Brain Food
William Gibson(1948- ) is an American science fiction author living in Vancouver, Canada. Although he's been writing short stories since the late 1970s, his first novel, Neuromancer, wasn't published until 1984, at which time it won the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards. Neuromancer quickly gained cult status by being one of the first novels in a new science fiction genre called cyberpunk.
Professor Paul Brians, in the Department of English at Washington State University, describes cyberpunk like this: "Informed by the amoral urban rage of the punk subculture and depicting the developing human-machine interface created by the widespread use of computers and computer networks, set in the near future in decayed city landscapes like those portrayed in the film Blade Runner, it claimed to be the voice of a new generation."
Although some critics argue that cyberpunk as a literary genre is already dead, there is little doubt that William Gibson changed the direction of science fiction in the last decade. Here's a snippet from his groundbreaking work, Neuromancer: "Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts ... A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding ... "
For more information, see the Post-Modern Science Fiction page at
While he is best known for his pioneering ideas in the field of artificial intelligence, Alan Turing's(1912-1954) ideas also were important in the development of the computer as we know it today. His model for what is now called the Turing Machine remains the lesser known of his achievements, but it proved to be fundamental in the development of the binary system on which modern computers rely. The Turing Machine wasn't so much a "machine" in the form that we think of machines today (with mechanical parts and an engine) as it was a methodical way of describing a logical procedure, or what we refer to as an algorithm. Based on the concept of a machine that could read symbols on and write symbols to a paper tape using a very limited set of instructions, the Turing Machine was instrumental in defining one of the key abstractions in modern computability theory--which is to say, it showed just how much a computer can and cannot do. While developing his notions of how much a computer can and cannot do, Turing speculated on the possibility of artificial intelligence, and it is for this work that he is most widely known. In 1950, Turing published a paper titled "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," which has become one of the most cited works in the philosophy of artificial intelligence. In this paper, Turing surmised that computers would in time be programmed to acquire capabilities rivaling human intelligence, and he theorized that the operations of the brain must be "computable." As part of his argument, Turing usedthe idea of an "imitation game," in which a human being and a computer would be interrogated under conditions in which the interrogator would not know which was which. He went on to argue that if the interrogator could not distinguish the person from the machine, it would be reasonable to call the computer intelligent. This "imitation game" is now referred to as the "Turing test" for intelligence! Unfortunately, Turing didn't live long enough to finish his treatise examining the antithesis of artificial intelligence: genuine stupidity. You can read "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" at THE FATHER OF COMPUTING Charles Babbage (1791-1871) is often referred to as the father of computing for his contributions to the basic design of the computer through his Analytical Engine, but his Difference Engine remains his best-known invention. Never heard of either? Well, the Difference Engine was the first automatic mechanical calculator, designed to produce mathematical tables. Babbage began working on this huge device in 1823, and more then ten years later only one-seventh of the device (about 2,000 parts) was completed. By 1833, he abandoned the project and went on to work on the even more complex Analytical Engine. Although he never completed it (leading some to speculate that Babbage missed his calling as a government contractor), Babbage madehis most lasting contribution to the development of the computer with his realization that a computing machine must be made of an input device (he used a punch-card reader), a memory (which he called The Store), a central processing unit (which he called The Mill), and an output device. Babbage is also credited with inventing the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope. He also had an interest in cyphers and lock-picking--making him a kind of cross between a nineteenth-century Ben Franklin and twentieth-century Mr. Science. For more information on Charles Babbage, check out the following Web sites: Science Museum's Difference Engine Charles Babbage Foundation Charles Babbage Institute THIS + THAT - THE OTHER If George Boole's(1815-1864) name sounds familiar to you, it's probably because you can't swing a virtual cat on the Internet without running across one use or another for "Boolean operators." In particular, Internet search engines use Boolean operators as a way of taking your search request and applying a little bit of computer logic to it. That little bit of computer logic was actually invented by George Boole, a British mathematician and logistician. Back in 1854, Boole published "An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on Which Are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities" (obviously authors in nineteenth-century England didn't hold much stock in short, pithy titles). This work expounded on earlier works and developed the concepts that later came to be known as Boolean algebra. Through his various publications, Boole aimed to demonstrate that logic--the kind of logic described by Aristotle--could be rendered as algebraic equations. "We ought no longer to associate Logic and Metaphysics, but Logic and Mathematics," he wrote (coining a phrase that is oft considered proof that mathematicians do, indeed, use pick-up lines). Boole's branch of mathematics came to be known as symbolic logic, which aims to express logical processes using algebraic symbols. At its most basic, Boolean algebra simply states that one can interchange "and" and the plus sign (+), "not" and the minus sign (-), and so on. All these years later, it's Boole's logic that lets you go to a search engine on the Web and enter a search phrase like "cow and flatulence." BRAINIAC CPU is short for central processing unit--that is, the brains of a computer. Sometimes referred to simply as the processor or central processor, the CPU is where most system and application calculations take place (in other words, it's where the computer does most of its work). The CPU controls all the other parts of a computer. It receives and decodes instructions from memory and also activates peripherals, such as your monitor and keyboard. In terms of computing power, the CPU is the most important element of a computer system. The faster and more powerful your CPU, the faster and more powerful your computer. For more on CPUs, see: The CPU Guide CPU Central BUT WHAT ABOUT MY 8-TRACK TAPES? DVD is short for digital video disc (or less commonly, digital versatile disc), which is a relatively new type of CD-ROM. The big DVD claim to fame is that a single disk holds a minimum of 4.7GB (gigabytes), which is more than enough for a full-length movie. It's widely believed that DVD disks, called DVD-ROMs, will eventually replace CD-ROMs, videocassettes, and laser discs--that is, until a new format comes along to replace DVD. From the consumer's viewpoint, one of the best features of DVD players is that they're backward-compatible with CD-ROMs. That means DVD players can play your existing collection of CDs. NETWORK WITH THE LOCALS LAN stands for local area network, and it's essentially a small system of interconnected computers. Most likely, the computers in your office are connected with one another and maybe even with a server -making you a LAN user, whether you knew it or not. Usually, LANs are limited to a single office or building, but a really large one might span two or more adjacent buildings. For more information on LANs, see LAN FAQs at NETWORKING THE NETWORKS Unlike the tool you used to create that nifty cutting board back in your high school woodshop days, in technical parlance, a router is a device that connects two LANs. (A LAN is a local area network, as discussed in yesterday's tip.) In addition to simply bridging two LANs, a router provides additional features such as the ability to filter messages and forward them to different places based on predefined criteria. Routers are used extensively throughout the Internet to forward data from one host computer to another. In this case, a router maintains a table of available routes and their conditions, as well as distance and cost information, which it uses to determine the best route for a given packet of data. Typically, a packet travels through a number of routers before arriving at its destination. SOUNDS LIKE A HAIRNET FOR ANESTHESIOLOGISTS While we're on the subject of LANs (local area networks), Ethernet is a particular protocol--that is, a set of network cabling and signaling specifications--that provides a relatively inexpensive but fast network connection. Developed in 1976, the original Ethernet specifications support transfer rates of 10 megabits per second (mbps), but a new version, called 100BaseT (or Fast Ethernet), supports data transfer rates of 100 mbps. A newly proposed standard, called Gigabit Ethernet, will support data rates of 1 gigabit (1000 megabits) per second. For more on Ethernet, see: Charles Spurgeon's Ethernet Web Site CALL ME ON THE NET Net telephony is a general category of hardware and software that lets people use the Internet for telephone calls. For users who have free or fixed-price Internet access, Net telephony essentially provides free or cheap telephone calls anywhere in the world. The only drawback is that it offers (at best) the same connection quality as the rest of your Internet services. If you get frustrated waiting for a Web page to download, you can imagine what it's like waiting for the other end of a conversation to travel over the Internet. A number of Internet telephony applications are available. Some, like CoolTalk and NetMeeting, come bundled with popular Web browsers, while others are stand-alone. These products are sometimes called IP telephony, Voice over the Internet (VOI), or Voice over IP (VOIP). See also: Internet Telephony Resource List (including an FAQ link) CALL ME ON THE NETFAX WITHOUT THE PHONE CALL IP faxing refers to using the Internet to transmit faxes. IP faxing is similar to Internet telephony (defined yesterday), but it is optimized for transmitting fax data. IP faxing generally works by sending fax data over the Internet to strategically placed fax servers. Once the fax arrives at a server near its final destination, the server transfers the fax over normal telephone lines to the recipient. Because the data is transmitted over the Internet for most of its journey, the total cost of transmission is much less than if it traveled over long-distance telephone lines, as conventional faxes do. Many products are available that enable companies to set up IP faxing servers for their remote offices; in addition, national and international IP faxing services allow smaller companies and individuals to send IP faxes for a fee. See also: SureFax, an IP faxing service run by Cable & Wireless Xpedite Systems, another company providing fax broadcasting services BIOS CON DIOS BIOS (pronounced "bye-ose") stands for Basic Input/Output System, and it is an integral part of your PC. The BIOS is the lowest-level software in the computer, and it serves two essential functions: - It is the program your PC uses to start up the system when you turn it on. - It acts as an interface for the operating system and hardware, managing the flow of data between the system and attached devices such as the hard disk, video card, keyboard, mouse, and printer. Unlike the operating system, which you can install or reinstall at any time, the BIOS is built into the computer when it is manufactured. Additionally, the PC BIOS is standardized so that all PCs are alike at this level (although there are different BIOS versions). This way, the user can upgrade to a different version of DOS, for example, without changing the BIOS. YAKKITY, YAKKITY, YAK Instant messaging is a relatively new type of communications service that lets Internet users instantly create a private chat room or otherwise exchange communications in real time. While each system has its own way of creating instant messages, typically it works like this: - The instant messaging system alerts you whenever somebody on your private list is online; you can then initiate a chat session with that individual. - Likewise, while you are online, a friend can contact you to initiate a chat session. You can choose from several competing instant messaging systems. However, there isn't a standard for this technology yet, so your buddies have to use the same instant messaging system you do. For more information, see: ICQ America Online Instant Messenger PeopleLink Yahoo Pager MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WEB A mirror site is a Web or FTP site that is an exact duplicate copied from another server. Usually, mirroring is employed to lighten the load on sites with heavy traffic, such as those containing the Netscape and Microsoft browsers for downloading; but a mirror site can also create a copy of geographically distant sites (for example, mirroring a popular British site in the United States). Because the mirror site is an exact replica of the original site, it is usually updated frequently to ensure that it reflects the original's content. POINTING A FINGER Finger is a UNIX program that takes an e-mail address as input and returns information about the owner of that address. On some systems, the finger program only reports whether the user is currently logged on; on others, it returns information such as the user's full name, address, and telephone number. (Naturally, the user must first enter this information into the system.) Many e-mail programs now have a built-in finger utility, but you can also have a separate finger program on your computer, or you can use a finger gateway on the Web. For the most part, however, only large corporations, colleges, and universities are "fingerable" (set up to return information on the user you finger). For more information, see: Finger WHO ARE YOU? Whois is an Internet utility run by InterNIC that returns information about a domain name or IP address. For example, if you enter a domain name such as, whois returns the name and address of the domain's owner. In this case, the returned information looks something like this: PC World Communications PCWORLD-DOM 501 Second Street, #600 San Francisco, CA 94107 Domain Name: PCWORLD.COM Administrative Contact: Lastname, Firstname BC123 contactname@PCWORLD.COM 415-555-1234 Technical Contact, Zone Contact: nic-contact NICXX-ORG contactnamehere@PCWORLD.COM 415-555-1234 Fax: 415-555-1234 Billing Contact: Lastname, Firstname AB353BC123 contactname@PCWORLD.COM 415-555-1234 Record last updated on 11-Apr-97. Record created on 24-Apr-92. Database last updated on 8-Apr-98 04:13:53 EDT. Domain servers in listed order: NS.XXXX.NET 123.45.678.90 NS2.XXXX.NET 123.45.678.90 You can also use Whois to find out whether a domain name is available. If you query a particular name, and the search result finds no match, the domain name is probably available, and you can apply to register it. For more information, go to

BUT WHERE DO I INSERT MY CASH CARD? May 28th, 1998 Today's word: ATM Short for Asynchronous Transfer Mode, ATM is a network technology based on transferring data in fixed-size cells (sometimes called packets). Compared to units used with older technologies, cells used with ATM are relatively small. This smaller, constant cell size allows ATM equipment to transmit video, audio, and computer data over the same network, assuring that no single type of data hogs the line. Currently, ATM supports data transfer rates from 25 to 622 megabits per second, which can be quite high compared to a maximum of 100 mbps for Ethernet, the current technology used for most local area networks. While some people think that ATM holds the answer to the Internet bandwidth problem, there are certain drawbacks. For example, ATM's reliance on a fixed channel, or route, between two points makes for speedy data transfer, but the older standard (called TCP/IP)--which can send each packet on a different route and then compile the packets at the destination--is more adaptable to sudden surges in network traffic and better suited for skirting problem areas.

IT'S A RAID! June 1st, 1998 Today's word: RAID RAID is short for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, which is a specialized category of disk drives that use two or more drives in combination. By combining multiple drives, the user increases performance and decreases the risk of damage to the data or error. RAID drives are commonly used on servers but until recently were seldom necessary for personal computers. (We say "were" after the new Apple Macintosh, with two 4-gigabyte RAID drives.)

NOT THAT CUTE LITTLE BLUE GUY?! May 29th, 1998 Today's term: DoS attack "DoS attack" is short for "denial-of-service" attack, which is designed to bring a network to a halt by flooding it with useless traffic. Many DoS attacks, such as the Ping of Death and Teardrop, exploit limitations in the network but are easily fixed via software patches. As is the case with viruses, however, new DoS attacks such as the nefarious Smurf (described in a Wired article listed at the end of this tip) are constantly being developed by hackers. For more information, go to


Sure, there are millions, even billions of pages, on the Web. But how many really matter? That is, how many mention your name? Egosurfing is the search to find out.


Many PCs have a special port--a mechanical site with electrical wires for connection to other devices--for plugging in game hardware such as a joystick, flight stick or steering wheel. This game port has 15 pins and is often part of the sound card.


One way to pin down a precise color is to specify it in terms of Hue, Saturation and Brightness or HSB. These roughly correspond to the popular notions of color base, color intensity and amount of white or black.


Frequency is the measurement of how often something happens, typically measured in number of times per second. The unit is the Hertz, or Hz, named after a German scientist.


Macintosh application programs have their own means of talking to one another and sharing information and status. It's called IAC (for Inter-Application Communications). You also may hear it referred to as Apple Events.


Most pages are rectangles, not squares. You can view or print them with the short sides at top and bottom--called Portrait mode--or with the short sides on the right and left--called Landscape mode.


Mail Exploder is a program that forwards a e-mail to many addresses is "exploding" that mail. Sometimes this is the action of a virus that digs out a mailing list and sends unauthorized copies of itself to the addresses on that list. It can also be an authorized action to broadcast an authorized message to many recipients.


A Header is the text, page number, date and other information printed in a special zone at the top of a page. An Odd Header appears only on odd-numbered pages.


Apparently invented by the same folks who brought you the jumbo shrimp and military intelligence (our apologies to George Carlin), the Paperless Office concept was supposed to bring us a future where all those documents were seen on screen and saved on disk, not printed, shuffled, filed, and possibly recycled. It isn't happening, with computers instead making it easier to print more every year.


Early processors and computers didn't always have the room to work on a full 8 bits--a "byte"--at a time. Instead these primitive machines sometimes had to make do with "nibbles"--four bits at a time.

SHOT, DUMP, CAPTURE--SEEING THE SCREEN November 22nd, 1999 Today's Term: Screen shot Screen shots, screen dumps, and screen captures are all the same thing: an image of what appears on the screen. Most computers have a way to send a basic screen shot directly to a disk file or to a printer. Some specialized graphics programs let you choose just which part of the screen to shoot.

THE COMPUTERPHONE HAS ITS CALLING November 23rd, 1999 Today's Term: TAPI If a phone or related device is going to be controlled by or communicate with a computer, the programs involved want a standardized set of rules for exchanging information. The Telephony Applications Programming Interface (TAPI) is one such set.

Last time, we asked you who coined the term "cyberspace." Sci-fi writer William Gibson first used the phrase in his 1984 novel Neuromancer to describe a somewhat more intense experience than just surfing over to Gibson was describing a well-established sci-fi notion of the human mind being jacked directly into an electronic network, which would then become tacitly real to the mind within it. Now, the term is freely used to describe sending e-mail. Jargon inflation.

Last time, we asked you to name the triggering device in an H-bomb. Why, it's an A-bomb, of course. The force of the fission explosion creates enough heat and pressure to fuse hydrogen into helium. By the way, H-bombs can use as much fuel as you care to pump into them- -the more juice, the bigger the bang. A-bombs can use only about the amount of unstable atomic fuel that constitutes a critical mass for fission. Wimps.


A Gigaflop is a billion (the giga part) floating point operations (the flop part) per second. A floating point operation is a mathematical calculation, such as 2.277E5 * 4.3567E-7, which involves numbers in scientific form. Floating point operations are more complicated than integer operations (like 2 * 43, for example) and are a good measure of a powerful computer's processor performance.
In the 1980s, the gigaflop was a common measure of supercomputer ability. Now it is starting to appear in desktop computer specs, such as the new Power Mac G4, which claims 1 Gigaflop speed. Which means we could soon start hearing thrilled computer owners saying, "I got such a huge Flop!"


The slowest practical modem speed for using the Web is 14,400 bps. The international standard for modems that run at this speed is called V.32bis. It is an extension of the previous V.32 standard that specified how 4800 bps and 9600 bps modems would communicate.


The Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter(RAMDAC) chip found in many computer video systems changes stored memory bits into actual analog signals for a monitor. In other words, it runs the digital color representation through its own stored color palette information and translates the result into waves that can produce the actual colors on screen. A video system with a RAMDAC can have a better look and higher processing speeds than one without.


The new USB ports in many Macs and PCs can be faster and easier to use than the older serial and parallel ports. But the "driver" software that makes USB work is generally new and prone to be buggy. This is particularly true when the USB peripheral and its driver try to re-create the older-type ports. Those setups use a piece of software called a "shim" that intrudes upon the main USB driver and tries to intercept the calls for traditional port action. This complicated dance can mean even buggier behavior. The gradual improvement of USB software will help squash these bugs. The disappearance of the need for serial and parallel ports will help even more.


Collaboration is an important element of communication on a network. A Whiteboard program lets one user create, edit or draw on screen while others view that work.


The Universal Disk Format(UDF) is a new way to organize information on a CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, or DVD disc. UDF is meant to replace the old ISO9660 method used pretty much since CD-ROMs were invented. The new standard makes storing all kinds of digital information on the one kind of disc--especially the DVD--easier. It also lets you use that disc in a variety of readers and players.

how the MP3 format jammed all that sound into such little files. MP3, or MPEG 1 Audio Layer 3, simply throws away digital audio information that it considers unnecessary. Typically, the husk that gets dumped is "redundant" sounds, allowing MP3 to compress audio data to one-twelfth its size on a standard audio CD. However, many audio purists complain that those redundant sounds are part of the harmonics of a song, and their absence creates noticeable sound quality degradation on higher-end audio equipment.


Typical computer cables--such as serial, parallel, and 10Base-T Ethernet--carry particular signals on each of 4 to 25 or more wires inside the cable. Those wires are arranged so that they'll make sense to the receiving sockets on peripherals. If you want to feed a set of signals directly from one computer to another, you need a crossover cable--one where the key signal wires are swapped halfway.
To get an idea of how a crossover cable works, imagine that two people call you simultaneously on two phones, and you want them to speak directly to each another. You can't just hold your two phone handsets up to one another. You have to turn one handset upside down--that is, cross it over--so that its speaker is against the other phone's ear piece and its ear piece is against the other phone's speaker.


Local area networks that connect computers in an office typically use the Ethernet specifications to move information around at a maximum speed of 10 Mbps (that's megabits per second). Networks using inexpensive, telephone-style wiring are called 10Base-T networks. A newer generation moves ten times as much information--100 Mbps--on phone wires and is called 100Base-T. The specifications are nearly complete for the next increase: 1,000 Mbps (or 1 gigabit per second). This standard is known as 1000Base-T or Gigabit Ethernet.


The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is a specification for providing Internet communications and advanced telephony services on digital mobile phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, and wireless terminals. For details about this specification, go to the WAP Forum.


Hewlett-Packard is famous for making printers and plotters. To standardize the way computers spoke to those printers and plotters, HP devised the HPGL, or Hewlett Packard Graphics Language. HPGL has been successful enough that most graphics programs and printers, from any manufacturer, can understand it.


