Posts filed under ‘Geek’

Bluetooth Technology is Named After a King

By Chad Upton | Editor-in-chief

King Harald Gormsson ruled Denmark from c. 958 until his death in 985 or 986 (sources vary). He also dabbled in ruling Norway for a few years starting in roughly c. 970.

bluetooth_vikings

He is known for building the first bridge in southern Scandinavia. It was a huge bridge for the time at 5 meters (5.5 yards) wide and 760 meters (831 yards) long. Bridges were of course useful, and this was the longest known bridge in the Viking era — a prestigious symbol for the builder. (more…)

May 21, 2014 at 8:00 am 2 comments

Dogs Poop in Alignment with Earth’s Magnetic Field

By Chad Upton | Editor

In case you don’t know, the Earth is basically one giant magnet. That’s why a compass always points to magnetic North. This is extremely useful for navigation and other location based activities.

Apparently, dogs also find it useful for pooping.

Dog Hydrant

Photo: Scott Spaeth (cc)

Scientists recently published a paper describing their observations and analysis of the direction that dogs poop. For two years they monitored 70 dogs and recorded the axis upon which they defecate. (more…)

March 27, 2014 at 11:00 am 7 comments

Fake Art Can Be Detected Because of Nuclear Bombs Detonated in 1945

By Chad Upton | Editor

Art forgers have become experts at creating the types of paints and canvases used during popular and valuable art periods, to the point that art experts may not be able to distinguish a fake from the real thing.

But, Dr Elena Basner, a long time art curator, worked with scientists to create a much better way to detect forged oil paintings.

Prior to the first nuclear bomb detonation in July of 1945, isotopes such as strontium-90 and cesium-137 simply did not exist in nature. They were created by the massive neutron bombardments that occur during a thermonuclear explosion.

Since those isotopes didn’t exist in nature prior to 1945, paintings created prior to 1945 could not contain them originally.

550 nuclear bombs were detonated from 1945 to 1963, when most nations agreed not to test nuclear weapons any longer. The isotopes created during this period bind with the types of crops that are used to produce oil based paints. Therefore, oil paintings created after 1945 will contain trace amounts of these new isotopes.

If someone is trying to pass a work that is dated prior to 1945, but it contains these isotopes, it is almost certainly a fake.

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Sources: TheArtNewspaper.com, Wikipedia (Nuclear Weapon)

November 20, 2012 at 2:00 am 4 comments

The US Postal Service is FedEx’s Largest Customer

By Chad Upton | Editor

FedEx Express currently owns 697 airplanes, with another 48 on order. That makes FedEx the 6th largest airline by fleet size. They operate more Airbus 300 and 310 airplanes than any other airline and there are only five airlines with more planes than FedEx.

  1. Delta Air Lines
  2. SkyWest
  3. United Airlines
  4. Lufthansa
  5. Southwest Airlines

The next five airlines after FedEx are: American Airlines, Air France-KLM, International Airlines Group, Air Canada, and Chine Southern Airlines.

The FedEx airfreight concept was dreamt up by Fred Smith who wrote a college paper proposing the idea. His professor gave the paper a ‘C’ grade and that’s kind of how the company started out in 1971.

At one point, the company was losing up to a million US dollars per month. Smith tried to raise capital from General Dynamics, who turned him down. While waiting for his flight home to Memphis, he decided to take a detour to Las Vegas where he won $27,000 — enabling the company to make payroll the week after.

That gave him enough time to raise between $50 and $70 million in additional funding. By 1976, it was a profitable company that set many trends in the industry. They were the first shipping company to computerize and offer parcel tracking. In 1994, they were the first shipping company offer online tracking.

Tip: Enter a FedEx, UPS or USPS tracking number in google and you’ll get a link to the tracking info.

Fedex’s largest customer is actually the US Postal Service. This is a bit strange since FedEx introduced its overnight mail service in 1981 to compete directly with the USPS’s express mail service. But, in 2001, FedEx signed a deal to carry Express and Priority Mail for the USPS — that contract has been extended to 2013.

Last but not least, the FedEx logo has an arrow between the letters “E” an “x”.

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Sources: wikipedia (world’s largest airlines, fedex)

March 8, 2012 at 2:00 am 3 comments

The Dropped Call Rules

By Chad Upton | Editor

No matter which mobile phone carrier you use, you’ll eventually drop a call with somebody. Even if you don’t have a cellphone, you still have to deal with dropped calls when you’re talking with people who do.

Sometimes you both try to call each other at the same time and get each other’s voicemail. Other times, you try to call the other person and they’re still talking away, oblivious to the fact that the call was dropped.

Rule #1: Whoever initiated the call, initiates the call back after a dropped call.

To some, this rule is obvious. But, it needs to be stated to remove any confusion and prevent the double voicemail dilemma.

Rule #2: Whoever was listening when the call was dropped, remembers the last sentence the other person said.

This is less obvious, but since the listener is the only one who knows exactly when the call was dropped; they need to remember the last sentence or at least the topic — this may be the same person who needs to call the other person back.

