag for Z.

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One aspect of being curious is asking simple questions. For example, if there is an England, surely there must be “Engs.” And is Ireland really a land of anger? The answer, it turns out, is yes, there were people called the “Engs,” roughly, College of Curiosity yes 2:38 5591
2-30. The Cave Behind The Church http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-30-the-cave-behind-the-church/ Wed, 01 Apr 2015 18:07:55 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5577 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-30-the-cave-behind-the-church/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-30-the-cave-behind-the-church/feed/ 0 There were no tours that day, and all I had to go on was an Internet post that said “Go to the cave. It’s behind the church.” Sure, why not? We walked down the island’s only road and found the church easy enough. The door was open, and inside was a smattering of Catholicism, with […]
Let me ease your pain

Let me ease your pain

There were no tours that day, and all I had to go on was an Internet post that said “Go to the cave. It’s behind the church.” Sure, why not? We walked down the island’s only road and found the church easy enough. The door was open, and inside was a smattering of Catholicism, with broken panes of stained glass, and an intricately carved altar depicting a large man struggling under the weight of the ceremony. As instructed, we headed behind the church.

We were first greeted by a man in shorts and flip flops. He was not smiling. Every 10 seconds he would yell ‘paella’ which was odd since the residents of the Loyalty Islands speak French. 10AM was a bit early for lunch, so I tried to ignore him and head down the path mysterious marked “cave”—in English, but his shouts of “paella’ grew stronger. And then I noticed he was holding a gun.

The Paella Bunch

The Paella Bunch

This “gun” of his was made of plastic, and it was obvious that he had bitten off the orange “not really a gun” safety mechanism. Still, his eyes were completely devoid of welcome. Fortunately, someone who spoke English came up and said ‘You pay here.” Ahh. Paella means “Paya Here.” After negotiating some bizarre currency conversions, I managed to get by them for about $4.15 US. There was nothing indicating that this was an official transaction, and it may have simply been the toughest gang in the area extracting their tax, but we were in no position to demand non-existent rights.

So down the path we went. As there was nothing commercial about this, our expectations were pretty low. We’d probably end up at a hole in a rock, where if we were lucky we could climb around a bit. We were wrong.

After crossing a narrow path, we came to an overlook. Somehow, we’d managed to gain quite a bit of altitude since we got off the ship, though none us remember climbing anymore than the small hill by the dock. And yet, we could look over the edge and see down at least 100 feet.

Steep.

Steep.

Further down the path we learned why. We weren’t heading for a cave… we were heading for a cenote. This is a sinkhole formed in dissolving limestone, and it’s a feature associated with Mexico more than the South Pacific.

After a final push through the foliage we saw it, a large deep bowl hundreds of feet across, with a very rough path descending into its depths. A limp, wet rope showed us the way.

It’s at this point that some of us began to have doubts, for who goes down, must come up, and this was a very steep affair. Still, we carefully stepped and slipped down the rock, surrounded by limestone cliffs covered with vines, bromeliads, unidentified flowers and the occasional lizard. I noticed that more people were going down than were coming up, which seemed ominous.

The cave

The cave

At the bottom we reached a feature found in most caves: the “fat man’s misery.” Holding on to whatever gear we had, we sidled through the rocks like careful crabs and found yet more stairs, but these led into the dark. We had apparently found “the cave.”

The legend of this cave mentions a “leap of faith.” Other than a firm shelf, the cave is completely filled with water. Still water. Still, black water. Without light, you can’t see below the surface at all. And our instructions were to jump, if we dared.

Fortunately for us, someone at some point installed a light directly over the water. It’s source of power was as much as mystery as the water itself, but it did allow me to see at least 14 feet into the completely clear water. It would be safe to jump if one was careful.

Tough to take a picture of

Tough to take a picture of

The group looked at me. “Are you going to do it?” I walked to the edge and looked down. There were some jagged rocks directly below me, but they could be easily avoided. The water was very deep, and unlikely to harbor any life. So, I decided to ignore all my fears and jump.

The initial shock of cold water wasn’t that bad, in fact it felt nice after climbing down the cenote, but I noted something that didn’t give me any comfort at all: the water was fresh, not salt. That means i was swimming in an untreated pool of water that many other tourists had visited. I was treading water in a disease vector.

I decided that was enough of a dip, and headed to the side, only to realize that there were no stairs out—just a worn rope. I did have enough upper body strength to haul myself out, but it wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario where someone would be stuck in this clear, deep, pool.

With me safe on land, a few others jumped in and some spent quite a bit of time there. It was rather pleasant, until the other tourists found the spot and it became too crowded. Damp and exhilarated, we left the cave and started the climb up to the land.

On board the ship that afternoon, I googled “Lifou” and “cenote” and discovered an article called “Death Cenote of Lifou.” But the death wasn’t for us, it was for a mysterious group of Nautilus shells found at the bottom in the 19th century. These are saltwater creatures; what were they doing in a freshwater pond? Did someone just toss them in there? The answer is a bit stranger… they were trapped there when the cave lost its access to the sea. Radiocarbon dating shows the shells are all about 700 years old, and they had lain on the bottom for six hundred years perfectly preserved.

This was the highlight of the trip for me, and though it seems unlikely that I’ll ever get back to Lifou, my memories, like the nautilus shells, are perfectly preserved. If you see a sign with the word “cave” pointing down a dark path, you should probably follow it. That way lies wonder (and possibly death.)