The Secure Digital Music Initiative or SDMI is a specification for playing digital music. Where the popular MP3 specification focuses only on music quality in the most compact file size, the recording-industry's SDMI adds security. The goal is for future generations of digital music players to be able to handle both free MP3 files (which SDMI supports) and paid-for SDMI music files (which can't be copied).
Some MP3 fans see this specification as a heavy-handed attempt to squash the artistic and listener freedom of MP3. Some industry defenders say that without some protection against piracy, artists and producers won't be paid for their efforts.


When a calculation result is so small, so close to zero, that the computer can't represent it properly, you have underflow. The computer can then see this number as an error, or it can be programmed to round the number off so that work can proceed.


Beowulf is a way of connecting many Linux computers together to multiply their power. Beowulf is useful for supercomputing-style work, such as numeric analysis and engineering design. Of course, use it anywhere near a mead hall, and you've got problems.


Basically, ATA/66 is a really fast way to get information in and out of a hard drive and comes close to the speed that the computer bus moves information between processor and memory.
Also known as Ultra DMA/66 and Fast ATA-2, this new interface between hard drives and computer systems has twice the maximum data transfer rate of the previous Ultra ATA/33 interface. The 66.6MB/s rate is four times the older DMA Mode 2 interface rate of 16.6MB/s and is backward compatible with both Ultra ATA/33 and DMA Mode 2.


A set of screen display specifications that changes the look of your interface without changing the basic menus and icons and whatnot is called a "skin." You can find lots of free skins online that can change the look of Windows and of the Macintosh OS. They can even change the look of particular programs, such as MP3 music players.


The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) is a collection of companies such as 3Com, Apple, Compaq, Dell, Lucent, Nokia, Zoom, and Aironet that test and certify wireless networking gear. CUTTING PAGES DOWN TO (PORTABLE) SIZE December 17th, 1999 Today's Term: Web Clipping Internet-compatible cell phones and handheld computers rarely have screens large enough to show even a significant portion of a typical Web page. The solution is "web clipping," trimming away elements of the Web page so that the vital information can fit onto the tiny displays. EPIC BATTLE January 4th, 2000 Today's Term: EPIC The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a consumer-protection nonprofit agency devoted to online privacy. In 1999, for example, EPIC sued the Federal Trade Commission to take action on privacy complaints from consumers, claiming that the agency wasn't responding. The EPIC site has links to privacy articles, regulations, and laws. HOME IS WHERE THE RADIO IS December 22nd, 1999 Today's Term: HomeRF The HomeRF Working Group is an alliance of companies including Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, and Proxim that are working on a non-Ethernet wireless scheme for networking computers. PROTECT YOUR BACKSIDE December 15th, 1999 Today's Term: Backside Cache A cache is a small amount of faster, expensive memory used to hold most-recently or most-frequently requested information, which can make all the memory appear to operate faster. Backside Cache is closely attached to the processor but is not inside the processor. SOME OBSCURE CRIME CODE PERHAPS? December 21st, 1999 Today's Term: 802.11 The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) 802.11 standard specifies how wireless Ethernet gear can network computers without cabling. The first generation of 802.11 products ran at 2 Mbps (megabits per second); the second generation runs at 11Mbps, using the 2.4GHz radio band. SPEED X = Y DIFFERENT? December 31st, 1999 Today's Term: X - CD-ROM drives, DVD-ROM drives, CD-RW drives, digital camera memory cards: They all use X to indicate their speed. - In CD-ROM drives, the X means "times the 150KBps speed of the original CD-ROM drive specification." So a 4X CD-ROM drive moves 600KBps (kilobytes per second). - CD-RW drives use three X measures: one for Write speed, one for Rewrite speed, and one for Playback speed, using the same value for X (150Kbps). Therefore, 8X x 6X x 24X means 1200KBps when writing the first time, 900KBps when erasing and writing again, and 3600KBps when reading. - In DVD-ROM drives, the X means ten times. A 2X DVD-ROM drive can read discs at 3000KBps. - X in memory cards refers to the same 150Kbps as in CD drives, so a typical 4X memory card stores pictures at 600KBps and the fastest 12X at 1800KBps (or 1.8MBps). The point? Faster is generally better in any drive, though not if you have to pay too much for it and not if the other system components hold down the speed anyway. TRYING ON THE GLASS SLIPPER December 23rd, 1999 Today's Term: Footprint The square inches of space on your desk (or dining room table) that a computer sits on and covers up is its "footprint." Smaller computers have smaller footprints--generally a good thing because a smaller footprint leaves more desk space that you can cover with papers, books, coffee cups, and other necessities. VOICE MAIL SPAM MACHINE December 16th, 1999 Today's Term: Voice Blast Voice Blast technology lets you automatically send a recorded voice message to many recipient telephones. Sometimes used for business or for community emergency warnings, Voice Blast is also misused for sending out those annoying ad messages. WALLET-ESE December 29th, 1999 Today's Term: ECML The new Electronic Commerce Modeling Language (ECML) specification aims to make the new "electronic wallet" programs compatible with a wide variety of Web shopping sites. It should automate the process of filling in Web forms. Yesterday we asked you what that Nobel prize-winning physicist Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac discovered (coincidentally, also in 1930). Dirac produced the mathematic equations that proved the existence of anti- matter: negative-state subatomic particles otherwise identical to positive-state subatomic particles. The concept has fueled the imaginations of generations of science fiction writers, notably Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Last time, we asked you what Wisconsin farmer Ed Gein did back in the 1950s that shocked America and inspired horror writers and filmmakers for generations. In the interest of good taste, we'll just tell you that Gein, whose puritanical and suffocating mother had told him all sex was evil, turned his big empty farmhouse into a scene far more grisly than the Leatherface homestead. In fact, Gein's story is credited as the direct source material for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and much of The Silence of the Lambs. The entire country was stunned when both Time and Life covered the story in late 1957. Gein was charged with necrophilia and murder, but police were never able to completely sort out the origins of all the evidence. What bizarre tribute to Albert Einstein, we asked yesterday, can be found in Weston, Missouri? Einstein's body was cremated following his death on April 18, 1955. But the doctor who performed the autopsy removed Einstein's brain, part of which is now preserved in a bottle somewhere in Weston. However, there is no truth to the rumor that the brain is stored next to another one that's labeled "Abbie Normal." Yesterday, just for nyuks, we asked what two men followed in the footsteps of brothers Curly and Shemp Howard to accept slaps and pokes from Moe Howard and Larry Fine as members of the Three Stooges. Chubby former vaudevillian Joe Besser, known for his prissy demeanor and un- Stooge-like aversion to violence, appeared in the team's final 16 short subjects. He was replaced by Joe DeRita, who, because of his striking resemblance to original Stooge Curly Howard, was billed as "Curly Joe." DeRita appeared in the Stooges' six feature films and lent his likeness and voice to the Stooges' cartoons of the 1960s. Last time, we asked you what had 18,000 tubes; 70,000 resistors; 10,000 capacitors; 6,000 switches; and 1,500 relays? Of course, it was the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, the first electronic computer. The project's designers, John Mauchly and John Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering, had originally envisioned a machine requiring only 5,000 tubes with a bill of about $150,000; costs grew to about $400,000 dollars in 1940s money. Not the kind of machine you put on your desktop. Last time, we asked you where all the heavy elements come from if we're all made of star stuff. The answer is from stars that blow up (pretty heavy, huh?). When a star's core burns out and collapses, the outer gases fall back on the neutron core and--boom--supernova. For no more than 30 minutes or so, the star's conflicting mass creates incredible temperatures and pressures that fuse atoms into all the elements, from carbon to lead, and then throws them into the void. Scientists could only guess at this until a nearby supernova in 1987 proved that their theories were pretty much dead-on. Last time, we asked you which of the following celebrities Scooby-Doo has not co-starred with. * Mama Cass Elliot from The Mamas and The Papas * Spider-Man * Jerry Reed * The Harlem Globetrotters * Batman and Robin The answer is Spider-Man. Hana-Barbera, the company that made the Scooby cartoons, was in tight with Batman's D.C. Comics, but never Marvel Comics, where Spidey hung out. Mama Cass did an embarrassing voice-over in an episode that did little but make fun of her weight; Jerry Reed had some hang-up with a xylophone. Last time, we asked you how the South Park boys used the Web to get famous. The first time anybody heard of South Park and its creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, was when a short they produced, "The Spirit of Christmas," became a hot e-mail potato. The cartoon boys watch as Jesus and Santa duke it out to see who embodies the true spirit of Christmas. The huge multimedia file was passed around so heavily that many corporate IT departments had to send out warnings to users not to glut their messaging systems. Producers at the Comedy Central TV network got wind of the craze, and the rest is history. Yesterday we asked how much Microsoft paid to acquire DOS (now MS-DOS), which currently generates more than $200 million in revenue for the company per annum. In one of the savviest business moves of the century, Bill Gates and friends acquired DOS from tiny Seattle Computer products for a paltry $50,000. If you grew up in the 1970s, you probably remember the psychedelic Saturday-morning worlds of Sid and Marty Krofft, creators of far-out children's television shows such as H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, Sigmund & the Sea Monsters, and Land of the Lost. By the time bell-bottoms had given way to wraparound shades as the fashion statement of choice, all the Kroffts' trippy TV shows had been cancelled. At the zenith of their success, however, the team became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with one of America's largest corporations. HOW DID A PAIR OF AMIABLE CHILDREN'S ENTERTAINMENT PIONEERS FIND THEMSELVES IN SUCH A SCRAPE, AND WHOM WERE THEY FIGHTING? The answer is that fast-food giant McDonald's asked the Kroffts to present them with concepts for their then-new McDonaldland advertising campaign. Executives halted Sid and Marty in the middle of the team's presentation and dismissed the Kroffts unceremoniously. Yet, five months later, McDonaldland debuted, inhabited by such Krofftian characters as the Pufnstuf-like Mayor McCheese and the irrepressible Hamburglar. The Kroffts responded with a copyright infringement suit, which McDonald's settled out of court. As a result, Sid and Marty are still collecting royalty checks from Mickey D's.


SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a way for two communicating Internet programs to keep their exchanges secret. SSL ensures encrypted and authenticated communications for Web browsers, newsreaders, and other such software. Many Web shopping sites use SSL connections.


X.509 is an international standard from the ITU-TSS (International Telecommunications Union-Telecommunications Standards Sector) that specifies how programs can use digital certificates to "authenticate." In English, that means it sets the rules for how a program can know exactly who sent a message. Browsers and e-mail programs can put this to use.


Today, you get three terms for one: Java, JavaBean, and Java applet.
  • Java is a programming language for creating programs that can run on a wide variety of computers. All the computer needs is a Java interpreter, like those built into most Web browsers.
  • A JavaBean is a Java program that can run outside of a browser and remain on a computer even after it has run.
  • The more widely known Java applets are Java programs that run inside the browser window.


Yes, we know, those are two terms. But they are so similar, it would be a shame--not to mention a waste of a daily tip--to define them separately. You've almost certainly seen RJ-11 in your home and possibly RJ-14 in your business. They are the standard telephone line plugs:
  • The RJ-11 is a single line (with several wires) that connects your phone and answering machine to each other and to the wall.
  • The RJ-14 is a two-line version more often found in business.
You may also bump into these little latching plugs--and their mated sockets--in computer networking gear, which often uses phone line hardware for computer-to-computer connections. IT'S A NICE THING, UNLESS THERE ARE TOO MANY January 10th, 2000 Today's Term: Courtesy Copy Bet you didn't know that CC is short for courtesy copy. The name you enter on the CC of a memo or an e-mail message line isn't the primary recipient of your message (that's the address in the To line). You CC someone when you want that person to get a copy of the message. Think of sending a CC when you need to CYA (we won't tell you what THAT'S short for). UP AGAINST THE BANDWIDTH AND SPREAD 'EM January 7th, 2000 Today's Term: Spread Spectrum Most wireless communications devices, such as cordless and cellular phones, have been devoted to moving their information on a single frequency. Which is all well and good, except that it doesn't offer the best in terms of security and sharpness of sound. Enter Spread Spectrum, which sends and receives bits on a number of frequencies all at the same time, spreading the message out across the available frequency spectrum, shifting to the clearest route. Spread Spectrum improves both call clarity and security. RFI ELIMINATOR: SCHWARZENEGGER'S NEXT FILM January 6th, 2000 Today's Term: RFI Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) is the noise created in communications and computer gear by the surrounding radio waves. Some of these waves come from distant radio stations. Some come from your own high-frequency gear--a cordless phone, a television's internal electronics, or a processor chip, for example. RIF rarely hurts data, which can resend any missed or mistaken bits without even letting you know there's a problem, but it can make static on any audio or video line. You can buy RFI Eliminators that block out much of RFI. WELL, IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE January 13th, 2000 Today's Term: SMTP The Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) specifies how e-mail moves over computer networks. It's "simple" in that this protocol works only for text. If you want to e-mail other information, you need a different protocol, such as MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions). Last time, we asked you who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest." That phrase, so closely linked with Darwinism, is nowhere to be found in Charles Darwin's watershed The Origin of Species. It was coined by English sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer. It refers to the fact that organisms not well adapted to their environments tend to perish, while those better suited to their environments tend to persist. SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTATION OF ALIASES Today's Term: SPA SPA (or Secure Password Authentication) is a more secure way of signing on to an e-mail account. SPA forces your computer to assure the main e-mail server computer that you truly are who you say you are so that others can't pose as you to send and receive your e-mail or intercept your password. WHOLY SILLY Today's Term: Holy War Computer developers and users can sometimes become thoroughly convinced that their particular hardware or software is the only answer and that any competing products are evil. Their e-mail and newsgroup discussions with those who don't share their beliefs can be so vicious that they're called "holy wars." BIG BODY, LITTLE ARMS You may have looked at drawings of the fabled King of the Dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and wondered what possible use His Royal Lizardness could have for those wimpy-looking arms. OK, well, if you haven't wondered before, then start wondering now. What good would such puny arms do a beast of otherwise impressive and powerful stature? Quite a lot of good, many scientists now believe. IN FACT, THE SPECIES MAY NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SURVIVE WITHOUT THOSE TINY ARMS. WHY? What good did those puny little arms do the otherwise great and powerful King of the Dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex? Those tiny arms helped the mighty lizard regain its footing if it was knocked over. More important--both for the survival of the species and, we're sure, to T-Rex himself--many scientists now think those arms made it possible for the gigantic, ungainly creatures to balance themselves during intercourse, instead of toppling over in a titanic heap of sexual frustration. All of which gives your narrator disturbing mental images about Barney. Last time, we asked what was so strange about the descendants of Martin Fugate, who carried a rare recessive gene capable of causing a striking but otherwise harmless physical anomaly. The answer is that Fugate's family carried a recessive gene that retarded the body's production of the enzyme diaphorase, which, among other things, gives blood its red color. When both spouses carried this gene, their children had blue blood, and thus blue skin. During the first half of the 20th century, when the Fugates resided in a secluded Appalachian valley in Kentucky, many of Martin Fugate's descendants gave birth to blue children, due to excessive inbreeding. In the early 1960s, Madison Cawein, a University of Kentucky hematologist, successfully treated many of the so-called "Blue People" with, ironically, methylene blue. FEAR OF THE GREEN GOBLIN In his early adventures, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man squared off against some of the most formidable characters in comic book history. In his first few dozen issues, the web-slinger faced adversaries such as Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, the Lizard, Sandman, Electro, and Mysterio. He even tangled with Dr. Doom, the metallic miscreant who had repeatedly given the entire Fantastic Four all they could handle. But Spidey dreaded no villain more than the Green Goblin. WHAT MADE THE GOBLIN SUCH A FEARFUL FOE? Last time we asked why it was that, in his early adventures, Spider-Man feared the Green Goblin above all other adversaries in his well-stocked list of enemies. The answer is that in Amazing Spider-Man no. 39, a pivotal issue, the Goblin became the first foe to discover that Spidey was really part-time photographer and full-time social misfit Peter Parker. The Goblin, it turns out, was a creation of the fractured psyche of Norman Osborn--father of Parker's pal, Harry Osborn. Norman received treatment, and for a while, the Goblin disappeared. But Spidey always (and with good reason) dreaded the day Norman might relapse, return as the Green Goblin, and expose the superhero's secret identity. NAME THAT ACRONYM If you know anything at all about the history of that tangled Web we lovingly refer to as the Internet, then you're probably aware it was created by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Back in 1969, the agency funded the creation of ARPANET, which was designed to link research institutions and defense contractors then engaged by the DoD. Initially, ARPANET connected three computers in California with one computer in Utah. But from this modest beginning, ARPANET eventually grew (or mutated, to employ a more accurate term) into what we now know as the Internet. WHAT IS THE TERM ARPANET SHORT FOR? Back in 1969, the U.S. Department of Defense funded the creation of ARPANET, which represented the first step toward what we now know as the Internet. What, we asked, is ARPANET short for? The answer is Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. Limitations of the ARPANET led, indirectly, to the development of the National Science Foundation's NSFNET, which formed the foundation of the modern Internet. This science fiction series had the shortest title in television history. It was probably also the only primetime program to feature shape-shifting lizards from outer space. NAME IT. Last time, we asked you to name the science fiction series that had the shortest title in television history. That series was of course, V, which ran for a single season after enjoying success as a miniseries. The shortest movie title in history, by the way, belongs to Fritz Lang's classic thriller, M. GEEK CURIOSITY GETTING THE BEST OF YOU? With all the nifty stuff available on the Internet these days, wouldn't it be great if there was a place that could tell you exactly what that cool site you're surfing is running? Now there is, and it's called Click Netcraft's What's That Site Running? link and enter the URL of the site in question. Netcraft will quickly determine the OS of the queried host by examining network characteristics of the HTTP reply received from the Web site. Netcraft's unique service provides a simple way to set your mind at ease about the sites you hit. LOOKING FOR WINDOWS UTILITIES? offers many of those nifty little Windows utilities that let you do all sorts of interesting things. Check out these utilities: * Go!Zilla--Helps you resume failed downloads and recover from other download errors. * SSSiter--A free personal search engine. * SS Spider--Submits search criteria to eight search engines simultaneously. * PKZip/PKUnzip--Freeware zip utility for Windows by PKWare. * WebCam Monitor--Find, play, and record live WebCams. also offers other free programs, tools, drivers, and much more. It's the place to turn to for that next big project, such as turning your CD collection into an MP3 gallery. Go to You'll find what you're looking for. ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, OVERCLOCK! You've undoubtedly heard some of those great overclocking stories. Some guy at work gets a wild hair one day and decides to put his motherboard in a freezer so he can overclock his system. If you think that's amusing, then visit You'll be amazed at what some serious computerphiles can do with a little time and a lot of ingenuity. Have you ever wanted to embark on an overclocking odyssey of your own? If so, is the perfect place to start. Here you can get all sorts of essential information, ranging from how to keep your processor from igniting to what kind of case you'll need for that box you're building (be it a refrigerator or something a bit smaller). WHAT DO YOU NEED? There's a scene in Disney's Aladdin in which a genie, just released from his bottle, continues to say, "What do you need, what do you need, what do you need?" That's the kind of the feeling you get when you visit, one of the Web's most accommodating download centers. Whether you need business applications, text editors, file utilities, or games, SourceForge is the place to go. Applications you can retrieve from this site support a variety of operating systems: Windows, UNIX, Linux, MacOS, even PalmOS, and BeOS. The next time you find yourself wishing for a computer genie to solve your problems, check out this site. You'll probably walk away with your answer. WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES THAT MEAN? All you IT pros out there know every computer term and acronym, right? Well, in case you've fallen a little behind, Matisse Enzer's Glossary of Internet Terms is the definitive site to visit. It's certainly the place to point newbies when they say: *Who is this Archie guy, and what does he want? *What's CGI--Cosmetically Gifted Insurance? *Cookies: Yummy! *POP goes the weasel? *Spam? Yuck, that stuff is gross!


Chat messages are full of quickly typable acronyms. A popular quickie in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is AFK for "away from keyboard."


The X2 standard for modems that run at 56Kbps competed with the K56Flex standard. Both are now obsolete because of the newer V.90 standard. You'll still find some modems that support only X2 or K56Flex. If you have one of those, you may be able to upgrade to V.90 through a software change, or you may just have to make sure any 56K number you dial with that modem supports either X2 or K56Flex.


The most popular Web server program is Apache, created by a volunteer team of professionals and amateurs. It was originally a" collection of software 'patches,'" hence the name.


Undernet is one of the international Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks. When you get an IRC program and want to chat with other IRC users, Undernet is one of the networks that helps you find and link to them.


A domain is the "something" in an address of It is the top level of an address. A subdomain is the "lowerlevel" in an address of Does this matter in daily life? Not much. Nobody really talks about subdomains, only about owning "domain names". If you own a domain, you own all the subdomains.


The Document Object Model (DOM) standard specifies how Web browsers can make Web page information available to processing scripts. In other words, it's a way for Web programs to handle the pictures, words, and other elements of a Web page.