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Photo: addicted eyes (cc)

December 8, 2011 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Finding Home and End on a Mac Keyboard

By Chad Upton | Editor

I use both Mac and Windows computers and I appreciate some attributes of each. For example, I really like the home and end keys on Windows keyboards. These guys make it a breeze to select a single line of text or jump to the end of the line to keep writing after an edit.

Because Apple market share is at an all time high, I’m sure a lot of people are going to notice the absence of these keys when they switch. Unless you’ve got the full-size apple keyboard, the “home” and “end” keys are absent on your desktop or macbook keyboard. But, if you hold down the fn (or control) key, you can use the left and right arrow keys as home and end keys respectively. Hold shift while doing this to select the characters between cursor positions.

Speaking of the Mac keyboard, the delete key is equivalent to the backspace key on a Windows computer — it deletes characters to the left of the cursor. But, you can make Mac’s delete key function like the Windows delete key if you hold the fn key while pressing it — deleting characters to the right. Another favorite keyboard shortcut on Mac OS is fn + F11 which will temporarily hide your windows to expose your desktop, allowing you to easily select files without going to the finder or minimizing all of your windows. Then press fn+F11 to bring all your windows back to their original positions.

By the way, you can plug a Windows USB keyboard into a Mac, although not all of the task keys function the way they do on a PC.

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January 10, 2011 at 2:00 am 36 comments

9 Volt Batteries Contain 6 AAAA Batteries

By Chad Upton | Editor

The batteries in most consumer electronics produce 1.5 volts each.

Different products use different numbers of batteries to achieve different voltage requirements. For example, a TV remote might be designed to run on 3 volts, so two 1.5 volt batteries will provide the necessary voltage when connected in series.

Larger devices, such as radios with large speakers or large kid’s toys, typically have larger batteries, like C and D cells. Smaller devices often use AA and AAA batteries, allowing the devices themselves to be smaller. All of these batteries output 1.5 volts, but the larger batteries have much higher capacities, meaning they last longer. D batteries have four times the capacity as AA’s. So, if you’re going to be blasting music on the beach, you’ll change fewer batteries if your radio uses D batteries.

There are many other types of batteries that are not 1.5 volts. One of the most popular is the nine-volt battery, which is technically called a PP3 battery. Smoke detectors, garage door remotes, transistor radios and a variety of other devices use these batteries.

They’re pretty convenient, giving you the voltage of six batteries after only inserting one battery. In fact, that’s exactly what they are — they’re just containers that link six smaller batteries together. Here’s a picture of a nine-volt battery that I took apart:

Each of the six batteries outputs 1.5 volts, giving a total of 9 volts when connected in series. The name brand nine-volt batteries usually contain six quadrouple A batteries (AAAA) which are rather uncommon in consumer electronics but find a home in medical devices such as glucose meters.

Some of the lesser known battery brands may contain 6 flat cells which are not easily reusable. As you can see in the picture above, AAAA batteries are very close in size to AAA cells. That’s worth noting since they could save the day if you’re short on AAAs:

Keep in mind, device manufacturers often use standard batteries in their rechargeable products and you can replace them yourself.

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Sources: Wikipedia (Batteries: D, AA, AAAA, nine-volt)

December 20, 2010 at 2:00 am 6 comments

Commonly Misquoted Phrases

By Chad Upton | Editor

Admittedly, I am not an English professor. There are many occasions when readers have corrected me, and I appreciate it, that’s what this site is all about — learning new things.

I’ve noticed a few common phrases that frequently get misquoted in conversations. Even if you know the correct phrase, you might not know it’s meaning or origin. If you’ve got others, share it in comments at the bottom.

Tide over

common misquotes: tie over, tied over

The word “tide” is an obsolete word for time, although it’s still with us in words like “Yuletide” (Christmas Time).

The phrase comes from sailors who had to anchor (or compromise progress) when there was no wind to fill their sails — to prevent the tide from pushing them backwards or off course. The earliest recorded use of the phrase can be found in A Sea Grammar (1627), “To Tide ouer to a place, is to goe ouer with the Tide of ebbe or flood, and stop the contrary by anchoring till the next Tide.”

Down the pike

common misquote: down the pipe

If you’re talking about something in a pipeline, whether it’s literal or metaphorical (like a sales pipeline), then “pipe” does make sense. But, if you’re talking about anything else, then it’s probably “coming down the pike.”

The etymology is pretty straight forward, in this context, “pike” simply refers to “turnpike”, which is a major roadway, usually a toll road. In other words, it just means that something is coming down the road.

Flesh Out

common misquote: flush out

Much like, “coming down the pipe“, “flush out” is a real phrase. But, “flush out” is often used when people actually mean, “flesh out.”

To “flush out”, means to expose or release something, like flushing the toilet. It comes from bird hunting, where one flushes out a flock of birds. To “flesh out” is to bring something to life, to make it real. If you take an idea and make it real, you have put flesh on a skeleton.

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Photos: skipnclick (cc), MuseumWales (cc)

Sources: The Free Dictionary (turnpike), Google (pike), UsingEnglish, phrases.org.uk, Wikipedia (Tide), Paul Brians (Washington State University)

October 22, 2010 at 2:00 am 29 comments

How to Tell Which Printing a Book is From

By Chad Upton | Editor

Books were once a luxury.

