Random #356 – 50 Awesome Random Facts

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Enya has never gone on a concert tour or even performed a solo concert, despite being Ireland's best-selling solo artist and second overall behind U2.

2. Excel's autocorrect feature, which converts certain combinations into dates, has messed up up to 30% of published papers. This has caused major problems. As a result, at least 27 gene symbols have been forced to change to prevent further errors from occurring.

3. Lego was flirting with bankruptcy, and the release of Bionicle, which accounted for 100% of their profits in 2003, saved them from going under.

4. Texas A&M University used to have an annual bonfire. In 1999, 12 students died when the Aggie Bonfire collapsed upon them during construction. The deaths led to the end of the tradition as the university faced a series of lawsuits and couldn't afford the expected $2 million in insurance per year for conducting the bonfire.

5. In 1794, George Washington signed the Slave Trade Act, which banned U.S. ships from participating in the Atlantic Slave Trade as well as the exportation of slaves for foreign sale. The United States government passed it as the first significant piece of anti-slavery legislation.

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15 Most Controversial & Costly Blunders in History

6Henry Ford

Henry Ford

Henry Ford refused for years to make any significant improvements to the Model T. When his designers surprised him with a new prototype, he destroyed it in front of them with his bare hands.

7. Due to a lack of workers after the Black Death in England, peasants were able to negotiate better pay. In response, Parliament passed the Statute of Laborers 1351, which prohibited the soliciting of wages above pre-plague levels. This contributed to the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

8. Sea urchins are called sea urchins because hedgehogs used to be called urchins until about the 15th century. Sea urchins are, therefore, ocean hedgehogs.

9. The Higgs-Boson particle, aka "the god particle,", was actually called "the goddamn particle" by physicists because it was so difficult to detect. Publishers forced the renaming, resulting in a confusing tie to religion for the particle, which is nearly universally hated by physicists.

10. In Sweden in the Middle Ages, the lawspeaker was a respected official who knew all of the local laws by heart. They were chosen because they were wise and could communicate well, and it was their job to keep traditional Swedish laws and customs alive. Today, the position has evolved into a ceremonial role held by the speaker of the Swedish Parliament.

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11The Texas Killing Fields

The Texas Killing Fields

An area in Texas is called "The Texas Killing Fields." Since the early 1970s, roughly 30 bodies have been extracted from the fields, mainly young girls. The fields have been described as "a perfect place for killing somebody and getting away with it."

12. In 1554, a woman named Elizabeth Crofts hid in a wall in Aldersgate Street in London, where she pretended to be a heavenly voice. Supposedly 17,000 people came to listen to her give out anti-Catholic propaganda.

13. The state of Texas keeps a database of over 500 executed inmates' last words going back to the 1980s.

14. American cars in the 1980s were legally prohibited from showing speeds above 85 mph on the speedometer.

15. At the height of her fame, child actress Shirley Temple had to fight rumors that she was really a 30-year-old with dwarfism. This was because she was very physically coordinated and was never seen missing baby teeth. The rumors were so prevalent in Europe that the Vatican sent a priest to investigate.

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16Pyjamas WW2 Story

Pyjamas WW2 Story

The pajamas that we wear today actually have a story behind them. During the World War I air raids in England, people began donning pyjamas rather than nightgowns so that they would be ready to sprint outside and still look presentable.

17. When a cow has opposite-sex twins, the female twin is usually born intersex and infertile. This happens because the twins' blood supplies are linked, which exposes the female to male sex hormones.

18. The most powerful commercial radio station ever was WLW (700 kHz AM), which, during certain times in the 1930s, broadcast at 500 kW of radiated power. At night, it reached half the world, and people who lived near the transmitter could hear it through their pots, pans, and mattresses. A nearby hotel's neon sign never went dark due to the power of the transmitter, and farmers reported hearing the radio through their barbed-wire fences.

19. Grapefruits were invented in 1693. A man named Captain Shaddock shipped some pomelo seeds to the West Indies, and they were planted next to some orange trees. After some cross-pollination, the grapefruit was born.

20. Muhammad Ali insulted his British opponent, Henry Cooper, before their 1963 bout. Cooper proceeded to give Ali a punishing fight, knocking him down at one point. Afterwards, Ali conceded that Cooper had given him the fight of his life.

21Baby Tastebuds

Baby Tastebuds

Babies have about 30,000 taste buds, while adults have only about 10,000.

22. Following the D-Day invasion, the USS Texas intentionally flooded part of itself to allow the ship's guns to fire further inland.

23. Because passenger airflights aren't covered by the ADA, wheelchairs can't be brought onboard. They are regularly returned damaged to their users, who depend on staff for everything from boarding to using the bathroom to departing.

24. Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" requires great creativity on the part of translators, as they need to invent nonsense words that evoke similar feelings to each made-up word in the English original.

25. Harold Urey was given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for finding deuterium (also called "heavy hydrogen"), which is a part of "heavy water." However, he didn't go to the award ceremony in Stockholm because he wanted to be there when his daughter was born.

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  1. RE: Fact# 11 – The Texas Killing Fields:

    I-45 southbound from Houston to the coast. Industrial area with transient workers at oil refineries. The Netflix documentary is done really well. The guy who operates the search company that goes out to rural areas to find missing kids, you see him on news reports all the time Texas Equasearch – he started it because his daughter was murdered and buried in the killing fields and police weren’t working the cases hard enough.

    The documentary is called Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields.

    • I think the movie Vengeance is roughly based on this too. A perfect place where all the jurisdictions overlap and no one wants to take it.

  2. RE: Fact# 6 – Henry Ford:

    He was only interested in changes that made them cheaper to build. One of my great-uncles claimed Ford made his company ship parts in very specifically designed wooden boxes, right down to screws and screw locations. He said the box panels were a drop-in for Model-T floorboards.

    • When Ford went in house with windscreens, overnight they became the second largest glass makers in the world.

      At one point they were looking to build a car out of soy and cellulose that would last 20 years then need to be recycled. (Engine would remain metal).

      It’s a shame he was both mad, racist, and a cunt.

      • Don’t forget how he hired the Mob as muscle to kill union organizers, till they realized that charging union dues was basically a way to legalize the protection money racket … Then they turned on Ford & became union organizers.

        • Took the mob a couple more decades to realize they could take massive loans from union pension funds and get way richer. Borrow money, build a casino, never repay pension fund, profit.

    • When Ford wanted to move into the business of making agricultural tractors in 1917 he found someone else had registered the trademark for “Ford Tractor Co.,” a cunning move borne of foresight and made in an attempt to sell him his own name.

      Ford called his tractors “Fordson” and Ford kept the brand until 1964.

      Dude was stingy.

  3. RE: Fact# 10 – Lawspeaker:

    There was a Burmese Buddhist monk named Mingun Sayadaw who was “Chief Respondent” at the sixth Buddhist council. It was said that he recalled the exact page and line of every monastic rule and the story behind the rule in the Theravada vinaya (monastic rules). He had to memorize about 16,000 pages of text.

    Buddhism in India required some monks to memorize vast amounts of text and chant it on a regular basis. Even after the Tipitaka (about 10 volumes of text) was written down, this practice continued as a type of mind training.

    It has its roots in the belief that Ananada, the Buddha’s attendant and cousin, recalled every word the Buddha said along with the place and time it was said. Many of the discourses in the Tipitaka start with the phrase: evam me suttam, translated as “thus have a I heard” — supposedly Ananda’s words.

    • And yet, as we know, human memory isn’t perfect. The more text were talking the faster the corruption, not that people would know… He’d just say somewhat sameish things, details changing over time but propel would just assume he always has as right and they misremembered.

      Names, places, actions…all bound to change ove time as his memory got worse. At the end of the day the only things we could actually trust would be the moral of the story and not the story itself.

      • The more text were talking the faster the corruption, not that people would know

        The scholars of Pali point out that group chanting served the purpose of correcting memory errors — it is an interesting idea and we see it in practice in the Theravada tradition. Though the words have obviously changed over millennia.

      • It’s true that human memory is highly imperfect – especially untrained human memory – but you might want to look into the oral history of the Australian aborigines. They apparently managed to keep things accurate for 10,000 years.

        Other cultures also managed impressive feats of recall. The greeks had special techniques for remembering large amounts of text as well – which is why the Iliad and the Odyssey survived until they were written down.

        • Indigenous Australians managed to build into their language based histories error checking that helped prevent them straying.
          This was across their myriad of languages.
          Only a few years ago a lost song was returned to the people of the blue mountains by a tribe that lived over 2500km away, translating it back into the original language with minimal loss of integrity.

  4. RE: Fact# 2 – Auto Correct Feature Excel:

    The stupid thing about this is, that the auto date correction function is not-intuitive, and not consistent with how Excel otherwise behaves. For example, Excel already has awareness and warnings for when formulas in a block of adjacent cells are different–that warning is motivated by the logic that most humans would want adjacent formulas to be consistent (i.e. there may be an error that needs to be fixed). So why the hell is the default behavior for the pasting in of a list of strings for Excel to then assume that some (random) subset of those adjacent cells should be converted to dates? It’s just bad design that MS has never fixed.

    • It’s just bad design that MS has never fixed.