If you read the messages in a newsgroup but never write and post your own, or if you follow the discussions in a chat room but don't add your own words, you're a lurker. To lurk when you first show up is a good thing: You learn the courtesies and traditions of the newsgroup or room. To continue to lurk indefinitely is seen by some as a bad thing: You're taking without giving back. Yesterday, we asked you to explain the Doppler effect. Christian Doppler, an Austrian scientist, explained the apparent change in sound wavelengths emitted by a moving body. The frequency of the wavelengths increases (waves become shorter and the sound is higher in pitch), Doppler said, as the moving source draws closer to the observer. Conversely, the wavelength frequency decreases (waves become longer and the sound is lower in pitch) as the source gets further away. These differences manifest themselves visually (objects moving closer appear "blue-shifted," while those moving away appear "red-shifted") as well as audibly. These basic concepts have enjoyed many practical applications, including the ubiquitous Doppler radar. Astronomers also use these principles to measure the movements of celestial bodies. Last time, we asked how farmers plant seedless grapes. Because seedless grapes in fact produce no seeds, growers cut individual grapes into slices and plant the slices. These pieces take root and eventually grow vines, which produce more grapes. Seedless grapes, by the way, are not a modern, genetically engineered product. They date back thousands of years and probably originated in the Middle East. No one knows exactly how the seedlessness developed, whether by chance or by careful cultivation. PROBABLY GOOD FOR DISCO RECORDS Today's Term: Disc-At-Once CD-R (Compact Disc-Recordable) discs can hold more than 600MB of information. You get the information onto the disc using, naturally a CD-R drive, which looks suspiciously like a CD-ROM drive. When recording a CD-R, there are several methods. You can tell the CD-R drive's software to put a little information on at a time. Or you can tell the CD-R drive to use the Disc-At-Once method that records all of the information in one pass. This puts a table of contents or "lead-in section" at the beginning of the disc, then keeps recording until all information is down, and finishes with a lead-out section. After Disc-At-Once recording, nothing more can be recorded to the CD-R. This makes Disc-At-Once an inefficient way to store files though it is a good way to record music for play on audio CD drives or to make many copies of a single master CD-ROM. Actor Desmond Llewelyn, known to James Bond aficionados as "Q," was killed in a car crash in December, but not before endearing himself to thousands (perhaps millions) of fans. Llewelyn, cast as the secret agent's prickly equipment officer, appeared in more Bond movies than Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan combined, beginning with From Russia with Love in 1963. WHAT WAS THE FIRST GADGET Q ISSUED TO AGENT 007?In honor of fallen hero Desmond Llewelyn, who played James Bond's longtime equipment officer, we asked what was the first gadget Q issued to 007 back in 1963, when the character made his screen debut in From Russia with Love. Q issued Bond an ordinary black leather briefcase full of concealed weaponry, including a flat throwing knife, an AR-7 folding sniper's rifle with an infrared telescopic site, 20 rounds of ammunition, a talcum powder tin full of tear gas that was designed to explode if the case was opened incorrectly, and (just in case Bond ran short of cash) 50 gold sovereigns. Radioactive lint came later. WAR GAMES Back in 1954, the U.S. Department of Defense launched SAGE (SemiAutomatic Ground Environment), an air defense system designed to counter incoming enemy bombers. Since the system could mobilize defenses against planes but not missiles, SAGE was never entirely satisfactory and was ultimately discarded. Amazingly, however, this antiquated system remained in service until the mid-1980s. Today SAGE is remembered not for its curious longevity but because the program played a major role in the development of computer technology and the Internet. WHAT IS THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SAGE? Last time, we discussed SAGE, a less-than-ideal Air Force defense network that proved useless against intercontinental ballistic missiles but nevertheless had a monumental impact on the development of computers. What, we asked, makes SAGE so important, in retrospect? The answer is that the project, launched in 1954, required the creation of a network of interdependent computers scattered across the U.S.-- arguably, the first computer network. THE JOY OF COOKING Here's a recipe Betty Crocker never thought of: Take a glass jar and pour in some water. Then funnel in a mixture of gases including ammonia, methane, hydrogen, and water vapor. Heat these elements and add a dash of electric sparks. Those are the steps University of Chicago scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey followed back in 1953 as part of a groundbreaking chemistry experiment. WHEN MILLER AND UREY BREWED THEIR PRIMORDIAL SOUP, WHAT REMARKABLE BY-PRODUCT WAS PRODUCED? What, we asked last time, did researchers Stanley Miller and Harold Urey produce when they mixed water with ammonia, methane, hydrogen, and water vapor and then heated those elements and added electric sparks? Their 1953 experiment produced amino acids--one of the basic building blocks of organic life. While subsequent experiments failed to yield any living organisms, they did produce an abundance of amino acids, sugars, and other essential molecules for life. Miller and Urey's research seems to support the theory that life on earth evolved from a "primordial soup" during the planet's infancy. LOSING FOCUS Time was, only Buck Rogers had a laser. Now the ophthalmologist down the street wants to use one to correct your eyesight. In the years that have passed between, the term "laser" has become such common usage that almost no one seems to remember that the word is actually an acronym. WHAT IS LASER SHORT FOR? Why, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, of course. MEN OF CHARACTER Now that the 20th century is toast (well, almost), we can look back on the era and appreciate (among other things) the wealth of fictional characters it gave us in movies and books. It's difficult to imagine a world without Superman or The Lone Ranger, for instance. Remarkably, two of the century's most memorable fictional personages first appeared within a few years of each other in the same pulp magazine--All-Story Weekly. WHAT TWO FAMOUS CHARACTERS MADE THEIR DEBUTS IN THIS LONG- FORGOTTEN PERIODICAL? That periodical introduced Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan to the world. And later, in a 1919 serial by Johnston McCulley titled "The Curse of Capistrano," it brought us the masked Mexican avenger, Zorro. Both characters would enjoy greater success outside the magazine market. The paperback compilation of Burrough's Tarzan, The Ape Man became a best seller. HEART TO HEART Chances are, hearts will be much in evidence today--on Valentine's Day greeting cards, boxes of candy, you name it. However, none of these hearts will look anything like the one Dr. Denton Cooley placed into the chest of a patient in 1969. That patient was the recipient of the world's first artificial heart, a plastic ticker designed by Argentina- born scientist Dr. Domingo Liotta. The patient lived three days on the artificial heart, which was then replaced with a human heart. In 1982, doctors launched a daring series of experiments with a new artificial heart designed to function as a permanent replacement, not just a temporary stop-gap. Retired dentist Barney Clark received the first of these new hearts and survived for 112 days following its implantation. The new hearts were designed by an American physician, and bore his name. WHAT WAS THE NAME? Last time, we asked you to recall the name of the scientist who designed the artificial heart that was implanted in the chest of retired dentist Barney Clark in 1982. The gentleman was Dr. Robert K. Jarvik. Barney Clark survived for 112 days with a Jarvik-7 total artificial heart. Other patients followed Clark as recipients of Jarvik hearts, but the results proved unsatisfactory. The Jarvik hearts required an outside power source, which limited patients' mobility and greatly compromised their quality of life. LAYING DOWN THE LAW It doesn't roll off the tongue with the ease of scientific laws attributed to Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton, but computer- networking pioneer Bob Metcalfe can, in fact, boast that such a law bears his name. WHAT, PRECISELY, DOES METCALFE'S LAW STATE? What, we asked yesterday, does Metcalfe's Law, the scientific axiom named for computer networking pioneer Bob Metcalfe, postulate? Metcalfe's Law states: "The value of a network grows as the square of the number of its users." Of course, Metcalfe was referring to the value of the network to its users, not its shareholders. A MERCURIAL MYSTERY The Mariner 10 spacecraft passed near the planet Mercury three times beginning in March 1974. One close encounter brought the craft within 200 miles of the sun-charred world. The probe sent back reams of photographs and other data, and mapped portions of the tiny planet's surface for the first time. One bit of information relayed to Earth by Mariner 10 raised a puzzling astronomical question. WHAT WAS THE MYSTERY SURROUNDING THE MARINER 10 DATA? Last time, we asked you to identify the astronomical mystery that the Mariner 10 space probe discovered during its 1974 visit to Mercury. Data from Mariner 10 revealed that the tiny, hellish world has a small magnetic field, about a hundredth as strong as Earth's. Scientists are unable to account for this, because the planet doesn't rotate quickly enough to generate a magnetic field, according to accepted theories. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR Back in those halcyon days when Galaga and Frogger were on the cutting edge of home entertainment technology, Atari had a virtual stranglehold on the video game market. Still, the company wasn't as tightfisted as some current video game companies. At least Atari customers got two joysticks with every game system purchased. Plus, for years, Atari customers received one free game prepackaged with their game system. NAME THE GAME. Question: Why do things appear darker when they're wet? Answer: Grab a white shirt, dip it in water, and voila, it turns gray right before your very eyes. If we hadn't all seen it much too often it would make for an impressive magic trick. Since we have, it's an excellent trivia question. What causes this optical transformation is simple science. When fabric gets wet, light coming towards it refracts within the water, dispersing the light. In addition, the surface of the water causes incoherent light scattering. The combination of these two effects causes less light to reflect to your eyes and makes the wet fabric appear darker. Question: Why doesn't drinking water cool your mouth after eating spicy food? Answer: The spices in most of the hot foods that we eat are oily, and, like your elementary school science teacher taught you, oil and water don't mix. In this case, the water just rolls over the oily spices. So what can you do to calm your aching tongue? Try one of these three methods. Eat bread. The bread will absorb the oily spices. A second solution is to drink milk. Milk contains a substance called "casein" which will bind to the spices and carry them away. Finally, you could drink something alcoholic. Alcohol will dissolve the oily spices. Question: They weren't invented in France, so why does everybody call them "French fries?" Answer: It's true, the French fry wasn't invented in France. (Its origin is probably Belgian.) But the "French" in French fries doesn't refer to its country of origin. It refers to the way in which this side dish is prepared. Food that is cut into strips is said to be "Frenched." Since French fries are strips of potato that have been fried, they became known as French fried potatoes, or "French fries." Question: How do astronauts go to the bathroom? Answer: Thanks to gravity, we here on earth take going to the bathroom for granted, but using the toilet in space isn't nearly as easy. For a long time, says NASA, astronauts actually taped a plastic bag to their backsides to collect feces and used a hose-and-bag device to urinate. Then, in the early 70s, NASA improved bathroom technology with its vacuum toilet. To defecate, astronauts now sit on this toilet and turn the vacuum on. Urination is done through what looks like your vacuum cleaner's hose attachment. Using this toilet is a bit tricky, so part of the preparation for space travel includes potty training, but it sure beats the old bag system. Question: Why is it called a "hamburger" if it doesn't contain ham? Answer: At first glance, it seems that the word "hamburger" is a combination of the words "ham" and "burger." Therefore, one naturally assumes that a hamburger is a burger that contains ham. But the word "hamburger" actually traces its roots back to Hamburg Germany, where people used to eat a similar food called the "Hamburg steak." Eventually, the Hamburg steak made its way to the United States, where people shortened its name to "hamburger." Question: Were hot dogs ever made of dogs? Answer: Nah. But when they were first introduced, people wouldn't touch hot dogs for fear that they were made of dogs. (More in the next question.) Question: How'd the hot dog get its strange name? Answer: The hot dog was originally called "frankfurter" after Frankfurt, Germany, its birthplace. But from the beginning people called it "dachshund sausage," because it looked like the long, thin dog. In the US, the German sausage was especially popular with New York baseball fans, who bought the newfangled sandwich from vendors who sold them by yelling, "Get your dachshund sausages while they're red hot." Ted Dorgan, a leading cartoonist, thought these vendors were so comical, that he decided to lampoon them. In his cartoon, they were shown selling REAL dachshund dogs in a roll, yelling "Get your hot dogs!" at each other. The name stuck, and the rest is history. Why do some things happen only once in a blue moon? The Answer: This rather poetic image is based on an observable phenomenon. On rare occasions (once or twice every two years or so) the moon does appear to be blue. As to why it does, I have found no evidence that the moon is ever sad, so this cannot be a reference to a lunar state of mind. And the fact that astronauts have brought back lunar rocks denies us the luxury of speculating that the moon might be made from bleu, not green cheese. The most common explanation for this phenomenon is that dust or ice crystals in the atmosphere filter the moonlight, scattering the light in a way that makes the moon look blue. For instance, a forest fire in Canada in 1950 blew enough soot and ashes to England to produce an electric blue moon. These conditions produce a blue moon seldom enough to make the image synonymous with something rare. (Source: DICTIONARY OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS) FAST FACTS: The Indonesian coffee Kopi Luwak is the most expensive and sells for $75 per 1/4 pound. Boy, nobody tell Starbuck's or they'll raise their prices again... ..The reason its so expensive is the way it is processed. Its beans are ingested by a small animal called a Paradoxurus. The beans are then extracted form the excreta and made into Kopi Luwak. After hearing that, they should pay ME $75 to drink the stuff. (Source: GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER 2000 CALENDAR) Question: Why are some constellations named for animals that they don't really resemble? The Answer: Do you ever get the feeling that whoever originally named some of the constellations might have had, well, stars in their eyes? For example, the stars in the constellation Ursa Major, The Great Bear, do not look the part. There's no bear there, as far as I can see. Where is it--hibernating? To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault, dear reader, is not in our stars, but in our position in relation to those stars. It's changed over the centuries since the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians named constellations after the familiar animals these groups of stars seemed to resemble then. Now, if you connect the dots, what had been a bear or lion could look more like a rabbit or cockroach. (Source: THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA) FAST FACTS: There is about as much water on Earth now as there was three billion years ago. But while the amount of water has remained static, the amount of tequila and Triple Sec available for the making of Margaritas has expanded enormously. So you see, we have made progress after all. Source: DO FISH DRINK WATER?) Yesterday we asked you to name the game that, for years, Atari customers received prepackaged with their game systems. That game was Combat, a simplistic military game in which slow-moving tanks fired even slower-moving rounds at one another. At times it seemed Combat functioned on a level only slightly more advanced than Pong. Hey, what do you want for free? Why are there 21 guns in that salute? The Answer: No, it's got nothing to do with any card game. And it's not because the person being honored has come of legal age. But it's curious that the number should be so specific and that we just accept it without ever questioning why. The 21-gun salute originated as a British naval custom. The reason for any cannon shot being offered as a salute was that firing a round meant that the gun was disarmed for the considerable amount of time it took to reload. This period of disarmament, even more than the bang, was the real sign of respect. A person of great stature was given a multi-shot salute, but always an odd number because sailors thought even numbers brought bad luck. Heads of state got the maximum, 21 guns, because that's how many cannon were mounted on the side of a major ship of the line. (Source: DICTIONARY OF WORD & PHRASE ORIGINS) FAST FACTS: As much as 40-percent of the entire world's varieties of freshwater fish are to be found in the Amazon River basin. There are about 8,600 species of birds in the entire world, and more than half of them are also represented in this area. Hey, that's nothing. More than 75% of the world's ant species are represented in my backyard, especially when we're having a holiday picnic. (Source: READER'S DIGEST BOOK OF FACTS) Question: Do power lines really hum? The Answer: It's not a great idea to get close enough to a power line to prove conclusively to yourself that they do hum, so please take my word for it: they do. While you would not hear anything as appropriate as "You Light Up My Life," you would certainly hear something hum-like if you were foolish enough to come too close, and may hear it even if you're prudently far enough away. The hum is not from the current itself but rather from the vibration of the wire or wires caused by the current flowing in them. The bigger the line, the more likely the hum will be audible. If the line is carrying direct current, or DC, it's even more likely to produce a sound because a single thick wire is carrying the flow. Alternating current – AC – is generally carried by a strand of several wires bound together, some of which cancel out the vibrations of their neighbor, producing less total noise. (Source: HOW DO ASTRONAUTS SCRATCH AN ITCH? by David Feldman) FAST FACTS: Some people think that the stage musical Les Miserables runs a bit long, but it's a mere flash in time compared with one of the sentences in the novel on which it is based. Supposedly to make it easy to read, that 3-page, 823-word sentence is divided by 93 commas, 51 semicolons and 4 dashes. Rumor has it that someone suffocated from lack of oxygen in the 1940s just short of the 73rd comma while giving a dramatic reading from the work. (Source: THE JOY OF TRIVIA) What does being drunk have to do with "three sheets to the wind?" The Answer: There are some ways of describing the state of being inebriated that just sound like what they depict, as in "soused." Others are descriptive enough–-"tipsy," for example. But this one is pretty cryptic. To understand it, you would have to know that the expression is referring not to bed linen drying out after the wash but to a part of the sails on a ship. In nautical talk, the sheet is the rope one uses to trim a sail. When the sheet is hanging loose in the wind it also means that the sail to which it s attached is free to be blown here and there by the wind. A sheet in the wind thus suggests the tipsy movements of someone who's has had too many drinks, and three sheets in the wind describes a person who is thoroughly blotto. (Source: BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE) FAST FACTS: The largest incense stick ever made was almost fifteen-feet long and six-inches thick. I bet it was made for religious purposes because I imagine it must have stunk to high heavens. Jackie Bibby holds the record for sitting in a bathtub with the most live rattlesnakes. He sat in a tub with 35 of them. As far as I'm concerned, he can keep this record and I'll stick with bubbles in my bath. (Source: GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER 2000 CALENDAR) Can sitting too close to the TV really ruin your eyesight? The Answer: This is accepted as scientific fact in an amazing number of homes. In many it's as much a matter of conviction as the old assumption that if you indulged in a certain other activity, which we won't mention here, you might go blind. In fact, neither leisure pastime is likely to ruin your eyesight. Some early TV screens did emit excessive X-rays, as did computer monitors, but that was fixed long ago. Doctors suggest that at worst, sitting too close might cause some temporary eye fatigue--the same for reading with insufficient light--but no permanent damage, no matter what your mother claimed. However, given the slop that's often on TV, it's absolutely terrifying what it might do to your mind, even if you watch from the next room. (Source: TRIUMPH OF THE STRAIGHT DOPE by Cecil Adams) FAST FACTS: The human tongue can only distinguish four basic tastes... bitter, salty, sour, and sweet. Okay it's five if you count "yucky." Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail solo around the world. The amazing thing is he couldn't swim, so it was a good thing he brought a boat along with him. (Source: READER DIGEST BOOK OF FACTS) Do fish drink water? The Answer: W.C. Fields, the comedian from the golden age of the movies, who was known for drinking everything but water, would probably have answered this question with, "Only if nothing else were available." And I suppose that a thirsty, thoughtful fish might speculate, "Is this all there is?" because clearly, when fish belly up to the bar, there's only one liquid on the menu. The answer, then, is yes, they drink it. Saltwater fish do so under duress. Gulp! The greater concentration of salt in the water outside their bodies is constantly drawing the less salty fluid inside them out through their skin, a porous membrane, through the process of osmosis. Therefore they have to be drinking constantly to replace that lost fluid. Freshwater fish don't have this problem and don't need to drink, but they take in some water anyway when they open their mouths to eat. (Source: DO FISH DRINK WATER? Bill McLain) FAST FACTS: It took 20,000 men 22 years to build the Taj Mahal. Can you imagine how long it would have taken if they to pull permits on the project? Vincent Van Gogh painted a picture a day in the last 70 days of his life. I don't care what they say, he didn't commit suicide, he died of exhaustion. (Source: READER DIGEST BOOK OF FACTS) Why do so many Irish names begin with "O'?" The Answer: With St. Patrick's Day approaching, there will soon be lots of "O's" in the air. I wonder how many people who will be affecting an Irish accent will know just what this name form is all about. It reflects a practice found in many cultures: the use of the "patronymic." Last names originated in the Middle Ages when men, who embodied the continuity of the family, started to be identified by their relationship to their immediate ancestors. The son of David, for example, might take the name Davidson. The Scots used "Mac," which meant "the son of," for this purpose. And so with the Irish and the "O'," except here it meant "the grandson of, " possibly because one of the first to use it, Teigue, grandson of Brian, High-King of the Irish in the 11th century, started to call himself Ua Briain (Gaelic for O'Brian) after his famous grandfather. (Source: ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA) FAST FACTS: Did you know that if you stand in the bottom of a well, you would be able to see the stars even in the daytime? I have two thoughts about this fact. First, what darned fool would risk life and limb--not to mention extreme claustrophobia--to climb down to the bottom of a well to see something you can see without that dangerous descent if you just wait a few hours for nightfall? And second, there's a good chance you would fall on the way down and then of course you would see stars! (Source: FASCINATING FACTS) Why does it rain cats and dogs? The Answer: People who live with these critters and know how they can take over and rule the household -- especially cats -- might say that it's more likely reigning cats and dogs. Anyway, it would sound pretty funny to say that it was raining gerbils and parakeets. Of course, there is a reason for this meteorological manifestation of our favorite pets. The expression is rooted in the mythology of Northern Europe, in which cats were thought to have some kind of control over the weather. (Most cats today would tell you that's one of their lesser powers.) It was also said that witches, who could assume the form of a cat, rode on their broom through storms. And dogs were associated with the wind and the storm god, Odin. So if you don't want your picnic spoiled by a cloudburst, be kind to your four-footed friend. (Source: BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE) FAST FACTS: STASI, the East German secret police organization, devised a devilishly clever way to prevent someone from giving them the slip during the Cold War: they managed to synthesize the scent of a female dog in heat, which they applied to the shoes of the person under surveillance. Then they simply had a male dog follow the scent. Now that's what I call dogging someone's heels. (Source: THE GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS) If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of 100 people, keeping the ratios the same,... 