Interesting Finds: Issue #9

Instantaneous Information, Weird Brits, Tasmanian Devils and Poop Transport

Each week, I curate the most curious content I find, and add a spotlight on portions I find most interesting.

In this week’s issue, we talk about instantaneous information access, weird pronunciation of the word “aluminum”, endangered Tasmanian Devils and how ducks unknowingly transport fish eggs across bodies of water.


Total Recall

The Science of Total Recall. I was on a sci-fi binge recently that… | by  Maria Montelibano | Medium

Having two young children, I’ve been reflecting a lot the past few years on what my own childhood was like compared to the world they are growing up in. I’ve been keeping a list for years, on this topic, and one of the biggest themes relates to access to information. Or more accurately, the speed and accuracy of access to information.

My children will never know a world without nearly instantaneous access to information.

Think about this for a moment and reflect upon your own childhood. If you are in your late 30s or older, you remember your childhood filled with physical books, the library and never ending unanswered questions.

Today, child’s lives are different in the age of not only the Internet, but also virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri. Any question that comes up can immediately be answered. If you’ve got a voice assistant handy, ask it this question:

“How much of the earth is covered by water?”

Alexa tells me the answer is 71% (which agrees with Google) along with a litany of other information:

When I was a child, that would have involved heading to the library to do “research”, assuming my local library even had that information on hand. Even more so, it would likely would have involved asking the librarian for help.

Next, try asking it this more obscure question:

“What is the world record for farthest arrow shot using your feet?”

Frankly, I had no idea there was even a world record for this when I asked Alexa for the answer (gold star if you did).

Alexa tells me the answer is 12.31 meters (40 feet 4.64 inches). Alexa also tells me that the information was explicitly sourced it from the Guinness Book of World Records. This further emphasizes the power we have today, with these “search engines” acting as super computer aggregators of all the world’s information:

The instant access to information in 2020 isn’t limited to just facts like the above.

Consider how TV and Movies are consumed today. Kids are able to bring up any show within a given VOD network’s catalog (e.g. Netflix) for immediate access. When a given show is playing, they can skip anywhere in the show they want.

My childhood was filled with Betamax and VHS tapes where we even had a dedicated device to rewind tapes after we had watched them to save wear and tear on the VHS/Betamax player itself.

On any given day, you can find my children using their voices to play basically any song they can think of from Spotify through Alexa, or use the remote control (how quaint) to bring up Netflix on our TV, then skip around to their favorite part of any episode of any show.

I wish my 6 year old self could see this future we’ve created.

Alum-what?

While I’ve known there is a pronunciation and spelling difference of the word “Aluminum” between British and Americans, I’ve never dug into why and always chalked it up on my head to “those weird Brits and their schmancy pronounciations”.

Going down the rabbit hole of Interesting Finds to unpack this more I discovered there’s also a difference in Australian pronunciation. Here’s a video with all 3:

Digging into specifically the US vs British difference, this Quora post explains that both are correct:

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary English chemist Sir Humphry Davy named the element alumium in 1808 and then changed it to aluminum in 1812. British editors changed it to aluminium to be more in keeping with other elements such as potassium and sodium, while the Americans retained the spelling as aluminum.

Aluminium"historical information [WebElements Periodic Table] tells a similar story and says that it was the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry that adopted the aluminium spelling as the international standard. This article says that the U.S. went with that until 1925 when the American Chemical Society officially reverted to the aluminum spelling. I would guess that we had been using the term aluminum in the U.S. and the ACS simply made it official.

Now we know.


Tasmanian Devils

My experience and knowledge of a Tasmanian Devil as a child (and even into most of my adult life) was shaped by the “Tas” character in Looney Tunes cartoons:

It wasn’t until much later into my adulthood, I ever learned more about this fascinating creature that once lived exclusively on the Island state of Tasmania in Australia and is an endangered species.

From Wikipedia:

A Tasmanian devil

“The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorousmarsupial of the family Dasyuridae. It was once native to mainland Australia and was only found in the wild on the island state of Tasmania. It has now been reintroduced to New South Wales with a small breeding population. The size of a small dog, the Tasmanian devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936. It is related to quolls and distantly related to the thylacine. It is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding. The Tasmanian devil's large head and neck allow it to generate among the strongest bites per unit body mass of any extant predatory land mammal. It hunts prey and scavenges carrion as well as eating household products if humans are living nearby.”

This past week, for the first time ever, Tasmania Devils were reintroduced into the wild in Australia. From the BBC:

Conservation group Aussie Ark worked with other animal groups to release the Tasmanian devils into the 1,000-acre fenced sanctuary. The animals have been placed in the sanctuary to help keep their chances of survival high. They have no supplied food, water or shelter.

The first group of 15 were released in March. After the animals showed signs of thriving in their environment, a further 11 were released in September.

Young, healthy Tasmanian devils were selected in the hope they would be ready for breeding season, set to begin in February.

"They're free. They're out there," Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, told National Geographic. "We've got some basic means of keeping an eye on them. But essentially, now it's over to the devils to do what they do."

Another 40 are set to be released into the sanctuary over the next two years.

Here’s a video of Thor manly man Chris Hemsworth and his wife, Elsa Pataky, helping to release a few into the wild:

Other Interesting Finds 🔎

  • 💩 Ducks unknowingly transport fish eggs between bodies of water through their poop

  • 🙅‍♂️ The villain Silva, in the James Bond flick “Skyfall”, had his jaw damaged by a hydrogen cyanide pill (scene). In real life, that pill would be harmless because in liquid capsule form, it’s less dangerous an citric acid

  • 🎹 For his role in LA LA Land, Ryan Gosling spent 3 months learning jazz piano so he could do his own performances in the movie.

  • 🛠 In 1972, a geologist attacked the Michelangelo’s Pieta statue, shouting “I am Jesus Christ”. The nose was hacked off, grabbed by an onlooker and never returned. It was later restored. (source)

  • 🗣 The only recorded voice of a human born in the 18th century is a Prussian General (Helmuth von Moltke). His voice was recorded in 1889 due to his admiration for Edison’s phonograph.