What We Learned Today

What facts, news, or other tidbits have you learned today? Feel free to share!

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Today I learned why Americans (US/Canada) say “aluminum” and why everyone else says “aluminium”. It’s because aluminum is the proper spelling.

The guy who first isolated aluminum is Humphry Davy, who first proposed alumium as the name, from English alum and the Latin ending -ium. However, this name was rejected because it didn’t sound Latin enough: alum is an English word (for aluminum oxide, which aluminum was first synthesized from) and -ium isn’t the proper ending for it anyway. So when Davy published a chemisty textbook, he changed it to aluminum, which is from Latin alumina plus the -um ending. This is proper Latin: -um and -ium are variations of the same suffix. The difference is that you only use -ium in a few contexts, so -a becomes -um, -ia becomes -ium. Aluminia would become aluminium, but the word is alumina, so it is aluminum. Magnesia, on the other hand, has that ending, so when its metal was isolated, it became magnesium.

However, this one guy named Thomas Young decided to stick his nose in. He was a pretty smart guy, who made major breakthroughs in light physics (establishing the wave theory of light) and also in language (particularly for his work with the Rosetta Stone). He was not, however, a chemist and he never worked with aluminum. Despite that, he sent in an anonymous review of Davy’s textbook criticizing the word aluminum. He said that it didn’t sound “classical enough”, so it should be changed to aluminium. As mentioned above, this was not proper Latin and there were also examples of other metals with the -um ending: platinum, ferrum (iron), plumbum (lead), aurum (gold) and so on.

While aluminum was originally used in Britain and aluminium was used mainly in the US, Noah Webster opted to go with aluminum when he wrote the dictionary, so that caught on in the US. Britain, meanwhile, was pressured by other European countries who opted for the -ium ending. While both Davy and Young were British, Young was more widely known, so his “contribution” caught on worldwide. And thus, Britain ended up adopting aluminium because of peer pressure.

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I learned that a C major chord plus a G minor chord makes a C9 chord

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Back in the day when flour getting made from grain was dependent on windmills, farmers would line up outside the mill with sacks of grain. They would then wait until those before them had their grain ground into flour, and for the wind to rise. Thus, they waited until the windmill turned for them, converting their grain into flour which could be sold in the markets.

Giving rise to the phrase waiting for your turn, for literally, you were waiting for the windmill to turn for you.

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I love the concept of this topic. :slight_smile:

Today I learned that HTML 5 kept the <small> tags but ditched the <big> ones possibly in part because “small text” is a conceptual thing (as are smaller-text footnotes, superscripts, subscripts, etc.) and “big text” isn’t really a thing on its own, except as used in headers (still in HTML, of course) and via other forms of emphasis that HTML already provides, such as <b>old and <em>phasis tags.

Still, I maintain that <big> was itself occasionally useful, and served as a valid counterpart to <small>. :wink:

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I learned today there’s a port called Sandwich. I knew about the Earl of Sandwhich (well the fourth one) but didn’t know about where the name of it came from

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Today I learned that Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime.

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And today you’ll learn that that is actually a myth. There are at least 22 known paintings sold for money. I’ve seen several sources, including Wikipedia to say 1 painting, but in this case, I’d sooner believe the Van Gogh museum then Wiki.

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You skipped the part where Jöns Jacob Berzelius led the French, German, and Swedish chemists in calling it “Aluminium” in 1811, which was then picked up by the British Royal Society of Chemistry the same year. “Aluminum” wasn’t suggested until 1812, by which point “Aluminium” was already being widely used by scientists to whom it was relevant.

Then, in 1990, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) cut a deal with the USA’s American Chemical Society (ACS), such that the USA would make “aluminium” the official word, in exchange for the rest of the world using the American “Sulfur” (based on an erroneous assumption that the word came into Latin from Greek, despite the relevant Greek word being “Thion”) instead of “Sulphur”. The ACS promptly reneged on their end of things, and 3 years later pressured the IUPAC into listing “Aluminum” as an “acceptable variant spelling”.

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That doesn’t make it proper Latin, nor does it supersede the finder’s right to name it.

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Some of you may know of Joseph Dombey, a French scientist sent to the United States from France in 1793 to help towards the process of metrication in the US - id est the adoption of the SI or Metric system for measurements.

In that case, you would also technically know that Dombey’s ship veered off course and landed in pirate-infested waters and he died a hostage, thus ensuring that ‘freedom units’ stay free of the powers of 10 forever.