57 would be Asian 21 would be European 14 would be North and South American 8 would be African 70 would be non-Christian 30 would be be Christian (using thet term in its broadest sense) 52 would be female 48 would be male 6 of the peole would possess 59% of the wealth, and they would all be North American 80 would live in substandard housing 70 would be unable to read 50 would suffer from malnutrtion 1 would be near death How dangerous are tarantulas? The Answer: If this big hairy spider was as dangerous as it looks--which is absolutely wicked--it would rule the earth. The very sound of its name seems to suggest, "watch out." Indeed one of the prominent science fiction films of the 1950s, in which radioactivity created a gigantic horror from a common life form, was called "Tarantula." I'm not going to kid you and tell you that they're just pussycats with extra legs. They are poisonous, but the concentration of the venom in those found in North America is low enough that they're usually not a threat to human life. In fact, some people keep them as pets. (What the heck, some people also enjoy sleeping on a bed of nails.) But in South America, you had better be alert to the pitter- patter of lots of little feet... they are bad news! (Source: BIG BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE) FAST FACTS: Arnold Schwarzenegger began his transition from Austrian bodybuilder into an American film star when he made his screen debut in 1970 under the name "Arnold Strong" in "Hercules Goes Bananas." At the 1970 Oscar ceremonies, buxom Raquel Welch presented the award for best "special visual effects." The 1987 film "Hot Rod Harlots" was promoted with this tag line: "Unwed! Untamed! Unleaded! Backseat Bimbos meet their Roadside Romeos." (Source: MOVIE TIME) Why do lawyers often use the title "esquire" after their name? The Answer: Those who hold jaundiced views of lawyers or who thought "esquire" identified a subscriber to a prominent American men's magazine may be shocked to learn it's a term of dignity. Esquire was originally an English title, which placed the holder of it somewhere between a gentleman and a knight. It originated with the squire, the fellow who assisted a knight. In England, squire came to be a title accorded to a prominent local landowner, and esquire eventually was adopted as a bit of extra window dressing after the name of just about any professional person. In America, especially, it is favored by lawyers, who may feel that it justifies more billable hours. (Source: TRIUMPH OF THE STRAIGHT DOPE) FAST FACTS: The Hundred Years War of the 14th and 15th centuries actually lasted 116 years. Well, at least it seemed like only a hundred years. Time goes so fast when you're having fun. Source: THE BOOK OF ANSWERS) HOT STUFF It was the worst nuclear mishap in U.S. history. In the wee hours of March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania experienced a partial meltdown and leaked deadly radiation. What went wrong at Three Mile Island? WHY DID THE REACTOR BEGIN TO MELT DOWN?We asked last time what went wrong at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, site of the worst nuclear mishap in U.S. history. Things went awry when a water pump in the secondary cooling system of the Unit 2 pressurized water reactor malfunctioned. A valve jammed open and flooded a containment vessel with radioactive water. A backup water pump was out of service for unrelated repairs. As a result, the radioactive core was left uncovered, fuel rods ruptured, and the reactor began to melt down. The containment vessel's thick, concrete and steel walls prevented nearly all the radiation from escaping. Luckily, the coolant was replaced and order was restored before the core suffered a complete meltdown. FATAL ERROR While the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island was catastrophic, it did not inflict the kind of devastating ecological damage and loss of life like the incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. That accident led directly or indirectly to the deaths of some 2,500 Soviet citizens. More than 150,000 people were forced to relocate from their homes, and many will never be allowed to return. WHAT HAPPENED AT CHERNOBYL, AND WHY WAS THAT ACCIDENT SO MUCH WORSE THAN THE ONE AT THREE MILE ISLAND?Last time, we asked you to explain what went wrong in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kiev, Ukraine. Perhaps the worst thing about the accident is that it resulted from mind-boggling negligence and human error. The plant's operators, in the course of unauthorized experiments, intentionally circumvented the facility's safety systems. This caused one of the plant's four reactors to quickly overheat. Its coolant flashed into steam. Hydrogen that formed from the steam reacted with the plant's graphite moderator and exploded with enough force to destroy the thousand-ton lid of the reactor. It was by far the world's worst nuclear disaster. Hundreds of people suffered radiation sickness and many died. Later deaths were also attributed to the effects of Chernobyl radiation. Fallout from the explosion, which contained a radioactive isotope, was carried westward by the wind and fell across Europe. Design flaws in the reactor itself also contributed to the catastrophe. HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW? Over the centuries, researchers have made scientific breakthroughs while utilizing invaluable tools such as telescopes, test tubes, computers, and... peas? Yes, peas. Austrian monk Gregor Mendel helped open a whole new field of scientific research while growing peas in his monastery garden back in the mid-1800s. WHAT WAS SO IMPORTANT ABOUT MENDEL'S PEAS?In the last Geek Trivia, we asked what was so important about the peas grown by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel. Mendel noted that certain strains of peas he cultivated bred true--tall plants, bred together, produced more tall pea plants; short plants, similarly bred, produced short plants. Further experiments revealed that tall plants, crossbred with short plants, produced tall plants; and that, bred with one another, second-generation peas (those with both tall and short parents) could produce either tall or short plants. Significantly, crossbreeding never produced plants of medium height. Based on these observations, Mendel forwarded the notion of the basic unit of heredity--the gene--as well as the concept of dominant and recessive genes. As such, the monk could be considered the father (if you'll pardon the expression) of genetics. FREEZE FRAME Here's a thought to cheer you up on those frigid winter mornings while you're scraping ice from your windshield: It could be a lot worse. Although it might feel this cold when the wind blows, temperatures in your driveway never approach absolute zero, the temperature that anchors the Kelvin scale. According to modern science, it's also the temperature at which no more heat can be extracted from a system. EXACTLY HOW COLD IS ABSOLUTE ZERO, IN TERMS OF THE FAHRENHEIT OR CELSIUS SCALES? In terms of Fahrenheit or Celsius temperatures, we asked yesterday, precisely how cold is absolute zero? For the record, modern science defines absolute zero as the theoretical temperature characterized by the complete absence of heat. It is represented by 0 on the Kelvin scale and converts to -459.67 degrees F or -273.15 degrees C. IN THE BEGINNING Since the arrival of writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez, Marvel Comics' old warhorse The Avengers has re-emerged as one of the most popular comic books on the market. A new Saturday morning cartoon based on the comic serves as a testament to the title's resurgent popularity. Since making their first appearance in 1963, the Avengers have welcomed more members into their ranks than Earth, Wind and Fire. Nearly every superhero in the Marvel Universe, or so it seems, has at some point served as an Avenger. WHO WERE THE FOUNDING MEMBERS OF MARVEL'S ALL- STAR SUPER TEAM? We wanted to know if you could name the founding members of Marvel Comics' long-running all-star superhero team, The Avengers. When Avengers Number 1 hit comic book racks in an issue dated September 1963, the team consisted of: Iron Man I (alias Anthony Stark), Thor I, the Hulk (AKA Robert Bruce Banner), Ant-Man I (AKA Henry J. Pym, who later appeared as Giant-Man I and Yellowjacket), and the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne, Pym's long-suffering love interest). Captain America, the character most readily associated with the Avengers, didn't join the squad until issue Number 4, when he replaced the unruly Hulk. The single character who has appeared in more Avengers tales than any other is the team's trusty butler, Jarvis. IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? Over the course of the last 30 years or so, dozens of Americans have experienced these striking physical symptoms: A height increase averaging 1.5 to 2.5 inches, decreased waistline, and decreased thigh and calf radius measurements. WHAT CAUSED THESE BIZARRE PHYSICAL CHANGES? (Here's a clue: Jenny Craig had nothing to do with it.) What, we asked last time, could have caused dozens of Americans to experience the following striking physical symptoms: A height increase averaging 1.5 to 2.5 inches, decreased waist measurements, and decreased thigh and calf measurements? These are some of the physical changes observed in astronauts while in space. A space traveler grows taller because the lack of gravity causes the spinal column to straighten; waist measurements decrease because internal organs shift upward in the abdominal cavity; the reduction in thigh and calf size is due to the muscle fiber atrophy that occurs when load-bearing forces are reduced or eliminated. BY ANY OTHER NAME To gardeners, it's a pest to be fought off with chicken wire and perhaps the swing of a shovel. In spy lingo, it's a double agent who has infiltrated your ranks. BUT WHAT DO CHEMISTS MEAN WHEN THEY EMPLOY THE TERM "MOLE" (assuming those chemists aren't moonlighting as gardeners or spies)? What, we inquired yesterday, do chemists mean when they use the term "mole"? A mole (or mol) is the amount of a substance that has a weight in grams numerically equal to the molecular weight of the substance. A mole is also called "gram-molecular weight" or "gram molecule." THE NEXT GENERATION In technospeak, today's most advanced computers are known as fifth- generation computers. WHAT DIFFERENTIATES FIFTH-GENERATION MACHINES FROM THEIR FOURTH-GENERATION COUNTERPARTS? Last time, we asked what differentiates fifth-generation computers from fourth-generation models. The answer is that fifth-generation machines, currently the most advanced computers in operation, use an interface to draw reasoned conclusions from a set of known facts and interact with users via so-called "intelligent" interfaces such as voice recognition. Fourth generation machines (including personal computers) use microprocessors and integrated chips as their basic technology. There's no truth to the rumor that sixth-generation computers will be able to rotate your car tires while composing a sequel to War and Peace. VARIATIONS ON A THEME Okay, science fiction fans, here's one for you: WHAT DO THESE FILMS HAVE IN COMMON: THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957), 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970), AND DEMON SEED (1977)? What, we mean, other than the fact that they're all better than The Postman? Yesterday, we asked you to name the common link between the following sci fi films: The Invisible Boy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and Demon Seed. The answer is, of course, that all four films feature a runaway computer bent on destroying its operators. In Demon Seed, the renegade computer revolts against its inventor, takes over the guy's house, and impregnates his wife! (Youch!) THE MYSTERY MACHINE Chester F. Carlson is hardly a household name. Yet, the American physicist invented a product many of us use virtually every working day of our lives. He devoted 20 years to perfecting the device, which was introduced in 1958. It took a while to catch on, but Carlson's invention eventually became a staple of offices worldwide. WHAT IS IT? Yesterday, we asked what product American physicist Chester F. Carlson invented. The answer is that Carlson invented the photocopier. He spent 20 years to perfecting the machine, which the Xerox Corporation introduced in 1958. Because his process involved dry powder, an electric charge, and light, Carlson referred to the process as "xerography," which is Greek for "dry writing." He died in 1968, before his invention became an office standard everywhere. Why don't people go zebra-back riding? The Answer: I suppose it's possible that they just don't have the time, but I doubt that you would accept that as an answer. So here's the truth: The reason people don't go cantering around on zebras is that zebras are critters that would just as soon kick you in the teeth as transport you from here to there. Try to hand one of these striped ponies a lump of sugar and it might take your hand off. Never mind how interesting they look: they're not interested in wearing your saddle. Don't take it personally, it's a matter of how they evolved. You wouldn't try to pet an ocelot just because you live with a house cat, would you? Accept that this is a horse of another color--and another temperament. Admire it from a distance. (Source: WHAT ARE HYENAS LAUGHING AT, ANYWAY? by David Feldman) FAST FACTS: Trees, not whales, are the largest organism alive on the earth today. But, I'm sorry, trees just aren't as exciting. When's the last time you heard of a group of people getting together to spend the afternoon "tree watching"? And who in their right mind would spend $8.50 to see the movie, "Free Willow"? (Source: READER DIGEST BOOK OF FACTS) ONE SINGULAR SENSATION In 1916, Albert Einstein published his landmark "General Theory of Relativity," a document that included a literally mind-boggling collection of revolutionary theories and discoveries. Among other things, Einstein predicted something scientists then referred to as "Schwartzschild singularities." It would be decades before these "singularities" were proven to actually exist, and by then scientists renamed them. WHAT IS THE CONTEMPORARY TERM FOR A SCHWARTZSCHILD SINGULARITY? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked what term scientists now use for "Schwartzschild singularities," a name that honored German astronomer Karl Schwartzschild, who was one of the first to work out equations related to what are now known as "black holes." PEDAL TO THE METAL Sometimes it may seem like your car is the slowest vehicle on Earth, especially when you're trying to merge onto the freeway during rush hour. But the actual slowest vehicle on Earth is considerably larger than the family sedan. In fact, it's also the world's heaviest vehicle. WHAT IS IT? We asked yesterday if you could name the world's slowest and heaviest vehicle. That dubious honor belongs to the giant crawler used to transport the space shuttle to its launch site at Cape Canaveral. The crawler, while carrying the shuttle, weighs a mighty 10 million pounds. It runs on a pair of 41-foot treads, along a seven-foot-deep double- gravel track. The crawler takes up to eight hours to complete its less- than-four-mile journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad. Why do we try to "egg" someone on? The Answer: Even if you're a chicken this makes no literal sense. Unless, of course, you arrive armed with rotten eggs at a concert or play, expecting the worst. But then you would be set to egg someone off. The mystery is etymological. "Egg" does not refer to what comes from a chicken, but rather is an earlier form of the word "edge, " once commonly used as a verb, meaning to excite or provoke. Look, for example, at this use of "edge" in a 13th century chronicle: "He accused the moonks of manie things, and did therewith so edge the king against them." (Love that spelling!) By the 16th century the expression had become to "edge someone on," or to push them toward doing something. Eventually the old form of the word, egg, edged out edge. Anyhow, I'd better stop here. Don't egg me on. (Source: THE OXFORD UNABRIDGED ENGLISH DICTIONARY) FAST FACTS: Charles Dickens kept the head of his bed aligned with the North Pole. He believed that the earth's magnetic field would pass longitudinal through his body and ensure him a good night rest. That's funny, because I also a similar method to get a good night's rest: whenever I want a good night's sleep, I send my kids to the North Pole. (Source: THE BEST, WORST AND MOST UNUSUAL) Why is the person who helps a golfer called a caddy? The Answer: A caddy is a person who can tell you what a great shot you made. (You can't count on such support from your partner, whose fondest wish could be that you will totally humiliate yourself.) Caddys know enough not to hand you a brassie when you need a niblick (or is that a giblet? – I can never get it right). So why call them caddys? The word caddy (or caddie, as its sometimes spelled) comes from France, via Scotland, and is a corruption of "cadet." In France a cadet was a rich man's younger son. Since the eldest son inherited the whole estate, any males born after him often joined the army, which gives us the military sense of cadet. Eventually cadet came to mean someone who did lowly work, a "go-for" or errand boy--just the kind of person to serve another person who wants only to putter around. (Source: WHO PUT THE BUTTER IN BUTTERFLY? by David Feldman) FAST FACTS: Karen Roman grew the world's largest cauliflower. It weighed 22 pounds. The amazing thing is, it was devoured overnight by one tiny little bunny. Diane Sheer holds the record for licking the most stamps in a five minute period. She slobbered on 225 of the little things...that's almost enough to mail a first class letter. (Source: GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER 2000 CALENDAR) How did Teddy Bears originate? The Answer: Today Teddy Bears are a big business--you can send one for any occasion. In fact, the little roly-poly toys you may have clung to when you went beddy-bye as a child were always a business proposition. In 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt took a political trip down South. His hosts, knowing Teddy loved to hunt, corralled a bear cub for him to shoot. But Teddy would not fire at the furry little thing. A celebrated newspaper cartoon praised this act of decency, and it gave Brooklyn toy maker Morris Michtom an idea. He created a stuffed bear cub, "Teddy's Bear," and it did so well that the next year Morris formed the Ideal Toy Company. It's been a bull market in Teddy Bears ever since. (Source: EXTRAORDINARY ORIGINS OF EVERYDAY THINGS) FAST FACTS: The Titanic was so enormous that its rudder alone actually outweighed Christopher Columbus' vessel, the Santa Maria. The Titanic was also longer than any New York City skyscraper at the time was tall. Who could have guessed it would have been safer in the midst of New York City traffic than plying the liner route across the North Atlantic? (Source: DO FISH DRINK WATER?) Why should anything fit "to a T?" The Answer: If you were having clothes custom made for you, you might want them fit to a "U." But what about a T? Could it be the way the letter looks, like a stick figure of a person standing with their arms hanging down, waiting to try on something? The origin of the expression *is* graphic, but the letter does not depict a person. The image evoked is that of a T-square, a piece of equipment that draftsmen (most were male) used to use with a drawing board, before computers, to make technical drawings. The T-square was simply two pieces of wood joined to form a right angle in the shape of the letter "T." Placed against the edge of the drawing board and used to guide the pencil, it permitted one to draw exactly straight and perpendicular lines by hand. From which we get fitting to a T, or exactly. (Source: DICTIONARY OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS) FAST FACTS: In Northern parts of China it was once a common practice to shave pigs. When the evenings got cold the Chinese would take a pig to bed with them for warmth and found it more comfortable if the pig was clean-shaven. I would think if you are sleeping with a pig you would have enough problems without adding a farm animal with razor burn. (Source: THE BEST, WORST AND MOST UNUSUAL) What causes jet lag? The Answer: Scientists long ago ruled out airline food and forced exposure to hours of droning conversation from the bore in the seat next to you as causes. The funny thing is that the cause most people would point to, a change in time zones with the accompanying confusion with meal and bed times is also apparently not the only answer. Many people flying North to South, without changing time zones, also suffer from jet lag. (That surprised me, too!) So what else could be the cause? Most likely it's the pressurized cabin with its low humidity, the plane's vibration, engine noise, and radiation from the high altitude. In other words, your body is being assaulted while you sit there with your seat belt fastened. The solution? Drink plenty of water, move around the cabin, and take vitamin supplements. (And next time take the train, but not if you're crossing the ocean.) (Source: READER'S DIGEST DID YOU KNOW?) FAST FACTS: At Verkhoansk in eastern Siberia, the temperature occasionally plunges to 90 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor of...oh come on, if it's 90 degrees below do you really care what the wind chill factor would be? At that temperature, if you went out without a mask or breathing apparatus and inhaled, your lungs would immediately be coasted with frost. Oh sure, Jack Frost is cute when he's nipping at your nose, but he gets a little ugly when he's chowing on the inside of your lungs. (Source: THE BEST, WORST AND MOST UNUSUAL) Does a person's life really flash before them when they're dying? The Answer: What might there be about the threat of death that inspires a sudden indulgence in autobiography? Wouldn't the mind be fixed on other things, such as, "How the heck can I get out of here?" Yet so many people have described this phenomenon-- which makes it real enough--that scientists have been compelled to try to explain it. Two theories have been proposed. The first holds that a threat as traumatic as that of imminent demise from any cause, not just drowning, automatically triggers the release of memories that one always retains but usually doesn't recall. The other explanation points to hardware breakdown. Cutting the flow of oxygen to the brain makes its electrical impulses go haywire, catapulting long-stored memories into one's consciousness helter skelter. Either way, I prefer to confine my own life review to whatever a glass of Chardonnay might pry from my temporal lobes. (Source: READER'S DIGEST DID YOU KNOW?) FAST FACTS: California police in the 1920s thought they had gotten the drop on a moonshiner. They raided what they thought was a still and found, instead, inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, working on something that was later to become television. Little did they know they had come upon a much more powerful drug than mere whiskey. (Source: ISAAC ASIMOV'S BOOK OF FACTS) Weird facts Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 20:37:37 -0800 Reply Reply All Forward Delete Previous Next Close Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning. > > > > > >Alfred Hitchcock didn't have a bellybutton. > > > > > >A pack-a-day smoker will lose approximately 2 teeth every 10 yrs. > > > > > >People Do Not get sick from cold weather; it's from being indoors a lot > > >more. > > > > > >When you sneeze, all bodily functions stop even your heart! > > > > > >Only 7% of the population are lefties. > > > > > >40 people are sent to the hospital for dog bites every minute. > > > > > >Babies are born without knee caps. They don't appear until they are 2-6 > > >years old. > > > > > >The average person over fifty will have spent 5 years waiting in lines. > > > > > >The toothbrush was invented in 1498. > > > > > >The average housefly lives for one month. > > > > > >40,000 Americans are injured by toilets each year. > > > > > >A coat hanger is 44 inches long when straightened. > > > > > >The average computer user blinks 7 times a minute.=20 > > > > > > > > >FACT OR FALSE > > > > > >Eating breakfast cereals like "Fruity Pebbles" and "Cap'n Crunch' Oops > > >All Berries" will cause your stools to come out green. (FACT!) > > > > > >Your feet are bigger in the afternoon than the rest of the day. (FACT!) > > > > > >Pigeons are the result of crossbreeding between a seagull and a dove. > > >(FALSE) > > > > > >About 20% of all adults in the US have or have had a cockroach that > > >called their inner ear canal HOME. (FACT! They enter while you sleep!) > > > > > >The REAL reason ostriches stick their head in the sand is to search for > > >water. (FACT!) > > > > > >The ONLY animal that can see behind it without turning it's head is the > > >rabbit. (FALSE) There are 2 animals - the other is the parrot.) > > > > > >John Travolta turned down the starring roles in "An Officer and a > > >Gentleman" and "Tootsie". (FACT!) > > > > > >Among the music catalogs that Michael Jackson owns the rights to is the > > >South Carolina State anthem. (FACT!) > > > > > >If all the veins in your body were laid end-to-end, you'd be dead. > > >(FACT!) > > > > > >In most television commercials advertising milk, a mixture of white paint > > >and a little thinner is used in place of the milk. (FACT!) > > > > > >Prince Charles and Prince William NEVER travel on the same airplane just > > >in case there is a crash. (FACT!) > > > > > >The first Harley Davidson motorcycle built in 1903 used a tomato can for > > >a carburetor. (FACT!) > > > > > >Most hospitals make money by selling the umbilical cords cut from women > > >who give birth. (FACT! They are reused in vein transplant surgery) > > > > > >Humphrey Bogart was related to Princess Diana. (FACT! They were seventh > > >cousins) > > > > > >If coloring weren't added to Coca-Cola, it would be green. (FACT!)
