28 interesting things I learned in 2019 (so far)

Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned last year, I created my own list (with a focus on science, aviation, technology and food) which I’m still adding to throughout 2019.

  1. There is only about one atom per cubic metre of space in the universe. Source: George Gamow’s book One Two Three Infinity
  2. In the late 1700s Oxford had a climate similar to that of present day Edinburgh. Source: The Times
  3. Commercial airline pilots sometimes greet fellow pilots at cruising altitude by flashing their landing lights. Source: FT
  4. Sesame Street has a venture capital firm. Source: The Times
  5. Japanese researchers once invented a wasabi fire alarm which can wake deaf people up in the night. Source: Quartz
  6. Moby is the great-great-great-nephew of Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, hence the nickname. Source: The Times
  7. The first cultivated carrots were purple and yellow, not orange. Source: Pop Sci
  8. One of the major causes of plane crashes in Israel and Lebanon are bird strikes caused by migrating pelicans and hawks flying to Africa every spring and back again in the autumn. The Israeli Air Force has lost many aircraft to flocks of birds which are too small to be picked up on radar. To prevent this, Israel and Lebanon have an arrangement involving birdwatchers who warns each other’s air traffic control about migrating flocks. Source: TAUVOD
  9. Ciabatta bread was invented in 1982 by an Italian jealous of the popularity of the French baguette. Source: The Guardian
  10. The word “blazer” comes from the colour of the red ivy flowers growing on the side of the St John’s College building, Cambridge University, which the rowers of the Lady Margaret Boat Club used as inspiration for their outfits. Source: The Telegraph
  11. In parts of New Orleans the graves are overground concrete tombs because of the city’s water level. Source: Itotd
  12. Until 1987 it was common to operate on newborn babies without anaesthetic. Source: The Times
  13. Reuters News Agency was founded in 1850 with a flock of 45 messenger pigeons which filled a “telegraph gap” between Brussels and Aachen in western Europe. Source: Reuters
  14. Sharks have been around for at least 420 million years and survived four of the “big five” mass extinctions. Source: New Scientist
  15. Ordnance survey, the UK mapping company, was set up because the English were worried about revolutions in Scotland and France and wanted to know where they could easily transport their troops in case of war. Source: Ordnance Survey
  16. Mosquitos may have killed half of the 108 billion people who have ever lived across our 200,000 year existence. Source: New Scientist
  17. Only 20 per cent of Americans can do a single push-up. Source: The Atlantic
  18. Fanta was developed in Nazi Germany in response to an embargo on Coca-Cola. Source: The Local via Frank Swain
  19. Finland has a government committee called the “Committee for the Future” dedicated to discussing and solving big, future problems. Source: Jared Diamond interview in New Scientist
  20. Gold smugglers have set up fake gold mines in Uganda which are designed to legitimise gold that’s been smuggled in from Congo. Source: The Economist
  21. Over millions of years of chimp and human evolution there have been, on average, six changes to the roughly three billion letters in our genetic code every year. Source: The Guardian
  22. Spandex, the material used in most leggings, was invented during the Second World War when the military was trying to find a new material for parachutes. Source: The Guardian
  23. Almost all bananas sold today are direct descendants of one plant grown in the early 1800s in the greenhouse of Chatsworth House in the peak district. Source: BBC News
  24. The Nike “Just Do It” slogan was inspired by the last words of a murderer who was about to be executed by firing squad. Source: New Yorker Mar 18 2019
  25. The brain consumes about a fifth of a person’s metabolic energy each day. Cooking was essential for human evolution, because it means we don’t need to spend all day chewing — unlike chimps. Source: 1843 Magazine
  26. Swatch once invented a new unit of time for the internet called the “beat” which split the day into 1000 parts. Source: BBC News
  27. The first reference to a “freelancer” in literature is Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe, where a feudal lord talks about his army of solders for hire taking over shipping in Hull. Source: Anna Codrea-Rado’s (excellent) freelancing newsletter
  28. Candle flames are hollow. Source: Massimo