(Some music from bensound.com)

 

From Nautilus Death Cave Project

From Nautilus Death Cave Project

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There were no tours that day, and all I had to go on was an Internet post that said “Go to the cave. It’s behind the church.” Sure, why not? We walked down the island’s only road and found the church easy enough. The door was open, College of Curiosity yes 6:39 5577
2-29. The Curiosity of Magic http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-29-the-curiosity-of-magic/ Tue, 31 Mar 2015 17:51:24 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5574 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-29-the-curiosity-of-magic/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-29-the-curiosity-of-magic/feed/ 0 Magic, that is conjuring illusions, has been a popular form of entertainment since the beginning of entertainment. It’s true purpose isn’t to fool people; it’s to show them a what a world with actual magic would look like. Some have abused their abilities and proclaimed themselves to be actually “magic.” These folks can be found […] Magic, that is conjuring illusions, has been a popular form of entertainment since the beginning of entertainment. It’s true purpose isn’t to fool people; it’s to show them a what a world with actual magic would look like.

Some have abused their abilities and proclaimed themselves to be actually “magic.” These folks can be found reading palms or talking to dead people, but the things they do are well known to magicians who employ them for the purposes of entertainment.

When you see a person on stage ask for seven numbers, and then open an envelope sealed before the show to reveal those seven numbers, you’ve witnessed “magic.” Without the explanation, your experience is exactly the same as if you lived in a world where magic existed. This is a joyous thing, and it’s what makes magic shows fun.

But the same skill can be used to fool people into believing falsehoods. “I saw him predict the number… I’ll bet he can predict the lottery too. He says he’ll give me the number if I pay him. How can I lose?”

You WILL lose, because it’s a trick. And with that knowledge, it’s logical to conclude that we should reveal how such tricks are done so that the vulnerable in our society don’t fall for such scams. But if we do so, we also risk ruining the wonder that comes from a proper performance of the principle by an honest magician.

Magic shows are a place where we don’t want our curiosity satisfied. You feel like really want to know “how they did that,” but I promise you that once you know, you’ll be disappointed. Most magic is simple and ugly, and boils down to something like “they moved it when you weren’t looking.” You’re not being made a fool of, you’re being entertained by a skilled performer. But you are being made a fool of if that performer says they’re the real thing, and that they have something to offer you.

How can we keep the wonder of magic and combat those who would defraud us from our money? Just remember that there are no such things are magic, psychics or mediums. Anyone who says there are is either a deluded person, or a fraud. They may be famous and popular. They may have books and TV shows. But so did Dr. Seuss, and no one is claiming that Horton really heard a Who.

 

Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.

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Magic, that is conjuring illusions, has been a popular form of entertainment since the beginning of entertainment. It’s true purpose isn’t to fool people; it’s to show them a what a world with actual magic would look like. College of Curiosity yes 2:43 5574
2-28. The Glowing Forests of Franz Josef http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-28-the-glowing-forests-of-franz-josef/ Mon, 30 Mar 2015 22:10:52 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5563 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-28-the-glowing-forests-of-franz-josef/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-28-the-glowing-forests-of-franz-josef/feed/ 0 We’re back after an epic journey across Oceania. After touring parts of Australia and New Caledonia, some of us went on to the south island of New Zealand. This is a wild land, covered with forests, mountain ranges, and glaciers, which they pronounce as glass-ee-ers. Base camp for the most popular glacier is in Franz […]
We’re back after an epic journey across Oceania. After touring parts of Australia and New Caledonia, some of us went on to the south island of New Zealand. This is a wild land, covered with forests, mountain ranges, and glaciers, which they pronounce as glass-ee-ers.
Base camp for the most popular glacier is in Franz Josef, a town named after the Austrian Emperor by its first European discoverer. And while glaciers are interesting, it was something else we were searching for.
New Zealand is home to a peculiar species of fungus gnat which spends most of its time in the larval form. Imagine a large wooden matchstick, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what they look like. But at night, their heads give off a blue glow.
 Most people encounter them in caves, and there are guided tours available in several locations. But after talking to some locals, we learned that we might be able to see some not far from our hotel.
We set out after a hearty meal, and walked a dark forest trail. I encouraged everyone to keep their lights off so that we might have the best chance at seeing something glowing. The path was barely visible, but it was enough light to keep us from wandering into the brush. The woods were nearly silent. There were no crickets or insects, and the only sound was our footsteps and the occasional cry of an unidentified bird.
After about 200 yards, we saw what we were looking for: the woods were alight with what seemed like dim, pale blue Christmas lights. They seemed to cluster under overhangs, such as at the base of a fallen tree. I can only describe the quality of the light as “clean.” The lights didn’t blink, though some of them did fade and grow brighter very slowly. The comparison to stars is probably the closest.
And this brings us to an interesting situation: you likely can’t imagine what I’m describing to you. Photography of these luminous creatures is extremely difficult, and those that exist tend to overstate their brightness. My compadres and I have had an unsharable experience. But this is also good news… you live in a bigger world than your computer can show. No wikipedia entry, video, or oculus rift session can duplicate the experience we had that night. If you want to share, you’ll have to go there.
There are wonders in the world, and you can see them. This is just one of many, but if you ever find yourself in Franz Josef, New Zealand, a walk in the woods could help you realize that some events have to be experienced first hand. All we can do is point the way.

 

The woods are silent, and glowing.

The woods are silent, and glowing.

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We’re back after an epic journey across Oceania. After touring parts of Australia and New Caledonia, some of us went on to the south island of New Zealand. This is a wild land, covered with forests, mountain ranges, and glaciers, College of Curiosity yes 3:11 5563
2-27. Purple Prisms http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-27-purple-prisms/ Thu, 05 Mar 2015 15:51:59 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5546 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-27-purple-prisms/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-27-purple-prisms/feed/ 0 While wandering the streets of San Antonio recently, I was delighted to find so many purple prisms embedded in the sidewalks, especially in the area near Alamo Plaza. Most people probably think these are old decorative tiles as they walk over them without noticing, but they’re actually sidewalk lights or vault lights for allowing sunlight […]

While wandering the streets of San Antonio recently, I was delighted to find so many purple prisms embedded in the sidewalks, especially in the area near Alamo Plaza.

Most people probably think these are old decorative tiles as they walk over them without noticing, but they’re actually sidewalk lights or vault lights for allowing sunlight into the basements of the buildings in the area. They were often shaped like prisms so that light would spread out once it reached the basement. They are based on deck prisms, which were used on ships, especially in areas where flames would be dangerous.

