Miscellany

Created: May. 4, 2020
Modified: Mar. 3, 2024
Tags: meta, personal

2024

There sure are a lot of methods of divination.

Śmigus-dyngus is a Polish celebration in which men dress up in elaborate and colorful handmade costumes and throw water on any woman they encounter. “The origins of the word dyngus are obscure as it may come from the German Dingeier (“owed eggs”, the Easter eggs that are to be given to children) or Dingnis, Dingnus (ransom paid during the war to protect against pillaging).”

There are several towns and settlements in Northern England named “Pity Me”. The one in County Durham is apparently the most prominent.

Remember when Cleveland invented its own alternative to Valentine’s Day, but the rest of the country largely didn’t adopt it.

The director of the movie Tár also invented Big League Chew.

2023

Automobiles, airplanes, television, and penicillin were all invented prior to the invention of chocolate chip cookies.

Remember when earth was populated by 20-foot-tall fungal spires?

Jeno Paulucci was the founder of several frozen food companies, starting with Chun King in the 1940s. “Paulucci was quoted as stating his motivation that, while he loved Chinese food, he found it too bland and thought it would benefit from a little Italian spicing.” He also founded the company that first marketed pizza rolls.

The Fool’s Gold Loaf is an 8,000 calorie sandwich made by hollowing out a loaf of bread and filling it with peanut butter, jelly, and bacon. Elvis was a huge fan and apparently once took his private jet from Memphis to Denver solely to pick up 22 of these sandwiches, which he then ate in the airport hangar with his 2 guests and 2 pilots.

Remember when the Olympics awarded medals for winning the art competition?

Lava fountains and cascades sometimes produce thin strands of volcanic glass known as Pele’s hair.

Agloe, New York was a fictional town included on some Esso maps as a way of catching plagiarist mapmakers. Ironically, a store later opened at the location and, taking its name from the map, called itself the Agloe General Store, thereby transforming the fictional location into a real location.

Remember when Goodyear designed and built a fully operational inflatable plane in 12 weeks?

The Reisszug is probably the oldest operational cable railway in the world. The railway is used to raise supplies up to Hohensalzburg Castle. It was originally constructed in either 1495 or 1504.

The Tripitaka Koreana is a collection of Buddhist scriptures carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks. It is the oldest extant version of the Buddhist canon in the Hanja script. “The woodblocks are in pristine condition without warping or deformation despite being created more than 750 years ago.”

Agatha Christie was a surfer. She learned to surf prone in South Africa at Muizenberg Beach and then later learned to surf standing up in Waikiki. “Oh it was heaven! Nothing like rushing through the water at what seems to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour. It is one of the most perfect physical pleasures I have known.”

There is just a ton of ant mimicry out there.

Roman Dodecahedra are small metal objects found at various Roman archaeological sites in Western Europe. “No mention of dodecahedrons has been found in contemporary accounts or pictures of the time.” “Their purpose remains unknown.”

It’s surprising that the superiority of overshot water wheels (vs. undershot) was not definitively established until 1759, especially since the experiments necessary to do so would have been possible going at least as far back as ancient Rome.

Remember that time President George H. W. Bush was shot down while flying a bombing raid over a small island south of Japan and then narrowly escaped capture, execution, and ritual cannibalization?

The frog galvanoscope was a highly sensitive instrument, made from a frog’s leg, used to detect voltage.

During World War II, the British Armed Forced surreptitiously constructed oil pipelines under the English Channel and used those pipelines to deliver 8 percent of the petroleum products used by the Allied Expeditionary Force in north-west Europe.

The Manila City Council has declared Claire Danes a persona non grata.

The May 15 Incident was an attempted coup in 1932, during which the Prime Minister of Japan was assassinated by 11 ultranationalist naval officers. The original assassination plan had including killing Charlie Chaplin, who was visiting the country at the time. Also by the end of the subsequent trial of the instigators, “the court had received 110,000 clemency petitions, either signed or written entirely in blood, from sympathizers around the country pleading for a lenient sentence. Additionally, nine youths in Niigata asked to be tried by the court instead of the accused, and sent the court a jar containing nine of their own pickled severed pinky fingers as a gesture of their sincerity.”

There were somewhat conflicting accounts of Pope Paul II’s death.

Utraquism is a Christian belief that during communion, both bread and wine (and not just bread alone) should be administered to laypeople (“communion under both kinds”). The Hussites fought several wars from 1419-34, partly over this dogma. Catholic practice didn’t change to permit communion under both kinds until 1965 with Vatican II.

