The Space Elevator

A space elevator is a hypothetical megastructure capable of transporting material from Earth—or another celestial body—into space without the use of rockets. The concept was first conceived by Russian inventor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895. Many of today’s proposed designs incorporate tensile towers built out of advanced materials like carbon nanotubes, which are very strong and lightweight. By 1978, technology had advanced enough that working space elevators could have been constructed where?

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Automatic Writing

Used as a form of channeling by proponents of Spiritualism and the New Age movement, automatic writing is a writing process that is performed without conscious thought or deliberation, at times, while the writer is in a trancelike state.

Practitioners often attribute the resulting message to aliens, the deceased, the subconscious, or even God. Skeptics note, however, that there is no evidence to support such claims. Which books have allegedly been written using this technique?  …read more

flashover

flashover – n. – the moment a conversation becomes real and alive, which occurs when a spark of trust shorts out the delicate circuits you keep insulated under layers of irony, momentarily grounding the static emotional charge you’ve built up through decades of friction with the world.

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mugwump

Definition: (noun) A person who acts independently or remains neutral, especially in politics.
Synonyms: fencesitter, independent.

Usage: The public relations firm believed that the key to victory was to capture the hearts and minds of the mugwumps who would otherwise remain passive.

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aver

Definition: (verb) To assert formally as a fact.
Synonyms: allege, say.

Usage: For as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal.

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wytai

wytai – noun –  a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.

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retinue

retinue – (noun) – The group following and attending to some important person.
Synonyms: entourage, cortege, suite.

Usage: Guillaume Lejean…reached Karthoum by way of the Red Sea, and embarked upon the Nile with a retinue of twenty-one hired men and twenty soldiers.

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pinnace

Definition: (noun) A light boat propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a tender for merchant and war vessels.
Synonyms: ship’s boat, cutter, tender.

Usage: Seated upon the projection formed by the hull of the pinnace, I inhaled the salt breeze with delight.
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Mechanical Puzzles

These puzzles are comprised of mechanically interlinked pieces that must be manipulated in a certain way in order for them to be assembled, disassembled, and otherwise solved. The oldest known example, from the 3rd century BCE, consists of a square divided into 14 parts that fit together to form other shapes. Mechanical puzzles have since taken on myriad forms, including dexterity and disentanglement puzzles, trick vessels, and impossible objects. What is the most well-known impossible object?
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scathing

scathing – (adjective) – Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical.
Synonyms: vituperative.

Usage: This scathing remark caused the Prince to hide his face for shame, and Steve to erect his head in the proud consciousness that this shot was not meant for him.

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High-Speed Photography

High-speed photography allows fast moving phenomena to be recorded with precision and clarity. While in 1948 high-speed photography was defined as a set of at least 3 photographs taken by a camera capable of recording a minimum of 128 frames per second, today’s equipment can shoot as many as 1 million frames per second.

High-speed photography was first put to practical use in 1878 to investigate whether or not a trotting horse ever has all 4 feet off the ground at once. What did the images show?
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pestilence

Definition: (noun) A usually fatal epidemic disease, especially bubonic plague.
Synonyms: plague.
Usage: The place might have been desolated by a pestilence, so empty and so lifeless did it now appear. …read more

roster

Definition: (noun) A list, especially of names.

Synonyms: roll.

Usage: The spy’s mission was to compile a roster of officials amenable to bribery.

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quixotic

Definition: (adjective) Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.
Synonyms: wild-eyed, romantic.

Usage: She is ready prey to any man who knows how to play adroitly either on her affectionate ardor or her quixotic enthusiasm.

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Night of the Radishes

Night of the Radishes is a festival dating from the 19th century that combines art, agriculture, and religion. It is held in the zócalo, or main square, in Oaxaca, Mexico. The radishes grow to yam-size here and are each uniquely shaped by growing through the rocky soil. Families harvest these vegetables, and combine and sculpt them into elaborate forms depicting biblical scenes, especially the nativity of Jesus. Historical and Aztec themes are also represented. After the awarding of cash prizes and ribbons, a fireworks display caps the night. Discuss
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unexceptionable

unexceptionable – (adjective) Beyond any reasonable objection; irreproachable.
Synonyms: unimpeachable.
Usage: No person need think of applying for this situation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionable references to character and abilities.

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The Capgras Delusion

The Capgras Delusion is a rare disorder in which a person holds the delusional belief that an acquaintance—usually a spouse or other close family member—has been replaced by an identical impostor. Found in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, dementia, or those suffering from a brain injury, the disorder is named after Joseph Capgras, the French psychiatrist who first described it in 1923.

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Molecular Machines

A molecular machine is a minute mechanism consisting of molecular components that perform mechanical-like movements in response to specific stimuli. Chemists have synthesized a number of simple molecular machines, including molecular propellers and molecular motors, the latter of which are powered by light or reactions with other molecules and are capable of unidirectional rotation.

Far more complex biological versions of these artificial nanomachines are found in living cells. What do they do?

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Hugo Marie de Vries (1848)

De Vries was a Dutch botanist whose theory of biological mutation and rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of heredity made possible the active investigation and universal acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He held that new species are formed chiefly through mutations—sudden, unpredictable, inheritable changes in an individual organism. Teaching at the University of Amsterdam, he introduced the experimental study of evolution. What important evolution-related term did he introduce to science? Discuss
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Birthday of Kim Jong-Il

The birth date of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (February 16, 1941-December 17, 2011) is marked with a two-day public holiday observed throughout the country. Large-scale public celebrations—including mass gymnastics displays, musical performances, fireworks, and military demonstrations—are centered in the capital city of Pyongyang. Special horticultural exhibitions feature the Kimjongilia, a flower cultivated to bloom around Kim’s birthday. The government also often marks his birthday by allotting North Koreans extra food or electricity. Discuss
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The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Michel was a German woman who died in 1976 while undergoing exorcism treatments for demonic possession. She began suffering from seizures and depression when she was 16, the symptoms of which were not eased by conventional medical treatment. Convinced her condition was the result of demonic possession, Michel began a series of hour-long exorcism sessions that lasted nearly a year and ended with her death. Why were her parents and the priests who performed the exorcisms convicted of manslaughter? Discuss
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