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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Do You Draw Inspiration?

August 29, 2016

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For decades, a light bulb floating over someone’s head has been cartoon shorthand for “eureka!” Often accompanied by a wide-eyed expression and a raised index finger, the avatar of sudden inspiration is an incandescent bulb, lit by the power of a new idea. The light bulb-as-brilliant thought has made its way into countless logos for innovative and educational products and organizations, solidifying the symbol in cultural iconography. But why a light bulb? Why not a flower to represent a blossoming idea or a graduate’s cap to show a spark of intelligence? The general symbol of a light over one’s head may have distant roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions of depicting enlightened figures like angels and saints with brilliant haloes around their heads. For that matter, the dual meaning of “brilliant” points to a natural association between “light-emitting” and “smart.” Historically, images of iconic inventor Thomas Edison (though he perfected the electric light bulb rather than inventing it) holding a light bulb may have encouraged the association between ingenuity and illumination. But the true originator of the “light bulb moment” may be silent-era cartoon star Felix the Cat. Because Felix couldn’t speak (and what cat can?), he often expressed himself with various punctuation and symbols appearing in thought bubbles over his head to supplement his gestures and expressions. Felix’s animators used a light bulb to indicate that the wily feline felt a spark of inspiration.

Nightbulb | $59

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Do Trees Keep in Touch?

August 22, 2016

42282_uk082216Outside of fantasy novels, trees don’t speak or move under their own power. But despite their apparent silence, they do communicate. Researchers have found that trees in North American forests exchange information via a natural network of mycorrhizal connections—a symbiotic system of roots and fungus. Using this organic internet, mature “mother” trees can keep track of their nearby offspring and give them more room and resources. Even trees of different species have been observed using the mycorrhizal network to share sugars if the recipient tree can’t photosynthesize enough nutrients. And a tree can warn others in its network when it’s under attack from pests, giving the unaffected trees more time to produce defensive enzymes. I guess the Motown hit was called “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” because “I Heard it Through the Symbiotic Underground Mycorrhizal Network” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

Grove Tree Ring Print | $40-100

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Does That Little Star Twinkle Twinkle?

August 15, 2016

Wish Upon A Star Diamond Necklace | UncommonGoods
“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” got it all wrong. Stars, it turns out, simply sit pretty and quite still (for burning balls of plasma, that is) above Earth’s atmosphere. When their light passes through the atmosphere, however, it goes through multiple layers of varying densities. Those layers bounce the light around like a pinball machine, making it change color and density. So by the time the light reaches our eyes, it appears to scintillate. This sparkly atmospheric trick is especially strong when stars are on the horizon line. One particularly bright star, Sirius, “twinkles” so much in fact, that’s it’s frequently reported as a UFO.

Wish Upon A Star Diamond Necklace | $148.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Can Artists Win Olympic Gold?

August 10, 2016

Dancer Pose Print | Yoga Art | UncommonGoods

They once could. It was the great vision of International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin to exalt both brain and brawn in a single program. While the concept was met with apprehension at first, in 1912 his dream was realized, and through 1948 the committee awarded artists medals alongside their sporty counterparts. There was one caveat: works of art were only considered if they “glorified a sporting ideal, an athletic competition or an athlete.” Additionally, professional artists were prohibited from entering, resulting in a largely forgettable event that has receded into history. Today, the art contest of yore has evolved into as a parallel exhibition and festival held at the sites of the games, carrying on the Olympics founder’s goal to marry the aesthetic and the athletic.

Dancer Pose Print | $40-$95

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Do You Call a Pancake in North Carolina?

August 8, 2016

Spicy Syrup | UncommonGoods

If you’ve ever asked for a coke, then been asked what kind of coke you wanted, then been utterly confused by the question, you’re familiar with the phenomenon of different areas of the U.S. using different words to describe the same thing. There are more reasons behind these linguistic lunacies than there are words for a sub… or a hoagie, or a grinder (or a hero, a poor boy, or sarney).

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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Who Invented the Hashtag?

August 3, 2016

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Now a ubiquitous symbol used to tag social media content, it’s reasonable to assume that the hashtag [#] must be a Silicon Valley invention that can’t be older than the personal computer—right? #guessagain. Once called a “number sign” or “pound sign,” the character in question first appeared in bookkeeping parlance and typewriter keyboards in the 1880s (not the 1980s). Its modern origins may lie in shorthand for the Roman term libra pondo (“pound weight”), but a recent discovery suggests that the form of the hash mark goes back much farther in human history—WAY back, in fact. While studying Gorham’s cave in Gibraltar, archaeologists found a rough hashtag-like symbol carved into a natural platform of rock. They were confident that the carving was human-made and not the accidental result of activity like butchering game. They’ve dated the carving at around 37,000 BCE and here’s the amazing thing: it wasn’t made by Homo sapiens, but rather by our distant cousins the Neanderthals, making it possibly the oldest humanoid creation ever found. #prehistoricpoundsign #hominidhashtag #neanderthalsarepeopletoo

Game of Phones | $20

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Is There a Higher Porpoise?

August 1, 2016

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Humans aren’t the only mammals to indulge in recreational drugs. Some horses eat hallucinogenic weeds, elephants get drunk on fermented fruit, and big horn sheep nibble narcotic lichen. Add to the list bottlenose dolphins, which have their own unusual source for getting stoned: pufferfish. These fish are known for their ability to blow up like balloons to foil predators, but most species have an even more powerful defense mechanism: tetrodotoxin, a poison that makes them a foul-tasting meal. Having learned that pufferfish are deadly snacks (up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide), dolphins instead enjoy the narcotic effects of low levels of tetrodotoxin dispersed in water. Film crews have documented dolphins playing with inflated puffers like biological beach balls, passing the hapless fish back and forth among their pod. But this game of puffer polo has a higher purpose: to make the annoyed fish release a cloud of tetrodotoxin which is then enjoyed by the pod for its serene, sub-lethal effects. Under its influence, the dolphins float upside down in a trance-like state, apparently enjoying the natural narcotic. Dude.

Blowfish Garden Stake | $100

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Flag Inspired a Frozen Treat?

July 25, 2016

Hot and Cold Soapstone Handheld Bowls | UncommonGoods
What happens if you mix pink, brown, and white?

If those colors come in ice cream form, then what happens is a mouthwatering scoop of heaven. The strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla of Neapolitan ice cream have been colorfully cohabitating in America since the 1870s. But this palate-pleaser hasn’t always drawn from the same palette of flavors. Originally, any three varieties of ice cream might have appeared together (how do they get them to sit so perfectly side by side? More on that later), and it’s thought that the version we love today became standardized simply because those were the three most popular ice cream flavors in America at the time.

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