Who invented the Internet and why?
The Answer: Imagine someone absent-mindedly going to check their email one day, then suddenly realizing that it hadn't yet been invented. Actually it would have been more appropriate if this mythical person had wanted to download Quake or Doom, because it was the U.S. Department of Defense that first ventured into cyberspace.
It began in 1969 with ARPAnet, a small, restricted computer network that allowed scientists doing Pentagon research to communicate. In the early 80's military research was shifted to another network and the National Science Foundation took over the old ARPA technology and opened it to the public. At first, only the techies showed up on line. Gradually schools connected. Then, as PC's proliferated, public online services such as CompuServe were started. The point and click Web, with graphics, arrived in the early 90s. And, of course, it all culminated with Now that's progress.
(Source: THE WORLD ALMANAC AND BOOK OF FACTS) FAST FACTS: The average centipede you're likely to come across in your house has 15 pairs of legs. And you thought you had problems getting socks to match after doing the laundry! The fastest fish is the cosmopolitan sailfish, which has been clocked, in short bursts, at 60 miles per hour. The provincial sailfish, on the other hand, has little need for speed, and is content to hang out on the back porch and watch the grass grow. (Source: THE HANDY SCIENCE ANSWER BOOK)
How are enormously heavy steel ships able to float?
From the way they look in the water, I'd say "with plenty of effort." They appear to defy basic laws of nature. But in fact, they're obeying a law of nature, buoyancy, which Greek mathematician Archimedes reportedly discovered while taking a bath.
The trick in building ships so that they don't go straight to the bottom is to get the shape right. The vessel has to be configured so that it will be buoyant, displacing a volume of water weighing as much as it does. In other words, if an amount of steel equal to that in a giant tanker were rolled into a compact ball and dropped into the sea, bye, bye ball. But if the metal is spread out over a thousand feet, the ship can cross the ocean.
(Source: READER'S DIGEST HOW IN THE WORLD) FAST FACTS: Scientists turn up as many as 10,000 new species of insects every year--and that's just in their university cafeterias!
Worms can have up to ten hearts. The critters are slimy, creepy, ugly and disgusting little things. But they are sensitive.
The dragonfly has about 30,000 lenses covering the retina of its eye, and thus sees many, many images where we see only one. I wonder how they can tell when they're drunk?
How did "pipe down" come to mean, "be quiet?
The tone of this expression puts it somewhere between "please lower your voice" and "shut your mouth!" But the words in it don't place it anywhere that's at all obvious. What pipe? Where? Why? Who's smoking it?
The reality is that pipe down is yet another expression that comes from the days of sailing ships. The "pipe" in question was a whistle used by the boatswain, a petty officer--sort of a sergeant--who supervised a work crew on deck. When he blew "pipe down" his men were free to go below. Once they went below, it was quiet on deck. And that's the condition to which you aspire when you tell someone to pipe down. If they don't respond, throw them overboard.
(Source: WHO PUT THE BUTTER IN BUTTERFLY? by David Feldman)
March Hare
The March Hare character in Alice in Wonderland is based on the behavior of hares in the spring, when they often jump up and down and bang the ground with their big hind feet.
(Has it never occurred to anyone that the animal is simply signaling that it very badly has to go to the bathroom?)
Geek Trivia readers will recognize Ray Harryhausen as the special effects genius who brought us a host of giant monsters and other bizarre creatures in movies such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Harryhausen's first job as a stop-motion animator came in the employ of another legendary science fiction filmmaker. WHAT WAS HARRYHAUSEN'S FIRST FULL-TIME ANIMATION JOB? Here's a clue: It was not working with Willis O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young. Yesterday we asked what was the first full-time animation job held by legendary special effects creator Ray Harryhausen? Harryhausen began his career in the employ of another legendary name in sci-fi cinema, working on producer George Pal's "Puppetoon" shorts in 1939. Harryhausen created stop-motion animated cartoons such as Hoola Boola and the extremely politically incorrect Jasper and the Watermelons. Pal is better known to sci fi fans for his work on films such as The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and Destination Moon. Harryhausen, of course, assisted his mentor Willis O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young before making movies such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and Jason and the Argonauts.
Historians trace the evolution of the computer as far back as the abacus, which was known in Egypt by at least 500 B.C. and may be much older. Inventors such as Blaise Pascal and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz invented early calculators in the 1600s. Another major advance took place in 1745, when Jacques de Vaucanson invented a device to control his textile looms. WHAT MADE DE VAUCANSON'S INVENTION SO SIGNIFICANT? We asked yesterday if you could identify the significance of a device created in 1745 by Jacques de Vaucanson. The answer is that de Vaucanson's invention used holes punched in drums, and later in cards, to control his textile looms. The concept of punched cards would remain a key design component for computers for over 200 years.
Although a recent spate of Hollywood movies might lead you to believe otherwise, the chances of being killed by a falling asteroid are slim--about one in 5,000 (and the odds would be much more favorable if not for the fact that a single asteroid strike could kill millions). There are no recorded incidents of death due to this cause in the last ten centuries. Nevertheless, in recent years astronomers have observed near-misses with asteroids that measured a few hundred feet across. Impact by an asteroid of this size would leave a crater up to 10 miles wide and cause massive devastation, including possible worldwide crop failures. WHEN DID THE CLOSEST NEAR-COLLISION BY AN ASTEROID OCCUR, AND HOW CLOSE DID THE OBJECT COME TO OUR PLANET? Yesterday we asked if you knew when the Earth's closest near-collision with an asteroid occurred, and how close the object came to our planet. In 1994, an asteroid known as XL1 passed within 65,000 miles of the Earth--four times closer than the moon. Scientists have since calculated that XL1, which measured about 30 feet across, missed the Earth by just 52 minutes.
In a recent Geek Trivia ("Hubble hubbub," Jan. 25-26, 2000) we discussed problems with the Hubble Space Telescope. When the telescope was deployed in April 1990, its primary mirror contained a spherical aberration that inhibited its ability to return clear images. The problem resulted from a 0.0001 of an inch flattening in the mirror (one fiftieth the width of a human hair), and correcting it proved a very hairy ordeal, indeed. In December 1993, astronauts from the Space Shuttle Endeavor undertook a marathon spacewalk (29 hours, 40 minutes) to repair the malfunctioning telescope. HOW MUCH DID THIS SERVICING AND REPAIR MISSION COST? Last time, we asked if you knew the cost of the 1993 mission to repair imperfections in the primary mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope. That mission cost a whopping $800 million. This amount is over and above the cost of developing, constructing, and deploying the telescope, which soared to $1.6 billion (nearly triple the original budget).
The characters were four Vietnam veterans falsely accused of a crime they didn't commit. They decided to begin helping people in trouble, operating outside the law. That's right, we're talking about The A-Team. Nowadays nobody wants to admit they liked it, but plenty of people enjoyed The A-Team when it was a television sensation back in the 1980s. (They didn't make all those lunch boxes featuring Mr. T and the gang for no reason!) CAN YOU RECITE THE CHARACTER NAMES FOR ALL FOUR MEMBERS OF THE A TEAM? Yesterday we asked if you could list the character names for all four members of TV's The A-Team. This band of merry mercenaries consisted of: Col. John "Hannibal" Smith, played by George Peppard; Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck, played by Dirk Benedict; Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock, played by Dwight Schultz; and Sgt. Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus, played by the inimitable Mr. T (Lawrence Turead). The show debuted in 1983 and ran for 98 episodes before being cancelled in 1987.
The January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics gave readers their first look at the original computer manufactured for sale to the home market. That machine was the Altair 8800. (The Alto personal computer predated the Altair by a year, but was never marketed.) Reportedly, the computer had no name when it was initially sent to the magazine to be photographed. Its designer, Ed Roberts, hadn't yet settled on a moniker for his brainchild. Les Solomon, the technical editor for the magazine, suggested Altair. WHAT WAS SOLOMON'S INSPIRATION FOR THE NAME "ALTAIR"? We asked yesterday what inspired Les Solomon to suggest "Altair" as a name for the computer that appeared on the January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics. Solomon, technical editor for the magazine, was watching an episode of Star Trek when one of the characters mentioned the real Altair constellation. He liked the ring of the name, and it stuck.
WHY DO MEXICAN JUMPING BEANS JUMP? (No, it has nothing to do with Taco Bell.) Last time, we asked you to explain why Mexican jumping beans jump. The answer is that Mexican jumping beans have caterpillars inside. Here's how it happens: The bean moth lays its eggs in the seedpods of a bush named Euphorbiaceae-Sebastiana Pavoniana. When the egg hatches inside the seedpod, it releases a larva or caterpillar. What we call "Mexican jumping beans" are actually these seedpods, which move when the tiny creature inside shifts its weight. These "beans" can be enticed to move by sunshine or body heat (if held in the palm of your hand, for example).
Overzealous journalists labeled murder proceedings against O.J. Simpson "The Trial of the Century." But that affair wouldn't crack most historians' Top 10 lists of landmark legal proceedings of the last century. One that probably would make the list is the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. WHO WAS JOHN T. SCOPES, AND WHY WAS HE ON TRIAL? Last time, we asked if you know who John T. Scopes was and why he wound up in court as the defendant in the famous "Monkey Trial" of 1925. Scopes was a high school science teacher who was tried for teaching the theory of evolution. He defied a law that prohibited teaching in Tennessee's public schools any theory that denied divine creation. Scopes was convicted and sentenced, but the decision was later reversed. The anti-evolution law was repealed in 1967.
The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 unmanned space probes, both launched in 1977, were designed to explore the outer planets of our solar system and then continue into interstellar space. Each of these probes included a gold-coated copper disc that contained sounds and images for the benefit of any extraterrestrials they might encounter. Each disc contained more than 100 photographs, greetings from dignitaries such as then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a wide variety of natural and man-made sounds from Earth, and approximately 90 minutes of music representing many of the world's cultures. The selections included bagpipe music from Azerbaijan, the first movement of Ludwig von Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and, most famously, a song by rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry. WHAT CHUCK BERRY TUNE WAS IMMORTALIZED BY THE VOYAGER SPACE PROBES? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked what song by rock and roll great Chuck Berry was immortalized by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 unmanned space probes? That tune was "Johnny B. Goode," which, along with the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and other culturally significant recordings, was placed on discs designed to play for extraterrestrials who might encounter the probes.
What keeps a bullet on a straight course?
In the Old West a "straight shooter" was an honest person you could rely on. Metaphorically, shooting straight meant that the person was like a bullet's path: true, not crooked. But just what was it that enabled a bullet to travel in a straight line?
The bullets coming out of the first muskets were literally scattershot. The unevenly shaped lead balls bounced against the inside of the barrel as they were launched and could easily veer off. Gunmakers solved the problem by improving the fit between bullet and barrel and by placing spiral grooves inside the barrel to spin the bullet as it emerged.
Spinning, like a gyroscope, corrects irregularities in an object's flight path. Finally, in the mid-19th century, bullets were aerodynamically redesigned. They were made longer, ending in the familiar conical tip which puts the bullet on the straight and narrow.
Fox to the hen house
The photo most often requested from the U.S. National Archives is that of the meeting between Elvis Presley and President Nixon in 1970. Presley had requested that Nixon make him an honorary drug enforcement agent and Nixon accommodated him.
(Insert your own punchline here. The options are too numerous for me to choose just one)
Why is something small referred to as "dinky?"
Recently I traveled by train, and my itinerary required me to take a shuttle the rest of the way. I asked the conductor where I could get the shuttle and he said, "The dinky stops over there."
What was this, baby talk? A little research set me straight. "Dinky" (probably from a Scottish word that originally meant "neat" and "trim") was first used in railroading for the small switching yard locomotives.
So, I thought, dinky, a synonym for small, was used to describe those undersized choo-choos, and then applied to the mini-train that makes up a shuttle. Not so, it turns out. Dinky as a synonym for small started with railroading, then spread to general use. I had mistaken the engine for the caboose.
Who discovered gold first?
Though it is one of the rarest metals, gold was the first to be discovered. I can't prove it, but I bet it was discovered by a woman. Women are attracted to gold. Walk through a mall and notice how that jewelry store window drawn the females in.
Do dolphins really save people from drowning and shark attacks?
Yes, sometimes, but even then it's only an accident if they do. If life were perfect, baby boomer memories of the TV program "Flipper," about a friendly and helpful dolphin, would now be burnished by scientific research showing dolphins to be altruistic as well as smart. But dolphins don't help people because the creature feels warm and fuzzy about us. For example, dolphins attack sharks in self-defense. If a person is helped in the process, that's just a coincidence. As for drowning people pushed to the surface by dolphins, that happens sometimes, but it's now attributed to the dolphin's inborn instinct to do that for its young. Flail around enough and you might be lucky and get mistaken for a young dolphin. (Or unlucky and, in the process, recognized as a person by a shark.) (Source: READER'S DIGEST DID YOU KNOW?)
Mr. President, the actor
Before coming to the White House, Nancy and Ronald Reagan were actors. During their earlier careers each was involved in a performance that foreshadowed their later lives. In 1939, the then Nancy Davis had one line in a high school play called, eerily enough, "First Lady." It was, "They ought to elect the First Lady and then let her husband be president." She and her future husband also appeared in an episode of the "General Electric TV Theater" called "A Turkey for the President." (Don't believe any Democrat who insists the title really was "A Turkey for President.") (Sources: FLAPPERS, BOOTLEGGERS, "TYPHOID MARY," & THE BOMB and INCREDIBLE SUPER TRIVIA)
Why is an idea or plan that's stale called "cut and dried?"
It figures that we would draw from nature for much of our language. For example, "any budding genius who wishes to find the root cause of something must branch out and let new ideas flower." These botanical comparisons are fresh, alive and permeated by growth. Cut and dried, on the other hand, is a phrase that suggests the end of the life force, aridity, no room for growth, the ordered arrangement of a thing as opposed to the creative chaos of life.
There are two theories of the origin of cut and dried. One holds that it describes the herbs that were used before modern medicine, cut and dried rather than fresh picked because they could be compounded with greater precision without moisture interfering. The other explanation suggests that the reference is to harvested timber. But I find that stale and stiff--in fact, rather wooden, don't you?
Mother-In-Laws Day
Little known, and even less appreciated, the United States actually has a mothers-in-law day. Well, it will if the Senate ever follows the House and passes a resolution proclaiming the day, which the House of Representatives designated as the fourth Sunday in October.
Say, do you suppose it's just a coincidence that the date proposed falls almost exactly on Halloween?
Homer Simpson flirts with radiation poisoning on an almost daily basis with no apparent ill effects, but the rest of us are far more vulnerable if exposed to radioactivity. The unit scientists use to measure doses of radiation is the rem (short for "roentgen equivalent man"). Doses of hundreds of rem produce radiation sickness, and a dose of 750 rem is invariably fatal. WHAT RADIATION DOSE IN REM IS THE AVERAGE AMERICAN EXPOSED TO EACH YEAR? We asked yesterday if you know the amount in rem of radiation that the average American is exposed to each year. From cosmic rays, radioactive isotopes in the air and on the ground, and from other sources, the average American is exposed to between 100 and 150 millirem (thousandths of a rem) per year. Add visits to your dentist or the emergency room for x-rays, and the average increases to about 250 millirem. Whether or not this amount of radiation poses a health risk remains a hotly debated issue among medical researchers.
Since we're onto a hot topic (namely, radiation), here's a related question: Everybody knows that gamma rays are potent stuff. After all, they turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk! SPEAKING IN SCIENTIFIC SPECIFICS, HOWEVER, HOW DO GAMMA RAYS DIFFER FROM OTHER TYPES OF RADIATION, SUCH AS ALPHA RAYS, BETA RAYS, AND X-RAYS? How, we asked yesterday, do gamma rays differ from other types of radiation? Gamma rays are the most energetic electromagnetic radiation known. They have wavelengths much shorter than individual atoms and therefore are capable of passing through most solids. Gamma rays are usually produced by stars or during radioactive decay of certain materials.
Legendary science fiction author Isaac Asimov penned, among other masterpieces, The Caves of Steel, which blends detective fiction with science fiction. The novel was serialized in Galaxy magazine in 1953 and was published by Doubleday in 1954. The story's protagonists are police detective Elijah Baley and his dear friend, R. Daneel Olivaw. WHAT DOES THE "R" IN OLIVAW'S NAME DESIGNATE? Last time we asked what the initial "R" in the character name R. Daneel Olivaw, from Isaac Asimov's classic science fiction novel The Caves of Steel, stands for. The "R" designates Olivaw as a robot. Asimov gained much of his fame from his robot stories, of course, but few of his robots proved as popular as Olivaw. He and his human friend, Det. Elijah Baley, returned for a sequel, The Naked Sun, in 1957. Asimov continued Baley's adventures with The Robots of Dawn (1983) and Robots and Empire (1985). Baley and Olivaw were also featured in Prelude to Foundation (1988), in which this popular series meshed with Asimov's most famous creation, his Foundation novels.
Chances are, you've never stopped to ponder the origin of the word "vaccination." In fact, if you're scared of hypodermic needles, the mere mention of the word may make you wince. (Sorry!) English physician Edward Jenner, who founded the science of immunology, coined the term "vaccination" in 1796. Its root is the Latin word "vacca," which means "cow." Jenner wasn't experimenting with cows. SO WHAT ON EARTH DID COWS HAVE TO DO WITH JENNER'S WORK? Why, we asked last time, did English physician Edward Jenner coin the term "vaccination" from the Latin root "vacca," meaning cow? Residents of Jenner's native Gloucestershire claimed that anyone who caught cowpox (a mild disease prevalent among cows and transferable to humans) became immune to smallpox. Jenner decided to test the theory. He found a milkmaid who was suffering from cowpox, took the fluid from a blister on her skin, and injected it into a young boy. The boy quickly contracted cowpox. Later, Jenner inoculated the boy with smallpox, but the child never contracted that disease. Two years later, Jenner repeated the experiment in different patients with the same result. Jenner coined the term "vaccination" to describe his use of cowpox inoculation to create immunity to smallpox.
What, exactly, is an itch?
We don't exactly know. We visit the planets, map the human genome, and split the atom. But an itch is still largely that which you scratch, one of medicine's last frontiers.
It's a stimulus affecting the nerve endings between the dermis and epidermis; scientists liken it to a form of pain. But that's neither here nor there. It's usually caused by histamine released in the epidermis. Scratching stops it, either by interfering with the nerve impulses or by temporarily damaging the nerves themselves. That's it.
So if you would like to make your mark in medicine, investigate the itch. But you won't get much help from research so far. You'll just have to start from scratch.
Muumuu or bust
In the 1950s, American women who wanted to wear something loose and comfortable often slipped into a muumuu. A what? It was a shapeless, beltless dress, originally introduced by missionaries into Hawaii. They figured that the native women would look better even in muumuus than in what they had been wearing, which was nothing.
And why were the dresses called muumuus? It's said that muumuu is Hawaiian for "cut off," applied to the dress because it seemed to just abruptly end at the neck. But I still firmly believe that Hawaiians were simply quoting a local cow with a repetition compulsion.
How do airline pilots land in a fog?
Carefully! Your plane can't pull over to the side of the road in bad weather, so the pilot had better be able to find the runway. That's where the "instrument landing" you may have heard of comes in.
A bit less than 10 miles from touch down and just under 500 feet altitude, the plane's radar picks up a signal, the outer marker, that orients the pilot toward the runway's glide path. This path is defined by two signals. One keeps the pilot from veering too far to either side, while the other guides the plane down at the correct angle. At a height of 200 feet the middle marker signals the fail-safe point. If the runway lights are still not visible, you're going back up and on to another airport (and wherever that may be, you will still wait an hour for your luggage).
(Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? by Caroline Sutton)
Mona "Hairy" Lisa
The subject of the Mona Lisa, one of history's most famous paintings, was a Florentine merchant's wife. Have you ever noticed that she has no eyebrows? It was customary in Florence in those days to shave them off.
