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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Do We Pelt Newlyweds with Rice?

January 11, 2017

Down the Aisle Personalized Art - UncommonGoods

Ah, the wedding celebration, full of cake, kisses, and…chucking Uncle Ben’s? Wedding guests participate in dozens of well-wishing traditions, from toasts to the bouquet toss, and then there’s rice throwing. This peculiar—and some might say cruel—tradition, began with the ancient Romans, who thought it would bring newlyweds an abundance of fertility and a large family. In other words, bring on the babies! But with a lot of slipping spouses and a shifting cultural tide (not everyone wants or can have kids), couples are coming up with new celebratory send-offs—sparklers, fireworks, confetti—and saving their rice for a home-cooked meal for two. Did someone say curry?

Down the Aisle Personalized Art | $300-500

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Biggest Animal in the Big Apple?

December 27, 2016

 

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A supersized pigeon in Bryant Park? Nope. A giant rat terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen? Not even close. New York’s biggest resident by far is a humpback whale seen recently roaming the Hudson River and New York harbor. Nicknamed “Gotham” by whale watchers, the solitary cetacean has been spotted north of the George Washington Bridge down to the waters around Liberty Island. His friends have been spotted in increasing numbers south of the Verrazano Bridge, but Gotham seems to be the only adventurous visitor to the Upper New York Bay and the Hudson.

Gotham’s New York residency seems to be thanks to thriving populations of one of his favorite foods: menhaden (“bunker” to fishermen), a small foraging fish that humpbacks down in gulps of hundreds of pounds. Cleanup and conservation efforts in the Hudson have helped menhaden populations thrive, making New York waters an all-you-can-eat humpback buffet once again. And the good news for these majestic ocean mammals goes well beyond the Big Apple: long endangered, humpbacks in nine of fourteen population segments have recovered to the point that they can be removed from the U.S. endangered species list.

No word on how long Gotham will continue to enjoy New York’s seafood, but one thing is for sure—if he can make it there, he can make it anywhere.

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The Uncommon Life, Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How do Flip Books, Films, and Kinegrams Move?

December 12, 2016
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Our beating heart clock combines elements of art and science in a kinegram, a manipulation of still images to convey a sense of repetitive motion.

 

Remember the simple flip books you made as a kid? A few drawings stacked in sequence, bound, and when flipped, a cartoon hero seemed to run across the page. What was this wizardry that brought crude line drawings to life? It was thanks to an optical phenomenon called the persistence of vision, where the breaks between ‘frames’ go unnoticed because of the inherent lag in how fast our eyes update visual information. On a more grown-up level, the same principle makes the magic of television and movies possible. In fact, films are sometimes called flicks because of the flickering nature of how they work: at least 24 frames per second race before our eyes to make the illusion of continuous motion.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Do Animals Have a Knack for Numbers?

December 5, 2016

Frankie the Frog Watering Can - UncommonGoods

While you shouldn’t count on your cat to help you pass calculus, science shows us that many species are more adept mathematically than we might have thought – particularly in the ability to count. Perhaps the most commonly known animal counters are crows (Adam Duritz may have been onto something, aside from this karaoke favorite), but it turns out that salamanders, honeybees, lions, frogs, chimps, newborn chicks, and others can also count to varying degrees. Frogs searching for mates count the pulses in the croaks they hear to make sure they’re checking out the right species, lions only attack if their pride outnumbers the other, and chimps have shown they’ll both count and add in return for chocolate. Dogs, on the other hand, can’t count beyond 1 (bless their hearts), while wolves are able to discriminate between larger numbers, suggesting the dumb-down is due to our own history of dog domestication. Should these smarts really surprise us, though? Studies have shown that with other animals (especially primates) exhibiting signs of emotions, morality, and altruism, we haughty humans shouldn’t think we’re so special.

Frankie the Frog Watering Can | $42

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Is the Unicorn Ready to Rumble?

