April 30, 2019

A few things I learned this month

Below, a quick roundup of a few of the things I learned in April, 2019.

After climbing for decades, electricity use by American households has declined over the past eight years. Over the past decade, traditional incandescent bulbs have been rapidly replaced by more energy-efficient lighting; the shift has driven down electricity demand in American homes. (NY Times)

Atomism was one of the theories the ancient, pre-Socratic, Greek natural philosophers devised to explain the universe. The atoms, from the Greek for not cut,” were indivisible. They had few innate properties (size, shape, order, and position) and could hit each other in the void. By hitting one another and locking together, they become something else. (Philosophize This)

Every year, thousands of babies are born in the U.S. to mothers from China. The phenomenon is referred to as birth tourism.” Parents-to-be do this to obtain American citizenship for their babies, but also because of the disparity in the quality of the medical care between the two countries. (Marketplace)

Three people in a conference room over two hours can result in a CO2 level that can impair cognitive functioning. That means that if you’re making decisions at the end of a long meeting, you’re mentally less qualified to do so. (Environmental Health Perspectives)

Misophonia is characterized by intense emotion like rage or fear in response to highly specific sounds, particularly ordinary sounds that other people make. The cause is unknown. (NPR)

By tracking duetting choir singers, researchers found that when an individual singer’s pitch drifts off tune their partner’s tend to too. When one partner veered off pitch, the other singer followed her, perhaps to compensate for the error—meaning even though they weren’t singing the pitch as written, the resulting duet was more harmonious. (Journal of the Acoustical Society of America)

A gathering place for ceremonial Neolithic feasts, Stonehenge may have been welcoming pilgrims from as far away as Scotland. Analyzing isotopes from the bones of 131 pigs, which are known to have served as these feasts’ featured entrées, researchers traced the animals’ origins to a wide range of locations around the modern-day United Kingdom, including contemporary northeastern England and western Wales. (Scientific Advances)

The Black Student Union at San Francisco State University was the first at any school anywhere in the United States. The battles won by BSUs through protests, strikes, building takeovers and other methods were the catalyst for many of the improvements students of color now enjoy on college campuses. (SF Gate)

If you run a simulation and do a proper calculation, you’ll find that Mercury, and not Venus or Mars, is Earth’s closest neighbor on average, and spends more time as Earth’s closest neighbor than any other planet. (Physics Today)

The philosophy of the Wheel of Fortune, or Rota Fortunae, is a symbol of the capricious nature of fate, and often is associated with the goddess Fortuna who spins it at random. The goddess and her wheel were eventually absorbed into Western medieval thought through the Roman philosopher Boethius. (Wikipedia)

Ibn Sīnā, or Avicenna as he is often known, devised the flying man thought experiment, allowing us to ruminate on the separate existence of the mind and body, and sometimes used to prove the existence of the soul. In the thought experiment, a human is created out of thin air is able to grasp his existence without grasping that he has a body, thus proving the existence of an essence that is not corporeal. (Aeon)

Daniel Thompson was a Canadian-born American inventor of the first commercially viable bagel machine, which allowed for the mass production and mass marketing of the bagel to a wider consumer market. (NYTimes)

Founded in the 1930s, the Bagel Bakers Local 338 were made up of about three hundred Yiddish speakers who descended from early bakers in NYC. The union had contracts with 36 of the largest bakeries in the city and New Jersey. The union went on strike twice in the 1950s, but the biggest strike took place in February 1962, when they struck for 29 days and reduced the city’s bagel supply by 85 percent. (Gastro Obscura)

Researchers in Switzerland have found that longterm exposure to music by A Tribe Called Quest results in improved flavor in cheese. In the study, cheese responded better to music in lower frequencies. (NPR)

A team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology recently discovered more than 70 sunken vessels in the sunken ancient port-city of Thonis-Heracleion. One of those ships, ship 17, bears a striking resemblance in design to the boats Herodotus described in The Histories. (Guardian)

Compared to other counties, those that hosted Trump campaign rallies in 2016 had a 226% increase in reported hate crimes since the election. (Washington Post)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was released 50 years ago, and has sold almost 50 million copies around the world, in more than 62 languages. According to the book’s publisher, a copy of it is sold somewhere in the world every 30 seconds. (Atlantic)

All 4,500 named varieties of potatoes trace their ancestry to the Americas. Stone tools and preserved potato peels show that wild potatoes were being prepared for food in southern Utah and south-central Chile nearly 13,000 years ago; similar evidence dates their domestication from at least 7800 BCE on the northern coast of Peru. (LitHub)

The pyramidalis muscle, which is located in the pelvic floor, is the muscle responsible for manipulating the tail in monkeys in other mammals. That humans still have it (though 20% of us don’t) makes it one of the most useless parts of our body. (Gizmodo)

The Soviets tested nukes in an area of Kazakhstan, exposing millions to radiation for 14 years, harming health across generations. Between 1949 and 1963, the Soviets pounded an 18,500-square-kilometre patch of land known as the Polygon with more than 110 above-ground nuclear tests. Kazakh health authorities estimate that up to 1.5 million people were exposed to fallout in the process. (Nature)

Ottawa’s landmark Lord Elgin Hotel housed a gay bar in its basement for many years. For decades, it became a safe place for gay people in Canada to socialize. By the 1970s it was not only a meeting place, but a centre for gay activism in the city. (Capital History)

Let It Go” is the most-streamed song from the modern Disney musical catalogue, with 280.5 million listens on Spotify. (Quartz)

Jackie Mitchell was one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history. Pitching for the Chattanooga Lookouts Class AA minor league baseball team in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. (The Memory Palace)

Della Reese was the first black woman to host her own syndicated talk show in the United States. In 1970, Reese became the first black woman to guest host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. (Atlas Obscura & NPR)

About 380 fibre-optic submarine cables make up the internet’s backbone, carrying about 95% of intercontinental voice and data traffic. (Submarine Cable Map)

Volkswagen sells more sausages than Beetles, and in 2015 and 2017, it sold more sausages than cars overall. In 1973, the company started making the currywurst sausages, known as item no. 199 398 500 A” in the Volkswagen factory, meant as a breakfast or lunch item in the company’s cafeteria. (Gastro Obscura)

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