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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Has a Snowflake Ever Met its Match?

December 11, 2015

Snow Gauge | UncommonGoods

You may have heard the conventional wisdom that no two snowflakes are alike—the mind-boggling notion that every single one of the billions of snowflakes that fall on the earth each year is, well, special. While this observation is essentially true, the devil’s in the tiny, crystalline details. Basically, there’s nothing in the natural laws that govern the formation of these little beauties that says they have to be one-of-a-kind. They’re all made of water molecules that crystallize in the atmosphere with a characteristic hexagonal geometry. In 1988, Nancy Knight, a researcher for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, reported finding two flakes of the hollow column type captured from a Wisconsin snowstorm that were a visual match. The thing is, even that extremely rare pair was different on the atomic level. In other words, while it’s possible for two flakes to have an identical arrangement of water molecules, it’s not exactly probable, and ultimately impossible to verify. So if the notion of special snowflakes is frozen in your mind, you should just let it go…

Snow Gauge | $80

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Broad is the Side of a Barn?

December 8, 2015

Barn Wood USA Side Table | UncommonGoods

What’s the latest discovery in particle physics? The fact that physicists actually have a whimsical sense of humor. For one thing, the vocabulary of this esoteric field includes the quirky term “barn.” It’s a minuscule unit of measurement based on the cross-sectional area of a uranium nucleus and describes the tiny target for colliding nuclear particles. But why “barn” for something so…much smaller than a barn? It’s derived from the old saying that someone “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” riffing on the difficulty of shooting charged particles at the world’s smallest bullseye.  Bonus fact: there are two minor measurement terms related to “barn” which follow the farm building metaphor—an “outhouse,” and a “shed.” Could be “chicken coop” was already taken by the guys over in nanotechnology.

Barn Wood USA Side Table | $198

Uncommon Knowledge

Do Your Genes Make You Wander?

December 7, 2015

Cork Globe | UncommonGoodsWe all have those friends who update their social media from a different country every month; who come home for the holidays with stories of faraway lands, intoxicating food, and future adventures. So what makes some chase waterfalls while others are more than happy to stick the rivers and the lakes that they’re used to?

Turns out, your genetics can determine whether you’re a nester or a wanderluster. In 1999, a group of four scientists at UC Irvine set out to explore the migration patterns and gene pool distribution of prehistoric human beings. Originally intending to find a link between the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) and Attention Deficit Disorder, they discovered another correlation: people with DRD4 genes tend to be thrill-seeking and migratory.

Almost all of the study participants with this gene had a long history of traveling—and this phenomenon can be traced back to where we came from and whether our ancestors were migratory. Only a small portion of the genetic pool contains this trait. Most of the population prefers to “develop intensive methods for using limited amounts of land.” Possessors of the DRD4 gene, however, are intent on seeking out uninhabited (or in modern times, unfamiliar) lands to find fresh resources. Happy travels!

Cork Globe | $129.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Can’t I Shoot My Favorite Painting?

December 6, 2015

Smartphone Spy Lens | UncommonGoods

Before the age of smartphones, most museums had a no-photo, not-even-without-flash, don’t-even-think-about-it policy. There were multiple reasons for shutting down shutterbugs: first, concern over copyright of artwork and nefarious reproduction; second, good security practice meant museums didn’t want would-be crooks conducting “research;” third, flashes degrade painting pigments and delicate works on paper over time; fourth—and maybe most surprising—looking through a viewfinder makes people clumsy. In other words, you’re more likely to back into a rare sculpture or fall into a priceless painting. Now that everyone has a sophisticated camera in their pocket, it’s a whole new ballgame, and museums are challenged to adapt. Many have embraced the crowd-sourcing potential of social media, letting people Instagram-away as a means of engagement and creative looking. Improved security systems have made casing the joint with a camera less of an issue, but distracted, selfie-stick wielding visitors remain a threat to collections. So, next time you say “cheese” in front of a Van Gogh or O’Keefe, just check the museum’s photo policy and take care. When you shoot artwork, don’t shoot to kill.

Smartphone Spy Lens | $20

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Can a Sheep Say They Never Forget a Face?

December 4, 2015

Recycled Glass Sheep Night Light | UncommonGoods

It’s a refrain uttered at many a cocktail party: “Oh, sorry, buddy I’m terrible with names; great at faces, though!” This might make Jim? Bill? Bob? Steve? feel a little unappreciated, but it is technically true. Humans can recognize hundreds, if not thousands of individual faces. Sheep, however? They may not fare as well at a high school reunion.

Studies have shown that sheep can only recognize the individual faces of up to 50 sheep. While their facial recognition skills are rather sophisticated compared to other animals, what if a sheep wants to see the world? Go to college? Start a 51-sheep dance troupe? Could get tricky. A team of British scientists put sheep’s memory to the test by showing them 25 pairs of sheep faces, with one out of each pair being associated with a food reward. After about 30 trials, sheep were about to correctly recognize the food-related faces 80% of the time. In the following weeks, sheep were shown photos of the same sheep, only this time the photos were of their profiles, rather than head-on shots. Sheep were still able to recognize the food-related sheep, even though they’d never seen them from that perspective before. However, these memories eventually began to fade and after 600-800 days, their recognition levels began to decline.

So if you’re going to upset a sheep, maybe wait a solid 800 days to come around again.


Recycled Glass Sheep Night Light | $38.00