There are three earlier versions of La Giaconda, the painting's real name, underneath the top layer. From an inside source in the Louvre, I have learned that in one of those versions playful painter Leonardo da Vinci actually gave his subject not only eyebrows, but a beard, moustache and sideburns as well.
In 1950, well after he'd broken "Enigma," Germany's top-secret World War II code, mathematician and scientist Alan M. Turing unveiled a rudimentary computer he called MADAM (short for Manchester Automatic Digital Machine). WHAT FUNCTION WAS MADAM DESIGNED TO PERFORM? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked what function MADAM (short for Manchester Automatic Digital Machine) was designed to perform. MADAM was a chess-playing machine designed by the scientist and mathematician Alan M. Turing. However, MADAM proved to be a very poor opponent and often made foolish moves. Even unskilled chess players could usually defeat MADAM within a few moves.
Few computer games have had the cultural impact of Pac-Man. It's the best-selling coin-operated game in history and has generated more than $100 million in revenue for Namco since its debut in 1980. The Pac-Man trademark has been licensed to more than 250 companies for more than 400 products, including a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. The name was even co-opted by Wall Street types to describe companies with a penchant for hostile takeovers. It took almost 20 years, but in July 1999, Florida resident and Pac-Man addict Billy Mitchell achieved the first perfect score in Pac-Man history. HOW MANY POINTS DID MITCHELL RING UP DURING HIS PERFECT GAME? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked how many points Florida's Billy Mitchell rang up while recording the first perfect score in Pac-Man history in July 1999. The answer is that, after playing for six hours straight, Mitchell scored 3,333,360 points. To earn this score, he defeated all 256 screens by eating every dot, fruit, and ghost (all four ghosts were eaten with each power pellet), and he only used one Pac-Man!
Rush-hour traffic, road-rage shootings, smog, urban sprawl--what would modern life be like without them? We might actually know if it weren't for Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. Benz and Daimler are generally credited with inventing the first gasoline-powered internal-combustion automobile engines. They each developed their machines independently in the mid-1880s. But automobiles powered by other fuels date even further back. WHEN AND WHERE WAS THE FIRST AUTOMOBILE INVENTED? Yesterday we asked when and where the first automobile was invented. Most historians credit inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot of France with the creation of the first automobile. Cugnot's machine, invented in 1769, was powered by steam. Other important dates in auto history include 1899, when Ransom Eli Olds built the world's first automobile factory in Detroit; and 1897, when Rudolf Diesel perfected the diesel engine.
Why do we say that something that has matured has "come to a head?"
Feet get no respect. You go to the head of your class, you're miles ahead of everyone else, and a good glass of beer has a head on it. But don't get it in your head that this particular expression--come to a head--refers directly to your anatomy. Not this time. Not unless you're a vegetable. The reference is to the maturing of the very down-to-earth cabbage. As far back as the Renaissance, people going to market were anxious to pick up a head or two. Sometimes, though, farmers had to tell their customers that weather conditions had held back the growth of the crop. The still immature plant had not yet fully formed, had not "come to a head." So there you are: reach maturity and they compare you to a cabbage. (Source: WHY YOU SAY IT by Webb Garrison)
The English language contains only four words that end in "dous." They are tremendous, stupendous, hazardous...and..and...if I don't tell you the last one that would absolutely horrendous. (Source: OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY)
Why do we tell someone who's snooty to get off his or her high horse?
I've known some pretty snooty people who I wouldn't mind seeing fall off a high horse. But this expression just tells them to get off. So what would they be doing mounted on this tall nag in the first place? If you know anything about horses, you're aware that they come in a pretty wide variety of sizes and shapes. Clydesdales, for examples, are very big, while Shetland Ponies are, by comparison, pretty diminutive. At one time, the size of your horse would have had a lot to do with your social position. Knights, for instance, high on the social scale, needed big horses to hold them and their equipment. Other high-standing people just liked to sit tall in the saddle, with a little help from their steed. The expression "get off your high horse" thus means to come down from such social pretensions. (Source: A BROWSER'S DICTIONARY by John Ciardi,)
Powerful Stuff
Your jaw muscle is the most powerful muscle in your body. Of course it is, with cell phones it's the one that gets the biggest workout. A skunk can propel its spray about 10 feet, but its stink can go a lot further. (Source: THE KID'S FUN-FILLED QUESTION AND ANSWER BOOK)
Is it true that animals are colorblind?
You may have heard that a bull never literally "sees red" when the bullfighter waves a cape in his face. It's the movement of the cape that provokes. Animals, after all, are colorblind.
Hold on, not so fast. Birds, for instance, have a marked ability to distinguish colors. They need it to spot food, such as berries, on the ground. On the other hand, most creatures of the night--including the ubiquitous house cat--have little sense of color. But they're awfully good at picking up movement.
So the next time someone tells you that all animals are color blind, tell them that it's not such a black and white proposition.
Four or Fig
Some believe that the idea of a lucky four leaf clover goes back to Adam and Eve. It's said that when Eve was sent from the Garden of Eden, she took a four leaf clover with her. The clover may have been lucky but it certainly wasn't as practical as the fig leaf.
Why do we call people who work off-staff "freelancers?"
The cynics among freelancers will tell you that they are called that because many clients expect them to work practically for free. They are also free to do without employee benefits such as vacations and medical coverage. On the other hand, they do get to set their own hours, write off an espresso and a croissant with a friend as a business expense, and work at home in their underwear.
The term originated in the Middle Ages to describe a mercenary knight whose lance was for hire. He was free of any attachment to a particular lord and could be employed on a project-by-project basis--assault a castle, rescue a damsel, the usual stuff. Eventually the term was applied to anyone who was paid by the project or the piece.
(Source: A BROWSER'S DICTIONARY by John Ciardi)
Spring and the Fool
The custom of playing tricks on people on April 1 began in France after a new calendar was instituted in the 16th century. Previously, the New Year had been celebrated April 1, but the new calendar switched it to the familiar January 1. Out of habit, many people continued to observe April 1 as the beginning of the year. They were known as "April fools," and eventually the custom arose of playing tricks on that day.
The French call victims of April Fools pranks "April fish." Maybe that's because they go for the bait.
Why hasn't the Earth's interior cooled after more than 4 billion years?
Wouldn't you think that after 4 billion plus years of letting off steam via volcanoes, geysers, and other geological temper tantrums, Mother Earth would cool it? Yet after all that time it's still over 3,200 degrees F. down below. The main reason for the retention of all that heat is the superb insulation, plain old rock, that's keeping it in. Another is that the heat process is being fueled by the energy emitted by the decay of radioactive material way down below-- in effect, a battery with one heck of a long life. And in the scheme of things, volcanoes and such release a miniscule amount of the planet's inner heat. They don't dissipate any more of it than your perpetually angry aunt Sadie dispels her enormous reserves of heat every time she blows her stack. (Source: WHY THINGS ARE & WHY THEY AREN'T by Joel Achenbach)
Which fly flies fastest?
A dragonfly can fly up to 30 miles per hour. If gas prices go much higher, I'm going to start carpooling to work with a dragonfly. Even though a mosquito beats its wings 600 times per second it only travels about one mile per hour. That's because stopping to annoy people tends to slow you down. (Source: THE KID'S FUN-FILLED QUESTION AND ANSWER BOOK)
How do time release capsules work?
Time release capsules, invented in the 1940s, hardly compare in importance to penicillin, the greatest medical advance of that decade. Yet the capsules did represent a revolution in terms of comfort and convenience. (Or would you prefer to wake up every hour during the night to pop pills in installments?) The way the capsules work is amazingly simple. In effect, you are swallowing a group of small medicinal time bombs--close to a thousand of them in some capsules--with "fuses" set for different times. Those fuses are created by the varying thickness' of a wax-like coating over the medication which determines how soon your digestive system can get at the medicine inside each pellet. The thin-skinned ones go to work almost right away, while the ones with the heavier coatings hang around, waiting for that coating to dissolve. All you have to do is swallow the capsule. Bombs away! (Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? by Caroline Sutton)
A rooster's crowing is actually a mating call. If he really wanted to attract a female, he would wait until at least 10 am before making all that noise. The femur, or thighbone, is the largest bone in your body. Unfortunately, the thigh is the largest everything on my body. (Source: THE KID'S FUN-FILLED QUESTION AND ANSWER)
Exactly what was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden?
If the apple industry had hired the best public relations person in history, they never could have gotten the kind of attention they have received for free from the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit. It's bad publicity, you say? Publicity is publicity. The thing to is to be mentioned--often, everywhere.
But where does it say that the fruit was an apple? Not in any Bible I know about. So many people think it was an apple, but the text never identifies the fruit. Maybe it was a tangelo. (The Koran says it was a banana.)
Come to think of it, maybe the apple industry did get in there early on with a juicy publicity campaign. Planting the seeds, so to speak.
How do the police train dogs to find hidden drugs?
Assuming that there is nothing in nature that inherently links canine and cannabis, how the heck do they get dogs to develop a nose for wacky weed? Or for heroin? Do they end up dissipated dogs, baying at the moon in broad daylight? Essentially, the dog is taught through the use of its instinct to retrieve. What it fetches is marijuana, wrapped carefully so the animal can't bite into the package and get high, but loosely enough so that the smell becomes familiar. When the fetching becomes routine, the marijuana is hidden so that the dog must sniff for it. Then the drug is placed in a bag and hidden. (You can see where this escalating game is headed--the airport baggage department.) Heroin is treated similarly, except that the real stuff is so potent that a like-smelling artificial substance is used in initial training to keep the dog from nodding out. (Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? by Caroline Sutton)
Hearts Afire
Your heart is a muscle, but it never gets tired. Broken, stomped upon, ripped out by a careless lover, sure, but tired...never. The ring of fire is in the Pacific Ocean is the area where more than 75% of the world's 850 active volcanoes are located. It's also what happens every time Dad tries to barbecue. (Source: THE KID'S FUN-FILLED QUESTION AND ANSWER BOOK)
Why is Jesus so frequently depicted as tall and slim with long hair?
With Easter almost upon us, TV, newspapers and magazines are likely to be displaying the image of Jesus. How do they know how to depict Him? After all, He was a Jew, for whom graven images were forbidden. And don't look in the Gospels for a description. He's left there to your imagination.
There actually is a very mundane reason for the image with which we are all familiar. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when the Western image of Jesus became fixed, artists themselves were likely to look that way. They painted what they knew.
The probably ascetic Jesus may have been thin, and Jews, it's been suggested, might have had long hair to set themselves off from the Romans. Jesus may also have been a man of color, but we don't just know. And it may not really matter.
(Source: WHY THINGS ARE & WHY THEY AREN'T by Joel Achenbach)
Da Body
Your tongue print is as unique as your fingerprints. So if you are planning on committing a crime, be sure not to lick anything.
The human body has 45 miles of nerves. That may explain why so many people tend to get on mine.
In the early 19th century, Charles Babbage conceived his "Difference Engine"--a massive steam-powered mechanical calculator designed to print astronomical tables. He worked on the Difference Engine for 20 years (from 1822 to 1842) until the British government canceled the project. The Difference Engine was partially assembled (and demonstrated) in 1832 by engineer Joseph Clement, but it only contained about 2,000 of its proposed 12,000 parts. The unfinished engine still functions today. WHAT INSTITUTION EVENTUALLY UNDERTOOK A PROJECT TO BUILD A COMPLETE REPLICA OF BABBAGE'S DIFFERENCE ENGINE? BONUS QUESTION: Give yourself extra points if you can also answer this: What two authors collaborated to write the science-fiction novel The Difference Machine, which speculated on how the world might have changed had the British government allowed Babbage to finish the project? Yesterday we asked you to identify the institution that eventually completed a replica of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine--a calculating machine that was only partially built in 1832. The Difference Engine No. 2 was completed by UK's Science Museum in 1991. This machine worked just as Babbage had predicted, and was capable of cranking out the values of seventh-order polynomial equations with 31-figure accuracy. As a bonus question, we also asked yesterday who co-wrote the science-fiction novel The Difference Engine, a story that speculated on how this machine might have changed the world had it been finished in Babbage's time. Those writers were William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
Most geeks know that a "worm" is a computer program that can move through a network, replicate itself, and deposit information at a node. The term "worm" usually has negative connotations because crackers have used worms to spread viruses and malignant Trojan Horse programs; however, worms can also be put to good use for diagnostic routines and to increase network efficiency. The most famous worm--"The Great Worm"- -was launched on Nov. 2, 1988 to distribute itself to over 6,000 computers on the Internet. The worm shut infected systems down by creating many copies of itself and using up available processor time. WHO WROTE "THE GREAT WORM" PROGRAM AND WHAT WAS HE TRYING TO DO WITH IT? Give yourself bonus points if you can identify the origin of the word "worm" as used in computer programming.Last time, we asked who wrote and released "The Great Worm" program, which, in November 1988, shut down more than 6,000 computers on the Internet. The Great Worm was written by Robert Morris, a 23-year-old doctoral student at Cornell University. He wrote the program to point out security weaknesses in Sun and VAX computers--the worm was not intended to be destructive, only to spread itself into as many machines as possible. Unfortunately, Morris' program code included a number of bugs that helped the worm propagate to a disruptive level. We also asked yesterday if you knew the origin of the term "worm" as it relates to computer programming. Award yourself those bonus points if you knew that it comes from John Brunner's 1975 science-fiction novel, The Shockwave Rider.
He has authored several volumes of poetry. His stage credits include "Fiddler on the Roof," "Oliver!" and "Camelot." He directed a successful series of movies including Three Men and a Baby. He hosted the well-remembered TV series "In Search Of." But for viewers throughout the galaxy, actor Leonard Nimoy will always remain Mr. Spock. Nimoy was raised in a Boston tenement and began acting at age eight, but didn't make his Hollywood screen debut until the early 1950s. WHAT FILM FEATURED NIMOY'S FIRST SCREEN APPEARANCE? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked if you could name Leonard Nimoy's first Hollywood role. Given our generous nature, we'll happily accept either of two responses, since Nimoy appeared in both films the same year (1951). At age 20, he won a bit part in Queen for a Day and another as a ballplayer in Rhubarb. It didn't take long for Nimoy to establish a relationship with the science fiction genre. The following year, he was seen as a Martian named Narab in the inimitable Zombies of the Stratosphere. He also had an uncredited appearance as a telex operator in the SF classic Them! (1954).
History remembers British scientist Henry Moseley for his important contribution to the development of modern chemistry. He proposed a key revision of the periodic law first introduced by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, arguing that various elements' physical and chemical properties are a periodic function of those elements' atomic structure, rather than of their mass. We know now that Moseley was correct--the pivotal factor is the number of electrons in an element, not the element's mass. However, Moseley also left another legacy, one that didn't result from his life's work. Rather, it resulted from his death. HOW DID MOSELEY'S DEATH, AT THE AGE OF 28, BENEFIT SCIENCE? Yesterday we asked how the death of British scientist Henry Moseley benefited science. Moseley, who proposed a key revision of the periodic law first introduced by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, died at the young age of 28. He was killed in action in 1915, while defending king and country on the battlefields of World War I. His untimely demise robbed science of a brilliant young mind, but helped lead to the British policy of exempting scientists from combat duty. Most nations followed England's lead. Today, most scientists contribute to their country's defense toting test tubes instead of rifles.
Of course you know that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. We're confident you're also aware that Alan Shepard was the first U.S. astronaut in suborbital space, and that John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. But we'll be truly impressed if you can answer this question: WHO WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO TRAVEL INTO SPACE? Who, we asked yesterday, was the first woman in space? If you guessed Sally Ride, you were about 20 years too late. In 1963, a scant two years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, female cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova became the first woman to do so, piloting the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 6. It took the U.S. nearly two decades to duplicate this feat. In 1983, space shuttle astronaut Ride became the first American woman into space.
While we're on the topic of the space program, here's another question: Every school kid knows (or at least is supposed to know) that Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. became the first men to walk on the moon. Their Apollo 11 lunar module landed in Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquility) on Jul. 20, 1969. Considerably fewer people realize that Americans returned to the moon only a few months later, when the crew of Apollo 12 touched down on the lunar surface. WHO WERE THE NEXT TWO ASTRONAUTS TO WALK ON THE MOON, AND WHEN AND WHERE DID THEIR SPACECRAFT LAND? Yesterday we asked if you knew who were the second pair of astronauts to walk on the moon and when and where their spacecraft landed. They were astronauts Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr. and Alan Bean, and they landed the lunar module of Apollo 12 in the Oceanus Procellarum (Sea of Storms) on Nov. 19, 1969, a little less than four months following the historic landing of Apollo 11. Also, let's not forget astronaut Richard Gordon, who piloted the Apollo 12 command module.
We've asked before about ARPANET, the military computer network that led to the development of the Internet. Another early government computer network that was funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency was the so-called ALOHANET. WHAT WAS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS HAWAII-BASED COMPUTER NETWORK? Last time we asked you to explain the significance of the so-called ALOHANET, a Hawaii-based computer network funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency. ALOHANET, due to its Hawaiian locale, was unable to share information via telephone lines or traditional wires. So instead, in 1970, it became the first network to transmit data into a computer via radio waves--in effect, it was the first "wireless" computer network. And in 1971, when ALOHANET was connected to the mainland-based ARPANET, it helped prove that a single network could function across great distances and even overseas.
Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich began his career as a student of Sigmund Freud in Vienna. After breaking with Freudian orthodoxy in 1927, however, he quickly established himself as a prominent, albeit controversial, figure in the emerging field of psychoanalysis. In 1935, he stunned the medical community by announcing that he had discovered a new type of energy he called "orgone." HOW WAS THIS SUPPOSED ENERGY PRODUCED, AND WHAT WAS ITS IMPORTANCE, ACCORDING TO REICH? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked if you could explain the importance of something known as "Orgone." Orgone, "discovered" by a former student of Sigmund Freud named Wilhelm Reich, was, Reich said, the basic building block of all matter in the universe. Reich claimed that Orgone was an energy generated during orgasm--and only heterosexual orgasm, at that. He even referred to the universe itself as "the cosmic orgasm." Reich's pronouncements became more outrageous as years passed. He also claimed to have created "bions," substances halfway between dead and living tissue that could become primitive living matter. During the flying saucer controversy of the 1950s, he claimed that the earth was the center of a battle between visiting extraterrestrial races. One group of aliens was bent on extracting Orgone from the Earth's atmosphere, while another race, sympathetic to humanity's plight, were striving to replace the stolen Orgone. Despite his outlandish beliefs, Reich had loyal followers, among them architect Frank Lloyd Wright and writer Allen Ginsberg.
Everybody knows that Superman lives in Metropolis, and just about everybody assumes that "Metropolis" is an alias for America's mightiest urban giant, New York City. But in truth, artist Joe Shuster's mythical city didn't emulate NYC at all. WHAT CITY DID SHUSTER CREDIT AS THE INSPIRATION FOR HIS METROPOLIS? Yesterday we asked what city artist Joe Shuster credited as the inspiration for Superman's mythical city, Metropolis. That city was, in fact, Shuster's hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Shuster had worked as a paperboy selling the Toronto Daily Star. Not coincidentally, the newspaper that employed Clark Kent was initially called The Daily Star, as well. Shuster and his partner, writer Jerry Siegel, named Superman's imaginary city after director Fritz Lang's seminal science fiction film, Metropolis.
The year 1543 is sometimes credited as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. It was in 1543 that Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus published his watershed book, Concerning the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies, which proved that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice-versa. The same year also saw the publication of a lesser known but nearly as influential text by a Flemish researcher named Andreas Vesalius. While Copernicus challenged long-held and church-backed astronomical beliefs, Vesalius' research flew in the face of other time-honored "truths." WHAT WAS VESALIUS' BOOK CALLED, AND WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT? We asked yesterday for the title of Flemish researcher Andreas Vesalius's influential 1543 book, and for an explanation of this tome's importance. Vesalius's book, Concerning the Structure of the Human Body, challenged centuries-old assumptions about human anatomy. Vesalius corrected more than two hundred errors committed by Greek anatomist Galen in his widely accepted studies on the same topic. Galen, who was born in 129 A.D., had based his findings on dissections of animals rather than humans. Vesalius' book appeared the same year as Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus's landmark Concerning the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies, which proved that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice-versa. As a result, 1543 is sometimes considered the dawn of the Scientific Revolution.