I was fortunate enough to find one that had been broken out. And doing what anyone would have done, I poked my phone in the hole and took a picture. What was down there you ask? I’ll tell you: old rags and paint cans. What else did you expect to find in a basement?

There’s one odd thing though… why are they purple? After all, purple isn’t going to let as much light through as clear gas, so why would they bother using what was probably more expensive glass just for the sake of decoration?

In fact, they didn’t. The original installation, which probably happened in the early 1900s, used clear glass. And the glass wasn’t replaced: it was photochemically altered. Before 1915, American glass companies used manganese in their glass formula in order to clarify and stabilize the glass. What they didn’t know was that UV light caused the manganese to oxidize and turned purple. The process took years, and now such glass is known as “sun glass” and is sought after by collectors.

So if you see a piece of purple glass in the sidewalk, take a moment to realize that you’re looking at something over 100 years old, placed by someone who thought they were putting a piece of plain glass in place. The mundane can become beautiful given time.

 

The secret underground beneath the prisms...

The secret underground beneath the prisms…

Purple Prisms in the sidewalk of San Antonio

Purple Prisms in the sidewalk of San Antonio

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While wandering the streets of San Antonio recently, I was delighted to find so many purple prisms embedded in the sidewalks, especially in the area near Alamo Plaza. Most people probably think these are old decorative tiles as they walk over them with... College of Curiosity yes 2:10 5546
Oddments 21 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-21/ Thu, 05 Mar 2015 00:13:01 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5543 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-21/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-21/feed/ 0 This week, we’ll take a look at drying hands, begging the questions, what it means to be a pirate, and how you can win the lottery. REFERENCES Restroom Evolution Begging the Question Pirates of the Prairie State How to Win the Lottery If you have a question, comment or recipe, please send them to jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com. Commentary […] This week, we’ll take a look at drying hands, begging the questions, what it means to be a pirate, and how you can win the lottery.


REFERENCES

Restroom Evolution

Begging the Question

Pirates of the Prairie State

How to Win the Lottery

If you have a question, comment or recipe, please send them to jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Commentary by Jeff Wagg
Theme song by Fisher Wagg
Additional music from bensound.com

 

 

Original photo by Alberto Gottardo

Original photo by Alberto Gottardo

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This week, we’ll take a look at drying hands, begging the questions, what it means to be a pirate, and how you can win the lottery. REFERENCES Restroom Evolution Begging the Question Pirates of the Prairie State How to Win the Lottery If you have a que... College of Curiosity yes 15:07 5543
2-26. Art-o-mat http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-26-art-o-mat/ Tue, 03 Mar 2015 15:57:20 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5532 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-26-art-o-mat/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-26-art-o-mat/feed/ 1 There was a time when vending machines were chic. Entire restaurants called automats featured complete meals vended course by course from coin operated glass doors. Today, soda and snack machines are common, and weird Japanese machines get a lot of press. But the big moneymaker in vending was cigarettes, especially from machines found in bars. […]

There was a time when vending machines were chic. Entire restaurants called automats featured complete meals vended course by course from coin operated glass doors. Today, soda and snack machines are common, and weird Japanese machines get a lot of press. But the big moneymaker in vending was cigarettes, especially from machines found in bars.

These once ubiquitous devices enticed nicotine-craving patrons to drop a few coins into the slot, which allowed them to choose one of ten or twenty different brands. Most places in the United States have outlawed the use of cigarette vending machines, as they couldn’t discriminate the legal age of the person using it.

Cigarette boxes and packs are nearly all the same size, and the machines took advantage of this. However, now that cigarette vending machines are illegal, what could these machines be used for? Since they’re sized for cigarettes, and very few other products come in that size, it seems they’re all destined for collectors and scrap piles.

Enter Art-o-mat! Or rather, enter Clark Whittington. Way back in 1997, he had the idea of repurposing a recently banned machine. After a fresh paint job and the creation of a box exactly the same size as a cigarette pack, Clark had created the first Art-o-mat. The original machine dispensed black and white photographs for $1.00.

Though this first incarnation was supposed to be a temporary exhibit, it proved to be so popular that he decided to democratize it, and allow other artists to create art for the machines. It works like this: at 90 locations around the world, you can buy tokens, usually for $5, that allow you to choose one of ten or twenty different types of art. You might purchase earrings, small figurines, photographs, drawings, flip books, sculptures—basically anything that an artist can fit inside a cigarette pack sized box. The creators are known collectively as “Artists in Cellophane.”

And then an interesting thing happens. As you stare at the machine, you have the thought: is this really worth $5.00? To help you make your decision, let me propose this: in the few locales where cigarette machines are still allowed, a pack of Marlboros will set you back $10.00. You could have two, creative, permanent pieces of art for the same price as a pack of cigarettes. Suddenly, $5.00 seems like a bargain.

And it is. In the three different art products I’ve sampled from the machines, the value was far more than the $5.00 dropped through the slot. This art is done for art’s sake, and you can be a part of it… IF you can find a machine.

Artomat.org has a machine locator. We found ours in San Antonio. There’s one in Chicago, and there are six at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. If you don’t live near enough to a machine, you can also order cartons of 20 packs from the website. Don’t worry, we won’t judge. We can understand the addiction.

Choose your brand and feed your addiction.

Choose your brand and feed your addiction.

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There was a time when vending machines were chic. Entire restaurants called automats featured complete meals vended course by course from coin operated glass doors. Today, soda and snack machines are common, College of Curiosity yes 3:29 5532
2-25. The Shellfish Conundrum http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-25-the-shellfish-conundrum/ Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:03:13 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5521 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-25-the-shellfish-conundrum/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-25-the-shellfish-conundrum/feed/ 0 Note: it has been pointed out to me that this article can give the impression that there is only one, all-inclusive shellfish allergy. That is not the case: one can be allergic to just crustaceans or just mollusks. Never assume that someone isn’t allergic to “shellfish” because you see them eating some. Way back in […]

Note: it has been pointed out to me that this article can give the impression that there is only one, all-inclusive shellfish allergy. That is not the case: one can be allergic to just crustaceans or just mollusks. Never assume that someone isn’t allergic to “shellfish” because you see them eating some.

