Thursday, November 30, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Does counting sheep really help you fall asleep?

Well, apparently not. According to the BBC, Oxford scientists have concluded the method isn't effective. The researchers asked 50 insomniacs to try different techniques when trying to fall asleep. In general, those who counted sheep fell asleep later than those who imagined a relaxing scene like a waterfall or beach.
So, counting sheep doesn't work, but how did the idea start in the first place? As you probably know, shepherds are responsible for keeping track of their flocks. To make sure they didn't lose strays, shepherds used a numbering technique called "Yan Tan Tehera."

Yan Tan Tehera comes from a Celtic language. In my humble opinion, there's nothing interesting or noteworthy about it except that it's "based on the number 20." According to Wikipedia, the shepherd would count to 20, place a mark on the ground to represent 20 sheep, then start again.

How they stayed awake, we'll never know.

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Monday, November 27, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Why is normal vision referred to as 20/20?

Visual acuity is expressed as a fraction. The top number refers to the distance you stand from the chart. This is usually 20 feet. The bottom number indicates the distance at which a person with normal eyesight could correctly read the line with the smallest letters. Normal vision is considered 20/20. If your vision is 20/40, the line you correctly read at 20 feet could be read by a person with normal vision at 40 feet.

If your optometrist says you have 20/60 vision, that means you are able to discriminate characters at 20 feet away from an eye chart that a person with normal acuity can see at a distance of 60 feet.

Of course, just because 20/20 vision is normal doesn't mean it's perfect. A small percentage of the population is blessed with vision better than 20/20, and just recently researchers unveiled corrective lens that offered vision closer to 20/10.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Who came up with the adage "it's never over 'til the fat lady sings"?

It's the bottom of the ninth. The home team is down by five. Things look bad, but then again, "it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."
The phrase, a form of self-reassurance (or denial) in the face of long odds, is usually muttered when things look grim. The adage sounds like it sprung from the mouth of a weary opera patron, but it was actually coined by a sportswriter and broadcaster named Dan Cook.

Cook covered the NBA's San Antonio Spurs in the 1970s. In 1978, the Spurs were playing the Washington Bullets in the playoffs and down three games to one. Cook, who had used the witticism once before in a column, repeated it on the air as a way to cheer up Spurs fans. Alas, despite making it close, the Spurs lost the series.

Bullets coach Dick Motta apparently liked the saying and used it to motivate his own team. The Bullets went on to win the championship, proving that while "it's not over 'til the fat lady sings," sometimes inspirational clich├ęs are "too little, too late

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Monday, November 13, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Do fingernails really continue to grow after you die?

A lot of freaky stuff happens to the human body after death. Rigor mortis sets in, the blood stops clotting, and you get all "gross and pasty looking" (a non-medical term). However, I do have some good news -- you needn't worry about your fingernails and hair growing from beyond the grave.

Snopes.com explains the truth behind the legend. The human body begins to dehydrate after a person dies. Because the skin is so dry, it "pulls away from nails and hair." This makes it appear as though the nails and hair are growing, but in fact, it's really the opposite. The body is shrinking.

So this is just an illusion. Snopes notes that the body's unfortunate tendency to dry out is the reason funeral homes are so liberal with the moisturizer. Without it, the newly departed would appear unrecognizable well before the casket is shut. Creepy.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

What would happen if you shot a gun in space?

Ah, an inquiry that warms the hearts of gun-toting physicists. The peacenik response might be...nothing. A gun cartridge holds the bullet or metal tip and the gunpowder (yup, they still use that stuff). The latter requires a spark, a nifty chemical reaction that involves oxygen, which tends to be sorely lacking in space. However, forward-thinking manufacturers have packed an oxidizer within the bullet casing. Whether that's sufficient for an explosive launch is up for much debate.

That doesn't satisfy our bloodlust, does it? We'll assume we can send the bullet on its merry way with the proper gun. The scenario then conjures up the classic physics poser of shooting the monkey. Since we find shooting a cute primate abhorrent, we'll sub in the garden gnome.

Where you're standing when you execute this maneuver, such as within a planet's gravitational pull, would affect the bullet's speed and path. As long as your aim is true, the bullet would travel a straight line (aka Newton's first law of motion) until some sort of force or object impedes it. Meanwhile, the recoil (Newton's third law) has pushed you back with an equal and opposite force.

The next question is, can you fire off another shot? A regular old earth gun likely won't cotton to its new environment and may seize up, blow up, or do something equally annoying. Plus, we've littered space with enough dangerous debris already, do we really need to have bullets go flying?

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Thursday, November 02, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Who invented sliced bread?

History is full of great inventions. But, with all due respect to the wheel, none are as celebrated as sliced bread. Because so many enthusiastic consumers enjoy comparing products to the breakfast staple, I thought it high time to give its creator, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, his due.

Mr. Rohwedder was born in the state of Iowa in the USA and is generally credited with inventing the first automatic bread slicer in 1928. Before this, people had to slice their own bread, or, in a pinch, rip off a hunk. According to Food Reference, Rohwedder's invention was initially poo-pooed by bakers who felt sliced bread would go stale too quickly. Eventually, Rohwedder constructed a slicer that also wrapped the bread, effectively solving the problem.

In 1930, Wonder Bread began selling pre-sliced bread. Other large bakeries quickly hopped on the bandwagon. The trend also helped to boost the popularity of another invention still in use today -- the toaster. I wouldn't call it the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it's certainly up there.

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