His name may not belong in the macabre roll call of "celebrity Nazis" such as Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels, but little-known dentist Frederich Krohn made a pivotal contribution to the advancement of the German National Socialist movement. Without picking up a weapon, Krohn did more to advance the party's cause than a division of storm troopers. WHAT DID KROHN DO? What part did dentist Friedrich Krohn play in the advancement of the Nazi party in pre-World War II Germany? That was yesterday's question. Here's the answer: Krohn, an amateur occultist, suggested appropriating the swastika as an emblem for the National Socialist movement. He placed the symbol on a white disc with a red background--red for blood and white for nationalism and purity of race. He chose the swastika to represent "the struggle of victory for the Aryan man." Adolf Hitler, with his fascination for magic and the occult, loved Krohn's idea. An ancient and widespread symbol dating back to early Chinese, Mongolian, and American Indian cultures, the swastika had previously always represented good fortune. The word "swastika" derives from the Sanskrit "su asti," which translates as "good, he is." Thanks to Krohn, this once-beloved emblem is now universally recognized as a symbol of hatred and oppression.
HOW DID THE QUARK GET ITS NAME? (No, the barkeep from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had nothing to do with it.) Yesterday we asked how the quark got its name. Nobel prize-winning American physicist Murray Gell-Mann initially referred to the mathematical particle with a nonsense word that sounded something like "kwork." Later, he discovered a passage from James Joyce's novel, Finnegans Wake, which referred to "three quarks for Muster Mark." Thanks in part to Joyce, the particle thus became known as the "quark."
A common misconception is that American aviator Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. Actually, Lindbergh became the first man to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic when he touched down in Paris on May 21, 1927. However, a team of aviators had made the first nonstop transatlantic flight nearly eight years before Lindbergh's better-publicized journey. WHO WERE THESE AVIATORS? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked you to name the aviators who completed the first nonstop transatlantic flight. British airmen Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Brown flew from Newfoundland, Canada, to Ireland June 14 to 15, 1919--nearly eight years before American Charles Lindbergh completed his better-remembered nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. Alcock and Brown, flying a converted twin-engine Vickers Vimy bomber, took just 16 hours, 27 minutes to complete their flight. Lindbergh's single-engine Spirit of Saint Louis monoplane took over 33 hours to complete its crossing. Amelia Earhart, who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, followed a route similar to the one pioneered by Alcock and Brown.
What is "truth serum," and does it work?
Probably the most effective means of eliciting the truth were developed in medieval dungeons. Although some governments persist in their use, the march of progress in the 20th century turned enlightened people toward--what else-- chemistry as a substitute for the rack and branding iron. In the 1920s doctors claimed that scopolamine, an anesthetic, could get the truth out of anyone. It was used in some sensational trials and the press labeled it "truth serum." But it was never proven scientifically reliable. Nor have its successors, such as sodium pentathol, been proven any more legally dependable than the lie detector or for that matter, the administering of multiple Margaritas. (In fact, enough Margaritas will make you tell the truth, but you will slur your words to the point that no one can make out what you said.) (Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? by Caroline Sutton)
Adult Kids Stuff
We read the strangest stuff to kids. Grimm's fairy tales, for example, in their original edition, are some of the bloodiest, most brutal stories ever written. Now I've discovered that Sarah Catherine Martin, the British writer who penned "Old Mother Hubbard," was a one-time lover of the future King William IV. What's more, she wrote this immortal nursery rhyme while a guest at the home of the family her brother-in-law to be, a Member of Parliament named John P. Bastard (his real name!). Imagine that, "Old Mother Hubbard" was written by a royal mistress while surrounded by a bunch of Bastards. (Source: EXTRAORDINARY ORIGINS OF EVERYDAY THINGS by Charles Panati)
Who started the custom of men wearing tuxedos on formal occasions?
At one time if you told me it was a bunch of penguins that wanted men to look as funny and ridiculous as they do, I would have believed you. But now I can muster some facts to fill in the tail--er, tale--of the tuxedo's origins. When the tuxedo debuted in 1886, black tie and tails had been the accepted formal wear for a century. But that year Pierre Lorillard (from the tobacco family) commissioned a tailor to create something less stiff--preferably tail-less--for a big social occasion where he lived, in Tuxedo Park, New York. But by the big night his enthusiasm for the new suit had tailed off, and he chickened out. However, his son and his friends wore it, and they started a new fad that itself became the standard for formal wear. In the process, they immortalized the name of their hometown. (Source: EXTRAORDINARY ORIGINS OF EVERYDAY THINGS by C. Panati)
Death and the New
When christening a ship, instead of using champagne, the Vikings would sacrifice a human being. The custom started when some Vikings tried to break a bottle of champagne and the owner of the ship said, "Over my dead body." The Vikings also thought the spirits of the murdered person would guide and guard the craft. Come on, if they sacrificed me just to launch a stupid ship, the only place I would guide it would be the bottom of the ocean. (Source: 2201 FASCINATING FACTS)
Why do we call a long shot political candidate a "dark horse"?
What is there about politics that would inspire a four-legged metaphor? Well, many people associate politics with the scent of the stable. And we have all had to listen to politicians who remind one of the southbound end of a northbound horse. But "dark horse" rises above all that. It comes from good breeding and in fact is downright literary. Benjamin Disraeli, the future British Prime Minister, coined it in his 1831 novel, The Young Duke, to describe a horse with dim prospects that emerges from the pack to become a serious challenger. The term was picked up at British tracks, passed into American racing lingo, and from there entered the political lexicon, where it is still trotted out to label a candidate who may surprise everyone at the finish line. (Source: A BROWSER'S DICTIONARY by John Ciardi)
Assuming that each fold neatly overlaps its opposite side, a dollar bill can be folded only 6 times, 7 if put in a vise (although the dollar can only be folded six times, it can be stretched numerous ways). The amount of play money printed each year for use in the game, Monopoly is more than the amount of real money issued every year by the U.S. government. Of course, Monopoly money is a lot easier to come by.
Why is a big gambling payoff called a jackpot?
It's a safe bet that most people don't know Jack about what kind of pot this expression refers to. Ordinarily I might play my cards close to my vest and tease you a while about what it means, but I'm feeling pretty flush today, so I'll just play it straight and deal. The game is poker, folks--draw poker, to be exact. You need a pair of jacks or better to open, but you ante-up regardless. The longer we play without someone holding the requisite cards, the more money there will be in the pot. Eventually someone will draw the cards that will win (What are you grinning about, pardner? Just what cards are you holding?) By extension, the payoff at slot machines is also commonly called the jackpot. (Source: BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE)
You don't say
According to the Population Council, people tend to marry people who live near them. Of course, if they lived far away the person wouldn't be a spouse, they'd be a pen-pal.
There really is a disease called the laughing disease, where people literally laugh themselves to death. There is a cure: take the infected person and force them to watch a couple hours of prime time television.
How do they make mirrors?
There are probably few things more interesting, perplexing, and sometimes disturbing as our own reflections. Since ancient Egypt, when people used shiny metal to bring themselves face to face with their face, we've used mirrors to keep an eye on ourselves. Commercial glass mirrors were first produced in 16th century Venice. It was the Renaissance, when realistic portraits came into vogue and literature and philosophy were suddenly emphasizing the individual. The mirror glass was backed by a mixture of mercury and tin, a method that was used until the 19th century, when a chemically treated silver-ammonia compound replaced it. The backing, supported and protected by the glass, reflects the image.
Two Snaps Up
There's a formal name for snapping your fingers. It's called a "fillip." I knew filliping had something to do with your fingers, but I thought it only involved one finger. E is the most frequently used letter in the alphabet. Q is the least. I find that quite quizzical and quirky and you can quote me (not really, I just wanted to help poor Q along there). (Source: 2201 FASCINATING FACTS)
If canned grapefruit is unsweetened, why is it usually sweeter than the fresh fruit?
Did you ever suspect that the "unsweetened" claim on the juice can might be just a little fib? How else can you explain this phenomenon? Well, before you sour on the juice companies, drink this in. There's a simple explanation. The juice-making process is totally controlled. The fruit is picked when perfectly ripe and the taste is just right. That taste is preserved by canning. But fresh fruit has to travel to the supermarket and then sit there until you buy it. It has to be picked before it's ripe in order to give it a chance to hit its peak at the point of sale. When the timing is perfect, you slice the sections and they're delicious. But how much of life is perfect? Pass the sugar, please. (Source: IMPONDERABLES by David Feldman,)
Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to manufacture playing cards in the U.S. Boy--playing cards, the post office, the library...where in the world did he ever find the time to fly a kite?
Why do we call nonsense talk a lot of "rigmarole?"
Like the word "gobbledygook," rigmarole sounds like what it describes. Each means nonsense talk or writing and rigmarole is also applied to procedures--often bureaucratic--that don't make sense. But while gobbledygook was coined by a Texas congressman, rigmarole has a pedigree. The word evolved from "Ragman Roll," a legal scroll related to medieval pledges of loyalty to the English king by the Scottish nobles. Even then nobody was supposed to understand legalese, so the language on this scroll just rolled along through obscurity. A French party game involving the use of a scroll likely also have played a role in the etymology of rigmarole as a nonsense name. (Source: A BROWSER'S DICTIONARY by John Ciardi)
People did not use soap to clean themselves until the eighteenth century.
No wonder world population started to grow substantially at that time. People were finally willing to live close to other people!
How much more powerful are today's personal computers compared to the first machines in widespread use?
Compared to users of the first widely used personal computers two decades ago, you are the master of the universe when you press the "on" button. (Crashes? What crashes?) Since the original IBM PC set the standard for computing, let's look at it (the Apple machine of that day had similar specs). Debuting in 1981, the PC plodded along at 4.77 MHz, about a hundred times slower than the slowest business machine today. It's 64K of ram was puny compared to today's 128. It also sported a single 5 1/2 diskette drive holding 160 kilobytes of data. Today's 20-gigabyte hard drive stores 125,000 times as much. Modems, operating at about 300 bits per second and physically attached to the telephone, were optional. Your built-in 56K modem is 186 times as fast. And they didn't have Windows. (Well, some things were faster then!) (Source: THE FRIENDLY COMPUTER BOOK by Gene Brown)
Length does matter
The Nile River is so long that had it been formed in the United States, it could have stretched from New York to Los Angeles. Then maybe the pyramids would have been built in Kansas and instead of Mother's Day, Americans could have celebrated Mummy's Day.
What the heck is something doing when it "warms the cockles" of your heart?
Some of you may recognize the word cockle as derived from the Old French, coquille, or shell, as in the French scallop dish, Coquille Saint-Jacques. You would know as well that coquille also gave us "the cockles and mussels" that Sweet Molly Malone sold in an old song.
Now those who jumped up to raise their hand with that answer, please sit down. That ain't it.
These cockles come from the Latin cochleae cordis, the ventricles in your heart. The implication is that something that warms you that internally is really, deeply satisfying.
Change the Solar Batteries
Eventually the sun will burn itself out and Earth will freeze over. When that happens, given the 94 million miles from the Earth to the sun and the speed of light, we will have a little over eight minutes before the daylight goes dark and the temperature plunges precipitously. Maybe not enough time to take out the garbage and put your personal papers in order, but surely enough to wolf down one last bowl of nachos and salsa.
Is the "catgut" used in some tennis rackets and stringed instruments actually...?
I was appalled by this word when I was a kid. I didn't want to even consider the possibility that it was what it said it was. Well those who favor felines can read on, but if you're a lamb lover be warned: what we have here is a sheep in cat's clothing. These days tennis rackets tend to be strung with steel or nylon, but some are still made from sheepgut, which is known for its strength. And when you strum a guitar, don't be surprised if you think you hear a bleat among the twangs. Sheepgut is still a mainstay in string instruments. It also shows up in surgical sutures and--don't faint--sausage casings. So why do they call it catgut? Fewer letters? Because sadism toward pussycats is politically correct? In truth, we don't know. (Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? by Caroline Sutton)
Less or more
Most snakes can go a full year without eating any food. If I had to survive on a diet of mice, I'd only eat once every year too.
There are more than 50,000 earthquakes every year throughout the world. That's a whole lotta shaking going on.
How is dry ice made?
Dry ice--frozen carbon dioxide--is often used to preserve perishable food, such as ice cream (God bless it). But you might perish if you ever ingested dry ice because its temperature is around -110 degrees F. It's cold enough to burn you if you even touch it. They make dry ice by subjecting carbon dioxide to very high pressure and extreme cold. It turns into a liquid that, when it evaporates, forms a deeply frigid, snow-like substance. That "snow" is then compressed into blocks of dry ice. If allowed to "melt," dry ice goes directly from a solid state back to a gas, a process known as sublimation. That's the same word psychiatrists use to describe substituting a benign or creative impulse for a baser one--such as treating yourself to a nice cold dish of ice cream instead of taking an ice pick to someone who's annoying you. (Source: THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA)
You call that talent?
Leonardo Di Vinici could draw with one hand while at the same time write with the other. Boy, you'd think if he could do all that he would have been able to paint a couple of eyebrows on Mona Lisa.
Do porcupines really shoot their quills at their enemies?
There are two denizens of the woods that are peculiar in their means of defending themselves. One is the skunk, who will put up a big stink when cornered. The other is the porcupine, which looks like a walking pincushion. Most of us have come across the skunk's calling card in the country, but I'll bet you've never encountered a porcupine except in a zoo. So I'll just have to tell you: this little charmer does not launch itty-bitty guided missiles at its foes. In fact, the animal's first line of protection against an attacker is to run like the dickens in the opposite direction. But if cornered, the porcupine will turn its rear end to its enemy--mooned by a porcupine!--and whack it with its quill-covered tale. The other party usually gets the point. (Sources: MYTH-INFORMED by Paul Dickson & Joseph C. Goulden)
You light up my life
According to a professor at the University of Michigan, men are six times more likely than women to be hit by lightening. Could that be because more women have the sense to come in out of the rain? (Source: 2201 FASCINATING FACTS)
Why do we say that someone on a rampage has "run amuck?"
I love this expression. It sounds like somebody is dashing through a field of mud, oblivious to the mess they're making --a lot more fun than jogging. Anyway, not to dwell on my childish fantasies, it turns out that "muck" has nothing to do with muck and mire and any manner of messy things. In fact, it doesn't even come from English or a closely related language. The word amuck, sometimes spelled amok, is from a 17th century Malay word, amoq, which means to fight furiously, almost in a bloodlust. Today, even if the person running amuck is not leaving a bloody wake, the implication is still that he or she is out of control, in a frenzy, leaving total chaos behind. In a word: nuts. You know, that still sounds attractive. Excuse me while I run amuck. (Sources: THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH ETYMOLOGY)
Burn babe burn
Nothing can be burned that has already been burned once. Whoever decided that obviously didn't play the stock market much. (Source: 2201 FASCINATING FACTS)
How can you tell real pearls from fake ones?
We hold pearls in very high regard, even using the precious little things as a synonym for something that is small and very valuable, as in pearls of wisdom. So it's important to be able to tell the real thing from the wannabes. After all, there's no point in your casting your costume jewelry before swine, is there? The real pearl is a mollusk's concretion, the most essential ingredient of which is aragonite. Not clear enough criteria for you? Ok, check the price – real ones cost more. All right, enough fooling around. Put the "pearl" in your mouth and slosh it softly across your teeth. (Be careful not to swallow it!) Does it feel totally smooth? If it does, it's fake. The real thing feels slightly gritty. You can trust this test because it's used all the time by people whose livelihoods depend on it: professional jewel thieves. (Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? by Caroline Sutton)
Body Piercings
It's believed that pirates thought that piercing their ears and wearing earrings improved their eyesight.
Then again, they also thought walking the plank was a good form of exercise.
Do you really have to "lather, rinse, repeat" with shampoo?
It's amazing how much attention we pay to that often-unruly clump of dead tissue on top of our head. In fact, we pay a lot more than attention. Hair is big business, especially when it comes to shampoo. You use shampoo at least several times a week. How does your hair and scalp look and feel after you apply it? Pretty clean, right? But invariably the instructions on the bottle advise you that you're not through yet: "Rinse and repeat." They want you to go around again. Why? As I said, shampoo is part of a big business. If you use twice as much, they sell twice as much. In fact, confidential interviews with shampoo bigwigs--no names please--have revealed that it's the only reason they can give to apply it twice. See, it all comes out in the wash. (Source: IMPONDERABLES by David Feldman)
There a sweatshirt in my soap
Thomas Jefferson invented the dumbwaiter.
Jefferson may have invented it, but the guy who served me dinner last night perfected it.
How do chameleons change color?
There's a popular misconception that a chameleon's color will reflect their background, but the true causes are more than skin deep. After all, if they were only influenced by what they were standing on, what color would they change if they were standing on a mirror? Chameleons are actually reacting to a variety of environmental conditions, including light, temperature and emotion. The quick-change mechanism involves special cells that contain tiny little granules of pigment. The nervous system controls the dispersion (or concentration) of that pigment throughout the cells, leading to a true coat of many colors.
Headless Cockroach
The cockroach is an amazingly hearty creature. Take its head off in such a way that it does not bleed to death and it will go on haunting your cupboard for weeks on end. However, its life-force instinct will finally fail to compensate for the fact that it is now mouth-impaired and it will eventually starve to death. I tried to test the validity of this observation several times but can't seem to get my technique quite right, despite having read and reread Decapitating for Dummies.
Organizers of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition set their sights high. They wanted a spectacular attraction to rival the Eiffel Tower, which had debuted at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Toward that goal, the directors launched a design competition, which was won by an American bridge builder. The winning attraction couldn't truly compare with the Eiffel Tower, but it proved incredibly popular when the exposition opened that June in Chicago. WHO WON THE CONTEST, AND WHAT DID HE DESIGN? Yesterday we asked who won a competition held by organizers of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition for the design of a spectacular attraction to rival the Eiffel Tower. The winner was American bridge builder George Ferris, who erected a colossal 264-foot-tall revolving steel wheel, supported by two 140-foot towers. Then he attached to this wheel 36 cars, each capable of carrying up to 60 passengers, and voila, the Ferris wheel was born. The original Ferris wheel was moved to St. Louis for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and eventually sold for scrap. Ferris' design had antecedents dating at least as far back as the 1700s in England, where similar, smaller attractions were known as "pleasure wheels" or "up-and-downs."
Nintendo started something like a revolution in July 1987 with the release of its landmark video game, The Legend of Zelda. This game replaced the simple "high score" objective of previous games with a more esoteric goal: to "complete" the game. Zelda became the first multimillion-selling game to feature a narrative structure--a beginning, a middle, and an end. It also introduced players to the most complex gaming "universe" yet created, and to a memorable cast of characters including our hero, Link, and the imperiled princess, Zelda. DO YOU REMEMBER THE SHORTCUT TO THE GAME'S SECOND QUEST? Yesterday we asked if you could remember the shortcut to the second quest of Nintendo's influential 1987 video game, The Legend of Zelda. The answer is that by entering their name as "ZELDA," gamers could enter a reshuffled overworld and entirely different dungeon layouts. This gave players the opportunity for an (almost) entirely new second adventure. Zelda went on to sell more than 6.5 million units worldwide and revolutionize the gaming industry. A host of sequels to the initial game quickly followed, all set in the mythical kingdom of Hyrule and most featuring the leading characters from the first game.
Kenneth Arnold, the mild-mannered proprietor of a fire fighting equipment company from Boise, ID, has the dubious distinction of being one of the most consistently and egregiously misquoted people in history. WHAT IS IT THAT ARNOLD IS USUALLY CREDITED WITH SAYING, AND WHAT WERE HIS ACTUAL WORDS IN JUNE OF 1947? We asked yesterday what it is that the often misquoted Kenneth Arnold is credited with saying, and what it was that he actually said. Arnold, an amateur pilot from Idaho, reported sighting a series of unidentified flying objects traveling in formation over and around the Cascade Mountains in Washington. Arnold calculated the speed of these objects by measuring the time it took them to cover the seven-mile distance between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. His calculation worked out to 1,656 miles per hour, faster than any earthbound craft then known. Later, he told newspaper reporters that the objects "flew like a saucer if you skipped it across the water." Newspaper headlines the next day referred to "flying saucers," a term Arnold is usually credited with coining. The only problem is that Arnold never used this term. Nor did he say the objects were saucer-shaped or that they at all resembled a saucer. Nevertheless, his report opened the floodgates for hundreds more reports of "flying saucers," which poured into newspapers and government agencies.
