Misc Musings

Certain Skyscrapers have Massive Concrete Stones on the Top Floor to Stop them Swaying

Taipei 101 - Tuned Mass Damper
They are called tuned mass-dampers and are used in engineering all over the world. A mass-damper consists of a huge concrete block or steel body that is suspended on the top floor of very large skyscrapers which can weigh over 1000 tons depending on the size of the building. In the event of movement of the building the pendulum moves in the opposite direction, usually on hydraulics or springs which counteracts the initial movement so the building doesn’t sway from side to side, this prevents the people inside from receiving motion sickness and a crippling fear of skyscrapers.

The movement of the building can be caused by various effects, one of the major contributors is wind. Some of the larger skyscrapers in the world can reach over 2000 feet into the sky and up there the wind currents can be much stronger. The strong currents can push the building, the mass-damper comes into play here and pushes back against the wind causing the building to remain stable so no one inside will notice the change.

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Food History

The War between Margarine and Butter

Butter-SpreadMost houses today have a tub of margarine in the fridge, but what is margarine, where does it come from and how is it different to butter?

Butter is created from cream which rises to the top of milk when it sits for a period of time, this is usually gathered from cows. Through the process of churning the cream, a chemical reaction takes place which makes the cream begin to solidify and turn into butter. This process has been around for over 4000 years.

Margarine came along around 150 years ago, Napoleon III wanted a cheap butter substitute to supply to his troops and to provide to the poorer population in France. Hippolyte Mége Mouriès patented a lower priced form of butter in 1869, it was made primarily from from beef tallow (fat from cows). He named the new substance margarine from the Greek margarite meaning “pearl like” after its white, pearlescent look.

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Food History

Canned Food was Invented 45 Years Before the Can Opener

Can OpenerThe idea of storing food in airtight containers came from a French chef named Nicolas Appert, when in 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000  Francs to anyone who could help them preserve food to be transported to their soldiers on the front line. Appert, however, didn’t use metal cans, he used air tight glass bottles which he then boiled which killed any bacteria inside the container.

Appert’s method was simple and worked well, the technique spread across France and into Britain where an inventor named Peter Durand patented his own method, this time not using glass bottles but using metal cans which was granted by King George III of England in 1810. He followed the same techniques except he enclosed the food in tin cans, he arranged his cans to sail with the royal navy for 4-6 months and when opened and examined they were completely preserved.

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Animals

Ants Can Fall from Any Height Without Dying

AntTerminal Velocity is a phrase used to describe the maximum constant speed that a falling object can reach before it cannot accelerate any further. This happens when the air resistance pushing the object up becomes equal to the force of gravity pulling the object down. The terminal velocity of a human being is 120mph, as such, should you manage to reach this speed while falling and hit the ground you would most likely end up in a bad way.

However, an ant is so light that should you choose to throw one off the top of a skyscraper and it reached its terminal velocity, it would only be travelling at 3.9mph, due to its size and weight the air resistance acting against the ant is so strong that gravity cannot physically pull it down to earth any faster. Due to the slow speed and the ant’s strong exoskeleton which braces it for impact, they do not suffer any damage from falling at any height and the impact would have been the same as if it had fallen a few centimetres.

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History

The Pope was once Elected by Accident

Papa_Benedictus_DuodecimusThe procedure for choosing the new head of the Catholic church has been the same for centuries, the College of Cardinals, which is currently made up of 199 cardinals of the church around the world, hold a meeting at the Vatican called the “Papal Conclave” where they separate themselves from the rest of the world, hold discussions and then vote  individually for who they would like to see as the new Pope. This process repeats itself every day until at least two thirds of the Cardinals vote in the same way, then whoever the majority voted for is named Pope.

In the past it was not uncommon for members of the College of Cardinals to waste their first vote on a throw-away candidate, someone who they considered could never be voted into the position of Pope, they did this to find out who the other cardinals were voting for to try and gauge which way the College was swaying. This wouldn’t be much of a problem today, as the chances of 132 of the cardinals all voting for someone who they didn’t want to be Pope would be fairly slim. However this wasn’t the case in the year 1334, where there were only 16 members of the College of Cardinals.