      Excel has been doing this from the start, and sometimes deliberately. It still insists that February 29, 1900 existed (it does not, under our Gregorian calendar) because that’s what Lotus 1-2-3 did when it copied them 40 years ago. And it continues to interpret -x2 as positive because it applies negation before exponentiation, going completely against convention. I know it’s not easy balancing backwards compatibility with bug fixes, but it seems Microsoft tends to err on the side of backwards compatibility.

      • it seems Microsoft tends to err on the side of backwards compatibility.

        This is exactly right.

        Microsoft knows that, no matter how much they shout and cry that you should keep your software updated, they know there always will be companies, depressingly important companies, that have a server still running Microsoft ME, connected to a printer whose company went under in 2003 and has no new driver available since, and of course it’s running some important service the entire company runs on, so it isn’t even connected to the Internet because the world will end if a damn update takes it down.

        Microsoft invest heavily in backwards compatibility, to the point of unreasonableness. Famously, to this day, you can’t name files CON, AUX or LPT1 for reasons that haven’t been relevant since the MS-DOS days. Just in case.

        Obligatory Tom Scott video on this.

  5. RE: Fact# 8 – Sea Urchins:

    In Spanish, hedgehogs are called “erizos” and sea urchins are called “erizos de mar”, literally meaning “sea hedgehog”.

  6. RE: Fact# 9 – Goddamn Particle:

    Science reporting ranges from “honest attempt by a non-expert journalist” to “technically-not-wrong clickbait nonsense” to “outright lies to get views”

    I’m a professional scientist (postdoc) and I sometimes get to watch the decay of information in real time.

    1. A researcher publishes a paper with a new interesting result
    2. They summarize their result in the abstract
    3. The university department media person summarizes the abstract in a press release page on the department website
    4. If the result is big, some random university employee (i.e. probably an overworked undergrad intern) summarizes the press release on the main university website
    5. If the result is bigger, some tech blog summarizes the university press release
    6. If the result sounds cool, b&zzfeed or someone summarizes the blog post
    7. If the result sounds cool, and might make somebody money, a news writer for CNN or some other network summarizes the b*zzfeed article
    8. If the result is memorable, lots of people spam the news article all over social media, with its contents summarized in the title
    9. If the result sounds unexpected, people make memes of their interpretations of it
    10. I get a phone call from my mom asking how lasers can be used to move the moon or some shit, and I have to reverse-engineer what the fuck she’s talking about, what research this insane game of telephone started with, and let her down gently about how that’s definitely not what the actual scientific result says.
    • I’m a scientist, too (also postdoc) and I just started writing my own press releases. Last time there was a result that was a bit more generally interesting I just wrote a fake interview-with-myself-like press release that I felt comfortable with and sent it to the university PR team, resulting in them just publishing it verbatim (’cause it’s less work for them). News outlets then just copied the press release with a few minor changes here and there and I was happy about our results not being misrepresented.

  7. RE: Fact# 3 – Release of Bionicle:

    Damn I still remember these commercials. One had the song ‘move along’ by all American rejects and tbh that was the most epic thing I’d seen on TV as a 9 year old

  8. RE: Fact# 4 – 1999 Aggie Bonfire Disaster:

    Bonfire is still built and burnt every year, it’s just with an organization that’s not officially affiliated with the University

    • How big are the unofficial bonfires these days?

      I know one of the problems with the old Aggie bonfire was that they tried to make it a little bigger every year, so over time it became stupidly tall.

      • 45 feet is the limit now, and that’s only at the top of center pole. The biggest change from old designs is that they used to build each tier on top of the other. Nowadays it’s built where every log touches the ground and they just use different length logs to get the tiered effect.

  9. RE: Fact# 5 – 1794 Slave Trade Act:

    For all wondering, yes it WAS enforced. One year after it was enacted, a Rhode Island merchant (ironically named John Brown) was caught using his ship to transport slaves, and the government had the vessel confiscated from him.

    • In 1860 the last slave ship, Clotilda, illegally imported new slaves to America from the Dahomey.

      Dahomey was a Kingdom in Africa depicted in Woman King that supposedly gave up slave trading in the 1820s. (Though clearly they didn’t.)

      Enforced … Sometimes.

    • I’m reading Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi. Slaves weren’t just free labor, they were an investment. By 1800, there were about a million in the U.S. cutting off the transatlantic slave trade meant the value of those at home skyrocketed. By 1860, there were nearly 4 million. Instead of bringing more over, slave owners turned to breeding and selling the ones they owned.

      I’d hate for people to come away with the impression that the decision to end transatlantic slave trading was based on humanity. It was based on profits, and the recognition that they now had an unlimited supply here in the U.S.

  10. RE: Fact# 7 – Statute of Labourers 1351:

    The black plague was simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen to human civilization. It killed something like 13% of the entire human population on the planet.