Way back in 1997, my then 18 month old son was enjoying a complicated dish of Asian seafood, when his face blew up like Violet Beauregarde chewing Willy Wonka’s experimental gum. Off we went to the Emergency Room, and after some oxygen and Benadryl, we were instructed to follow up with an allergist. A complicated series of food restrictions followed, we learned that he was allergic to shellfish. This is a very serious allergy which can cause deadly anaphylaxis. Some people are so sensitive that even being in the same room as shellfish is risky. I took the warnings seriously.

Having taken a lot of biology in college, I asked the allergist what exactly “shellfish” meant. After all, it’s a culinary term, not a taxonomic one. Shellfish include species such lobsters and shrimp, but also things like clams and mussels. Why would “having a shell” cause something to hyperallergenic? These were totally different species, and even their shells were made out of completely different materials.

It turns out that no one knew until the mid-1990s. But the pattern was clear, and the allergist was right: people who are known to be allergic to shrimp, for example, are often allergic to clams and mussels, even though there was no clear connection between crustaceans and mollusks, except that they live in the sea. Tuna fish live in the sea too, but they don’t cause reactions in people with shellfish allergies, so the sea isn’t the connection. What could it be?

Allergies are caused by the body overreacting to a protein. Scientists surmised that there must be some protein that crustaceans and mollusks share, and in 1993, they found it: it’s called tropomyosin. In fact, they found several, but tropomyosin is the one that seems to be responsible for most reactions. It’s a protein found in most animals, but it’s found in greater concentrations in mollusks and crustaceans.

It turns out that it’s also found in great concentrations in insects as well, but as few people eat them in our culture, the allergy hasn’t been expanded to “shellfish and bugs” allergy. But it does include things we don’t think of a shellfish, such as octopus and squid. They’re mollusks, just like clams, and they also have the protein in large concentration.

So, in this one instance, the culinary world knew something that science didn’t: the classification of “animals that live in the oceans and have shells” is a useful one, even if it has nothing to do with the evolution of species. As for my son, he’s been able to avoid eating shellfish for 18 years now, and though he’ll likely have to avoid them for the rest of his life, he can at least know why. And also why he should avoid chocolate covered ants and fried crickets that are popping up in novelty shops.

 

shellfish

Other than being tasty, what do these have in common? (Photo by Frits Hoogesteger)

 

 

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Note: it has been pointed out to me that this article can give the impression that there is only one, all-inclusive shellfish allergy. That is not the case: one can be allergic to just crustaceans or just mollusks. College of Curiosity yes 3:06 5521
2-24. Any Color So Long As It’s Black http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-24-any-color-so-long-as-its-black/ Mon, 23 Feb 2015 16:18:45 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5508 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-24-any-color-so-long-as-its-black/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-24-any-color-so-long-as-its-black/feed/ 0 Henry Ford is quoted as saying “You can have any color you want so long as it’s black.” And like so many quotes, there is dispute that it was ever said. Fortunately, no one is ascribing it to Mark Twain. But whether Ford said it or not, he certainly did write it. It’s in his book My […]

Henry Ford is quoted as saying “You can have any color you want so long as it’s black.” And like so many quotes, there is dispute that it was ever said. Fortunately, no one is ascribing it to Mark Twain.

But whether Ford said it or not, he certainly did write it. It’s in his book My Life and Work, published in 1922. The entire quote is as follows:

Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning, that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to be “Model T,” and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars, and I remarked: ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.’

What’s odd about this statement is that Model T’s were available in a variety of colors, at least until 1915. In fact, up until that point, black wasn’t even an option! But from 1915 to 1925, black was the only option. But why?

A common answer given to this is that black was chosen because it was fastest to dry. Fast drying paint, meant less time on the production line, and as we all know, Ford was all about efficiency. There’s a problem with this argument though: while some black paints do dry quickly, Ford didn’t use just one on his cars. In fact, a Model T completed between 1915 and 1925 would have had as many as 30 different kinds of black paint on it, all with different drying times.

While it’s possible that some key component such as the body benefited from a quick drying time, and that all the other other parts were painted black to match, it’s likely that the reason black was chosen was much simpler: it was a cheap, forgiving paint. By painting everything black, Ford didn’t have to worry about having his production line retool for different colors. He also didn’t have to worry about batches of paint being slightly different, and any nicks or scratches could be easily painted over. This argument gets a boost from the fact that during the years 1915-1925, the automobile was undergoing a transition from a luxury that only the wealthy could afford, to something an everyday person might have. The value, then, was in getting as many cars out as possible, and there was no need to lure someone in with a pretty paint color.

In 1926, Ford introduced Green and Red in order to offer some variety and compete with other car companies who were gaining market share. In 1927, the Model T was available in 10 colors, including black and four shades of green. That would be the last year of Model T production, as it was replaced by the Model A, a much more substantial vehicle with twice the top speed and a wide variety of body types and yes, colors.

 

Ford does not approve. (Photo by Oast House Archive)

Ford does not approve. (Photo by Oast House Archive)

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Henry Ford is quoted as saying “You can have any color you want so long as it’s black.” And like so many quotes, there is dispute that it was ever said. Fortunately, no one is ascribing it to Mark Twain. But whether Ford said it or not, College of Curiosity yes 3:11 5508
2-23. The Missing UFOs http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-23-the-missing-ufos/ Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:48:37 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5498 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-23-the-missing-ufos/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-23-the-missing-ufos/feed/ 0 The first “Flying Saucer” was reported in 1947 when pilot Ken Arnold reported seeing something in air shaped like a “saucer,” “disc,” or “pie-plate.” The media picked it up, and soon there were thousands of sightings across the world. Countless movies and TV series have been made on the subject, and reports still come in, […] The first “Flying Saucer” was reported in 1947 when pilot Ken Arnold reported seeing something in air shaped like a “saucer,” “disc,” or “pie-plate.” The media picked it up, and soon there were thousands of sightings across the world. Countless movies and TV series have been made on the subject, and reports still come in, but far fewer than during the 1950s or 1970s.

