Fun Facts

The following is a list of “Today I Learned”-esque facts that I’ve stumbled across and found interesting.

Computer Science

  • Sosumi is an alert sound introduced in Apple’s 1991 Macintosh System 7 OS. The name is an unsubtle derivative of “so sue me,” a jab at record label Apple Corp, which sued Apple for using sound in their products. The sound has been included in all subsequent versions of macOS. Here’s a sample of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlFGmGaq-0M.
  • Cloudflare has a wall of lava lamps that it uses to generate entropy for it’s crypto keys. The Lava Lamps That Help Keep The Internet Secure
  • Bluetooth is a name that was borrowed from the 10th century Viking king of Denmark, King Harald Bluetooth. He was famous for uniting disparate parts of Scandanavia just as the Bluetooth standard was intended to unite different devices wirelessly. According to legend, he got the name “Bluetooth” because he ate so many blueberries that his teeth were stained blue.
  • Most time zones differ by UTC by increments of whole hours, but there are some unusual exceptions. For example, India Standard Time is at UTC +5:30 and New Zealand is at UTC +12:45.
  • The word “Algorithm” comes from the name Al-Khwārizmī, who was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, geographer, and scholar in Badhdad. One of his books, “Ilm al-jabr wa’l-muḳābala,” is where the term “Algebra” originates. “al-jabr” translates to “the reunion of broken parts.”
  • There is a StackOverflow thread with over 388,000 views and 36 answers on the most efficient algorithm for pairing socks.
  • 15-30% of the world’s web traffic is handled by a single company, Akamai, which provides a Content Delivery Network (CDN) platform.
  • In computing, daemon is a backronym for “Disk And Execution MONitor.”
  • Donald Knuth, one of the founding fathers of computer science, has not used e-mail since 1991. “E-mail is great for people who need to be on top of things. My role in life is not to be on top of things, but to be on the bottom of things. It’s best for me to be a bit of a hermit and have time for things that require a long attention span with no interruptions. E-mail’s name of the game is interruption.” source
  • The “XP” in Windows XP stood for “eXPerience.”
  • In 2011, biology student Michael Eisen discovered a textbook on Amazon about flies that was selling for over $23 million. Why did this happen? Competing sellers were setting prices algorithmically. Seller A would price his at 1.2x Seller B’s price, and Seller B would price his at .99x Seller A’s price. With no limits set, the warring algorithms eventually spiraled out of control.
  • In 2005, a group of MIT students realized that the new Cash WinFall game created by the Massachusetts State Lottery had a positive expected payoff in certain situations. They exploited this and made several million dollars.

Science

  • Genentech was originally going to be called HerBob, an amalgamation of its founders’ names, Herbert W. Boyer and Robert A. Swanson (source).
  • Mike the Headless Chicken was a chicken who lived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. On September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Colorado selected Mike for dinner. He chopped Mike’s head off, but the axe missed the jugular vein, leaving most of the brain stem intact. Mike survived. He even was able to balance on a perch, attempted to preen, and peck for food. Farmer Olsen fed him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and he survived for 18 months.
  • In the early 1900s, before much was understood about the dangers of radioactivity, America developed an obsession with radium. Its self-luminous properties were used to make everything from paint to glow-in-the-dark watch faces. The Radium Girls were women who worked in watch factories and contracted radiation poisoning from working with it.
  • The first telegraph was sent on My 22, 1844, by Samuel Morse. The message read, “What hath God wrought?” It was a Biblical reference to Numbers 23:23. source
  • Reed College, the small liberal arts school in Oregon, is home to a nuclear reactor. The Reed Research Reactor was built in 1968 and is the only reactor operated primarily by undergraduates.

Politics

  • Vice President Mike Pence’s childhood nickname was “Bubbles,” because he was “chubby and funny.”
  • According to a study referenced in The Economist, given two natural disasters that inflict the same amount of damage, American presidents have been twice as likely to declare a disaster when one occurs in a swing state like Ohio or Florida.
  • North Korea has all kinds of clever ways of funding its operations. Including smuggling heroin into Australia and building giant statues all over Africa.
  • North Korea has the world’s fourth largest standing army, with 950,000-1,190,000 troops conscripted as of 2012 (source).
  • When the secret service was founded in 1865, shortly after the Civil War, up to half of the U.S. monetary supply was counterfeit. The original role of the secret service was to combat counterfeiting.
  • The distribution of gun ownership in America is extremely skewed. While there are an estimated 265 million guns in the U.S., 78% of Americans do not own a single firearm. Just 3% of Americans own 50% of the guns (an average of 17 guns each). source.
  • Ukraine is just called Ukraine, not the Ukraine.

Geography

  • “Gotham” was an early nickname for New York City and is famous for being the setting of Batman. The name comes from another city, Gotham, Nottinghamshire, which, in Old English, translates to “goat home.”

Economics

  • From March 1989 - March 1990, Argentina experienced inflation of 20,000 percent. source
  • The biggest check ever written was for $9 billion. In the fall of 2008, Morgan Stanley needed a bailout. Mitsubishi decided to extend a $9 billion loan to keep the firm from collapsing. The payment was supposed to be sent electronically. However, since the payment needed to be made on an emergency basis on Columbus day, when banks are closed, Mitsubishi sent a physical check.
  • China poured more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the United States poured during the entire 20th century. source

Misc

  • Elon Musk owns a website called x.com. When you visit the home page, it simply displays “x.” If you visit any other page, it displays “y.”
  • OreIda, the American potato-based frozen foods company, is named because it was established on the border between Oregon and Idaho (source).
  • Warren Buffett owns a 2001 Lincoln Town Car with the license plate, “THRIFTY” (source).
  • The word “lens” comes from the word “lentil” because of their similarity in shape (source).
  • Sturgeon’s Law states that “ninety percent of everything is crap.”
  • Victor Lustig was a con artist who successfully tricked the two biggest scrap metal businesses in France into buying the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. He’s known as “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice.”
  • Umberto Eco’s anti-library is essentially the idea that, paradoxically, unread books can be more valuable than read ones. It’s important to understand the value of a personal library as a research tool, not as a mere ornament of accumulated knowledge. I first encountered this idea in one of my favorite books, Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan.

Updated:

Comments