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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: When Did the TV Mom Go from Pie Baker to Moneymaker?

May 3, 2017

Up until the late 1980s, TV moms were apron-wearing, laundry-folding ladies who never raised their voice too high (think: June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver). But eventually screenwriters, perhaps by taking note of their own multi-faceted mothers, changed the game with high-powered working moms like Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show) and Angela Bower (Who’s the Boss). One mom who really challenged the 1950s archetype was Roseanne Conner (Roseanne), the pull-no-punches leader who placed no worth in likability.

So why did it take until 1988 for primetime to depict women with more complexity than a pie baker? Television is about ten years behind on trends, kind of like your mom. In the 1960s and ’70s, women joined the labor force in swarms. Jobs were readily available, and women were given the opportunity to prove they could do it all. TV was late to the game and has continued to improve with characters like Selina Meyer (VEEP) and Cookie Lyon (Empire), but there’s still a long way to go. If we’re going to solve gender inequality for moms and daughters (looking at you, pay gap and paid family leave) let’s take advantage of where we have people’s attention: the small screen.

 

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Top Trend?

April 17, 2017

From powdered wigs to Beanie Babies, trends come and go. And when they go, they tend to go in one of two directions. Trends that stick (e.g. blue denim pants) become classics, while trends that don’t (e.g. hunkerin’) are relegated to the quirky realm of fads. Either way, who can keep up? It’s almost like the cycle of trends is constantly spinning. At this point, an etymologist might exclaim, “exactly!”

Since the late 18th century, trend has described popular but fleeting phenomena and, apropos to it’s cyclical nature, the word hails from the Old English trendan—to rotate or spin. Trendan, in turn, is a cognate with the Middle High German word trendel, which came to mean a spinning disk or top. If trendel sounds vaguely familiar, that may be thanks to a classic Hannukah toy: the dreidel, possibly related to trendel through the linguistic mash-up of Yiddish. Both trendels and dreidels may trace their ancestry to the teetotum, a top-like gambling toy introduced to Europe through the Roman Empire. So the term trend itself might be based on a popular diversion that was once all the rage.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Does Cupid Get the Lead Out?

February 6, 2017

Christmas has its jolly old elf, Easter has its hopping bunny, and Valentine’s Day has Cupid—a chubby, winged toddler wielding a bow and arrow. When you stop to think, this mischievous child taking aim at one of our major organs (sometimes blindfolded) is a formidable, even frightening ambassador for an otherwise lovely holiday. Nonetheless, a heart pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows has become shorthand for being in love, gracing many a middle school desk and lovers’ favorite tree. But is that arrow always friendly fire? Turns out that love’s archer has two types of ammunition: the familiar gold arrows that make people fall head over heels, and lesser-known lead arrows that put people permanently in the “friend zone.” In the story of Apollo and Daphne, Cupid used one of each, making Apollo forever hot for Daphne, and the nymph forever giving him the cold shoulder. Hit by Cupid’s lead arrow, Daphne even had her father (Peneus, the river god) turn her into a tree to make herself permanently unavailable. Talk about barking up the wrong tree.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Aren’t There More Mid-November Babies?

January 30, 2017

First comes love…then comes marriage…then comes a below-average birth rate. With all the candlelight dinners, slow jams, and suggestive gifts, you’d reasonably assume that Valentine’s Days might lead to Valentine’s nights full of procreation, resulting in a surge of births nine months later (mid-November). Turns out that that time of year is a low point in birthday popularity. Several factors may counter Cupid’s arrows on February 14th, including the fertility-reducing factor of romantic holiday anxiety and natural cycles that discourage births right before the coldest months of the year. But of course, highly effective modern birth control methods also mean that celebrations of love don’t necessarily bring baby showers. So what’s the month that welcomes the most babies into the world? September, with the majority of statistical top-ten birthdays. Nine months before that? Mid to late December, meaning that mistletoe might be a more effective aphrodisiac than chocolate roses.

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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?

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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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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

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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.

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