Wallow With Me In The Irrelevant




Teachers have long known that the key to education is inspiration.  Yet how does one inspire students to take an interest in any topic?  Easy.  Simply allow any student to study any topic.  Students encouraged to enjoy anything new soon desire to discover what else is new, and the habit of lifelong learning gets underway.  One man who puts this theory into daily practice is Dan Lewis, a New York City lawyer who spends his time simply finding out new things to know and passing them on to anybody who will listen.  His daily Now I Know e-mail is a breeding ground for curiosity, and is the latest hit of the digital age.  Here are some recent eye-openers.

Carrots were originally purple

Until the 17th century, people who ate carrots used the common purple variety even though they were as bitter cooked, as turnips are raw.  In the late 1600s, Dutch farmers isolated and cultivated the infrequent yellow and white offshoots of the purple plant into a hybrid both orange and sweet.

Rivers can be hyper-colored

Caño Cristales, a remote river in Colombia, becomes a moving rainbow twice a year.  When the water level is low enough, rare local algae feed on sunlight and glow red, green, yellow and orange within the otherwise blue water.

Velociraptors acted like turkeys

The movie Jurassic Park convinced us that velociraptors weighed 150 pounds, sprinted at 60 MPH and hunted in packs.  Sorry, not even close.  Paleontologists peg velociraptors at 18 inches tall, and at a mere 30 pounds. They scavenged alone, were about as smart as turkeys and, yes, had fluffy feathers.  Adorable.

Munch was afraid for a reason

Edvard Munch’s 1895 painting The Scream depicts a man in agony beneath a menacing sky of yellow and red.  Munch had seen that very sky over Norway two years prior when an earthquake erupted 6,800 miles away on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa.  Ash enveloped the planet and colored the sky, making Munch and other observers wonder if doomsday was at hand.

Pirates weren’t one-eyed

While injuries sometimes explained the patches common in depictions of pirates, there was a more usual reason to wear them – night vision.  Covering one eye was a technique of fighting sailors, particularly those who ran on and off deck during battle to fetch gunpowder.  An eye covered with a patch could be used immediately in the dim light below decks.  No need to acclimatize to the dark.

So there’s a quick dose of botany, chemistry, paleontology, art history and military studies.  If you find such stuff irrelevant, you may finally be on the right track.  Wallow more at www.nowiknow.com.

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