    But it also put an end to feudalism and shifted the social balance of power toward the working class, which laid the groundwork for modern society.

    Without the plague the world would not exist as it does today and would likely still be some form of vassal society.

    • Empty, muddy, overgrown stretches of land, all of it private, right off the busy interstate, and without much reason for people to go there. Tiny police departments without much in the way of experience or resources all down the line.

  11. RE: Fact# 12 – Elizabeth Crofts: More info from the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900:

    CROFTS or CROFT, ELIZABETH (fl. 1554), was the chief actor in an eccentric imposture, contrived early in 1554, on the part of the protestants to excite an open demonstration in London against the projected marriage of Queen Mary with Philip of Spain.

    The girl, who was only about eighteen years old, appears to have concealed herself within a wide crevice in the thick wall of a house in Aldersgate Street. The wall faced the street, and by means of a whistle or trumpet her voice assumed so strange a sound as to arrest the attention of all passers-by. Large crowds constantly assembled, and confederates scattered among the people interpreted her words as divinely inspired denunciations of King Philip, Queen Mary, and the Roman catholic religion.

    The device deceived the Londoners for many months, and the mysterious voice was variously named “the white bird,” “the byrde that spoke in the wall,” and “the spirit in the wall.”

    Before July 1554 the imposture was discovered; Elizabeth was sent to Newgate and afterwards to a prison in Bread Street, and there confessed the truth. She said that one Drake, Sir Anthony Knyvett’s servant, had given her the whistle, and that her confederates included a player, a weaver of Redcross Street, and a clergyman…

    On Sunday 15 July she was set upon a scaffold by St. Paul’s Cross while John Wymunsly, archdeacon of Middlesex, read her confession. “After her confession read she kneeled downe and asked God forgivenes and the Queen’s Maiestie, desyringe the people to praye for her and to beware of heresies. The sermon done she went to prison agayne in Bred Street. … And after Dr. Scorye resorted to her divers tymes to examin her; and after this she was released” (Wriiothesley, Chronicle, ii. 118).

    On 18 July one of her accomplices stood in the pillory “with a paper and a scripter on his hed.” No other proceedings appear to have been taken, although seven persons were said to have taken part in the foolish business.

    The imposture resembles that contrived with more effect twenty-two years earlier by Elizabeth Barton [q. v.], the maid of Kent.

  12. RE: Fact# 2 – Auto Correct Feature Excel:

    It’s not even just dates. Long numbers like UPC codes are automatically displayed in scientific notation. Getting excel to import a CSV file without it autodetecting girls as numbers or dates or something else is way more trouble than it should be.

    It’s a text file. Assume it is just text unless I explicitly tell you otherwise.

    In case anyone wanted to avoid this problem: The trick is that instead of doing File – Open, you create a new sheet and then you do Data – From Text. Like this. Thats how you get to see the options for data types. Thats way more trouble than it should be, and the default when opening file should be to assume everything is text.

  13. RE: Fact# 5 – 1794 Slave Trade Act:

    Washington also signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, which guaranteed the right of slaveholders to recover escaped slaves across state line.

    He also actively avoided Pennsylvania’s emancipation law by rotating his slaves out of the president’s Philadelphia residence. Otherwise by law those people would have become freemen after 6 months.

    • Not to mention his efforts in attempting to recapture Oney Judge who was one of those slaves illegally held in Philadelphia who managed to escape to New Hampshire.

  14. RE: Fact# 4 – 1999 Aggie Bonfire Disaster:

    I was a freshman at University of Texas that year, and played in the marching band. This happened a few days before we were going to play A&M at Kyle Field. We quickly learned Amazing Grace and a few other spirituals so that we could show respect during the halftime show. I think the fans appreciated the gesture. Lots of tears and a brief respite to the rivalry.

    I also remember that the day the bonfire collapsed I was wearing a highly offensive shirt to school that said something like “Oops, Ags blew it agan”. I made the choice to turn it inside out after hearing the news.

  15. RE: Fact# 11 – The Texas Killing Fields: This field is about 2 miles from my house. I drive down the road to avoid traffic.

  16. RE: Fact# 4 – 1999 Aggie Bonfire Disaster:

    I was a student there at the time. Electrical engineering student as well. Bonfire was constructed on the old polo grounds and the closest building on campus was Zachary hall, which is the electrical engineering building. It was surreal to watch it grow week after week, and then so close to completion see it toppled over like Lincoln logs.

    I understand it’s really easy to be cynical, but those kids didn’t do anything to deserve dying. I was involved in “cut” one year and it was really impressive how integrated A&M was with the community. Fall was cut and spring was replant.

    In hindsight just about every tragedy is preventable.



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