Lesson #198: The “Mountains” of Saturn’s Rings

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that a. I have a fascination with space and b. I have theoretical physicist friends who like to blow my mind on a regular basis…which I think is mostly because they love that I’m game despite my being a physics idiot. I was talking to my very favourite Russian today and was informed that the orbit of Saturn’s moon Daphnis pulls some of the debris making up the A ring out of their plane creating “mountains” in the ring, some as tall as the Rocky Mountains.

So freaking cool!

More can be read about this here, here and here. They are links to NASA, space.com and wired.com respectively, so pick whichever level of technical-ness you prefer.


Lesson #197: George Eyser

At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, a man named George Eyser, German born, but representing the United States, won six medals (three gold, two silver, one bronze) in men’s gymnastics. Despite having lost a leg to a train (!) and competing with a wooden leg*

And, until 2008, he was the only Olympian to compete with an artificial limb. The second was a South African swimmer, cum marathoner who had a leg amputated after a car accident.

*For more on George Eyser see here. To see his athletic record see here.

Lesson #196: Nature’s Answer to Wolverine (the X-Man, not the animal)

Meet the Iberian Ribbed Newt. It can dislocate its ribs and pierce its skin with them to use them as poisonous weapons. Which is freaking awesome! And it has been to space, which is also awesome.

The newts have skin that heals quickly and are immune to their own poison, which is good if you’re going to pierce your own skin with poisonous barbs.

Apparently people keep these things as pets, which is kind of insane — though I’d argue less insane than owning a python.*

*More can be read about the science of the newt here.

Lesson #195: The Reiver Trail

I always like when I discover that something I love is more clever than I first thought.

Today’s word is “to reive” which is a Middle Scots word meaning to steal. Incidentally, it is also where we get the word bereaved.

The reivers were the Scottish border clans who were proponents of Scottish independence and tended to launch raids on both sides of the border. They were essentially lawless…enemies of England, probably Scotland and pretty much everyone not in their clan. I am a descendant of the Armstrong clan — though in fairness, you have to go back to my great-grandmother before you get to the Armstrong branch of my family.*

Anyway today’s actual lesson is that there is, in the old reiver country of Scotland, the Reiver Trail. This has now been put onto my list of things to see. I’m always down for a little bit of revolutionary violence. And a little bit of learning about the history of my family way, way back when. My grandfather is an excellent source of information, but I imagine that the museums whose focus is such things are even better.

Now, back to my first statement in this post. Joss Whedon’s Firefly bogeymen are called “reavers” — fighters living on the edge of civilization (also eating people, but poetic license is acceptable when setting a (criminally underrated by the network) TV show in space). I suspect I have figured out why. I have always liked him because he’s clever.

*If you want to read more about the border reivers, here’s where you should go to read up on them. I recommend it; it’s a pretty cool bit of history.

Lesson #194: The More Disturbing Second Verse

A friend of mine back in the southern state where I used to live sent me this link today and I found it really interesting. Of these lesser known second verses to popular children’s songs, I actually knew two of them.* Some of them are really kind of disturbing — like My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and Oh My Darling Clementine. Some of them I find really entertaining — like the later verses of London Bridge.

*Oh My Darling Clementine and totally unsurprisingly all the verses of Alouette — pauvre alouette, sans plumes!

Lesson #193: Tugboats for Sale

I love boats. I just think they’re cool. In fairness, I don’t spend an awful lot of time on boats because I get really bad seasickness. I’d make a terrible sailor, which is why you probably shouldn’t ask how I got here.

If I want to buy a tugboat, I can do so for as little as $78,000. I’d have to go to Germany to get it and I could only use it in harbours, but I could still buy one for $78,000.

To find more tugboats for sale, you can go here and peruse the listings. The newer, better boats are going for $1 million+.

Lesson #192: Haptodysphoria

I learned a new word today. Haptodysphoria is the an unpleasant sensation associated with things like steel wool or running one’s fingernails down a chalkboard or peaches.

Really, I’m on board up to the peaches. I’m all for peaches in any incarnation. I have not yet met a peach I didn’t like.

Anyway, the word is derived from the root hapto- meaning touch and the word dysphoria meaning difficult to bear (from the Greek dyphoros.)