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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Makes a Planet ‘Just Right?

August 17, 2015


Back in the 1970s, when the search for planets outside our solar system (exoplanets) was little more than a fairy tale, astronomers surmised that Earth was the only spot in our stellar neighborhood where conditions were conducive to life—not so close to the sun that life was too hot to handle, nor so far away that life was given the permanent cold shoulder. Earth’s orbit allowed for abundant liquid water, a key ingredient for the development of life as we know it. Showing their whimsical side, those 70s scientists named this habitable zone the “Goldilocks Zone,” after the little girl who sampled the three bears’ porridge and settled on the bowl that was just right. Officially, this sweet spot of planetary hospitality is called the Circumstellar Habitable Zone, or CHZ, but Goldilocks provided a cuter and more memorable nickname.

Now that the discovery of exoplanets is in full swing, worlds in the Goldilocks Zone of other stars tend to get the most publicity, as they’re most likely to support extraterrestrial life, whether its alien bacteria or little green men. Meanwhile, discoveries here on Earth have us re-thinking the boundaries of the Goldilocks Zone itself. From microbes that flourish under Arctic ice to organisms that hang out in the scalding hot, total darkness around ocean floor volcanic vents, life can exist in places that finicky Goldilocks would have avoided altogether. For that matter, a tiny “bear” has got them all beat: the tardigrade, or “water bear.” Along with surviving in solid ice or boiling water, tardigrades can tolerate cosmic rays and the vacuum of space—conditions way outside of Goldilocks’ comfort zone. These tough little troopers prove that life is far more tolerant than the three bears’ high-maintenance home invader.

A New Day | $40.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Does a Paper Fan Make You Hotter?

August 11, 2015

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Flashback: It’s the last few days of school, there’s no air conditioning, you’re sticking to your desk chair. Suddenly, you remember the stacks of loose-leaf paper tucked in your Trapper Keeper. You draw a quick smiley face with your cherry-scented marker and you quickly fold the paper back and forth, back and forth. You take a moment to admire your handiwork before enjoying the blessed cool air created by your lined paper lifesaver. Life makes sense again. Then, out of nowhere, your teacher utters what should be the official motto of professional educators in the summer: “You know, you’re actually making yourself hotter by using up energy to fan yourself.” According to our research? LIES. Your body loses heat through radiation, thermal conduction, and evaporation through sweat. The latter two occur when the air is cooler and drier than your skin—enter the humble fan. Now here comes the teacher’s argument. Sure, you may feel cooler, but what about the energy you’re expending to move that little fan? Well. When you’re at rest, your body is producing about 100 watts of energy. Waving a fan? Add just one watt. However, with the increased air velocity that the fan produces, you can double your heat loss—that means that for just 1% of the effort, you can be twice as cool. Fan away.

Paper Plane Embroidery Hoop Art | $26.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Can Your Cat Help With a Broken Leg?

August 3, 2015

There are as many theories about why cats purr as there are types of cats (we’re lookin’ at you, T. S. Eliot). It’s common knowledge that cats purr when they’re content, like when they’re being fed or stroked, but their unique, vibrating sound may also have a specific connection to their human masters. A University of Sussex study suggests that cats may have developed a ‘soliciting’ purr to obtain food and attention from humans, similar to the co-evolutionary benefits shared between humans and dogs. But there’s another reason that early humans may have made some feline friends: domestic cats purr at a frequency of 25 – 100 vibrations per second, an ideal range for reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, relieving pain, and promoting healing in both bones and soft tissues. So, essentially, a purring kitty in the vicinity may have served as a form of furry first aid. Elephants, by the way, also make a low-pitched, purr-like sound to communicate, though you probably wouldn’t want one to sit on your lap.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s With Yankee Doodle & Macaroni?

July 27, 2015


We’ve all heard the patriotic ditty about Yankee Doodle heading to town on his pony, sticking a feather in his hat, and calling it Macaroni. The first few things on his to do list sound pretty reasonable: Heading into town on a pony, sure. Sticking a feather in one’s hat, of course, how jaunty! It’s when Mr. Doodle opts to “call it Macaroni” that things get a little off base. Turns out this Macaroni business started as the original lyrical insult. Like a rap battle but with more waistcoats and tricorne hats.

The British soldiers came up with this verse to mock the rough, unsophisticated American colonials they had to fight alongside during the French and Indian War. The whole burn about calling a feather in your hat Macaroni (the very idea!) stemmed from a cultural trend back in England at the time. Young British men of means had begun spending time in Europe in order to become more sophisticated. They returned with outlandish, high fashion clothing and mannerisms, along with a taste for exotic Italian dishes—like macaroni. Now, back to Mr. Doodle. In their song, the soldiers were suggesting that the Yankee was such a bumbling bumpkin that he was trying to imitate the latest style, but failing miserably. That was something a doodle (a fool or simpleton) would do while trying to be a dandy—get it?!?! Being that this is a pretty lame and convoluted insult, the Americans weren’t bothered by it at all and started singing the song themselves. Now stick that in your pipe and call it macaroni.

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Could You Turn Into A Slice Of Pizza?

July 20, 2015

Your parents warned you that if you ate too many pizza slices, you’d turn into one. Turns out, if you ate enough and you were anything like a flamingo, you could have come pretty close. You might have noticed that flamingos can be the iconic pink, orange, or even white. They begin their lives with grey plumage—the color distinction later in life depends on their diet. Flamingos eat algae and crustaceans that contain pigments called carotenoids, mostly brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Enzymes in the liver break down the carotenoids into pink and orange pigment molecules that end up getting deposited in the feathers, bill, and legs of the birds. Captive flamingos tend to be a more vibrant pink since they’re fed more pigmented crustaceans like prawns. We eat foods with carotenoids, like carrots or even watermelon; we just don’t eat enough to affect our skin color.

Pizza Cutter and Server | $20.00