by BD Mitchell
Rated: E · Book · Educational · #2105953
One hundred facts that are interesting but ultimately useless.
A Catalogue of Useless Facts
- introduction -
Whether I'm at work or out with friends, I have a reputation as the person who knows things. Not useful things, mind you; not once has it been profitable to know the reason why dogs have wet noses, or the meaning of the linguistic term "glottal stop", or the difference between a bug and an insect. If anything, all the aimless wandering on Wikipedia keeps me from finishing my other writing projects.
But there is a purpose to this eclectic mishmash of trivia, and it ties into my own major philosophy: stuff is interesting. The world is often rough and depressing, but if I can find one neat little factoid, everything seems a little less meaningless.
And this brings us to the point of this blog. Lately, it feels like my various newsfeeds are full to bursting with anger and bickering. As a generally positive person, I wanted to counteract this in some way -- only I'm not so adept with inspirational quotes or pithy wisdom. What I can offer, though, are useless facts.
Over the past few months, instead of filing these accidental info-bits in some dusty corner of my brain, I've been taking notes. Before long, I had enough for a solid month of trivia. I collected a few more and thought instead I'd do a "Factoid Friday" every week for a year. But I'm a curious person by nature, and can't help but stumble on new things. Maybe I'm eating lunch one day, I suddenly wonder where ketchup comes from, and bam! I learn something new!
So here come the facts. They may be short, or they may be long. They may cover language, biology, history, mythology, or any number of other subjects. Many of you may know some of these, and some of you may know many of these. But hopefully, at least once between now and the time my collection runs dry, you'll be inspired to say, "Huh! That's actually kind of interesting!"
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Pliny the Elder
- history / literature -
Gaius Plinius Secundus (a.k.a. "Pliny the Elder") was a Roman philosopher and naturalist most famous for his authorship of the world's oldest surviving encyclopedia, the Naturalis Historia. Pliny's family was a wealthy one, which afforded him a varied and thorough education. During a reasonably successful military career -- during which he met and was befriended by two future Roman emperors, Vespasian and Titus -- Pliny wrote books on many subjects.
The Historia was first completed in 77 AD, when Pliny was stationed as a naval commander in the port city of Misenum. Consisting of thirty-seven books, Pliny's encyclopedia included a wide array of subjects -- including astronomy, geography, physiology, biology, medicine, mineralogy, and more -- as well as extensive source citations and even personal editorial opinions. Pliny would continue to revise and amend his Historia for the remainder of his lifetime.
In 79 AD, across the bay from Pliny's post at Misenum, the volcano Vesuvius erupted. Pliny prepared a fast ship -- at first with the intention of observing the phenomenon. When the disaster quickly worsened, Pliny the Elder launched his entire fleet to evacuate civilians fleeing the eruption. While the rescue mission was successful to a degree, Pliny died during the effort, succumbing to a combination of toxic fumes and complications from his poor health.
Pliny the Elder was survived by his nephew -- Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the Vesuvius disaster from Misenum and provided the only first-hand written accounts -- and by his many scholarly writings. The Naturalis Historia in particular became greatly influential on the methods and formats of later encyclopediae.
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- biology -
While natural cleaning sponges are often made from the skeletal structures of actual marine animals from the sponge family (phylum Porifera), the traditional loofah is not. Loofahs are actually obtained from the cucumber-like fruit of the luffa plants (most commonly Luffa aegyptiaca). Luffa fruit are only edible before they are ripe -- when they are fully matured, they consist mainly of seeds inside a thick, fibrous system of cellulose strands. Drying the ripe fruit will remove any remaining flesh and seeds, leaving only a rough, durable mass that can then be used as a cleaning sponge.
- history / symbology -
Prior to the mid-1500s, barbers had duties beyond treating and trimming hair. As barber-surgeons, they were also responsible for many minor medical procedures, most notably the catch-all remedy of bloodletting. Though barbers have since been banned from surgical practices, the traditional red-and-white stripes of the barber pole remains as a reference to barber-surgeons and the blood and bandages of their trade.
- symbology -
No modern-day country uses purple as a main color on its national flag. In fact, purple only appears in two instances at all -- the flag of Nicaragua (as detailing on a rainbow) and the flag of Dominica (in a representation of a sisserou parrot).
The current flag of Qatar was originally intended to be purple-red (as a blended reference to the tradional red flag and the region's historical production of purple dye) but the color-distorting effect of the desert climate led to an eventual redesign, resulting in the modern, maroon flag.
- etymology -
The word "okay" most likely derives from New England slang abbreviations in the mid-1800s, particularly from Boston and New York. The popular trend was to take a simple two- or three-word phrase (e.g. "all correct"), deliberately misspell it ("oll korrect"), and abbreviate to two letters ("O.K.").
The First TV Show
- history / technology / theatre -
The first broadcast of a television drama occurred on September 11, 1928. "The Queen's Messenger", a 40-minute melodrama produced by a General Electric network, was filmed and transmitted from Schenectady, New York. Because of the smaller screens of the time, three strategically-placed cameras had to be used to capture the performance, with the director controlling the live feed via a simple set of controls.
On July 14, 1930, the first British teleplay -- "The Man with the Flower in his Mouth" -- was broadcast by the BBC over a system developed by television pioneer John Logie Baird.
Ball o' Bees
- biology -
The Japanese honeybee (Apis cerana japonica) has an unusual tactic for dealing with predatory hornets that invade their hive. Stingers are less effective against an opponent with an exoskeleton, so the honeybees will instead swarm and envelope the intruder in a "bee ball". By vibrating their muscles at high frequency, the bees cause a rapid spike in temperature (45° C / 113° F) and a massive increase in carbon dioxide levels. The combined heat and CO2 concentration will typically kill the hornet within five minutes.
- etymology -
The word "car" (most commonly referring to a modern automobile) derives through Middle English, Old French, and Latin from the Gaulish word "karros" (meaning "wagon"). It is a cognate of "chariot" and "courier", and ultimately comes from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to run".
The Underwater Waterfall
- geology / landmarks -
The Denmark Strait cataract is an underwater landmark between the landmasses of Greenland and Iceland. Despite lying under the ocean, it can be considered the biggest waterfall in the world. Denser cold water at the top of the cataract sinks immediately in the warmer water beneath, resulting in an average flow of 175 million cubic feet per second falling nearly 11,000 feet. These statistics surpass both the flow of Niagara Falls (approx. 85,000 cu ft/s) and the height of Venezuela's Angel Falls (approx. 2,600 ft).
The World's Best Voice-Actor
- biology -
The vocal organs of the Australian superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are perhaps the most complex of any bird species. As a result, lyrebirds are capable of perfectly mimicking not only other local bird species, but also camera shutters, electric drills, barking dogs, and car alarms.