Learning a Little

It’s that time of year again.

2011 was a year of learning little things. No great truths were uncovered. No startling and life-changing insights into the universe were gained. At least not any that I care to share with an audience.

Not on the list, because it should have been something I knew I knew, is not to wear boots with heels when walking down a steep path to the beach. Also not on the list: the awesomeness of killing zombies, defeating the Geth and running through dungeons – that deserves a post all on its own.

Anyhoo, in no particular order, I give you 10 lessons of the past year.

The Statue of Liberty is 151’ 1” high. Thank you, Brad Meltzer and the History Channel. Not only for providing this tidbit of information on Decoded’s Mason episode but for the series in general. It’s the extra inch that’s significant. The Statue’s height can stand in for a number of facts gleaned from the show. I think of Decoded as a modern version of In Search Of, which I loved and from which I probably garnered most of my life views on mysteries and the supernatural.

Conditional formatting in Excel. I’ve discussed many times on the blog how I’m a geek, and it isn’t limited to the science fiction and fantasy genres or gaming or Dungeons & Dragons or … you get the idea. I love Excel. I will create spreadsheets using advanced functions just because I can. A simpler way to present data may exist, but I will pivot table the shit out of my xBox stats and make charts just because I can. If I can find a way to write a rule that shades every other line to make it easier for you to read and keeps the shading pattern even when you delete or add a row, I will.  And I’ll be darned proud of it.

Snowclone & Morton’s fork. I can’t remember where I heard “snowclone,” but it’s awesome. A snowclone is a well-worn phrase that people adapt to fit the current setting. Think along the lines of “pink is the new black” or “I’m a doctor, not a coal miner.” Similar to snowclone, Morton’s fork refers to something you probably use all the time without knowing there’s a proper way to describe it. It’s a choice between two equally bad things. Common phrases include “between the devil and the deep blue sea” and “between a rock and a hard place.”

Eastern State Penitentiary Cells 2

The correct pronunciation of Steve Buscemi’s last name. My sister and I took the audio tour at Eastern State Penitentiary* as narrated by Buscemi. The first line of the tour: “Hi, I’m Steve Buscemi.” My sister and I stopped, looked at each other and each agreed we now knew how to correctly pronounce his name. The price of admission was well worth it, since it came with knowledge right off the bat. Plus, at some point in the audio that includes interviews with former prisoners and staff, a former neighbor popped up. I don’t think I ever knew he worked at the prison. Bonus knowledge!

The ins and outs of poison ivy. Thanks to pulling what I thought was a random vine off the back of my house, I learned a lot about posion ivy this summer. The leaves can be bigger than you think. The hairy parts of the vine are also poisonous. You don’t want to burn it or the inside of your lungs can have the same allergic reaction your skin has to poison-ivy oil (that would be bad). Scratching does not spread poison ivy no matter what the old wives tell you, nor is it contagious. You can spread it if you keep contacting the oil, say on clothes you put in the hamper. Prednisone is an amazing drug.

General Daniel Sickles was the first person to plead temporary insanity. Again, I don’t remember where I learned this first, but it came up again while reading a book about the assassination of James Garfield. Sickles used the plea after he killed his wife’s lover, who happened to be the son of Francis Scott Key. His lawyer’s argument was that his wife’s infidelity drove Sickles insane. Sickles would go on to be a Union general in the Civil War, where his actions at Gettysburg led to huge casualties in his Third Corps but may have distracted Longstreet long enough to throw off Confederate hopes of destroying the Union line (see, my geekdom extends well beyond Star Trek). A cannonball strike would lead to the amputation of Sickles’ right leg. He kept the leg bones (!), donated them to the Army Medical Museum and allegedly would visit them every year. You can visit them, too.

Deviled eggs are also known as salad eggs. In some parts of the South and Midwest, deviled eggs are referred to as salad eggs, possibly to avoid making something deviled appealing in religious communities.

English: IAU Cygnus chart

I can find Cygnus. For years, Orion has been the only constellation I can consistently spot in the sky. Yes, for me, it’s easier to find than the Big Dipper. Now I can find Cygnus pretty easily. Maybe I’m just good at spotting lines of three stars in the sky. On a related note, 2011 also taught me that I’ve always known where Betelgeuse is, I just didn’t know that I knew.

Rendering in Klingon gliphs of the word Qapla'...

Shakespeare is best in the original Klingon. Until this year, I would have told you the Klingon language was invented for the original series. Nope. Turns out it was created for Star Trek 3. Don’t believe me? Well, Hab SoSlI’ Quch!

How candles work. Okay, this is something everyone thinks they know, but probably doesn’t really know. The wax melts and travels up the wick where it becomes a gas. The gas is what’s on fire and is only flammable when in oxygen. Thank you, Ira Flatow. Check out the video for the deets and to find out why candle flames are yellow. Plus you get to see wax moving up a wick, which I found strangely fascinating.

* – Am I the only one who thinks of Indiana Jones whenever I hear or write a word that has “penitent” as the root? Go back


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