That changed with the printing press, making duplication of books faster and cheaper, which made books more accessible to common people. Eventually, public libraries made books available to everyone in a community.

The way we access books is changing again, by eReaders like the Kindle and iPad.

If you browse the Kindle forums on Amazon.com, you may notice that eBook snobs refer to normal books as DTBs (Dead Tree Books). While eBooks are a status symbol now, they may eventually be the way common people access books, making paper books a luxury once again, reserved for expensive hardcovers and collector editions.

For some people, the only books they have ever read were the ones they had to read in school. This year, many high schools and colleges are using iPads and Kindles to distribute reading materials. It’s not because they’re fancy, it’s actually quite practical.

Although the initial cost of the device is high, the cost to create and distribute electronic books is almost negligible. The cost of a Kindle ($139) is about the price of two or three large college textbooks. At that rate, the device could pay for itself in the first semester.

Because it is much cheaper, faster and easier to download books, eBooks may eventually replace paper books as the primary way we read. Like I said, the reading devices are expensive, but even if people don’t want to buy a dedicated device, chances are good they already own one that is compatible. Amazon has already made software that allows Kindle books to be downloaded and read on Windows and Mac computers, iPads and iPods, along with all of the major smartphone platforms (iPhone, Blackberry and Android).

The future of books may be eBooks. In the meantime, it’s hard to know how popular paper books are, unless you know this secret.

When a book is printed for the first time, the publisher doesn’t know how well it will sell. They print a limited number of books to minimize the risk of their investment. If the book sells well, they can always print more.

Most publishers list the number of the printing in an ambiguous format on the publishers copyright page near the front of the book. They put the numbers 1 through 10 on their own line near the bottom of the copyright page. Sometimes, they’re in left to right order from 1 to 10. Other times, the numbers alternate from left side to right side, with 10 in the center.

The lowest number you can see on this line is the printing that the book is from. When a book goes into its second printing, the number 1 is removed. On the third printing, the number 2 is removed and so on.

1st Printing

9th Printing

12th Printing

You can see that the numbers alternate from left to right. They sometimes do that so the remaining numbers stay centered without adjusting the printing of the remaining numbers. If you see them in a book and they are not alternated, the remaining numbers will be off to one side instead of being centered (they don’t normally adjust the type to re-center it).

Sometimes, printings are confused with editions. A book may go through many printings and still be considering the “First Edition.” Generally, the edition doesn’t change unless the content in the book or the publisher changes.

The images above are from one of my favorite books, The Book of Awesome. As you can see, this book has been extremely successful — it’s in its 12th printing! Frankly, it is an awesome book and I’m not just saying that because I’m trying to be funny or because I’m in the book — the sales speak for themselves, it is a great book.

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Sources: Travelin Librarian, Between the Covers, Wikipedia (Books), Kotaku

September 24, 2010 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Quantum Teleportation is Real

By Chad Upton

We know a lot about the world around us. We have a pretty good understanding of forces such as gravity and magnetic fields. We know a lot about barely visible subatomic particles and even invisible energy such as radio waves.

We can control and measure most of these amazing things and they really are amazing. Think back over a thousand years. Could you imagine what it was like when magnets were first discovered? The amazement, confusion and challenge to explain how they worked.

Due to recent developments, we are in a similar state of fascination.

When you read “quantum teleportation” in the title,  you probably had visions of something from Star Trek where people and objects are transported from one location to another. That is teleportation but it’s not quantum teleportation.

In quantum teleportation, no visible object is moved from one place to another. Rather, quantum information is moved from one place to another.

It starts with entanglement of two atoms or particles such as ions or photons. In simple terms, they are “tied” together. When separated, something amazing can be observed. Changing the state of one, the state of the other changes to match. This phenomena has been observed when the two have been separated by a distance of a few meters (10 feet), 16 km (10 miles) and even 144 km (89 miles).

No, it won’t let you visit your grandma in Montana and your other grandma in Malta on the same day, but the potential is still amazing.

You’ve probably seen a satellite interview on TV noticed there is a huge delay between the two people talking. That’s what happens when shipping information to space and back on each side of the screen. But, Quantum information moves extremely fast so there would be negligible delay if it could one day be used for communication (it can’t for now).

Although a bit awkward sometimes, we can live with delayed satellite interviews. But, as we try to explore deep space, communication delays could become a factor that prevents or severely delays exploration. One day, cell phones might use this technology to eliminate dropped calls and dead zones. In communications, the possibilities are endless.

We can’t even imagine how this might affect other areas of science and that’s because we don’t really understand how it works. But, scientists believe these entangled particles exist in nature and there are potentially billions of them. Of course, we don’t know which ones they are or where the other half of their entangled pair is. Maybe there is some truth behind the notion that one twin feels something when their identical twin experiences something traumatic. Maybe there’s even some science to prove it.

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Sources: Wikipedia (QT), Quantum (Entangled QT, First QT),  The Future of Things , Ars Technica

Photo: Thomas Shahan (cc)

July 14, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

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