November 7, 2016

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With Scotland getting prickly as a thistle about staying in the UK post-Brexit, you might think such strife is a recent phenomenon. Nae, laddy—the roots of unrest between England and Scotland run deep and are reflected in the British royal coat-of-arms itself. The lion and the unicorn therein might look like they’re happily cooperating to support the heraldic shield in the center, but folklore has it that the two beasts aren’t exactly besties. The unicorn hails from the 14th century Scottish coat-of-arms, while the lion traditionally stands for England. And when James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, the two iconic animals were forced into coat-of-arms cooperation. But the beef between the two goes back over 5,000 years to ancient Babylonian mythology, where the unicorn represented spring and the lion stood for summer. Each year, the two fought for supremacy—and each year the lion eventually won. A popular English nursery rhyme reflects this ongoing animosity, as well as historic wars between England and Scotland:

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn
All round about the town.

For the time being at least, these age-old rivals continue to coexist, though the Scottish unicorn may be asking himself “should I stay or should I go?”

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Who Put the Cod in Codswallop?

October 3, 2016

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A favorite PG-13 epithet of Harry’s Potter’s Hagrid, you might assume that “codswallop” is as much of a modern literary invention as “muggle.” But the term pre-dates J. K. Rowling’s lexicon and there’s an interesting debate over its etymology. One camp claims that it’s related to the history of glass bottles. In the 1870s, Hiram Codd invented the marble-stoppered, “Codd-neck” bottle for soft drinks. “Wallop” was the nickname for the cheap beer of the day, so beer drinkers dubbed the contents of Codd’s bottles “a load of coddswallop.” If you can excuse the dropping of one d over time, this colorful tale has a plausible taste. Not so fast, say those in the opposing camp, who claim a similar but somewhat more literal origin: a cod’s wallop, as in the thumping sound a captured cod makes as it flaps around on the deck of a boat. Imagine someone flapping their lips aimlessly like the hapless cod, and again you have a load of codswallop or nonsense. Fishy? Could be that both theories are complete codswallop.

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Uncommon Knowledge: Whose Wish Was Mac’s Command?

September 26, 2016

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Every Mac keyboard sports a propeller-like symbol on the command keys that flank the space bar [], and you might wonder what inspired it. An age-old international symbol for “command?” An overhead diagram of an interstate cloverleaf? No, it hails from a time that Steve Jobs decided they had too many apples. In 1983, Apple computers already had a special key to invoke menu commands. Aptly called the “apple key,” it sported a little apple icon and the same cute fruit appeared next to drop-down menu items with a keyboard command. But when software with extensive menus (like MacDraw) started to look like an over-abundant orchard, Jobs wasn’t happy. According to Apple lore, Jobs complained of too many apples on the screen, exclaiming “we’re taking the Apple logo in vain!” Tasked with finding a crisp, quick alternative, bitmap designer Susan Kare had to find a small, simple icon to stand for “command.” Flipping through her international symbol dictionary for inspiration, she found a flower-like icon used in Scandinavian wayfinding to indicate a nearby historic or cultural attraction. The original icon may have been inspired by St. Hanne’s cross, a Celtic knot-like symbol associated with John the Baptist (sometimes called a shield knot). Over 30 years later, Kare’s cross is still synonymous with “command” for Mac users. Now, if we could just get rid of that spinning rainbow beach ball of doom…

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Uncommon Knowledge: When Did We Start Putting Proof in Our Pudding?

September 19, 2016

Proof is in the Pudding Bowls

The pot calling the kettle black. A stitch in time saves nine. She saw the light. There’s no shortage of idioms—phrases that mean more than the sum of their parts—in the English language. But while some are more or less self-explanatory, others are far more perplexing. Chief among them: The proof is in the pudding. What proof? What pudding? Why would one hide anything in pudding?

There’s a logical reason this one doesn’t quite add up. Over the centuries, the phrase was shortened from the original: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, if you want to know if the pudding is any good, you have to try it out. Hence the current phrase’s meaning that something (say, a plan) can’t be deemed successful until it’s put into action. The original proverb hails from about 14th century Britain, back when the word “proof” meant “test” and “pudding” could also mean “sausage”. Which, in medieval times, was something that really, really needed to be tested before being fully consumed.

Proof is in the Pudding Bowls | $28.99

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