Archive for Trivia

Bottled water on the rise

The NYTimes week in review has “A Battle Between the Bottle and the Faucet” about the meteoric rise of bottled water.  What’s most interesting, and truly surprising to me is the beverage share graph in the sidebar.  I had no idea that half of all the liquid Americans drink comes in the form of soft drinks.  I knew soft drinks were big, but I would have never guessed they were that big.  For some reason coffee took a dive in the late 90’s, and beer and milk have been neck-in-neck for a while.  At least it is nice to see that soft drinks are finally in decline.  Certainly a rise in bottled water at the expense of tap water is bad for our environment, but as an alternative to soft drinks you have to admit there is some progress there.


The Earth Continues to Rotate!

EarthBoingBoing had a post referencing a Smithsonian Magazine article about a sundial maker. The article is somewhat interesting in total but what really caught my attention was the mention of the International Earth Rotation Service [Wikipedia] in Paris. Who knew the Parisians were providing such a valuable service!?  No wonder they can get a bit snobby. Not a day passes in which I don’t appreciate their services.


12-hour clocks

24-hour watchYesterday Jeremy and I were wondering why clocks go around twice per day. What’s wrong with once per day?  It turns out a partial answer is as easy as checking Wikipedia’s 12-hour clock article. Splitting the day into two periods is actually very natural, day and night. This dates back to ancient Egypt as does the division into twelve units. The major problem, though, is that the hours have to be of variable length. The Romans would have none of that and things got a little more regular from then on. Interestingly, “the first mechanical clocks in the 14th century, if they had dials at all, showed all 24 hours.” But, “during the 15th and 16th centuries, the 12 hour analog dial and time system, with its simpler and more economical construction, gradually became established as standard throughout Northern Europe for general public use.” This might be getting to the heart of our question, but I’m still confused, why does a 12-hour dial have “simpler and more economical construction?” Gearing down by a factor of two can’t be very hard, so I’m left unsatisfied. One advantage of the 12-hour clock is an increase in precision if you only have an hour hand. It is not unreasonable since, as many sources such as this state, the minute hand wasn’t invented until 1577 by Jost Burgi. Thus the transition to 12-hour dials happened before the minute hand.


Turtles Live Forever!

Turtle with long neckI think this story in the NYTimes has made me just a little bit fonder of turtles. It’s standard elementary school trivia that turtles and tortoises can live well beyond us, but this article points out that in fact scientists don’t observe any aging at all.  As far as we know they die only as a result of predators, accident, or disease.  Even with my new found appreciation I’m still not about to have one as a pet, frankly, they are very dull (not to mention the 100 year commitment!)  But, maybe when I stroll past a pond and just catch one slipping off a floating branch I will take the moment to appreciate my brush with immortality.


Europium in the

100 Euro banknoteIn the previous entry I mentioned the rare element Europium. I still an not sure how expensive Europium is and whether it, or some other special element, is a factor in the high cost of full spectrum florescent bulbs, but I did run across an interesting side note. The element may be an important ingrediant in the design of the Euro notes. Though a topic such as this is obviously a senstive one, this article describes what it can.

By the way, while I was looking for this image of a Euro banknote I noticed that the official European Union website is in the .INT top-level domain, something I hadn’t noticed before. I think it is quite cool, and it is in a very exclusive club. I wish my existance was governed by an international treaty so I could join the club. (There is some slight hope for the rest of us: somehow those sneaky bastards at the YMCA got a domain in .INT, and they certainly weren’t created by an international treaty.)


Toronto’s Population

Today, just before going to bed, I happened across an article describing why London would be a good setting for the new GTA4 (Grand Theft Auto 4), which is a game I have “some interest in” and that is due out later this year. At first glance the article has the intense stench of immaturity and longwindedness; it uses phrases such as “it is purest logic”.  Don’t bother reading it.  Better info about the game is at  Anyway, my point is not about GTA4, it is about Toronto and it’s population. The article lists some city populations to make a comparison between previous cities used as inspiration for GTA games (NYC, Miami, LA-SF-LV) and London (which may inspire GTA4). I took note that they listed Toronto’s population as 2.4M, fourth largest in the US and Canada behind New York, Los Angles, and Chicago. Of course, as the dicussion for the “List of Cities by Population” article on Wikipedia indicates, determing what should be included in a city and what even counts as a city can be tricky issues. In fact, the list of cities with highest population includes Toronto, but Chicago doesn’t make the cut (though rightfully even Toronto shouldn’t have made the cut because Hong Kong was excluded because it isn’t technically a “city”, a pointless issue to quible over to my mind.  Nevertheless, it seems clear that Toronto is similar in population, possibly slightly smaller, than Chicago. It is an interesting issue because I was discussion it recently with someone. I knew Toronto was the largest city in Canada (the metropolitan area contains about 1/6 of all the people in Canada), but it wasn’t clear to me that it was above 2 million or as close in population to Chicago, somehow it seems a little smaller than that to me.