Micro Oddities

Drapetomania – Freedom the Sickness

In 1851 the prominent American physician Samuel Adolphus Cartwright observed black slaves that fled captivity, and saw an illness. “Drapetomania, or the disease causing Negroes to flee” was the title to his paper explaining that black slaves didn’t want freedom, if they escaped they were ill. The cause was masters who treated slaves as something close to human beings, and slaves who considered themselves to be individuals of worth. Freedom was an illness, and Cartwright had the cure.

If a slave becomes “sulky and dissatisfied without reason,” then they may have drapetomania and be about to flee. Cartwright recommended “whipping the devil out of them” until they became submissive again, the state to which they belonged. An alternative remedy was to make running away impossible by having the big toe from both feet severed. Hence curing the disease.

Looking at it from what is technically “the future” we can easily see that something strange is afoot here. Instead of treating black slaves a people, Cartwright assumed that the place of a slave, was to remain a slave. He used the bible as evidence, taking sections talking about the faithfulness of a servant to master to justify his assertions that slaves should be treated as little more than children. Children to be whipped that is. This viewpoint led him to make some suspect, pseudoscientific contributions to the body of scientific racism. He even believed that lazy saves weren’t upset, they too were ill.

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Fact Fragments – Sharks, Cards, Mountains and Spanish

Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons

The highest mountain we know of has yet to be visited, it’s on Mars. We call it Olympus Mons. At 27km from its base to its peak, over 3 times the height of Everest, it is the greatest mountain in the solar system.

More than just tall, it is 550km wide, and is bent around the curvature of Mars itself. So pronounced is the effect that were you to stand on the peak of Olympus Mons, you wouldn’t be able to see the bottom of the mountain, as it would be hidden beyond the horizon. This size is a grand thing indeed, the whole mountain is surrounded by a moat up to 3km deep in some places. Nothing dug it, the sheer weight of it is great enough to literally dent Mars.

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The Immortal Jellyfish

Leave a jellyfish out in the sun for long enough, and it will evaporate. Over 95% water, jellyfish are ludicrously simple creatures. They have no brain, no lungs and no eyes. Assemble some tentacles, a stomach cavity, an umbrella head and you are nearly done. For respiration they just have skin thin enough to let oxygen slip through. Yet in this simplicity there is variety, and in one case, immortality.

Turritopsis nutricul is the immortal jellyfish and no hulking monstrosity. Adults are 5mm across, and transparent. Were you able to spot it you would see an approximate circle surrounded by anywhere between 8 and 24 tentacles protruding, wiggling and wobbling contentedly. When the jellyfish gets bored, or when things get tough it can change. It begins to grow younger.

It moves onto a surface and grips on tightly. Then it slowly becomes a blob. As a blob it performs the special process, transdifferentiation. This is the way in which some animals, like crabs, regrow their limbs. Cells become simplified, then are remade as new types of cell, giving a crab a new arm, or a starfish a new tentacle. Turritopis nutricul is unique in the animal kingdom because it does this to its entire body.

The jellyfish emerges as a perfectly formed child, ready to live all over again. As long as the jellyfish isn’t killed and doesn’t evaporate, scientists expect that the trick can be repeated infinitely. Making it the only possibly immortal creature.

Given their long lifespans, it is no surprise they want to travel; they are spreading from their Caribbean home to places as varied as Spain, Japan and Panama. As long as the water is warm, they may find their way there, bringing a dose of immortality to waters near you. Long live the jellyfish!

Further Reading:

Discoblog Article

Wikipedia Article on Transdifferentiation

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The Frog Test, the Birth of the Pregnancy Test

From urinating on various grains and seeing what germinated in Egyptian times to burning ribbons in the 17th Century, pregnancy tests have historically been unreliable. Then the 20th Century came, and it brought science.

In the 1920’s the presence of hCG, a chemical produced by the placenta, was discovered to be a way of telling that someone (presumably a woman) was pregnant. The first tests were created in the same decade, using animals. They worked on the principle of injecting the woman’s urine into the veins of a mouse or rabbit, waiting for at least a day and then removing the ovaries. On examination of the ovaries they could find out what effect the urine had on the ovaries and draw their conclusions. Unfortunately the animals had to be killed to do this; it was reliable, but expensive.  Then came a new way, a better way, the ‘Frog Test’.

Lancelot Hogben discovered that the same test could be performed on the female African clawed frog. After being injected, if the frog produced eggs within 24 hours, the woman was pregnant. No killing, and yet the accuracy remained. This saved time, and even meant that frogs could be reused. The ‘Frog Test’ was the world’s first cheap and reliable pregnancy test and became the international standard for decades. At the end of the 1950’s it was finally supplanted by technology, technology which went on to produce the pregnancy tests we all know, but don’t all use.

Further Reading

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How Much Monopoly Money?

Monopoly MoneyYou may have heard that, “more Monopoly Money is printed each year than is printed by the United States.” This is utterly false, which is a shame, but at least you know now.

When we make 1 monopoly note equal to $1(USD) and a 500 monopoly note equal to a $500 we see that there is a lot of money though. In the 78 years since the first publication on the Monopoly game, they have printed approximately $10,000,000,000. For those of you less inclined to count zeroes, that is 10 billion dollars. A sizeable amount, and more than the United States prints in any given year, however the United States prints just over 10 billion dollars every 14 years or so.

This means that the United States Government is currently out in the lead and doing a capital job of it too, maintaining a monopoly on money printing. As another advantage, their money is actually worth something, which might be important.

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How Long is a CD?

Compact DiscWhen Sony was busy creating the Compact Disc or CD, they had a problem to contend with: how much data should it store? The more data they could store, the more expensive it would be and so on. In the end they chose a limit; the average CD today can hold 74 minutes worth of music.

This rather unusual length was chosen by Sony’s president at the time Norio Ohga. His reasoning behind the 74 minute limit was that a single CD should be able to contain the longest recorded version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; and that it did indeed. There is a second, also common CD format that can hold 80 minutes of audio, but that is far less interesting.

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Helmet Horns

A Viking Helmet

As much as we wish it to be true, it is not. Vikings never wore horns on their helmets for either battle or ceremony.

The only helmets found to have horns on them at that time were from Britain.

The misconception has many possible sources. One of the most likely , monks at the time trying to make vikings more closely resemble the devil. The monks rather resented all of the murdering and pillaging the Vikings did.

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Antarctica is the only continent on earth that does not have an indigenous species of ant.

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Goldfish Brains

A memory of three seconds. That is what you may think of the goldfish, but goldfish are better than that.

Ensuring that everything in their lives go swimmingly means that the goldfish has developed a memory span far greater than 3 seconds. Scientific studies have shown that goldfish can retain information on environments such as mazes for over one year. One year is, in case you were wondering, longer than 3 seconds.

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Disney’s World

Cinderella CastleDisney World lies in Orlando, Florida and is 122 square kilometres in area. That is a large area, surprisingly it is larger than some countries.

The five smallest independent nations in the world are, from smallest to largest: Vatican City, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu and San Marino. Disney World Florida is larger than all five. In fact it is larger than all five combined.

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