Here’s what you might not know:

  • The people who captured him weren’t pirates, but privateers tacitly supported by the British Govt., and Dombey was taken to Montserrat to stay until a ransom could be paid for him. Unfortunately, he died in captivity.
  • Dombey was sent from France by request of Benjamin Franklin, so the first metrication process was actually initiated from the US end.
  • Dombey wasn’t a physicist or a mathematician. He was actually a French botanist who did a lot of good work in South America, more than half of which was appropriated (and even post-facto demanded) by Spain and given to Spanish botanists to call their own.
  • The 1793 event wasn’t his first rodeo with British appropriators. While in Peru in 1780 he sent a collection of plants and flora to France, but the ship was - as the British back then were wont to do - captured the ship and sent the collection to the British Museum, where they still lie.
  • He acted as the physician-in-chief of the city of Concepcion during the 1782-83 cholera epidemic in Chile.
  • Legally, by the way, the US has already adopted the metric system through laws passed regularly. It just hasn’t passed strong enough laws to implement it in general use. Or give up the bastardized version of the Imperial Measurement System they call the US Customary System.
  • They have lost a multi-million $$ Mars Climate Orbiter because while NASA used the metric newton-second unit for force, Lockheed Martin decided to use pound-force seconds for the same calculation, nobody caught it, and the difference was that instead of entering Mars orbit, the spacecraft crashed onto the planet.
  • Along with Liberia and Myanmar (infamous for other things too), USA is the only country to not have implemented the metric system for general use.
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Mammals, fish, and underground or nocturnal insects can get sunburnt. Reptiles, spiders, crustaceans, and the remaining insects cannot (at least, not without getting enough radiation to kill them). Whether birds can is up for debate.

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Shoemaking has given many words to the English language, that started off as technical terms and then became mainstream.

Skiving in its meaning of trying to avoid work comes from a process called skiving leather. You’d shave off the edges of the leather pieces in a shoe in order to reduce the thickness when they’re sewn together. It was a procedure that has to be done sitting down, whereas all the processes before it are done standing up. So someone who wanted to do the skiving at the leather factory was trying to avoid working standing up, thus giving rise to the word’s common meaning.

Revamp comes from vamp, the part of the shoe right in front that is most exposed to the outside. Changing a battered vamp would give you almost a new shoe, so the process was quite common. It was called new-vamp in the 1600s, then became revamp, which would later start to commonly mean reinventing or changing yourself and things around you into something new.

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The first internet crime was committed in 1973 on the ARPANET, which was run by the US Department of Defense to connect people for advanced research projects.

The crime in question? Essentially, a US citizen (Leonard Kleinrock) lost his razor after a trip to England. He sent an email over to ask them to return it. Since ARPANET was exclusively meant for research projects, personal use was illegal. Though it doesn’t seem like he faced any consequences for it.

Meanwhile, the first spam marketing was in 1978, when Gary Thuerk sent an advertisement for his company, Digital Equipment Corporation, to 400 potential customers. According to him, he made approximately $13 million in sales from it.

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I’m reading a Brief Guide about the author of Lord of the Rings. And one of the things I learned is that Tolken was Catholic

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I learned that you can accurately calculate the size and masses of two binary stars by measuring the time it takes for them to eclipse each other.

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Tolkien was a close friend of CS Lewis, who was a late convert to Christianity. They together founded The Inklings, a loose collective of mostly Oxford-based writers. Another member was Owen Barfield, who was also a theologian and Christian writer.

CS Lewis is more famously known for being the author of the Narnia series, which are filled with Christian allegories - Aslan is well-understood to be a stand-in for Jesus Christ.

Also, Tolkien considered LoTR to be a fundamentally Catholic work, even though he ensured that it wasn’t allegorical. Thematically it does pull ideas from Christian theology, like the battle of good versus evil, the triumph of humility over pride, and the activity of grace.

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Astronomers were planning to use the occultation of the star SAO 158687 by Uranus to study the planet’s atmosphere. As they studied their observations, they found that the star disappeared briefly from view five times both before and after it was eclipsed by the planet.

That’s how they realised that Uranus also has a ring system.

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There are no female European moles. Half of them are male and the other half are intersex (by general mammalian standards).

The intersex moles have XX chromosomes, but they have something known as ovotestes. These are reproductive organs with both ovarian and testicular tissue. While some mammals other than moles have ovotestes (including humans), they’re only found in intersex individuals. Other than that, they’re found in some gastropods, like snails.

In moles, for most of the year, the testicular tissue dominates the ovotestes. During that time, all moles produce the same amount of testosterone and they have similar external reproductive organs, to the point where it’s difficult to tell the sexes apart. It’s only during breeding season that the ovarian tissue begins to swell and the mole temporarily develops the necessary parts to make babies. After breeding season is over, the intersex moles change back.

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Actually according to my Guide to Tolkien book, C.S. Lewis, aka Jack, as he was known to his friends- was raised as Ulster Protestant but for some reason didn’t like the church so stopped attending for some years. But some years after being friends with Tolkien that Jack- went back to being a Christan and went back to the Ulster Protestant church but Tolkien had hoped he would become Catholic it’s one of the breaks in Jack and Tolkien’s friendship

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