The question is… why?

One conclusion would be that the aliens have simply stopped visiting us, but there is another explanation that makes more sense. Ever since the 1980s, video cameras have been extremely common. Today, nearly everyone has a high-quality recorder in their pocket in the form of a smart phone. With all these cameras out there, visiting aliens should be caught more often—and less blurry than ever before. In short, more better cameras should equal more better images of aliens visiting us.

But we don’t have them. And the answer could be simply because everyone has cameras. More camera ownership means more understanding of how they work, and how easy it is to make something odd appear. There is less chance for blurry images, which means things are easier to identify. A UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) filmed in the 1950s could be a flock of birds or a group of mylar balloons today.

We also have the government admission that many of the UFO sightings in the past were experimental aircraft such as the stealth bomber. They were happy that the public was seeing aliens rather than their latest equipment.

Of course, none of this means that aliens aren’t visiting us—there just isn’t any reason to believe that they are. Our current understanding of physics seems to prohibit the type of long-range travel that would be needed for beings from another planet to visit us.

And finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the old adage, “Believing is seeing.” In order to see something, you have to believe it’s there. Once someone plants the idea that those specks in the sky are aliens, you can believe that they are. Fewer media sources and movies are planting that idea today, and instead have replaced them with such things as “chemtrails.”

Fortunately for us, the only thing it takes to dispel these beliefs is a little bit of curiosity, and a little bit of time.

 

Fata Morgana, an explanation for some UFO sightings. (Photo by By Timpaananen)

Fata Morgana, an explanation for some UFO sightings. (Photo by Timpaananen)

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The first “Flying Saucer” was reported in 1947 when pilot Ken Arnold reported seeing something in air shaped like a “saucer,” “disc,” or “pie-plate.” The media picked it up, and soon there were thousands of sightings across the world. College of Curiosity yes 2:44 5498
2-22. Mother and Child Reunion http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-22-mother-and-child-reunion/ Wed, 18 Feb 2015 17:33:48 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5489 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-22-mother-and-child-reunion/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-22-mother-and-child-reunion/feed/ 1 Mother and Child Reunion was Paul Simon’s first release as a Garfunkel-less solo artist more than forty years ago, and it has a number of strange elements that aren’t apparent at a first listen. Paul said he wrote this song in response to the loss of his pet dog in a traffic accident. He had […] Mother and Child Reunion was Paul Simon’s first release as a Garfunkel-less solo artist more than forty years ago, and it has a number of strange elements that aren’t apparent at a first listen.

Paul said he wrote this song in response to the loss of his pet dog in a traffic accident. He had never felt such loss before and needed to find a way to express the thought that maybe some day they’d be reunited. But the song refers to mother and child, so how does that relate to his dog?

It doesn’t. It relates to Chinese food. In many Chinese restaurants in the US, a dish comprised of chicken and eggs is called “Mother and Child Reunion.” Let that sink in a bit. Paul noticed this and decided to use it as the theme for a song, and when he thought of being reunited with his beloved pet, this “reunion” came to mind.

I can’t help but recall Deuteronomy 14:21.

But the oddity of this catchy tune doesn’t stop there. It turns out it was the first popular recording from a well-known white artist performed in “reggae” style. It was recorded in Jamaica with Jimmy Cliff’s band. This song paved the way for acts like The Clash and The Police to use reggae as part of their signature style.

But why would a song about a dead dog and Chinese food be recorded in reggae style? One story says that this song is a response to Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam,” which tells the tale of a mother learning that her son had been killed in the war.

If you consider that the song is about the immeasurable loss of a loved one, it all makes some sort of sad and cathartic sense.

The song reached number 5 on the US charts, but managed to hit number 3 in Norway and number 1 in South Africa.

 

More than it seems

More than it seems

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Mother and Child Reunion was Paul Simon’s first release as a Garfunkel-less solo artist more than forty years ago, and it has a number of strange elements that aren’t apparent at a first listen. Paul said he wrote this song in response to the loss of h... College of Curiosity yes 2:31 5489
2-21. How to Win the Lottery http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-21-how-to-win-the-lottery/ Thu, 12 Feb 2015 16:17:13 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5455 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-21-how-to-win-the-lottery/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-21-how-to-win-the-lottery/feed/ 3 The lottery has been called a “tax on people who can’t do math.” The odds of winning the lottery are terrible. But, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! You pretty much can’t win if you do play, either. New Jersey and many other states use a parimutuel wagering system. For every […] The lottery has been called a “tax on people who can’t do math.” The odds of winning the lottery are terrible. But, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! You pretty much can’t win if you do play, either.

New Jersey and many other states use a parimutuel wagering system. For every dollar bet, 50¢ goes to the state, and the remaining 50¢ is split among the winners.

The average take for winners in the New Jersey Pick 4 is $2,768.50. The max was $5159 and the lowest payout was only $536. Here’s an interesting thing: the higher wins tend to be when higher numbers are picked. The lowest wins tend to begin with the number 1. In fact, none of the top 100 payouts of the last two years started with 1. Why? Because people tend to play numbers that have meaning. Anniversaries and birthdays begin with 1 frequently, as in 1970 or 1225 for Christmas, so more people play those numbers. That means you have to share your winnings with more people. The number picked is random, so since you have the same chance of any number winning, it makes sense to choose a number that no one else is likely to pick. 8632 will win more money than 1970 simply because fewer people will have picked it. You should also avoid patterns, and beginning with the numbers 0 or 2.