WHAT WAS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SEPT. 13, 1999, AS A DATE OF INTEREST TO SCIENCE FICTION FANS? (Here's a clue: Events predicted for this day did not come to pass.) Yesterday we asked why many science fiction fans consider Sept. 13, 1999, a significant date. As any avid follower of the now-defunct sci- fi TV series Space: 1999 could tell you, it's the day an explosive chain reaction blasted the Moon out of orbit and sent the crew of Moonbase Alpha on an unexpected tour of the galaxy. The inhabitants of the runaway Moon included Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), and Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse). The series, which ran for 48 episodes from 1975 to 1977, is probably best remembered for its spaceships--some of the most realistically designed spacecrafts ever envisioned by a sci-fi TV series.
In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. The event initiated an era of aggressive development of satellite technology by both the USSR and the U.S. In 1962, Telstar 1, the first privately funded satellite, reached orbit. WHO PAID FOR TELSTAR 1, AND WHAT WAS ITS PURPOSE? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked you who paid for Telstar, the first privately funded satellite to reach orbit, and what its purpose was. Telstar, funded by American Telephone and Telegraph, was the first communications satellite capable of relaying not only voice and data, but television signals as well.
A distinguished symposium, organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, gathered in 1969 to discuss "the UFO phenomenon." Among the researchers who attended this event was a young scientist named Carl Sagan. Sagan, of course, went on to become perhaps the most recognizable scientist in the world with his PBS television series, Cosmos. He also developed a reputation as a tireless debunker of pseudo-science. His contribution to the 1969 symposium was an argument against the idea that Earth had been visited by extraterrestrial life forms, an argument that quickly became known as "Sagan's Paradox." EXPLAIN SAGAN'S PARADOX. Last time we asked you to explain Sagan's Paradox, an argument put forth by scientist Carl Sagan at a 1969 symposium organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to discuss "the UFO phenomenon." First, Sagan demonstrated the tremendous resources an extraterrestrial race would have to expend to visit another solar system. Next, he pointed out that if Earth were chosen for regular visits by extraterrestrials, one would have to assume that it's somehow unique in the universe--an assumption that goes against the idea that there are lots of other civilizations. After all, if many civilizations exist in the universe, the development of our sort of civilization must be fairly common. And if we're not fairly common, then it's unlikely there are enough other civilizations out there to send visitors. This argument proved widely influential because it separated the issue of whether or not extraterrestrial civilizations might exist from the question of whether or not these civilizations had visited Earth. Freed of the stigma attached to the UFO question, scientists were able to discuss the topic of extraterrestrial civilizations more credibly.
After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, gifted U.S. inventor Garrett Morgan was convinced that something should be done to improve traffic safety. While other inventors are reported to have experimented with and even marketed traffic signals, Morgan was the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for such a device. WHERE AND WHEN WAS THE FIRST ELECTRIC STOPLIGHT ERECTED? We asked yesterday where and when the first electric stoplight was erected. While the first gas-illuminated stoplight went up in 1868 in London, the first electric traffic signal was installed in 1914 in Cleveland, OH, at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and 105th Street. Like its gas predecessor, it featured red and green lights. The yellow light didn't appear until four years later, in New York.
"Just keep telling yourself: It's only a movie, it's only a movie." That famous tagline has been commandeered to promote several films over the years, perhaps most memorably Wes Craven's seminal 1972 shocker, The Last House on the Left. The line became so famous, in fact, it was parodied by TV's Saturday Night Live, among other wiseacres. However, it was originally composed for an earlier film than Last House. WHAT MOVIE WAS THE "IT'S ONLY A MOVIE" TAGLINE COINED TO PROMOTE? Yesterday we asked if you could name the film for which the following memorable tagline was written: "Just keep telling yourself: It's only a movie, it's only a movie." While it's been appropriated by several films over the years, this line was created to promote producer/director William Castle's 1964 thriller, Strait-Jacket. The film starred Joan Crawford as an axe murderer. Theater patrons were issued bloody cardboard axes. Castle was notorious for such outlandish promotional gimmicks. For his 1959 chiller, The Tingler, he rigged theater seats with vibrating devices that would "buzz" patrons' fannies at a pivotal moment in the film.
When most of us hear the word "bus," we envision a large yellow vehicle that carries children to and from school. Film scholars sometimes refer to a movie scene that jolts the audience as a "bus." This term derives from a famous sequence in producer Val Lewton's classic chiller, Cat People. And the word has yet another meaning for computer engineers. IN COMPUTER LINGO, WHAT'S A "BUS"? Yesterday we asked what computer engineers mean when they employ the term "bus." This word is used to describe a group of conductors over which bits of data are transferred to and from various points within a computer system. Some buses transfer data in only one direction, while others are capable of transmitting in both directions. Advanced computer designs use timesharing or bit-slicing techniques to enable more than one piece of data to transfer at the same time, in turn enabling the computer to operate much faster. The verb "bus," in this instance, means to interconnect several digital devices that either receive or transmit digital information by a common set of conducting paths.
Spock and Scotty did it occasionally, but not together. Other, lesser- known Star Trek characters, including Commodore Decker, Captain Pike, and Charlie Evans (aka "Charlie X"), did it at least once. Sulu did it, but Chekov didn't. Captain Kirk, of course, did it more often than anybody else. WHAT ACTIVITY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked what Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Sulu, as well as lesser-known Star Trek characters Commodore Decker, Captain Pike, and Charlie Evans (aka "Charlie X"), did that other characters-- such as Chekov and Uhura--did not do? At one time or another, the former characters all sat in the captain's chair on the bridge of the Enterprise. Other characters who took "the con" at least once include: Rojan, Ensign Leslie, Commodore Stocker, Lt. DeSalle, and Tommy Starnes.
From 1943 to 1945, a group of scientists and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Engineering contracted with the U.S. Army to develop the first all-electronic, general-purpose computer. The huge machine, which came to be known as ENIAC, utilized tens of thousands of vacuum tubes in a minimum of basic circuit combinations. Completed in 1946, the innovative ENIAC sparked the beginning of a revolution in information management. WHAT DOES THE ACRONYM ENIAC STAND FOR? Yesterday we asked what the acronym ENIAC stands for. ENIAC, the name of the first all-purpose electronic digital computer, is short for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. The development of ENIAC, completed in 1946, paved the way for UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer), which in 1951 became the first computer to handle both numerical and alphabetical data with equal ease. It was also the first commercially available computer. (Incidentally, software tycoon Bill Gates was born four years after UNIVAC was developed).
Largely due to European influence, the foundation of modern American science blossomed between the mid-1840s and the mid-1870s. Impressed with the Old World's new scientific ways, many European immigrants and returning Americans were eager to share what they'd learned there. Several such enterprising individuals even formed a group to do just that, jokingly dubbing themselves "the Lazzaroni." WHO WERE THEY, AND WHAT DID THEY DO? We asked yesterday who "the Lazzaroni" group was comprised of and what they did. In the mid-1800s, a group of leading scientists banded together, kiddingly calling themselves "the Lazzaroni"--"the beggars". The group, which included Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution, crusaded against the amateurish and sloppy nature of America's scientific endeavors. It strove for national organization and better communication, and in 1847 helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Some of our greatest science fiction authors got their start writing for pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories in the 1930s and '40s. Among those writers cutting their teeth on pulp were Isaac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. L. Gold, and Henry Kuttner. (Of course, for every Asimov, there were dozens of hacks who never amounted to anything!) WHAT DO THE FOLLOWING PULP WRITERS HAVE IN COMMON: RON REYNOLDS, GUY AMORY, CECIL CLAYBOURNE CUNNINGHAM, BRIAN ELDRED, D. LERIUM TREMAINE, AND DOUGLAS SPAULDING? Yesterday we asked for the common thread between the following pulp science fiction authors: Ron Reynolds, Guy Amory, Cecil Claybourne Cunningham, Brian Eldred, D. Lerium Tremaine, and Douglas Spaulding. Before we reveal the answer, though, we have to confess--it was a trick question. All of these "authors" were actually pseudonyms used by well- known literary giant Ray Bradbury, one of the world's greatest living writers of science fiction and fantasy stories. Bradbury has used more than a dozen pseudonyms in all, some of which were chosen by an editor and some that he concocted himself. For instance, he created the pen name "Douglas Spaulding" (the name that appeared on the 1972 screenplay for Picasso Summer) by combining his and his father's middle names. Interestingly, he continued using pen names even after his own name was well-established. But no matter what he calls himself, Bradbury, without question, ranks among science fiction's most respected authors.
The construction of the Panama Canal undoubtedly ranks among the greatest engineering achievements of the twentieth century. Col. G. W. Goethals of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed most of the construction, which took over a decade and involved the excavation of 240 million cubic yards of earth. However, the industrious Col. Goethals and his hardworking crew couldn't have completed the project without the invaluable assistance of Col. William Gorgas. WHAT WAS GORGAS' CONTRIBUTION TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CANAL? We asked what Col. William Gorgas' crucial contribution was to the construction of the Panama Canal. Gorgas led mosquito eradication and sanitation procedures to control diseases endemic to Panama--namely malaria and yellow fever--before the construction could begin. His work was probably more essential to the building of the canal than any of the techniques employed by Col. G. W. Goethals and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Without Gorgas' efforts, the canal could only have been completed with a devastating loss of life--if it could have been completed at all.
Every year, automakers equip their cars with additional creature comforts and technological advances, hoping buyers will see the innovations as something they can't live without. While some of these new features become indispensable (think air bags), others go the way of the dinosaur. WHAT WOULD HAVE MADE THE NEVER-PRODUCED FORD NUCLEON DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER VEHICLE EVER MANUFACTURED? Last time we asked you what feature would've set the Ford Nucleon apart from any other vehicle ever manufactured. The answer could knock your socks off--literally. In the 1950s, some overzealous Ford engineers thought up the Nucleon, a car that would've been powered by--get this--a small atomic reactor core. In essence, it would've housed a nuclear reactor in its trunk, rechargeable with nuclear fuel. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the "car bomb" concept, huh?
Every old-school video gamer's familiar with Super Mario, the mild- mannered plumber-turned-adventurer who made his 1981 debut in Donkey Kong. But they'd probably be hard-pressed to come up with the diminutive daredevil's original name, Jumpman. WHY WAS THE CHARACTER RENAMED MARIO, AND WHO WAS HE NAMED AFTER? Yesterday we asked why and for whom Donkey Kong hero Mario, originally named "Jumpman," was renamed. Apparently, the plucky Italian plumber was rechristened Mario after the president of Nintendo of America remarked that the character looked like the landlord of their office space. The landlord's name was--you guessed it--Mario. As for why the character was renamed...well, let's face it, Jumpman is pretty lame.
One of the least-known, most perplexing--especially for UFO theorists-- and most compelling events in the history of World War I occurred on the battlefields near Gallipoli, where British and Turkish forces waged a bloody, months-long struggle in 1915. On the evening of Aug. 12, 1915, the Fifth Norfolk Division advanced into battle against fortified Turkish positions alongside the rest of the British 163rd Brigade. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 267 MEN OF THE FIFTH NORFOLK DIVISION? Yesterday we asked what happened to the British Fifth Norfolk division on the evening of Aug. 12, 1915. The short answer is that no one really knows. The soldiers marched into a cloud-covered, wooded area, and the entire division--all 267 men--simply disappeared. Fifty years later, three New Zealand soldiers who were involved in the battle told The People's Almanac Presents the Twentieth Century that the strange cloud ("shaped like a loaf of bread") rose up and moved away--against the wind--as soon as the division marched into it. Of course, the three New Zealanders also referred to the division as the Fourth Norfolk, calling their memories into question. However, to this day no one can account for the 267 missing doughboys.
Mark Hamill's career hasn't enjoyed many peaks since his Star Wars days. However, animation aficionados know that the former Jedi can be heard regularly on a number of Saturday morning cartoons, including the popular Batman: The Animated Series. What many fans don't realize, however, is that Hamill's voice work actually preceded his casting as Luke Skywalker. WHAT ANIMATED 1970s FILM FEATURES HAMILL'S VOICE? We asked yesterday if you could name the 1970s animated film that features the voice of future Jedi, Mark Hamill. That film is Ralph Bakshi's post-apocalyptic fantasy, Wizards. Hamill provided the voice for a character named Sean. Some of his more recent credits as an animation voice actor include The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, and Cow and Chicken.
You've probably never heard of English chemist Joseph Priestley, but chances are you're well acquainted with the results of his research. Priestley, who lived next door to a brewery, experimented with the carbon dioxide gas generated in the brewing process. He discovered a new use for this substance--one that eventually grew into a massive industry. WHAT DID PRIESTLEY INVENT? In the last Geek Trivia, we asked what English chemist Joseph Priestley discovered while experimenting with carbon dioxide gas. Thirsting for the answer? It's seltzer water. Priestley found that when he dissolved the gas in water, it had a pleasant tangy taste. With the addition of flavored syrups, Priestley's modest invention grew into a mighty industry. (Now we know who to blame for those annoying Pepsi commercials.)
Since the late 1940s, the U.S. military has launched a number of secret operations to analyze aerial phenomena. One such operation, Project Sign, is of particular interest to UFO buffs. The hush-hush research project, which officially got under way in 1948, was carried out by the Technical Intelligence Division of Air Material Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. WHAT WAS THE MISSION OF PROJECT SIGN, AND WHAT WAS SO REMARKABLE ABOUT ITS FINDINGS? Yesterday we asked what Project Sign's mysterious mission was and why its findings were so remarkable. Project Sign, a secret research project conducted by the U.S. Air Force in 1948, was assigned to collect and analyze data on the rash of UFO reports then sweeping the country. While the officers assigned to the project concluded that the vast majority of these reports could be dismissed as hoaxes or misidentifications of known aircraft or meteorological phenomena, some of the sightings defied explanation. Project Sign ruled out Soviet aircraft as a possible explanation, and, in its final report, concluded credible evidence existed that Earth was being visited by extraterrestrials. Gen. Hoyt S. Vanderberg, chief of staff for the Air Force, balked at this assertion and reportedly ordered all copies of Project Sign's findings destroyed. Project Sign disbanded shortly thereafter. In its place, a new operation--tellingly named Project Grudge--took over the task of analyzing data from UFO sightings. In 1949, Project Grudge released its conclusions, which attributed UFO sightings not otherwise explainable to "psychological" causes.
Is it best to turn off your computer at night, or let it run all the time?
If your computer turns you off, you probably enjoy turning IT off for the night. But is it wise to do so? There are arguments on both sides. Take your pick. Turning a computer on and off changes the temperature of its components, which stresses them. The fan keeps the temperature constant while the machine is running. Except for the monitor, which you should turn off or put in power-saving mode when not using it for an hour or more, computers don't use much electricity when run constantly. On the other hand (or finger, since computers are digital) leaving it on can wear down the always-spinning hard drive, and dust on the fan can make it an inefficient cooler. If you leave it on you will also need to reboot periodically to flush the memory of digital garbage programs leave behind when you close them.
(Source: PC'S FOR DUMMIES by Dan Gookin)
Lightning up my life
A lightning bolt embodies as much as 30,000 amps of electricity, reaches a temperature of 54,000 F., give or take a few degrees, and may be anywhere from 300 yards to 4 miles long.
Big deal. You should see the charge on my last Visa bill.
Is this really you, Nemesis?
Nemesis: In late Greek mythology, she was monstrous, a fierce figure of revenge & anger, the bad-luck version of the fortune goddess Tyche. But in earlier days she was worshiped with Themis in Attic Rhamnus. The white-garbed, winged Nemesis tormented those who broke the social rules that Themis represented. Although sometimes said to be one of the Erinyes, her power was less narrow; hers was more the force of justice than retaliation.
When Zeus arrived in Greece with his worshipers, he conquered Nemesis, 'night?s dark daughter,' in the same way that legends show him overcoming other goddesses. Intent on rape, Zeus chased Nemesis across the land. The powerful goddess changed shape once, twice, a third time, but the god transformed himself as well. Finally be overpowered her in bird form, and she laid an egg that hatched into the goddess Helen (also hatched from the same egg were her brothers/lovers Castor & Pollux)
(Goddesses & Heroines, by Patricia Monaghan)
My Goddess
Kali In Hindu India, all goddesses are ultimately one: Devi, whose name simply means ?the goddess.? Bur she takes different forms?perhaps a way of allowing limited human minds to fix on first one, then another of her multiple possibilities. One of the most powerful, most common, and ?to Western eyes?most terrifying of these forms is Kali (?Black Mother Time?), the goddess who perpetually transforms life into a fascinating dance of death. Her tongue juts out of her black face; her hands hold weapons; her necklace and earrings are strong w/ dismembered bodies. She seems at best a stern mistress, this Shakti (?animating power?) of the creator-destroyer Shiva, the dancing god. As Durga, Devi is personified as a just warrior, purging the world of evil; as Parvati, the same energy exemplifies passionate attachment to sexuality. But as Kali, the goddess is uncompromisingly alone, the mother of death that swims in her womb like a baby; she is the force of time leading ever onward to destruction. And then, when she has destroyed everything, Kali will be the timeless sleep from which new ages will awaken. Kali first manifested herself when the demon Daruka appropriated divine power and threatened the gods. The powerful goddess Parvati knitted her brows in fury, and from her sprang three-eyed Kali, already armed with her trident. This emanation of Parvati quickly dispatched the demon and made the heavens safe again. Once born, this goddess remained in existence, beyond the control of even Parvati (of whom, it must be remembered, she is an aspect). Several famous myths tell just how uncontrollable Kali?s energy is. Once, it was said, she dared to dance with Shiva, the Lord of the Dance. They grew wilder and wilder, more competitive in their dancing, until it seemed the world would shade itself to pieces?and so it will, for beneath all appearances that dance continues. Another time, it is said, Kali fought and killed two demons and celebrated her victory by draining their bodies of bleed. Then, drunk with slaughter, she began to dance. Thrilling to the feel of lifeless flesh beneath her naked feet, Kali danced more and more wildly?until she realized that Shiva himself was underneath her and that she was dancing him to death. The god?s tactic slowed Kali?s wildness, but only for the moment, and eventually she will resume the dance that ends the world. Kali is still one of India?s most popular goddesses: her picture hands in many homes, her name is familiar in Calcutta (Anglicized from Kali-Ghatt, or ?steps of Kali,? her temple city). Served at one time by murderers called thuggee (from which derives the English word thug), the goddess of cemeteries was thought to thrive on blood; most often, however, goat rather than human blood was sacrificed to her, and it is still poured out in some parts of India today. So terrifying do these bloody rites seem that few understand Kali?s spiritual significance. As a symbol of the worst we can imagine, as the most extreme picture of our fears, she offers us a chance to face down our own terror of annihilation. Ramakrishna and other great Indian poets sang rapturously of Kali, for they understood, these mystics say, Kali frees her worshipers of all fear and becomes the greatest of mothers, the most comforting of all goddesses.
The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
Why is taking a nap "catching 40 winks?"
This business of napping by the numbers always seemed pretty curious. Why 40 rather than 9, 11, 17 or 30? There is a long tradition, starting with the Bible, of using 40 to stand for significant quantities. For example, when Noah took his boat ride, it rained 40 days and 40 nights. Moses had spent the same amount of time up on the mountain. In the Middle Ages an Englishman sure of something would bet 40 pence on it. And so on. But the phrase 40 winks has a specific rather than general origin. It comes from an 1872 issue of Punch, the British humor magazine. Punch referred to the Thirty-nine Articles of faith of the Church of England, joking that actually reading through them would induce 40 winks. Call it a yawning gap between conscience and consciousness.
Sources: (HEAVENS TO BETSY by Charles Earle Funk)
It's well known that by flying a kite in a storm, Benjamin Franklin demonstrated that lightening is an electrical phenomenon. His experiment gave us the expression, "go fry a kite." Less known, however, is that Franklin was also the first person to try to electrocute a turkey. This experiment didn't work. The bird lived and it was America's Renaissance man who ended up absorbing the jolt. "I meant to kill a turkey," said the shocked inventor, "and instead, I nearly killed a goose."
Does a cat's purr mean that it's contented?
Whatever it means, it sure makes the person living with the cat melt when they hear it. They know they're picking up good vibrations. So what is kitty trying to communicate with this sexy sound? In truth, just about anything. It's an all-purpose noise, first used by the mother to summon her newborn and still sightless and hearing-impaired kittens. The vibrations lead them to mama. But don't try to tell that to a cat lover. They know it means that after six years of expensive cat food and unconditional love, Tabby may finally consent to sit on their lap.
Pretty please! Purr.
The Vikings have really had a bad press. They did more than just plunder, rape and pillage. They also dressed for success. They were even sensitive about putting a crease in their pants and employed an iron that looked like an upside down mushroom to make sure they looked natty. The wealthiest among them wore pleats. Among Vikings, clothes made the man--along with a sufficient number of smashed enemy skulls on the mantelpiece.