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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Want To Own An Island?

September 8, 2015

Tiki Mixers Kit | UncommonGoods

If you’re comfortable transporting bird feces for a paltry living, you maybe, through a technicality found in an 1856 law, possibly, could own an island. How’s that for good news?! The backstory begins with the booming avian excrement business of the 1800s. For at least 1500 years, Spanish American farmers had used dried sea fowl feces called guano as a nutrient-rich fertilizer. The U.S. wanted in on the lucrative guano business that, at the time, was primarily run out of sea fowl-rich Peru. After many attempts failed, the U.S. passed a bill that became the Guano Islands Act of 1856. It still stands. How does it work? Should a U.S. citizen (that’s you!) find guano upon “any rock, island, or key” that is not currently within lawful jurisdiction of any other government, that person may claim the territory for America. Congress can then choose to give you “exclusive right” to live on the island for the purpose of obtaining guano for the citizen of the United States. The caveat? The bill itself doesn’t make any allowance for inflation so you’ll be pulling in $8 per ton of bird feces. Talk about a party fowl.

Tiki Mixers Kit | $60

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s a Thing?

August 31, 2015

From Big Things | Uncommon Knowledge

What’s a thing? As anyone knows, it’s anything. Literally. It’s an all-purpose word that can mean an object, an affair, a situation, a mild obsession or phobia (she’s really got a thing about spiders), or, with a capital T, a certain large, lumpy, orange member of the Fantastic Four. But here’s the thing: before it was a catch-all term, a thing—from the Old Norse þing, was a sort of democratic assembly held throughout the Viking lands of Northern Europe. Viking things were an early experiment with a representative system, allowing disputes to be settled through nonviolent mediation rather than by the bloody conflict that we tend to associate with the Vikings. The egalitarian, socialist principles of modern Sweden may be traced to the concept of the Viking thing. And while the modern concept of representative democracy has its roots in ancient Greece and the Iroquois confederacy, it also owes something to medieval Scandinavia.

So, the next time you’re going to “a thing,” think of the Vikings who first made a thing an official thing. Just don’t picture the assembled Norsemen with horned helmets… that’s an invention of the nineteenth century imagination. For the real Vikings, sporting horns just wasn’t a thing.

From Little Things Planters – Set of 3 | $45

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Did Coney Island save lives?

August 24, 2015

On the Boardwalk | Uncommongoods

The Brooklyn amusement park certainly saved the lives of roughly 6,500 babies, that’s for sure. Back in 1903, Dr. Martin A. Couney had developed an incubator to treat premature babies. At the time, hospitals had devoted little attention to these early births and therefore had no special equipment developed for them. Before Dr. Couney could convince hospitals to use his invention, he needed proof that it would work—and funding a study was expensive. Enter Coney Island. They set up an attraction that acted as a hospital ward with real doctors and nurses. One wall was made of glass so visitors could pay a dime and see the tiny infants. It may not have been the most dignified facility—outside, carnival barkers would pull people in with loads of sideshow-worthy hyperbole—but his research was essentially paid for and as many as 6,500 babies of the 8,000 treated survived as a result of his set up. He never charged the parents for treatment and eventually, any child who was prematurely born in New York City would be rushed to Coney Island to be placed on exhibit—Couney even treated his own daughter, who weighed less than three pounds at birth. In 1943, the exhibit closed down as more hospitals began to open their own preemie wards. Okay, Wonder Wheel, what have YOU done for the advancement of the medical community recently?

On the Boardwalk by Renee Leone | $145-$230

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