Sunday, May 26, 2019

Cats Have Super Psychedelic Vision

Science has known that birds, insects, reptiles, and fish can detect ultraviolet light. Recent studies show that more animals share this ability than originally believed. A new study shows that cats and dogs may be able to see UV, too.

Cats are nocturnal and have been thought of as being able to see in the dark. They have long been a symbol of the mysterious. It's now believed they can see things invisible to humans such as psychedelic stripes on flowers and flashy patterned feathers on birds. The secret to this is ultraviolet light detection, an ability shared by many animals but not humans. Snow reflects UV but white fur does not, allowing reindeer to see polar bears at a distance. Humans would just see a blur of all white.

It is assumed that most mammals do not see UV because they have no visual pigment sensitive to UV. They have lenses like those of man that prevent UV from reaching the retina. Certain people, such as those who have had their lenses replaced during cataract surgery, can see some UV, but most humans cannot.

Humans are good at seeing detail. If we didn't have a lens that removed the UV so that we don't see it, the world would appear more blurry.

Next week I'll share some facts about dogs.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


I think everyone has some superstition that they relate to, even if it's nothing more than saying "knock on wood" or making it a point to not walk under a ladder just in case. And then there's that moment's pause when they realize it's Friday the 13th.

The office of President of the United States does not make the occupant immune to adhering to the call of a superstition. I recently came across a list of some of the U.S. Presidents and their superstitious beliefs.

George Washington
On his deathbed in 1799, George Washington expressed his fear of being buried alive. He insisted his body be untouched for two days after his death. Common during the 18th century, this fear came due to the dead being buried very quickly as bodies weren't embalmed.

William Henry Harrison
The Curse of Tippecanoe, also known as the 20-year curse, is attributed to Harrison—elected in 1840 and died in 1841 after serving only 31 days as president. A dispute between President Harrison and Tecumseh, a Shawnee Indian leader, is said to be the reason presidents who were elected or re-elected in years ending in zero died in office—Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, and Kennedy. Reagan, elected in 1980, survived an assassination attempt which seems to have ended the curse.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln claimed to have visions of the future and accurately predicted his own death. He dreamed he saw his dead body and a soldier told him he had been assassinated. He also saw two versions of himself in a mirror which he interpreted to mean he would be elected to a second term but would not survive it.

Ulysses S. Grant
President Grant had an unusual superstition that probably served him well as president. Grant is quoted as saying, "Everyone has his superstitions. One of mine has always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, never to turn back or to stop until the thing intended was accomplished."

William McKinley
President McKinley always wore a red carnation on his lapel. He gave away his lucky carnation if he thought someone needed luck and would replace it with a new carnation. He gave away his good luck charm at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. During the event, Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley who died on September 14, 1901.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt feared the number 13—an affliction called triskaidekaphobia—and avoided traveling on Fridays and the 13th day of each month. President Herbert Hoover also had the same affliction.

Harry S. Truman
Upon becoming president, Harry Truman put a horseshoe over the door to his office in the White House. He also installed a horseshoe pit on the White House lawn. Horseshoes are a symbol of good luck and typically hung over the entrance to a home.

Gerald Ford
President Ford believed the election would be won by whichever candidate's wife won the Family Circle baking contest. His wife, Betty Ford, won the contest with her double chocolate chip cookie recipe. Although her husband eventually became president, it wasn't until after Richard Nixon resigned. Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush all won the contest and their husbands were elected president.

Ronald Reagan
Nancy Reagan hired astrologer Joan Quigley to plan her husband's schedule following an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Quigley guided the agenda concerning the president's cancer surgery as well as diplomacy issues and Cold War meetings. When the press revealed Nancy's involvement in astrology, she quickly downplayed it.

James Earl Carter
In 1969, Jimmy Carter saw a red and green orb. He was convinced he saw a UFO and filed a report with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma. A decade later, while serving as president, he claimed to see a vicious rabbit on a solo fishing trip but his staff brushed it off.

George W. Bush
As a young boy, George W. Bush supposedly saw ghosts coming out of the walls near the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. He described the White House as "creepy." During his presidency, the White House's website detailed the historic White House ghosts.

Barack Obama
In 2008 Obama said, "We realized that we had played basketball before Iowa and before South Carolina. We didn't play basketball before New Hampshire and Nevada. And so now, we've made a clear rule that on Election Day I have to play basketball."

Donald J. Trump
Donald Trump has been known to throw salt over his left shoulder after a meal and has described himself as a "very superstitious person." The superstition itself originated from the believe that the devil lurked behind you. The salt supposedly distracted the devil from causing harm.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Travel Trivia: 10 Miscellaneous Facts From Around The World

I came across an article recently that listed bits of trivia about various travel destinations.  Little snippets of miscellaneous information usually not included in travel guides.  Things I found interesting.  I hope you find them interesting, too.
1)  Mt. Everest
It's a commonly known fact that Mt. Everest, on the Nepal–Tibet border, is the highest point on earth.  You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you?  Well, apparently it isn't.  The precise height of Mt. Everest is somewhat disputed.  It's generally thought to be 29,029ft (8848m) above sea level.  And that interesting little fact?  It's still growing!  Mt. Everest is pushing upward at a rate estimated to be 4mm a year thanks to the clash between two tectonic plates.

2)  Mexico City
While Mt. Everest is growing, the interesting little fact about Mexico City is that it's sinking at an average rate of 10cm a year which is 10 times faster than the sinking rate of Venice, Italy.  And the reason for this?  Mexico City was built on a soft lake bed and subterranean water reserves have subsequently been pumped out from beneath the city.  The result?  The city is sinking.