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Animals

There is a Species of Ant that has a Door for a Head

Door Head AntAnts are one of the oldest species of insect on Earth and inhabit almost every landmass today. It is an interesting fact that the total biomass of all the ants on the earth is roughly equal to the biomass of all the humans, how can this be when they are so tiny? Simple, there are around 1.5 million ants on the planet for every human and over 12,000 different species, for every single acre of land in the rainforest there are estimated to be 3.5 million ants.

One of the more interesting species of ant are the Cephalotes ants, more fondly known as the door-headed ants. These ants make their nests in holes in trees formed by wood boring beetles, however there are other ants and insects that also want to live inside these nests or even eat the ants, that’s why they need a door to keep other nosy insects out. The ants don’t use a block of wood like we do, they use their own heads.

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Animals

There is a Species of Jellyfish that is Biologically Immortal

JellyfishJellyfish are very bizarre, they have no eyes, no heart, no brain and are very simple organisms. They are similar to bacteria in that they do not “think” but more react to stimuli in order to escape or feed. In nature, there is one Jellyfish that is weirder than all the rest and that is called  Turritopsis Dohrnii or more commonly dubbed “The Immortal Jellyfish”.

Whilst the Jellyfish itself may be quite a simple organism, its life cycle is not. In the development of a full adult jellyfish, the organism goes through several very distinct and different phases in its life. The Jellyfish life starts, as with ours, with a sperm and an egg, once the egg has been fertilized and has developed, the jellyfish hatch as Planula Larva and swim out on their own. These are tiny oval shaped organisms with small hairs called cilia which help propel them through the water. This stage of life is fairly short-lived and after a few days the Planula Larva drops to the bottom of the ocean floor and attaches itself to the rock and transforms
into what is called a Polyp.

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History

A Chemist Accidentally Discovered Purple When Looking for a Cure for Malaria

porfuraPurple dye originally came from the mucus glands of a snail. The discovery of the dye is often attributed to the mythological Greek God; Heracles, or rather his dog, who was eating snails off the coast of the Levant and returned with a mouth stained a deep purple colour. From a biological point of view the snails use the purple mucus as a defence mechanism to spray predators and make their escape, they also use it to catch their own prey and protect their eggs.

The colour purple was incredibly rare at the time, it is unlikely that those who discovered the snails had ever seen another purple plant, animal or living thing, as such the colour was vastly sought after. However it was a very slow and costly process to create dye from the mucus produced from the snail, it required over 12,000 of the shellfish to extract just 1.5 grams of the dye, enough to colour a handkerchief. Purple quickly became incredibly valuable and even worth more than gold, by 300 BC a pound of purple dye was worth 3 times a bakers annual wage.

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History Misc Musings

In 1956 a Man Broke the Current Javelin World Record by Spinning it Around Like a Discus

javelin-usaIn 1956 a Spaniard named Felix Erausquin introduced his own technique for throwing the javelin where he would spin around on the spot and release the javelin, similar to a discus throw, this was dubbed the “Spanish Style” of javelin throwing and enabled the throwers to achieve incredible distances before it was banned almost immediately by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for being an incredibly dangerous method of throwing.

The furthest that a javelin has ever been thrown in an official Olympic event is 104  meters which was thrown by Uwe Hohn in the 1984 Olympics, however under the spinning technique Erausquin managed to throw the javelin 112 meters, smashing this record by 8 meters! However the throw was disqualified by the IAAF and not acknowledged. At the time of the throw the world record was 83 meters with Erausquin’s throw being vastly superior.

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Planet Earth

Some Plants Use Wasps as Their Own Personal Bodyguards

venus-fly-trapWe don’t often allocate intelligence to plant life, and the majority believe that they just sit in one spot and get on with growing and they have no methods to defend themselves against anything that might want to eat them. However this isn’t true, many different plants have various methods of self-defence and interesting techniques to stop being devoured, with some of them being rather clever.

Many plants have direct defences to combat insects and animals that might want to eat them, for example some plants, such as roses, grow thorns or prickles. These thorns are very sharp and act as the “teeth” of the plant to ward off predators. A hungry herbivore won’t want to eat them if they are going to get hurt in the process!

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