Category Archives: Fun Facts

How Large Can a Locust Swarm Get?

Here’s an interesting entry from The Writer’s Almanac of July 20, 2015 — “It was on this day 140 years ago, in 1875, that the largest recorded swarm of locusts in American history descended upon the Great Plains. It was a swarm about 1,800 miles long, 110 miles wide, from Canada down to Texas. North

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Why Do People Scream?

We take so much for granted in the world. Like why we scream.  I hadn’t given this a thought until I saw this discussed in a Time magazine news brief. Time reported on new research in the journal Current Biology that suggests hearing a scream may activate the brain’s fear circuitry.  Normally, your brain takes

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How Koalas Keep Cool

I just got back from a week in sunny Southern California (although it did rain for a day).  I was catching up reading my National Geographic magazines (they’re a good size for airplane trips) and I ran across this in the July 2015 issue — A 2014 study led by University of Melbourne ecologists showed

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What If You Need a New Kidney?

Al Roth is a professor of economics at Stanford, and he was co-winner (with Lloyd Shapley) of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012.  An engineer by training, he became an expert on designing markets because in certain situations, money alone can’t solve some problems.  For example, Stanford University doesn’t use supply and demand to

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How Much Do You Know About Money?

I was out shopping Saturday night and I heard a cashier marvel about receiving a $100 bill.  Is that the largest bill in circulation? That piqued my curiosity, and I got on my smart phone.  According to the official website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/denominations.aspx),  the denominations of currency now in production are

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A Milestone for the Steam Engine

Mention the steam engine, and most people think of James Watt.  Actually, the steam engine goes back to the 1st century AD —  the earliest known design, the aeolipile, was described by the Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria, as recorded in his manuscript Spiritalia seu Pneumatica.  On July 2, 1698, British engineer Thomas Savery was

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What is Asteroid Day?

Yesterday I received an email from The Planetary Society about Asteroid Day. Beginning at the beginning, The Planetary Society is an organization for people interested in anything involving space — “We create. We educate. We advocate.”   One of their latest activities has been to support the LightSail experiment — using the solar wind for

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Happy Birthday to the Typewriter

From The Writer’s Almanac, June 23, 2015: “The typewriter was patented on this date in 1868, by Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sholes was a newspaperman, and he was driven to invention out of necessity: His printers went on strike. He and two colleagues set out to invent a machine to print letters on

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Where Myths Come From

We as a species don’t like mysteries.  We’re always trying to explain what we see, even when we don’t have enough information to understand. For example, have you ever seen an elephant skull?  An elephant doesn’t have a bone between its eyes; there’s just one huge hole in the upper middle of the skull where

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