Today I Learned

A few items I've learned recently.

  1. Khronos, Cronus, Aeon, and sometimes Phanes

    In Greek mythology Khronos was the primordial god of time who emerged self-created at the dawn of time. He is also known as Aeon, and some versions he is merged with Phanes.

  2. Captain Cook

    When Captain Cook went ashore to Australia in 1770 the native inhabitants simply ignored him. While his ship and technologies were an immense interest to the Tahitians, the Australians just went about their day. Later he opined that it might have been that they were content with their lives and had no need of anything the Europeans could offer.

    Cook's superiors told him that his encounters with the native people should be respectful and in no way like the Spanish Conquistadors 200 years earlier.

  3. German U-boats

    215 German U-boats (33%) in WWII were lost on their first patrol. Of the total 859 U-boats that sailed on war patrols, 648 were lost (75%).

    To confuse Allied submarine hunting planes using radar, German U-boats deployed hydrogen-filled radar decoy balloons with 100 foot lines tethered to a sea buoy. The line had long aluminum strips that mimicked the radar signature of a submarine. The subs would deploy these and run away.

  4. Helen of Troy

    Before she eloped with Paris, Helen of Troy (née Helen of Sparta), had a daughter with her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, named ... Hermione.

    Helen of Troy and her sister Clytemnestra were hatched from an egg resulting from the union of Zeus, disguised as a swan, and Leda a Spartan Queen. Also born of an egg, Helen's brothers Castor and Pollux, known as the Dioscuri ("sons of Zeus"), were placed in the sky as the constellation Gemini.

  5. D-Day Landing

    During the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 some of the defending German/Czech/Ukrainian troops simply ran out of ammunition. The Atlantic Wall cost Germany $206 billion in today's dollars and only held up the Allies a few hours. The Reich would have been better served by not building their Atlantic Maginot Line, and spending the money on something else; fortunately they didn't.

  6. Last Locus Swarm

    In the summer of 1873 a traveling cloud of locusts 3,000 kilometers by 180 kilometers darkened the sky and completely devastated the crops in the US midwest. Although the plague of locusts had happened regularly before, the insects never came back. Speculation is that the small breeding ground in the river valleys of Montana and Wyoming was plowed under and the larva pushed too deep for them to emerge into the air.

  7. Adam Smith

    He was kidnapped by Gypsies as a four year old boy. His uncle (Adam's father had died before his birth) pursued the gypsy band and in their haste to flee, they left little Adam by the roadside. It's hard to imagine the Scottish Renaissance and the growth of Britain without Adam Smith.

  8. Tiger Camouflage

    Although the tiger's orange and black stripes are very noticeable to us trichromatic humans, most of their prey is dichromatic and cannot distinguish between orange and green, so tigers are well hidden.

  9. The Ancients

    In 1907 Yoshitaro Shibasaki and his team ascended the last unclimbed mountain in the Japanese archipelago only to find a 1,000 year old sword at the peak.

  10. Nails

    Your fingernails do not all grow at the same average rate of 0.7 millimeters a week. The nails on your dominate hand grow about 10% faster. The nails on your longer fingers grow faster. Your fingernails grow three to four times faster than toenails. Children's nails grow twice as fast until they reach puberty. Pregnant women have faster growth in their nails and hair due to a hormonal boost of their metabolism.

  11. Rust

    The US spends 3% of its GDP fighting corrosion.

  12. Third party candidates sometimes help elect their least favorite officials

    In the US election of 1844, pro-slavery Democratic candidate James Polk ran against Whig Henry Clay. Although Clay was a slave holder himself, he was against expansion of slavery in the West. The third party candidate James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty Party siphoned enough votes away from Clay to get Polk elected.

    Interestingly Joseph Smith and Brigham Young ran in the election of 1842.

  13. Back in the 19th century, to make the oak suitable for ship production, other species such as ash, elm, maple, beech and silver fir were planted between the rows, to force growth up rather than spreading out.

  14. Some languages have no words for "left" and "right"

    Guugu Yimithirr has no words for "left" or "right". Instead they use the cardinal directions, like "Look at the animal to your North".

  15. Some languages have no words for "yes" and "no"

    Some Celtic languages like Irish have no words for "yes" and "no". Instead they use an "echo" response. For the affirmative, simply repeat the verb "Got milk?", "Got". For the negative, preface the verb with a negative, "Got milk?", "Not got".

    The same is true in Biblical Hebrew. When King David asks "Is the child dead?", the servants reply, "Dead". Ancient Hebrew had a word for "no", but not "yes".

  16. The term 'soda water' for carbonated beverages, like Dr. Pepper, may be from the European practice of adding sodium bicarbonate to these drinks to help with indigestion.

  17. Cupid gave Harpocrates, the Greek god of Silence, a rose to insure Cupid's mother Aphrodite's many indiscretions would be kept quiet. This is the origin of our word "sub rosa" meaning to keep secret or quiet. Roses were carved into banquet hall roofs to signify that the wild things that happened would be "sub rosa". A medieval form of "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." (It is just a coincidence that Harpo Marx never spoke - although Gracho claimed Harpo was named after Harpocrates, Harpo was named for playing the harp.)

  18. People born blind do not suffer from schizophrenia, but losing sight later in life increases the chance of schizophrenia.

  19. A portmanteau is a merging of two words to create another, like combining fan and magazine to yield fanzine.

  20. The naming of Pluto

    In 1930, 11-year-old Venetia Burney Phair enters a contest to name the recently discovered 9th planet. Her suggestion, Pluto, is selected unanimously by the Lowell Observatory, which makes sense since Pluto was a Roman god name. It didn't hurt that her entry started with "pl" which just happens to be the initials of the famous astronomer, Percival Lowell.

    Oddly enough her great-uncle named two other solar system bodies, the moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos. Not many people get to name solar system objects and I'm sure they didn't planet that way, but the odds against two related people naming major heavenly bodies are astronomical.

  21. Iron horseshoes were used as money during the 12th Century.

  22. Race horses are sometimes equipped with lighter aluminum shoes.