Thursday, October 1, 2009

Archives of "Learn Something New Every Day"

10/23/09 Journalism ideally would be free of bias, but this is not the case. For those inclined to want to know the truth instead of just to believe the claims of whomever they follow, there are great websites such as and (the latter focuses on checking politicians' claims). Many universities also study bias in news coverage, such as U. Michigan at , which has a page of links to other interesting sites.

10/7/09 Did you ever wonder about "stink bugs?" Since they seem to take up residence in my house each fall, I did, and I learned that there are dozens of varieties, including the brown, green, harlequin, and some others that are beneficial insects (preying on crop pests) such as the Spined Soldier Bug. They are from the order Hemiptera (including true bugs), family Pentatomidae (meaning 5-sided), and are generally hard to kill. In Pennsylvania, they have recently found an oriental import, the "Brown Marmorated Stink Bug" in several counties, which may become an agricultural pest. In the end, the stink bugs in my house were just plain Brown Stink Bugs.

10/1/09 Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) are the most important medication in heart failure, and are commonly used for hypertension. An often unrecognized side effect is abdominal pain from intestinal swelling and/or from pancreatitis. This should be considered in new onset abdominal pain in a person on ACEI after ruling out the "major" suspects.

9/20/09 Today I saw photos of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in March 1944. I never knew that there was such a major eruption in modern times! Nearly a foot of ash, as well as rocks 5-15cm large fell on the surrounding area. Eighty five allied planes were destroyed when hot ash fell on them, burning the fabric shells and otherwise rendering them useless. Lava flowed 1.5 km from the cone, damaging at least 3 nearby villages.

9/2/09 In 1913, an international prize was offered for creation of "the best fuel, other than gasoline, capable of being used in internal combustion engines." The $100,000 prize (over $2 million today) was offered to combat rapidly increasing gasoline prices and to create a fuel which couldn't be "cornered by any nation or combination of national interests." Hmmmm.

8/30/09 The U.S. healthcare debate over universal coverage is not new. In 1943, President Roosevelt called for universal coverage in his "economic bill of rights" which included the right of all people to health care. FDR renewed this plea until his death. President Truman continued to work for universal coverage, but all of the many bills proposing universal coverage died in committee.

8/27/09 I remember learning in high school that Edward Jenner devised the first smallpox vaccination from cowpox in 1798. However, in 1776 in Boston, families (including that of John Adams) were innoculated against this dread disease: a physician would slice the upper arm and spread drainage from an active smallpox case into the wound. This would induce a more mild form of the disease, creating life-long immunity against all forms. In 1777, smallpox innoculation was mandatory for members of the Continental Army fighting the Revolutionary War. (sources: website, John Adams by McCollough, His Excellency by Ellis)

8/24/09 A British merchant, Peter Durand, invented the first cans for food in 1810 (see Archives for canning process). In 1858 the first can opener was invented. Before the can opener, instructions on the can were to 'open with hammer and chisel'! How would you like to do that while making dinner?

8/21/09 The method of canning of food was invented in 1809 by Nicholas Appert, a French man competing for Napoleon's 12,000 franc Food Preservation Prize, which was first offered in 1795. Some sources say that he worked for 10 years on his method of boiling food, placing it in a sealed bottle, and then heating the bottle before he won the prize in 1809. Those of us who can food know that the process hasn't changed in 200 years!

8/18/09 The traffic light predates the car! In 1868, British railroad signal engineer J P Knight invented the first traffic light, a lantern with red and green signals. It was installed in front of the British House of Commons to control the flow of horse buggies and pedestrians.

8/16/09 A caterpillar does not breathe through its mouth and does not have lungs. They have pairs of spiracles on each body segment which are small round holes covered by flaps with muscles to control their opening and closing. The oxygen flows into tiny tubes and directly to each cell.

8/14/09 Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal, while China is the world's largest consumer of coal, using more than twice that of the U.S. Japan is the world's greatest importer of coal. (China produces nearly all of the coal it consumes.) Verified at the U.S. Dept. of Energy (

8/12/09 The Tilapia is a fresh water fish that has been farmed in Isreal for over 2500 years. Farming of tilapia is strictly regulated to prevent escape because it could take over habitats due to its prolific reproduction and fast growth. Tilapia is low in good Omega-3 fatty acids and high in bad Omega-6 fatty acids. Uh-oh.

8/5/09 The Tercel is not just a car made by Toyota. From the 14th century it has been the name of the male of a hawk species, especially the falcon.

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