2022

Thioacetone is an unstable organosulfur compound mostly notable for its very potent and unpleasant smell. “In 1889, an attempt to distill the chemical in the German city of Freiburg was followed by cases of vomiting, nausea and unconsciousness in an area with a radius of 0.75 kilometres (0.47 mi) around the laboratory due to the smell.” The American Office of Strategic Services attempted to weaponize a similar compound during World War II for use by the French Resistance.

Julia Child was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, where she helped develop a shark repellent designed to prevent curious sharks from exploding underwater ordnance.

2021

Human intestines have glands that produce a substance called “intestinal juice”. The modern, uninspired name for these glands is the “intestinal glands”. But back in the past, when one could still unironically refer to oneself as a “natural philosopher”, these glands were called the “Crypts of Lieberkühn”.

Hippopotami secrete a red pigment, colloquially known as “blood sweat”, officially called hipposudoric acid, which acts as a natural sunscreen and antimicrobial agent.

Thelonious Monk’s middle name is “Sphere”. The name comes from his maternal grandfather who had the (awesome) name: Sphere Batts.

In 1997, David Bowie sold the right to ten years worth of royalties from his work for $55m in the form of Bowie Bonds.

Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s second son, John.

The Nintendo character Kirby is named after John Kirby Jr., the lawyer who successfully defended Nintendo in a case against Universal Studios where they alleged that Donkey Kong infringed on Universal’s supposed King Kong trademark.

The U.S. House of Representatives has a large ceremonial mace, made of ebony and silver, known as the Mace of the Republic. “On the rare occasion that a member becomes unruly, the Sergeant at Arms, upon order of the Speaker, lifts the mace from its pedestal and presents it before the offenders, thereby restoring order.”

The research leading to the successful development of oral contraceptives was almost entirely funded by donations from a single person - Katherine McCormick, heiress to a substantial portion of the McCormick combine harvester fortune.

The demon core was a sphere of plutonium, originally developed by the Manhattan Project as a fissile core for an atomic bomb, but subsequently repurposed as a test device. It was involved in two fatal accidents where physicists working with the core were killed by radiation bursts.

Remember that time the Canadian Prime Minister put a Quebec separtist protester in a choke hold, breaking the man’s tooth, and it then became a beloved national joke?

During World War II, the U.S. developed an experimental test fighter aircraft known as the “Flying Pancake”.

The Romans apparently used war pigs as a counter-measure against war elephants. More colorful accounts of this practice include the stratagem of dousing the pigs in pitch, lighting them on fire, and driving them towards the elephants.

Knocker-ups were members of a, now obsolete, profession whose job was to rouse sleeping people by knocking on their doors or tapping on their windows with a stick. Remarkably, some people were still practicing the profession in England up into the 1970s.

Remember that time the Soviets extinguished an out-of-control gas well inferno by nuking it?

From 1843-1879, the British built a 2000+ kilometer hedge across most of the Indian subcontinent as a custom’s barrier designed to prevent smuggling of salt.

In modern usage, the word “nostalgia” generally means “yearning for the past”. But when it was coined, the meaning was narrower and specifically referred to homesickness. Thus the Greek roots νόστος (nóstos, “homecoming”) and ἄλγος (álgos, “pain, ache”). At the time, this was meant quite literally as a medical condition that specifically afflicted the Swiss, with symptoms including fever, stomach pain, and death.

There are a surprisingly large number of whistled languages.

The word “decimation” originally refers to the Roman military practice of executing every tenth man in a group of soldiers found guilty of insubordination or desertion. There are a depressing number of documented instances of the practice from the 20th century, mostly concentrated around World War I.

Apparently, it is possible to cause imploding bubbles of a liquid to emit light by bombarding the bubbles with sound - a phenomenon known as sonoluminescence.

Marble Hill is a neighborhood in New York City that is legally part of the borough of Manhattan, but is not located on the island of Manhattan. Originally at the northern tip of the island, the neighborhood was separated from Manhattan in 1895 by the construction of the Harlem Ship Canal. In 1914, the part of the Harlem River that ran along the north of Marble Hill was filled in, so the neighborhood is now directly connected to the Bronx.

Passing two arguments to cd will cause it to navigate in such a way that it searches pwd for the first argument and swaps it for the second. For example, invoking cd jane jill from /home/jane navigates to /home/jill.

Nuclear submarines primarily produce oxygen via electrolysis. However, as a backup, they require a system for oxygen generation that works even in the event of power failure. That backup system is oxygen candles, which release oxygen when they are burnt.