Also, the day you play matters. You’ll win more money on a pay day than the day just before pay day. Why? More people playing means more money in the pot, and people can only play when they have money. While this also means more people to share money with, if you’ve chosen an unusual number, you’ll come out ahead with more money in the system.A very simple way to look at the lottery is this: You’ve got 1 in 10,000 odds of winning less than $2800, on average. If you play 10,000 games, you’ll spend $10,000 and only win $2,800, on average. The state, on the other hand, is taking $5,000 and paying nothing other than overhead. If you can run a lottery like this, you’ve got a good deal.

In that spirit, today, we’ll be launching something new: The College of Curiosity Pick 4 Daily Lottery! You can play, and chances are, you’ll win. In fact, unlike most lotteries, the odds are heavily in your favor.

Here’s how it works in our system: You pick any four numbers. Every day, take $1, and put it in a jar. Then, watch the results of the New Jersey Pick 4 Midday.

If your number comes up, I’m sorry, you’ve lost. Today, you would have lost $2,787. But don’t worry, you don’t have to pay that money; you just don’t receive it.

Now, if your number didn’t come up, and there’s a 9,999 out of 10,000 chance that it didn’t, you have won $1. If that doesn’t seem like much, consider that in a year of your number not coming up, which is statistically likely, you’ll have won $365, depending on the year. In ten years, if your number doesn’t come up, you’ll have won $3,652.

But you might think, 10 years is a long time. Surely I would have hit the lottery in all those years. Statistically, it’s unlikely that you would. In 10 years, 3,652 out of 10,000 numbers will be drawn. Some of them could be duplicates, though this is unlikely. That means that if you bet the same four-digit number every day, you have about a one in three chance of winning the lottery in 10 years for an average amount of $2,768.50. In the College of Curiosity lottery, you have a 2 in 3 chance of winning $3,652, nearly $1,000 more than if you won the lottery in that time.

One important difference: if you play the New Jersey lottery every day, you could win more than once. In fact you could win every single day. The odds of doing so define the term “astronomical.”

But you say, math is hard! This doesn’t make sense. And to be fair, I’m way oversimplifying things. In fact, the odds are worse that I’m indicating, and I’m ignoring things like interest and taxes.

But let’s play it out in the real world. College of Curiosity will play our new lottery on collegeofcuriosity.com (using the numbers picked from the New Jersey Pick-4 Midday). And you can play too! The only rule is that you have to stay with the same number so we can compare the results consistently.

We’ll keep a running total of how much we’ve won using our lottery on the site. You keep a total of how much you win (or would have one). If you’d like to make it public, we’ll add your name and number to our web page and we can compare.

You might say, duh, why do this? Everyone knows the lottery is a fool’s game. Yes, many people know that, but judging from the $2.8 billion that New Jersey took in last year, many don’t. And some also think it’s fun to have a number to look at every day to see if you’ve won. The College of Curiosity Lottery provides the fun with better odds, and zero chance of losing actual money.

Our number will be 5 6 7 1, chosen by rolling dice with Siri. Some of the more curious among you will know why we chose that number. Others will have an interesting time on Wikipedia today. We searched back to February 11th of 2014, and this number didn’t come up. If we’d started playing a year ago, we’d be ahead by $261 already.

Let the winning begin! And good luck to everyone, though if you have the choice between favorable odds and a wish for good luck, we suggest taking the odds.

Lottery marketing is designed to make people abandon reason and embrace emotion

Lottery marketing is designed to make people abandon reason and embrace emotion

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The lottery has been called a “tax on people who can’t do math.” The odds of winning the lottery are terrible. But, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play! You pretty much can’t win if you do play, either. College of Curiosity yes 6:30 5455
2-20. Pirates of the Prairie State http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-20-pirates-of-the-prairie-state/ Mon, 09 Feb 2015 16:42:21 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5442 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-20-pirates-of-the-prairie-state/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-20-pirates-of-the-prairie-state/feed/ 0 Our fascination with pirates continues unabated. Most people are aware that our fantasized notion of peg-legs and parrots is the construct of 18th and 19th century authors. People don’t romanticize aboutmuggers, but that’s essentially what most pirates were: people who would use force to take your property, often with grave violence.And they weren’t always found […] Our fascination with pirates continues unabated. Most people are aware that our fantasized notion of peg-legs and parrots is the construct of 18th and 19th century authors. People don’t romanticize aboutmuggers, but that’s essentially what most pirates were: people who would use force to take your property, often with grave violence.And they weren’t always found on the ocean. During the time of the Alamo, Santa Anna referred to the Texians as “pirates” as they were, in his eyes, stealing land and resources by force.

In Illinois, pirates lived in a cave by the river. The appropriately named town of Cave-In-Rock has a cave in the rock that towers over the Mississippi river. For years, this cave was the hideout for bandits and brigands who would lure unsuspecting boaters up to their lair and ambush them, stealing their property and their lives. Several different groups of robbers called this rock home, and each was wiped out by bands of local lawmen. The reality quickly grew to legend, and the pirates of Cave-In-Rock are portrayed in the equally legendary Davy Crockett movies, and are even found at the Magic Kingdom, having been recreated on Tom Sawyer’s island. Crime is entertaining.

Stories of “true crime” have fascinated audiences for centuries, but pirates hold a special place in our hearts. In popular culture, our sympathies often lie with the criminals, so long as they’re “pirates.” Very few of us are sympathetic to the street mugger who grabs a purse or takes a wallet at gun point. Car jacking, a form of highway piracy, is reviled. But in the end, what’s the difference?

