One of the deadliest earthquakes in history struck Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755, killing at least 30,000. The earthquake, followed by a tsunami and raging fires, almost totally destroyed the city, leaving just 15% of its buildings standing.
The study of the quake’s causes led to the beginnings of seismology. Geologists today estimate that the temblor, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean, approached magnitude 9 on the moment magnitude scale.
When Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk and religious reformer, nailed his 95 “theses” (or propositions) to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, so many people agreed with his ideas that they spread throughout western Europe and touched off a religious revolt known as the Reformation. As a result, many Christians broke their centuries-old connection with the Roman Catholic Church and established independent churches of their own, prime among them being the Lutheran Church. October 31 is observed by most Protestant denominations as Reformation Day.
Steganography is the practice of hiding secret messages in seemingly innocuous documents such as pictures, articles, or shopping lists. The practice dates to the 5th c BCE, when early practitioners concealed information under the wax of wooden writing tablets or on the tattooed scalps of slaves. As technology evolved, so did steganography; and today, information is often hidden in computer files.
“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” – Sir Winston Churchill, Speech, 1941, Harrow School
Treacle mining is the fictitious mining of treacle (similar to molasses) in a raw form similar to coal. The subject purports to be serious but is an attempt to test credulity. Thick black treacle makes the deception plausible. The topic has been a joke in British humour since the mid-19th century.
The daguerreotype, an early form of photograph, was invented by Louis Daguerre in the early 19th c. He collaborated with J. Nicéphore Niepce, who created the first permanent photograph, but completed the design alone following his partner’s sudden death. A daguerreotype, produced on a silver-plated copper sheet, produces a mirror image photograph of the exposed scene. Daguerre’s process made portrait photography possible for the first time. How did the French government describe the invention? Discuss …read more
The didgeridoo, developed by the Australian Aborigines, is perhaps the world’s oldest wind instrument. Though the exact age of the didgeridoo is unknown, studies of rock art in northern Australia suggest that the Aboriginal people have been using it for approximately 1,500 years. Didgeridoos measure about 4 ft (1.5 m) in length and are made from branches that have been hollowed out by termites. A 2005 study found that practicing the didgeridoo can help reduce what sleep-related conditions? Discuss …read more
Considered a mythic substance until recently, dry quicksand is loose sand that behaves like ordinary quicksand but contains no water and operates in a different manner. Though accounts of whole caravans being swallowed up by the substance have been discounted as folklore, researchers have demonstrated that aerating fine sand reduces its bulk density and creates a dry quicksand that could envelop an entire vehicle. How did fear of dry quicksand affect the planning of the Apollo moon missions?
Scientists have finally figured out the reason behind a small but noticeable uptick in the temperature of the moon’s subsurface while it was under study by astronauts of the Apollo missions in the 1970s. The culprit? Blame those very same astronauts. The … Discuss …read more
Mercator was a Flemish geographer, mathematician, and who perfected the first map using the Mercator projection, the translation of the spherical earth to a two-dimensional flat plane. In it, parallels and meridians are rendered as straight lines spaced to produce an accurate ratio of latitude to longitude at any point. It permits mariners to steer a course over long distances without continually adjusting compass readings.
What map-related term was coined by Mercator? …read more
In observation of Black History Month, we (STATE SYMBOLS USA) are featuring the Pine Burr Quilt, the official state quilt of Alabama. The Alabama legislature designated the quilt an official symbol in honor of the Black women of the Freedom Quilting Bee. In 1966, Black workers were losing their jobs in retaliation for registering to vote, so the women formed a cooperative to sell their quilts, raising money for the Civil Rights movement and to help support their families. The quilts became famous, were sold all over the country, and have been displayed at the Smithsonian.
The Mungo Man was an early human inhabitant of Australia discovered at Lake Mungo in New South Wales, Australia, in 1974, when shifting sand dunes exposed his remains. Although his exact age is a matter of debate, he is believed by many to have lived approximately 40,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch—making his remains the oldest anatomically modern human remains found in Australia to date. What is significant about the method of his burial? …read more
Jeanne Louise Calment, who died at 122 years and 164 days of age, lived to be the oldest person on record. Though her parents and siblings also lived to an advanced age, she outlived them all. An active woman, Calment continued to ride a bicycle until she was 100 years old and lived independently until she was nearly 110. At 114, she became the world’s oldest actress, appearing as herself in the family film Vincent and Me. Calment attributed her longevity to what food product? Discuss …read more
“Danger, Will Robinson!” is a catchphrase from the 1960s’ American television series Lost in Space spoken by voice actor Dick Tufeld. The Robot B9, acting as a surrogate guardian, says this to young Will Robinson when the boy is unaware of an impending threat.
In everyday use, the phrase warns someone that they are about to make a mistake or that they are overlooking something. The phrase is also used in hacker culture.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to archiving the history of rock music. It was created in 1983 but did not have a home until 1995, when it opened its Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, after civic leaders pledged $65 million in public money to fund its construction. The first group of inductees included Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and James Brown, to name a few.
In the first days of the French Revolution, the deputies of the Third Estate were locked out of their usual meeting hall at Versailles. Believing that their newly formed National Assembly was to be disbanded, they met at a nearby tennis court and took an oath to not separate until a constitution was established for France. The oath was an assertion that power came from the people not the monarch, and their solidarity forced King Louis XVI to concede. Who was the only deputy not to sign the oath? Discuss …read more
According to Zoroastrian tradition, a dead body is unclean and must be disposed of in a safe manner. To prevent the pollution of earth or fire, dead bodies are placed atop a tower, where they are exposed to the sun and birds of prey. The towers are circular raised structures with nearly flat roofs that are divided into three concentric rings; one ring is designated for the bodies of men, one for women, and one for children. Who coined the term “tower of silence”? Discuss …read more
“Kilroy was here” is an American popular culture expression that is believed to have originated during World War II, when a US shipyard worker began scrawling the phrase on ships he had inspected. US servicemen then took up the saying and began scrawling it all over the world, wherever they were stationed or encamped. The phrase is usually paired with a doodle of a man peeking over a wall, a cartoon that was likely adopted from UK wartime graffiti that was often accompanied by what slogans? Discuss …read more
More about Virginia: Virginia is the oldest of the 13 original colonies. Virginia’s capital, Richmond, is among the country’s oldest cities. The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.