In the event of a puncture, self-sealing fuel tanks swell, absorb fuel, and expand so as to minimize fuel loss and resulting damage. They are common in military aircraft since they significantly improve the survival rate of aircraft that take fire. I was surprised to learn that they were in use as early as the 1920s and were used extensively by aircraft throughout World War II.

The glass armonica is a mechanical musical instrument, invented by Benjamin Franklin, that uses a series of glass bowls rotated around a spindle to produce musical tones. Bizarrely, the instrument was [rumored to cause both musicians and listeners to go mad. "[The harmonica] excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood, that is an apt method for slow self-annihilation."

The record distance for human-powered flight is held by Daedalus 88, a cycle powered aircraft. In 1988, Kanellos Kanellopoulos, an Olympic cyclist, piloted the aircraft 115 km from Crete to Santorini.

The record duration for refueled, crewed flight is held by Robert Timm and John Cook, both civilians, and Hacienda, their Cessna 172. In 1958, they kept this plane in-flight continuously for 64 days. Their refueling strategy involved flying at low speed and altitude along a section of straight road near Blythe, California and using a winch to raise a fuel hose from a modified Ford truck driving below.

2020

Saccadic masking is the phenomenon where human brains block visual processing while the eyes are moving so that we don’t perceive motion blur from those eye movements. The brain creates the illusion of continuity during these brief moments of blindness by inferring the missing visual information and committing those inferences to memory.

The Carrington Event was a huge solar storm in 1859. During the event, auroras were visible as far south as the Caribbean and telegraph systems all over the world failed. Some telegraph operators reported that they could continue to send and receive messages even though their systems were disconnected from any source of electricity.

Between 1977 and 2014, the government of the Philippines waged an on-again-off-again campaign against a violent Islamic nationalist group known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF for short.

The Younger Dryas were a climatic event, roughly 12,500 years ago, during which temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere temporarily reverted to glacial conditions.

Mauritania did not criminalize slave ownership until 2007 and has done little to actually enforce its anti-slavery laws since then. A 2018 estimate suggested that 21 of every 1000 people in Mauritania were still enslaved at that time.

A punkahwallah was a servant who worked a manual cooling fan, often operated through a pulley system. Apparently the deaf were favored for this obsolete occupation, as they could not overhear confidential conversations happening around them.

The Astor Place Riot occurred in 1849 in New York City. The riot was started over a dispute about which of two famous Shakespearean actors was better than the other. Another ridiculous New York City riot was the 1922 Straw Hat Riot. It was sparked when a tradition of “hat bashing” (knocking straw hats off of wearers’ heads and stomping on them if the hats were worn after September 15th) spiraled out of control. In yet another strange example of nominative determinism, many of the arrested rioters were sentenced by the Magistrate Peter A. Hatting.

The Ghost Army was a tactical deception unit of the U.S. Army during WWII that utilized inflatable tanks, sound trucks, fake radio transmissions, and other deceptions in order to create the appearance that troops were deployed in locations where they were not.

Little’s Law, which states that, for a queue, the average number of items in queue (L) is equal to the average rate at which new items arrive (λ) times the average time an item spends in queue (W). So, L = λ * W. Useful for estimating one feature of a queue based on the other two features.

Chirality is the property of lacking a mirror image that can be created via rotation or translation. The classic example of a chiral object is the human hand.

The Eye of the Sahara is an eroded igneous rock dome that looks like a giant eye when viewed from above. The effect is like something out of science fiction.

The Diomede Islands are two remote islands, located roughly in the middle of the Bering Strait. The international date line runs directly between them, so despite being only 3.8 kilometers from each other, they observe a 20 or 21 hour time difference from each other.

Magnitogorsk, literally “the City of the Magnetic Mountain”, is an industrial city that served as the Soviet Union’s primary steel production facility during World War Two. Also, the city’s flag is badass.

Shibam Hadramawt is a town in Yemen known for its mudbrick high-rise buildings. These houses, which range from 5 to 11 storeys, are among the tallest mudbrick structures in the world, and are unusually old examples of vertical construction.

The (campy, terrible) Bond film Live and Let Die includes a scene where Bond uses the backs of three crocodiles as stepping stones to skip across a water channel. Turns out this stunt actually used live crocodiles. Insane.

A fleuron is a typographic ornament, typically a stylized version of a leaf or flower. A sort of archaic precursor to dingbats.

The catoblepas is a legendary creature, probably inspired by real-life encounters with wildebeest, that was said to have had a killing gaze similar to a gorgon or basilisk. Prior to learning about this, I had wondered why the Gorgons in Heroes of Might and Magic III looked like bulls, rather than the more typical medusa.

The chiroplast was a sort of wooden hand brace used to train “proper” hand positioning for piano players.