 

 

The cave of Cave-In-Rock. (Photo by By Daniel Schwen )

The cave of Cave-In-Rock. (Photo by By Daniel Schwen )

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Our fascination with pirates continues unabated. Most people are aware that our fantasized notion of peg-legs and parrots is the construct of 18th and 19th century authors. People don’t romanticize aboutmuggers, College of Curiosity yes 2:12 5442
2-19. Begging the Question http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-19-begging-the-question/ Thu, 05 Feb 2015 17:09:34 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5428 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-19-begging-the-question/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-19-begging-the-question/feed/ 1 You’ve heard the term “Begs the Question” before. Taken at face value, it seems to mean… “You’ve made a statement that forces me to ask this question.” As in, you’re “begging for a questionto be asked.” For example, stating that I brought a zebra to work the other day “begs the question” of “Why did […] You’ve heard the term “Begs the Question” before. Taken at face value, it seems to mean… “You’ve made a statement that forces me to ask this question.” As in, you’re “begging for a questionto be asked.” For example, stating that I brought a zebra to work the other day “begs the question” of “Why did you bring a zebra to work?” or “Where did you get a zebra.”However, when we go back to the Latin root of the phrase, “petition principii,” we find that it means “back to the original point.” So, the proper use of “begs the question” would be as follows:

“The Bible is the word of God because it says it is.”
“That begs the question. Revelation can not successfully support its own veracity.”

If you happen to be writing an academic paper and use the phrase “begs the question” in the informal common usage I first mentioned, you’ll likely be marked down for it. But if your chatting with friends at a local watering hole, what should you do when you hear the phrase used as I did in the zebra example?

Some say you should correct the person and let them know that they’re using the phrase improperly. Others say that how the phrase is used is de facto what the definition is. Words have no defined meaning, they just mean what people use them to mean.

And therein lies a conundrum for the curious. As there is no official body dictating the correct usage of the English language, and many words have changed their meaning completely over time, what do we do with phrases like “beg the question?”

One answer is to ignore them. If you hear someone use the phrase, you should be able to tell which meaning they’re using by the context of the conversation. In the Bible example above, an explanation is given as to why “The Bible is true because it says it is” begs the question. That’s likely to be the case whenever that usage is meant. In the more common usage, it’s also obvious as the question that is being “begged” or asked for, is then stated.

So for the curious, there isn’t a problem of communication. There’s a problem of “being correct.” If you wish to align with the prescriptivists who believe that there are hard set rules for language, that’s a valid choice. But it’s equally valid to align with the descriptivists who believe words are defined by their usage. And it’s completely possible to stay outside of both camps, and live with the reality that words are used in different ways, and people can have strong opinions of them.

 

 

Original photo by Alberto Gottardo

Original photo by Alberto Gottardo

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You’ve heard the term “Begs the Question” before. Taken at face value, it seems to mean… “You’ve made a statement that forces me to ask this question.” As in, you’re “begging for a questionto be asked.” For example, College of Curiosity yes 2:45 5428
2-18. Restroom Evolution http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-18-restroom-evolution/ Mon, 02 Feb 2015 17:30:26 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5416 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-18-restroom-evolution/#comments http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-18-restroom-evolution/feed/ 1 Last week’s theme was…. TERRORISM. Yes, the Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism. While it didn’t result in any direct deaths, it did contribute to two bloody wars and it was certainly an illegal act. And that’s enough of themes for a while. Let’s try something new. Let’s try more curiosity and less […] Last week’s theme was…. TERRORISM. Yes, the Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism. While it didn’t result in any direct deaths, it did contribute to two bloody wars and it was certainly an illegal act.

And that’s enough of themes for a while. Let’s try something new. Let’s try more curiosity and less fact spewing. Here goes…

Some friends of mine were nice enough to invite me out to a small venue performance. As happens in a place where fermented beverages are sold, I felt the need to visit the facilities. Upon completion of my appointed rounds, I went to the sink, washed my hands and then… laughed.

Attached to the wall next to the sink was a machine with a cloth towel hanging out of the bottom. Folks my age and older will know this as a “continuous roll towel.” The idea seems solid… you dry your hands on the comfortable cotton towel, and the next patron pulls down on the cloth to get a new clean section for their use. It’s not a loop; when the last clean piece has been used, the towel retracts into the casing. Periodically, the roll is replaced by a new roll.

This new standard of hygiene was pretty common in the 1950’s and 1960’s before it was replaced with paper towels and the infamous “push button, receive bacon” style of hand dryers. These are usually white and have a single button that when pressed, releases a rather weak stream of warm air. These will dry your hands, but it takes about 90 seconds, which is about 80 seconds longer than anyone is willing to spend on the task. But they were advertised as being more hygienic than continuous rolls because they could never run out, and people wouldn’t accidentally use a towel that someone else used.

Fast-forward to today, and we have new options, including the Excelon which produces a cool but very strong force that loudly dries your hands in a few seconds. We also have the Dyson Blade, which uses a laminar flow to strip water from your hands if you execute a dipping motion into its well marked channel.

Yay! We live in the future! But living in the future also means we know about germ theory, aerosols, and how bacteria can spread. And a recent study from the University of Leeds shows that our newest form of convenient drying spreads more than four times as much bacteria than the old-style air dryers, and a whopping twenty five times more than paper towels. So, if the goal of drying hands with air dryers is to reduce the spread of disease, the concept may be misguided.

Paper towels seem to be the most hygienic, but they’re wasteful, can run out, and are the most expensive option. So what’s a hygiene conscious patron of public facilities to do?

For better or worse, you probably won’t have a choice. It’s a rare bathroom that has more than one option, so your choice boils down to using what’s availalbe, drip-dry, or the very common wipe-your-hands-on-your-pants-and-hope-no-one-notices technique.

And consider this: If you’re in a room with the new dryers, you’re already exposed to the air, so you might as well dry your hands. And if you’re worried about bacteria in the air, you really shouldn’t be. You’ve been exposed to most of these bacteria your entire life, and to be delicate, every toilet flush increases the population of airborne wildlife. Auto-flushing toilets often use higher pressure, and that too contributes to the problem.