3)  Vatican City
The world's smallest independent state, 44 hectares (110 acres) is totally encircled by Rome.  The Vatican's Swiss Guard still wears the uniform inspired by Renaissance painter Raphael.  Its population is 800 with only 450 of those being citizens.  It even has its own coins which are legal tender throughout Italy and the EU.
4)  El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles
What is all that?  In English it's Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.  It's the shortened version that's better known today—the city of Los Angeles in the U.S. state of California.  The town came into being in 1781 and today, in an area of downtown Los Angeles referred to as Olvera Street, there is a cluster of museums, ancient plazas and lively markets providing a taste of life in 1800s Los Angeles.

5)  Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Aire
What is all that?  In English it's Our Lady St. Mary of the Good Air, better known today as the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina.  It's the best spot to savor the tango.  Don't take the tango lightly in Buenos Aires.  It's serious business.
6)  London Underground
London's Metropolitan Railway was the world's first subway, opened in 1863.  The first section ran between Paddington and Farringdon and was a hit in spite of the steam engines filling stations and tunnels with dense smoke.  Today, if you ride the Circle Line between Paddington and Covent Garden, you'll travel part of that original route.

7)  Venice, Italy
As mentioned earlier, Venice is sinking.  But in the interim…one of the things immediately associated with Venice are the gondolas on the canals, especially the Grand Canal.  Each gondola is made from 280 pieces of 8 different types of wood.  The left side is larger than the right side by 24cm.  The parts of a gondola represent bits of the city—the front echoes its 6 districts, the back is Giudecca Island, and the lunette is the Rialto Bridge.

8)  Great Wall of China
Most everyone knows this is the largest military construction on earth.  However the part about it being the only man-made structure able to be seen from space is an urban myth.  The sections were built by independent kingdoms between the 7th and 4th centuries BC, then unified under China's first Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC.  A not well known fact is that the sections near Beijing which are most visited by tourists are reconstructions done in the 14th to 17th centuries AD.
9)  Table Mountain, South Africa
This large plateau of sandstone looms over Cape Town.  But this huge table has its own table cloth.  The plateau's cloud cover gathers across the flat top and spills over the sides when the wind whips up from the southeast.  You can reach the top by hiking trails or cable car.

10)  Uluru, Australia
This is probably the world's largest monolith, rising from the Australian desert.  More commonly known for years as Ayers Rock, it is now referred to by the Aboriginal name of Uluru.  The rock glows a fiery orange-red color, especially at sunset.  Where does its red color come from?  It's made from arkosic sandstone which contains iron.  When exposed to oxidation, the iron rusts thus providing the red color.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Quirky Questions Tourists Ask

The summer vacation season is almost upon us (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). So, for this week and next week my blogs will deal with travel.

At one time or another when we were in school, we've probably all heard a teacher say that there are no stupid questions in an attempt to get us to express our curiosity about something without being embarrassed because we don't already know the answer.

However, as an adult that old adage doesn't necessarily apply to all situations.  The travel industry is filled with weird, quirky, and in some cases just plain stupid questions asked by tourists.  Here's a sampling of some from various sources.

Actual Questions Asked On Cruise Ships:
Does the crew sleep on board?
Is the island surrounded by water?
What happens to the ice sculptures after they melt?
What time is the 2 o'clock tour?
Can you see the equator from the deck?
I know that ships often serve smoked salmon, but I am a non-smoker.
Can the iced tea be served hot?
Will I get wet if I go snorkeling?
Does the outside cabin mean it's outside the ship?
Where is the good shopping in Antarctica?

And cruise ships aren't the only place that tourists seem to have absurd questions.  Here are some actual questions received by Australians from foreigners, along with some well-deserved replies given to the questioner.

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (question from the UK)
A:  We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q:  Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (question from USA)
A:  Depends on how much you've been drinking.

Q:  I want to walk from Perth to Sydney—can I follow the railroad tracks? (question from Sweden)
A:  Sure, it's only 3000 miles, take lots of water.

Q:  Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (question from the UK)
A:  What did your last slave die of?

Q:  Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (question from USA)
A:  A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe.  Aus-tra-lia is the big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not…oh forget it.  Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night at Kings Cross.  Come naked.

Q:  Which direction is north in Australia? (question from USA)
A:  Face south and then turn 180 degrees.  Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q:  Can I wear high heels in Australia? (question from the UK)
A:  You're a British politician, right?

Q:  Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (question from Germany)
A:  No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers.  Milk is illegal.

Q:  Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (question from Italy)
A:  Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q:  Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (question from France)
A:  Only at Christmas.

The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom put together an international list "of the most inexplicably simple queries fielded by tourism officials."
Are there any lakes in the Lake District?
Why on earth did they build Windsor Castle on the flight path for Heathrow?
Is Wales closed during the winter?
Why did they build so many ruined castles and abbeys in England?
Do you know of any undiscovered ruins?

And here are some tourist questions asked at Niagara Falls:
What time do the falls shut off?
How far into Canada do I have to go before we have to drive on the other side of the road?
How much does it cost to get into Canada and are children a different price?

And here are some goodies from Minnesota:
I'm coming in July and I want snowmobile rental information.
We want to tour the Edmund Fitzgerald. (the ship sank in a storm in Lake Superior in 1975)
One traveler asked to see the bridge in Minnesota with the arches.  She was shown various photos, none of which were the bridge she was looking for.  She finally identified a picture of the St. Louis Gateway Arch as the bridge she wanted to see.  She was given directions to Missouri.

And finally…these tidbits.
One tourist to Scotland asked what time they fed the Loch Ness Monster.  Another visitor to New York City thought they would end up in Holland if they drove through the Holland Tunnel.  A traveler in Miami asked a tourism official which beach was closest to the ocean.

So…I guess the bottom line is to maybe think about that question a second time before you actually ask it.   :)