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Week of June 26, 2022

Random Acronym Week (RAW!) #7

Sunday

PFD = personal flotation device, or, if you live in Alaska, permanent fund dividend, which residents get yearly from state oil revenues.

Monday

GOAT = Greatest of All Time

Tuesday

PPE = personal protective equipment

Wednesday

RV = recreational vehicle

Thursday

LCD = liquid crystal display, or lowest common denominator

Friday

RPG = role playing game, or rocket propelled grenade

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Week of June 19, 2022

Ashes to Ashes…

Sunday

Common dust is made up of many different components, including ash, smoke, dirt, sand, salt, pollen, bacteria, bits of textiles and paper, human and animal hair and skin particles, and even meteorite particles.

Monday

A surprising amount of dust rains down from space in the form of “micrometeorites,” on the scale of 14-50 tons per day. This is roughly 1-3 garbage trucks worth of space dust daily.

Tuesday

The massive Sahara Desert is the largest source of mineral dust in the world, with airborne Saharan dust regularly reaching Europe, the Amazon, Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas.

Wednesday

The old myth about household dust being mostly dead skin is not true. Most studies on indoor dust composition show that the largest part of household dust came from sources outside the house.

Thursday

You are, however, still a major source of dust. Your endlessly-regenerating skin layer sheds nearly a million dead cells daily.

Friday

Dust makes up that gross layer on top of your fan blades…and some of the largest structures in the universe. Nebulae, those clouds of gas and dust which often came from exploding stars and can eventually congeal into new ones, can be millions of light years in diameter.

Saturday

Unfortunately, dust can be bad news for those in certain occupations. Pneumococcus, the umbrella term for extensive dust-caused scarring in the lungs, affects people working in mining (“black lung”), drilling, textiles, agriculture, shipworking, sandblasting, and other dust-intensive jobs.

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Week of June 12, 2022

Let’s Ride

Sunday

The first bicycle had no pedals or chain. The “hobby horse” was propelled by pushing against the street with your shoes, like a skateboard.

Monday

To take back or soften what you already said is called “backpedaling.” However, only on a fixed gear bike would you go backward by pedaling so, since the modern freewheel only drives the wheel one direction: forward while pedaling forward.

Tuesday

There’s intriguing brain science in the fact that people almost never forget how to ride a bike. The coordination of movements involved becomes a “procedural memory,” which, it turns out, is a more permanent and deeper kind of memory than a factual “declarative memory” (and unfortunately for creators of fun fact websites).

Wednesday

The Tour de France is the most watched sporting event in the world, garnering over 3.5 billion viewers.

Thursday

Worldwide, the Netherlands has the most impressive bicycling resume. Seven out of every eight people age 15 or older own a bike, and an impressive 30% of all trips made in the country are on a bicycle.

Friday

The famous feminist quote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” was itself inspired by an earlier quote about religion.

Saturday

A “peloton” is the name for a group of bicyclists riding in a pack to conserve energy.

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Week of June 5, 2022

Fine Feathered Facts

Sunday

Before it was a common term for accomplishment, a “feather in your cap” was a mark of achievement in several cultures. Among them, native Americans who wore a feather for each enemy slain, medieval knights given plumes for bravery, Hungarians marking a killed enemy Turk, or hunters showing game bird feathers.

Monday

Bird feathers are hollow so as to be very light for their strength, allowing (most) birds to fly…

Tuesday

…and this hollowness made feathers great writing instruments in the quill / feather pen days, and still among quill pen enthusiasts. That hollow center was a natural reservoir for ink.

Wednesday

Tarring and feathering has been a humiliating and painful punishment since at least 1189 when Richard the Lionheart decreed it for thieves caught aboard his ships. Old fashioned tar, however, was made with pine tree sap, and was not the petroleum-based tar of the modern era. When the traditional ingredients were in short supply, syrup and cattails have also been used.

Thursday

To “make feathers fly,” as in arguing, is a reference to birds (and especially chickens) losing feathers while fighting with each other. “Make/watch the fur fly” conveys the same meaning.

Friday

The term “horsefeathers” was coined just a few years before the famous Marx Brothers’ movie of that name, and means nonsense (and by some accounts refers to horse poop.)

Saturday

Just as showy plumage feathers are not used for flight, a bird might have seven different types of feathers on its body, each with a different function.

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Week of May 29, 2022

Wolf Down These Facts

Sunday

The story of “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf,” that timeless cautionary tale to liars and false alarmists, actually goes back to Classical antiquity.

Monday

Fans of werewolves (or maybe Harry Potter) know they are sometimes called “lycanthropes.” This derives from the grizzly Greek mythological Legend of Lycaon, who angered the god Zeus by serving him a meal made with the remains of a human boy. Lycaon was punished when he and his sons were turned into wolves.

Tuesday

They’re called “werewolves” because of the obsolete Old English word “wer” meant “man,” so “werewolf” means “man wolf.”

Wednesday

Domesticated sheep are famously mild and docile, and wild wolves (who often eat livestock) are less so, so the image of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whether literally or as a metaphor for deceptive people, appears in both Aesop’s fables and the New Testament.

Thursday

The scientist who coined the term “alpha wolf” for the leader (or leading couple) of the pack later abandoned the term. What was called the alpha male and alpha female are the sole breeding pair in the pack, and did not necessarily get the job by fighting or physical dominance, as the name implies.

Friday

You might have heard of a defeated or embarrassed person said to “slink off with his tail between his legs.” Tail position communicates a lot in the animal world, especially with wolves, where down-pointing and tucked tail position is used by the lowest-ranking pack members.

Saturday

For all the human fear of wolves, fatal wolf attacks are exceedingly rare. In all of North America, for example, there have been only two documented deadly wolf attacks since 1970.