As for me, I’m just going to do what I need to do. Trying to protect oneself from every bacillus leads to more mental distress than is likely to come from exposure. It’s a risk-reward calculation, and the ratio has a risk so low that the reward, preventing a possible disease, has odds akin to Powerball.

 

Striped for your protection.

Striped for your protection.

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Last week’s theme was…. TERRORISM. Yes, the Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism. While it didn’t result in any direct deaths, it did contribute to two bloody wars and it was certainly an illegal act. And that’s enough of themes for a while. College of Curiosity yes 4:12 5416
Oddments 20 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-20/ Sat, 31 Jan 2015 20:36:12 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5413 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-20/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/oddments-20/feed/ 0 This week, we’ll take some of the things the TSA finds, the “Man of the Year,” Guy Fawkes masks and a cup of tea. REFERENCES The TSA Man of the Year Why Guy Fawkes? Boston Tea If you have a question, comment or recipe, please send them to jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com. Commentary by Jeff Wagg Theme song […] This week, we’ll take some of the things the TSA finds, the “Man of the Year,” Guy Fawkes masks and a cup of tea.


REFERENCES

The TSA

Man of the Year

Why Guy Fawkes?

Boston Tea

If you have a question, comment or recipe, please send them to jeff@collegeofcuriosity.com.

Commentary by Jeff Wagg
Theme song by Fisher Wagg
Additional music from bensound.com

 

 

Remember, remember, the 16th of December...

Remember, remember, the 16th of December…

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This week, we’ll take some of the things the TSA finds, the “Man of the Year,” Guy Fawkes masks and a cup of tea. REFERENCES The TSA Man of the Year Why Guy Fawkes? Boston Tea If you have a question, comment or recipe, College of Curiosity yes 9:53 5413
2-17. Boston Tea http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-17-boston-tea/ Fri, 30 Jan 2015 17:24:00 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5399 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-17-boston-tea/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-17-boston-tea/feed/ 0 The British are taxing our tea! We’ll show them! Over the side with it boys! Let’s turn Boston Harbor into the biggest cup o’ tea in history!And so the story goes, and unlike many legends, this one is true. American colonists did raid several ships full of tea for the East India Company and throw […] The British are taxing our tea! We’ll show them! Over the side with it boys! Let’s turn Boston Harbor into the biggest cup o’ tea in history!And so the story goes, and unlike many legends, this one is true. American colonists did raid several ships full of tea for the East India Company and throw it overboard. Some colonists even dressed as Native Americans to disguise themselves.So hooray for that American spirit! We should fight all instances of governments lowering taxes and providing cheaper tea.

Yes, that’s what really happened. The British government removed all duties from tea provided by the East India Company to the Americas, while maintaining the tax on Colonial importers. This meant that Americans would have cheaper tea across the board.

It was an ingenious plan. Cheaper tea makes the grumbly Americans happy. Check. Cheaper tea makes smuggling less profitable. Check. Cheaper tea makes it harder for the colonists businesses to grow and gives them less power. Check.

What could go wrong? Well, it wasn’t so much the everyday people who were up in arms about their new cheaper tea, it was the wealthy merchants and importers who demanded representation in matters concerning tax law. If they had that representation and were successful in swaying parliament, the East India Company would have been subjected to the same tax as everyone else, and the price of tea would have gone up.

So in reality, the Boston Tea Party was a revolt against larger corporations receiving lower taxes, which is just about the opposite of what the current Tea Party is in support of.

As for me, I’m a coffee drinker anyway.

 

East India Tea Company - They Pass on the Savings to You!

East India Tea Company – They Pass on the Savings to You!

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The British are taxing our tea! We’ll show them! Over the side with it boys! Let’s turn Boston Harbor into the biggest cup o’ tea in history!And so the story goes, and unlike many legends, this one is true. College of Curiosity yes 2:31 5399
2-16. Why Guy Fawkes? http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-16-why-guy-fawkes/ Thu, 29 Jan 2015 16:03:41 +0000 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/?p=5391 http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-16-why-guy-fawkes/#respond http://collegeofcuriosity.com/2-16-why-guy-fawkes/feed/ 0 There’s a reason why you see Guy Fawkes masks everywhere, and that’s quite simply: the movie V For Vendetta. In the film, the maskswere used as a sign of opposition to the government—which makes a lot of sense, since Guy Fawkes—who preferred his nom de guerre Guido Fawkes—literally tried to blow up the British government […] There’s a reason why you see Guy Fawkes masks everywhere, and that’s quite simply: the movie V For Vendetta. In the film, the maskswere used as a sign of opposition to the government—which makes a lot of sense, since Guy Fawkes—who preferred his nom de guerre Guido Fawkes—literally tried to blow up the British government in the Gunpowder Plot.He was captured, tortured, and committed suicide moments before his scheduled execution. Annually, on Guy Fawkes day, his effigy was burned in public, complete with the now famous mask. This was largely an anti-Catholic celebration, and though it continues today in an abated form, it’s original meaning has been for the most part lost. In recent years, the loose hacker group Anonymous has adopted the mask as their uniform, and it’s a popular Halloween costume.

But was Guy or Guido a hero of the people, trying to throw off the chains of a repressive government? The answer can only be “yes” if you’re Catholic and a fan of the brutal form of Catholicism practiced by Spain in the early 17th century. Fawkes was one of 13 conspirators trying to overthrow the British government so that a Catholic monarch could be installed. He was literally trying to replace one repressive government with another, not exactly what we see in V for Vendetta, or what the goals of Anonymous are described as.

Knowing these details gives the mask a whole new meaning: if you beat the government, what fills the gap?

Next time we’ll enjoy a cup of Boston Harbor Tea.

Guido Fawkes, Catholic Extremist Terrorist

Guido Fawkes, Catholic Extremist Terrorist

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There’s a reason why you see Guy Fawkes masks everywhere, and that’s quite simply: the movie V For Vendetta. In the film, the maskswere used as a sign of opposition to the government—which makes a lot of sense, College of Curiosity yes 1:58 5391