Lesson #229: A Child’s Garden of Verses

I randomly learned today that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses. I find this somewhat baffling, to be honest. The same man who wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also wrote “My Shadow” and the one about the tacks on the stairs.

Also, Robert Louis Stevenson was Scottish. Just in case you were wondering.

7/9 edit: My mother informs me that “The Swing” was one of my favourites. Rereading it, I can see why.

Lesson #227: The Statue of Liberty as a Lighthouse

Technically speaking, the Statue of Liberty is a lighthouse and from its dedication in 1886 to 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt transferred control to the War Department, it fell under the control of the United States Lighthouse Board.

When the Lighthouse Board took over, it intended to amplify the light emitted by Lady Liberty’s torch. Its engineers set up a steam plant on Bedloe’s Island to power 14 arc lamps, nine in the torch and five strategically placed below the torch,  but despite its best efforts, the amount of light produced never made the Statue of Liberty a viable working lighthouse.*

*More information here and here. For more on lighthouses in general, see here.

Lesson #226: Fire Tornadoes

I have randomly come across about five different sites talking about fire tornadoes in the last week. Apparently, there was one in Brazil earlier this week.

Fire tornadoes, also known as fire devils or fire whirls, occur when a strong wind whips a brush fire into a whirlwind. They are typically 30-200 feet (10-50m) tall and a few metres wide and last only a few minutes. The largest fire tornadoes can be half a mile high with winds of 100 miles per hour and can last up to 20 minutes.*

In 1923, the combination of the fires from the great Kanto earthquake and the high winds from a developing typhoon resulted  in a fire tornado that killed 38,000 people in 15 minutes.

*More information here.

Lesson #225: Kangaroo Words

This is actually one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever seen, but I figured since I had to learn it, you should too.

Kangaroo words are words that contain smaller synonyms of themselves. They’re called kangaroo words because kangaroos carry their joeys in their pouches and kangaroo words do essentially the same thing.

For example: alone which has the words lone and one in it. Or precipitation, from which you can get the word rain. Or revolution, from which you get revolt.*

And then there are anti-kangaroo words, words that contain an antonym of themselves. Like covert/overt and animosity/amity.

Apparently there’s a need to define such words. I like language as much as the next person, but this seems a bit of overkill. In my head, at one time there was a 90-year-old Cambridge** linguistics professor sitting alone in his office trying to entertain himself who made a weird game out of it for word nerds.***

Anyway, if you’re interested *cough* mom *cough*, you can find a bunch of kangaroo words here.

*Okay, that one I like.

**Or Oxford, take your pick, but I have a number of friends who are Oxford grads and none of them are the type to ever do this.

***Not that I’m not a word nerd (see the post on ignivomous), but this is a whole new level of nerdiness.

Lesson #224: The Eastern Diamondback

Autobiographical note: My parents like to forward me emails they get from their coworkers containing preposterous claims. I think they do it because they know poor research annoys me more than anything and I will go find why these emails are ridiculous.

Today’s email came from my dad and was on the subject of a 15-foot eastern diamondback found in Jacksonville, Texas. Here’s the text of the email I got (it had pictures as well): 15 foot Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. Largest ever caught on record. After seeing this, I did a little research*, and learned the following: One bite from a snake this large contains enough venom to kill over 40 full grown men. The head alone is larger than the hand of a normal sized man. A bite from those fangs would be equal to being penetrated by two 1/4 inch screwdrivers. A snake this size could easily swallow a 2-year-old child. A snake this size has a striking distance of approximately 5 1/2 feet.  Judging by the size of the snake, it is estimated to weigh over 170 pounds. (Note: I’ve fixed the many, many grammatical problems with the email.)

My first reaction was to call shenanigans based solely on the habitat of the eastern diamondback. Nevermind the ridiculous length, it’s fairly common knowledge that Texas’ rattlers are western diamondbacks.

Here are the problems:

1. While the eastern diamondback is the largest rattler in the Americans, the largest one ever seen was 8 feet. Pending some sort of nuclear waste induced mutation, there’s not much of a chance of there suddenly being a doubly long rattler just hanging around.

2. The westernmost part of the eastern diamondback’s territory is more or less at the Mississippi River. And it’s obvious from the pictures that the snake is, in fact, an eastern, not western diamondback.

3. Jacksonville, Texas is in Cherokee County, but the photographs clearly show the sheriff’s department car marked St. John’s County. There are 254 counties in Texas and none of them is St. John’s.

4. A quick Google search turns up the actual article about the snake…it was a 7’3″ snake found in St. Augustine, Florida (which is, in fact, in St. John’s County) in September 2009.  You can read the article (complete with pictures) about that here.

A few more facts about the eastern diamondback. It averages in length between 3-6 feet. It is the heaviest venomous snake in the Americas. It lives in “pine flatwoods, longleaf pine and turkey oak, sand pine scrub areas, and coastal barrier islands. These habitats contain palmetto thickets and Gopher Tortoise burrows in which the Diamondback Rattlesnake may seek refuge.” It can strike at a distance up to 2/3 of its length (so the 7’3″ one in Florida would have a strike range of 4’10” — which means that a 15 foot eastern diamondback would be able to strike at a distance of a little over 10′, not the 5’5″ stated in the email)**

*If said person had done research s/he would have discovered exactly what I did. It’s not like I have access to top secret herpetology websites. I cannot abide poor research and I hate people who say “I did research” to make something seem credible. Those people make me want to punch them in the nose.

**Quoted texts and other information about eastern diamondbacks is here. A list of Texas counties is here.

Lesson #223: Russian

I have a not-so-secret obsession with the Russian language and with Russians in general.*

A bunch of years ago, when I was living in the Midwest**, I decided for lack of something better to do that I was going to teach myself Russian. I figured it couldn’t be that hard. I already had two fluent languages and another one at the intermediate level. What I didn’t count on was that unlike the Romance languages, where I already have a very good base and which all operate under the same basic grammatical structure, Slavic languages are hard. Russian, it turns out, is not a language you teach yourself, so my very basic Russian got left very basic. I can sound out words if you give me enough time. I can sometimes figure out what they mean based on my rudimentary knowledge of a different Slavic language. I can get myself by in Russian if I have to. And if the answer isn’t anything more complicated than “go two blocks and turn left.”

I found this website today and I’m pretty excited about it. Because unlike my efforts to teach myself the language, I can actually hear it spoken, which in a language like Russian is hugely helpful since they have a whole bunch of sounds we don’t have in English — although some of them actually exist in the Romance languages I speak. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be fluent and it’s not all that likely that I’ll have much of an opportunity to use it, but I like knowing things and why shouldn’t some of those things be in Russian?

It’s sort of a cheat for today, I know, but it’s pretty awesome. And at no point have I made a statement that I had to learn something mind blowing every day. So today’s lesson is just where to find a good online Russian lesson!

*My very favourite Russian in the world can attest to this. When we’ve been drinking, I beg him to speak in Russian — because I quickly discovered that that’s the only time he’ll acquiesce — to see how much of it I can understand. If he speaks slowly and uses words that are similar to those I know in the Slavic language belonging to the Eastern European country in which I used to live, I do well enough based on my understanding of those words (usually food, days of the week/months of the year, sports terms, transportation, basic business like bank and market and basic verbs), his hand motions and where his eyes go in a room. In reality, I actually got to know a lot of the words in the other Eastern European Slavic language from words I already knew in Russian.

**Don’t move to the Midwest. Seriously, don’t do it.